Smiling enigmatically, this is the British opera singer-turned-spy who captivated Adolf Hitler.
Margery Booth led a double life inside Nazi Germany, where she performed for Hitler and his henchmen while smuggling the Third Reich’s secrets to British intelligence.
Margery had, been recruited by MI6 whilst MI9 had recruited John Brown, a former but now disillusioned member of Mosley’s infamous Fascist Blackshirts. Through the SOE it was designed for him to be captured on the Normandy beaches in order that that he could work as a spy behind the lines in a PoW camp.
Margery helped British prisoners of war to send coded messages back to spy chiefs in London, and even performed for the Führer with cyphers hidden inside her costume.
Discovery would have meant almost certain death for the mezzo-soprano, who endured regular questioning by the Gestapo. But Hitler was so taken by her performances that he once visited her dressing room, and later sent her 200 red roses, wrapped in a sash with a swastika on it.
The Army officer who used the singer to send his coded messages, John Brown, was hailed as a hero after the war, when his evidence was used in the treason trial of William Joyce, the traitor Lord Haw Haw.
Margery usually attends Hitler on his birthday every April and it was at one of these that Jodl presents him with the Tiger tank. As data is provided, Margery overhears most of this and, like the good singer she is, memorises these numbers as a tune.
John Brown, a spy in Stalag IIID but also working undercover for the Nazis, is passed details of the Tiger’s existence whilst Margery is singing to the PoWs there and radios this to London.
Back at the Opera House these numbers are encoded and soon at Bletchley Park, delivered to a delighted Hardy Amies, confirming John Brown’s earlier message. Churchill thus warned, gives instructions for a Tiger to be captured and delivered to No 10 Downing Street. This eventually happens in North Africa
I fell into Allied hands. It was Tiger 131. It was 21 April 1943 when 48th Royal Tank Regiment, newly arrived in Tunisia from Britain, went into action against the Germans for the first time.
But Miss Booth’s bravery has gone largely unrecognised, and calls for her to receive a posthumous honour have gone unheeded. So little was known about her war-time efforts that this photograph of her has only just come to light, almost 60 years after her death.
She was sent to sing at Stalag IIID, known as the ‘Holiday Camp’ to British PoWs. The Germans hoped this would encourage some of the British held there to change sides
It was at the camp that Booth met John Brown, a spy who was collecting information on traitors such as William Joyce, known as Lord Haw Haw.
These photographs are of a woman whose quiet bravery – like that of so many unsung heroes – helped Britain to victory in World War Two. Margery Booth was born in Wigan in 1905, and joined the town’s operatic society as a teenager.
By 1936 she had sung at Covent Garden and even briefly travelled to Hollywood to appear in a film version of Aida. Later that year she met and quietly married Dr Egon Ströhm, the son of a wealthy German brewery family, and moved to Germany.
Her first meeting with Hitler is thought to have been in 1933, when she was chosen to carry the Holy Grail in the spectacular finale to the Wagner opera Parsifal at the Bayreuth Festival.
He burst into her dressing room and told her how elegant and lovely he thought her, and sent her the basket of 200 red roses the next day, with a card signed ‘Adolf’. When the war began, she was singing with the Berlin State Opera, and she was later allowed to perform for British prisoners of war at a camp in Genshagen, near Berlin.
Adolf Hitler and Nazi leaders at the Berlin Opera House where Margery Booth performed in 1936. She mixed with the German top brass while passing secrets to British Intelligence.She would announce to her audience ‘I’m Margery Booth from Wigan’, and this photograph of her is believed to have been taken at Genshagen. It was found among photographs of inmates at the camp, Stalag IIID, known as a propaganda ‘holiday camp’ for British officers who the Nazis hoped to use as double agents. John Brown was transferred there in 1943 and convinced his captors he was willing to work for Germany.
He used their trust to send coded messages home in his letters, and also to pass secret documents to Miss Booth to send back to MI9, the intelligence branch tasked with unmasking traitors. Ironically, the opera singer’s links to the Nazi regime were so well-known that she was accused of collaborating against Britain, and turning traitor against her country.
In his book, In Durance Vile, Mr Brown wrote that she was initially given personal assurances from Hitler and Goebbels that they would ‘deal with the matter personally’ if she was insulted because of her British birth. But when Mr Brown’s secret work for Britain was discovered by the Nazis, Miss Booth was arrested and tortured by the Gestapo.
