I’m very excited to announce my next book, Agent Jack: The True Story of MI5’s Secret Nazi Hunter.
In 1942, MI5 faced a puzzle. They’d spent the first three years of World War II convinced that Germany had a “fifth column” of British traitors, ready to rise up and assist in an invasion. But the spy-hunters hadn’t been able to find any trace of such an organisation. What they had kept finding was people who wanted to join it. So MI5 decided they might as well set the group up themselves. For the next three years, a small team within the Security Service patiently collected British Nazi sympathisers, keeping them busy but out of harm’s way. The team was made up of Victor Rothschild, peer of the realm, scientist and bomb-defuser; his “assistant” Theresa Clay, a famous biologist with a complicated personal life; and the star of the operation, Eric Roberts.
Roberts was apparently an ordinary clerk, commuting in every day to the Euston Road branch of the Westminster Bank. But he had another life, in which his astonishing skill as a secret agent was revealed.
As the war progressed, these three catalogued hundreds of British people who were willing to risk the noose to help Germany. But when peace came in 1945, MI5 faced a new problem: what to do with them all?
Where is drunken vandalism always a “booze-fuelled rampage?” Where is everyone in uniform a “hero” and every thief “heartless”? Where are market towns always “bustling” and villages “sleepy”?
Journalese is the language of news. It’s a strange language, a little like English. I’ve been working around native speakers for two decades, living as one of them and learning their ways, and in my book, Romps, Tots and Boffins – The Strange Language of News, I make their secrets available to the public for the first time. You don’t need to thank me.