My Early life, and The John Reddisson Saga: My Later Years
Author: Freddy Johnson, Grosvenor House Publishing, 2013.
Welcome to the world of what is unkindly known as vanity publishing. Before knocking it, may I remind you that one of a series of books produced this way, Fifty Shades of Grey, has topped bestseller lists around the world, selling over 125 million copies worldwide by June 2015. It has been translated into 52 languages, and set a record in the United Kingdom as the fastest-selling paperback of all time. Using the services of a publisher well versed in this art, Grosvenor House, Freddy Johnson has produced two books which he has essentially based on autobiographical ‘fact’. Having said that, he has also unashamedly employed ‘fiction’ on occasions too, using the author’s own words, ‘move the story along and to introduce more interest’. As a result, we end up with a curious blend of fact and fiction. Throughout the books, all relatives and – with notable exceptions – most others including all Soviet and British officers appear as pseudonyms, with place-names changed.
Unusually, I found myself somewhat uncomfortable when it came to reviewing these two books, not only for the above reasons but also because Freddy Johnson, although never a member of the Corps (it does get a mention) is a Friend and has kindly donated copies of his books to the Corps archive. I decided to be honest in what I wrote.
The books purport to be the life story of a John Reddisson now well into his eighties. They are written as autobiography and this is where the problem starts. Once you know that there is an element of fiction, how much, if anything is it the story of the author’s life and how much is fiction? I could not differentiate. I found it very confusing, particularly in the first volume. I was constantly asking myself ‘why had Freddy created this fictional person when he was obviously writing about his own life? Or was he? Did all these things actually happen to him?’.
Although not included in the books, separately, Freddy gives us numerous clues as to where he disguises people and places. Christ’s College Cambridge (1955-58) becomes St Luke’s College Cambridge, Dr John H Plumb, his Moral tutor at Christ’s College is Dr John Hargreaves, DYRMS Dover as KEAS Ramsgate and HRH Prince Michael of Kent (a fellow student on his 18-month Russian course 1966-68) as Edward. Notable exceptions appearing under their own names include Maurice Micklewhite, the actor Michael Caine (1946-49), Walter Winterbottom, the England football team manager, (1950-52), E.R. ‘Ted’ Dexter (1955-58), Ian Fleming (1960), SAS Trooper (later Sergeant) Talaiasi Labalaba (1964) and Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck (1970).
Almost a contemporary of Freddy, in many ways my early life followed a similar pattern and so it brought back many memories. He tells of the London Blitz and of being evacuated, with its good and bad times. He, too, started off his National Service in the RASC, but unlike me he succumbed to the pleasures of the mess rather than the NAAFI, spending the rest of his National Service as a second lieutenant at a command supply depot in Nottinghamshire. All this was pretty run-of-the-mill for men of our age. Despite his very disturbed schooling he secured a place at St Luke’s, Cambridge which awaited his demob; not bad for a boy from the back streets of London. Wilson’s Grammar School (1), with its famous Old Boy, Michael Caine, had done him proud. His sister fared even better, just failing to get a first.
Presumably, Freddy expects the chapters on his time with SOXMIS to be of particular interest to us.
Little is publicly documented about the Soviet missions. Although not widely known to the general public, the Military Liaison Missions played a significant intelligence-gathering role during the Cold War, often confirming that preparations for offensive action were NOT under way, thus reducing the tension. The Soviet Mission was based in Bunde near Herford amongst British Army married quarters. (I think at one time there was a panorama of the site in the museum). Although the museum has a fine display of the activities of BRIXMIS, it is, from memory, when it comes to SOXMIS thin on the ground. Reading the synopsis of My Later Years, I had hoped that Freddy would be able to help fill this void as John Reddisson (I nearly said Freddy – it is confusing) spent three years as British Liaison Officer in Germany where he builds up a very good relationship with his opposing Russian official. There is more about the birdlife of the region of Germany where he was responsible, than about the escapades of SOXMIS. Surely the Russians must have got up to the same sort of antics as did our chaps in BRIXMIS?(2)
In addition to the 6 SOXMIS (BAOR) chapters, there are additional chapters in the books covering three years spent as an assistant housemaster at DYRMS Dover (as King Edward Army School Ramsgate), a Singapore posting (1963-66), and a Hong Kong intelligence assignment in 1972.
What concerned me a little was his habit of introducing the odd little story which he personalised, but which I had heard in different circumstances not involving either John Reddisson or Freddy Johnson. His almost verbatim recall of conversations is remarkable. Was Freddy writing the fictional life of this chap John Reddisson or was it a scarcely disguised autobiography of Freddy himself?
I was beginning to feel quite sorry for Freddy, concerned at the lack of any form of (recorded) female company – apart from his unpleasant sister – in either book and so was relieved when he joined a language school in Deal and finally found himself a wife, Maria, when well into his thirties. He did say later that there had been other inconsequential relationships. After a number of successful but not particularly interesting years at the language school, they retired to a villa on an Andalusian mountainside to live ‘the Spanish Dream’. Sadly, it was not to be and they returned to the UK to spend their last years.
Yes, he had a varied and interesting life (when it was his), but then, so many of our age have. They are well written, as one would expect from the Cambridge graduate that he is (or was that just John Reddisson?).
1 Wilson’s School is a boys’ academy school of 1,100 pupils in Wallington in the London Borough of Sutton, Founded as Wilson’s Grammar
School in Camberwell in 1615, it is one of the country’s oldest state schools, and moved to its present location on part of the site of the
former Croydon Airport in 1975 2
2 Brixmis by Tony Gerachty tells the secrets of how British intelligence officers working undercover as liaison officers in East Germany, stole advanced Soviet equipment and penetrated top-secret training areas. For 40 years, the three armed services, the SAS and the Foreign Office conducted an intelligence war against massive Soviet military strength.