The Boxer That Saved a Princess: “Not Bloody Likely!”

Don’t let the frilly dress fool you. Britain’s Princess Anne is stone cold in a fight.

March 20, 1974, was a Wednesday. 23-year-old Princess Anne, the only daughter of Queen Elizabeth and brother to Prince Charles, was headed to Buckingham Palace after an evening spent at a cinema screening with her husband of four months Mark Phillips, a Captain in the British Army. Also riding in the back of their maroon Rolls Royce limousine was Anne’s lady-in-waiting, Rowena Brassey as well as her security agent, Inspector James Wallace Beaton. Beaton was a member of SO14, the Scotland Yard special operations branch tasked with royal protection. Alexander Callendar was their chauffer.

The Walther PPK was the standard issue handgun for SO14, the security detail tasked with protecting the British royals in the early 1970s.

In the early 1970s, terrorism was in its infancy, so executive protection was not the high art it is today. SO14 agents were woefully undertrained and had no backup for unexpected contingencies. Where most British Law Enforcement officers were unarmed, SO14 operatives carried Walther PPK handguns.

Walther PPK. 7.65mm, with a delivery like a brick through a plate-glass window. Takes a Brausch silencer with very little reduction in muzzle velocity. The American CIA swears by them.

–Major Geoffrey Boothroyd, Q, Dr. No

Ballistics was not the rarefied science it is nowadays, so the storied art of combat handgunning languished where the end of the Second World War had left it. That meant ball ammo and woefully anemic calibers. I suspect SO14 issued the PPK because Ian Fleming’s James Bond carried it, not because it was a proven manstopper. SO14 was about to learn the hard way that James Bond was not a real guy.

The Hit

The Mall in London is an iconic thoroughfare.

There is a long straight road in London called the Mall that stretches from Trafalgar Square to the gates of Buckingham Palace. As Alexander Callendar turned down the Mall, a Ford Escort driven by a bearded man with red hair cut obliquely in front of the Rolls, forcing it to stop about 200 yards short of the Palace. The bearded man stepped out of his cheap American car brandishing a brace of handguns.

Inspector Beaton’s Walther had a stoppage at the most inopportune time.

Inspector Beaton had not noticed the weapons in the dim light and exited Anne’s car to investigate. From a range of about six feet, the mysterious driver shot him in the right shoulder. Beaton had time to retrieve his Walther and fire a round before being disoriented by the gunshot. The diminutive German pistol jammed before Beaton could get off a second round.

The Shooter

Ian Ball never was quite right. While most people who suffer from mental illness are completely harmless, those who aren’t often manifest their delusions in spectacular ways.

The assailant was a 26-year-old English mental patient named Ian Ball. He had rented the Ford under an assumed name and planned his attack for two years. Princess Anne’s itinerary was published in the British press, so Ball had little difficulty identifying her car.

Anne’s attacker had meticulously planned his assault. Had he been successful there is no telling what the sordid outcome might have been.

Ian Ball set out that evening to undertake a kidnapping. Police later found the sedative Valium, four sets of handcuffs, and a bizarre typed ransom letter addressed to the Queen in his vehicle. Ball wanted two million pounds in five-pound notes placed inside twenty different suitcases and loaded on a plane bound for Switzerland. He demanded that the Queen herself accompany the money to the airport. He later said he intended to donate the evening’s earnings to the British National Health Service so as to underwrite the country’s woefully inadequate mental health treatment facilities.

The Next Phase

The inside of Princess Anne’s Rolls Royce limousine became a battlefield.

Ball now left the bleeding police inspector and made his way to the back door of the vehicle opposite where Anne was seated. As he yanked on the door handle Anne’s lady in waiting exited the vehicle on the safe side and the wounded police inspector clambered back in. Now growing frustrated, the well-armed mental patient screamed, “Open, or I’ll shoot!”.

Badly wounded, Inspector Jim Beaton moved toward the gunfire to protect his charges.

Inspector Beaton threw himself bodily across the Princess and her husband as the would-be kidnapper opened fire through the side window of the car. Beaton caught a round in the hand that deflected away from Anne. Ball then shot Beaton a third time in the pelvis, taking him out of the fight.

Alex Callendar, though unarmed, exited the Rolls and attempted to stop the gunman.

