Basel, Switzerland, the first week of May, 1969. A Renault car heads East along Elsässerstrasse toward St Louis, where it crosses into France, and takes the N66. Destination London, with a stop in Paris.
The driver is Yves Stohar, a man in his thirties, a Basel resident born in the nearby village of Wallbach. In the passenger seat beside him is his life partner, Rosemary, a cosmetician who has become a successful purveyor of women’s fashion. In the rear of the vehicle are two young men. A German student, who will leave off in Paris and continue to Vienna. Beside him is a twenty-four-year-old student of architecture, a resident of Basel, Urse Niethammer. Niethammer is on his way to London to take an apprenticeship position in an architectural firm.
Paris, May 1968
In Paris, they halt for three days. In May ‘68, the student revolt was met with violent repression by police and CRS (Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité), which increased the violence. Police and CRS made repeated charges against the student demonstrators, who responded by overturning cars, and threw paving stones. For days, rioting students took over the heart of Paris.
This encouraged workers to revolt against labour laws and practices that had not much evolved since the Second World War. On 16 May, the 30,000 workers of the giant Renault plant of Boulogne-Billancourt, west of Paris in Département les Haute-de-Seine, voted in favour of a general strike that would last 33 days. The example of Renault, and calls from the most important union, the CGT for nationwide general strike, brought the closing of 23% of France’s factories. the halt to transportation systems, including air traffic, airports, trains and the Paris Metro. It almost brought down the government of Charles de Gaulle. By the end of France’s most significant general strike in modern history, de Gaulle had called a referendum on his Presidency, and lost; reforms were made to France’s educational system, particularly the universities; workers gained higher wages, increased holidays, a reduction of weekly hours of work from 45 to 40 hours, improved job security.
It also brought increased attention from the security and the intelligence services and police, not only the French services but those of most, if not all, across Europe, especially Italy, Germany, and Switzerland, the UK; and the United States and Canada.
A major concern was that the Soviet Union would infiltrate and manipulate the progressive Left to weaken the West and open the way to communist subversion and takeover through parliamentary means.
Yves Stohar’s special interests
Yves Stohar spent the three days walking through the 15e, Boulevard. Saint-Michel, the Rive Gauche, – the most important sites of what became known as Mai 1968. To see if there was any reference of those events.
But of course, things are not quite as they might seem.
It was not by accident that Yves Stohar should have chosen a Renault to drive to Paris, given the symbolic importance of an association with the strike of the workers of the Renault factory the year before. A part of his camouflage. And it was not mere fancy that he should pause in Paris to study the remaining embers of the student revolt of the previous year, but rather a professional interest. Interest that will, the following year, determine the fate of Richard Bros.
For there was much more to Yves Stohar than met the eye, and which, the following year, will determine the fate of Richard Bros.
34 Theberton, Islington
They continued on to Calais, where they boarded the ferry to Dover. After debark in Dover, they continued to London, and the northern borough of Islington. They drove along Upper Street, the High Street, passing the Islington police station, then, two blocks further on, turned right onto Theberton Street. A block down Theberton, they stopped and parked before number 34, at the centre of a Georgian brown-brick apartment block. Two above-ground stories, an a one below-ground room.
Inside number 34 Theberton, on the upper floor, was one Mathias von Spallart, also from Basel, a student at the London Film School. Spallart, son of a German actress and actor who had fled Germany in November, 1944, an opportune time for such a move. Spallart was a successful actor and radio producer in Switzerland.
Urse Niethammer occupied the ground-floor room. Three days weeks later, Yves Stohar and Rosemary returned to Basel. Mathias von Spallart followed two weeks later. Urse Niethammer moved in to the ground floor room. The below ground room in the basement was unoccupied.
The trap was set.