On October 23, 1966, Soviet spy George Blake escaped from a high-security London prison, Wormwood Scrubs, in what was undoubtedly one of the most daring breakouts in the history of the British prison system.
The carefully-planed escape was assisted by Blake’s former fellow inmates, Pat Pottle, Michael Randle and Sean Bourke, who had apparently felt a degree of sympathy towards Blake on account of the severity of his sentence. With their help, Blake squeezed through the window (previously tampered with) of his prison block and made it on to the roof. Miraculously avoiding the guards, he then jumped six meters to the ground, breaking his hand, and managed to run to the gateway car with Randle awaiting him inside.
Blake was shuffled from one safe house to another, before being smuggled out of the country in a secret compartment of a camper van. The van was driven by Randle with his family to East Berlin – with Blake hidden underneath. Randle's children in the back, cheerfully sitting on top of the most wanted man in Britain, fooled the customs officers and Blake was successfully delivered to East Berlin in December 1966.
After escaping, George Blake made his way to Moscow, where he was hailed a hero and has lived ever since. Blake published an autobiography “No Other Choice” in 1990, in which he described how he volunteered to be a double agent.
As Blake stated in his book, he turned against the West while serving as a British MI6 intelligence officer in Seoul during the Korean War.
Captured by the North Koreans, he witnessed the West’s bombing of civilians and that’s what triggered his decision effectively to change sides.
Blake said in one of his interviews “It was the relentless bombing of defenseless Korean villages. When I saw these enormous American flying fortresses, I felt a feeling of shame. I felt very acutely that I was on the wrong side and that I should do something about it.”
After spending three years in a Korean prison, Blake returned home to Britain in the first group of POWs released from Korea after the 1953 armistice. Blake slipped back into British Intelligence, only then as a KGB spy.
“I was given a mini camera and I carried it with me whenever I went to work, like I carried my wallet with me. The reason was that I never knew what important documents I might find on my desk that were worthwhile photographing.”
During a period of nine years, Blake furnished the Soviet Union with information on dozens of agents who served the British secret service. He informed the KGB of one of the most classified operations of the Cold War – Operation Gold (or the Berlin Tunnel), conducted by the American CIA and the British Secret Intelligence Service.
In 1960, Blake was himself betrayed when he was named by a Polish agent who defected to the West. After pleading guilty to all charges of spying, Blake was sentenced to 42 years (at that time the longest sentence ever imposed by a British court) in the notorious Wormwood Scrubs prison. After spending five years locked up, Blake lost all hope of being exchanged for another agent and planned his breakout.
For years, the truth of his escape remained a secret. Common wisdom held that it must have been a professional operation masterminded by the KGB. However in 1988, Randle and Pottle revealed that they had sprung Blake from jail in a book titled “The Blake Escape - How We Freed George Blake and Why”.