He was a suspected cold war spy. She became the glamorous KGB double agent in a Bond movie. When a prisoner writes to a movie star, the best he can hope for is a signed photo, if that. But when Alex Alexandrowicz wrote to actress Fiona Fullerton, he didn’t expect it to lead to a friendship spanning over 30 years. Serving two discretionary life sentences, Alex was a Category A prisoner in Parkhurst, protesting his innocence, when he wrote a fan letter to the actress. She replied, beguiled by his humour and tender poetry. So began an extraordinary friendship, of mutual support, trust and tenderness. They never met.
It’s hard to know where to begin with this review because this isn’t your typical book and had it not been for a feature the BBC aired on breakfast Television a few weeks ago I would have missed out. The opportunity to gain a powerful and emotive insight into the prison system – during the 1970’s and 80’s – and an invaluable behind the scenes journey of a young and inexperienced newcomer to the acting business is one I will always be grateful for.
By the time the book had arrived I had a rough idea what it was about but what I hadn’t anticipated was the range of emotions I’d experience as I made my way through this incredible story – anger, disappointment, incredulity and disbelief. The first time I became aware of Fiona Fullerton was while watching A View to a Kill, a James Bond romp starring Sir Roger Moore in his final Bond role. Fiona played double agent Pola Ivanova in the 1985 and although she’d had success with Angels and other projects I remember having a teenage crush!! If only I’d emailed Fiona! I digress!
Dear Fiona: Letters from a suspected Soviet Spy isn’t your run of the mill biography yet it gives us a great insight into the lives of two very different people, both from different walks of life but as the book shows they have so many things in common, scarily so, that allows both to offer a loving and supportive role in each other’s lives. Alex – a man sentenced to two life terms in prison as a category A prisoner – for grievous bodily harm – and Fiona – an actress slowly working her way in social and acting circles.
Without question Alex Alexandrowicz is the victim of a heinous miscarriage of justice and although his political affiliations and actions didn’t exactly help his cause one thing you could never take away from Alex was his unquestionable and resolute stance against this injustice. He fought tirelessly throughout his 22 years of incarceration and as we learn the only thing that kept him strong was his blossoming friendship with Fiona Fullerton.
“It is you alone who has given me strength while I have been in prison, the strength to restore lost and dying hope into burning resolution.”
One thing that’s hard to imagine is how two strangers could form such a tender and supportive relationship, how many people ever get the chance to experience such devotion? Even in today’s world of emails and social media it seems incredible how the two could keep the relationship fresh and meaningful all those years. Thinking about it though, there’s nothing mightier than the written word and something magical about receiving physical letters in the post.
It’s far too easy to receive emails and text messages, letters take a lot more effort and it’s clear to me that both recipients valued the time and energy both gave to the relationship – even if it occasionally appeared one sided due to Fiona’s commitments. It’s not until long into the relationship that the actress really struggled to keep the relationship going for one reason or another.
Alex Alexandrowicz is trapped behind four very secure walls with no opportunity to experience normal day to day life but even though as an actress Fiona is enjoying the trappings of a young career she too is trapped in a world of loneliness and insecurity, in this they are well matched.
One of the most endearing things about this book for me was the fact that despite her growing fame and a new marriage Fiona still felt alone. Her husband and fellow actor, Simon MacCorkindale, who not only played numerous roles as cads on television and the big screen comes across as a womaniser and someone who cared very little about Fiona unless it suited him, certainly towards the end of their six year marriage. Fiona doesn’t take the opportunity to delve too deeply into her first marriage, this isn’t the time or place but what insight she does give the reader is both considered and interesting.
Throughout the long distance relationship Alex questions why someone like Fiona would ever want to continue corresponding and he gives her numerous opportunities to end it – mostly brought on by a lack of energy, illness and the insecurity I’ve already mentioned. For someone who has the insane ability to be incredibly poetic, artistic (I’d love to see more of his art work) and possess a wonderful and gifted command of the Queen’s English – as the years of incarceration pile up – Alex grows weaker and weaker and desperation clearly sets in.
Some of the letters were hard to read and I felt on more than one occasion as if I was eavesdropping on a private conversation between two people who found comfort in each other. I guess you could class the letter writing as therapy – for both – because it was evident to me that both Alex and Fiona needed a support structure in their lives.
“Have you ever heard of Nadejda Philaretovna von Meck? She and Tchaikovsky were corresponding for years, they never met – and yet he produced his finest work for her. My finest work shall be for you.”
I can’t for one second comprehend how he survived in a brutal and dispiriting penal society and as we discover there were moments when he questioned his sanity and gave up hope. Long periods of solitary confinement – mostly by choice while requesting Rule 43 for his own safety – took their toll and he became insular, something he probably struggled to overcome when he was finally released, initially living the life of a recluse.
It’s no surprise to me that he latched on to the one person who offered him support and in turn he cared for Fiona offering wisdom and advice as she struggled with her career and her personal life. His desperation and insecurity is both touching and sad, there’s certainly no shortage of emotion when reading this book.
Poignant, tender and informative, Dear Fiona: Letters from a suspected Soviet Spy is a wonderful collection of letters between two people who, through the power of words, set out to make life that little bit more bearable when darkness called. A powerful and engaging narrative helps showcase the immeasurable talent Alex Alexandrowicz is.
- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Waterside Press (10 Sep 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1904380859
- ISBN-13: 978-1904380856