Tag Archives: spies

The death of an Italian archaeologist who knew so many 20th century secrets

Maurizio Tosi, highly-regarded archaeologist

My shoulder in 1991 - pulverised in two places

Uncovering the past: my shoulder was pulverised in two places

In 1995 I wrote the autobiography of comedian Malcolm Hardee.

‘Ghosted’ seems such a strange word to use.

In 1997/1998 I almost wrote the autobiography of someone else: an Italian archaeologist.

His opinion was that archaeology and biography were very similar: both involved uncovering the past from fragments and sometimes having to simply guess what had really happened. Sometimes, he suggested, it is even the same with autobiographies.

Yesterday morning, I woke up with a pain in my lower back and hips and upper legs. I was hit by a truck in 1991. One long-term effect it has had on me is that the bottom of my spine is slightly damaged. The bones occasionally go slightly ‘out of alignment. What usually happens is that I get a pain on one or other side of my hips and, as it mends, the pain moves round my waist and ends up at the bottom of the spine – where the real trouble lies – and then it goes away.

Initially, the problem is perceived to be somewhere it is not. Normally it takes about three nights of sleeping on the floor for the pain to go away.

This morning, at around 02.30am, I was lying on my bedroom floor unable to get to sleep because I could find no position to lie in that did not give me an awkward nerve-end-tingling pain.

For no particular reason at all – except that it came into my head – I decided to Google the phrase Maurizio Tosi death and this came up

The obituary of Maurizio Tosi which I Googled

The obituary of Maurizio Tosi which I stumbled on

MAURIZIO TOSI (1944-2017) 

February 26th, 2017 

“A leading figure in Italian archaeology and Co-Director of the Italy Oman international research program studying the beginnings of navigation and long-distance trade in the Indian Ocean died at the age of 72 yesterday in Ravenna, Italy. The cremation ceremony will take place at Ravenna on this next Monday at 3.30 pm. Friend and colleagues are organizing a commemoration in Ravenna on March 5th at 3 pm.”

I had not thought about him for years. Today is Wednesday. It would seem he died on Saturday with his funeral two days ago and I haven’t thought about him for years. Strange that I looked him up.

We were both fascinated by Shelley’s poem Ozymandias which ends:

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

I never wrote Maurizio Tosi’s autobiography.

I had met him by accident at Ashgabat airport when we were both leaving Turkmenistan in 1995.

In 1997, in London and in Rome, we discussed the background to his autobiography.

In 1998, I travelled to Italy again to chat to him in Rome, Sienna, Bologna, Ravenna, Milan and on the island of Pantelleria.

Eventually, the project fell through because he tried to financially screw a friend of mine. His attitude to honesty was as variable as the wind in the deserts he often professionally frequented. He was a highly troubled man but also highly intelligent. Or, at least, well-read.

A younger Maurizio Tosi in one of the deserts he frequented

A younger Maurizio Tosi in one of the deserts he frequented

There were nine drafts of the book, some in the first person; some in the third; some in a mixture of both.

The book’s title was to have been Traveller.

When we had first discussed the idea of the book, he had e-mailed me:

“In archaeology, in history and in politics, the mistake that’s often made is looking at effects, not at primary causes. If you want to know why something developed, you have to look back in time before it existed: at what caused it to exist and develop in the way it did. It is the same with people and the same with me.”

Since childhood, he told me, the mind inside his skull had always felt it was in a darkened cave, looking out – frightened – at a world it did not understand.

When I had first suggested the title Traveller for his autobiography, he had reacted in a characteristically OTT way.

“Yes! yes!” he had cried dramatically (in an e-mail). “Traveller! It has so much meaning! I travel through time. I travel through different lands. I travel to escape from reality. I travel because the day-to-day details of everyday life are a problem for me. They always have been. It is all the little things that drive me to distraction – bills, banks, mortgages, paperwork, bureaucracy. I can’t live alone, but I can’t stay faithful to any woman with whom I live. I want stability, but I get bored by it when I have it. Traveller is the ideal title! It is so symbolic!”

It was like listening to someone impersonate an Italian.

“And you are also a fellow traveller,” I said.

One key point in his life had been in 1967.

Le Monde 2013 - Maurizio Tosi, archaeologist and ex-spy Advisor to the Sultan of Oman, the Italian palaeoethnologist was also an intelligence officer of the Soviet bloc.

