UPDATE: TED ALLBEURY, SPY NOVELIST

May 2, 2012

I have added my new (old revised) review of “Shadow of Shadows” – one of the late former spy Ted Allbeury’s remarkable WW II and Cold War era spy novels – to my earlier entry about meeting with Ted Allbeury on this blog.

Scroll down to find it and my newly added review.

I am a huge fan of all of his literary output but “Shadow of Shadows” is without a doubt a great place to start your reading adventures with Ted Allbeury if you are not familiar with his back catalogue of work. He wrote brilliantly. IMHO it is a completely inexcusable disservice to his memory and writing talent that his novels are not better known and constantly reprinted.

– The Audio Addict

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UPDATE: “FRIENDS AROUND THE WORLD”

April 30, 2012

I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since my last post! So much for my New Years resolution (again!) to be a more consistent blogger…

But the great thing about blogs is that no matter their age new readers are constantly discovering them. Case in point – I just received an unexpected email in response to my most recent post (below). And it’s from the very NHK guest I mentioned briefly in my last post! Talk about an amazing connectedness. Anyway, I thought I would share it with all of you, so here it is…

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April 22nd, 2012

Hello Audio Addict,

I stumbled across your blog and read with interest your piece about “Friends Around the World”.

I agree with your comment about the occasionally slightly awkward moment in Kay & Mick’s interactions with each other.

However, I enjoy listening to their content (except some of the Japanese music!) so I continue to listen to their podcasts.

I have a keen interest in Japan, but my Japanese language ability is not yet sufficient to listen to Japanese radio programmes.

I was in Tokyo in April 2011 and met Kay Fujimoto and Mick Corliss at the NHK studios, they were both charming and friendly and I watched them record an episode of Friends Around the World. A short while after I returned to the UK, they phoned me in London and conducted the interview you referred to, about my Buddhist Pilgrimage on Shikoku.

I am glad that you found it illuminating.

Regards,

Stuart

twitter.com/henroplod

henroplod.blogspot.com

flickr.com/henroplod


——–

Many thanks for writing, Stuart. Lucky you, actually meeting Kay and Mick! And I’ve just looked at your awesome blog – about your incredible journey in Japan – and it is truly compelling to read. If anyone else is interested by all means check out Stuart’s links listed above by copying and pasting them into your browser. You’ll be glad you did.

Further NHK news: Sumi Zushi has left NHK (as of September or so of last year). I’m sure we all wish her the very best. I hope she finds great happiness and success in her “new life” after NHK and realizes how much she is still missed by her many “World Interactive” fans around the planet.

And so for now… that’s it for me… until I am next lured out of blogger’s hibernation – happy listening to all!

Your comments are always welcome to – theaudioaddict at hotmail dot com.

HELLO “FRIENDS AROUND THE WORLD”

June 6, 2011

I hope this won’t shock you but I’m back again. Yes, I know, three posts within a single year! Has The Audio Addict gone mad???

Rereading my previous two posts I feel as if I have been a little unfair to NHK Radio Japan’s new show, “Friends Around The World”. In my attempt to pay tribute to its immediate predecessor “World Interactive” and its host Sumi Zushi, I think I have not given the new show a fair review. So this post is an attempt to right that inadvertent mistake.

“Friends Around The World” is a weekly twenty minute program in English from NHK Radio Japan available any time via its main website and also live once a week around the world on shortwave radio. It’s also heard live Sunday afternoons within Japan on their domestic NHK 2 radio network station, presumably to help Japanese listeners learn English. The show’s mandate would appear to be to showcase aspects of contemporary Japanese life to its international audience in a friendly, informal manner and also to allow that audience to ask questions, give comments and generally help direct the content of the show whenever appropriate.

The show was scheduled to begin at the start of April 2011 as a replacement for “World Interactive” with Sumi Zushi. Changing shows and changing hosts are always tricky matters. Radio listeners get very attached to their hosts in a way I don’t believe TV viewers feel about TV hosts. It is part of the “magic” of radio. Radio is a much more intimate medium – it literally happens inside your head – and because spoken word radio actually requires your attention listeners tend to feel much more actively engaged.

“Friends Around The World” couldn’t’ve had a rockier start. The devastating tsunami and ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan beginning mid-March ended “World Interactive” prematurely. Programming on NHK Radio Japan went to all-news for a few weeks as Japan attempted to come to grips with its national tragedy and to share its news with the rest of the world. When NHK Radio Japan finally did feel it would be reasonable to resume regular programming (a daily mix of ten minutes news followed by a twenty minute feature) “Friends” had the twin dilemma of replacing a popular show as well as dealing with the disaster within the new show’s informal listener-driven format.

After a slightly shaky start The Audio Addict believes the show has settled down and is now an enjoyable weekly audio snapshot of life in Japan. The show has two co-hosts: Japanese writer-actor-director Kay Fujimoto (the previous host of “World Interactive” before Sumi Zushi took it over in 2008) and an American journalist Mick Corliss, who is also a writer and performer living in Japan. Kay Fujimoto was born in Japan but spent some time at school in the USA and so speaks “American” sounding English. Mick Corliss was born and raised in the USA but has spent a great deal of his life in Japan where he now has his immediate family. Kay and Mick have a very good rapport together although there is very occasionally a minor awkward moment when you sense they are still working out their on air relationship. Presumably they work from a script outline and ad lib whenever they feel comfortable. It gives the show a very upbeat, freewheeling, informal feeling. And they still manage to pack a lot of content in the short time available.

Choosing a Western co-host must have been a controversial move. Clearly NHK management wanted to try something new. The advantage of one host is the illusion of intimacy with the listener. The host is talking to you. With two hosts, they are talking to each other and you are only sharing that conversation, like you would at a friendly lunch or party. The success of a co-hosting team is their ability to “work off” each other and create a positive vibe for the show. Introducing a Western co-host could not have been an easy decision. It would be so easy to back-fire. I can imagine some listeners thinking “Who is this Yank and why does he claim to speak for the Japanese”? First good step – rehiring the delightful Kay Fujimoto. Her previous success and popularity as a WI host make her feel like a beloved friend returning home. Mick, on the other hand, is like a new friend and so listeners are still getting to know him. However, his wide knowledge of things Japanese as well as his humour and willingness to occasionally be teased by Kay make him a good team member. My only advice to him is to be extremely careful not to over-power Kay because of his greater fluency with the language.

The show has slowly moved away from talking entirely about the tsunami aftermath. It is now introducing various topics about life in Japan aside from the disaster. This is a good thing for keeping the listeners’ attention. Still, the tragedy is never far from the surface. Of course they must continuously reference it when appropriate. It is a matter of fine-tuning the balance. Aside from reading and responding to listeners’ letters and music requests, the show has also begun a new feature. Kay and Mick have had a number of phone interviews with international listeners who have had some unusual contact with Japan. The most recent interview was with a London UK police constable who did a Buddhist pilgrim’s walking tour of temples in Japan. It was very illuminating. And Kay and Mick are constantly improving their phone interviewing skills as the weeks go by.

The other recurring “players” on the show are the listeners themselves. Of course, there are always new listeners from exotic far away lands with questions and comments via e mail. But it is the recurring subset of “regular” listeners who write in week after week with new and interesting observations that help give the show a sense of familiarity and continuity. I’d liken these regular listeners to the cast of characters down at your favourite pub or cafe. Kay and Mick are the hosts but it’s also fun sometimes to hear what the “regulars” are thinking this week. It helps give the show its special interactive flavour.

The major criticism that a show like this can get is that it is generic “fluff”. My immediate response? Lighten up! If you want more serious, in-depth reporting on the Japanese situation check out their “Focus” feature any other day of the week following the NHK Radio Japan news. The pleasure of “Friends” or WI before it is their attempt to humanize or “let their hair down” and relax a bit with their worldwide audience. It is so nice to hear a more human side of NHK personalities on the show. Mick, for example, has another life at NHK Radio Japan as an English language news-reader as did Sumi Zushi in her earlier career at NHK. Kay – although not a NHK “personality” on any other show – comes across as a caring, very genuine person of depth who is also great fun to be around. “Friends” (and WI before it) does more for fostering international relations between Japan and the rest of the world than all the NHK newscasts put together. Yes, the news tells us intellectually what is happening over there but “Friends” puts us right there emotionally with people we would seemingly like to spend time with and get to know better.

So the energy is considerably different on the new show. Not better – and certainly not worse – just different than on WI. I think it is still finding its way. The new hosts are still learning to relax and react with each other. Editorially the show is striving for a balance between disaster aftermath news and broader non-disaster related topics. Favourite Japanese films, for example, was an excellent recent ongoing topic that could easily be revisited again in the future. The integration of interviews with foreigners who have visited Japan and can offer a personal perspective of their experience is also helping to carve out an intriguing new identity for the show.

