No such thing as a free game of beach cricket with the KGB

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I would like to take this opportunity to get something off my chest that has been bothering me for a long time.

My association with the KGB started about 10 years ago, when I happened to be on holiday in Blackpool with my family.

No, I tell a lie, I was on holiday on the Black Sea with my family, but I had paid for the holiday all by myself and there was no Russian money involved whatever.

Now I come to think of it, I was not on holiday with my family but with three friends. My friends' names were Oleg, Vladimir and Dmitri, and they were very good friends of mine.

To put it another way, I had never met them before, apart from a chance meeting at a Russian Embassy party the week before, where they had proposed to give me a holiday by the Black Sea.

As part of my journalistic training, I was always taught never, ever to accept a free trip from someone you did not know well.

"Never!" stressed my informant. "Unless", he added after a thoughtful pause, "unless you need a break, or it might lead to a story, or it is free, or you can get a travel piece out of it ..."

Remembering this advice, I had accepted the offer of the trip with alacrity. Now, a few days later, I was sunbathing by the Black Sea on an equal footing with Bulgarian dignitaries and Siberian police chiefs.

"Are you enjoying your holiday?" Dmitri asked, or maybe it was Oleg, as we lay on the beach one day.

"Sure", I said. "I mean, it is not the same as a British seaside holiday, but it is very nice."

"How is it different from a British seaside holiday?" asked one of them. I looked around the sands. "A huge beach, and nobody playing cricket," I said.

Twenty minutes later I had taught them the rudiments of cricket, and the first game of beach cricket in history was taking place by the Black Sea. "That was fun," said Viktor at lunch. Viktor had turned up halfway through the morning to replace Oleg, andseemed senior in some respects to the other three. "By the way, have you wondered why you have been asked to come on this holiday?"

"Yes", I said, "I am not an innocent. I know that you get nothing for nothing. I am expected to do you a service in return."

"Indeed", said Viktor. "Can you guess what?"

"I can", I said. "You wish me to write an article praising the Black Sea as a holiday destination, not mentioning the sordid plumbing and the dreary catering."

They glanced at each other.

"Not as simple", said Viktor. "We have a rather more complicated request. We want you to write certain things in your column."

"And if I don't?"

"Then I am afraid that your family and your employers will see certain photographs."

"Photos? What photos?"

"Explicit photographs of yourself and the blonde lady with whom you spent such an ecstatic night in your hotel last night, and who, you may be surprised to learn, works for the KGB ."

"You may be surprised to learn", I said, leaning over to Viktor and staring back, "that I went to bed early last night and that my only companion was a novel by PG Wodehouse."

Viktor spoke angrily in Russian with his colleagues for a moment, then said: "I am sorry. There has been a mistake. That is planned for tonight.

"Never mind. Soon there will be compromising photographs and then we will ask you to put certain things in your column."

"Such as?"

"We wish you to attack the Government. To make fun of the Queen, to pillory Margaret Thatcher, to pour scorn on British foreign policy ..."

I considered briefly.

"Yes, of course," I said. "No problem - in fact, this is what I do already. This is what I am paid to do by my English employers."

As a columnist for the Times in those days, I felt I was justified in this claim, though perhaps "Australian" would have been more accurate than "English" when it came to my employers. They looked puzzled.

"You work for MI5?" they said. "Are you a double agent, Mr Gott?"

Now it was my turn to feel surprised.

"I think there is some mistake," I said. "My name is Kington ..."

That was how it all came out. They had got the wrong man on the holiday. It wasn't me they wanted at all. It was some other bloke I had never heard of. They weren't interested in me.

By their lights, I was already doing a grand subversive job for them, unpaid. I was flown back to Britain immediately. I never heard from them again, except to get a bill for the holiday from the Russian Embassy, asking me to pay back £350 for the week.

On reflection, I paid up. This was partly so I could claim it back against tax and partly so that if anyone ever asked me if I were on the payroll of the Russian government, I could truthfully say: "No, but they are in my pay."