James William Riordan was born on the 10th October 1936 and came from a working class family in Portsmouth. He attended the Southern Grammar School for Boys. When on a Russian studies degree at Birmingham University in 1959, he joined the Communist Party. His national service was spent in the RAF, largely in Cornwall and Berlin, studying Russian and listening in to Soviet military conversations.
Riordan was sent by the Party in 1961 to study in Moscow at the Higher Party school, where he encountered Alexander Dubcek and Ho Chi Minh. He also mixed socially with Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, even to the extent of being one of the pallbearers at Burgess's funeral. He remained a member of the CPGB until it disbanded in 1991, surviving a 1965 attempt to expel him for "bourgeois bohemianism" on his return from Moscow.
After completing his studies he stayed in Moscow to work as a translator for Progress Publishing. He was the only foreigner to play in the Soviet football league, making two appearances for Spartak in 1963, under an assumed name.
He became the academic world's foremost authority on sport in the Soviet Union, with his `Sport in Soviet Society (1977) being seen as especially knowing. Riordan was attache to the British team at the Moscow Olympics in 1980.
His was a respected voice in Russian studies, although throughout his life, despite his political allegiance, he was an outspoken critic of much of the character of Soviet society. He wrote about 20 academic books and lectured at Bradford University and the University of Surrey.
In later life he was a prolific author and translator of children's books, retelling Russian folk tales in two books and being the editor of many varying anthologies. The `Twelve Labours of Hercules’ (1998) won the UK Reading Association award, whilst `The Woman in the Moon and Other Tales of Forgotten Heroines’ (1985), included stories from Japan, Ghana, Sicily, Lapland and the UK.
He wrote something like ten novels, `Sweet Clarinet’ (1998), was the story of a boy overcoming injuries sustained in the London blitz through a love of music. `Rebel Cargo’ (2007) is the story of children sold into slavery. `The Sniper’ (2008) is based on the true story of a teenage marksman at the siege of Stalingrad. `Blood Runner’ (2011) is about a young black boy whose parents are killed by the South African police.
Jim Riordan’s autobiography (right) was published in 2008 and he died aged 75 years on 11th February 2012.
Source: Guardian 21st February 2012
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