The Audio Addict will continue to listen to and enjoy the new “Friends Around The World” with Kay Fujimoto and Mick Corliss. If you have any interest in life in Japan today, I think you will enjoy it too.

Check it out here…

http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/english/radio/program/index.html

You will also find radio shows about learning to speak Japanese, their daily “Focus” documentaries, shows on Japanese cooking, features on life in Japan as well as the NHK Radio Japan news available in both print and in audio formats.

Your comments as always welcome to theaudioaddict (at) hotmail (dot) com

UPDATE TO GOODBYE “WORLD INTERACTIVE”

June 3, 2011

It’s rare that The Audio Addict receives mail but when we do it’s a pleasure to share it . Here’s a response to the latest post about NHK Radio Japan’s “World Interactive” and its former host, Sumiko (Sumi) Zushi.

……………………………………………………………

Hi

Stumbled across your post about ‘World Interactive’ on NHK World as I hadn’t listened for a while and wondered where it went.

Thanks for providing the news about its demise – nice to know other people loved it as much as I did – I had a letter read out on it once.

I listened to WI before Sumi did it and to be honest probably preferred the previous presenter Kay Fujimoto who I thought seemed a little warmer, although Sumi’s English and accent was much clearer (she studied in Edinburgh didn’t she?).

I’m English so perhaps I am too used to hearing Japanese people speak with an American/Japanese accent when they speak English. Sumi sounded like she was on the BBC! It was very impressive.

Anyway ‘Friends Around the World’ seems pretty good, though I could do without the Western co-host. Doesn’t seem to be as many listener’s letters either. Still, it seems pretty good. Nice to hear Kay again.

Did you know Kay Fujimoto did her own blog? It hasn’t been updated in a while though. http://kay-fujimoto.blogspot.com/

Anyway thanks for your excellent blog!

Well done.

Mark

UK

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The Audio Addict replies…. Thanks Mark! Great to hear from you. Your comments are very much appreciated. The new show “Friends Around The World” started amidst the tragedy of the tsunami aftermath and so is doing pretty well IMHO under very trying circumstances. Kay is thoroughly delightful, agreed. But I started listening to WI around the time that Sumi Zushi took over in 2008 and so will always fondly associate it with her. I suspect she usually read from a script she’d written and so might have sounded a bit more reserved than Kay and Mick’s seeming ad libs (although I’m sure they work from some form of a script too.) I think whenever she interacted with live guests Sumi sounded a lot more informal and less “BBC”. Whatever – to my jaded North American ears her voice was always warm and friendly and classy. Sumi remains one of my all time favourites of the English-speaking announce staff on NHK Radio Japan. Thanks again for your comments and very kind words, Mark. Nice to know that somebody is actually out there. And re Kay’s blog… it’s also nice to know that there’s someone worse than me at updating!

GOODBYE “WORLD INTERACTIVE”

May 5, 2011

Thanks for dropping by again.

Yes, The Audio Addict is still alive and well. It’s just that it takes something really special to motivate me to post these days… I’m sure you understand.

One of my favourite contemporary on line radio shows from far away, NHK Radio Japan’s “World Interactive”, came to a premature end in early March 2011 due to the tragic aftermath following the March 11th earthquake and tsunami disasters in Japan.

Our hopes, best wishes and prayers go to the people of Japan during this dark corner of their modern history. I am sure that they will eventually fully recover and will have learned many invaluable lessons from this nightmare that will benefit the rest of the world too.

About a decade ago English language programming on NHK Radio Japan ran for an hour every day on live shortwave radio and presumably on their website on demand as well. Several years ago that output was reduced to a daily half hour. Proof that Japan is a strong and resilient nation is their return to regular programming during these trying times.

Check out…

http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/english/radio/program/index.html

Perhaps as a result of its national crisis and the worldwide response I hope that NHK will now more fully appreciate the value of its foreign language programming on Radio Japan and consider returning to its daily hour long output in English.

“World Interactive”, a weekly show based on listeners’ questions and feedback, was due to come to the end of its run by April and be replaced by a new show with new hosts, “Friends Around the World”. That series is now finally on the air and thriving.

