Where did the idea to write Codename Lazarus come from?

The inspiration to write Codename Lazarus came from reading several newspaper accounts of  a British agent known as Jack King. In February 2014, National Archive files on this singular character had just been released and the British press ran short accounts of his activities during the war. Example web references are given at the bottom of this page. At that time extensive documentation on the so called ‘Fifth Column’ or ‘SR’ case was also available to be downloaded free from The National Archive.

The story reappeared briefly in the press during October 2014, when the files identifying ‘Jack King’ as ex bank clerk Eric Roberts.

The incredible story of Eric Roberts really caught my imagination and I decided very quickly that it would make a great subject for a novel. As will be obvious to anyone who has read Codename Lazarus, I definitely did not produce anything like a factual account of Jack King’s exploits. I was, nevertheless really captured by the idea of a British agent so successfully duping Nazi sympathisers and  I hope that, in my work, I paid some respect to the actual bravery and achievements of the real Eric Roberts.  

What follows is some basic information about the real Eric Roberts/Jack King, on whom the fictional character John King was very loosely based, and some of the perhaps lesser known real events and people depicted in the novel.

A father of three, by all accounts living an ordinary family life in Surrey and working as a clerk at the Euston Road branch of the Westminster Bank in Central London, Eric Roberts was hardly the stuff of dynamic secret agents. Richard Hannay or James Bond, he certainly wasn’t. Indeed, his employers were shocked to receive an official request for his release, in order to undertake ‘work of national importance.’

Despite having no great knowledge of German, by the end of the war, Eric Roberts had successfully posed as an undercover Gestapo officer and effectively neutralised literally hundreds of Nazi sympathisers in the UK.

Alarmed by the evident extent of sympathy for Nazi Germany among Britons in the early years of the war, the Security Services initially sent Roberts, posing as Jack King, to ascertain the extent of Nazi sentiment among the workers at Siemens UK. The scope and effectiveness of his mission increased beyond all expectation, however, after he met and cultivated Marita Perigoe, on whom the fictional character Martha Perrygo is very loosely based.

The files now released to the public make it absolutely clear that King was extremely successful in controlling large groups of potentially dangerous fifth columnists throughout the war. These people believed they were providing information of great significance to the Nazis, when in fact, it was all going direct to MI5.

The success of the deception fully vindicated the decision by the authorities to keep them under surveillance and effective control, rather than arrest and intern them. The belief was that, in such circumstances, other Nazi sympathisers would simply take their place.

Which characters and events depicted in Codename Lazarus are real?

Codename Lazarus refers to many real events, such as Kristallnacht, the retreat to, and evacuation from, Dunkirk, the first day time bombing raid over London and the so called Kindertransport arrangement. I tried to keep the dates and descriptions as accurate as possible. Also, well known historical characters, such as Goering, Heydrich and Canaris make brief appearances.

The book also features lesser known, real people and dramatic events.

The massacre at Le Paradis on 27th May 1940, which is described in the book, actually took place as described. Some 97 British troops, having surrendered, were disarmed, lined up against a wall and shot. The man responsible for ordering the atrocity, SS Hauptsturmführer Fritz Knöchlein, was eventually located and convicted by a war crimes court. He was executed in 1949.

Walter Schellenberg was responsible for editing a detailed analysis of how Britain functioned in preparation for Operation Sealion - the planned Nazi invasion of Britain in 1940.

The destroyer HMS Icarus did take part in Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of The British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk.