Thursday, 23 July 2009

The Spy Who Came In For Lunch


It was the normal mid-week lunch service in our small, busy pub in the market square of a West Dorset town. The regular retired men sat at their usual table by the bar arguing whose round it was. Chef busy in the kitchen making crab sandwiches and cooking the fresh catch of the day. I was busy serving drinks and taking food orders. That lovely bubble of conversation, clatter of cutlery and happy customers - creating a warm atmosphere. Pretty perfect.

The bar door opened and a tall, elegant elderly man entered along with an equally well dressed male companion. The man asked where they should sit for lunch and as he seemed to expect table service I showed them to a table, pointed out the blackboard menus and gave them a wine list as requested. I sensed a kind of hush in the atmosphere of the bar. A sharp contrast to the previous relaxed noise level.

As I got back behind the bar my old lunchtime men were huddled together and whispering. The entire bar had stopped talking. Chef and the rest of the kitchen staff appeared through the bar door and peered across to the table where the two elderly men were sitting quietly conversing. But they were well aware of the sensation they'd caused. This was 1979 and the man was Anthony Blunt 'The Fourth Man' of the Cambridge Spy Ring, the other three being Burgess, Maclean and Philby.

I struggled to keep my cool as I took their food order of fresh crayfish salads and a bottle of Chablis. I was used to serving celebrities but not a Real Spy; but they were extremely polite to me, trying to help me through my obvious awe-struck discomfort. They did play up to their audience and gave them what they wanted as they chatted to each other, with frequent touching of hands and much flirting eye contact. Quite outrageous shows of homosexuality in such a place as this. My old men didn't know where to look and grim mutterings of disapproval and '....shouldn't be allowed...' carried through the hushed pub as people couldn't bring themselves to act normally as this news had only just hit the newspapers It was big.

There were more shocks to come as news had spread, as it does, throughout the small town and as soon as we'd closed for the afternoon we had a visit from the local police telling us that MI5 would be paying us a visit later that day for questions.

And they did. MI5 wanted to know every little detail about Blunt and his companion. What they were wearing, what they ate, time of arrival and departure. Did they talk to anybody else while they were here? No. Only me. No, they didn't use the toilets. It was so exciting.

I was right excited when I 'phoned our weekly local paper telling the all about it as I fancied a bit of free publicity. It wasn't to be - the main news that week was a seagull stuck up a chimney and having to be rescued. Perhaps Blunt was too top secret.


4 comments:

pal said...

Oooooh - do you think the other bloke was Guy Burgess? He was born in Plymouth apparently and went to Dartmouth Royal Naval College.

Don't know how you kept your cool - you must be very professional.

Buggles Balham High Road said...

I think the other man was his partner at the tie - an antique dealer.

Pal - I have no cool ;-)

Maddie Grigg said...

Wow, the seagull story would have been jettisoned if I had been at the paper. But I had only just started my training.
I heard a story once that Burgess or whoever Alan Bates played in the film left the country via West Bay.

Buggles Balham High Road said...

I thought of you as I wrote this and couldn't imagine you letting that one go - publish and be damned Maddie.

I'd love to know if it was West Bay. Then we had the Umbrella Murder on Waterloo Bridge and his wife and in-laws as customers all around the same time.