01/10/2016 Witness


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Now on BBC News, Witness, with Tanya Beckett.


Hello, and welcome to Witness, with me Tanya Beckett,


here at the British library in London.


We've got another five witnesses who have given us a glimpse


This month on the programme, the Bulgarian dissident stabbed


with a poisoned umbrella in a London street.


Thousands of children flee the Spanish Civil War.


And a royal wedding causes uproar in Botswana.


But first we go back 40 years to September 1976,


when Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong died in Beijing,


starting a period of national mourning and political upheaval.


American Sydney Rittenberg was Mao's translator and knew him well.


He was so idolised, and it was so impossible to criticise him.


He finally convinced himself that China needed an emperor figure.


I think Mao before coming to power and after coming to power were two


quite different personalities, but he was enormously courteous.


He could make you forget that you were in the presence


He was a large man, and he had great personal dignity,


Jinan was the nerve centre of the entire Communist movement.


It was so rare in those days to have an American


I was fascinated by the work they were doing, and I decided to


stay and act as an English-language person for their radio programme.


I would say even of great pride and joy to be there,


to be part of that movement which people felt was


There was one American movie every week.


I used to go and interpret, and Mao's favourite films,


were Laurel and Hardy, but they loved that!


When Mao laughed, he laughed like a baby laughs.


Like, every muscle in his face was laughing.


I would go to the party headquarters and play Chinese gin rummy cards,


they would all tease each other, cuff each other around and be very


He would sit there, nobody would tease him or cuff him around.


Maybe I felt that because I did argue with him on occasion.


I think Mao never intended that people should die in the great


famine in the great leap forward, but he didn't really make it stop.


I think the official estimates in China run around 30 million


I was suddenly arrested and held in solitary confinement


When I heard in the prison that Mao had died, I thought this


was the most terrible blow that the revolution could suffer.


I think Mao was an extremely difficult character to analyse.


He could do, and did do, good things for China that nobody


He also did horrible things for China that nobody


Sydney Rittenberg still writes and lectures on Chinese politics.


In September 1978, London saw one of the most dramatic moments


of Cold War espionage when Bulgarian dissident and journalist


Georgi Markov was assassinated with a poisoned umbrella.


I remember walking into the cubicle and Georgi Markov was


He was hot, toxic, had a rapid pulse rate, and his temperature was up.


The first thing he said, "I was warned three months ago


that they're out to get me, and I've been poisoned by the KGB


and I'm going to die, and there's nothing you can do about it."


Markov was driving to work at the BBC.


He parked, as usual, below the Waterloo Bridge.


Markov came up the steps to the bus stop on the road above.


As he reached the bus stop, suddenly something happened to Markov.


He suddenly felt a sharp stabbing at the back of his right thigh,


and he looked around, expecting the person behind him


to apologise for prodding him with an umbrella.


Instead of which, the man hailed a taxi.


Mr Markov finished his shift and it wasn't until late that


night at his home in Clapham that he developed a high fever.


When I examined him systematically, the only thing I could find


was on the back of his thigh he had perhaps a six centimetre diameter


swollen area with about a one-to-two millimetres central puncture mark.


I thought, I'd best phone Scotland Yard Special Branch


because they're the sort of people who deal with defectors.


His own room at the BBC Bulgarian service was used


by anti-terrorist squad detectives investigating the murder.


I thought, it can't be cyanide, that would kill you too quickly.


It can't be thallium or arsenic, that's too slow.


It had to be a toxin, and if it was a toxin,


So I then went home and my wife said, "You should read


She had just read a book called The House Of The Lurking Death,


Now, I don't think that this was an intuitive diagnosis,


it was just because of the book she'd read at the time,


but of course the odd thing was that she was proven right,


Georgi's heart had started giving out, and I just saw


the heart machine, I saw it die away, and shortly


I remember the pathologist taking a segment of site issue,


As this was being handled, a very small metallic


It rolled onto the table and they then looked at it under


a microscope and realised it was actually a very round,


circular, tiny little ball, about just under two millimetres


in diameter, and that it had holes in it.


And obviously something could have been contained in those holes.


They decided almost straight away that this was going to be ricin.


It is an ideal poison because it is incredibly toxic.


It's strange that you encounter one patient so early on in one's


career that actually changes your entire life.


All I wanted to be was a forensic pathologist.


I wanted to be someone who looked at dead bodies, looked


at laboratory findings and decided why people died.


And this was the first patient that I'm trying


desperately to keep alive, and failing, and realising that,


actually, I didn't want to find out why people died,


The investigation into the killing of Georgi Markov is still open.


Now to America, where in September 1971 a prison riot at Attica


Correctional Facility ended in the deaths of 39 people


after inmates took prison guards hostage in protest at what they saw


Carlos Roesch was serving 35 years for robbery.


This film contains offensive language and upsetting footage.


I was sentenced to Attica for robbery in 1966.


From the moment I got there, I was conscious of racial prejudice.


They had no qualms about calling you 'not or'.


We heard that a prisoner was killed by guards in another prison.


Everybody felt like, if they did it to this guy...


It wasn't planned, it was spontaneous.


I came out of the shower and everything was different.


I'm naked, I'm soaking wet, I'm looking around,


People were crazy, and I got crazy with them.


It was just total chaos, nobody in control.


You can make out the Molotov cocktails sitting on the


ramp between the two chairs in the barricade.


We'd seen some guards from the metal shop,


We urgently demand immediate negotiations...