Unfortunately, as I said, the last WI shows were never heard in full and so listeners were deprived of the final few weeks of this fun and lively series. Without a doubt, the key to its success for as long as I’ve been listening was its host, Sumiko Zushi. Sumi (as she is more informally known) possesses a dry wit and keen intelligence as well as an incredibly warm British-style accent and an engaging personality. She presented the weekly must-hear Japanese audio postcard for three years from 2008 to 2011. Sumi still works for NHK (Japan’s national public broadcaster) as a TV weather host. By all reports she does it extremely well although IMHO it would seem to be rather under-utilizing her proven talents as a broadcaster.

Sumi Zushi frequently provided fascinating and thought-provoking personalized glimpses into the arts and culture as well as everyday life of Japanese society. Many listeners will recall Sumi expertly guiding us through her selection of architectural wonders in Japan or painting vivid, precise word pictures of various unusual aspects of its colourful history, customs and traditions. A marvellous recurring segment featured haiku. I don’t suppose my first (and only) haiku is any good but, nevertheless, I humbly dedicate it to Sumi and her regular guests (as well as her anonymous producers) with sincere thanks for all the listening enjoyment they provided…

Sumi-san’s smile
on the radio no more –
One less rainbow.

The Audio Addict wishes Sumi Zushi the very best on all her future endeavours and hopes that she will return again one day to NHK Radio Japan.

The world will be listening.

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UPDATE re my previous post, THE DEATH OF BBC RADIO ON DIAL UP?… reader Fessenden reports that “the BBC never bothered to respond to quite a number of disappointed dial up listeners who posted on the only BBC blog that gave them a voice. In fact the BBC has actually killed that blog as well. The old threads are still on line but it no longer accepts new posts nor will anyone ever be able to reply to posts already there. Conclusion: The BBC (World Service radio aside) just doesn’t seem to care about any of its former millions of dial up listeners either in the UK or abroad. It can’t be that much of a cost issue so it must be calculated indifference. So much for the BBC’s stated commitment to universal accessibility”.

Check out…
http://wwwsearch.bbc.co.uk/blogs/radiolabs/2010/03/realmedia_follow_up.shtml

And here…

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/radiolabs/

Finally, Fessenden notes a new BBC blog – apparently designed to replace the old one – has “not addressed any dial up related issues as of this date. Will it ever?”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bbcinternet/

Many thanks to Fessenden for sharing his thoughts again.

Stay tuned…

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Your comments as always welcome – theaudioaddict at hotmail dot com

THE DEATH OF BBC RADIO ON DIAL UP?

June 5, 2010

Hello again, yes – it’s really me. I know – It’s been ages. How are you? Yeah, me too. Guess that’s how it goes…

The ol’ Audio Addict has been happily listening rather than blogging of late but something has been drawn to my attention to stir me up out of my complacency and back into blogging again. A reader of this blog and a fellow fan of BBC Radio on line, Fessenden, has written and tells the sad story better than I. Over to guest blogger Fessenden…

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BBC Radio has killed its dial up-accessible audio links!

An Open Letter to the BBC…

The cessation of Real Audio links for those of us around the world who still use dial up has been devastating. One day we were enjoying BBC Radio as usual and the next day we were cut off, without recourse to any alternatives or listening options. I know that this may astonish the majority of broadband users – including those who make the relevant decisions at the BBC – but dial up is still alive and well and in wide usage! It is not yet the arcane relic of the technological past that some would have you believe.

For the record, Real Audio worked perfectly well on dial up right until almost the end of May 2010 when it was arbitrarily terminated. Yes, it occasionally stuttered and stopped but more often than not it played uninterrupted and in totally acceptable sound quality.

The UK appears to be blessed with low cost, readily accessible broadband. Unfortunately, for the majority of us in the rest of the world, broadband is not always so easily accessible. And when or where it is available it is *vastly* more expensive than dial up. Therefore dial up remains the only viable method by which we can access the internet and – until recently – listen to the BBC.

Making your WMA low speed links 48 kbps makes absolutely no sense at all. Sure, change from Real Audio to the highly-overrated (IMHO) WMA if you must (although there was no reason to do so in my personal listening experience). But why kick your low speed audio links up to 48 kbps? That is way too fast to access via dial up and – I suspect – way too slow to satisfy the quality demands of those on broadband.

