The spy catcher

No, we won't start with that, we'll start in India". So begins an interview with Chapman Pincher, the great spy-catcher of Fleet Street who, nearly 50 years after being voted Journalist of the Decade, still knows how to steer an interview.

He's been going through things, he explains, while researching his autobiography, which he intends to call  My First 100 Years!. Unsurprisingly, there's been rather a lot to recall.
Chapman  Pincher is an emblem of the Cold War who earned his colours as the science, defence and medical correspondent on the Daily Express. Over the course of a glittering six-decade career, he became almost as notorious as the spooks he relentlessly chased. During his time on the Express under Lord Beaverbrook, where he says he pioneered a kind of investigative journalism, he made friends and enemies in high places.

So influential was he that, in 1950, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan wrote, "Can nothing be done to suppress or get rid of Chapman Pincher?". These days Pincher lives in a red-brick house at the end of a lane in a picturesque village as quintessentially English as he is.

A sign on the window reads, 'Lovely woman and grumpy man live here'. The lovely woman in question is his wife of 47 years, Billee, with whom he shares (from both their previous marriages) five children, 13 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Inside, there is a tray laden with shortbread and a pot of tea. Despite his friendly demeanour, Pincher has dedicated his life to exposing traitors and double agents — including my grandfather, Kim — and for a brief moment I imagine myself taking a bite and keeling over, gasping for breath as the poison takes hold, a final act of retribution. As it happens, Pincher seems content that Kim Philby and his Cambridge lot got their comeuppance on Earth.

More to the point, surely Pincher's been too busy to be stockpiling arsenic. Fast approaching his 99th birthday, the insatiable hack is still working seven days a week.
"I've got this bug, you see, of wanting to know everything there is to know about the spy world," he says in a soft Yorkshire drawl, peering over the top of his spectacles. To this end, every day after breakfast with Billee, he checks his emails before setting to work.
Right now he's finishing off the second draft of his autobiography — his 38th book — alongside some 'ongoing research'.

Prized possession
Here in the study, he unveils his prize possession, a slide enlarger which belonged to a woman called Bridgette, the sister of one of Pincher's great nemeses, the British housewife who was awarded two orders of the red banner for services to the Soviet Union, codename 'Sonia'.  "Sonia's sister, she was responsible for a lot more than people know," he says.
Treachery: Betrayals, Blunders and Cover-ups: Six Decades of Espionage is 688 meticulously-researched pages in which Pincher, who famously helped unmask the Cambridge Five, strengthens his allegation that former MI5 chief Peter Hollis was a Soviet super-spy who was at the heart of a ring of double-agents poisoning the Secret Intelligence Service from within.

As part of an ongoing mission to out Hollis before he dies, Pincher has been spending much of his time here in the study of his red-brick cottage in a picturesque pocket of West Berkshire,  wading  through the pre-war journal entries of Guy Liddell, another British intelligence officer. A friend of his has been emailing them across page by page: "I've gone right through the whole thing and there isn't a single fact I have to change in Treachery. "I thought there might have been one or two things that weren't quite right — not one!" he beams.

But he isn't done yet. "What's left is a lot of things I regard as like doing a giant jigsaw, I've got most of it done but there are gaps, little bits keep coming in and I keep filling it in."

Chapman Pincher's real name is Harry: "When I joined the Express they said, 'We like pretentious names here, what's your middle name?'  I said 'Chapman'."

Early life
Born in Ambala, India in 1914, his first memory dates from when he was three, having just moved back to England and seeing the bombs dropping near Pontefract. From that moment on, he has almost perfect recall. It was part of his genius as a journalist that he never had to make a single note.

Without having to strain, Pincher can remember almost every detail of everything that has ever happened. Pincher pulls out a final envelope. In it is a certificate stating that he has just been made a fellow of an academy set up to advise Putin.

"They were looking for some foreign members and they elected me. I belong to the academy in the rank of professor!" he howls with laughter. (Charlotte Philby/The Independent)


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