2013 Le Monde article on “Maurizio Tosi, the archaeologist & ex-spy”

He was in communist East Germany when the Cold War between the Soviets and the West was at its height. Most of the people he had worked with in his Soviet-backed Network had already been caught – they had ‘disappeared’ – some had been captured by the West, some had been disposed of by the East. He was the last one left of those he knew.

He told me he had been in West Berlin and had been asked to deliver an envelope to a town in East Germany. He knew the envelope contained microfilm, because he had made the same delivery before. He had no overnight visa for East Germany, so he had to get a train back to East Berlin by 11.00pm and return through the Friedrichstrasse security checkpoint into West Berlin before midnight, otherwise he was in trouble.

He told me: “East German Security was separate from the police. Everything was separate. Everything was chaotic. There were so many different agencies all working separately from each other – sometimes in competition with each other. I didn’t have full coverage. It wasn’t as if I was officially working for the East German secret service. I was working for the Network but the complete implications of that were uncertain. I knew my network was handled by part of a section of East Germany’s security system and was linked to the Soviet Union, but things had changed. Everything had changed that year.

Erich Apel

The East German politician Erich Apel ‘committed suicide’

“When the East German ‘Planning Minister’ Erich Apel ‘committed suicide’ in 1965… when Apel was made to die in 1965… it sent a signal to all marginal people like me. Apel had been one of the masterminds and controllers of our subversion operation and when it was said he ‘shot himself due to depression’ it was clear something was changing very fundamentally.

“Our entire project of undermining and fighting American power in the Third World – and ultimately in Europe – was falling apart. Ché Guevara had already – and very clearly – been abandoned in Bolivia.”

Maurizio Tosi had been part of a network run by the East Germans for the Soviet Union. He had been trained partly in Europe, partly in Cuba, partly in South America. His job as an archaeologist meant that he could legitimately be in ‘fringe’ areas – Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan. He was in Afghanistan when the Soviet tanks rolled in.

When we talked, it was mostly on tape.

“I dislike lies,” I warned him, early on.

“But ambiguity?” he had asked.

“Ah,” I replied slowly. “I’m fascinated by ambiguity. And by…..”

“Me too,” he had interrupted.

“…..and by amoral characters,” I had completed.

Maurizio Tosi in his office in 1998

Maurizio Tosi in his 1998 office was “fascinated by ambiguity”

During one of our chats he told me, as we sat in his book-lined room in Rome: “One of the most famous legends of Central Asia tells of a horseman. The horseman is the standard-bearer of the great Khan. As the Khan’s army are entering a city after a glorious victory, the standard-bearer sees a dark lady looking at him. The dark lady has fearsome eyes, as if she is looking right inside him. He becomes scared that this woman is a witch and she has put the Evil Eye on him, so he goes to the great Khan and tells him his fears and says he wants to go to another city.

Of course! says the great Khan. Give him the finest horse we have! Let him escape!

“So the standard-bearer takes the fastest horse in the Great Khan’s army, rides off across the desert and, in record time, arrives at the other city. Then he sees the dark lady standing by the city gates, waiting for him. She looks at him, smiles and says:

I was so worried. I knew I was due to meet you here today but, when I saw you in that other city so very far away, I was worried that you would not reach here in time for our appointment.

“And the standard-bearer realises that the dark lady with the eyes that look right inside him is Death. I always feel I am running like the standard bearer,  that there is never enough time and I know I will never complete what I should do.”

RIP Maurizio Tosi (1944-2017)

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Ignore the new Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical, this is how the Profumo political sex scandal really happened

John Profumo, the UK’s Minister for War

John Profumo, the UK’s disgraced Secretary of State for War

A couple of days ago in my blog, there was a discussion between one of my Facebook Friends and writer Harry Rogers about whether people accused of sex crimes should be named in the press before they are prosecuted.

There is another interesting angle to this which Harry Rogers knows a bit about. Not a sex crime but a sex scandal… The Profumo sex scandal of 1963 which ultimately brought down Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government.

But this blog is really about Johnny Edgecombe, whom I think I probably met at Malcolm Hardee’s Up The Creek comedy club in Greenwich in the 1990s. By then, he was known as Johnny Edge. I have a vague recollection that Malcolm introduced me to Johnny Edge once; but I can’t be certain.

