Agent Jack The true story of MI5's secret Nazi hunter

Robert Hutton

Book - 2019

"The never-before-told story of Eric Roberts, who infiltrated a network of Nazi sympathizers in Great Britain in order to protect the country from the grips of fascism June 1940: Europe has fallen to Adolf Hitler's army, and Britain is his next target. Winston Churchill exhorts the country to resist the Nazis, and the nation seems to rally behind him. But in secret, some British citizens are plotting to hasten an invasion. Agent Jack tells the incredible true story of Eric Roberts, a seemingly inconsequential bank clerk who, in the guise of "Jack King", helped uncover and neutralize the invisible threat of fascism on British shores. Gifted with an extraordinary ability to make people trust him, Eric Roberts penetrated th...e Communist Party and the British Union of Fascists before playing his greatest role for MI5: Hitler's man in London. Pretending to be an agent of the Gestapo, Roberts single-handedly built a network of hundreds of British Nazi sympathizers-factory workers, office clerks, shopkeepers -who shared their secrets with him. It was work so secret and so sensitive that it was kept out of the reports MI5 sent to Winston Churchill. In a gripping real-world thriller, Robert Hutton tells the fascinating story of an operation whose existence has only recently come to light with the opening of MI5's WWII files. Drawing on these newly declassified documents and private family archives, Agent Jack shatters the comforting notion that Britain could never have succumbed to fascism and, consequently, that the world could never have fallen to Hitler. Agent Jack is the story of one man who loved his country so much that he risked everything to stand against a rising tide of hate."--

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New York : St. Martin's Press 2019.
Main Author
Robert Hutton (author)
First U.S. Edition
Physical Description
xiv, 313 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages [289]-291) and index.
  • List of Illustrations
  • Note to the Reader
  • Dramatis Personae
  • 1. 'A great deal about sabotage and arson'
  • 2. 'Thoroughly familiar'
  • 3. 'A splendid beacon for the Germans'
  • 4. 'Every person within the fortress'
  • 5. 'He is quite ruthless where Germans are concerned'
  • 6. 'Agents in every country in the world'
  • 7. 'So stupid and so obvious'
  • 8. 'No organised body'
  • 9. 'A masterful and somewhat masculine woman'
  • 10. 'Somewhat melodramatic ideas'
  • 11. 'Such methods were necessary'
  • 12. 'You bomb them, and blow the lot'
  • 13. 'A twinge of uneasiness'
  • 14. 'Oozing with gratitude'
  • 15. 'A National Socialist atmosphere'
  • 16. 'The more violent it was, the better'
  • 17. 'Carrying on the struggle'
  • 18. 'The Gestapo department'
  • Epilogue: 'A Great Source of Trouble'
  • Note on Sources
  • Acknowledgements
  • Bibliography
  • Notes
  • Index
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In this meticulous WWII espionage history, Bloomberg UK correspondent Hutton (Romps, Tots and Boffins) relates the story of British spy Eric Roberts and the Fifth Column, a secret MI5 operation to identify Nazi sympathizers in the U.K. Posing as Gestapo agent "Jack King," Roberts recruited more than 500 British fascists to help prepare for the German invasion of England. In reality, the would-be saboteurs were under close watch by MI5's countersabotage division. Drawing on documents declassified in 2014, Hutton describes Roberts's recruitment efforts and the balancing act he managed between cultivating his network and not allowing its members to commit any serious mischief. In one case, he arranged for local police to stake out a warehouse in Leeds that had been targeted for firebombing. The police failed to respond to the agreed upon signal, however, and only the incompetence of the arsonists prevented the warehouse's destruction. Hutton argues that MI5 kept Roberts's reports, which exposed ordinary citizens as well as the daughter of a popular composer, classified for 70 years because they undermined "the story Britain told itself about the war." This entertaining, detailed narrative presents a chilling portrait of England under siege. (Nov.)

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

Though British Nazi sympathizers never posed a major threat, MI5 took them seriously. This account of its energetic battle makes entertaining reading.Capably bringing to light a forgotten World War II story, British political correspondent Hutton (Would They Lie to You?: How To Spin Friends and Manipulate People, 2015) begins in the 1920s with his major character, Eric Roberts, a bored bank clerk who had joined a tiny fascist group (Mussolini had many admirers during his early years). While there, he was recruited as a spy by an oddball anti-Bolshevik organization run by a wealthy businessman. Roberts turned out to have a talent for undercover work, and MI5, Britain's minuscule internal security agency, was happy for assistance from this private intelligence service. Roberts continued to clerk, devoting free time to unpaid spying, at first on communists but then against British Nazi sympathizers. In 1940, finally flush with money, MI5 hired him full-time. A different MI5 department handled German spies; Roberts' superiors concentrated on their British supporters, which, to their surprise, were not scarce. Even during the war's darkest days and with prewar fascists behind bars, a scattering of Britons hoped for a Nazi victory. Their efforts revealed a mostly comic-opera incompetence, but MI5 took no chances, setting up a fake fifth-column organization with Roberts ("Agent Jack") posing as its Nazi agent/leader. A trickle of volunteers signed up and recruited friends. Most varied from useless to wacky, but a number "were capable of inflicting serious harm on the British war effort. Had Roberts not posed as their Gestapo spymaster, they might have approached Germany directly themselves." Few were arrested, because a trial would have blown Roberts' cover. After an undistinguished postwar decade, Roberts retired into obscurity. Many MI5 records from WWII were destroyed, and others remain classified. While there are no firsthand participants alive to give evidence, Hutton has done an impressive job assembling transcripts, letters, interviews, and declassified documents into a delicious spy story.Even though there is little derring-do, this is a delightful account of World War II espionage. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.