To British authorities in the 1970s, suspected terrorist Stuart Christie posed a dangerous threat, but to his admirers he was brave, principled and gifted.
Now, audiences will have the chance to judge for themselves as a comprehensive archive of Christie – a record of his life as a leading anarchist, author, leftist publisher and would-be political assassin – will be presented for the first time.
It will include never-before-seen letters written by incarcerated 18-year-old Christie, detained in Spain for planning to kill fascist dictator Francisco Franco, as well as a series of personal photographs never before exhibited.
After a long fundraising campaign, the Stuart Christie Memorial Archives will be launched on June 22 at the MayDay Rooms in Fleet Street, London. The images, book covers and personal documents in the archive chronicle Christie’s creative career, her infamous run-ins with the law and her impact on revolutionary thought in Britain, and will also be available online.
Born in 1946 to a Glasgow hairdresser and trawler, Christie is now often associated with the Angry Brigade, the small group of terrorists and left-wing agitators who were tried for masterminding a series of bombings. bomb in London in the early 1970s.
Christie is also still celebrated by some for trying to blow Franco up in 1964, a crime for which he faced execution.
Instead, the teenager was sentenced by a military court to 20 years in prison, while his Spanish accomplice, Fernando Carballo Blanco, received 30 years. Christie’s conviction sparked international protests, including from prominent philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Bertrand Russell, and he ultimately served just three years in Madrid’s Carabanchel prison, using his time there to study and mingle with anarchist prisoners.
By releasing Christie early, the Franco regime claimed it was responding to a call from Christie’s mother.
Later in life Christie lived in Hastings on the south coast of England and died two years ago aged 74. In his obituary of Guardian, journalist Duncan Campbell gave details of the famous failed assassination in Spain. Christie’s mission was to deliver plastic explosives to Madrid so the dictator could be killed while watching a football match. Christie, whom Campbell described as “a man full of charm, warmth and wit”, had told his family that he was going to pick grapes in France. Wearing a kilt, he hitchhiked from Paris to Spain but was arrested due to the infiltration of Spanish conspirators in Madrid. Christie signed a confession after being forced to watch her accomplice being tortured.
His friend Ron McKay recounted Christie’s own memories of the military trial, which he could not understand because it was conducted in Spanish by 11 “medal-heavy” army officers. “He said he felt like he had been transported to the last act of a grand opera. “I was 18 and six weeks old, a working-class boy from Glasgow, and I never been to the opera,” he recalled,” McKay wrote.
But Christie has another legacy for those who read her fiction and prose. For these literary fans, he was a talent whose reputation as a creative thinker was hampered by associations with violent political campaigns.
The memorial archivescompiled by researcher Jessica Thorne, a specialist in anarchist prisoners in Franco’s Spain, includes photographs, letters, personal items and works of art as well as samples of the production of her publishing subsidiaries Cienfuegos Press, Christie Books and Anarchist Film Archive.
It also covers Christie’s involvement in the Angry Brigade trial, in which he was acquitted of all charges. The brigade was responsible for small bombings targeting banks, embassies, the homes of Tory MPs and a BBC outside broadcast vehicle between 1970 and 1972. The bombings caused property damage and one person was killed. been injured. Eight people known as the Stoke Newington Eight were tried and four were acquitted. The jury believed Christie’s claim that the police placed two detonators in her car.
In 2014, a play about the incident, The Angry Squadwritten by James Graham, was produced, starring Patsy Ferran as Anna Mendelssohn, one of the defendants, who later wrote poetry under the name Grace Lake.
New material in the Memorial Archive includes the text of Christie’s three-part autobiography as well as a fictionalized memoir, ¡Pistoleros! The Chronicles of Farquhar McHarg. His shorter and well commented memoirs, Granny does me anarchist, was reprinted by Scribner in 2004. His grandmother, Agnes McCulloch Davis, had truly been a formative influence. “She provided the star that I followed,” he once said.
Christie joined the Glasgow Anarchist Federation aged 16 and was also active in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, as well as the more militant Direct Action Committee and Committee of 100, and he took part to the confrontational demonstration of the CND at the Faslane naval base in 1963.
Following his acquittal in the Angry Brigade trial, having served 18 months in pre-trial detention, Christie continued his anarchist activism in Britain before moving to Orkney. From Sanday Island, he founded Cienfuegos Press, which he named after Cuban revolutionary Camilo Cienfuegos, and he also edited and published a radical local newspaper, The free-winged eagle. Copies now appear in the archives alongside never-before-seen photographs from his childhood, some of which were donated by Stuart’s daughter, Branwen. Brenda, Christie’s wife, died in June 2019.