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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bulgaria's Second best known Englishman finally gets his due credit in the English speaking world
I heard of a new book on SOE operations in faraway Bulgaria, and when I looked at the section of the book I found it shallow, limited and most confusing. On going back to the beginning I discovered myself uncovering or undressing a matrioska, the relevant stages of a character within a book leading to a glorious climax or an abyss.

The first section is a...
Published 20 months ago by mangilli-climpson m

versus
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dull
I bought this along with Clare Mulley's "The spy who loved" because there are a few common characters that appear in both books. However, where the Mulley book was very readable and interesting this one feels long and repetitive - almost padded. Frank Thompson came from a talented family but the overly long background history borders on the tedious - the meticulous...
Published 21 months ago by Jimbo60


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bulgaria's Second best known Englishman finally gets his due credit in the English speaking world, 29 Nov 2012
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This review is from: A Very English Hero: The Making of Frank Thompson (Kindle Edition)
I heard of a new book on SOE operations in faraway Bulgaria, and when I looked at the section of the book I found it shallow, limited and most confusing. On going back to the beginning I discovered myself uncovering or undressing a matrioska, the relevant stages of a character within a book leading to a glorious climax or an abyss.

The first section is a traditional family history of the Thompsons. Father, EJ, a missionary, author and poet, in India, who meets Theodosia Jessup, the bright, independent minded daughter of US missionaries in Syria during his Great War service. Both sides of the family appear to have gone native, personally close to the pioneers of national independence: whether TE Lawrence, or the Nobel Prize poet, Rabindranath Tagore, Gandhi, and Nehru. Their two sons, WF or Frank, the principal protagonist, and EP (known until his father's death by his second name Palmer - later became a Marxist historian and author of the classic study The Making of the English Working class The Making of the English Working Class (Penguin History)) carrying on the flame of rebellion, were furthermore strongly influenced by modern ideas and the events of the 1920s and 30s; both were attracted by the underdog.

The largest and core part covers Frank Thompson's brief stay at Oxford; his great political activity during the post Munich by-election, in 1939; his entry into the CP - claimed by his new flame, Iris Murdoch, to have been by her own making, though her latest biographer Iris Murdoch: A Life: The Authorized Biography, Peter J. Conradi demonstrates that over the previous three years Wykehamists like Frank were moving naturally in droves into Moscow's orbit without needing the nudge of a clever, and very literate Molly Malone; as well as covering his war service in two private armies: first in Phantom, and from 1943 in SOE.

The author highlights the difficulties involved in CP membership in the British Army, that the Party occasionally carried out special practices to permit certain members to continue to operate during their army service, but says nothing what it did, if at all for Frank, who at least until the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 kept his head down and tried to appear solely involved in preparing for his next military mission. In 1943 while in the Lebanon he took a more active part in CP activities, at a personal private level. He witnessed the changing views over time towards Poland, in particular with regards the Katyn massacres, and unlike his younger brother or Eric Hobsbawn, he showed his permanent independent line.

The author hints a regular poetic correspondence between Frank and his "Irushka", and a two way influence; though because of his tragic death, especially with regards the courageous role of soldiers in war, rather than the more doctrinaire line on imperialism, the influence appears more lasting on Murdoch post-war literary output. Had he survived the War it is possible the Party may have tried to use Frank as an informer, a stooge, but Conradi feels he was already too independent to have gone along with it even if threatened by scandal and public disclosure of Party activity in wartime; perhaps indeed I suggest it is equally likely that he may have influenced his brother towards different ideological conclusions after Krushchev's damning secret speech of Stalin at the 20th Soviet Party Congress and in the wake of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. On the other hand the author admits that, unlike the two spies Kim Philby or Guy Burgess, he did not have a cover story, and so it is unlikely that he would have been used by the Party should he have been hired in a Government department.

The most important section deals with Frank's period in Bulgaria, his execution by local Fascists in June 1944, and the different myths that emerged thereafter, leading him to become the second most eminent Englishman in Bulgaria after Gladstone: national decorations were awarded posthumously, a railway station near Sofia, as well as a kindergarten being named after him, while nursery rhymes are still sung about his adventures in order to ensure the memory and cult of a folk hero lives on.

The author insists that his protagonist when living in the field had an instant change of heart towards the brave heart image of the Slavs, seeing the Bulgar partisans very unprepared, undisciplined, over-excited, who loved to blow their own trumpet about their might in numbers and power. Little did he know precisely that he was arriving at a time when SOE based in Cairo, and Moscow were pursuing very distinct post-war policies. The former were less enthusiastic to support a movement which after Yalta would be part of Moscow's Europe; the latter, in contrast, wished to be seen to represent the true spirit of resistance, with as much free Western firepower and gold sovereigns, but not laden down with the presence of capitalist imperialist Britain's special forces, even with the occasional good brave comrade. The Bulgarian Communist leader Georgi Dimitrov, in Moscow, may have had concocted a calculated plan of action for resistors to gone in the foray, make a few local dead heroes, and remove evidence of a Western presence, which within a year became the general call and justification to liquidate any opponents as "spies, collaborators, and bourgeois hyenas".

Conradi emphasizes that Frank death naturally was felt more deeply by those closer to him. Just before his entry into Bulgaria from his base in eastern Serbia he was said to have been distressed to learn that Murdoch had given herself to his best friend MRD Foot (the future historian of the SOE and Resistance Memories of an SOE Historian), and presumably in her opinion, in his pain he chose to take unnecessary reckless risks for a noble just cause. Perhaps; or was that a feeling of self remorse and admission after the event that she had behaved too selfishly.

