Sometimes it feels like they find you. I was in the local studies department of South Shields Library flicking through files containing information about local personalities and subjects of the North East.
I was looking for South Shields born Eileen O’Shaughnessy, as I was making a documentary about her life with the author George Orwell.
The files are in alphabetical order and before the O’s I landed on the M’s. I came across a file labelled Manhattan and thought that was a strange name to be connected to Tyneside.
From all the research that followed I wrote a script for the film Secrets & Lies (below). A blog in July 2018 adds details on how I put the film together.
If you want to check out the 12 min film, go to my You Tube channel at
Secrets & Lies
Have you heard about the devil having the best tunes ? Well, he also has the best stories. This is a story about my journey, my obsession… my destiny. You could say it was written in the stars.
It was 1990 when I died at our home in South Shields, my friends had a service for me at the local church, and they buried me in a cemetery in Durham. In my will I left over half a million pounds, with bank accounts in London, Switzerland and California.
I also had a few titles to my name, including a Baron and Knights Templar. I was an accomplished writer and artist; I have authored over 30 books. My first was published in 1934. My close friends included other artists, poets and a Princess. I had property in London and Spain and a plot of land in the Bahamas.
So, I hear you ask, why end my days in a small terraced house in a seaside town? Let me explain.
My name is Avro Manhattan I was born in Italy on 6th April 1910. My parents were wealthy and we travelled around Europe. I was educated at the Sorbonne in Paris, where as a student I met the artist, Picasso.
This was a great time in my formative years, I used to get, what I called little explosions in my head, idea’s, sounds and colours just popping in, and I knew I had to do something with them.
So in the 1930’s when I went back to Italy and rented an art studio at Lake Maggiore I started to put my idea’s down on canvas. But while there the authorities told me that I had to serve in Mussolini’s fascist army, I refused, so they put me in jail.
While imprisoned in the Alps I didn’t waste my time, in my small prison cell I learned to harness my little explosions and wrote a book on astronomy, a subject I was getting really interested in.
They say prison can break some people, but not me, after the experience it made me more determined to make something of my life. I left Italy behind and went to London.
During World War II, I worked in radio and was broadcasting to occupied Europe and also wrote political commentaries for the BBC, for this service two things happened, the British awarded me a Knight of Malta, and the Nazi’s put a price on my head. A feeling that would follow me all through my life, the feeling of dodging a bullet.
While in the UK I was living between London and the North East, where I was invited to important functions, foreign embassies, and film premiers. I worked with HG Wells and helped draw up a bill of human rights. I met with Ian Paisley, the loyalist politician from Northern Ireland.
I held an art exhibition on the riverside in South Shields attended by the very flamboyant son of the Marquis of Bath. The Viscount bought two of my paintings, but he confessed his only ambition was to try Newcastle Brown Ale.
I met Dr Thomas Paine, the head of NASA. As I’ve said it was a subject I was really interested in and became a passion of mine, I was very interested in space and what else was out there in our universe.
I was a very good friend with the scientist Marie Stopes. She had just read my latest book and came to an exhibition of some of my paintings in London. We got on well and our friendship grew, there were strong rumours of a love affair. At the time I was thirty-nine, she was 72.
But my little explosions kept me really busy and by now my main work was writing. I talk of the obscenity of some very wealthy world organisations co-existing with poverty.
My titles deal with topical issues and are controversial; they deal with current religious and political problems affecting the USA and the Western world.
I researched the subjects thoroughly and my style is not to be judge or jury; but to be the prosecuting counsel. In the ‘Vatican Moscow Washington Alliance’ I talked with the Yugoslav General, Milkovich, himself an opponent of Nazism and Communism.
During research I came across a story of a squadron of bombers planning to flatten the Vatican, this was foiled only 24 hours before the attack was to take place.
Revealing this brought me many readers across the world, but also many enemies. Ozark Books, one of my publishers, said I risked my life daily to expose some of the darkest secrets of the Papacy.
Many of my books have been translated into a number of languages from French, German and Spanish, to Hebrew, Czech and Russian.
‘The Vatican in World Politics’ ran to fifty editions. One review said that a copy of ‘The Vatican’s Holocaust’ was hurled across St Pauls Cathedral in London, the book was criticised, condemned, banned, destroyed and even burned as frequently as it has been recommended and praised in many parts of the world.
In 1983 Chick Publications in America published ‘The Vatican Billions’ where I explain how the popes stole the wealth of the world through the centuries. I expose the incredible tricks played on kings, and papal involvement with the Bolsheviks. I reveal the story of how millions are missing from the Vatican Bank, the suicide of the banker Calvi under a London Bridge, and the jailed Vatican Bankers.
