On this day in 1978 we were waking up to the news that a Belgian defector had been killed in a James Bond style attack.
In a nutshell, Georgi Markov had been a successful novelist and short-story writer in his homeland of Bulgaria and after his defection to Britain in the 1970s, several of his plays were staged in Britain. That would be enough for me but unfortunately this fame was overshadowed by his untimely and unusual death.
On September 7 1978 Markov was waiting at a bus stop near Waterloo Bridge, en route to his job at the BBC, when he felt something sting his right thigh. Behind him a man was picking up an umbrella, apologising to Markov who thought little of the incident. The stranger hurried across the road to a taxi which whisked him away.
Later in the day Markov told a colleague or colleagues at the BBC what had happened. The pain in his leg had not gone away, and that evening a fever gripped him to such an extent that he was immediately hospitalised. Four days later he died.
An autopsy revealed a tiny platinum and iridium sphere in his leg. The hollow object, pierced by two holes, had contained ricin, a poison with no known antidote. The ricin was kept in place by a coating over the holes, that coating designed to melt at body temperature.
Markov had been assassinated and in a very sophisticated manner.
It was probably no coincidence that September 7, the day of the attack on the writer, was the birthday of Bulgarian leader Todor Zhivkov who Markov had attacked in his broadcasts and the crime has subsequently been referred to as ‘the umbrella murder’.
I was 14 in the March of that year, between third and fourth year at school (nine and ten today) and my world was about music and movies and starting to be about girls.
Of course ‘big news’ like this, which was all over the media (be it restricted to physical newspapers and three TV channels) managed to penetrate our teenage hormonal consciousness but this would more likely have led to a playground chat about how like a James Bond film it was as opposed to a discussion on Zhivkov’s nepotistic activities and inauguration of a system of privileges for his cronies and supporters, the living example of Orwell’s Animal Farm phrase ‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.’ That would have to wait for our pretentious college years.