The chauffeur, Alex Callendar, confronted the gunman and took a round to the chest for his trouble. Ball then finally wrenched the back door to the car open and grasped the Princess’ wrist. All the while Anne’s husband held tightly around her waist. In the process, Anne’s dress ripped up the back, and the Princess grew properly agitated.

In the face of grave imminent peril, Princess Anne showed her true character.

With two men shot and some right proper chaos unfolding the gunman put his gun to the Princess’ head and demanded that she exit the car with him. In what is one of the most awesome lines ever uttered in the midst of a gunfight, the frightened, disheveled, irritated daughter of the Queen stated flatly, “Not bloody likely!”

For Such a Time as This…

Constable Michael Hills was the next target of the insane kidnapper. It was his quick thinking that summoned help.

Now the fuss began to garner the attention of passersby. A young police constable named Michael Hills approached unawares and was shot in the belly, the bullet passing through the diary he carried in his pocket to lodge in his liver. Hills had the presence of mind to call in a quick report before he was incapacitated.

Ron Russell was a former heavyweight boxer who both respected the police and had little use for bullies. His spontaneous bravery during his drive home from work likely saved Princess Anne’s life.   

Ronald Russell was heading home from work when he saw Ball shoot Officer Hills. Russell had no idea the scuffle centered around an attempted kidnapping of Princess Anne. He left his car and proceeded on foot to investigate. The 6-foot 4-inch ex-heavyweight boxer was incensed that this ruffian had just assaulted a police officer. When interviewed later Ronald Russell said that his first thought was, “That’s a liberty. He needs sorting.”

A passing journalist named John Brian McConnell attempted unsuccessfully to de-escalate the situation.

Meanwhile, another British driver named Glenmore Martin wedged his car ahead of the Ford and prevented Ball’s escape. Martin then began rendering aid to Constable Hills. A passing Daily Mail writer named John Brian McConnell attempted to defuse the situation saying, “Don’t be silly, old boy. Put the gun down.” Ball then shot him down as well.

The close-quarters combat that took place around the immobilized limo was frenetic and pitiless.

Ian Ball turned his attention back toward the Princess just as the enraged former boxer approached him from behind. Ronald Russell stunned the man with a single mighty blow to the back of the man’s head as he leaned into Anne’s limousine. Anne, by now on her back, threw her feet up over her head and somersaulted backward out the open car door opposite the dazed gunman. Russell wrapped his burly frame around the Princess to protect her, exposing his back to the shooter. Surprised when he hadn’t been shot the big man then turned and punched Ball squarely in the face.

Nearby St. James Park is quite a beautiful place. A pursuing police officer threw his coat over Ian Ball’s head and tackled him at a sprint.

Ian Ball was done. His car immobilized, the armed man struck out through nearby St. James Park on foot. A responding constable named Peter Edmonds gave chase and tackled him bodily to the ground. Police found three hundred pounds and the keys to a rental house on a dead-end road in Hampshire some five miles away from Sandhurst Military Academy where Princess Anne and Captain Phillips lived.

This is Ronald Russell in later years. By all accounts, he is an all-around good bloke.

When the hero Ronald Russell called his wife afterward to explain why he would be late getting home she said, “That’s a likely story.”

The Gun

Introduced in the late 1920s, the Walther PP was a revolutionary design.

The Walther PPK began life as the slightly longer Walther PP introduced in 1929. The product of the fertile mind of Carl Walther, the PP-series handguns introduced a variety of novel features, many of which can still be found in modern combat handguns today. A simple unlocked blowback design, the PPK is limited to fairly small calibers, particularly .22LR, .25ACP, .32ACP, .380ACP, and 9x18mm Ultra. Balance of probability is that Inspector Beaton’s gun fired .32ACP.

The PPK was the shorter, tidier version of the previous PP. Though just cute as can be, none of these weapons was terribly effective.

The PP and PPK pioneered the single-action/double-action trigger system in an autoloading handgun. This trigger allowed the same degree of safety found in a double-action revolver in a trim pocket pistol. The slide-mounted hammer drop safety and mechanical loaded chamber indicator were groundbreaking as well. However, the unlocked blowback mechanism produced a snappier recoil impulse than it should, and the steel frame made the little pistol heavier than most. I have also, like Inspector Beaton, had a few stoppages with mine.

These were the two revolvers Ball used in his attack along with his gloves and spare ammo. The diary in the middle was in Constable Michael Hills’ pocket when he was shot.

