Obituary: Ormond Uren

Lecturer and research assistant

Ormond Uren, who died in July 2015 aged 95, worked in Birkbeck’s then Language Research Centre for almost 20 years, after an eventful early life.

Born in Western Australia, his family moved frequently due to his father’s career as a Presbyterian minister, before finally settling in Edinburgh.

In 1937, aged 18, Ormond embarked on an affair with a Hungarian countess and spent a year on her estate, picking up fluent Hungarian. He enlisted at the outbreak of war and in 1942 was recruited by the Special Operations Executive for its Hungarian operations. It was around this time he was also recruited by the Communist Party of Great Britain.

Four days before he was due to be parachuted behind enemy lines in Hungary he was arrested and charged with espionage. At his trial, it emerged he had passed on low-level military information to Douglas Springhall, the national organiser of the Communist Party of Great Britain, who was also a Soviet agent. Ormond received a seven-year prison sentence, serving five. His fellow inmates included Ivor Novello and Charles Douglas Home, brother of Prime Minister Alec.

After his release, he returned to Edinburgh where he met a Frenchwoman and moved with her to Paris, returning to Edinburgh for the university terms to complete a degree in French and Spanish in 1950. He worked as an interpreter for the World Federation of Trade Unions in Paris, only to be deported in 1952 when he refused to denounce communist party members of the WFTU. Like many others, he left the Communist Party in 1956 in protest over the Soviet invasion of Hungary.

There followed a number of unsatisfying teaching posts before, in middle age, he took a diploma in linguistics at Birkbeck, after which he was appointed part-time lecturer in French language and research assistant in the Language Research Centre. He worked for Birkbeck until he retired in 1983 aged 64.

Fluent in seven languages, Ormond remained a voracious reader and crossword enthusiast to the end of his life. He continued to ski into his mid-80s and to practise yoga and classical guitar.