Kill Franco

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Kill Franco: the day of the Tartan kamikaze

Kill Franco: the day of the Tartan kamikaze

WHILE most teenage boys spent 1964 preoccupied with girls, dancing and how to be the new Beatles, Stuart Christie had a much darker purpose. The long-haired anarchist from Glasgow wanted to assassinate Spanish dictator General Franco.

Aged 18 and with a kilo of high explosive stuffed under a woolly jumper knitted for him by his grandmother, Christie embarked on a quixotic journey that would end in his arrest at gunpoint, near execution, and lifelong notoriety.

Now the Partick-born firebrand – who 40 years on still claims to be an anarchist – tells the full, extraordinary story in his autobiography.

In Granny Made Me An Anarchist, Christie, 58, gives a vivid account of how his upbringing in Glasgow helped shape him into a radical prepared to kill for his beliefs.

He writes: “I was one month into my 18th year, and had only recently left the West of Scotland. The penalty for attempting to assassinate El Caudillo [the Leader] was death at dawn by garrote-vil, a grisly process of slow mechanical strangulation by an iron collar, and a bolt through the back of the neck to finish you off. What made it worse was that the charge was true. I had come to kill Franco.”

The son of a trawlerman and a hairdresser, Christie left school in Blantyre aged 14 and became a dental apprentice.

He was strongly influenced – as the book’s title makes clear – by his redoubtable grandmother, Agnes, a strict Presbyterian, whom he describes as “equal parts John Knox and village community”. She had been in service all her life, growing up in the gatekeeper’s house in Lochnaw Castle, Galloway.

When his father walked out, it was his grandmother who helped his mother to bring him up and encouraged his passion for social justice amid the religious prejudices of Glasgow at the time.

“What she did was provide a moral barometer which married almost exactly with that of libertarian socialism and anarchism, and she provided the star which I followed.”

He joined the Labour Party Young Socialists, then the Scottish Committee of 100, demonstrating against US Polaris nuclear submarines based at Holy Loch near Dunoon.

But he turned to anarchism after becoming disillusioned with Labour politics.

Obsessed by Franco and spurred on by the example of novelist George Orwell, who fought fascism in the civil war, Christie believed it would be hypocritical to have chosen the “easy option” of marches, leafleting and pickets.

He writes: “Much as I liked girls and dancing, I felt it was impossible to remain silent and inactive in the face of a fascist dictator’s repression of his country’s people.”

But it was to be when Christie moved to England, working as a sheet-metal apprentice, that his thoughts turned to deeds. He met exiled Spanish anarchists in Bristol. He was only too ready to join their plot to kill Franco.

It was the 30th known attempt to kill the dictator and, while it was well-planned, the Spanish secret police had once again infiltrated the organisation.

Unaware of the mortal danger he was heading into, Christie told his mother he was going to Europe grape-picking, packed his Christie tartan kilt to help him hitchhike, and headed to Paris.

In the book he describes how, shortly after his arrival in the French capital, a fellow anarchist handed him “five slabs of what looked like king-size bars of my Granny’s home-made tablet”. In fact it was plastic explosive, which the teenager was to deliver to plotters in Madrid.

For security reasons, Christie was never given precise details of how the plot would unfold but the ultimate aim was to blow Franco to smithereens as he watched a football match in Madrid.

Carrying written instructions since he spoke no Spanish, the “Glaswegian kamikaze”, as he called himself, strapped the deadly load to his body with tape.

“With the plastic explosives strapped to me, my body was improbably misshapen,” he writes. “The only way to disguise myself was with the baggy woollen jumper my granny had knitted to protect me from the biting Clydeside winds. At the risk of understatement, I looked out of place on the Mediterranean coast in August.”

He adds: “With a couple of remaining slabs of plastique stuffed down my underpants (which prevented me from wearing my kilt but made my crotch bulge heroically) and a big hairy jumper on one of the hottest days of the summer, I looked like Quasimodo and Esmeralda’s lovechild.”

Having made it into Spain unscathed, Christie’s luck ran out when he met his contact in Madrid and the secret police pounced.

“As I steeled myself to make a dash through the crowds I was suddenly grabbed by both arms from behind, the anorak ripped from me, my face pushed to the wall and a gun barrel thrust into the small of my back. “I tried to turn my head but I was handcuffed before I fully realised what had happened. It was over.”

Christie signed a confession to the charge of “banditry and terrorism” and was sent to Carabanchel, one of the toughest prisons in Spain.

News of his arrest flashed across the world. Many wrongly reported that Christie entered Spain dressed in a kilt, some said in full Highland dress complete with feathered cap and skean-dhu. One newspaper in Argentina claimed he was a Scottish transvestite.

He was sentenced to death and spent several agonising days believing his life was shortly to end in a grotesque manner.

Free Christie Campaign

Following appeals for clemency from the British consul, the Spanish government showed mercy and commuted Christie’s death sentence to 20 years, of which he served just three-and-a-half, perhaps due to numerous pleading letters from his mother and the support from Jean-Paul Satre, Bertrand Russell and Malcolm Muggeridge.

Christie’s extreme views resulted on his return to the UK to his arrest and trial for alleged membership of the Angry Brigade, although he was acquitted.

Today, Christie lives on the south coast of England with many of the trappings of a normal life: marriage, a child and a successful career writing for various radical publications. (Note from Bill: I was of the impression that Stuart was now a successful publisher based in the Highlands.)

He says he remains true to his teenage values, but adds archly: “I probably did more for the cause of anti-Francoism by not killing him. There is that law of unintended consequences.”

This article:

See Also:

Free Christie Campaign

The Christie File: Part 1, 1946-1964

I am sad to report that Stuart Christie, died on 15th August 2022, aged 74.


Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland

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