What interests me about Johnny is how small incidents in apparently insignificant individuals’ lives can change history.

For those too young to remember, the Profumo Affair involved ‘good-time party girl’ Christine Keeler having sex with John Profumo, the UK’s Secretary of State for War. This was not good, given that he was married to actress Valerie Hobson. Worse though, given that Profumo knew Britain’s entire defence secrets and this was the height of the Cold War, was that Christine Keeler was also having sex with Yevgeni Ivanov, a senior naval attaché at the Soviet Embassy in London. All military attachés are assumed to be spies.

In October 1962, the United States and the USSR almost stumbled into a nuclear war over the Cuban Missile Crisis.

At the same time, in London, Johnny Edgecombe was Christine Keeler’s boyfriend and allegedly her pimp. Before that, Keeler’s boyfriend had been drug dealer ‘Lucky’ Gordon. When she split from Gordon, he attacked her with an axe and held her hostage for two days. She then became Johnny Edgecombe’s girlfriend.

Just before Christmas 1962, she split from Johnny Edgecombe. What happened then resulted in a court case in which John Profumo’s name was mentioned in open court and the whole Profumo scandal became public knowledge.

Johnny Edgecombe went to prison for what happened in the mews.

I had a drink with Harry Rogers last night.

Harry Rogers in Greenwich last night

Harry Rogers remembers Johnny in Greenwich last night

“I met Johnny Edge just after he came out of prison,” Harry told me. “I think the intelligence services knew very well what was going on with Christine Keeler: that she was having an affair with Profumo and was also seeing Ivanov.”

“What had Johnny done before the Profumo thing?” I asked.

“He’d been friends with lots of jazz musicians in London,” Harry told me. “And he’d worked for Peter Rachman.”

“The dodgy slum landlord?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Harry. “Rachman bought a lot of properties up and, when he had trouble getting people out of a property, he would get Johnny Edge and a couple of others to go and take over the basement in the building and set up a shebeen. A shebeen is an illegal drinking establishment with lots of loud music pumping all night. So Johnny’s role was to set up the shebeen and get musicians to come in there and party. They had a great time and the people got so fed up with the noise they left. It was like constructive dismissal – constructive eviction, really.”

“But eventually,” I said, “he met Christine Keeler, she left him and that triggered off the whole thing.”

“Yes,” said Harry. “When Christine Keeler left him – he was kind of pimping her in a way; he was living off her earnings, anyway – he wanted money and he needed money and also Johnny was in competition with Lucky Gordon, who was out to get Johnny. He saw him as the person who had taken ‘his Christine’ away from him – cos he’d been pimping her too.

“Lucky Gordon had caught up with Johnny in the Flamingo club in Wardour Street in Soho and there had been a big running fight through the club. They were chasing each other about all over he place. Lucky Gordon was going to beat up Johnny, but Johnny pulled a knife and ‘striped’ his face.

“After that, Lucky Gordon was really, really angry and so he got a machete and he was threatening to cut Johnny Edge’s head off. And that’s why Johnny got a gun. And the gun that he got was Christine Keeler’s. She had a Luger pistol.”

“Why did she have a gun?” I asked.

“I think for protection,” Harry replied. “Anyway, Johnny took her gun and he was carrying it because he knew that, if Lucky Gordon did catch up with him – if he wasn’t protected – Lucky was going to kill him.

1964 book on the scandal

A 1964 book on the Profumo Scandal

“When Christine left Johnny and went to Stephen Ward in the mews, Johnny got a taxi to the house. Christine was there but wouldn’t come to the window. Mandy Rice-Davies came to the window and told Johnny Christine doesn’t want to speak to you – Here’s some money – Go away! – and threw a handful of fivers out the window.

“That made Johnny angry, so then he decided he was going to go in and talk to Christine. So he tried to do what they do in the movies. He tried to shoot the door open by blowing the lock off the door with the gun.

“That didn’t work, so then he got back into the taxi…”

“The taxi driver,” I asked, “had just been sitting there twiddling his thumbs through all this?”

“Yes,” said Harry. “The cab driver was still waiting. Johnny got back in the cab. And they drove off.

“Meanwhile, the police had been phoned. They caught up with Johnny and arrested him and charged him with attempted murder. They said he’d actually tried to shoot Christine Keeler from the street through the window. He never did that. But they needed a court case to break open the whole thing so they could officially look into everything that was going on. And, from that point onwards it all came out.

