Agent Jack: The True Story of MI5's Secret Nazi Hunter
By Robert Hutton
For fans of Transcription by Kate Atkinson and books by Ben Macintyre, this is the astonishing full story of the MI5 agent at the heart of Operation Fifth Column, the covert wartime operation to flush out Nazi sympathisers on British soil.
'Highly readable' Ben Macintyre
'Pacy, original and frequently chilling' Henry Hemming
June 1940. Britain is Europe's final bastion of freedom - and Hitler's next target. But not everyone fears a Nazi invasion. In factories, offices and suburban homes are men and women determined to do all they can to hasten it.
Throughout the Second World War, Britain's defence against the enemy within was Eric Roberts, a former bank clerk from Epsom. Equipped with an extraordinary ability to make people trust him, he was recruited into the shadowy world of espionage by the great spymaster Maxwell Knight. Roberts penetrated first the Communist Party and then the British Union of Fascists, before playing his greatest role for MI5 - as Hitler's man in London.
Codenamed Jack King, he single-handedly built a network of hundreds of British Nazi sympathisers, with many passing secrets to him in the mistaken belief that he was a Gestapo officer. Operation Fifth Column, run by a brilliant woman scientist and a Jewish aristocrat with a sideline in bomb disposal, was kept so secret it was omitted from the reports MI5 sent to Winston Churchill.
In a narrative that grips like a thriller, Robert Hutton tells the fascinating story of an operation whose existence has only recently come to light. Drawing on newly declassified documents and private family archives, Agent Jack shatters the comfortable notion that Britain could never have succumbed to fascism, and celebrates - at last - the courage of individuals who protected the country they loved at great personal risk.
Robert Hutton is UK political correspondent for Bloomberg News. He studied Artificial Intelligence at Edinburgh University before going on to work at the Daily Mirror and the Financial Times. He is the author of Romps, Tots and Boffins: The Strange Language of News and Would They Lie to You? How to Spin Friends and Manipulate People, both of which were shortlisted for the Paddy Power Political Book Awards.
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- Publication date:
06 Sep 2018
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Eye-opening from start to finish. Pacy, original and frequently chilling, Hutton offers a fascinating new take on the story of the Home Front — Henry Hemming, author of M: Maxwell Knight, MI5's Greatest Spymaster
A gripping book by a talented new spy-writer which illuminates a shocking episode in our wartime history. Fans of Ben Macintyre's books will love this — Tim Shipman
Robert Hutton's deeply researched, often astounding book describes how a loose network of homegrown fascists plotted to undermine wartime Britain, and explains the ingenious way MI5 attempted to neutralise them ... Hutton includes transcripts of eavesdropped conversations with these fanatics that would make your hair stand on end — Anthony Quinn, Guardian
Robert Hutton has written a well-researched, highly readable account of Roberts's strange undercover life — Ben Macintyre, The Times
Hutton's brilliant detective work uncovers a fascinating, and hitherto untold, story of spies, eccentrics and fanatics — Josh Ireland, author of The Traitors: A True Story of Blood, Betrayal and Deceit
I have never encountered a stranger or more touching picture of real-life treachery: the exciting and the humdrum, the venality and the idealism, the incompetence and the expertise ... and all the while the cocktail of high-octane subversion and the low-octane muddle of workaday life. Robert Hutton is an ace researcher but, more than that, a keen and kindly student of real people — Matthew Parris
We think we know the story of the Second World War, in which Britons were unambiguously on the side of good against evil. But along comes Robert Hutton to show us that that narrative, while comforting, isn't exactly true. We had our own fascists here, eager to do all they could to help the Nazi enemy. In this surprising, even shocking book Hutton tells the extraordinary story of Hitler's British friends - and the unlikely man who did so much to stop them. It's a truly compelling tale — Jonathan Freedland
At a time when antisemitism is once more rearing its ugly head, this fascinating and well-researched book gives us a salutary reminder that Britain is not immune to homegrown fascist treachery — Tony Robinson
A great book — John Crace, Guardian