As Ben Macintyre points out in Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies, the relationship between cricket (that most English of sports) and spying (at which the British have always excelled) is deep-rooted and unique. Something about the game attracts the sort of mind also drawn to the secret worlds of intelligence and counter-intelligence — for both are complex tests of brain and brawn, high-stakes games of honour and ruthless good manners interwoven with trickery, dependent on minute gradations of physics and psychology interwoven with tea breaks.
Within the UK, MI6 is something of a revered institution. It hasn’t been as tainted as the NSA, or even MI5 and GCHQ to an extent within the UK in the recent privacy revelations. Instead, it still maintains its image of chivalric and sportsmanlike conduct combined with an efficient ruthlessness. Obviously a certain amount of this image is sparked by popular culture, James Bond is the predominant example. He is suave, sophisticated, and sexy; the embodiment of cool and he gets the job done for the good of the country.
After World War II ended, there was jubilation amongst the general population, a feeling that this time, everything would get better. Indeed, the jubilation sparked a huge increase in the number of children, a generation subsequently known as the ‘baby boomer’ generation. The world was a different place then, different brands, different values, and different expectations. But above all, the people were different. It is said that childhood shapes a person’s adulthood, and so it is only natural that someone who had a childhood so far removed from today’s experiences should write about the experience.
It was Mark Twain who said that “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t”. Never has this held true more than in the case of Eddie Chapman, a figure whose story is so impossible, that MI5 stated that his tale was “different. In fiction it would be rejected as improbable”. In Agent Zigzag, Ben Macintyre has woven together the threads of a story which brings an entirely new level to the word ‘unbelievable’. It could be a blockbuster Hollywood spy film, complete with near constant explosions. But it’s not-because it’s all true, Chapman was probably the most successful British double agent in the war, and one of the best in history.