Nicholas Hiley

Nicholas Hiley is head of information at the British Universities Film and Video Council and also teaches the history of Intelligence at Cambridge.

Maggie’s Hobby

Nicholas Hiley, 11 December 1997

Why are the British secret services so secret? The assumption is that they are so because they handle secret information. Yet there is no reason why an organisation entrusted with secret information should itself be secret. Most companies and large organisations generate material of great commercial sensitivity, but few of them would consider lodging it in a secret department with considerable autonomy. Why should the British government have decided to act differently? Why did it create a secret adjunct to the Civil Service in 1909, and why has it preserved it until the present day?

Our War

Nicholas Hiley, 7 March 1996

At first sight Changing Enemies is a welcome addition to the literature of modern Intelligence. The deliberate anonymity of the Official History of British Intelligence in the Second World War needs to be supplemented with the personal memoirs of those closely involved, and Noel Annan appears well suited to the task. In 1941 he joined the Military Intelligence Division of the War Office, and worked in section MI14, which was the German department. In 1943 he was promoted to be War Office representative on the Joint Intelligence Staff at the War Cabinet Office, and in 1944 he moved to the Intelligence section of Shaef, the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Paris. He is also well placed to put flesh onto the paper skeleton of Intelligence history, for in 1945, at the final surrender of Germany, he observed at first hand those German generals whose progress he had followed so closely in reports and intercepts, and, on transferring to the political division of the British Control Commission, he saw at close quarters the effect of the war on the German population.

Fs and Bs

Nicholas Hiley, 9 March 1995

On 24 September 1940, shortly after 9 p.m., those British radio listeners who had tuned their sets to 213 metres on the medium wave (a little higher than the frequency of the BBC Home Service) were in for a shock. ‘Have you ever seen Beaverbrook?’ asked one of the announcers, referring to the current Minister for Aircraft Production. ‘Well, we often have in meeting halls, and what we could never understand was, why he was on the platform instead of swinging from one chandelier to another … He’s a miserable little coward and the best way of dealing with a bloody fucker like him is to get hold of him personally and give him a good beating which he won’t forget.’ This attack on Lord Beaverbrook, which must have sent a frisson of delighted horror through its listeners, was something of a milestone in broadcasting history, for it was the first time that the word ‘fuck’ had been transmitted to a British radio audience.

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