Michael Randle was born in 1933 in Worcester Park, Surrey, and spent the war years living with relatives in Ireland. He registered as a conscientious objector to military service in 1951 and was given two years alternative service on the land. He became involved in Operation Gandhi (later re-named the Non Violent Resistance Group) in early 1952 and has been active in the peace and nuclear disarmament movements ever since.
Michael was a member of the Aldermaston March Committee which organised the first Aldermaston March against British nuclear weapons at Easter 1958; chairman of the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War, 1958-1961; secretary of the Committee of 100, 1960-1961; and a council and executive member of War Resisters’ International, 1960-1987. In 1959-1960, he spent a year in Ghana, participating in the Sahara protest team against French atomic bomb tests and helping to organise a pan-African conference in Accra. In 1962 he was sentenced, along with five other members of the Committee of 100, to 18 months’ imprisonment for his part in organising non violent direct action at a USAAF base at Wethersfield in Essex; it was while he was serving that sentence that his first son, Sean, was born. In October 1967 he was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment for participating in an occupation of the Greek Embassy in London following the military coup in April that year.
During his time in Wormwood Scrubs prison in 1962-1963, he became friends with George Blake, the British MI6 agent condemned in 1961 to 42 years imprisonment for passing information to the Soviet Union. In 1966, together with his wife Anne and Pat Pottle, he assisted Sean Bourke in planning Blake’s escape from prison. Subsequently he and Anne, with their two children, Sean and Gavin, drove Blake to East Germany concealed in the hidden compartment of a camper van. In June 1991 he and Pat Pottle stood trial at the Old Bailey for their part in the escape. They defended themselves in court, arguing that while they in no way condoned Blake’s espionage activities for either side, they were right to help him because the 42 year sentence he received was inhuman and hypocritical. Despite a virtual direction from the judge to convict, the jury found them not guilty on all counts.
Michael has taken a keen interest in developments in Eastern Europe. In 1956 he undertook a march from Vienna to Budapest with leaflets expressing support for Hungarian passive resistance to the Soviet occupation. He was prevented from entering Hungary by Austrian border guards. In 1968 he jointly co-ordinated for War Resisters’ International simultaneous international protests in Moscow, Budapest, Sofia and Warsaw against the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. In the 1970s and 1980s he collaborated with the Czech dissident Jan Kavan, then living in London, smuggling literature and equipment to the democratic opposition in Czechoslovakia.
He has a degree in English from London University (1966), and an MPhil and a PhD in Peace Studies (Bradford, 1981 and 1994). His thesis was a study of ‘Civil resistance: the origins and development of unarmed civilian resistance and its future potential’. He is the author of several books on similar themes (see Publication Note). From 1980 to 1987 he was co-ordinator of the Alternative Defence Commission, contributing to its two major publications, Defence without the Bomb (1983) and The politics of alternative defence (1987). He was visiting research fellow at the Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, from 1991 to 2007. During this period he co-ordinated the Nonviolent Action Research Project, 1994-1999, and acted as secretary of the Committee for Conflict Transformation and Support, 1994-2009. With Diana Francis he edited the CCTS Review. He has contributed articles and reviews to Peace News, New Society and The Guardian, amongst others. He is a trustee of the Commonweal Collection, an independent peace library.