Scots hideaway for bungling spies who knew too much
THEY were the real-life secret agents who were more deserving of a P45 than MI5.
Newly declassified government files have revealed that a remote Highland estate was used during the Second World War to house under-achieving British spies whose incompetence meant they posed more of a threat to their homeland than to Hitler.
During the conflict, Inverlair Lodge near Spean Bridge become a top-secret base for spooks deemed not up to the task of infiltrating the Third Reich but who knew too much to be left at large.
The institution, where the failed agents were well looked after but prevented from leaving, later inspired the hit TV show The Prisoner.
The revelation is contained in a new book on the British secret services that has been put together by academics based at the UK National Archives in Kew.
Their tome, British Intelligence, is based on a host of newly opened files. It features detailed reports on the shadowy Special Operations Executive (SOE), whose existence was kept an official secret until recent years.
During the Second World War, the sprawling 18th century lodge was commandeered by the SOE.
The book states: "A little-known camp run by SOE developed an undeserved notoriety after the war and influenced The Prisoner, the cult television series of the 1960s.
"The camp at Inverlair, given the cover name of the 'Number 6 Special Workshop School', but nicknamed 'the cooler' by SOE in London was set up to house prospective agents deemed unsuitable for operations after initial training. The secret information acquired during training meant that they could not be released into general society.
"They therefore needed to live in 'retirement' at the camp at Inverlair until the end of the war."
The book, which was compiled by historians and academics Stephen Twigge, Edward Hampshire and Graham Macklin, said the hapless inhabitants suffered no ill treatment during their enforced hideaway in the Highlands.
"Those placed there were generally foreign nationals and although they were housed in some comfort and could leave during the day to mix with locals, the situation naturally caused frustration.
"Some of the failed agents had difficult personalities, others were physically unsuitable for secretive work."
The files, which sound like they could have inspired the creation of the bungling fictional spy Austin Powers, state that one man was sent to the camp for being "outstandingly ugly". They state: "He'd be recognised anywhere. Once seen never forgotten. He had no teeth at all except two gold tusks and two incisors."
A spokesman for the National Archives said the wartime episode was one of several missions that has been kept from public knowledge until now.
He said: "While many people have speculated on the history and nature of the British intelligence services, this book is the first to tell the story through the documents themselves.
"The use of Inverlair Lodge by SOE is one of many dramatic, undisclosed and remarkable events that took place during the two world wars."
As well as hosting a colony of incompetent spies, the lodge is also rumoured to have acted as a temporary jail for Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess.
In 1941 Hess flew solo from Augsburg to Scotland in an apparent attempt to negotiate peace with Britain.
He parachuted from his Messerschmitt over Renfrewshire but was promptly arrested after landing at Eaglesham near Glasgow.
The National Archives give no clue as to whether Hess was taken to Inverlair, and he took his secrets to the grave after he died in Spandau Prison, Berlin, in 1987.
But the lodge's former owner, Richard Sidgwick, believes it was true.
He said: "Many who lived here during the war will tell you that Hess was detained at Inverlair. It is a suggestion that has also been repeated frequently in local historical guides."
Bidwells estate agents in nearby Fort William confirmed the lodge had recently been sold to a private individual and, as such, will continue to be off-limits to the public.
It is believed the property more than met the asking price of 1m.
The schedule for the property hints of its remarkable history, stating: "During the Second World War, in common with many large houses in the West Highlands, Inverlair Lodge was requisitioned by the War Office as part of a response to Churchill's instructions.
"Reputedly, both by local contemporary word of mouth and in print, it was also a temporary prison for Rudolph Hess.
"The lodge was returned to the British Aluminium Company at the end of the war and remained empty, other than for a short period in the summer months when it was used a holiday base for children from Fife from deprived backgrounds."
The house is set within 30 acres of gardens, paddocks and mature woodland and also includes the site of a former tennis court, which may well have been used by the interned spies during the Second World War, as well as a deer larder and a fruit garden.
British Intelligence: Secrets, Spies and Sources is published by The National Archives.
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