John C.Q. Roberts. Speak Clearly into the Chandelier: Cultural Politics Between Britain and Russia 1973-2000. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 2000. xiii, 272 pp.
This is a somewhat ramshackle memoir chronicling many of the events that befell the author during his stint as Director of the Great Britain-USSR Association from 1973 to 1993, with a few subsequent incidents up to 2000. In 1992, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Great Britain-USSR Association was, apparently, split in two and renamed as both the Britain-Russia Centre and the British East-West Centre. John Roberts deals with this awkward renaming in Chapter Fourteen, but I am still unclear about exactly why these two organizations emerged out of just one predecessor. Today the two organizations share a homepage, i.e. http://www.briteastwest.org.uk/.
Speak Clearly into the Chandelier (henceforth: Chandelier) is, in many ways, an intriguing read. It gives us glimpses into the goings-on of many of the literati, politicians, movers-and-shakers in both the Soviet Union and in Britain during the period 1973-1993. It affords us a nostalgic trip back into the days of the Cold War, when merely to visit the USSR was at once an adventure and a novelty. Roberts probably believes that his book expands, first and foremost, our knowledge of the machinations of the Soviet apparat (a word he much favours!), but, for me, by far the more illuminating aspect of Chandelier is what it tells us about British society during this period. It tells us volumes.
It is important to understand just why the Britain-USSR Association was established in the first place. Following British Prime Minister Macmillan's visit to the Soviet Union in 1959, it was decided that the British needed a new organization to encourage informal British-Soviet contacts in the Arts. Just who took this decision is never made clear. This new organization "would not be susceptible to influence or take-over by communists or fellow-travellers" (p. 7). Other such organizations already in existence, especially the British-Soviet Friendship Society, were deemed to be hopelessly pro-Soviet and not interested at all in putting over the British point of view. The first Chairman of the Britain-USSR Association was the British war-hero Sir Fitzroy Maclean, upon whom Ian Fleming is said to have modeled James Bond. And then in 1973 Roberts was plucked from his post as Russian teacher at Marlborough College (an elite British Public School) to become the Association's second Director, succeeding Major-General Thomas B. …