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Move over, James Bond, you're too tall

06-Apr-2010 • Bond News

The ideal spy is a plain-looking person, 5ft 7in or 5ft 8in, who has exceptional hearing and can withstand extreme heat and cold while standing still for several hours, a secret file released by MI5 reveals - reports The Telegraph.

The attributes required of a "watcher" to trail foreign spies during the Second World War were listed in documents recording the work of Section B6, the MI5 branch used to observe suspected threats to national security.

Papers released at the National Archives in Kew, west London, show how MI5 found it difficult to recruit enough suitably nondescript spies to track down German secret agents operating in Britain.

According to the file, the perfect "shadower" would be 5ft 7-8in and be "hardy enough to withstand cold, heat and wet during the long hours of immobility in the street".

They should also look "as unlike a policeman as possible" and be willing to wear "old clothes, cap, muffler" when undercover in the "slum quarters".

In the report, senior spies also emphasised the monotonous nature of the job, following a wave of applications from applicants expecting the sort of exciting role they had seen in films.

In fact, they said, "This is an onerous and exacting profession ... There is little glamour and much monotony in such a calling as 'observation'."

The report also adds: "The writer is against the use of facial disguises. A false moustache or beard is easily detected, especially under the high lights of a restaurant, pub, or in a tube train."

According to The Independent, the unit of watchers reached 40 operatives by the start of the war, and by 1942 was observing 140 cases a day.

In one incident a foreign spy working as a taxi driver was asked to drive to Wormwood Scrubs, and arrested on his arrival at the prison.

Another success highlighted in the files happened when spies trailing the naval attache at the Japanese embassy followed him to a London park where he met a contact in the middle of a clump of bushes.

According to the report, the British spy managed to eavesdrop on their conversation by following them into the bushes undetected.

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