Mervyn Matthews was a long-time subscriber to the Salisbury Review, frequent contributor and the author of several books about his unusual life. He was raised in depressed Swansea, vividly described in Mervyn’s Lot, went to Manchester University and thence to Oxford where he looked forward to a successful academic career.
However, his personal life was as dramatic and tragic as any classic Russian novel and if translated to the small screen would keep the nation on tenterhooks waiting for the next episode. Mervyn was a research student in Moscow when he became trapped in the spider’s web of the Cold War by falling in love with Mila Bibikova and thus attracting the attention of the KGB, who tried to recruit him, and the Foreign Office, who thought Mila might be a Soviet plant. His book Mila and Mervusya describes his five-year struggle to marry Mila and bring her to England. Her childhood had been worse than his, for her father had been shot in the Purges while her mother was thrown into the Gulag. Their attempt to get married was a disaster: he was immediately informed by the British Embassy that his visa was annulled and he had forty-eight hours to leave the country. The British Ambassador Humphrey Trevelyan displayed the usual Foreign Office indifference to English people in trouble abroad and advised him to leave immediately but Mervyn lost his temper: ‘if you cannot do better than this, you should go back to England yourself’. His mother remarked that he was a stubborn fool, but he would need all the tenacity he could muster over the next five years. A naturally shy person, Mervyn conducted campaigns of all kinds to further his cause: there were mailing lists to the great and the good, press campaigns with the help of sympathetic journalists keeping the story on the boil, Harold Wilson and Patrick Gordon Walker were bearded in their hotel rooms in Moscow, he was thrown out of Claridge’s by Special Branch when he tried to hand a letter to Voronov, the President of the Russian Federation. His residual respect for the police was shattered when he tried to reach Kosygin in front of Parliament and the police threatened to ‘pin something on him’.
At last in 1969, rumours circulated that the Soviet authorities were proposing to swap Gerald Brooke for the Krogers (Portland Spy Ring). Michael Stewart, the then Foreign Secretary, announced the release of the Krogers and it was arranged that three British subjects who had been trying to marry Soviet citizens would be granted visas to enter the Soviet Union and register their marriages.
Unfortunately, this happy outcome cost Mervyn his Oxford career. His campaigns had annoyed and embarrassed the sedate academic community as well as the Foreign Office, so he joined Surrey University, wrote several academic studies about Russia and travelled widely, lecturing and visiting many countries including Tibet and Thailand.
Read Mervyn Matthews’ obituary in The Daily Telegraph