I would greatly appreciate an explanation of why the BBC has chosen to willfully abandon dial up listeners both in the UK and around the world. What has happened to your commitment to accessibility? The BBC’s current policy seems best exemplified by its complete failure (so far) to provide any kind of workaround or solution for a problem that it has itself created – aside from the often implied but incredibly unhelpful advice to “get broadband”.

If my understanding of an earlier post on the BBC Radio Lab blog is correct, the BBC World Service alone plans to continue to offer a Real Audio dial up-friendly low speed connection. If this is true it proves that at least a significant part of the BBC thankfully understands that dial up is still in daily use around the world by a substantial number of dedicated listeners.

I strongly urge the BBC to seriously consider the immediate reintroduction of basic dial up speed connections, whether in Real Audio or WMA format, for all of its terrestrial radio networks. If it is a cost issue let me be first in line to sign up for a subscription.

Fessenden

(Originally posted on the BBC Radio Lab blog – June 5th, 2010.)

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Thank you Fessenden for your thoughts (which apparently have also been posted elsewhere on line for maximum exposure). The Audio Addict can only agree 100% and hopes that the BBC will see the merits of your argument and respond accordingly. In the meantime, if you agree, write to the BBC and let them know. CC the ol’ Audio Addict too if you like. And if anyone from the BBC is reading this… on behalf of dial up audio addicts around the world…

PLEASE BRING BACK YOUR DIAL UP CONNECTIONS!

(But why am I not holding my breath?)

Your comments as always are very welcome. E mail theaudioaddict [at] h o t m a i l [d o t] c o m

Until the next time I awaken from blog-coma… I wish you endless hours of happy listening!

(And to my dial up brothers and sisters… keep the faith!)

A Visit To VE3OSC

July 17, 2008

I had fun visiting the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada earlier this month. It had been years and years since I last visited it. Of course I headed immediately to their shortwave amateur “ham” radio station. Their “ham shack” is actually a self-contained modular room – think of a very small 1970s gawdy orange coloured RV trailer without wheels inside the building off in a corner and you get the idea. I think it is the only thing left unchanged in the 35 years or so the place has been open although of course the radio equipment inside it has been significantly updated. I remember being a small child and visiting it first when it opened – CTV national news anchor Harvey Kirck was there and I think he’d already been celebrating quite a bit! I used to love shortwave radio listening before the era of the internet… tuning in exotic and far away stations and places through heavy interference and crackle… BBC (of course)… Radio Moscow… Radio Sofia… Radio Havana… etc. etc. etc. (Heck… what am I saying, I still love it!) Catching one of those foreign stations on my little shortwave radio was like catching rare tropical fish. At one point while still in high school I took a weekly night school course to get my ham radio “ticket” so I could transmit too. In the end I never went for my licence because in those days you had to do 15 wpm in morse code and I couldn’t get above 5 wpm. Sigh. Today, you don’t even need it at all. The other big difference between then and today is the technology – the Ontario Science Centre ham station (VE3OSC) has a computer that shows them the overhead satellites flying by that their equipment will automatically aim their aerial at and enable them to bounce their signal off! This facilitates two way contact much further afield than otherwise possible. Fascinating stuff for a radio/audio geek like me. I only stayed there a mere five hours!

I looked around at the rest of the OSC a bit too. Lots more for younger kids than in my day but I got the feeling, perhaps erroneously, that it has been significantly dumbed down. Less emphasis on learning, making connections, asking questions and more on just “having fun” without needing to pursue the reasons why. It was a truly magical cerebral experience when I was a kid. Today it seems more like a fancy baby-sitting service.

For example, I looked at their “space” exploration displays. Where was the moon landing? The Apollo years? Gemini? Mercury? It was like history didn’t matter to them at all. Fortunately VE3OSC was still there and thriving and still attracting visitors of all ages, young and old alike.

———————–

Later, I found an interesting related site at NASA which helps you plot in real time the various satellites overhead. Or at least the ones they are allowed to tell us about! If you click AMATEUR you’ll see the ones that ham operators can bounce their signals off as they fly by for a brief window. Makes you kind of nervous in a way when you really stop to think how much electronic junk is up there, listening, watching, snooping… Hi guys! Here’s the link:

http://science.nasa.gov/realtime/jtrack/Spacecraft.html

My thanks to the Ontario Science Centre’s Saturday “ham shack” volunteer Mopa Dean for generously sharing his time and experiences “on the air”. His genuine ability to educate and inspire should guarantee another generation of shortwave radio enthusiasts for sure!

