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Archive Collection description: BTL


Bethell Collection

An online catalogue for this collection is available. Please type BTL into the search field to find the catalogue.

Nicholas William Bethell, 4th Baron Bethell, was born on 13 July 1938. He read Arabic and Persian at Pembroke College, Cambridge between 1958 and 1961 before training as a Russian interpreter during national service. Bethell worked as a sub-editor with the 'The Times Literary Supplement' and between 1964 and 1967 was employed as a BBC script editor in radio drama. Bethell translated Polish and Russian plays into English, including Sławomir Mrożek 'Six Plays' and 'Tango'. Together with David Burg he translated Alexander Solzhenitsyn's works 'Cancer Ward' and 'The Love Girl' into English, although later he was to become embroiled in a dispute with Solzhenitsyn over translation rights. His other works included a biography of the Polish leader Władysław Gomulka.

In 1967 Bethell became a member of the House of Lords and was appointed a Lord in Waiting in Edward Heath's Conservative government in June 1970, where he sought to continue his literary output. However, following the publication of an article in the satirical magazine Private Eye, alleging that Bethell had unwittingly assisted the KGB, he resigned and sued the magazine in court [see BTL/8]. Bethell became the Conservative Member of European Parliament (MEP) for London North-West between 1975 and 1994 and from 1999.

Within the European Parliament he continued his human rights engagement and lobbying, especially on behalf of Soviet dissidents including Andrei Sakharov. His activities led him to being banned from entering the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries from 1972. Bethell engineered the release of number of Soviet prisoners of war held by the Mujahedin; and in 1989 he travelled to Kabul with the agreement of both the British and Soviet governments to secure the release of both Soviet and Afghan prisoners. In January 1992 he met the President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, who presented him with a watch as a gesture of thanks for his campaigning on the issue.

As an MEP, Bethell was to campaign increasingly on economic matters, for example on behalf of European consumers, including founding the 'Freedom of the Skies' movement which helped to open up competition in the civil aviation sector.


'Life of Lord Bethell' published in 'New Times' Moscow March 1992 (no. 10) [Ref. BTL/5/7]

'Your MEPs: The Lord Bethell' website of the European Parliament at:

'Nicholas Bethell, Curriculum Vitae [Ref. BTL/9/6]

'Suggested biographical note' [Ref. BTL/9/6]


The collection chiefly consists of Bethell's literary and human rights work regarding Eastern Europe, especially Albania, Poland, the Soviet Union including Russian prisoners of war in Afghanistan. The collection also includes lobbying he undertook both as a Member of European Parliament and as a member of the House of Lords.

The papers include background material, notes, research and draft chapters and scripts for newspaper articles and for several of his literary works including 'Gomulka: His Poland and His Communism', 'The Great Betrayal', 'The Last Secret' and 'Russia Besieged 1941-1942'.

(Languages) English, Albanian, French, German, Italian, Polish and Russian


Published works include:
'Gomulka, his Poland and his Communism' (London: Longmans, Green and Co., and New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969)
'The Great Betrayal : The Untold Story of Kim Philby's Biggest Coup' (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1984)
'The Last Secret : Forcible Repatriation to Russia, 1944-1947' (with an introduction by Hugh Trevor-Roper. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1995)
'Spies and Other Secrets' (London: Penguin Books, 1995)

Translations include:
Mrożek, Sławomir: ' Six Plays' by Sławomir Mrożek ; translated by Nicholas Bethell (London: Cape, 1967)
Mrożek, Sławomir: 'Tango' translated by Nicholas Bethell, adapted by Tom Stoppard (London: Cape, 1968)
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr Isaevich: 'Cancer Ward' translated by Nicholas Bethell and David Burg. Parts 1 and 2 (London: Bodley Head, 1968 and 1971)

Other works include:
Leipman, Flora, 1918-: 'The Long Journey Home: The Memoirs of Flora Leipman' foreword by Nicholas Bethell; epilogue by Gwen Robyns (London : Corgi , 1988)
'Kontinent: The Alternative voice of Russia and Eastern Europe' (editorial advisers Nicholas Bethell and Barry Rubin) (London : Deutsch, 1976)


Parts of the collection may have restricted access.

The papers are available subject to the usual conditions of access to Archives and Manuscripts material, after the completion of a Reader's Undertaking.

Photocopies/photographs/microfilm are supplied for private research only at the Archivist's discretion. Please note that material may be unsuitable for copying on conservation grounds, and that photographs cannot be photocopied in any circumstances. Researchers who wish to publish material must seek copyright permission from the copyright owner.

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This page last modified Thursday 22 October 2009.


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