'Here is a vivacious account of how in the 1950s, under Eden and Lloyd at the Foreign Office, some 5,000 young men doing national service were quietly siphoned off from their units, secluded in Cornwall and Fifeshire, or, more boldly, next door to the Guards depot at Coulsdon in Surrey, and put through crash courses in Russian till they could speak it fluently ...' M. R. D. Foot, Spectator
Lambasted by the Soviets as a 'spy school', the Joint Services School for Linguists (JSSL) was a major Cold War initiative, which pushed 5000 young National Servicemen through intensive training as Russian translators and interpreters, primarily to meet the needs of Britain's signals intelligence operations. Its pupils included a remarkable cross-section of talented young men who went on to a diversity of glittering careers: professors of Russian, Chinese, ancient philosophy, economics; the historian Sir Martin Gilbert; authors such as Alan Bennett, Dennis Potter and Michael Frayn; screenwriter Jack Rosenthal; stage director Sir Peter Hall; and churchmen ranging from a bishop to a displaced Carmelite friar.
Geoffrey Elliot and Harold Shukman, both of whom emerged from JSSL as interpreters, have drawn on many personal recollections and interviews with fellow students, as well as once highly classified documents in the Public Record Office, in order to reveal this fascinating story for the first time.
'A highly entertaining read ... No one interested in late 20th century theatre or literature can afford to ignore this book.' Spectator
'Elliott and Shukman write with style and wit ... They record something more than a byway in the history of the cold war, a true contribution to British history.' Michael Bourdeaux, Times Higher Education Supplement
'An engaging, quirky account of this strange offshoot of the Cold War ... a kind of Virgin Soldiers for clever clogs.' Michael Leapman, Independent
Geoffrey Elliott is a retired investment banker and an Honorary Fellow of St Antony's College, Oxford. He is the author of I Spy: The Secret Life of a British Agent. Harold Shukman retired recently as University Lecturer in Modern Russian History at Oxford. His books include biographies of Lenin, Stalin and Rasputin and translations of the plays of Evgeny Shvarts and Isaac Babel.