10 Spies who weren’t really spies

10 Spies who weren’t really spies

by Guy Ware

10  “The Druid”

According to Leonard Mosley, “the spy who double-crossed the double cross system” was a Patagonian Welsh/Argentine Nationalist and the only Nazi spy in Britain that MI5 failed to turn into a double agent. Mosley claimed he got the story from Kim Philby, who eventually caught the Druid and… turned him into a KGB agent instead. Which would be a great story… if only the Druid had existed in the first place. Which he didn’t.

9     Barack Obama

Who definitely did not tap the wires at Trump Tower. Well, not personally.

8     Anna Chapman

The real estate agent turned TV presenter, memoirist and fashion designer deported by Obama in July 2010. But Chapman – and nine other Russian agents – weren’t charged with espionage because, despite years of “deep cover” in the US, they didn’t manage to get their hands on anything secret. Still, a month after returning to Moscow, Chapman was singing karaoke with Vladimir Putin, and hasn’t looked back since.

7/6 Spy vs. Spy

The all black/all white antagonists of the Mad Magazine cartoon strip sported the upturned trench coat collars and pulled-down trilbies of classic spy-lore (not to mention inexplicable foot-long, crow’s beak noses). But, for all their traps and counter-traps, it was never obvious what they were looking for, or why. It was the sixties, after all.

5  Tariq in ‘Spooks’

Tariq was the one who could instantly pull up live CCTV coverage of anybody doing anything anywhere. Not so much a spy as that unwashed guy in IT who actually knows why your fridge talks to the Internet.

4  Spy in the House of Love

The book that launched a thousand awful songs. The best known – by piss-poor 80’s duo Was (Not Was) – boasts the worst rhyme in the history of pop: “I recorded every moment/And plotted how to seize her/I used a tiny camera/I thought I’d Japanese her.” Sadly, Jim Morrison’s version isn’t much better.

‘Spy’ here evidently signifies neither the glamorous international playboy of the Bond franchise, nor the down-at-heel operative of Le Carre’s grubby netherworld, but the frankly deranged and unappealing stalker of the sex-offenders register. 

3  Satan v. God

Was Satan, in fact, God’s secret agent? In ‘Paradise Lost’. Milton hedges his bets. When his Satan disguises himself as a serpent and creeps into the garden, we get a mighty clue: “Eve separate he spies … where she stood/Half-spied”. He calls God “Our great Forbidder, safe with all his Spies/About him.” Spy vs. Spy after all? 

2  Roger O. Thornhill

Or rather, Cary Grant, in North by Northwest – the one where Grant survives death-by-crop-duster and winds up scrambling over Mount Rushmore, all without wrinkling his impeccable mid-grey Glen-check suit.

No one but a film baddy could possibly mistake Cary Grant for the spy George Kaplan, because (a) he’s Cary Grant (however often he says, “I’m Roger Thornhill!” we all know he’s Cary Grant: that’s why we’re watching) and (b) because, like the Druid, Kaplan doesn’t exist.

1  Our Man in Havana

Where Thornhill was an ad man with perfect tailoring, the undisputed king of Spies (Not Spies) is the altogether less prepossessing Hoover salesman, James Wormold.  Pressed for hard intelligence, Wormold sends his MI6 controllers diagrams of vacuum-cleaner parts.

Castro was unimpressed by Greene’s portrayal of the Batista regime, but the book might have been more realistic than anyone guessed. Fifty years after the Cuban revolution, British intelligence was just as keen to swallow dubious reports of “Weapons of Mass Destruction”.  Remember those plastic pipes/rocket launchers?

Guy Ware’s second novel, Reconciliation, is published in September.

In 1940, Holly Stanton’s grandfather was a spy, on the run in occupied Norway. He was rescued by a brave Norwegian fisherman, whose wife and children were executed in retaliation. Holly has always known this. But does that mean she should tell the story? And what if it isn’t true?

Discover more…

Back to blog