Spy Histories – The Story Of British Spy Greville Wynne
Welcome to another edition of spy histories. In this edition, we will be focusing on the remarkable life and story of British spy, Greville Wynne. This Cold War story centers around the spying in the 1960s and, in particular, tensions between Britain/America and Soviet Union. In the article, we’ll explore exactly who Greville Wynne was, his spy activity and how his story sparked such wide intrigue.
Who Was Greville Wynne?
Greville Wynne was born on 19th March 1919 in Shropshire, UK. He attended the University of Nottingham, studying Electrical Engineering, and after graduating went on to become an engineer. Later on in his professional life, he became a businessman and often travelled to Eastern Europe. Greville Wynne had a wife, Sheila, and a son, Andrew. However, Wynne and his wife Sheila split up, after Sheila became suspicious of his frequent trips to Eastern Europe and the Soviet State, thinking that he was having an affair. After that divorce, Wynne took another wife, Herma van Buren. She had worked as his secretary and interpreter, as she spoke eight different languages. This marriage didn’t last either and the couple separated several years before Greville Wynne’s death in 1990.
How Greville Wynne Became A Spy
As we’ve established, Greville Wynne spent the majority of his professional life as an engineer and a businessman, so how did he actually become a spy? Well, his journey as a spy began in November of 1960, at the age 41. Wynne was a businessman at this point in his life and, during this month, he sat down for lunch not knowing that it would significantly change his life. During the lunch, acquaintance Dickie Franks disclosed that he is an officer of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and revealed that he required Wynne’s assistance. In his role as a British businessman who travelled Eastern Europe, working for British electrical and steel companies, Wynne was perfectly positioned to gain intelligence for MI6.
Greville Wynne & Oleg Penkovsky Expose Soviet Secrets
With the foundations laid, Wynne was asked to arrange a meeting with a state committee in Moscow and report back on the conversations he had. The committee was dedicated to developing opportunities for foreigners in science and technology. It was during one of these meetings that Wynne met Oleg Penkovsky, a lieutenant colonel in the GRU, which was the Soviet Union’s foreign-intelligence agency.
Oleg Penkovsky had his sights set on moving to the West and building a better life with his family and, therefore, he was keen to expose some of the Soviet’s most valuable military secrets. He also held the view that leaking this information would bring him a great deal of recognition and a sense of honour. Greville Wynne showed concern about Penkovsky’s slightly outlandish notions, but nonetheless went along with it.
The pair first met in December 1960 and became close acquaintances, meeting up in London and Eastern Europe up until 1962. On 29th October 1962, Wynne travelled to Soviet-occupied Budapest just hours after the Soviets stood down during the Cuban Missile Crisis, going against the advice of MI6. It was on this day that Wynne was captured by the Soviets and flown over to Moscow for sentencing. The week before Wynne entered Hungary, Penkovsky was captured by the Soviet Union.
The Wynne-Penkovsky coalition kickstarted one of the most covert operations in Cold War history. The information that Penkovsky was able to obtain and the position of Wynne enabled the British and Americans to receive crucial information about the Soviet Union. Penkovsky and Wynne’s spy activity produced mountains of information, would go on to play a role in the cuban missile crisis, and subsequently lead to their conviction in 1963.
Wynne & Penkovsky Sentenced In Moscow
On 11th May 1963, a Moscow tribunal ruled that Greville Wynne was to serve an eight year sentence for his role in supplying British and American intelligence officers with Soviet information. Greville Wynne, who was 44 at the time, was ordered to serve three of the eight year sentence in prison and five years in a labour camp. Meanwhile, 43-year-old Oleg Penkovsky was sentenced to death for his role in the spy activity. An ‘on this day’ article from the BBC reveals that Wynne joked to his wife after the sentencing, stating that he didn’t expect his time in prison to be “a Butlins holiday camp”. The article also reveals other information about what happened on the day of sentencing and is well worth a read.
On 22nd April 1964, Wynne was officially exchanged for a Soviet spy, who was being held in Britain. His name was Konon Molody, but was known in the West as Gordon Lonsdale. Konon Molody features in the story of The Ruislip Home That Contained A Soviet Spy Ring, which reveals how he ended up in a British prison.
Greville Wynne’s Story On The Big Screen
In 2021 in the UK, Greville Wynne and Oleg Penkovsky’s story was brought to the big screen, as the film The Courier was released. Starring Benedict Cumberbach as Greville Wynne and Merab Ninidze as Oleg Penkovsky, the film explores the Cold War spy story in its entirety and focuses a lot on the relationship held between British spy Wynne and Soviet militant Penkovsky. It was directed by English director Dominic Cook, who is also known for films such as On Chesil Beach and Follies. The film received rave reviews and, having seen it ourselves, we certainly recommend giving it a watch.
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