Former press gallery chairman to pen book on secret MI5 operation

Written by Rod Muir on 28 July 2016 in Culture

After establishing his credentials as an expert in journalese, Robert Hutton will now tell the true story of ‘MI5's secret Nazi hunter’

Having previously examined the ‘strange language of news’, Bloomberg political correspondent Rob Hutton now has a rather different project up his sleeve.

Hutton served as chairman of the parliamentary press gallery last year and has made a name for himself among colleagues with his expert decoding of journalistic prose.

In his 2013 book titled Romps, Tots and Boffins, he set out to answer questions such as: “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'?”

He also expertly decoded the spin doctor's fine art of dodging the question.

But now Hutton is shifting gear by working on Agent Jack: The True Story of MI5's Secret Nazi Hunter.

It tells the story of 'Operation Fifth Column', a Second World War MI5 operation so secret that its existence was only revealed by the National Archives for the first time in 2014.

Covering the story back then, Hutton wrote: “The World War II spy who fooled British Nazis into believing he was a Gestapo agent and persuaded them to work for him has been named as a London bank clerk who barely spoke German.

“Files released in February by the Security Service, known as MI5, disclosed that the agency used an agent codenamed Jack King to infiltrate groups sympathetic to the enemy. He intercepted top secret information that these ‘fifth columnists’ had hoped to pass to Germany, including about the development of the jet engine and anti-radar technology.

"At the time, MI5 refused to give King’s true identity. The Telegraph newspaper named him as John Bingham, the spy-master who was the model for John le Carre’s long-running character, George Smiley. In documents declassified at the National Archives in London today, King is revealed as Eric Roberts, who until the summer of 1940 was working at the Euston Road branch of the Westminster Bank. His employers were baffled when MI5 asked if he could be seconded to them."

The book is due to be published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 2018.


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