Your comments as always welcome to theaudioaddict [AT] hotmail [DOT] com

Songs To Wear Pants To

May 18, 2008

OUTSOURCING MUSIC 101

I’m back this month to bring to you another great story about an unusual audio-based website. This time it’s http://www.songstowearpantsto.com – the brainchild of a talented young Canadian musician named Andrew, who just likes to go by his first name. His website’s memorable name is based on a random song title he came up with years ago. And that site provides a unique musical service for people who want to outsource their ideas to him.

Andrew gets requests like this: “I really like this girl, but I don’t know how to express it. If you could write a song about her with her beautiful light blue eyes, long brown hair, and great athletic body, that would be awesome.”

So people are outsourcing their love songs to Andrew and much much more. He can take somebody’s raw ideas (or even more developed ideas) and turn them into a song. But such terrific, fun, imaginative songs! He told me he’s been providing this specialized service for over four years now, and that it all started off almost by accident. Needing some cash, he offered his songwriting services on ebay. That was really successful. So he got his website going and today he’s got over 400 of his specially commissioned songs on the site. Some you can hear for free and some you can download for a small fee. They all have a wicked sense of humour and wonderfully twisted energy.

Now, Audio Addict, does Andrew ever worry he’ll become hooked, nay, dependent upon his paying customers to come up with ideas for songs instead of coming up with his own?

The short answer is no. He told me he keeps his commissioned songs and his personal songs totally separate in his head. (His personal songs can be found on another site, Andrewismusic, which can be reached from the main site.) And because he can be totally inspired by almost everything around him – including even inanimate objects – there’s literally no end of ideas for him.

OK, Audio Addict, this is all a lot of fun but what does it say about our culture? Are people no longer going to be bothered to write their own songs anymore?

I think if you’re good at something you’ll always want to do it yourself because you love doing it. You only outsource the things you’re not so good at or don’t have the time or the drive to do. Music has always been Andrew’s passion in life – and thanks to his website it’s also become his job. So he’s very happy others want to outsource their ideas to him.

If you want to get a song from Andrew or just listen to the already commissioned songs, his website is http://www.songstowearpantsto.com and everything you need to know is there. Everybody I talked to loved outsourcing their ideas to Andrew because he gives them back so much more than they expected. He’s obviously a very talented songwriter, musician and producer. I have no doubt we will be hearing a whole lot more about him and his music in the future.

Many thanks to Andrew for his help in preparing this item and to his satisfied customers – Amy, Azure, Brent, Emmy, Mike, Randy and Simon – for kindly providing me with their insights into how Andrew’s unique musical abilities are truly appreciated.

Your comments – ready to turn into a hit Broadway musical or otherwise – are always welcome at theaudioaddict[at]hotmail.com

TED ALLBEURY, SPY NOVELIST

April 21, 2008

THE SECRET LIFE OF A SPY


(Updated May 2012 – See Below)

Many years ago I had the unique opportunity to talk with one of the most modest, unassuming heroes I have ever met. His name was Ted Allbeury, a most remarkable man on so many levels. In World War Two – and during the Cold War that followed – he was a British intelligence officer, that’s a spy to you and me. Many years later he became world famous as the author of over 40 spy novels… gritty, compelling stories often set in the war or cold war era that he knew so well. It was in his not so secret life as an author that I met him and found out about the secret life of a spy, which as he told me, isn’t anything at all like the James Bond movies. Bond was pure fantasy. The character was too flashy, too memorable. The best intell operators, Allbeury told me, would be able to completely blend in, were easily forgetable and utterly unmemorable.

Furthermore, the true intell officer’s innate ability to really understand what makes people tick was also one of the reasons why Allbeury was such an accomplished author. His novels aren’t just reliant on tricky plots but really involve you with complex and often conflicted characters facing difficult moral dilemmas that you feel are drawn from real life. Exactly how much of his stories were fiction and how much were real life? Even decades after the war he refused to tell me, citing his signing of the Official Secrets Act as the reason. He could fictionalize his experiences, however, and that was “allowed”.