“What Johnny told me was that not only was Stephen Ward supplying various members of the Establishment with women… There were a number of them: Christine Keeler, Mandy Rice-Davies, Rona Ricardo and two or three other girls were involved in this circle, this kind of call girl ring that he was running… They would all go down to Lord Astor’s place (Clivedon in Buckinghamshire) and have the swimming pool, the weekend orgies, all the rest of it… not only was Stephen Ward doing that, but he was also supplying lots of Members of Parliament and the aristocracy with marijuana.”

“Which would be a big thing then,” I said.

“Which was a big thing then,” Harry agreed. “And which Johnny Edge was supplying to Stephen Ward.”

“How did the Russian get involved?” I asked.

The Daily Mirror reports Profumo’s resignation

Profumo resigned because he lied to MPs

“Well,” explained Harry, “Stephen Ward would host parties which diplomats and all sorts of people would attend – He was just a military attaché. I don’t think there was any attempt to screw information out of Profumo. There’s no way that Christine Keeler was pumping Profumo for information to give to Ivanov, who she called her ‘Russian teddy bear’. It was all just sex and drugs, really. But spooks, being what they are, often read a lot more into the situation than is there.

“Profumo was a pretty honourable man. He just liked screwing.”

“You’ve heard about the new Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical that’s being written about Stephen Ward?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Harry. “Johnny Edge told me Stephen Ward was a great guy and it was terrible the way he was vilified out. Really, he was just serving a need.”

“And was driven to suicide,” I said.

“And,” said Harry, “Johnny was sent to prison. He spent about six years inside. The Labour Party – Bessie Braddock in particular – said, as soon as they got into power, they would ensure he was released. But, of course, what happened when the Wilson government came in? They left him there to rot. He kept writing to them from prison trying to get them to honour what they had said they were going to do, but they left him there.

“He’d been sent to Dartmoor! For a while he shared a cell with Frank Mitchell.”

“The Mad Axeman?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Harry. “Everybody was really frightened of Frank in there. Not just the prisoners, but all the Screws. He was like an animal. But he took a liking to Johnny so, consequently, life was easy for Johnny inside because he had total protection. In those days, it wouldn’t have been easy being a black West Indian like Johnny in prison.’”

“And you met him soon after he got out?” I asked.

“When he first came out of prison,” explained Harry, “he didn’t go back to Notting Hill, he moved to a flat in Blackheath, then later he moved to a flat on a council estate by what’s now the Up The Creek comedy club.

“His aim was, if he could ever make enough money, to go out to the West Indies and buy a boat like his dad had had. Of course, it never happened.

“He would wake up in the morning and smoke a joint. Then he would get washed and dressed. Smoke another joint. Have breakfast. Smoke another joint. Then he was set up to go out for the day. He was always stoned. Always.

Johnny Edge in later life

Johnny Edgecombe in later life + one of his cigarettes

“He decided he was going to make money from selling chess sets. He met somebody who had access to a whole load of reproduction fancy chess sets: the Lewis chess set, the Reynard The Fox one, a Mexican carved crystal one and an erotic chess set – pornographic, basically – the bishops had little boys sucking them off. They weren’t cheap. He made a good mark-up on them.

“Also, if you wanted to buy half a pound or a pound of dope, Johnny knew where to go. In 1971, you could probably get a pound of dope for £500 and he’d charge you £550. He wasn’t a big dope importer or anything, but he was big mates with Howard Marks, who was.

“After the chess sets, he got into buying VW camper vans in Amsterdam and filling them up with Second World War leather jackets and overcoats he bought in a warehouse near where he bought the VWs. They looked like Nazi overcoats but weren’t – most were actually Dutch motorcycle police coats, but they looked the business.

“So Johnny would fill the camper vans with these coats, bring them back to Britain and sell them. The rock singer Chris Farlowe used to run a Nazi militaria shop and Johnny Edge used to sell him these Dutch police overcoats as genuine Nazi wartime overcoats at a massive mark-up.

“Needs must when the Devil drives. There was no way he was ever going to get employed in a straight job; he was so stoned all the time.

“He was a very likeable guy. He was a great guy.”

“And he died just over two years ago,” I said. “What did he die of?”

“Lung cancer,” said Harry.

So it goes.

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Filed under Crime, Drugs, Politics, Sex, UK