She kept silent and was eventually released, and she later escaped Berlin during an air raid and fled to Bavaria, where she was picked up by the Americans. After the war she divorced her German husband and moved to America, where she died from cancer in 1952.
The photograph of Miss Booth is part of a collection from Genshagen, stamped Freigegeben Stalag IIID, a special PoW camp where the Nazis held Britons who they thought they might be able to persuade to change sides.
She signed it, writing ‘With kindest remembrances, Good luck, Margery Booth’. She also signed the first page of John’s War Diary:
In this most recent blog I have decided to touch on the tricky subject of all things regarding military authenticity in the movie and TV industry. Surprisingly, despite the production team having a military technical advisor on board, “things will not be 100% authentically correct every time. “Penny wise and pound foolish” Bear this phrase in mind when reading the rest of my blog but also remember its a drama and not a documentary so sit back and chill.
“Filmmakers are under more pressure than ever to make sure military tactics and equipment are depicted realistically on-screen, and experienced advisers can make the difference” wrote Nick Goundry for KFTV.com last year
What we do
Production will often hire a technical advisor to ensure that a complicated area is portrayed as accurately as possible in the production. Similarly, a period movie may include one or more historians of the period, or eyewitnesses if possible, for the same purpose.
Technical advisers typically answer to the director and Line Producers. Their expertise adds realism both to the acting and to the setting of a movie. Some advisors for military movies have been known to run miniature boot camps to give actors a first-hand experience of a military setting. Boot camps additionally help provide the basics so when the camera rolls only a quick remind and revise is required. So less takes, less time and as we all know. Time is money!
To be a technical adviser you do not have to know every aspect of warfare, military history or have taken out several enemy bunkers armed with just a wooden spoon. What you do need is the ability to research your subject thoroughly, honestly and have that all important art of diplomacy. There is more to it than that, but I will reserve that explanation for another time.
I have made no secret during media interviews that advising in any capacity is 60% research and 40% your experience articulated to the Director, actor, stunt coordinator and supporting actors.
You can only offer advice; you cannot demand it’s taken. The Director will have the last call and he may have a set look or visual dramatic effect he wants to portray and its known as ‘artistic license‘ and artistic license will always win over realism if the story arc dictates it. Get a thick skin or get out of the advising business if you cant handle it as you wont change it.
Movie or TV production preparations can take anything from six months to a year before the camera starts rolling. In most cases costume, art and prop departments are approached long before a technical advisor and although other departments are very experienced in their field, not all are subject matter experts (SME’S) on military jargon and Google image takes a pounding in the search for the right look, but without really knowing what they are looking for.
In an ideal world a Military Adviser (MA) should be brought in as early into pre-production as possible. An MA’s knowledge (tactfully delivered so not to offend) can save departments a lot of time and money from the offset, bringing the desired look as close to reality as possible from the very start, with communication at the very beginning and at all levels to avoid embarrassing mistakes that film critics and tabloids crave to exploit for headlines.
The wrong flags or medal, a beret worn like a helicopter landing pad on an actor’s head or even a WW2 fighter aircraft painted in the wrong markings for the year might seem trivial, but can make all the difference with the end product and can avoid fuelling critics looking for page space.
Don’t Shoot the MA.
”Who was the Military Adviser on that?” is one line commonly trotted out on social media and blogs when mistakes are highlighted but don’t be so quick to shoot the adviser.
Contrary to popular belief, and from my experience so far, Military Technical Advisers are not always approached by production during the early preparation stage of a film or TV program as much as you would think. Unfortunately it’s an all too common mistake and only identified once it’s too late and the budget on props and costumes have already been spent.
Most people with a service background or those who regularly attend historical re-enactment events are quick to critique any production with Military content and no Film or TV program are exempt and unfortunately it’s the MA who gets it in the neck most the time from those less experienced in the industry.
Before I started in the film industry I was the very same, pointing out inaccuracies until I had my first real taste as a full time Military Adviser on War and Peace for the BBC.
I was brought in with only a few days to learn Napoleonic warfare and put together a structured safe training program fit for purpose, before jetting off to Lithuania.
Once I landed in Lithuania I had a day for my own prep then straight into a seven day intensive Boot camp for 200 extras for the winter scenes. When time permitted I attempted to liaise with all the various departments, but it was obvious all the preparation work and fittings had already been done months in advance with very little I could do or add to change things.
Thankfully the team on War and Peace were mostly on their game and they had consulted a Historical adviser for all the costumes and medals, but that’s not always been the case. Once I was brought in the day before a scene was due to be filmed and it was the first time I had met the director or been able to train the actors with the supporting cast on set, just minutes before the cameras rolled!
