James Bond-style inventions protected secret war intelligence, new research reveals
Release Date 17 October 2006
Research at the University of Reading has revealed how methods Q would be proud of helped protect valuable war intelligence material during World War II. (Charles Batey, the Assistant Printer at OUP is pictured left, reproduced by permission of the Secretary to the Delegates of Oxford University Press) Hidden copper rivets, highly-flammable paper and vanishing ink were just some of the ploys used by publishing company the Oxford University Press (OUP), which developed James Bond-style inventions to protect secret military intelligence against enemy interception. Working mostly for the Admiralty, and occasionally for the Government, research has revealed how the OUP produced an enormous quantity of codebooks, cypher books and geographical handbooks quickly, efficiently and in absolute secrecy. Atalanta Myerson, a PhD student in the Centre for Writing, Publishing & Printing History at the University of Reading has found evidence in the archives of the OUP that reveal how experiments were conducted on ink that could disappear when it came in contact with water and highly flammable paper that would ignite with friction. Copper rivets and lead were sometimes bound into the secret books so that they would immediately sink when thrown into the sea and thus remain illusive to the enemy. Atalanta, aged 27, said: "My research into this fascinating area of history has revealed that Oxford University Press played a previously unrecognised but vital role during the war effort. Although other British printing firms also produced secret naval intelligence material, the OUP had the largest workload and was regarded by the Admiralty as 'Printing House number one'." OUP took on its first consignment of work from the Government in September 1938 and by June 1941 secret work was accounting for over three-quarters of the Press's entire output. The secret printing was undertaken for the Naval Intelligence Division of the Admiralty and was paid for and administered by His Majesty's Stationery Office (HMSO). The publishing company's tradition of security, adaptability and technical capability made it attractive to the Government and the Admiralty and the company benefited from this association which helped it survive through the Second World War. Dr Martin Maw, the archivist at the OUP, said: "This fascinating work sheds light on one of the most secret corners of Oxford University Press's history. It will interest not only scholars but anyone intrigued by still-untold stories of the Second World War." John Johnson, the Printer to the University, and Charles Batey, the Assistant Printer, were both instrumental in establishing good working relationships with the Government. In 1938 Charles Batey wrote to the HMSO: "We should explain to you that at a moment's notice we could place at your disposal the whole organisation for the printing of secret work." Perhaps to guard against sensitivity about spies, he added: "…..with one exception, all the 900 persons employed in the Press are British." Ends Notes to Editors: 1. Atalanta Myerson lives in Kidlington, Oxfordshire, and is available for interview today and tomorrow – to arrange or for further information contact Lucy Ferguson, Senior Press Officer, on 0118 378 7388, or email L.Ferguson@reading.ac.uk 2. Regarding pictures: If you reproduce the pictures in print, they should carry an acknowledgement that they're reproduced "by permission of the Secretary to the Delegates of Oxford University Press." If they're broadcast, a standard acknowledgement "copyright Oxford University Press" should appear in the credits. 3. About the University of Reading The University of Reading is one of the foremost research-led universities in the UK. Founded in the nineteenth century and gaining a Royal Charter in 1926, we offer a wide range of programmes from the pure and applied sciences to languages, social sciences and fine art. New research and the latest thinking continually feed into undergraduate teaching, with our academic staff working at the forefront of their fields of expertise.