Monday, September 15, 2008

Such Charming Spies

What a marvelous story:

Ms. Conant tells the story of a handful of young, handsome, cosmopolitan British officers sent to Washington before Pearl Harbor -- at Prime Minister Winston Churchill's direction -- to ingratiate themselves on the social scene, subvert American isolationism and advance the British cause through good manners. America at the time was officially committed to neutrality, though World War II was raging in Europe, not least in Britain during the Blitz.

The central figure of Ms. Conant's volume, Roald Dahl, was a melancholy cad in the Royal Air Force who found later fame by writing exotic short stories and children's books such as "James and the Giant Peach." His colleagues included Ian Fleming, whose Bond renown was more than a decade away but who was in 1940 merely an Old Etonian in his early 30s who had not yet figured out what to do with his life. David Ogilvy, the Scottish wizard of 1950s Madison Avenue, was just developing his knack for polling and advertising when he was sent to America.
Yes; the authors of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dr. No, and “Only Dove is one-quarter moisturizing cream” were drinking it up and doing lady congresswomen on behalf of His Majesty.

Also, they called themselves the "Baker Street Irregulars," in homage to Sherlock Holmes. Awesome.

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