Ian Ball bought his two handguns, a snub-nosed .22 revolver and an Astra .38, in Spain. He fired eleven rounds during the attack and carried another sixty-one. Prior to the handgun ban, there was a thriving gun culture in England. The Firearms Act of 1997 saw 162,000 handguns and 700 tons of ammunition surrendered to the government. An epidemic of knife-related crime is sweeping the nation nowadays.

The Rest of the Story

Inspector Beaton, though badly wounded, fully recovered.
Constable Hills still carries a bullet in his liver from the attack.

The four men Ian Ball shot that evening survived. Six months later Queen Elizabeth awarded Inspector Beaton with the George Cross, Britain’s highest civilian award for bravery. Constable Hills and the former heavyweight boxer Ronald Russell received the George Medal.

Queen Elizabeth, shown here holding a young Princess Anne, was deeply grateful to the men who saved her daughter’s life.

When Elizabeth formally decorated Russell she told him, “The medal is from the Queen of England. The thank you is from Anne’s mother.” The Queen also quietly paid off Russell’s mortgage.

Inspector Jim Beaton is now retired. He remains humble to this day, claiming that his actions that fateful night were just part of his job.

Inspector Beaton enjoyed a long successful career in Law Enforcement. Ronald Russell, now 72, sadly suffered a series of strokes and plans to auction off his George Medal to ensure that his family will not be saddled with his funeral expenses.

Ian Ball never again breathed free air. He has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and remains in a secure psychiatric facility.

The would-be kidnapper Ian Ball pled guilty to attempted murder and kidnapping and remains incarcerated at the psychiatric hospital at Broadmoor today.

Today’s SO14 is unrecognizable from what it was back in 1974.

SO14 binned their Walthers the day after the attack. Lessons learned from the Ian Ball affair ultimately substantially enhanced their capabilities. Today they are a world-class executive protection service.

It’s probably pretty cool to save a real live princess from a bloodthirsty maniac. Here we see the motley crew that protected Princess Anne as they were recognized at Buckingham Palace. The chauffeur Alex Callendar is second from the left. Jim Beaton is third from the left. Constable Michael Hills can be seen between the Queen and Princess Anne. Ron Russell is at the far right.
Princess Anne today. The English do make some no-nonsense women.

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About the author: Will Dabbs A native of the Mississippi Delta, Will is a mechanical engineer who flew UH1H, OH58A/C, CH47D, and AH1S aircraft as an Army Aviator. He has parachuted out of perfectly good airplanes at 3 o’clock in the morning and summited Mount McKinley, Alaska, six times…always at the controls of an Army helicopter, which is the only way sensible folk climb mountains. Major Dabbs eventually resigned his commission in favor of medical school where he delivered 60 babies and occasionally wrung human blood out of his socks. Will works in his own urgent care clinic, shares a business build-ing precision rifles and sound suppressors, and has written for the gun press since 1989. He is married to his high school sweetheart, has three awesome adult children, and teaches Sunday School. Turn-ons include vintage German machineguns, flying his sexy-cool RV6A airplane, Count Chocula cereal, and the movie “Aliens.”

{ 20 comments… add one }
  • Ej harbet September 1, 2020, 11:46 am

    another awesome story from Dr Dobbs. We should try to persuade him to do a compilation book! Kind of like Mr ayoob did with ayoob files.

    The British are a messed up people.i can say that because im 35% limey. 32acp in very small back up guns has a place.use alot of rounds and place them well. But if you can go 9mm and up do it.

    Maybe someday they outgrow that lucky fetish my people cast off in 1776. Im rooting for you Tommy!

    Thank God for Rudyard kipling!

    • Ej harbet September 1, 2020, 12:11 pm

      I really should edit.
      Maybe someday they’ll outgrow the fetish of monarchy that my people cast off in 1776

  • LAMan August 28, 2020, 4:49 pm

    Great story, Will! You’ve piqued my interest in this event and I look forward to reading more about it. Any recommendations? Also, since this is GA after all, I’ll ask: if SO14 “binned” their PPKs the next day, what gun did they select to replace it?
    My compliments to the men who protected Princess Anne. What a game lot of banty roosters! I’d like to add that she was as worthy of them as they were of her. Our British cousins have a pithy remark that sums it up nicely: “Good show!”

  • Mikial August 24, 2020, 9:31 pm

    Great story and both fun and informative. I’ve done close protection for almost two decades now, including 2 1/2 years on Personal Security Details (PSD) in Iraq, and we are so much further ahead of the game now.

