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Timely release for Breaking Blake

Barnaby Kay’s gripping drama explores what really happened during 1966 prison breakout by Russian spy

14 January, 2021 — By Lucy Popescu

BREAKING Blake opens in October 1966 with a memorable football match – England against Northern Ireland – and a prison breakout.

George Blake (Michael Maloney), a Russian spy, has just escaped from Wormwood Scrubs.

It was initially assumed that the KGB had masterminded his escape, but Barnaby Kay’s gripping drama explores what really happened.

In 1961, two anti-nuclear campaigners, Michael Randle (Elliot Levey) and Pat Pottle (Tony Gardner), were imprisoned after entering a US air force base in Essex. They were charged under the official secret acts – for attempting to stop nuclear weapons being loaded onto a plane – and received 18-month sentences.

In Wormwood Scrubs they met Blake, a member of MI6 who had passed secrets to the Russians – considered a terrible betrayal.

He was sentenced to an unprecedented term of 42 years.

Many fellow inmates believed Blake’s punishment to be unduly harsh and in 1966 he was sprung from prison.

The leader was an Irish petty criminal, Sean Bourke (Lloyd Hutchinson), who Blake had approached. He was aided by Randle, Pottle and Randle’s wife Anne (Claire Rushbrook).

Breaking Blake follows the escape with an upbeat musical score and David Holt’s news reports adding atmosphere.

Bourke smuggled in a two-way radio and planned the logistics.

On the big day, Blake simply climbed out of a window and scaled the perimeter wall using the flexible ladder provided by Bourke. He broke his arm jumping to safety and the rescue team had to find a sympathetic doctor (Walles Hamonde) to check him over and set his arm in a splint.

They hid Blake in various flats before attempting the journey into Europe. The Randles concealed him under the boards of their camper van and pretended they were on a family holiday.

They managed to drop Blake in East Germany and the rest, as they say, is history.

But the telling is all; it’s a thrilling rendition and particularly timely – Blake lived to be 98 and died in Russia on Boxing Day.

  • BBC Radio 4, 2.15pm, January 19.

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