Rendezvous at the Russian Tea Rooms

Title:                      Rendezvous at the Russian Tea Rooms

Author:                 Paul Willetts

Willetts, Paul (2015). Rendezvous at the Russian Tea Rooms. London: Constable

LCCN:    2015514628

D810.S8 K468 2015

Summary

  • Rendezvous at the Russian Tea Rooms provides the first comprehensive account of what was once hailed by a leading American newspaper as the greatest spy story of World War II. This dramatic yet little-known saga, replete with telephone taps, kidnappings, and police surveillance, centers on the furtive escapades of Tyler Kent, a handsome, womanizing 28-year-old Ivy League graduate, who doubles as a US Embassy code clerk and Soviet agent. Against the backdrop of London high society during the so-called Phony War, Kent’s life intersects with the lives of the book’s two other memorably flamboyant protagonists. One of those is Maxwell Knight, an urbane, endearingly eccentric MI5 spyhunter. The other is Anna Wolkoff, a White Russian fashion designer and Nazi spy whose outfits are worn by the Duchess of Windsor and whose parents are friends of the British royal family. Wolkoff belongs to a fascist secret society called the Right Club, which aims to overthrow the British government. Her romantic entanglement with Tyler Kent gives her access to a secret correspondence between President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, a correspondence that has the potential to transform the outcome of the war.– Source other than the Library of Congress.

Subjects

Date Posted:      March 28, 2017

Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[1]

American embassy code clerk, Tyler Gatewood Kent, was imprisoned by the British during WWII for violating the Official Secrets Act. If that statement rings the déjà vu bell it is because the story has indeed been told before at least twice. In 1991, Ray Bearse and Anthony Read focused on Kent’s espionage in Britain and dismissed indications he had also been a Soviet agent. In 2013, Peter Rand covered the same ground but concluded there were strong clues that Kent had spied for the NKVD.[2],[3]Rendezvous at the Russian Tea Rooms agrees with Rand and adds extensive new detail to support his conclusion.

China born, Virginia native, Princeton-educated Tyler Kent was a Russian linguist of independent means. He failed to qualify for the foreign service but accepted a lowly position as a clerk in the American embassy in Moscow in the late 1930s. Despite persistent difficulties with embassy staff, he managed to advance to a position as code clerk and then began a practice of copying diplomatic traffic for his own purposes. He also had a Russian mistress, owned a gun, had a car, and was involved in the black market—all in the Stalinist Soviet Union. For these and other reasons, rather than create an incident, the embassy transferred him to London in 1939, where he continued work as a code clerk and his practice of retaining copies of classified diplomatic traffic. Kent’s political views and his desires for feminine companionship brought him into contact with Anna Wolkoff, an active anti-fascist. Wolkoff’s White Russian expatriate parents ran the Russian Tea Room in London. Kent met many of Wolkoff’s colleagues there and was recruited to help their cause. MI5 was aware of their activities, and Kent was arrested, with the cooperation of the US ambassador, Joseph Kennedy.

British journalist Paul Willetts covers this ground in much greater detail than his literary predecessors. He adds additional participants, British and Russian, together with accounts of their clandestine meetings, and the material Kent passed along. He also makes a convincing case that Kent was a Soviet agent—identifying his case officer—while in London and Moscow, and names his clandestine contacts in both countries.

But what Willetts fails to provide are sources for his facts. The extensive footnotes are descriptive and only extend remarks made in the narrative. Moreover, the additional source material he says may be found on his website does the same. Thus the reader is left with a robust tale, rich with new revelations, that has the ring of truth. But the task of documentation is left to the reader. Rendezvous at the Russian Tea Rooms is really a rendezvous with frustration.

[1] Peake, Hayden in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (22, 3, Winter 2016-17, pp. 122-123). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence, Other reviews and articles may be found online at http://www.cia.gov

[2] Bearse, Ray (1991) and Anthony Read. Conspirator: The Untold Story of Tyler Kent. New York: Doubleday

[3] Rand, Peter (2013). Conspiracy of One: Tyler Kent’s Secret Plot Against FDR, Churchill, And The Allied War Effort. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, An imprint of Globe Pequot Press. The Rand book was reviewed in Studies in Intelligence (57, 4, Winter 2013,2014, pp. 74,75).

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