Saturday, August 27, 2011


Eric Hobsbawm on the British Communist spy Alan Nunn May (LRB, gated):
When [Nunn May] left jail at the end of 1952 after six years, the secret services did their best – although the witch-hunting hysteria was then at its height and despite worries about furious American reactions – to find him a reasonable scientific job. When this proved impossible, his transition was eased by the offer from what was claimed to be an ‘anonymous benefactor’ (via the vice-chancellor of Cambridge) of a support grant for two years. [...] Nunn May did not get a permanent post until 1961, when J.D. Bernal persuaded President Kwame Nkrumah of the newly decolonised state of Ghana to offer him a chair at his new university, under its equally unexpected vice-chancellor, Conor Cruise O’Brien.
(To file under "statistically improbable juxtapositions.") Article also contains an admirably evocative character sketch of Nunn May:
I recall him, shortly after his release, as a big, deliberately understated, friendly, shy, emotionally unattached man uncertain how to make his return to the world. Until his marriage he seemed at ease only with music. When he spoke about his life, as he was ready to, he radiated a melancholy but not quite resigned honesty. He knew he had drawn the short straw.

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