The infamous Russian spy with forgotten Geordie heritage

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From Tyneside to USSR and New York, the man born a Geordie led a colourful life

On a summer's day like any other, July 11, 1903 in Newcastle's Benwell, the most famous Soviet spy of all time was born on Tyneside.

William August Fisher would go on to lead intelligence operations for the Soviets against Russia in World War II and move in the dark circles of spy rings in New York City.

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Better known as his alias Rudolf Abel, the spy was eventually caught by the FBI and spared the electric chair in favour of three decades in prison - he would eventually be handed back over to the Soviets in return for American solider Gary Powers in a move which inspired 2015 blockbuster Bridger of Spies.

The high-risk life Abel ended up living is certainly a far cry from his humble Benwell beginnings.

The spy was born in Newcastle's West End, at 140 Clara Street, an address that no long exists.

He would go on to live at Greenhow Place, Hampstead Road and Armstrong Road as his family moved around the region.

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By 1908 his family had moved the youngster out to the coast in the hopes of more fresh air.

It all sounds a fairly mundane start to a thrill-ridden life, but Abel's family came with an intriguing history.

Rudolf Abel (second from left) would become one of USSR’s most infamous spies (Image: Wikimedia Commons)Rudolf Abel (second from left) would become one of USSR’s most infamous spies (Image: Wikimedia Commons)
Rudolf Abel (second from left) would become one of USSR’s most infamous spies (Image: Wikimedia Commons) | РИА Новости

His father Heinrich Fisher was a Bolshevik revolutionary and "staunch socialist" who was forced to flee to the UK after offences against the Russian Imperial Crown.

His mother Lyubov also came from Russian descent.

Growing up in the eclectic home environment, Abel found a penchant for languages and excelled at school.

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The future spy and his brother Henry won scholarships to Whitley Bay High School and Monkseaton High School.

Reports suggest Abel wasn't that hardworking as a youngster with academic excellence coming easily.

He harboured a love for music and radio, playing around with spark transmitters and receivers from a young age - a skill that would later become a vital part of his shadowy profession.

Abel excelled at school as a youngster (Image; Wikimedia Commons)Abel excelled at school as a youngster (Image; Wikimedia Commons)
Abel excelled at school as a youngster (Image; Wikimedia Commons) | РИА Новости

Eventually, the young Geordie boy became an apprentice draughtsman at Swan Hunter in Wallsend and attended evening classes at Rutherford College.

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Abel qualified for university in London, but couldn't afford the cost and in 1921 returned to Russia with his family.

From there Abel got wrapped up in the Soviet secret service and began his life as a spy.

His career would end in New York, where he managed agents and kept circles of spies ticking over.

Abel went on trial using his alias and continued to live under that name.

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After the well-documented exchange for Gary Powers, Abel returned to Russia and died in Moscow in 1971.

On his tombstone was written William Fisher, his Geordie name that was never exposed during his fascinating career.

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