75 Years of The Times Crossword – 1966


Just one year into his term as Crossword Editor of The Times found my father beset by controversy. Originally the 1966 entry was earmarked to signal England’s victory that year in the World Cup. However, it was decided that George Blake’s strange escape from Wormwood Scrubs earlier, took precedence and as my father’s former apprentice, I was invited to write a piece about the incident under the close scrutiny of the Legal Department at The Times! Below is the extract from the version which eventually got the green light! There are many fascinating articles of dry and witty tales from The Times accompanying 75 Years of The Times Crossword starting with Inspector Morse and Colin Dexter, which Richard Browne and I lovingly assembled ready for the Christmas market in 2005, all to be found on my new app.

This crossword was submitted by my father, Edmund Akenhead, and appeared in The Times two days before George Blake was sprung from Wormwood Scrubs. George Blake had served five years of a 42-year sentence for spying for Russia and, at that time, this was the longest term for such an offence ever imposed in a British court. Blake, who had served with distinction in the Dutch resistance against the Nazi regime during World War II and later with SOE, was not without his sympathizers. The authorities subsequently paid my father a visit, suspecting him of signaling the breakout with cryptic messages in The Times crossword. They grilled him in his study for an entire morning, and I heard most of the interrogation (I was in the adjoining room). It is true that there are a number of uncomfortable coincidences in this crossword in clues and solutions alike which appear to signal not only the intention (12 ac, 4 dn, and 14 dn) but also the location (27 ac) and the means (11 ac, and 1 ac); and with clues like 13 ac and with two references to the Scottish play (and ironically, George Blake did break a limb!) it is not surprising suspicions were aroused. My father was a magician who relished secrecy, yet on this occasion he was able to demonstrate that his puzzle had been submitted to the typesetters three weeks earlier, and he was absolved on these grounds. Yet, the whole incident remains a tantalizing mystery.

David Akenhead


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