My friend the spy-catcher

Roy Hattersley has known Christopher Andrew for nearly 20 years, as a friend, a practical joker - and now also as the man who unmasked Melita Norwood as a spy

Christopher Andrew, although a member of the Social Democrat Party at the time, gave me a packet of toffees to distribute along the Labour front bench during the longeurs of what I anticipated would be the year's most boring parliamentary debate. Fortunately, I decided to anticipate my colleagues' pleasure on the way to the House of Commons. As I unwrapped the paper, the device inside gave out a high pitched giggle. The sweets had been bought at the London joke shop from which Andrew obtained the severed hand that crawled across his dining table.

Yet Professor Christopher Andrew, Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, is a profoundly serious scholar. Indeed, he is the acknowledged expert on the workings of the security services in Britain, the United States and what was the Soviet Union. By co-authoring The Mitrokhin Archives - in fact doing almost all the work on the KGB files which Vasili Mitrokhin provided - he can take credit for the historical scoop of the decade. He has become one of the few academics to have made an immediate impact on public policy. If, as we must profoundly hope, the security services are forced to become more accountable to parliament, it will be the result of Professor Andrew's decision to reveal their secrets.

Inevitably, the question arises how this essentially Cambridge figure gained access to what, a decade ago, Soviet Intelligence would have gladly murdered to keep secret. There will even be suggestions that, despite the apparent embarrassment to MI5, it is the security services themselves which arranged for the KGB records to be published at this time. Nothing is regarded as too Byzantine for MI5. And cynics will point to 1990, when Christopher Andrew supported the government's insistence that Rudolf Hess had died in Spandau - despite letters suggesting that it was a double of Hitler's deputy who had been imprisoned by the Allies and that the real war criminal had been spirited off to South America.

It is never possible to completely rule out an intelligence connection. The Secret Service keeps its members' names secret. But I have always believed that Andrew (a 58-year-old Anthony Perkins look-alike) is far too independent minded either to accept the disciplines of MI5 employment or to be regarded as sufficiently discreet to join their Trappist community.

The Mitrokhin Archives is the product of assiduous scholarship. Andrew has been writing about the secret services for more than 20 years. He simply knows more about what went on inside the Lubianka than any other academic - perhaps more than most members of the Secret Service. Nobody has ever suggested that the pharaohs tipped off Howard Carter about the location of Tutankhamen's tomb. The discovery was the result of conscientious and continuous research. Christopher Andrew is entitled to claim the same.

Twelve years ago he wrote the definitive study of the British Secret Service - one of those huge, expensive books which turned out to be a good read but looked far too formidable for most people to open. He had already established an extraordinary range of connections among the intelligence community and attracted the suspicion of other academics. The Cambridge connection naturally fuelled the rumours. As Andrew said, that university "recruited far more members for the KGB than for the CIA" and we'll never know how many MI6 agents and MI5 counter-espionage officers honed their minds in its colleges. It is an easy, if weak-minded, assumption that anyone who is fascinated by spooks must be a spook himself. And it is impossible to prove the negative.

His academic detractors have never seriously questioned his integrity or doubted his scholarship. Their criticism - based on envy as much as scholarly reticence - has always been that he chose to study espionage because it was more likely to produce radio and television invitations than Andrew's original speciality, the history of modern France. There is no doubt that he enjoys performing. But he is, above all, a scholar and found a huge gap in the study of contemporary history which he was sensible enough to fill. He also has the sort of mind which is attracted by the convolutions of the security services. By comparison with the problem of unravelling the history of espionage and counter-espionage, understanding the Schleswig-Holstein question is child's play.

Andrew treats the constant absurdities of the security business with an amused contempt that serious agents would undoubtedly find offensive. If the derision is no more than his cover, the act is performed with stupendous plausibility. He discovered - to his delight - that immediately before the First Word War, when Britain was anxious to obtain information about the German battleship programme, the Foreign Office was told that the best way to make invisible ink was to mix together soot and human semen. They decided that it was a formula which one gentleman could not recommend to another.

Andrew tells with joy stories about Captain Sir Mansfield Cumming, the first head of MI6 - a hands-on operator who used to test the likely success of disguises by walking the streets of London dressed as a Chinese Kooli, a Lascar seaman or a French onion seller. During the debate on the Bill which replaced the Official Secrets Act with only slightly less repressive restrictions, I was challenged to give an example of information which had been unreasonably withheld from the public. Thanks to Andrew, I was able to reveal that when Mansfield Cumming's descendants took up amateur dramatics they asked the Home Office (for reasons of pure sentiment) which theatrical costumier their forebear had patronised. They were informed that the information was classified. When challenged on the subject, John Patten, then Minister of State, was outraged that he should be "asked to comment on individual security questions".

I have not seen Andrew since The Mitrokhin Archives made headlines. Last time we met he told me that he was about to publish a new book but refused to reveal even its title - the result, I suspect, of anxiety about selling the serial rights rather than fear that he would be arrested or assassinated with a poison-tipped umbrella. I heard him, on radio, last Monday simultaneously condemning Stalin's Soviet Union as one of the worst tyrannies of the 20th century and suggesting that Melita Norwood, the spy he had unmasked, might have been initially motivated by false hopes about a better society. It was a compassion that convinced me of his detachment. Good men make bad spies.

Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
Crime watch: Cara Delevingne and Daniel Brühl in ‘The Face of an Angel’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
music Malik left the Asian leg of the band's world tour after being signed off with stress last week
News
Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.
peopleNot the first time the author has defended Dumbledore's sexuality
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss