Obituary:Sir Fitzroy Maclean

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The Independent Online
In 1967, as a Russian-speaking member of BBC television's Documentary Department, I was asked if I would work with Sir Fitzroy Maclean in making a film about the Soviet Union, writes Malcolm Brown [further to the obituary by Frank McLynn on 19 June]. It was basically Eastern Approaches revisited - to be shown on the 50th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. This would require two extensive journeys, one for reconnaissance, the second with a film team. It was to be one of the happiest and most enriching collaborations of my 26 years as a BBC staff producer.

Our friendship was barely 10 minutes old when he told me to drop the "Sir" and call him Fitzroy, Fitzy, or even Fitz; I settled for Fitzroy. He was a youthful enthusiast and the possessor of an almost schoolboyish sense of humour, and we were able to pun frequently and execrably in two languages. "Lux", or to transliterate more correctly, "Lyooks", was the top grade of travel offered in the Soviet Union by Intourist; the modest quip "If Lyooks could kill" had us both in laughter for hours.

He knew his Soviet Union well. One evening at the famous National Hotel opposite Red Square, he took me down a corridor to point out the corner room where Commander Courtney MP had been filmed in flagrante by the KGB.

Later, when about to fly from Tashkent to Baku over the Caspian Sea, I expressed pleasure that our Russian minders had put us first on board our Ilyushin-18. "You know what this means," he said, "we are going to fly over some important military installation, and so will be put in a place of honour opposite the wing where we can't see anything." He was right.

He also knew his Central Asia. Flying at 30,000 feet one magical evening and gazing through the aircraft window at a distant frieze of mountains, I felt a tap on the knee. "Those," said Fitzroy, "are the high Pamirs." It was rather like being shown the Empty Quarter by Wilfred Thesiger.

He spoke Russian with an effortless ease and a strong Etonian accent. Right-wing MP that he was, the Russians loved him and he returned their affection. He was splendid at getting to his feet at the kind of occasions when toasts in vodka were drunk to everything that anybody could think of and at contriving speeches which put everyone in high good-humour.

Our programme, transmitted under the title The Other Russians, collected a huge audience on BBC1; and was later shown to much acclaim in the series The World About Us on BBC2.