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Home | Russians in Britain | Ivan Ivanovich Bilibin (1908-1993) Obituary

Ivan Ivanovich Bilibin (1908-1993) Obituary

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Ivan Bilibin, journalist, speech writer, political adviser: born St Petersburg 26 December 1908; radio journalist, BBC Monitoring Service 1941-73; married Jean Stevenson; died Reading 9 August 1993.



IVAN BILIBIN worked for more than 30 years for the BBC Radio Monitoring Service and was for over 40 years a speech writer and political adviser to the late Grand Duke Vladimir Romanov, the would-be Tsar of Russia.

Bilibin was born in St Petersburg in 1908, the elder son of the prominent artist Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin, a member of the Mir Ikusstva, Diaghilev's World of Art group, and an Irish mother, Mary Chambers. He was four when his parents divorced. He arrived in London with his mother and brother on a holiday in January 1917 and they became stateless emigres following the February revolution. Ivan Bilibin remembered how 'I went down to pick up a newspaper at the reception of the National Hotel, in Bedford Square, and saw the headline 'Tsar has abdicated', rushed to my room and shouted, 'Mother, Alexei is Tsar.' The young tsarevich, Alexei, was then my hero.'

Bilibin was educated at St Paul's School, in west London, and at St John's College, Oxford. In 1927 he joined the Mladorossy party a movement of young scions of the Russian aristocracy, led by Alexander Kazem- bek, who wanted to unite revolutionary achievement with historic tradition. Their motto was 'Tsar and Soviets'. The chairman of the Supreme Council of the party was Grand Duke Dimitry Pavlovich who, with Prince Felix Yusupov, had been one of the two principal conspirators in the murder of Rasputin in 1916. Grand Duke Dimitry and Bilibin became friends and it was Dimitry who in 1936 introduced Bilibin to Lord Beaverbrook, who invited Bilibin to join his monitoring service at Cherkeley Court for the Daily Express, where Bilibin worked until 1938 when the station was closed. In 1941 Bilibin joined the Monitoring Sevice of the BBC as a Russian linguist, and stayed with it until 1973. There he met his wife, Jean Stevenson, who also worked at the Monitoring Service. He was on duty on 21 June 1941, when Stalin delivered his famous speech 'Brothers and sisters . . .', when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union.

Bilibin met Grand Duke Vladimir in 1950 and remained close to him until his death in April 1992. He became head of his chancellery and his speech writer and political adviser. From the 1960s to the 1980s he contributed to two monarchist publications, Vozrozhdenie (Renaissance), published in Paris and financed by Abram Gukasov, the Armenian oil millionaire, and the Constantian, published in Pittsburgh. 'I was a monarchist from birth,' Bilibin used often to say. Bilibin wrote Grand Duke Vladimir's 'Address to my Compatriots', which appeared in Boris Yeltsin's newspaper Russia, in Moscow, in January 1991, the first ever such 'address' to be published in the Soviet Union since the murder of the Russian Imperial family in July 1918.

Twice last year Bilibin made return visits to his native St Petersburg and was deeply moved by the experience.

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