The Fox that came to Stay

Tony Morrison writes - 2014

Earlier this year a new 'Philby' book came as a birthday present and a chapter caught my eye: The Fox who came to Stay.' Foxes and Philby' take me back to 1962 and my first professional television filming adventure.

First a word about Philby. The name still doesn't go down well among many patriots as it is synonymous with double crossing and the most ruthless spying imaginable. Ben Macintyre's 2014 book A Spy Among Friends - Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal - offers a new slant on a fascinating theme but is just the latest in the line of Philby books plus hundreds of column inches in the Press, many gathering dust. So here goes - with something completely different.


Beirut 1962

In 1962 when I met Kim Philby in Beirut, the Lebanese capital, it was not as a journalist or current affairs film-maker but more as a youthful naturalist to explain how to feed a young fox. I have few recollections of the moment apart from my suggestions for the animal's well-being.

My job was as TV cameraman-director for two great names of the day. Tom Stobart who shot the film of the first ascent of Mount Everest and Ralph Izzard the London Daily Mail's legendary correspondent. Tom and Ralph were making films for a BBC series produced by David Attenborough, already known to the British television audience for his Zoo Quest series. Just how I came to be filming when my career course should have been zoology is explained elsewhere on this site.

Ralph Izzard who had been based in Beirut knew Philby well and was often seen with him in the bar of the Hotel St.George overlooking the Mediterranean. Scotch whiskey was cheap at about 18/- [shillings] a bottle - about 90 pence and that with the conviviality of the bar acted as a magnet for numerous journalists and identifiable spooks.

Beirut in the 1950s and 60's was the financial and very cosmopolitan capital of the Middle East. The superb restaurants and bars drew celebrities from around the world.

The tourist blurb ran like this - in early Spring you can spend the morning skiing among the famous Cedars from which Solomon cut the timber for his temples and within an hour be bathing in the warm Mediterranean.

Beirut was a 'must be seen in place' for the rich and famous. At the time Philby had not been formally identified as a spy but he was under a cloud for his suspected part as the 'Third Man' behind the scenes in a major defection scandal of the 1950s.

When Ralph introduced me to Philby I noted in my diary that it was, incorrectly, to Kim St John Philby, His correct name was Harold Adrian Russell Phlby though known to his friends as Kim. Why? It was a nickname given to him by his father, Harry St.John Bridger Philby a British Colonial Office intelligence gatherer, explorer and Arabist who led an equally extraordinary career.

St.John Philby and Kim

The unusual name St John often pronounced ' sinjun' given to Harry seems to come from nothing more than the name of a coffee-cum-tea estate house known in Victorian Planter society as a 'Bungalow'. The beautiful home set in misty hills near Badulla Ceylon - now Sri Lanka was named St John's.

Harry Philby was born in April 1885. His father was a planter so ipso facto he was one of the local British elite. though a somewhat down-at-heel elite following years of blight in the coffee plantations. The name Bridger came from his grandmother's family.

From school to university St.John worked for academic honours and began his professional life in the Civil Service in India.

St.John's son, Harold Adrian Russell Philby aka Kim was born on January 1st 1912 in Ambala, India then a major centre for the British Raj - the British Rule of India.The nickname Kim came from the hero in a book by Rudyard Kipling. (Kim published 1900-1901). This picture is from the first edition of the book published in 1901. First Editions of Kim are now expensive classics. Ambala is mentioned in Kim and other Kipling works.

I was in Lahore (Pakistan) and Ambala (India) in 1960 and followed the Kipling trail. This plaque marking Kipling's time - 1882-1887 -was on the Civil and Military Gazette Office, Lahore (October 1960).

In the Kim story, Kimball O'Hara was an orphan son of an Irish soldier and an even poorer woman living in Lahore, The fictional Kimball O'Hara worked as a undercover runner in the 'Great Game' of espionage between Russia and the British Empire.



Now to the fox

A line in Ben Macintyre's book took me to the archives of the British up-market magazine Country Life and an endearing story written in 1962 by H A R Philby: The Fox that came to Stay [December 6th 1962].

Please remember - It was published before the world-at-large knew that Philby was a spy.

our team had just completed three films in Jordan and in late March 1962 we were heading north by road to Damascus and onwards to Beirut using a route that visa-wise had to avoid Israel.

I was travelling in the second of our two Land Rovers with Michel Gore who was perhaps a couple of years my junior. Mike held the position of 'second camera, sound recordist, general assistant aka for his sins the 'dogsbody'. And he was a great and extremely sharp-witted companion.

The lead Land Rover had pulled over to the roadside and Tom was bargaining with a local man who had a young female fox cub in his arms. The poor animal only a few days old was alive and shivering. Tom did a cash deal and turned to me and said something like 'Tony, you're the zoologist why don't you take care of this fox'. Mike's attitude I'm sure would have been some wry comment to me such as 'now you're bloody lumbered….because he's a zoologist too'. But our small team was so well humoured we did not complain.

Tom and Ralph drove on and the cub settled on a cloth on the front seat between us. I can recall very little apart from feeding it with water and later a little milk. It was not a long drive and we arrived in Beirut on the same afternoon to stay at the Hotel Grand Bassoul facing the sea. Ralph chose the hotel because it was old, inexpensive and so out of fashion. But the place had a history - TE Lawrence of Arabia was supposed to have lodged there as did the woman explorer, writer and spy Gertrude Bell.

