Double Lives

Posted: 10 June 2018 in Understanding Others
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Jim Boyling, ex-undercover police

Undercover work was not meant to like that.  Last week high-street retailer “Lush” was forced to abandon its undercover police campaign.  Last month DC Jim Boyling was sacked by The Met for gross misconduct – for having sexual relations with 3 women activists, subject of his undercover investigations, and then lying to the authorities.  We also saw also the biography of one of Britain’s notorious traitors published: Donald Maclean[i].  And the republishing of Kim Philby’s autobiography[ii], another double agent.  Two of “The Cambridge Five”, Soviet spies, men of affluence, arrogance and indulgence.  Leading double (or more) lives.

My mother knew them (The Cambridge Five, not The Met spies).  During The War, working for the BBC World Service Spanish service, she went to the World Service parties, where Philby, Burgess, Maclean, Blunt and others attended.  Being Spanish political refugee and Philby having worked in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, even meeting General Franco, and then working for the BBC Worlds Service – there was a connection.

Kim Philby.jpg
Kim Philby – Soviet double agent

After Philby & co all fled to the USSR, I would hear her disgust: especially Philby, who had posed as some many different things.  A Franco sympathizer.  Then, a pillar of MI6.  And finally, as a Soviet spy.

Her anger was sharpened by her connection with Ignatius Joseph Bowen, who was reputedly a Soviet spy as well.  Born in Valencia, Spain of a British father and Spanish mother, his connection with my mother led to my brother’s birth.  But not so long later, he left UK to Mexico, where I was told there was no extradition treaty between UK and Mexico.  The post worked, though, and he sent letters demanding custody of the boy, but never turned up in UK court to press his claim.  The English court took a dim view of this and awarded custody to my mother and her new husband, my father.


Undercover?  Not so rare.  In 1970, in a dinner in Madrid, I met my cousin’s Father-in-

Bowen pic B.jpg

“jimmy” Bowen.  Ex-spy? Ex-lover?

Law to be.  He had one leg.  The other leg?  Lost it during The Spanish Civil War, sad but not uncommon.  But…. He lost it in Madrid, planting bombs as an undercover agent for the Nationalists (fascists).  Indeed, he was an original “Fifth Columnist”[iii].  A real bomb throwing terrorist in the family, eh?  My (Spanish) uncle said to me at the time that that era was in the past was the past….  and we in Spain have to live with these people now.


Boyling, Bowen, Fifth Columnist.  Unusual men leading double lives.  Rare?  Yes, but not that rare.  And as I go into prison, I see many running double lives too.  On a smaller scale.  Outwardly fine citizens, good friends, caring husbands and fathers.  Yet also suppliers of drugs, traders in stolen goods, armed robbers, or sexual predators.  And there’s many more of these than The Cambridge Five.

There was a narcissism in the spies.  I find a narcissism in many prisoners, before the penny drops. A sense that normal rules do not apply. Can juggle two separate worlds (criminal and family man). A spring in the step, to keep ahead of catastrophe.

And when we hear ourselves saying:

  • “The wife will never know.”
  • “Long as I stay ahead, my gambling benefits my family.”
  • “We’re a fine company, our Panamanian sweat shops are temporary only.”
  • “The company will never check my CV.
  • “I’ll pay it back, honest”.

Perhaps more of us too, lead double lives than we’d like to believe?


[i] “A Spy named orphan: The Enigma of Donald Maclean” by Roland Phillips, Bodley Head
[ii] “My Silent War: The Autobiography of a Spy”, by Kim Philby, Arrow.
[iii] During the Spanish Civil War, Nationalist General Emilio Mola told a journalist in 1936 that as his four columns of troops approached Madrid, a “fifth column” of supporters inside the city would undermine the Republican government from within


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