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Friday, 9 June 2017


"Prague Coup" - "Le coup de Prague"

Translated from the French, the title of the just published book is Prague Coup with some of the key episodes focused on Greene’s short visit to Prague in February 1948 when the communist overthrow of the fragile post war government was underway  - From Radio Praha

I wonder if the book includes any of the following incidents (linked to Graham Greene's visit to Prague), as recorded variously by (Major) Dick Pollak, Reg Close and Edwin Muir?

Major Pollak was present at Graham Greene’s lecture at the British Council on the eve of the Coup, but went into hiding on the morning after the Communist Putsch, on 26 February 1948. Many decades later, as an elderly gentleman living in Wimbledon, he wrote to me personally about the incident. I still have his letters.

Graham Greene’s lecture at the British Council’s premises in the Kaunic Palace on the eve of the Communist Coup was provocative; it was an event which provided the basis for the comic scene in the film The Third Man (according to Reg Close's memoirs,"The Barrier").  "That evening, in the Kaunický Palace, Graham Greene faced a small group of Czech writers perversely. He was still cross with Edwin Muir and me. We had disturbed his rehearsals for The Third Man in the sewers of Vienna by daring to suggest that he might visit us in Prague to lecture for the British Council. Hence the comic scenes about a British Council lecture in the film. However he couldn’t resist our invitation and accepted it at short notice on the eve of the Communist coup. He enjoyed himself trying to provoke his audience into making remarks that would have us all arrested by the newly-unleashed police. Dick Pollak was the first to slip out. He looked so scared (“ill”, in the then unpublished typescript Reg gave to me) that I followed him to see if he needed any help. But he ran down the marblesque staircase. I never saw him again” (p.182-183).

The word was quickly spread round that Dick had committed suicide, but he was in fact "in safe hands" and was smuggled safely out of Czechoslovakia.

Dick celebrated his 90th birthday in April 1988 and lived into his mid 90's.

Edwin Muir doesn’t write of this incident in “My Autobiography”, but he does say that “Graham Greene had written a few days earlier to say that he intended to stop in Prague on his way to England. He was in our flat that evening.”

Reg Close writes more about Dick Pollak in “The Barrier”:

“Locally-appointed Czech staff supported us enthusiastically, none more so than the senior member of it, Major Pollak….He had suffered severely under Nazi tyranny, escaped to England and returned determined to see that British influence played a major part in the restoration of democracy. We all sympathised with him; but the mere fact of his having served on the western front made him suspicious with those of his compatriots who had spent the war years in Moscow. Pollak had been appointed to liaise with the eight hundred British-born wives of Czechoslovak ex-servicemen who had been based in the United Kingdom. That could have been one of the happier consequences of the war. As far as we were concerned, the wives provided us with the nuclei of twenty-two scattered anglophile groups in provincial towns throughout the country; but to Communists of the Stalinist persuasion, they could only be agents plotting the overthrow of an inevitable Communist state”
(p. 163-164).

To the Communist Minister of Information, “Dick was anathema because he had fought in the west” (p.175). Dick was also arrested, which is why he had to go into hiding and escape after the Coup. They had no choice but to leave after that. “The Ministry of the Interior arrested Dick Pollak in the middle of the night and charged him with espionage…the case against him hung on a letter he had written to someone in Most, where there happened to be uranium mines. The letter simply said, “Thank you very much for the list”…..At last we found an exact copy of the offending paper: it was written to acknowledge receipt of a list of people who would like to receive old copies of Punch and Illustrated London News. They released Dick reluctantly…” (p. 179-180).


Major Richard (Dick) Pollak, a former Army Officer, was employed as Czech Adviser and Liaison Officer by the British Council in Prague from 1945 to 1948; he married Edith ('Dita'), a British resident of Prague (she’d lived there through the awful Nazi Occupation and been interrogated at Gestapo Headquarters). Dick had met Edith through the British-born Wives’ Club in Prague. Dick had set it up, under the auspices of the British Council, with the enthusiastic support of the British Ambassador, Sir Philip Nichols, and Edith soon took on the role of Club Secretary. Dick had become Sir Philip’s Czech teacher and a close friend and confidant.

Edith (Dita) told me that Sir Philip Nichols got Dick out of prison in December 1947.

This material, and much more, is included in my unpublished book, "Czechoslovakia: the Poets’ Revolution". It focuses on the periods 1945-1952 and 1986-1990.

Kaunitz Palace (Kaunický palác)

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