Baker Street Irregular

Title:                      Baker Street Irregular

Author:                 Bickham Sweet-Escott

Sweet-Escott, Bickham (1965). Baker Street Irregular. London: Methuen

LCCN:    66001968

D810.S7 S9


Date Updated:  February 6, 2017

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

Sweet-Escott occupied a number of positions in SOE in London and in the field, and this book was the first to describe SOE from the inside. He called it a purely personal record of his experiences and one he hoped would correct misconceptions that had risen about SOE, even though he did not consider it in any way a history of that organization. The range of positions he held was large; in one period of nine months in 1943 he had four different assignments. These staff positions, whether in London, Cairo, Algiers, Washington, Italy, or the Far East, where he ended the war, gave him a good vantage point on SOE, its operations, personnel, and politics. Much of great intelligence interest is here though at times he is too brief on matters. This is understandable aside from any wish to be brief. The author waited ten years to get official approval for publication and then only got it after cuts were made. Not only interesting operations and well-known and lesser-known SOE figures inhabit this account, but also the organizational and bureaucratic gyrations of SOE as seen in the odyssey of this official. He was at one point in contact with the London representatives of Hagana and the Poles; his stay in Washington is valuable for a number of stories and for his description of Stephenson and the BSC and of OSS-SOE relations viewed from the British end in Washington. He also had a sharp eye for the ridiculous and for questionable security and other practices. Since this work was first drafted in 1954, we have learned much more of many of the things he touched on; but it remains a basic and necessary study of SOE and a rare continuous view from SOE headquarters.

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[2]

The first general surrey of the activities of the 50E to be published. Parts general history and part memoir, this book was written by a senior staff officer of the SOE. Provides insights into the headquarters and policy levels of the organization. Authentic and interesting; should be used in conjunction with Foot[3] and Spiro[4].

Comments by Roy Berkeley[5]

Follow the perimeter of the London Transport offices as Broadway turns S. In Tothill Street, during WWll, the inventor-farmer-evangelist Charles Fraser-Smith worked for the Ministry of Supply (actually for MI6, MI9, and SOE) fitting ordinary items with hidden gadgetry. His hairbrushes contained saws, his buttons contained compasses, his playing cards were lined with maps. The noted historian M. R. D. Foot carried several of Fraser-Smith’s famous compasses long ago, one of which, Foot reports, “survived two searches of my clothes when I was only wearing a blanket.”

In 1938 MI6 created Section D to explore the possibility of sabotage and subversion behind enemy lines in event of war. Section D (for Destruction, it was said) merged with the new Special Operations Executive when war came; the two original staffs worked in the building at 2 Caxton Street, London.

The newly-formed SOE operated quite casually, as Bickham Sweet-Escott reports in his Baker Street Irregular. Assigned to send £200 to agents in Budapest, this former banker expected to cable the money through a Hungarian bank. He was told instead to mail the sum in five-pound notesl Even more startling to Sweet-Escott, the SOE cashier apparently kept no record of disbursements. These people all knew each other or felt that they did. They came from the same backgrounds and schools; they trusted each other. Nevertheless, Sweet-Escott began to record the expenditures of the Balkans Section in a two-shilling account book. In time, SOE’s procedures undoubtedly became more crisp. But a clubby atmosphere of trust marked those years throughout the secret services, even though not all club members proved worthy of that trust.

Some more comments by Roy Berkeley:[6]

Facing Chiltern Court on Baker Street is another solid mass of flats. To go there, walk west on Melcombe Street and south on Glentworth Street for the entrance to the block-square Berkeley Court, Glentworth Street. This was another of the many residential blocks in the Baker Street area where SOE agents briefly stayed.

Parachuting agents into Europe was the most dangerous and difficult way of getting them there, But parachuting supplies was safer and easier than offloading them at a landing strip. SOE understood that any low-flying plane would pique the enemy’s curiosity. These planes, therefore, often scattered hundreds of propaganda leaflets over any town near the drop zone—close enough to account for an overflight in the minds of the Germans but distant enough to draw attention from the real cargo, which would be long gone by the time the Germans had frantically gathered up the subversive material.

[1] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 440-441

[2] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., p. 198

[3] Foot, M.R.D. (1966). SOE In France: An Account of The Work of British Special Operations Executive in France 1940-1944. London: H.M. Stationery Off

[4] Spiro, Edward(1967). Set Europe Ablaze. New York: Crowell

[5] See Berkeley, Roy (1994). A Spy’s London. London: Leo Cooper, pp. 9-10

[6] See Berkeley, Roy (1994). A Spy’s London. London: Leo Cooper, pp. 162-163



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