Solo behind the Iron Curtain

Just broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Monday this week as an afternoon play was Solo behind the Iron Curtain, Tracy Spottiswoode’s thriller is based on real events.

Actor Robert Vaughn, famous at the time as TV spy Napoleon Solo, is making a movie in Prague with several other Hollywood stars. Filming stops abruptly, however, when Russian tanks roll into Czechoslovakia. Cast and crew find themselves trapped. The Man from UNCLE must find a way to escape, and quickly.

The play is based on real events in 1968, during the brief flowering of freedom known as the Prague Spring. Vaughn was in Prague for the filming of Second World War feature The Bridge At Remagen, along with George Segal and Ben Gazzara. Helping them negotiate the tricky business of filming in a Communist country was their interpreter Pepsi, a young woman whose life had been changed that year by the relative freedoms brought by Alexander Dubcek’s liberal reforms. It was too good to last.

On 20 August, filming ground to a halt when more than 5,000 Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia and Robert and the rest of the film’s cast and crew found themselves trapped.

Robert vividly remembers the tanks with their big red stars painted on the side, and the guns, manned by alarmingly young Russian soldiers, which were turned on their hotel. As Americans and enemy aliens they had to find a way to escape and the ensuing adventure was worthy of the men from UNCLE.

Tracy Spottiswoode is an actor, writer and director whose plays are broadcast regularly on BBC Radio 4 and Radio Wales, who presented Vaughn with the script for the radio play with a request for him to narrate the story. Vaughn so loved the script that he ended up agreeing to playing himself.

“I read it (the script) and I was absolutely astonished at how accurate it was – it was as if the writer Tracey Spottiswoode had lived it herself, it’s so exact,” Vaughn told the Western Mail.

“It was an extraordinary time for us as actors and for the Czech people around us,” he added. “We were waiting to see what our fate would be.

“During my career, I’ve been under house arrest in Caracas, I’ve been in Peru where I had to have a 24-hour bodyguard with machine gun, but this was the most dramatic event I’ve ever been involved with.”

• Luckily for those of us working at the time of broadcast, you can “Listen Again” to this play until Sunday.

The cast is as follows:

Robert Vaughn …… Himself
Pepsi …… Vesna Stanojevic
George Segal …… Robert Glenister
Ben Gazzara …… John Guerrasio
Bradford Dillman …… Richard Laing
David Wolper …… Garrick Hagon (Garrick has previously narrated Ed McBain novels for the BBC)
Honzo …… Robert Luckay
Sadovsky …… Rad Lazar

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