Fact and fiction in one book
Monday 3 January 2022
Alan Furst's series of 15 novels on spying, resistance, occupation and espionage in Europe from 1928 to 1945, spanning the continent from Russia to Portugal, includes one titled The Foreign Correspondent.
Published in 2006, it is possibly the first book of fiction whose main character is a Reuters correspondent.
He is the memorable Carlo Weisz, a 40-year old half-Italian from Trieste. The son of an eminent ethologist, he spent two years at Oxford but felt not suited to academia and left without a degree but "speaking very good English”.
Back home in Trieste, his "scruffy, smart, rebellious" friends were Liberazione opposed to Mussolini's fascist regime. When attention from the fascist secret police OVRA started he was advised to "become a journalist and see the world”.
In 1935 he fled Italy to Paris, where he sought employment at the Reuters bureau.
The bureau chief was a Glasgow-born, self-taught linguist called Delahanty, who addressed everyone as laddie. "Here we do things the Reuters way, you learn the rules", Delahanty said, adding that a Reuters man had to do the donkeywork, "ride on trains and mule carts to get a story" and have "a feel for the human side". Telling Weisz he had the job, he noted: "That brings us to the gloomy subject of money”.
Weisz was sent several times to cover the Spanish civil war and then to Prague. Filing on the Nazi invasion, he received a cable reading: "Good work send more”.
Back in Paris, Weisz was pressured into moonlighting as editor of the Liberazione's clandestine emigre newspaper, bringing more attention from OVRA.
Pushed to publicise something he was reluctant to do by a senior member of the movement, he was told: "I know Sir Roderick”.
Furst's book continued: "This thrust went home. We'll tell your boss, if you don't do what we want. Sir Roderick Jones was the managing director of Reuters - a famous tyrant, a holy terror.
“Wore the school ties of schools he'd never attended, implied service in regiments he was too short to have joined.
At night, when his chauffeured Rolls-Royce took him home from the office, an employee was sent out to jump on a rubber board in the street which, as the car approached, turned the traffic lights to green.
“And he was said to have berated a servant for not ironing his shoelaces.” ■