The wild romantic and chivalrous idea going back to Lord Byron and Rupert Brooke was next hinted by scholars when citing EJ's play Atonement (1924) when it was restaged in wartime. It was said to contain a new contemporary message that Frank's gallant gesture was of having acted as a sacrificed lamb on the altar of the Balkans for the sins of the politics of British leaders, an idea which became refreshingly novel and gallant following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, when all states in Eastern and South Eastern Europe tried to rediscover new national histories to give them a uniquely positive, honourable vision vis a vis the great past Powers.

Finally, for EP, or Edward as he was better known in the post-War period, together with the Thompson family, the sadness of Frank's death never could go away. His final publication Beyond the Frontier: Politics of a Failed Mission - Bulgaria, 1944 even hinted in the late 1980s that by re-interpreting history backwards -a very ahistorical practice by a professional historian, Frank might be considered the first international Cold War hero and of the New Left, who incredibly gave his life simultaneously in a fight against a capitalist British Empire, for which he was still serving, and against a Stalinist Russian Empire by his being a non-doctrinaire CP member. In other words, he was acting as a divided self, the first signs of brilliance or insanity. It seems in death, like in life, everyone now wishes to own a piece of Frank Thompson, for their own, their causes and their institute's own website - described by a school friend as "a brilliant mind, and an enormous heart."

Peter Conradi was the sole person to present everyone with a honest life story of this newly rediscovered English hero. His product is entertaining, well researched, and profoundly well argued, but always keeping a critical eye on all his sources. It adds another piece to the jigsaw of radical middle class intellectuals who were inspired towards different human causes throughout history, which did not end once that cause was eventually achieved; like any scientist they were eager to mount towards the next life/death challenge. If Bulgaria is proud to claim Frank Thompson as their second best Englishman, Conradi should be thanked for having given their own son back to Britain, by allowing the English-speaking world now be more fully aware of one of its lesser known heroes.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Profoundly Moving - Much more than just a Biography, 30 Aug 2012
This profoundly moving meditation on a young man prepared to live and die for a cause should be required reading for all politicians who contemplate sending British soldiers to war as well as all mothers and anyone interested in the history of the last century. Frank Thompson may have been extraordinary - gifted and handsome, a scholar and poet as well as a courageous leader at a terrifyingly young age - but his story is emblematic of a generation who believed they had to fight and defeat Hitler. He died after brutal torture at the hands of Bulgarian fascists at 23 in 1944. To read his life story and to understand the family, school, country and culture that made him a Very English Hero is a powerful experience. Ultimately, for all its tragedy and desperate sense of waste, it's an uplifting tale told with enormous sympathy by Peter Conradi.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Frank and Iris, a Trilogy, 14 Jan 2013
By 
Christopher Boddington (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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Conradi has in effect produced his third volume of the Frank and Iris trilogy. This started with his magisterial life of Iris Murdoch, followed by Writer at War, a fascinating collection including her wartime letters to Frank Thompson. This new work contains the careful research and comprehensive story of a young man who was perhaps her greatest friend at Oxford before the War and who joined up as a volunteer in 1939 and found his was into the special forces who were parachuted into the Balkans. There he fought with the partisans and was killed in 1944 in Bulgaria, where he has become a special war hero, with a town named Thomsun in his honour. A fascinating story and a great read.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The biography of a family and a period, 31 Aug 2012
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Being an admirer of Conradi's biography of Iris Murdoch, I knew what to expect, and I was not disappointed. This is the meticulously researched biography of a man who, although he died - was murdered - at the age of 23 towards the end of World War II with little apparently achieved during his lifetime, still was deemed sufficiently notable to be included in the ranks of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, primarily for the promise shown in his poetry. The book richly deserves the enthusiastic endorsements of Antony Beevor and Margaret Drabble.

Frank Thompson was a complex character: with effortless charm, a brilliant linguist, often hopelessly drunk so that it was feared that he was heading towards alcoholism, intellectually gifted but all too easily taken in by the fashionable communist line of the time, his outstanding quality was his determination to experience and enjoy life to the full. If he had survived the war, would he in fact have married Iris Murdoch? An explosive combination.

Conradi's moving and sympathetic portrait of Frank amounts, however, to only a fraction of the book. He also gives us entrancing portraits of Frank's extraordinary parents, brilliant brother, bizarre family life and many other colourful characters of the Oxford of the time: and recreates vividly those forcing-houses of the intelligentsia in the 1930s, Oxford's Dragon School, then Winchester College with its philistinism but covert encouragement of individualists to think for themselves, and the inevitable New College Oxford. Add to this lively descriptions of Frank's relations with, and influence on, Iris Murdoch during his life and after his death, and his colourful career in the Army, including the mysterious "private armies", Phantom and SOE, and the reader has to concede that he has been provided with more than his money's worth.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dull, 5 Nov 2012
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This review is from: A Very English Hero: The Making of Frank Thompson (Kindle Edition)
I bought this along with Clare Mulley's "The spy who loved" because there are a few common characters that appear in both books. However, where the Mulley book was very readable and interesting this one feels long and repetitive - almost padded. Frank Thompson came from a talented family but the overly long background history borders on the tedious - the meticulous research is some way diminishes any warmth we should feel for the personalities. The whole structure of the book feels like Frank Thompson died too young to warrant a book by himself, which is a shame given his tragic death. I really wanted to be engaged by this book but it did not happen.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding biography, 1 Jan 2013
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This is a wonderfully imaginative biography of an unusuall;y interesting man who died in the course of undercover action in the Balkans in the course of World War II. A poet, scholar and intellectual,. his biography is an outstanding account of the intellectual and emotional milieu of Britain in the 1930s, a milieu which saw many disillusioned and still; idealistoic young people turn to Roman Catholicism or to Communism.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AVery English Hero, 5 Sep 2012
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Bought as a birthday present I couldn't resist a peak at this excellent book.I will have to borrow it back for a full look in a few months time!
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