On 11 June, 1956 Edward Crankshaw established his position as Britain’s most authoritative voice on the USSR when, while working at The Observer, he caused a sensation when he found a transcript of Khrushchev’s secret denunciation of Stalin to the 20th Communist party congress. It was in his weekly column for the same newspaper that Crankshaw developed his characteristic style.
Whilst his investigative journalism attracted the attention of the CIA and KGB, his earlier experience as part of the British military mission in Moscow had given him an unparalleled – and compassionate – understanding of the Russian character. During these early years of the Cold War, Crankshaw was frequently to be found attending editorial lunches at the Waldorf Hotel, with his signature cocktail, ‘a lethal Bloody Mary mixed with equal slugs of vodka and tomato juice’, in hand.
Crankshaw’s fascination with European politics and culture began when he moved to Vienna at the age of eighteen and it was here that he became fluent in German. Returning to England, whilst rooming with German and Austrian intellectual refugees from Hitler’s regime, Crankshaw began his career as a writer. These formative years are reflected in his most famous works, such as the highly successful ‘Gestapo: Instrument of Tyranny’ (1956), a book that documents the Nazi terror from its beginnings to the horrific crimes exposed at Nuremberg. His other celebrated titles include ‘The Shadow of The Winter Palace’ (1976), a book exposing an extraordinary century of Russian history, and ‘The Fall of The House of Hapsburg’ (1963), a deeply-researched text that reveals the decline of the Hapsburgs and of the old European order as a turning point in world history. Throughout his career Crankshaw received many notable literary awards, including The Heinemann Award in 1977 and The Whitbread Prize in 1982 (for ‘Bismarck’), alongside the prestigious Ehrenkreuz für Wissenschaft und Kunst (Austrian Decoration for Science and Art).