  • dinger89794 August 24, 2020, 7:02 pm

    As a gear head, too, I noticed that right away. We’ve had some interesting machines from the U.K., but the Escort was lost in translation.

  • ATheoK August 24, 2020, 6:31 pm

    Excellent and wonderfully detailed story.

    I had a .380 PPK for many years, I loved that gun.

    Heavy, yes! A lot of steel in a small package.

    That said, PPKs jam for several reasons:
    A) Limp wristing guarantees a jam or three per magazine, (stovepipes)

    B) The notch shelf that lifts the cartridge up towards the chamber is frequently scarred by tooling marks. Kind of like directing the path of the cartridge by using a coarse file. Polished smooth, the shells chamber much more reliably.

    C) For all of James Bond’s frequently carrying a PPK in his pocket, the gun is sometimes not happy with pocket link; or perhaps some jams were caused by pocket dirt.

  • Tommygun851 August 24, 2020, 12:00 pm

    I always enjoy reading all of the weekly articles that you write like this one. You do a great job on them but you said something in today’s article that bothers the crap out of me! You said that “The Walther PPK began life as…..”!!!! A gun is an inanimate object that can be made of various things like metal, wood, plastic, etc. that does not live and breathe and does not have a mind of it’s own! All too often the gun is blamed for horrible things and NOT the criminal that did the horrible crime! Sorry to say, I live in CT😢, a very anti-gun state! The Hartford Courant newspaper did a two page article starting on the front page about how a pistol killed someone! They followed the history of the gun from where it was made to the different owners, when and where it was stolen from and ultimately to the murder that was committed with it! They only said one thing about the murderer that he had an extensive criminal history, ostensibly, blaming the gun for the death of a person and not the criminal! In the future, please be careful how you choose your words. An thanks for the hard work putting those articles together! Keep them coming!

  • Don August 24, 2020, 11:59 am

    Are you sure the PPK came in 9x18mm Ultra? I had a Walther SUPER PP in Ultra. It is substantially bigger than the PP or PPK. 9x18mm Ultra is not the same as 9x18mm Makarov for those wondering.

  • Jim Bragg August 24, 2020, 11:44 am

    Dr. Will Dabbs is probably my favorite gun/short story writer. I would love to one daymeet him and just talk guns and listen to stories of his and maybe let him hear some of my police stories.

  • Fred August 24, 2020, 11:38 am

    Perhaps my reading comprehension is in a diminished capacity but I didn’t read anything about her husband attempting to protect her.

  • Philip August 24, 2020, 11:14 am

    Will is truly a multi talented gentleman. Great story.

  • Mike in a Truck August 24, 2020, 10:56 am

    Great story! I get that security details are designed to extricate a principal from situations as quickly as possible. But if I was ever important enough to have security Ill be dammed if I will be unarmed.I hear that Theodore Roosevelt carried a pistol in the White House. I guess it’s just being ornery. Try to kill me and I’ll kill you back.

  • JCitizen August 24, 2020, 10:15 am

    When I was a kid, I thought Ann as rather homely; kids can be so cruel and judgmental. These photos definitely depict a pretty lady. She had a hard life for royalty, though; if you believe the Netflix story about the family.

    To this day, we still have a major problem identifying the mentally ill, and who need treatment, and definitely the ones that should never be able to possess weapons, if for no other reason than to protect themselves.

  • Mark Raymond Johnson August 24, 2020, 10:07 am

    England had its own line of domestic Fords, including an Escort if I remember. It would have been an English Ford not an American one. But yes I know, this is the least important fact about this whole story. Thank you for writing it!

  • Jerry S August 24, 2020, 9:24 am

    But, but, James Bond dropped them like dead flies with his .32 with nary a jam and often with more bullets than an extended mag would hold, go figure….sarc….

  • Hendrik Joseph Haan August 24, 2020, 6:26 am

    Yah, William resembles his mother and Harry resembles the bodyguard.

  • Joe Ernst Jr August 24, 2020, 5:37 am

    Great, great story. Good job Will!

  • Mike August 21, 2020, 7:46 pm

    Excellent read.

  • KC August 21, 2020, 3:45 pm

    Unless anything had changed that I’m unaware of, I believe Princess Anne is sister to Prince Charles…

    • Mike August 21, 2020, 7:45 pm

      These days you can’t assume…

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