Interview with Lord Annan INT: What were the Russians like to deal with face to face for someone like yourself or other occupying authorities? Were they very opaque, or were they straightforward?
Interview with Lord Annan
INT: What were the Russians like to deal with face to face for someone like yourself or other occupying authorities? Were they very opaque, or were they straightforward?
LORD ANNAN: I didn't have a great deal of contact with the Russians. I occasionally used to go to a party in Berlin where they'd be present. The Russian attitude, you see, to politics was very... German, German politics, was very simple. And he said to me... one of the Russian political officers said to me - my opposite number, as you might say - he said to me, "CDU ist gute partei" - "It's a good party" - but "kleine partei" - "very small party". And of course, from their point of view this was self-evident. What was the CDU? A bourgeois party. The bourgeois - they're a minority, so therefore it's a small party. The idea that people might vote for it even if they were workers, was either inconceivable or it must have been rigged. So there was no meeting of minds at all in that way - there couldn't be.
INT: I'd like you also to tell me just a little bit more about the difficulties and the costs of the British running the British end. Was it really a drain, was it a drain on our resources...?
LORD ANNAN: Tremendous, tremendous. You know, people forget again: we never had bread rationing during the war; we had bread rationing after it. And that was because we were pouring wheat into Germany to prevent mass starvation there. And in the end, of course, it came to the fact that... I think it was '47, wasn't it?, when finally the British had to say to the Americans: "We can no longer sustain the cost of maintaining the independence of Greece and safeguarding Turkey. You must come in and help us." Of course, the Americans in a sense had brought that on themselves, because the terms of the American loan to Britain in 1945 were very onerous - I mean, they really put the thumbscrews on, and made us a client state. Well, that... was after all part of that American policy that I was talking about: the... distancing themselves from the British after 1945, before, by 1947, coming round to the view that we must hold a united front against the Communist domination. And in 1948, of course, when the Berlin airlift was... came - I mean, the blockade came - the Americans were simply magnificent. You know, Ernie Bevin... at a meeting, he... the American Air Force chief there said, "Half the air force are transport planes - they're all over the world. To get them together again - I don't see how we can do this." And Bevin said, "That's the first time I've ever heard an American general say that something was impossible." That settled it: the general just went out and was determined to show that the Americans could do it, and by God they did. It was a fantastic affair, a fantastic piece of administrative achievement. Of course, the British supplied a third of the machines which flew into Berlin during the blockade.
INT: I believe you yourself went to Berlin a couple of times during the blockade. Tell me, what was it like to fly in the city during the blockade, and what on earth were you up to?
LORD ANNAN: (Laughs) Well... but flying in was rather exciting, because you came down really to roof level - I mean, you could almost look in to the windows of the houses as you came into Tempelhof, which was really an old-fashioned airport. But it was the only one which was open to the British and the Americans. Why was I there? (Laughs) That, I'm afraid, is more comedy than heroics. When the blockade began, or after it had really got started, in that summer of 1948, each great power thought that they must make a demonstration to the citizens of Berlin of their concern for higher things. The Russians sent a Cossack choir of 400-strong to sing in the Alexander Platz. The British replied by sending the Cambridge Madrigal Society and the Cambridge Marlowe Society, which played Shakespeare and Webster and all that. (Laughs) But of course, the truth is, you can't, in a democratic society, suddenly say to a company which is playing in, shall we say, Her Majesty's Theatre... Olivier, or somebody like Gielgud, and say, "Now you must up sticks and play in Berlin as a demonstration." You can't... don't do that in a democratic country. So we were sent. And...
INT: But you were an actor...
LORD ANNAN: ... my great mentor... well, I had in fact, as an undergraduate, acted in the Marlowe Society, and my great mentor, George Rylands, who was a famous producer of Shakespeare and... I mean, Peter Hall, John Barton and all these people were under him at one time or another... and he said to me, "Look, couldn't you come out? I know you speak some German, and you have some experience, after all, of acting in the Marlowe." So I said, "Well, what part do you... are you offering me?" "Well," he said, "in the White Devil, you're just the man for Cardinal Monticelso." I said, "What happens to him?" "Well, he's made Pope in Act IV." (Laughs) So I thought, "Well, I can go no higher." So that was my last performance on the stage. And we went in to Berlin, and we... it was very extraordinary, because we played in a little gem of a theatre called the Renaissance Theater, and the old men there who made you up, who were the stage hands, who were in front of house people, they were emaciated. Some of them just keeled over from starvation during that terrible hot weather. They had very, very, very short rations in Berlin, owing to the blockade. But they were absolutely behind us from the start. God knows what the (Laughs) Berlin population made of us as actors, but they were appreciative. And of course, we had a most enormously enjoyable time. One forgets, you know, that even during these so-called crises, it's such fun (Laughs), it's such fun - you know, there's such tremendous vitality in the air, and... certainly there was then. And we also, of course, watched the German professional companies rehearsing - that was an education.
INT: Tell me, Sir, do you think the Soviets could have won the hearts and the minds of most Germans at this time?
LORD ANNAN: Not a hope, I think. Their reason for that was, of course, that...
INT: Maybe if you could start by...
LORD ANNAN: I beg your pardon, I beg your pardon. It's often put to me: "Well, how was it that the Russians were so unpopular, really, in Germany?" Of course, we forget, you know, that the war on the Russian front was of a brutality unknown on the Western front, even though the SS committed terrible atrocities in the West, but it was nothing to what they did in Russia. And the whole devastation of cities in Russia produced the feeling where the Russians were jolly well going to take it out of the Germans, and they sacked their cities when they came in, they raped, they did everything that a real conquering army in the 17th century did, to teach the Germans a lesson. Well, OK, that may be one way of dealing with the problem, but it doesn't make you popular. And I think also, too, many Germans perfectly well understood that brown, the Ncolours, were becoming red overnight. After all, the methods in some ways were the same, or at any rate very similar, of forcing peopleto do things against their will.
INT: Tell me... moving on just a little bit, Sir...February '46 - Churchill makes a speech in Fulton, Missouri. What were your thoughts about that speech?
LORD ANNAN: Great relief. You see, if you were in the thick of it, recognising what was happening actually, and the pressures that were being put, and the threat to the free world from Soviet Communism, the fact that somebody spoke in that way was an enormous encouragement. But don't forget that Stalin made the equivalent of a Fulton speech months earlier, in which he told the Soviet Union: "These people who you... we call them the Allies, but they are in fact the capitalist enemies that are... eternal enemies to our civilisation..."
(A bit of preliminary talk)