Agent Twister: The True Story Behind the Scandal That Gripped the Nation by Philip Augar & Keely Winstone - review by Frances Cairncross

Frances Cairncross

The Spy Who Came Out of the Sea

Agent Twister: The True Story Behind the Scandal That Gripped the Nation


Simon & Schuster 416pp £14.99

What a piece of work was John Stonehouse. This brisk biography, focusing on what was surely one of the most dramatic lives of the postwar period, provides a cracking account of the life of a man who managed to combine three kinds of betrayal.

Stonehouse was a Labour MP in what was the safe seat of Wednesbury in Staffordshire, to which he was elected in 1957. Married to a patient wife, he also had a long-term mistress but cheated on both at every opportunity. While a minister in Harold Wilson’s government, he spied for the Czechs. And he ran a bank, in which he persuaded friends and family to invest and out of which he took cash to make investments that failed on a heroic scale. Then, famously, in 1974 he fled to Miami, swam out to sea, disappeared and was thought to have drowned. He eventually turned up in Australia. Arrested there, he was extradited to the UK and spent seven years in prison. He died relatively young, not long after suffering a heart attack midway through a television interview.

This book is the product of a collaboration begun in lockdown between Philip Augar, an author and former banker known best for his 2019 report on higher and further education, and Keely Winstone, a documentary maker and novice author. They write largely in the present tense, which gives

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