The Double Cross System

IMG Over the years I have been an avid reader of "spy books". Le Carre has always been one of my favorite authors, and I recently enjoyed reading John Banville's book The Untouchable. The Double Cross System, by J. C. Masterman, is an account of an operation running double agents during WW 2.  It is an historical account and avoids sensationalism. Nevertheless we do get some insight into the personalities of the agents and the workings of the agencies which controlled them. Masterman always sees the agents as part of a larger picture. On the one hand the questions which the Germans asked the agents gave the British controllers insight into the enemy's mindset. On the other hand, the British were able to feed information to the Germans which reinforced the value and trust of the agents. That the Germans trusted the reports of the agents was demonstrated by troop deployments on D-Day and the under ranging of the V1 and V2 rocket attacks on London in the later stages of the war.

The book was originally published in 1972 outside Britain. The Foilo Society edition was published in 2007 and my copy is the 2010 fourth printing. It is bound in three-quarter buckram with a paper front board. The book is illustrated with photographs, drawings, and other items from archives and museums.

The Author

Sir John Cecil Masterman was an accomplished academic and sometime crime novelist when he was recruited into MI 5  at the outbreak of WW 2.  After the war he resumed his academic career, and eventually became the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University.


Masterman paints a picture where his double agents are part of a broader plan to learn more about the enemy and then deceive  him. Although there is no substitute for reading the book  there is a wikipedia summary here

The Agents

A couple of the more colourful agents are ZIGZAG and GARBO

Both ZIGZAG and GARBO got awarded Iron Crosses by Germany for their "help" during the war. GARBO also got an MBE.



A fascinating book. When it was published in 1972  an important strand in the story, the  role played by the breaking of the German cipher codes, had not yet been released from secrecy. It would have been interesting to have that information incorporated. Nevertheless, if you are interested in espionage, counter espionage, or WW2 military history this book is well worth a read.


Next Post

Almost certainly Jorrocks Jaunts and Jollities, which is a "back to the '40s (and '50s)"  trip. The post may go some way into clearing up a little mystery mentioned in Folio 60.



The voyages of Lemuel Gulliver to Lilliput & Brobdingnag

IMG The eighth book published by the Folio Society contains the first two voyages. A complete version was not published until 1965. Post World War 2 paper rationing was again the reason for this shortened edition.

The Book

Set in 11 pt Monotype Baskerville, it was printed by the Chiswick Press and bound by Mackay. There are 12 leaves of colour plates.


The Story

Gulliver, a ship's surgeon is is shipwrecked and finds himself on the island of Lilliput. This land is inhabited by a minature race of people. Initially he is an object of wonder and fear but eventually wins the trust of the Emperor. He learns the language and the history of the country, including the reason the inhabitants of a neighbouring island, Blefuscu, are in a virtual state of war with Lilliput. The reason goes back to a decision made by one of the emperor's ancestors about how an egg should be cracked. Gulliver wins favor by capturing the entire naval fleet of Blefuscu, but has also made enemies in the Court. One night a fire breaks out in the royal apartments, and Gulliver extinguishes the fire by urinating on it. His enemies seize on this incident, as Gulliver's act in saving the apartments violates a law about passing water in the grounds of the palace. In a private hearing of the court his death is sought, but a comprimise is made, and that is that he will be blinded. A sympathiser informs Gulliver of this decision, and Gulliver decides he must escape. By a ruse, he is able to get to Blefuscu, and then leaves in a repaired boat. He is eventually rescued and makes his way back to England.

After some time, he decides to set to sea again. His ship is blown of course in a terrible storm. When land is sighted some of the crew make a landing, but Gulliver is left when the crew return hurriedly to the ship when a large creature is spied. Eventually one of these creatures finds Gulliver and he taken home.  The creatures are a large intelligent human like race. Gulliver is treated as a marvellous curiosity and is displayed throughout the countryside.  He is looked after by Glumadalclitch, the daughter of the farmer who found him. Gulliver is taken to the principal city of the country, Lorbrulgrud, where the Queen buys him and he becomes a great favorite at Court.  Still he is treated like a pet much of the time. The King has many conversations with him, learning about the habits, laws and government of England and contrasting them to those of his kingdom.

Although he well treated Gulliver yearns to return home, particularly when he learns that the King would like to find a human woman for him to start a breeding program. Gulliver despairs what may happen to his potential offspring if this ever eventuated. On a trip to a part of the kingdom near the sea an eagle snatches the box that Gulliver is being transported in. It is dropped in the ocean, and Gulliver is rescued by an English ship and makes his way back to England to be reunited with his wife and children.

The two voyages let Swift satire society, with its petty quarrels, court intrigues, politics,  injustice and other absurdities.


Most critics analyse the satirical nature of the book and its strength in showing some of the absurdities and contradictions in society and its institutions. A more thorough article is found here


The Author

Jonathan Swift was an Anglo-Irish cleric who made his mark as a satarist. Gulliver's Travels is regarded as his masterpiece. Although he never married he had a deep affection for Esther Johnson who he tutored when she was a young girl. From the age of 20 she lived nearby to Swift.  She predeceased him, dying at the age of 47. On her death, Swift wrote a memorable essay. When Swift died he was buried beside her.

The Illustrator

Edward Bawden was a prolific artist and illustrator.  Much of his work was in advertising, and he also produced murals. He illustrated several other Folio Society books. The next one was William Beckford, Vathek, published in 1958.

The Illustrations