Review: MI6 – Fifty Years of Special Operations – by Stephen Dorril


This detailed 800 page book covers fifty years of MI6, the UK’s foreign espionage service. From relatively humble beginnings during the second world war, MI6 grew to become a leading foe of Soviet Russia and its notorious KGB. The book documents in detail issues that affected the service from the beginning and I especially was enamoured by the division of early chapters covering each of the spheres of influence where MI6 were working in the aftermath of World War 2. The book amalgamates knowledge I have of this service from other reading and often due to its sheer volume, will analyse in depth details that were previously unknown. It often is critical of the service’s failures and sometimes questionable morality in its operations. The obvious exposure of the country by moles within MI6 such as Kim Philby were very damaging to our nation. It is clear that there was much frustration during the Cold War with a failure to penetrate the Soviet system properly. Also, as the years have moved on, the critical importance of US intelligence – the CIA and NSA – to UK intelligence services – becomes paramount. Our declining empire has meant that MI6 has had to do all it can to keep our position as a global power propped up in the world. There is a very good section on the often blunderous years of operations in the Middle East, culminating in the Suez crisis which was a clear debacle. Moving into the modern era (Book concludes just before second Gulf War) the author successfully identifies future directions for the service and there is interesting coverage of MI6 whistleblower Richard Tomlinson, who has revealed his life as an operative in a controversial book. I enjoyed this large book and feel that it will be useful for reference in any further research I may do on intelligence services.



Review: The Last Gangster – My Final Confession – by Charlie Richardson

the last gangster

Charlie Richardson was an important figure in the London Underworld during the 1960s. The Krays often overshadow The Richardsons in terms of their notoriety as London gangsters but, as is clear from the revelations in this book, The Richardson family were certainly equally as important in the capital’s underworld. Whereas the Kray twins had fame and used to use a lot of violence, the Richardsons tended to be more business-orientated. The two families met each other and were interlinked, sometimes having nasty fallouts during their periods as rivals. Charlie Richardson begins his book back in his youth, remembering the harsh days of World War 2 and what growing up during the blitz and subsequent years of suffering under rationing etc meant to his character formation. He had an early acumen for business and started off as a scrap metal dealer, something that he built his whole operations around. His reputation as a South London hard man led him to brush shoulders with the rich and famous and very powerful. What struck me was not so much the run of the mill criminal tales but the way he was used by high society politicians and espionage networks. Ultimately, his trumped up 25 year jail sentence in 1966 due to allegedly torturing some of his debtors using an electroshocking ‘black box’ – a crime he still refutes – was probably so severe due to his involvement in a South African spy plot to bug Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s Downing Street telephones. The chapter when he dodged out of his military draft ending up in his first big prison spell was interesting. Charlie Richardson was certainly a ladies man and could charm the women, moving through several before finally settling with his final partner, Reggie, on his release from jail. The businessman shows in his overseas mining ventures and it was clear that he can not be regarded as just a tough typical cockney criminal. He was a thinking man and his university studies whilst serving his jail sentence showed how he was certainly of a high intellectual ability. What strikes the reader about Charlie Richardson, in his honest and straightforward autobiographical account, is that, aside from his illicit activities and tough reputation, he was above all a family man with values. It is certain, in particular from the character testimonies bequeathed after his death, that Richardson was held in very high esteem with the respect of ordinary decent folk as well as having clearly earned his stripes as perhaps the ‘Last Gangster’ of a forgotten age. Still to this day Richardson’s name in London is held in awe and through reading this book, it is clear to me, why this should be.


Review: Women and the Second World War in France, 1939-1948: Choices and Constraints – by Hanna Diamond

women ww2 france

This book focuses on the role of French women during World War 2 and the immediate aftermath. It is clear that the women of France bore the brunt of dealing with the occupier, very often their men away, detained as prisoners of war or, for example, sequestered to work abroad in the Fatherland, Germany. Women had to cope with running family businesses, looking after the family, acquiring food. They may have chosen to either be collaborationists or to have joined the resistance. I found it particularly interesting hearing of the women who collaborated with the enemy, either seeking roles within Vichy or directly engaging with the German soldiers. The shorn heads of collaborators at Liberation cast powerful images in the reader. Women became, I feel, more valued in society as a result of their wartime activities and although they may have gone back to their roles afterwards as second class citizens within the family and society, they did earn themselves suffrage and I feel moved women as a whole towards parity with their male counterparts. The book is written in feminists tones, though without being to alienist to the male reader. It is factual and interesting and provides a good basis for further study for the university course I anticipate studying on the subject of Women in World War 2 France.

Review: Catch-22

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a 20th century classic novel I had to read. It is a fascinating story of the Second World War which grows ever more absurd as Yossarian proceeds on his quest to return home. The characters are fantastic, especially Milo, the entrepreneurial head of the syndicate. The horrors of war can be seen from the ever-increasing list of casualties which disturbs Yossarian as, enveloped in catch-22, the missions he is required to fly, before his tour of duty ends, keep increasing. At times, there is joy, when the men are recuperating from their flights, enjoying themselves in Rome or relaxing at the mess hall. There is always wit and humour although most of the stories have very dark conclusions. The novel jumps from character to character and from scenario to scenario but it is all wonderfully woven together and it builds to a final crescendo where the helplessness of Yossarian’s situation has built to a farcical outcome and he bids his attempt to escape the inescapable catch-22 which constantly revolves around every situation invoked in the tale. It’s a great read and I’m sure must have really appealed to those who were present in the battles of the war itself. A very good book.

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