Stars & Spies

Christopher Andrew and Julius Green
Bodley Head
Released

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Stars & Spies

How could anybody resist the intoxicating combination of espionage and entertainment? That is what this heavily researched volume both promises and delivers.

The co-authors are an interesting combination in themselves. Christopher Andrew is Emeritus Professor of Modern & Contemporary History at Cambridge University with a long history of writing about the spy industry and, who knows, perhaps some more direct experience to boot.

Julius Green may be better known to theatre folk as a producer and entertainment historian. Their common denominator is a close connection with Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

Having identified that spying and entertainment were close companions from pre-Christian times, the authors then sensibly elect to commence this overview at a time when information became more widely available during the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth (and Shakespeare).

The cast list is enviable to say the least, suggesting that almost anybody who has ever been involved in providing entertainment to the masses occupied their spare time promoting their own (and occasionally someone else’s) national interests.

The definition of intelligence operations is widely spread, so that in addition to the kind of derring-do that has been the staple of second-rate movies since silent days, such activities as running propaganda also qualify.

On this basis, spying fraternity has called upon the services of a group that randomly includes:

  • Christopher Marlowe
  • Ben Jonson
  • Aphra Behn
  • Richard Brinsley Sheridan
  • Daniel Defoe
  • Alexander Pushkin
  • Victor Hugo
  • William Somerset Maugham
  • Compton Mackenzie
  • Mata Hari
  • Josephine Baker
  • Noël Coward
  • Graham Greene
  • Ian Fleming
  • Roald Dahl
  • Ronald Reagan

As can be seen from the selection, the book casts its net widely. The early chapters largely cover activities in England and among the English, but it soon reaches out to all corners of the globe, with the UK, Europe and America generally getting top billing.

What starts out as a historical overview of very clear interactions between those in the theatre industry, almost the only entertainment around at the time, and intelligence operations soon widens out.

By the end, the qualification for entry expands to include writing about or appearing in plays, films etc. about spies, with James Bond outdoing his creator while getting far more than his fair share of space in the final chapters.

The interactions between the two elements of the story are not always comfortable.

If one had to guess, the starting point might have been a fascinating history of spying drawn up by Christopher Andrew, to which Julius Green was asked to bring connections with the entertainment industry.

As a result, Stars & Spies can be a little uneven but is always entertaining, mixing wonderful war stories with information that was hidden for generations, not to mention lots of highly salacious gossip.

It also contains the kind of quote that should sell copies on its own.

“Vulgar, puerile, theatrical and vain… Lying comes easily to him as breathing”.

Astonishingly to 21st-century eyes, the man in the limelight was neither Boris Johnson nor Donald Trump, since Victor Hugo did not live long enough to witness either of their premierships. Instead, it was his own era’s Gallic equivalent, Napoleon III.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher