Jack King

Jack King
"Jack King" real name Eric Arthur Roberts.
Image source National Archives via wikipedia

"Jack King" was the code name for Eric Roberts.

He was born in Cornwall in 1907 and came to London in 1925 seeking work. He got a job at the Westminster Bank (now part of NatWest). Shortly after arriving in London, he joined a right-wing political group, the British Fascisti. There he met Maxwell Knight, who was the head of M section (Agents) of MI5, responsible for infiltrating agents into potentially subversive groups. In 1934, Knight asked Roberts to join the British Union of Fascists, led by Sir Oswald Mosley and report on their activities to MI5. In the middle of 1940, the BUF was wound up and Roberts joined the staff of MI5.

The director of MI5 wrote to the bank asking for Roberts to be released immediately for special war work. The bank agreed, though the reason for this request was not clear to them. The letter agreeing to release Roberts asked,
"What we would like to know here is, what are the particular and especial qualifications of Mr Roberts - which we have not been able to perceive - for some particular work of national importance?"
Roberts first used the code name "Jack King" when writing via a correspondence club to a woman working for Siemens Schukert who was suspected on being a spy for the Germans.

Jack King's fake Gestapo identity card produced by MI5
Jack King's fake Gestapo identity card produced by MI5
Image source MI5

Early in 1942, "Jack King" began to pose as a Gestapo agent who wished to identify people in Britain who supported the Nazis, offering to send information from them to Berlin. The main purpose of his work was to provide MI5 with records of disloyal and subversive persons and to prevent such persons from carrying out disloyal acts in times of emergency. By the end of the war, he was monitoring about 500 people, though only a small number of these believed themselves to be working for Germany.

Roberts operated from a block of flats in the Edgware Road fitted with listening equipment. Through contacts with Marita Perigoe, who was of Swedish/German origin and did everything in her power to aid the German cause, he was able to identify some notable suspects including:
  1. Hans Kohout, an Austrian-born naturalised Briton who worked for John Dickinson a firm with secret defence contracts concerned with the manufacture of paper backed aluminium foil strips called Window (Chaff) released by planes to create an anti-radar 'smokescreen'.
  2. Hilda Leech who worked for the Shell oil cmpany and wanted to pass on details of fuel stocks and research into jet engine propulsion.
  3. Edgar and Sophia Bray attempted to obtain and pass on details of an amphibian tank then on secret trial.
  4. Ronald and Rita Creasy, who were farmers, offered safe accommodation for German agents or parachutists and suggested sabotage targets.
In 1947 he went to Vienna, on loan to MI6 trying to get himself recruited as a Soviet agent. This was not a success and he returned after just over a year, to take up a desk job at MI5.

MI5 files declassified in February 2014 described the work of "Jack King" with the fifth column but his identity was not revealed at that time. Further files declassified in October 2014 identified him as Eric Roberts.

Roberts was married in 1934 to Audrey Sprague, who was his supervisor when he started work at the Westminster Bank. They lived in a semi-detached house in Epsom with their two sons and one daughter. In 1956, he went to live in Canada, where his sons were already working, settling on Salt Spring Island off Vancouver Island. He died in 1972, aged 65.

Clive Vaisey, 2018

Sources:
  • Robert Hutton. Agent Jack: the true story of MI5's secret Nazi hunter. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2018.
  • Tim Tate. Hitler's British traitors: the secret history of spies, saboteurs and fifth columnists. Icon Books, 2018.
  • Ben Macintyre. MI5 man made fools of the traitor who worshipped Hitler. Times 28 February 2014.
  • Ben Macintyre. Quiet banker tricked British fascists who spied for Hitler. Times 24 October 2014.

[Notes about Epsom from Hutton: Semi-detached house (p2); Bomb fell 4 doors down and destroyed house (pp71-72); Long garden with railway cutting at the bottom, where wounded soldiers were unloaded to be taken to Canadian hospital (p157).]
[Note from Tate: says he lived a modest street of 1930s semi-detached houses at Tattenham Corner; p338.]

Clive Vaisey, 2018