Cel­e­brat­ing the Bucks spy­mas­ters I

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - PEOPLE AND PLACES -

2016 marks the cen­te­nary of the cre­ation of MI5 and MI6, the in­tel­li­gence agen­cies re­spon­si­ble for iden­ti­fy­ing and tack­ling threats to the se­cu­rity of the UK and her in­ter­ests over­seas. Next year will also be the 70th an­niver­sary of the found­ing of Bri­tain’s third in­tel­li­gence agency, GCHQ, which de­vel­oped from the wartime Gov­ern­ment Code and Ci­pher school, based at Bletch­ley Park, Bucks. To mark these an­niver­saries, Chal­font St Peter-based au­thor DJ Kelly has pub­lished ‘Buck­ing­hamshire Spies and Sub­ver­sives’, ex­plor­ing our county’s as­ton­ish­ing 600 years of sub­ver­sives and spies and those who spied upon them. Among the county’s many in­di­vid­u­als linked with spy­ing, are a num­ber of highly suc­cess­ful spy­mas­ters who op­er­ated from, or lived in, our vil­lages.

N 1916 Bri­tain’s Se­cret Ser­vice Bureau (MO5), was di­vided into two new agen­cies, MI5 (do­mes­tic in­tel­li­gence) and MI6 (counter-in­tel­li­gence). Ver­non Kell, head of MO5, was ap­pointed Di­rec­tor Gen­eral of MI5.

When World War One broke out, with a staff of just twenty but util­is­ing the re­sources of re­gional po­lice forces and other agen­cies, Kell man­aged to round up ev­ery Ger­man agent sent to spy on Bri­tain.

His suc­cesses con­tin­ued in the run up to World War Two, as MI5 mon­i­tored Bri­tain’s own fas­cist ‘Blackshirts’, Nazi sym­pa­this­ers and com­mu­nists.

How­ever, when Churchill came to power in 1940, he promptly sacked Kell.

The long­est-serv­ing head of any gov­ern­ment depart­ment, Kell re­treated to grow roses at his coun­try cot­tage Stone Pits House, in Em­ble­ton near Ol­ney.

He nev­er­the­less con­tin­ued to serve his coun­try both in the Home Guard and as a spe­cial con­sta­ble.

He was knighted in 1942 but, sadly, passed away just weeks later.

For­eign Of­fice man­darin Robert Van­sit­tart of Den­ham Place, Den­ham, was a WW2 spy­mas­ter.

He and Den­ham-based film di­rec­tor Alexan­der Korda ran their own net­works of spies made up of per­son­al­i­ties from the film world.

In the 1930s Van­sit­tart had ap­pointed ac­tor Nöel Cow­ard to spy on Wal­lis Simp­son, whom he be­lieved to be dis­clos­ing clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion from the King’s des­patch boxes to Ful­mer-based Ger­man Am­bas­sador, later Hitler’s Deputy Führer, Joachim von Ribben­trop.

Buck­ing­hamshire res­i­dent ac­tors John Giel­gud (Wot­ton Un­der­wood) and David Niven (Penn, Stowe and Dor­ney) gath­ered in­tel­li­gence for Van­sit­tart, whilst Ger­rards Cross res­i­dent Lau­rence Olivier worked for Korda.

Van­sit­tart’s big­gest coup, how­ever, was re­cruit­ing anti-Nazi se­nior Ger­man diplo­mat Wolf­gang zu Put­litz who regularly dis­closed com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­tween his Lon­don Em­bassy and Hitler.

Head of MI5 dur­ing the Cold War era was Michael Han­ley.

Shar­ing his fear of ‘reds un­der the beds’ with James Je­sus An­gle­ton, the Char­tridge-ed­u­cated first head of coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence for Amer­ica’s CIA, Han­ley too would re­tire from the spy trade to grow roses at his home in Ha­zle­mere, Buck­ing­hamshire.

For­mer Di­rec­tor Gen­eral of MI5 Ver­non Kell

Buck­ing­hamshire Spies and Sub­ver­sives, by DJ Kelly, [ISBN 978-1-78510-847-1] is on sale at all good book shops and via Ama­zon.

Spy­mas­ter Robert Van­sit­tart lived at Den­ham Place

John Giel­gud

David Niven

Noel Cow­ard

Lau­rence Olivier

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