Arthur Taylor on a secret mission for World In Action

Going back a long way to Songs from the Two Brewers, one of the people who emerged from that I thought was a tremendous talent was Ralph McTell. In fact, that series was the first time that anyone had seen or heard Streets of London, would you believe? And again, I went to Scott and said, “Look, this guy is a fantastic talent, and he’s doing the Festival Hall.” He was doing a solo concert in the Festival Hall. So he had gone from folk clubs to solo. And I said, “It’s a fantastic story.” And he said, “Alright, go and do it. So there’s a lovely director called Barry Clayton who been trained at the Polish Film School, would you believe, a very brilliant ebullient, cheerful guy, very good director. So we did this film about Ralph. And so… we’re friends to this day. I mean, Ralph rings up, and… I mean, he lives in Cornwall now so we don’t see much of each other. But he got a job some time in the early 1970s. He was asked by the Basque people – I didn’t quite know who he meant by the Basque people – to do a concert in San Sebastián, because they thought that he was a lefty, left-wing good guy, and he said would I like to come. Because he was on his own, a bit bored, and he was there for a week, I think. So I said yes, of course. Because I was… I had nothing to do at the time. So word must have got about that I was going to San Sebastián to this Basque festival – because it wasn’t just music, it was sports and games and all sorts – and this guy, (?) Moore, he was working on World in Action, and he came up to me and said he wanted to chat. “You’re going to San Sebastián, yes?” he said, “What does it say on your passport?” I said, “Teacher.” I’d not changed it, it was a 10-year passport. “Ah, good,” he said. “We want you to do us a favour for World in Action.” I said, “Yes, what is it?” He said, “When you’re in San Sebastián, we want you to take this piece paper across the border into France and this village that I’ll give you the name of and the address, we want to make contact with people from ETA, but it’s got to be done in a quiet way, so we want you to go into France, get the information, go to a public phone box in France, not in Spain, and phone back the information.” So I said, “Okay.” So we did. When Ralph had finished his two gigs and we had seen the sports and the log choppers and the oxen and God knows what, I hired a car in San Sebastián and we drove across the border to this village, and it was completely deserted and all the curtains were shut. We got to the house. Knocked on the door, nothing happened. Knocked on the door again, and the door flew open and I’m staring at a double-barrelled shotgun straight in my face. And a guy who I can’t understand. I tried to talk to him in basic Spanish, I tried to talk to him in French, and eventually he must have realised that I was not the threat that he thought I was at first. The other thing was that Ralph was with me, and Ralph had very long hair and was wearing a very shaggy jacket and looked like an assassin of some sort, you know? And, we discovered later, that we were driving a car with Madrid number plates on, so… so we eventually we get introduced to this guy who was the local priest, who gives me a terrible bollocking, and says, “Why do you people think you can come over here, you can’t speak proper Spanish, your French is terrible…” – dah-di-dah – “…and it’s all very dangerous.” So I said sorry. Anyway, he said, “Here’s a piece of paper, here’s the information,” so I did it. I went back, phoned Stephen, came back, thought nothing of it. That was it.
And then World in Action did do a programme about a Basque guy who actually covered himself with petrol and set himself on fire in front General Franco at some meeting as a protest, and they made the programme I think about this guy’s life work and art and so on and so forth. And apparently, they got the story through this bit of information that I had phoned through, which I wasn’t quite aware what it was, it was just names and telephone numbers and so on. But this guy Moore – what was his first name? – came up to me afterwards and said, “You had quite a narrow escape there.” I said, “Why’s that?” And he said, “Because they had a German industrialist in the cellar of the house.” They killed him later. So that was… I was kind of indirectly working for World in Action but I wasn’t on it. I was an innocent child; I didn’t know that was going on at all. Ralph was highly entertained when I told him that story.

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