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Saturday 7 August 2010

RIP Peter Cotton - 4

Recorded on the nine hours of tapes that I have of my conversation with the ‘original’ of Peter Cotton (1919-2010) are many of his opinions of and anecdotes about the Intelligence Services – and a number of what he called ‘considerations’.

In the first two books of the series, The Maze of Cadiz and Washington Shadow, I have not used a single phrase of his, nor anything that happened to him. It was a point of pride with me - as was using real historical characters, but strictly as background and atmosphere, not as people who stand up and speak and act directly in the books.

One of his ‘considerations’, however, made me change my mind for the third and fourth books in the Peter Cotton series. He asked me whether I was not being what he called ‘a little timid’.

Now, I have never properly understood people with political ambitions. This may because my own father was invited to stand in the 1951 election for the then Liberals, and accepted on the strict understanding that there was no possibility of him winning the seat. Since he had the wrong party in the wrong constituency, it was a pretty safe bet, but towards the end of his life he would say ‘I keep meeting old men who witter on about regretting missed opportunities. That’s not the point at all. It’s the dangers you escaped that should impress. The sheer relief in not being elected to Parliament is one of mine.’

The man in Guadalajara was even more direct: ‘Politics is plagued by very bad plotting and characters the author should have thought about more,’ he said. ‘Would-be heroes strut about, self-obsessed and demented, utterly unaware of their own limitations or with any grasp of political relativities or comparisons. Look at any list of would-be party leaders.’ He paused. ‘Have you actually met any politicians?’

As it happens I have met a few. There was the man who talked for hours about the slights he had received since junior school - an ex- Prime Minister. Another favourite was the man who always walked several steps ahead of his wife, she carrying the bags. That was before he became a minister. I have met a couple of pleasant politicians but they did not rise high, and the one who did was unable to persuade his superior to see sense.

In Guadalajara I was told about the doings of a Mr Fixit solicitor and an unpleasant MP, who both later became Lords. What I was told about them was accurate – and verifiable.

‘Do you really have to be so oblique?” he asked me, ‘When all this fantastic but real stuff is there for you?’

The short answer has turned out to be no. Both of these men appear in LONDON BLACKLIGHT, the third Peter Cotton book, though not quite under their own names.

And the fourth book? That will involve something that did happen to the man who talked to me for nine hours in Guadalajara in 2005. Or so he said.

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