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British Agent (Classics of Espionage) [Paperback]

John Whitwell
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

28 Feb 1997 Classics of Espionage
British Agent tells the story of a bygone age of espionage. This unique memoir vividly describes a time when a hard-pressed British spy service, with only a handful of agents in Europe, sought to keep track of a continent descending into war. With Nazi Germany increasing in strength the stakes were high, yet this was still the low technology age of the amateur agent. Even a radio transmitter was a rare item; while stationed in Riga, Whitwell had to build his own. John Whitwell, the pseudonym of senior British intelligence officer Leslie Nicholson, conducted his secret work in a succession of European capitals without diplomatic cover, and at times with the German Gestapo and Soviet NKVD perilously close. His story is not one of derring-do, or spectacular coups, but of underground work when every scrap of intelligence was hard-won, and when dark fantasy and uncomfortable fact were exceedingly difficult to distinguish. It is hoped that this tale of British secret service work in Prague, Riga and London, first published in 1966 and long out of print, will provide insight and pleasure to a new generation of readers curious about the still-secret history of espionage.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; New edition edition (28 Feb 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0714642800
  • ISBN-13: 978-0714642802
  • Product Dimensions: 21.4 x 17 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,187,344 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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A BRITISH agent is a very normal, frustrated, hard-worked, ordinary person most of the time. Read the first page
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
An excellent account by an insider, John Whitwell (real name Leslie Nicholson) of the British Secret Service in the 1930s and 40s, with the main emphasis on the pre-war years. The book is best compared to an autobiographical travel book, but it is a gem. Although very discreet, and not only in terms of tradecraft, the author portrays the trials and tribulations of an intelligence officer, as Europe slowly slips into war, with considerable charm. The narrative is spliced with some excellent anecdotes and character portraits. At first sight it appears a nice sedate read with a touch of humour from a by-gone era, but what emerges is that Nicholson for all his humanity and idiosyncratic approach is at the end of the day a very seasoned professional. There are also a significant number of loose ends left about in the book, which may never be answered to anyone's satisfaction.
Outside of a jolly good read, there are two main attractions to the book. The first is that it gives a very good feel of how a middle-ranking officer saw his organisation and government cope with the increasing threat posed by Nazi Germany. The second is the use of human collection assets, which are now becoming much more fashionable as a result of the failures of 11 September. Nicholson in his time had to do most of his work without the benefit of significant technical assets, and how he tried to set about it makes for fascinating reading.
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