'Lucky' British traitor Blake turns 90 in Russia

Updated 11 November 2012

'Lucky' British traitor Blake turns 90 in Russia

MOSCOW: British spy turned Soviet agent George Blake celebrates his 90th birthday on Sunday, living a comfortable retirement in Moscow and feted as a hero in Russia but still seen as a traitor in Britain.
Blake was destined to spend most of his life in jail after being found guilty in the 1960s of spying for the Soviet Union but dramatically escaped his British jail and made it to the safety of Moscow.
He has stayed ever since, marrying a Russian wife, Ida, taking the Russian name of Georgy Ivanovich, becoming a grandfather nine times over and living a quiet life in the Moscow region.
Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) took the unusual step of congratulating Blake on his birthday, issuing a public statement titled “the birthday of a legend.”
“George Blake is a spy and an anti-Fascist who has made a huge contribution in ensuring the security of our country,” said the statement signed by the head of its press bureau Sergei Ivanov.
The statement noted that Blake had been decorated multiple times for his “great achievements in ensuring state security,” receiving medals including the Order of Lenin.
“I am a happy man, a very lucky man, exceptionally lucky,” Blake said in a rare interview last week with the government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta.
Unlike fellow British double agent Kim Philby — who along with other members of the Cambridge Five spy ring he knew personally — Blake appears to have immediately adapted well to the new circumstances.
He and Ida had one son, named as Misha, finance expert, 40. Blake also had three sons with his first wife in Britain, from whom he separated after his flight.
Remarkably, all Blake’s children will come to Russia to celebrate his 90th birthday with him.
“All this upheaval turned into a miracle. I am in touch with my grandchildren and children in England who often come here. And here I have my wife and son who are very loved,” Blake said.
Blake was born in the Dutch city of Rotterdam in 1922. His mother and sisters fled the Nazi-occupied Netherlands in World War II to England where Blake followed them after fighting with the Dutch resistance.
Even before the end of the war he was working for the British secret service in London, rapidly becoming a specialist on the USSR and being dispatched to Korea as the Cold War intensified.
A communist, Blake began supplying secrets to the KGB in 1953 and helped reveal to his Soviet masters a tunnel that the British and US secret services were building in Berlin.
Exposed by the Polish double agent Michael Goleniewski in 1961, Blake was put on trial, accused of causing the death of several agents through his treachery and sentenced to 42 years in jail.
But his escape from Wormwood Scrubs prison in London four years later and flight back to his masters in Moscow has gone down as one of the greatest jail breaks of all time.
In the Rossiyskaya Gazeta interview, Blake recalled how he had managed to spring jail with the help of released former inmates by breaking a window at Wormwood Scrubs, climbing over the perimeter wall and getting into a waiting car.
His one mishap was to break his wrist in the jump down from the wall. “I sometimes feel it (the pain) to this day,” said Blake.
Apparently without any help from the Soviet secret services, Blake was taken by car across Europe to East Berlin where he then presented himself to Soviet agents who took him to Moscow.
“These have been the calmest years of my life,” he said. “When I worked in the West, the danger of exposure always hung over me. Here, I feel myself free.”
Blake recalled his contacts in Moscow with Philby — who fled to the USSR before ever being arrested — which included motoring trips and reminiscing about England.
“Yes, there was something to remember. But analyze — no. We understood. We knew our stories and who had done what,” said Blake.
Blake appears to have enjoyed life in Russia much more than Philby, whose time in Moscow until his death in 1988 many believe was scarred by drinking and depression.
“This is my character. I can adapt to anywhere where I have to live. I even got used to being in the Scrubs,” said Blake.


Orange is the new grey for Bangladesh beards

(COMBO) This combination of pictures created on January 24, 2019 shows men with henna-dyed beards in Dhaka on December 24, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2019

Orange is the new grey for Bangladesh beards

  • It is now virtually impossible to walk down a street in a Bangladesh city without seeing a colored beard

DHAKA, BANGLADESH: From shades of startling red to hues of vivid tangerine, brightly colored beards have become a fashion statement on the streets of Bangladesh capital Dhaka.
Facial hair of sunset tones is now the go-to look for older men wanting to take off the years, with an array of henna options available to the style-conscious.
“I have been using it on my hair for the last two months. I like it,” says Mahbubul Bashar, in his 50s, whose smile reflected his joy at his new look.
Abul Mia, a 60-year-old porter at a local vegetable market, agrees that the vibrant coloring can be transformative.
“I love it. My family says I look a lot younger and handsome,” he adds.
While henna has been used widely in the country for decades, it has reached new heights of popularity. It is now virtually impossible to walk down a street in a Bangladesh city without seeing a colored beard.
Orange hair — whether it’s beards, moustaches or on heads — is everywhere, thanks to the popularity of the colored dye produced by the flowering henna plant.
“Putting henna on has become a fashion choice in recent years for elder men,” confirms Didarul Dipu, head fashion journalist at Canvas magazine.
“The powder is easily found in neighborhood stores and easy to put on,” he adds.
But the quest for youth is not the only reason why more and more Dhaka barbers are adding beard and hair coloring to their services.
Top imams also increasingly use henna powder color in what experts say is a move to prove their Muslim credentials as some religious texts say the prophet Mohammed dyed his hair.
In Bangladesh most of the population of 168 million is Muslim.
“I heard from clerics that the prophet Mohammed used henna on his beard. I am just following,” says Dhaka resident Abu Taher.

Henna has long been a tradition at South Asian weddings. Brides and grooms use henna paste to trace intricate patterns on their hands for wedding parties.
It has also long been used in Muslim communities in Asia and the Middle East for beards.
Previously, aficionados created the dye by crushing henna leaves to form a paste. It was messy and time-consuming but modern henna powder is far more user-friendly.
Taher, who goes by one name, believes the dye has given his beard added vigour.
“Look at this growth. Isn’t it strong?” he exclaims pointing to his chin.
“The powder turns the grey hair red but does not change the remaining black hair,” he explains.
Some believe henna powder has health benefits and, as it is natural rather than created using man-made chemicals like some dyes, does not cause any medical issues.
The new trend has also boosted barbers’ fortunes — more men feel compelled to dye their hair and to do it more often at the salons.
“In the past we hardly would get any customers for this,” recalls Shuvo Das, who works at the Mahin Hairdressers in Dhaka’s Shaheenbagh neighborhood.
“But now there are clients who come every week to get their beard dyed,” he says.
“It takes about 40 minutes to make the beard reddish and shiny. It is also cheap. A pack cost only 15 taka (four US cents),” Das explains as he massages the dye mixture — imported from India — into a customer’s beard.
According to Dhaka University sociology professor Monirul Islam Khan, the growing number of henna beards “is a sign of increasing Muslim fervor in Bangladeshi society.”
But, he adds, even those who are not strict followers do it.
He explains: “They want to look younger. Even the women are getting fond of it as it makes their hair glitter.”