These are not the droids you are looking for.
Set etiquette, diplomacy, and respect for the work and effort of each department is a skill in itself which must be mastered if you are to survive as a Military Technical Adviser. The ability to muster the force with the director comes in handy too!
Stepping on other department’s toes, strutting on set with a big ego, a reenactment head or a Regimental Sergeant Majors approach to every situation, while shouting and screaming from the roof tops will not get you far and you will have a short lived career.
You have to remember most people within the relevant departments have no service history and will not respond or tolerate it.
A few Classic Examples.
On one production scene I spent most of the 12 hour shoot correcting berets which had obviously been taken straight out of the hire company laundry bag and just pulled over the heads of cast in the changing room, with no attempt at shaping them a few days before. When I asked why this had happened I was simply told the hire company wanted them returned in the same state.
All I could do was to keep re-dressing the actor’s berets whilst teaching them what actions were required only to have to repeat the process minutes after. It was a very frustrating and repetitive day.
It’s not the costume departments fault of course as most of them would not know how or why there is a need to shape military headdress. However, on rare occasions I have had time with the costume department in advance and managed to convince them to allow me to take the berets out for a few days before a shoot and shape them to the respective heads during a boot camp.
This allowed the costume department to concentrate on other matters and I could correct how the actors would react to a given situation as well as answer all the other departments’ questions being fired at me during the day.
However. For all those beret shaping ranters out there would you tell these gentlemen their berets are not shaped or worn correctly?
Possibly they had better things to be worried about! Food for thought.
Some battles I have won and just this one example of adopting a diplomatic approach during prep, saved time, energy and the ongoing berets saga. Much like the SLR v SA80 debaters. Other such battles I have lost and could only suck it up and grit my teeth. A very thick skin helps as it can be like banging your head against a brick wall at times.
Other examples, such as the configuration of soldier’s equipment, can also be an issue overlooked by departments not fully in the know.
On one production I had been required to step in at the last minute and change all the 58 pattern webbing belts to depict the units realistically for how they would wear them. For example the difference in equipment from an SAS soldier to a line infantry unit where an SAS soldier’s equipment and weapons would be more personalised and not standardised as a line unit.
The Props department were being led by a Google image they had been sent by a ‘Historian’ thinking the men in the picture were SAS troopers. Until I pointed out the unit was a light infantry regiment. Turned out the Historian had never served in the military so had no idea on how servicemen adapt issued equipment.
Current in-service unit insignia, badges, medals and flags are another gray area and sometime due to copy write laws productions are not always permitted to use these in films due to restrictions imposed by the MOD or DOD, so close alternatives have to be designed and made from scratch. I expect that more than half of you reading this never knew that!
There are also situations when heads of departments looking at savings feel they only need a technical adviser to train actors for a few hours then are no longer required during filming so to save money. This has proved to be counter productive as there is no one to correct obvious mistakes on set.
The actors and background are just that, actors. They are not soldiers and would not remember a few days training. So an experienced adviser should always be on set to remind, revise and be on hand for any questions.
From experience most Directors and Assistant Directors (AD) will not know the rank order of saluting or the difference from a Major to a corporal or unit trades when placing supporting actors in the background to act their respective roles.
I have been on set during filming with up to 500 supporting cast and I can find myself running from one group to the other correcting the obvious mistakes AD’s have made which would never have be noticed had I not been on set.
Again it’s not an AD’s fault, they are not to know and I only have two pair of eyes so something’s will be missed. It’s inevitable. However, Here are just a few howlers I have managed to correct on time.
1. A Russian private soldier shouting orders at a KGB Officer and giving the Private a British Army Salute.
2. A US Airforce Major General on guard and saluting an Airman First class as the Major General raises the barrier for him. .
3. A French prisoner of war given a sword and musket to walk past the camera with his captors when he’s supposed to be a prisoner.
4. A Royal Marine SGT who’s supposed to be part of a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) walking about with just a fire extinguisher and no weapon or webbing during an incident in a hostile situation.
5. Fingers on triggers and missing magazines ( that old chest nut)
6. A US soldier from the 80’s sporting a UK issued diamond Jubilee medal.
7. Soldiers about to run in front of a firing friendly heavy machine gun during a big firefight scene. (Not only dangerous but would have been a very costly re-set)
8. Everyone trying to hold their issued weapon like they have been on lone Survivor ( but it’s a musket you plonker)
The edit stage in post production is one great example where an adviser is not consulted. Taken from Rambo 2 where the hero fires a 66 LAW from inside a helicopter. The first we see a 66 as he arms it to fire.
