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Papa Spy: Love, Faith, and Betrayal in Wartime Spain

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A true story of espionage with a plot worthy of John le Carré.

With the declaration of war in 1939, dashing young publisher, Tom Burns, left his business for the Ministry of Information, the propaganda arm of the British secret services, and found himself in Madrid as press attaché at the British embassy. Spurred on by his deep love of Spain, he threw himself into the propaganda war against the Nazis, who broadcast freely to the Spanish press. Spain was officially ...

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Papa Spy: Love, Faith, and Betrayal in Wartime Spain

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Overview

A true story of espionage with a plot worthy of John le Carré.

With the declaration of war in 1939, dashing young publisher, Tom Burns, left his business for the Ministry of Information, the propaganda arm of the British secret services, and found himself in Madrid as press attaché at the British embassy. Spurred on by his deep love of Spain, he threw himself into the propaganda war against the Nazis, who broadcast freely to the Spanish press. Spain was officially “nonbelligerent” during the war. But nonbelligerent doesn’t mean unimportant: Spain held Gibraltar, and so controlled the western Mediterranean. Germany desperately wanted Gibraltar and the Mediterranean for itself, and it was the responsibility of Tom Burns and the rest of the British Ministry of Information to do everything in their power to keep that from happening.

Executing that simple objective became complicated as Burns found he was making enemies in England, not least among them Kim Philby and members of MI 6. In Papa Spy, Jimmy Burns tells the extraordinary story of how his father overcame the odds, helped carry out the decoy plot called “The Man Who Never Was,” arranged what turned out to be actor Leslie Howard’s fatal propaganda trip to Portugal and Spain, and remained true to his faith while loyally serving his country.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Recommended reading for anyone interested in modern Spanish history, World War II diplomacy, espionage activities, and Communist penetration of the British intelligence bureaucracy.”—Library Journal

“More memoir than history, the author's re-creation of his father's wartime activities exposes a hive of complex spy games and a fascinating, little-discussed part of WWII. Good and evil blur in this descent into the shadowy, slippery realm of wartime espionage.”Kirkus Reviews

“Recounting his father’s extracurricular work, the author levelly assesses their results without overrating their effect on Britain’s strategic aim of keeping Spain neutral. The audience for WWII espionage should warm to Burns’ tale.”—Booklist

“Lovers of Spain, lovers of true spy stories and lovers of love itself will adore this enchanting book: Burns junior has served up a feast.”­—Telegraph (UK)

Library Journal
British journalist Burns's fascinating account of his father's diplomatic service in Madrid (1940–45) has multiple themes. The bulk of the book concerns Tom Burns's varied efforts, while officially stationed at the British embassy in Madrid, to counter Nazi influence in a geopolitically vital location. (He officially worked for the Ministry of Information, and his efforts included involvement with secret agents, information gathering, and propaganda.) Other topics include British intellectual and literary society, the Catholic publishing business, and discrimination against Catholics by the English establishment in Madrid. The senior Burns was even criticized for being an independent-minded Catholic maverick, marrying a member of the Spanish social elite, and supporting the fascist dictatorship more assiduously than was politically correct so soon after the bitter Spanish civil war, when the Allied goal was to keep Spain neutral and Gibraltar in British hands. In addition, Soviet spies in Whitehall also worked to remove Burns in order to damage Allied-Spanish relations. VERDICT Recommended reading for anyone interested in modern Spanish history, World War II diplomacy, espionage activities, and Communist penetration of the British intelligence bureaucracy. (Index and photos not seen.)—Daniel K. Blewett, Coll. of DuPage Lib., Glen Ellyn, IL\
Kirkus Reviews
Financial Times journalist Burns (Barca: A People's Passion, 2000, etc.) examines his father's career as a British Secret Service agent in Spain during World War II. The author learned a great deal about his father's wartime activities from the recent opening of MI6 files as well as tracking down the still-living participants, whose memory, he admits, proved shaky. The official version of his father's work-running Allied propaganda in the Iberian peninsula under Sir Samuel Hoare, then British ambassador to Spain-claimed that Burns had suspicious fascist, pro-Catholic leanings and elicited information from and protected sources who were suspected of being German agents. Burns fils sifts carefully through the record and concludes admiringly that his father's methods-going "native" in Spain and resisting the Minister of Information's attempts to control him-proved highly effective in the ultimate goal: to keep Franco and his pro-Axis minions from siding with Hitler. Born Catholic in Chile to British parents, papa Burns was educated by the Jesuits in England. He befriended a circle of Catholic intellectuals and worked at The Tablet, recruiting such literary lights as Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton and Graham Greene. The energized young Catholics were horrified by the communist "savagery" enacted on the Catholics with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, and Burns had to tread gingerly between Franco's suspicion of the British effort and the Nazis military and espionage offensive. Winning Spanish public opinion was first priority, though Burns's fraternization with Spanish collaborationists proved questionable. On the other hand, he may have kept the British embassy from being shut downcompletely. More memoir than history, the author's re-creation of his father's wartime activities exposes a hive of complex spy games and a fascinating, little-discussed part of WWII. Good and evil blur in this descent into the shadowy, slippery realm of wartime espionage. Agent: Annabel Merullo/PFD
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802717962
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 12/22/2009
  • Pages: 396
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Jimmy Burns writes for the Financial Times. Among his previous books are The Land That Lost Its Heroes (Somerset Maugham nonfiction prize, 1987), Hand of God: The Life of Diego Maradona, and Barça: A People’s Passion.

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