Over a course of about two or three days, we tried to negotiate


with the authorities, but it was all a game.


It wasn't really a negotiation, it was like make-believe.


We're on the roof of A-block, waiting for the assault to begin.


The hostages are on the catwalks with knives at their throats.


When they stormed the prison, they came in dropping


I remember guys getting shot to pieces.


I saw a guy, they took his head off, blood was pouring out


I had nightmares like you wouldn't believe.


It was a very defining moment in my life.


It changed me, because I realised how precious life is.


Carlos eventually left prison in 1995 and now lives in New York.


Remember, you can watch Witness every month on the BBC News Channel,


or you can catch up on all of our films along with more


than 1000 radio programmes in our online archive.


Now, we're going back to the 1930s and the Spanish Civil War.


When thousands of children from the Basque country


Emilio Martinez was just seven years old when he boarded a ship


May 1937, 4000 children packed in there, escaping from the Spanish


I remember as a child the Civil War, every day we would see airplanes


flying over the hill just on their way to Bilbao,


because we lived just outside Bilbao in a little village


in the Basque country, and of course we were being bombed.


When we were evacuated, my brother was 11, just 11,


and I was just seven years and one week.


We were taken to the boat by my father, and he just went off


There simply wasn't the space - we were lying on the floor,


rolling about being sick, we encountered a storm.


When we arrived at Southampton, the quayside was quite full


When we arrived at Southampton, the quayside was quite full of people


greeting us. We were sent on double-decker buses from the boat to


the camp just outside Southampton. The camp is being run almost


entirely by voluntary workers helped by gifts from every corner of


Britain. A Baker sending 50 loaves of bread each week and employees of


the wash houses are working over the weekend to do the camp laundry free.


They gave us an incredible degree of support. But Southampton was only a


temporary measure. We were sent to different Spanish children's


colonies or homes over the country, from one place to another to


another, constantly on the move. I was quite bewildered by all this,


sometimes you were separated from your friends and you didn't know


why. The Civil War finished on April one, 1939, so gradually we were


being repatriated. In the case of my brother and myself, the Red Cross


had managed to contact my mother in Spain, and she assured them she


couldn't have us back because my father was in prison, she had


another five children, they were absolutely starving and destitute,


so my brother and I remained in England. To try to make a life for


ourselves. I was a teacher for 29 years, but basically I'm a craftsman


by birth and I enjoy working, creating things. The experience of


being a refugee totally affected me. The reception and the solidarity of


the British people was fantastic. It has made me a more worthy human


being, and I have always felt a sense of duty to society. It hasn't


been easy, but it has been very fulfilling. I have had a wonderful


life. Emiliano Martinez still lives in


London. And now for our final film this month, we are going back to


September 1948, when an African king in waiting lost his title for


marrying a white woman. He was due to become a chief in what is now


Botswana when he met with Williams when studying in London. Her sister


Muriel tells the tale. I never met an African until I went


to this missionary conference. I went up to dinner to the table of


Seretse Khama. He was the chief of the tribe, which is like a king. We


became good friends and I used to go up every Saturday night. My sister


Ruth did not have anything to do on Saturday night so I asked if she


would like to come with it. We met through my sister, indirectly


through the London missionary Society. They clicked from the word


go. You get this attraction, it is impossible to describe but it is


just there. We like the same type of music, jazz, Ella Fitzgerald. It was


amazing how they had so much in common with such different


backgrounds. In those days, the racial situation in London was not


very good. White and black did not go out together, especially a white


girl with a black man. We knew that we were going to upset our immediate


families but at the same time we didn't want to be apart. I think she


was very brave, but so was he. His father had died when he was very


young and he was brought up by his uncle. He was very much against the


marriage and he thought he would be letting the tribe down and you could


not have a cheap with a white bride. They wanted to be married in the


Anglican Church. Unfortunately, his uncle broke to the society to stop


the wedding and they broke to the Bishop of London and he telephoned


the vicar, warning of the marriage, just saying he wasn't to marry them.


Said that was the Saturday. On Monday morning, Seretse went to a


registry office, bought a special licence and on the Wednesday morning


at 9am they arranged to get married. We were stubborn but other people


were equally stubborn. It was discussed in parliament, Churchill


said they were very brave couple, even though he didn't approve of the


marriage. The British Government sent out a team to look under


Seretse being bitchy. -- being the chief. They had a lot of protests


from South Africa. They said, we don't approve of a coloured couple


being in such a prominent position, said the British Government exiled


Seretse, even though the committee that went down there couldn't find


anything wrong with the marriage. Had we not had the aggregate would


have been better but I think just the fact people were trying to


separators, even after we married they were still trying to separate


us, someone described it as trying to split the atom. It was news all


over the world, I just couldn't believe it was me and my family, and


with, and we were living through this. In six years, the British


Government allowed Seretse to return to his homeland. At last, the ban is


lifted. When Seretse was setting up the political party, he travelled


all over Botswana. One of these times the car broke down so Ruth had


had three months training in car maintenance, so she got out and fix


the car. He said, I certainly married the right woman!


Muriel William Sanderson died last year. Seretse Khama became


Botswana's first elected president after independence in 1966. His and


Ruth's son, Ian, is president today. That is all from Witness this month


here at the British library but we will be back next month with another


round-up of history. Thanks for joining me, and Bromley and the rest


of the goodbye. That afternoon. We have had


virtually every variety of autumn weather so far today. Certainly some




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