At last, the truth emerges about Gordon Lonsdale's shadowy life

TROFIM MOLODIY, son of the Soviet spy Konon Molodiy who passed himself off in Britain as Gordon Lonsdale and stole submarine secrets in the 1950s, was sick and tired of reading "rubbish" by Russian authors about his father. "All they ever got right was his date of birth and his date of death," he said. So, with a ghostwriter, he has written the "true" story of the agent, portraying him as a human being rather than the wooden hero of Soviet propaganda and even suggesting the KGB might have killed him after he was released from Britain in a spy swap.

The manuscript, produced with Leonid Kolosov, a retired KGB agent who work under cover as an Izvestia correspondent, has been handed to a Russian publishing house, Top Secret, which plans to have it ready for the Frankfurt Book Fair. The book will be called Dead Season - End of a Legend, a title full of resonance for Russians. "Dead Season" was a James Bond-style film, loosely based on the life of Konon Molodiy, which was banned for a long time in the Soviet Union and therefore attracted great attention when it finally reached cinemas.

Trofim, 40, an ex-border guard officer who runs a security firm in Moscow, was 12 when his father died in 1970. So he asked "Uncle Lyonya" Kolosov, 71, to write the book with him, as he had studied with Konon in the 1940s and befriended the spy again after he returned from Britain in 1964.

Konon Molodiy, whose Ukrainian roots account for his name, was born in Moscow on 17 January 1922. His father died when he was a child and his mother sent him to live with an aunt in California. Genrikh Yagoda, then head of the Soviet secret police, helped the boy get a passport to go to America. "Evidently the KGB had their eyes on him when he was only 12 years old," said Trofim.

That Konon grew up speaking English enabled the KGB to use him later as an "illegal", not a spy with diplomatic cover but an agent with the riskier job of passing himself off as a native in the target country.

When the Soviet Union took part of Finland after the Second World War, it inherited public records there. In 1953 the KGB sent Konon to Canada on the passport of a dead man whose mother had been a Finn married to a Canadian, Arnold Lonsdale. Thus Konon became Gordon. From Canada he went on to the US, where he trained with the Soviet atom spy Rudolf Abel before entering Britain as Gordon Lonsdale, head of Lonsdale Ltd, a company that sold juke-boxes and chewing- gum machines to pubs.

To make his cover convincing, Lonsdale really did work in this trade as well as spying and thus became a rich man, with a fleet of cars, a yacht and a playboy lifestyle. But once a year he told friends he was going on holiday to the Canaries and flew instead to Prague or Warsaw for R and R with his Russian wife, Galina.

"She had absolutely no idea what he really did," said Trofim. "He told her he was a Soviet trade representative in China. He said the living conditions there were too poor for her to join him and so they could only meet like this. During one of those meetings in Eastern Europe, I was conceived."

Kolosov was equally in the dark about Konon's life, although they had drunk together and shared girlfriends when they had been students at Moscow's Institute of Foreign Trade. Kolosov had yet to join the KGB then but, unknown to him, Konon had already been recruited by Lubyanka bosses impressed by his anti-fascist fervour during the war.

The story that Konon had gone to China after college was plausible, because he had studied Chinese at the trade institute but one incident made Kolosov suspicious. "A mutual friend told me he had seen Konon at Orly airport in Paris. `Impossible,' I said, `Konon's in China.' But he said he had gone up to him and greeted him. At first Konon spoke English and pretended not to know him. But when he persisted, Konon took him on one side and whispered in Russian, `Fuck off.' I found this very puzzling."

Matters were clarified for Galina and Kolosov after Scotland Yard caught Lonsdale taking secrets from an agent on Waterloo Bridge and he was sentenced to 25 years' jail. Kolosov read about it in the Western press. Galina got a terrible shock. "KGB bosses came to our flat in Moscow and gave her a 12-piece tea service," said Trofim. "They told her not to worry. Her husband was a hero and they would get him out of prison as soon as they could."