Throughout his years as an author Allbeury kept in touch with the intell community. I think a lot of them respected and admired his writing and the way he portrayed their secret lives with dignity, insight and understanding. Not an easy job given the often complex secret lives spies must necessarily lead. In some cases not only are you fooling your enemy, you’re also fooling your own side. Allbeury told me about George Blake who was a real life double agent. He even managed to fool himself at times in order to work both sides of the infamous Iron Curtain. Allbeury believed that Blake could compartmentalize his mind in such a way that when he was working for the British he truly believed he was loyal to them and when (say later that same afternoon) he was working for the KGB, he felt totally loyal to them instead. Blake did much more damage to the West than Philby and the rest combined in Allbeury’s expert opinion.

Imagine living a life like that – a secret life within your secret life. It hurts my head just thinking about it. But then, I haven’t had the necessary training. And according to Allbeury, the very training that keeps you alive as a spy also forces you into a life totally apart from those you are sworn to protect. Which has to make the intell profession one of the loneliest jobs in the world. After all, you know more about your opposite number (enemy) than anyone else and they know all about you too. No wonder Allbeury used to receive more Xmas cards from former enemies than he did from friends for years after his active service!

So – at the end of the day – what do spies get out of it all? Few get paid all that much and as I learned, all the glamour and excitement of 007 is a complete fantasy. I guess the most spies can get out of their secret lives is a kind of quiet satisfaction. I mean, Allbeury’s characters rarely had happy endings. And when they did it was a notable exception. I presume that was all based on his own real life experience.

I doubt Allbeury ever exactly found happiness himself because he’d seen too much of life’s darkest side. But I think he was still very much a Romantic. Despite the mindnumbing horrors that he’s witnessed and later fictionalized as a repeated act of catharsis, I think at heart he still wanted to believe in good and in the possibilities for good in mankind. I don’t know if that’s true of all spies still living out their secret lives in unrelenting isolation – but for their sake, and ours, I hope so.

If you’d like to know more about this truly remarkable man and his incredible life, just plug his name into your favourite search engine. (He had a whole other exciting life as a UK radio pirate back in the 1960s!)

Ted Allbeury passed away at the end of 2005 but fortunately lives on in his many excellent books. If you are drawn to spy novels with believable characters facing incredible challenges while engaged in the loneliest secret profession in the world, I think like me, you’ll become a big big fan of his work. You can still find his books on line, or at your local book store or public library.

Ironically, for a man who told me that the best spies are totally forgetable, Allbeury remains vividly in my mind as one of the most truly memorable, inspiring individuals I have ever met. And yet I have no doubt he was one of the best at his job. Go figure, huh?

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If you’d like to hear more about the world of spying and espionage, why not check out the podcast of the International Spy Museum. You can find it here:

http://www.spymuseum.org/programs/spycast.php

Your comments, as always, are welcome to theaudioaddict [at] hotmail [dot] com

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UPDATE (May 2012)

I’ve been frequently asked where to begin reading Ted’s back catalogue. I have literally enjoyed all of his novels and can highly recommend any of them to you should you run across one in a library or used book store. I am not aware of any currently still in print but there may be a few. Unlike some of his genre contemporaries, Allbeury’s work has suffered from a great general lack of appreciation following his death. This is completely unjustified by the uniform high quality of his work. I predict some future film or TV producer will make a fortune (and a great reputation) by digging up some of Ted’s work and using them as the basis for future projects. If any of you are reading this blog, may I suggest you begin your search by looking no further than…

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“Shadow of Shadows” by Ted Allbeury

A Review

by The Audio Addict


(Revised from a dead tree publication I once wrote for after I interviewed Ted. Note that there is some duplication of ideas with my post that you have just read because obviously both were based upon my one interview with him. However, what you are about to read was written in its original form years before that which you have already read above.)

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If you like spy novels you will be impressed by “Shadow of Shadows”. If you’ve never read one before or if you scoff at them as kids’ stuff this work will forever change your mind.

Ted Allbeury’s personal and professional experiences in the deception-filled world of espionage provided him with the necessary background for his novels. His skillful interweaving of seeming fact and (what we assume to be) fiction is incredibly convincing as to its realism. During his literary career, decades after his active service in British Intelligence, he was still sworn to secrecy by the Official Secrets Act. As a result we’ll never really know exactly how much reality there is in his body of work. I suspect he probably lost track himself as he continued to write to the end of his life in order to exorcize his profession-inflicted psychological trauma.

A former career as a spy is no guarantee as to any literary abilities of course. Fortunately Allbeury wrote brilliantly. His development of characterization by the middle of his literary career was especially admirable; you often ended up feeling a great deal of surprisingly genuine empathy for his complex and very adult characters.

