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