This was how the Daily Express, then a serious broadsheet, reported the trial in its edition of 23 March 1961: "Stocky, 39-year-old Lonsdale, whose true identity may never be known, faced Lord Parker, the Lord Chief Justice, with a smile on his face, a flush on his cheeks and the fading words of his counsel in his ears: `At least it can be said of this man that he was not a traitor to his own country.' But at the tone of Lord Parker's voice, the smile vanished and he paled. A gasp broke the silence of the packed court at the sentence - the longest passed there in memory." Sentenced with him were Peter and Helen Kroger, East Europeans who got 20 years each, and Harry Haughton and Ethel "Bunty" Gee, British traitors sentenced to 15 years each for having helped Moscow lay its hands on the secrets of the Portland Underwater Weapons Establishment. Lonsdale's identity emerged when a Pole working for the West unmasked him. It was a tip- off from the same Pole that led to the arrest on Waterloo Bridge.

Lonsdale/Molodiy was taken to Winson Green Prison, Birmingham. By his own account, he was in entertaining company, for, although he was in a single cell, he fraternised with some of the Great Train Robbers. The authors of the book gleefully publish a snobbish letter from a certain Geoffrey N Draper to Lonsdale, cancelling his membership of the Royal Over-Seas League because of his changed circumstances.

But he did not remain long behind bars. In 1964 he was swapped in Berlin for Greville Wynne, a British businessman jailed in Moscow for his contacts with the Soviet traitor Oleg Penkovsky.

Thus Konon went back to the Soviet Union, where he ceased to be a man and became a myth. He was treated like a hero at first, being given a bigger flat for his family, according to Trofim. A special section of the KGB museum was devoted to Molodiy, who obviously could no longer be active but who got well-paid work as a consultant.

Konon contributed to the propaganda about his career. When he was in prison, a British publisher sought to buy his memoirs. The offer was discussed in Moscow and when the head of the KGB, Vladimir Semichastny, grasped that the money could buy "75 Volga limousines", he gave permission for the book to be written. But Konon had to accept KGB censorship. Other books came out, including one in which the KGB put words in Galina's mouth and even paid her for the honour, and all plugged the line that Konon was a hero.

The truth, say Kolosov and Trofim, is that he was angry. Like Kim Philby, who became depressed when he saw the reality of life in the Soviet Union for which he had betrayed Britain, Konon grew disillusioned with Communism, because he had the yardstick of his Western experience by which to measure it.

Also, he was bitter about the way the KGB had handled him. When the Pole blew the whistle on the Portland spy- ring, his controllers should have warned him not to go to Waterloo Bridge, he said. Finally, it maddened him that the KGB, thinking he may have been turned while in prison, did not trust him, and followed him and bugged him in Moscow, even though he was supposed to be a hero.

Six years after returning home, Konon collapsed while walking in the woods outside Moscow and died on 9 October 1970. His death came "prematurely, when he was at the height of his creative powers", said the short official biography that was the only document Kolosov, despite having been a KGB officer, could extract from KGB archives when researching Dead Season - End of a Legend. The book argues that it is possible the KGB murdered Konon to shut him up.

Kolosov especially is inclined to believe this. He says his friend was healthy when he came back from Britain.

But soon he began complaining that KGB doctors were calling him in and giving him injections for supposed high blood pressure. He told Kolosov he was getting headaches he never had before the injections but the doctors said he should expect to "feel worse before he felt better".

Shortly before he died, Konon also spoke of a palmist in Britain who had predicted he would "wear handcuffs, but not for long" and that when he returned to his "country of origin" he would be "in danger from seeming friends and unethical doctors".

Trofim is more sceptical. "There was a history of high blood pressure in our family and I can't really see why the KGB would wait six years to kill him when they could have done it as soon as he returned from Britain. On the other hand, I do not exclude the possibility."

Suggested Topics
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little