Rasputin - Reagan - Putin

While at Radio 4 Roger worked as a producer on Margaret Howard's Pick of the Week, Newsstand and Woman's Hour. He produced the series Images of Britain with foreign correspondents, and worked with the veteran broadcaster Fyfe Robertson on The Great Groundnut Scandal. In addition, Roger appeared on Tuesday Call and reported for the BBC World Service programmes Outlook and Omnibus. He also went to Russia and broadcast the first radio report from the cellar where Rasputin was murdered (below left). The so-called Mad Monk helped destroy the reputation of the royal family by his wild behavior and hastened the 1917 Revolution. A painting of one of his murderers, Prince Felix Yusupov, hung over the fireplace.

'It was an exciting time,' Roger recalls. 'Communism was collapsing and Leningrad changing its name back to St Petersburg. I was in the City Council chamber the morning that happened. At the same time I was able to get into places closed to outsiders since the 1917 Revolution, including the Alexander Palace. This was the favourite home of the last Tsar Nicholas II.'

Roger had traveled to the Soviet Union for some years to take photographs. When the World Service editor, Nic Newman, heard what he was doing he asked Roger to record reports for Outlook. 'It was odd,' says Roger. 'I was never interested in Communism. What interested me about Russia was its imperial past - life under the tsars. I went to photograph that, not modern politics. But with a microphone in hand I was drawn into reporting the democratic revolution going on around me. People were demonstrating in the same streets and squares where they'd rallied in 1905 and 1917. They looked as if they'd stepped out of an Eisenstein film. But now they wanted to get rid of the Communists.'

Western journalists spent most of their time in Moscow reporting high politics. By concentrating on Leningrad/St Petersburg Roger was able to explore angles that seldom featured in Western reports. He interviewed a KGB agent in a secret cemetery where thousands of Stalin's victims lay hidden (left). 'The corpses were buried in unmarked graves and the ground undulated underfoot,' says Roger. He witnessed the democrats ransacking the Smolny headquarters - a Communist shrine. Lenin directed the 1917 Revolution from there. Roger also spent three days in the Kronstadt naval base recording and taking photos.

During many visits to the city Roger interviewed leading reformers and political leaders in the democratic movement: 'On the morning St Petersburg regained its original name I went along to the City Council in the Marriinsky Palace to witness the historic ceremony. The mayor, Anatoly Sobchak, was chairing a meeting in a golden room (left). Opposite him sat Britain's trade minister and future Tory leader, Michael Howard, who was there on an official visit. At the mayor's side sat a man who never smiled - a man of extraordinary melancholy, like a Russian Buster Keaton. He seldom spoke and looked as if all the woes of Russia rested on his shoulders. After the meeting this mysterious figure melted away into the shadows. Later I found out who he was - Vladimir Putin. Without knowing it I had photographed Russia's future president before he became world famous.'

While in Leningrad Roger ran across Ronald Reagan, the US president who won the Cold War. Reagan's critics portrayed him as dumb and inarticulate, but Roger found him shrewd and diplomatic when it came to awkward questions. Had the president, for example, changed his mind about Russia which he once called the evil empire?

'Yes,' replied Mr Reagan, 'because I think there have been changes - great changes for the better. And I'm pleased to see the course on which both of our countries are set to establish a relationship.' He and the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, had discussed many issues and he'd found they shared a great many ideas.

Roger wanted to know what the president thought of Leningrad changing its name back to St Petersburg. Reagan gave a guarded reply. 'I don't think that I should be here advising the people of this country what they should do. But if you look at the history of this beautiful and unusual city - there's nothing in the world that compares to it - I can see why the people would like the man who started it, and caused its creation, to get recognition.'

'Are you optimistic about democracy here?' Roger wondered. Reagan laughed. 'I'm always optimistic, and especially about democracy.'   

Besides interviewing the president Roger photographed Mr Reagan during his Leningrad tour - in the Winter Palace, laying wreaths on Tchaikovsky's and Dostoevsky's graves, and visiting an Orthodox cathedral:- 'Despite security men I was able to get close to the president - so close you can see me reflected in the window of his limousine as I photographed him waving and about to enter his car (left).'