Famous names apart, the hotel was not busy and the rooms were magnificently large. From our point of view as a unit of television explorers it was an ideal stop with plenty of space for film gear and our heaps of dust-covered kit. I shared a cavernous room with Mike and the fox much to the amusement of the staff who helped with scraps and cleaning.


Over the next few days our cub was weaned on milk and a little soft boiled egg before fairly soon moving on to carefully chopped fresh liver. Everyone on the floor helped clean-up everything bar the smell which grew stronger in our room as the cub grew larger. Mike again. 'Let's try some chlorophyll tablets'.

Back in the early 1960's chlorophyll was the buzz answer to bad breath, smelly toilets or getting rid of the clinging kipper pong in kitchens. Hail the wonder odour killer - and Mike added ground chlorophyll tabs to the breakfast lunch and dinner being gobbled without a blink by our foxy. The little cub was growing healthily - and was becoming a charmer.

A letter home

In one letter home from Beirut I wrote… as well as taking films we are running a private zoo! And as companions we have a month old fox - absolutely tame and a spiny rat (rather like a hedgehog) - these run round loose in the hotel bedroom much to the amusement of everyone!!

Fortunately the chlorophyll worked and our cub lived happily in the room with occasional safaris to the beach for photo calls. It was even more fortunate that the treatment was reasonably effective as we were delayed in Beirut with no chance of moving on via Turkey to our destination in Iran. What had been planned as a stay of few days was extended into five weeks due to a coup in Syria that kept the borders firmly closed to film-makers. The Syrian President had resigned and most of the government went with him so we, and that included the fox, were stuck.

Apart from a few photos and notes my memory is now hazy. Tom flew to his home in Italy for half the time. Ralph had plenty of journalist friends and the St.George Hotel bar to enjoy while for us, the crew, there was chat, food - always excellent and a few excursions to look for film ideas. Our haunt was Harry's Anzac Bar - slightly less expensive and also an occasional hang-out for Philby.

My stills camera was a new Yashica Pentamatic I had bought in Amman and the black and white negatives were developed in Beirut at Photo Sphinx in Bab Idriss close to the Souk Souq area in the old centre - apparently still blighted by damage from the Lebanese Civil war of 1975-91.

From a short sequence of negatives I can see that the story told in many of the Philby books and by Philby himself in Country Life is partly incorrect. The fox did not come from the Jordan valley as told because my picture sequence begins in Amman and ends in Beirut. The only pics I have of the fox were taken in Beirut near the hotel. My negatives from Jordan do not have any of the fox.

The error must be journalistic colour from Ralph when we gave the fox to Kim Philby - or colour from Philby?

The late Eleanor Philby, Philby's third wife said in her book Philby The Spy I loved that 'some friends' had given the fox and others say it was Ralph Izzard who gave the fox.


In the years when Marion and I called on Mike Gore where he lived in Spain he often reminded us of the occasion when we took the fox to Kim Philby's flat (apartment) in Rue Kantari. Philby kept a picture of Mount Ararat on the wall and we knew he had strong Armenian connections.

The fox was named Jackie by Kim Philby as he felt it may have been a jackal. Philby doted on her and let her run in his flat until one day she was found dead in the street below. With an untimely death in the Philby arena suspicion and theories abound. It wouldn't be a foxy Philby story without theories. Eleanor Philby surmised that Jackie was pushed off the balcony by the maid. Reason? The smell. Had they run out of chlorophyll tabs?

Philip Knightley, the only journalist to interview Philby in Moscow after his defection said that Jackie may have been tipped over by the concierge who had complained about keeping a fox in the apartment. Did they really have time in Moscow to discuss Jackie?. Different sources - and both authors are dead.

Philby in his story for Country Life said that Jackie could balance perfectly and run on the balcony edge - but then….. As he had promised her the greatest care he added whiskey, spilled by Jackie, to the diet of chopped liver and scraps . Maybe there's another book to be written to add to the Philby bibliomountain? I know what Mike would have said about that.

The cast

Michael Gore ' Mike' set up a small news-film agency in Spain. He died in Madrid in July 2011. For more about Mike see July 2011 in Nonesuch News.

Tom Stobart made more films, mostly industrial /commercial and wrote several books. He was a great cook and produced two wonderful books about spices and cookery. He died in 1980 after suffering a heart attack on a railway station in West Sussex UK. He was 66.

Ralph Izzard remained a journalist to the end. He died near Tunbridge Wells, UK aged 82 in 1992. He and his wife Molly had been close friends of St. John Philby.

St. John Philby Died in a Beirut hospital following a heart attack in September 1960. It is said that his last words were 'God. I'm bored'.

Kim Philby escaped to Russia in January 1963 nine months after we gave him the fox. He died in Moscow in 1988 aged 76. It has been said he was stunned by the loss of Jackie and decided that the time had come to flee. Early accounts of his escape route suggest he went via Russian Armenia on the other side of Mount Ararat - here seen from Turkey close to the Iranian frontier.

Mike Gore always believed the Ararat route to Russia was plausible as Philby's picture on the Beirut apartment wall was of the mountain from the Armenian side - another theory?

Thanks for some foxy help in London - Katy Birchall and Justin Hobson

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