Alex Grant has 20 years’ experience at the frontline of politics and planning. He is a writer, researcher and lecturer whose expert fields include politics, biography and modern history. After reading English at Oxford, he worked as a journalist in the United States and Britain. From 2014 to 2021, he taught courses in the post-war history of London at the City Lit. He has also lectured at the Bartlett, UCL and at the University of Sheffield.
Alex was the principal researcher on Court No. 1 The Old Bailey written by his brother, the barrister Thomas Grant, and published by John Murray in 2019. He also helped to research The Mandela Brief – a biography of Sidney Kentridge, a veteran South African advocate who acted in many anti-Apartheid trials in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
Sex, Spies and Scandal is the story of John Vassall, a civil servant who was unmasked as a Soviet spy in 1962. Having been photographed in compromising positions while working at the British embassy in Moscow in 1954, Vassall was blackmailed into handing over secrets from the British Admiralty to his Soviet handlers, both in Moscow and in London, for more than seven years.
With access to newly released MI5 files and interviews with people who knew Vassall from the 1950s until his death in 1996, this book sheds new light on this neglected spy scandal of the early 1960s. Despite having been drugged and then raped by the KGB in Moscow, as a gay man John Vassall was shown no mercy by the British press or the courts. Sentenced to eighteen years in jail, he served ten years despite telling MI5 everything about his spying. Outside, he found that many of his old friends and lovers had been persecuted or dismissed from the civil service in Britain, the US and Australia. Unlike the Cambridge Five, who courted attention, on leaving prison Vassall had to change his name to avoid the press and lived quietly in London.
Including atmospheric detail on Dolphin Square in the 1950s and ’60s – a hotbed of political intrigue but also a safe haven for members of the LGBT community – this is an explosive tale of sexual violence, betrayal, cover-up, homophobia and hypocrisy that blows open some of the British establishment’s darkest secrets.
‘Alex Grant’s biography is a detailed and gripping account of a man forced into treachery and a must-read for those interested in the Cold War.’
— Duncan Lustig-Prean, former Royal Navy Commodore and LGBT+ campaigner
‘Alex Grant understands John Vassall better than he ever did himself.’
— Richard Davenport-Hines, author of An English Affair: Sex, Class and Power in the Age of Profumo
A ‘long-overdue biography… Alex Grant has written an important, illuminating and sympathetic account of a victim of vicious Soviet blackmail and British homophobia.’
— Richard Norton-Taylor, author of The State of Secrecy: Spies and the Media in Britain
‘What an eye-opener! Meticulously researched with no stone left unturned.’
— Nigel West, author of Classified!, Operation Garbo and MI5 in the Great War
‘Alex Grant reveals the layers of hypocrisy, homophobia and an establishment cover-up in this gripping biography of a man we should understand better.’
— Helen Fry, historian of intelligence and espionage
‘a sympathetic telling of this largely forgotten cold war episode’
— Book of the Day, The Guardian