Agent of Influence – Jeremy Duns on Antony Terry

“Have no fear,” Fleming advises reporter Antony Terry in 1955, “you are by far the best correspondent in Germany and all you have to do is to write what you think and not be afraid of it” 

(Lenart, Judith, comp. Yours Ever Ian Fleming: Letters to and from Antony Terry. Nelson, New Zealand: Printhouse Nelson Ltd, 1994.)

He was a giant of Cold War journalism, reporting from the alleyways of Vienna, Berlin and Budapest and the jungles of Biafra and Paraguay. A war hero, a Nazi-hunter, a spy and a master manipulator, he was also a major influence on several of the 20th century’s greatest thriller-writers. Jeremy Duns delves into the many worlds of Antony Terry in his new book and gives us the scoop in an exclusive interview.

Why did you decide to write about Terry and how long did the process take?

I’ve been researching Terry off and on since 2013, when I wrote and presented a documentary for Radio 4 about British journalists acting as spies during the Cold War (MI6 and the Media, Document – BBC Radio 4). Several people I interviewed for that mentioned Fleming and the Mercury network, but I didn’t have the space to go into it. The more I read about Terry the more fascinating I found him, and I used him as the loose model for a character in my most recent novel, Spy Out The Land. He was one of the most prominent journalists in the network, there’s documentary evidence from his own hand that he worked for MI6, and both his personal and professional lives were dramatic and involved several topics that interest me. I’ve been down several rabbit-holes researching him over the years, most of which has made it into Agent Of Influence.

What do we know about Fleming’s post-war intelligence work?

During the Cold War, while he was writing the James Bond novels, Ian Fleming was working for SIS (better known as MI6). This has been established for many years, and in his 1995 biography of Ian Fleming Andrew Lycett laid out a lot of the available information on it. It’s still gone under the radar, though, and has received a lot less attention than Fleming’s involvement in intelligence during the Second World War.

Can you explain what the function of the Kemsley Imperial and Foreign Service (or MERCURY) was?

Kemsley was a newspaper group, which included the Sunday Times. In late 1945, Fleming became the Foreign Manager for its service of foreign correspondents, Mercury. He was in charge of 88 correspondents based around the world. Many of them had served with British intelligence during the Second World War. and some now continued to work for MI6, with journalism acting as their cover. Fleming was in charge of this network, and facilitated MI6 officers gaining cover in this way. Mercury was, then, a front for espionage, but at the same time all its members, including those working for MI6, carried out their journalistic duties.

Who was Antony Terry?

Antony Terry was one of the Mercury correspondents and also an MI6 operative. Fleming arranged for him to take on both roles, which Terry carried out for over 40 years. In the war, Terry had interrogated Nazis before being captured on the commando raid at St Nazaire and imprisoned for the rest of the war as a POW. He’s the focus of this shortish book, in which I look at what he did for MI6, what he reported in his career, and how he influenced the work of Fleming and several other thriller-writers.

Tony Terry offers a light to Austrian Chancellor Leopold Figl, Vienna, 1948. (Getty Images. Original publication ‘In Vienna Today—A Foreign Correspondents Life’, Picture Post, 1948.)

Terry provided Fleming with knowledge about Berlin and V2 rockets for MoonrakerThe Living Daylights and his chapter on Berlin in Thrilling Cities. Does his influence show up anywhere else? 

I argue in the book that Terry had an incremental influence on the Bond novels and stories, with his reporting and expertise seeping into Fleming’s fictional universe. He had an indirect influence on Octopussy, for example, and From Russia, With Love (along with his then-wife Rachel, who gave Fleming some information that he fed into the creation of Rosa Klebb). The apex of his influence on Fleming, though, was The Living Daylights, which is heavily based on a meeting the two men had in East Berlin with an agent.

Terry was also influential on John le Carré, who he knew in Bonn, particularly on The Looking Glass War, and Frederick Forsyth, whose novel The Odessa File was triggered by reading Terry’s reporting, and in which he appears as a character. He was also a major influence on Rachel, who wrote several superb spy novels under the name Sarah Gainham.

A popular sub-genre in spy fiction involve journalists being used by the intelligence services or being caught up one way or another in it. Can you recommend some of your favourite examples of this? 

There are quite a few spy novels in which journalists get caught up in espionage, but books in which they choose to work for intelligence agencies are much rarer. Even in The Odessa File, Forsyth was careful to make sure that Antony Cadbury, as he renamed Terry, was not currently involved in espionage work.

My favourite novel with this particular convention is probably The Stone Roses by Sarah Gainham. It straddles the ground between the bleaker, more realistic spy fiction of Eric Ambler and Graham Greene and Ian Fleming’s more sensational spin on the genre, to great effect. The protagonist, Toby Elyot, owes a lot to Antony Terry, but this is also the closest she came to writing a Bond novel.

Incidental Intelligence

Agent Of Influence: Antony Terry and the Shaping of Cold War Fact and Fiction by Jeremy Duns is available to buy now here.

Read the first chapter here

Listen MI6 and the Media on BBC Radio 4 – Jeremy Duns examines leaked documents which suggest close links between MI6 and the British press during the Cold War.

Jeremy Duns is the author of five books: Dead Drop: The True Story of Oleg Penkovsky and the Cold War’s Most Dangerous Operation  (titled Codename: Hero in the US); and the spy novels Free Agent, Song Of Treason (originally titled Free Country), The Moscow Option and Spy Out The Land.

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