Jan 242015
Roy Russell during the Second World War (Pic: Dorking Advertiser )

Roy Russell during the Second World War (Pic: Dorking Advertiser )

Roy Russell from Fetcham was an integral part of the secret radio network known as the Special Duties Branch, set up by Winston Churchill in 1940 and a part of the Auxiliary Units.

Roy started off as an ordinary infantryman and it was only when questioned by his enlisting officer that his career became clear.

“He asked me what I liked and I said music. He then asked me what sort and I said Brahms, Beethoven and Mozart, which he said was enemy stuff. I said I loved all music anyway and he said I would do well in the Royal Corps of Signals. These words would change my life.”

After joining the Corps he trained in Morse code and went on to intercept coded messages from German planes during the Blitz.

He later did officer training and was given his own area of the secret communications network covering parts of the North Sea and Channel coasts in the South East. The centre, near a cinema in Sevenoaks, was highly secretive and concealed in case of enemy invasion.

Mr Russell said: “It was hidden in a copse and to get in you had to find a little squar-ish stone with a cross on it which hid a square top of a metal rod. I would use a crank handle to raise a manhole-like circle covered in grass off of the ground, and step down a ladder.

“There would be a small chamber with shelving and an ammunition box so anybody who found it would think it an abandoned arms dump. But on one of the shelves was a piece of wire and if you pushed this through a hole it would cantilever into the set-room.”

You can see a similar location in Norwich here.

Roy’s secrecy over his wartime experiences lasted for 50 years after the war and he only told his story after receiving a phone call from Aux Writer John Warwicker.

He said: “I feel very proud of being part of it because it’s part of the war that not many people know about. It’s totally unbelievable and it seems very cloak and dagger, but it wasn’t like that for us.”

Roy Russell with the medal given to him in 2009 by then Prime Minister Gordon Brown. (Pic: Dorking Advertiser)

Roy Russell with the medal given to him in 2009 by then Prime Minister Gordon Brown. (Pic: Dorking Advertiser)

More than 60 years after the war ended, Mr Russell finally received recognition for the vital part he played in the Allied victory.

Because of the confidential nature of his work Mr Russell received no recognition for his efforts until he received a letter and medal from then Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2009.

In the post-war years, Mr Russell became a successful screenwriter for much-loved TV series including The Saint, Dixon Of Dock Green, Tales Of The Unexpected and The Onedin Line.

He also wrote several documentaries, including one on Prince Charles called Pilot Royal, and another on Sir Francis Chichester’s epic voyage around the world, called The Lonely Sea And The Sky.

Throughout his career he was an active member of the Writers Guild of Great Britain and was awarded their Laurel Award for his services to the Guild.

Roy died on January 8 2015 after a five-year battle with Alzheimer’s.

His wife Barbara, 96, told the Dorking Advertiser: “He was the most marvellous husband, absolutely perfect; so good that we never had a single quarrel in 70 years of marriage.”

Sources: Surrey Mirror, Dorking Advertiser, BRA Archive. 

  2 Responses to “Roy Russell – Special Duties Radio Engineer & TV screenwriter dies aged 96”

  1. Roy Russell was our landlord for 3 1/2 years when we lived in England. Not only did he help us adjust to the English way of life, he and his wife Barb remained friends for all these years.

  2. Roy Russell was a my uncle. His wife Barbara was my mother’s sister. I have very fond memories of him.

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