Six real life spies from the North-East and North Yorkshire that put James Bond’s exploits to shame

THE North-East is home to many famous people, with Sting, Rowan Atkinson and Jamie Bell all calling the region home.

But from Eddie Champman to Rudolf Ivanovich Abel, few people know that the area was also home to some mysterious local spies and double agents that look like they could be right out of the pages of a James Bond novel.

While you might not be considered a very good spy if people know who you are, there are some some intelligence agents that became well known in their time for their service (and sometimes treachery) before, during and after the war efforts.

But many of these once well-documented figures have been largely left in the past, so here we we take a look back at the security officers, whistleblowers and double agents who once called the North-East and North Yorkshire home before heading off on mysterious missions around the world.

The Northern Echo: Famed ‘spywatcher’ Chapman Pincher, from DarlingtonFamed ‘spywatcher’ Chapman Pincher, from Darlington

Here are six spies from the North-East and North Yorkshire…

Eddie Chapman, County Durham and Teesside

Eddie Chapman was an English criminal and wartime spy who became a double agent during the Second World War, after offering his services to Nazi Germany.

Codenamed Agent Zigzag by his British Secret Service handlers, Burnopfield-born Mr Chapman was known for his erratic personal history.

The son of a former marine engineer who ended up running a pub in Roker, Mr Chapman is said to have regularly played truant from school to go to the cinema and hang around the beach.

David Shayler, Middlesbrough 

David Shayler is a British former MI5 officer and whistleblower who was prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act 1989 for passing secret documents to the press.

The Middlesbrough-born man’s 1997 leak to The Mail on Sunday alleged the MI5 was paranoid about socialists and that it had previously investigated Labour Party ministers.

After leaving university and working for newspaper The Sunday Times for six months, Mr Shayler applied for a job at MI5 after believing it was media related but instead ended up working on a team that monitored left-wing groups and activists.

William Thomas Tutte, live in County Durham and Yorkshire

William Thomas Tutte was a British-born Canadian codebreaker and mathematician who made important advances in cryptanalysis during the Second World War.

His work centred around the Lorenz cipher, a major Nazi German cipher system which was used for top-secret communications within the Wehrmacht High Command. The high-level, strategic nature of the intelligence obtained from Mr Tutte’s discovery was fundamental in the defeat of Nazi Germany.

While born in Suffolk, Mr Tutte’s family moved several times, including to Croft Spa, Durham, and later to North Yorkshire village Aislaby, Scarborough. He is said to have loved the sandy beaches at Whitby.

Richard Tomlinson, Barnard Castle

Richard Tomlinson is a former officer of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) who, in 1997, was jailed under the Official Secrets Act 1989 after pitching a book about his MI6 career to an Australian publisher.

He served six months of a 12-month sentence before being given parole, which is when he left the country.

After moving from New Zealand to Cumbria as a boy, Mr Tomlinson won a scholarship for the independent Barnard Castle School where he excelled at mathematics and physics. He went on to win a scholarship to Cambridge University.

The Northern Echo:

Rudolf Abel, Newcastle

Rudolf Ivanovich Abel, whose real name William August Fisher, was a Soviet intelligence officer born and raised in Newcastle. 

He adopted his alias when arrested on charges of conspiracy by the FBI in 1957.

Mr Fisher moved to Russia in the 1920s and served in the Soviet military before becoming a radio operator in Soviet intelligence. He went was involved in intelligence operations against the Germans during World War II and began working for the KGB after the war.

Steven Spielberg’s film Bridge of Spies is actually based on the spy, who was eventually caught in New York where he was living as a painter. 

In the film he was portrayed by Mark Rylance (above), who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

Chapman Pincher, Darlington

Although not explicitly a spy himself, Chapman Pincher was certainty wrapped up in the intelligence community. 

Famed ‘spywatcher’ Mr Pincher grew up in Darlington and went on to reveal a string of high-level secrets as defence correspondent for the Daily Express.

Regularly bugged by the MI5, Mr Pincher was dubbed the lone wolf of Fleet Street for a series of exclusive stories that lifted the lid on military secrets.

He was born in India in 1914 and educated at Darlington Grammar School. His father was manager at Darlington’s Theatre Royal and later landlord of The Comet, in Croft.

The Northern Echo | Durham