Among the many actors, performers and artists my diarist June S. met in Chelsea and the West End of London was ‘Klop’ Ustinov, father of the rather better remembered wit, raconteur and performer Peter Ustinov.
June encountered this extraordinary man in July 1941 at The Players Theatre, which was housed in a deep basement in Albemarle Street. Entranced by the performance of 20-year-old raconteur Peter Ustinov doing his sketch ‘The Bishop of Limpopoland’, June paid little attention to the man sitting next to her. It was Jona, Baron von Ustinov had targeted June as a possible conquest.
Despite his unprepossessing appearance (5 ft t2/1.57m, with bulging green eyes) Ustinov was known for his extraordinary ability to charm and cajole into bed any woman he set his sights on (hence the nickname Klop, which means bedbug, given to him by his long-suffering and tolerant wife Nadia).
Jona Freiherr von Ustinov was born in Jaffa, then in Palestine in 1892 and flew for the Germans in World War 1. In 1935, when working as a journalist attached to the German Embassy, he refused to ‘prove’ his Aryan credentials (he had Jewish heritage) and secretly became a British subject, signing up to work for MI5. In the guise of the affable ‘bon viveur’ to winkle secrets out of unsuspecting politicians and diplomats. He died, penniless, having not been awarded a pension, in 1962.
Journalist Peter Day has written his biography (Klop: Britain’s Most Ingenious Spy – 2014, Biteback).