The Way We Were: The secret liaisons of the secret service

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WHAT a ‘babe magnet.’

Hardly have the headlines faded regarding the previous escapade than up pop more revelations, about yet another young, attractive Russian female, throwing herself at one of our moral paragons of Parliament.

Gracious, what could have been the allure? The rugged good looks? The finely toned muscular physique? The position on a Defence Committee? The issue of a Parliamentary pass, ideal for ‘research assistants’ to nose around the centre of British Government? I’m blowed if I can work it out.

But steamy liaisons are always part of the murky world of espionage, and, coupled with that lust which not infrequently smoulders between bosses and secretaries, we have some quite interesting examples in our local past.

Following the outbreak of World War One, having deliberately severed the German transatlantic cable the British subsequently began an operation to intercept the German wireless traffic, and, for those engaged on the decoding, accommodation was made in Room 40 at the Admiralty Old Building.

As the operation increased so extra rooms were provided, but the overall name remained Room 40. One of the ablest of those engaged was Alfred Dillwyn Knox, the son of the Bishop of Manchester, who, having joined in 1915, developed his cryptographic skills by contemplating complex problems while lying in a bath in Room 53, swathed in the essential swirl of ‘soap and steam.’

In fact it seems his secretary, Miss Olive Roddam, a classicist from King’s College, Cambridge, also found the atmosphere steamy, for they were married soon after the war.

The experience gained by Room 40 would prove invaluable at Bletchley Park during World War Two, and here Alfred again applied his skills. Indeed he also applied his usual technique, for he nearly flooded the bathroom of his Bletchley lodgings when, oblivious to all, he left the taps running.

Tragically he died early in the war, and his work would be continued by another genius, Alan Turing. The information decoded by Bletchley Park had to be securely transmitted to the military commanders in the field, and the head of the communications operation was Richard Gambier Parry, a larger than life figure, twice divorced, who had fought with distinction in WW1.

Just before WW2 he had been recruited by the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) to organise their radio communications, and at the end of 1939 he and his secretary, Lisa Towse, the daughter of Colonel H. Towse, of the Royal Scots Guards, moved into the designated headquarters of Whaddon Hall.

They then moved to Wavendon Towers, where as another aspect of the secret radio communications ‘black broadcast’ programmes were recorded, with the arrival and departure of the teams of foreigners, who were housed in the local area, being supervised by three well spoken young ladies.

The couple married in 1944, and in retirement lived in the village of Milton Keynes. There is no room here to tell the story, but also to become greatly involved with the local wartime activities was another colourful figure, Robert Bruce Lockhart, who became head of the Political Warfare Executive.

However, of his earlier career in 1912 he had been posted to Moscow as Vice Consul, but being a bon viveur, usually in debt, he was soon ordered back on ‘sick leave,’ in reality a term that covered the aftermath of some scandal or other, since he was rather fond of the ladies.

But of more recent times I’m still in awe of the British businessman who, while in Moscow, was approached late one evening by a femme fatale offering rather more than diplomatic relations.

Aware that this was an obvious ‘honey trap,’ for compromising photos, he nevertheless availed himself of the opportunity, and dutifully performed while wearing a paper bag over his head.

Gosh, it makes one swell with pride, to know that whatever the wiles of some Russian doll, a true Brit can always rise to the occasion