The close up shot its changed to the hand and triggergrip of an RPG
In the final shot after firing its back to a 66
Had an adviser been consulted he could have pointed it out, plus the fact the poor guys in the back are going to get a face full of backblast.
These are just the belt and braces mistakes and I could expand further, but by now I’m sure you get the picture. An adviser on set is a one man ‘Billy No Mates’ department who supports all departments and cannot be everywhere all of the time, but when they are there they will do their best to get as much right as possible within the constraints mentioned above.
Military Technical Advisers brought in early are a good spend and pay dividend when the cameras roll and on the cutting room floor. There is work still to be done to ensure that military advisers are brought onto productions from the beginning as a standard procedure and to do away with the penny wise and pound foolish attitude towards MA’s.
If you do see me on set don’t forget to give me a hug. Unless your from 3 Para Morters!
Feel free to share this blog and add your howlers on the comments box.
Hell-bent and mercurial as ever, the latest “Jason Bourne” film is a news clip on amphetamines. Fictional intrigue is woven into real-world drama so that riots in Athens pulse with both Hollywood escapism and the kind of gritty, detailed images that flash on CNN in the hours before a government collapses or a dictator scurries away on a helicopter.
The cleverness and conceit of “Jason Bourne” is how in one scene it uses the Greek financial crisis to suit its visceral whims. In a sustained panorama of nearly seamless editing, Bourne (Matt Damon) appears like a mythological shape-shifter as the stirrings of revolt rattle the ancient capital. The momentum spirals from whisper to roar: placards, pumped fists, Molotov cocktails, police, tear gas, wounded protesters, water cannons, sirens, helicopter spotlights and pitched battles spreading through a city on the brink.
In a case of art imitating life, the scene took me back to 2011, when I covered the Egyptian revolution that erupted in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and engulfed the country. The sky popped with gunfire, songs and fireworks. Riot police moved in. Snipers perched on rooftops. The celebratory turned ominous as a crowd of tens of thousands — a fascinating and oddly seductive organism — bristled and swirled with the disparate agendas of revolutionaries, Islamists, soldiers, parents, students and government-hired thugs.
A protest is an arcing narrative broken into subplots. It can surge into stunning moments of violence and then go hushed. It is scented with sweat, blood, burning tires and vinegar-soaked rags to cut the sting of tear gas. Images and scenes are swift and fierce: bandaged men carried into mosques, boys cursing and hurling stones, barbed wire, barrels, tanks, palm trees aflame, bullet wisps, chanted slogans, the dead dragged to sidewalks and countless footsteps echoing down boulevards and alleys.
Recent documentaries, including Evgeny Afineevsky’s “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom” and Jehane Noujaim’s “The Square,” about the Egyptian uprising, swept audiences into the smoke, fear, rage and danger of street protests. The movies resonated with the drama of a feature but rang with the air of authenticity; there were no actors, and real lives were at stake.
By infusing documentary-style realism, “Jason Bourne” captured with multiple vantage points a crowd’s fury unleashed beneath the lights of the Acropolis. One senses the gods looking down with amused alarm. Director Paul Greengrass, centered by Damon’s train-like doggedness, summoned chaos with balletic restraint. (Unfortunately, the Las Vegas car chase toward the end is the overdone opposite, an endless screeching scourge.)
But the revolt in Athens — one can recall the not-too-distant past when Greeks protested for months as their prospects tumbled and their debt widened — was closer to the genuine thing than Hollywood often gets. Studios increasingly prefer the comic book to the complicated, careening light years from reality into parallel fantasy worlds and characters sheathed in titanium, Spandex and urethane. But “Jason Bourne,” which was No. 1 at the box office over the weekend, suggests that an unadorned man battling earthly forces can still be riveting.
It is hard for a feature film to sketch true the intricacies of wars, rebellions and other nation-altering moments. Something happens when the real is transposed through the dramatic. A bit of the soul and intimacy get lost. The lens can only distill so much; something needed lingers beyond the frame. The world’s traumas and conflicts are stubborn to the designs of art and are more powerful than a director’s vision or special effects gimmickry.
“Jason Bourne” reminds us, however, that it is possible for a few minutes in a long movie to get close to the authentic, whether it’s the Arab Spring, the anguish in Greece, the failed coup in Turkey, terrorism in North Africa or the withering war in Syria.