His previous novel (before “Shadow of Shadows”) was another one I thoroughly enjoyed – “The Other Side of Silence”. It is a fictionalized account of real life British spy/traitor Kim Philby’s desire to return home to the UK from Russia before his death. It is a credit to Allbeury’s writing talents that Philby emerges as a largely sympathetic character – not what you would expect in such an otherwise anti-KGB, anti-communist themed novel. Philby is portrayed as a man caught up in – and ultimately trapped by – the deceptions of his own design. A design he created in order to survive in espionage – an existence wherein nobody is to be trusted and anybody is your potential enemy.

What emerges is a portrait of the spy as an essentially lonely individual, isolated by his training and instilled survival instincts, causing him to be alienated from the very civilian public he serves. Throughout his body of work Allbeury repeatedly reprises this insightful construct – namely, that spies will always have much more in common with their fellow agents – even enemy agents – than with their non-spy neighbors next door.

In person, Allbeury was an intelligent, well-spoken silver-haired grandfatherly figure when I met him some time before his death. It was difficult to imagine him as a spy. Easier to have imagined him in any of his other post-spy careers – as a farmer, a public relations man and even an offshore pirate radio broadcaster. It was his opinion that the best spies (or agents) were always the least likely to look the part. The typical Hollywood movie “007” would be considered far too attention-seeking to actually carve out a successful career in the real world. (Real life spies are sometimes called “grey” men for obvious reasons). He also told me that the type of (male) agent most likely to survive is the person with a “feminine” intuition to warn them of potential danger. (A very solid reason why women usually make such outstanding agents too.) Not the sort of admission you’d expect to hear from a man who admitted to killing enemies in wartime with his bare hands.

But back to “Shadow of Shadows”…

In it his lead character James Lawler – an SIS agent – digs into the complex and illusion-filled past to determine the truth about another notorious (fictionalized but real life) UK spy turned traitor George Blake – this in order to learn about the connection between Blake and a homesick KGB defector, Petrov. It is a story of suspense and mystery set in a world where there are no rules and friendship and trust are rare commodities that must be painfully earned and never taken for granted.

Allbeury’s flashback technique – employed here so effectively- allows the plot to unravel organically. This provides the reader with a growing insight into the story and its characters just as the characters learn more about their circumstances and themselves in the process.

The end of the novel – which was Allbeury’s 14th – hits a surprisingly optimistic note. It’s hard not to share his enthusiasm for his lead characters having lived with them throughout the dazzlingly byzantine plot. “The Other Side of Silence” had a completely satisfying albeit totally unexpected ending. “Shadow of Shadows” also has a completely satisfying conclusion but for a different reason. I sincerely hope you will have the pleasure of discovering it for yourself one day. Thanks to it we come to fully understand that spies are not just Hollywood cardboard characters but real multi-dimensional people. And that like the rest of us civies they too deserve whatever real happiness they can survive long enough to find.

I’d like to think Allbeury made that discovery for himself in his real life too – he surely deserved it – although I remain unconvinced.

Comments (always welcome) to theaudioaddict at hotmail dot com

Readers’ Comments

March 9, 2008

It’s not often The Audio Addict gets e mail from its readers and when we do I like to share them with you. Two very interesting comments came in recently on the “Number Stations Mystery” post from last month. (Scroll further down to read it.)

GLS writes:

I remember encountering numbers stations back when I was into listening to shortwave radio (which was before I got my Ham Radio license in the mid-70’s). In my opinion, they are certainly not CIA of MI5, but are more probably communications and instructions amongst certain anti-government groups and insurgencies around the world. Interesting stuff (http://www.archive.org/details/ird059).

And PJM writes:

Those “Number Stations” very well could be coded military messages, possibly originating from military ships at sea. Five number word codes were common for WWII encoding. Although with computerized systems today, the data could be encoded digitally and linked with digital networks.

Interestingly, after WWII, Camp X (located by Lake Ontario in Whitby) operated a listening post for some time after the war. They would likely have listened to these number stations quite attentively. Most of Camp X’s post WWII operations information is still classified, even though the camp was shut down decades ago.

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Many thanks to GLS and PJM for their thoughts. And ahhhh, the mystery continues!

Your comments, mysterious or otherwise, as always welcome to theaudioaddict [at] hotmail.com. Your privacy will be respected but your correspondence (when relevant) may be published.