As I’ve said the subject matter of my writing had brought me many readers across the world but also people who would like to see me silenced.
In 1986 I was in America to deliver a speech and promote my book ‘The Vatican’s Holocaust’ when I was caught in the cross hairs of one organisation. The Ustasha was a revolutionary movement from Croatia, they specialised in the assassination of prominent people.
After my speech I was standing at the bar when I was approached by a man, and he whispered to me in a matter-of-fact tone of voice “I came to the convention to kill you”. He departed as other people came up to me for signed copies of my book.
One of these men was my bodyguard and when I told him of the incident he froze and told me that he recognised him as one of the most ruthless Usthasa killers. Something had changed his mind; you could say I had dodged a bullet – again.
But the love of my life and best friend was Anne Cunningham – Brown. She was very loving, caring and kind. We were never apart for more than a few days, it was like we were meant to be together.
I first met Anne at a cocktail party in London in 1963; she worked in a hospital there. She was originally from Shotley Bridge, a small town in the North East but her mother was living on the coast in South Shields and Anne invited me up there.
I was greatly surprised by it – especially the beauty of the parks and the seafront. It is a real pleasure to be able to look out and see the horizon. It is where I can work in peace and quiet, or just sit in the house that my dear wife decorated, with its heavy drapes, antiques, cherub figures and a piano in the corner, all very bohemian. Some days I just take our dog for a walk, buy fish and chips, and sip Newcastle Brown Ale.
I remember during the 1970’s Anne was commuting to work at a hospital in London. I used to phone and write to her.
‘Dearest Love, I miss you very much after you left last week the house seemed so empty. It was a strange sense of absence and void. Which proves that when I’m near you I love you very much, and that you are part of my life and work. I love to hear your voice on the telephone. Somehow it completes my day’.
We were together nearly 30 years, and our life was fantastic, we loved to holiday, especially in the United States. We spent time in Los Angeles, California and Utah with its beautiful canyons.
From time to time, we stayed in Kensington and sometimes fly over to our flat in Sitges in Spain but lived mostly in South Shields.
We used to go to the local theatre and enjoy watching the shows and regularly hosted dinner parties and barbecues. As a couple we were always together, when my dear wife died in 2008, she was buried with me.
But there was a time in my life when I took a break from writing as I felt I had put myself under so much pressure with the amount of research I was doing plus trying to meet deadlines, it all got too much and I needed to stop, or at least slow down.
Anne gave me guidance, extra confidence in my writing, but I felt the work was getting to me, the stories that I was finding out and revealing to my readers were suffocating me, at times I felt that I couldn’t breathe.
I was carrying important information around with me, and it was getting heavier. It felt like my head was going to explode.
Ann was very worried about the effect it was having on my health, I always said it was the nurse in her, wanting to take care of me. I really needed to take a vacation, and recharge my batteries, but I felt compelled to look further, to progress and soak up more of the stories then let my readers know what is going on in the world around us.
I really felt I was doing the right thing by exposing all these secrets and lies.
Since coming to Britain 40 years ago, I had been working on a book about an imaginary god invented by primitive man to give himself courage and hope in his struggle for survival, The Dawn of Man is better than the garden of Eden….my hero, Azor is better than Adam.
I talk about how a new world will emerge, and the start of a brighter future for mankind. I thought it was my finest work so I got in touch with Lyle Stuart one of my publishers in the USA asking if he would like to release it.
But the irony was that as soon as it was ready, to my surprise I had a heart attack on my 75th birthday. After a short stay in hospital, I made a recovery and was straight back to work, and we released the book.
To say the least, Anne was very disappointed in me putting my work, my passion ahead of my health. It will kill you in the end she used to say.
I was still working to my last days, I was planning a new book and my research was leading to a links with The Vatican, the CIA, and murders of very prominent people in the western world.
This was a conspiracy which would shake the foundations of these organisations. There is no proof – yet. But the truth will come out in the end, believe me my friend. Someday it will be known.
So that’s it, that’s my story. I ended my days here in South Shields where I produced my best work living close to the sea and where I could see the stars more clearly.
That’s it, for now. A story of a fascinating character who ended his days in a small seaside town. The research is on-going and new information has come to light.
Part two of his story is being written revealing more about the man who called himself Baron Avro Manhattan.
Further reading about Manhattan on earlier blogs:
Gary Alikivi 2019.