Look at the current famous bunch of old Etonians screwing up the country and you could be forgiven for thinking Eton should be put into special measures. This is how old Etonians ought to be. Maclean began his professional career as a diplomat in the 1930s and was posted to Moscow. Almost out of boredom, he decided to see just how far a European with a good command of Russian could get in Stalin’s paradise, simply by setting out on public transport with a modicum of prior planning. The answer, in one case: as far as the Afghan border, and then a little beyond. In all he did four journeys around the Soviet Union of the 1930s, seeing things no westerner had seen before, and also witnessed the last of the great show trials in Moscow (Bukharin, Yagoda et al), which gets an account here. All in all we get a fascinating outsider’s view of a world all but barred to non-Soviets.
Then, as if that wasn’t enough, during WW2 he found himself almost accidentally seconded to the SAS and the Long Range Desert Group in North Africa; and then, in Yugoslavia, he became the man who introduced Tito and his partisans to the Allies, thereby effectively changing history. Blimey.