Agent of Influence is a slim book at 83 pages, but one with significant effect. Author Jeremy Duns works his subtitled topic, “Antony Terry and the Shaping of Cold War Fact and Fiction”, weaving an utterly fascinating behind-the-curtain story I didn’t want to end. Duns, tell me this self-published edition is merely you dipping a toe into the water to gauge the size of your potential audience!
Antony Terry is one of the legends of Cold War journalism. In real life, he was the guy movie watchers and readers imagined themselves as. He slipped through the dark alleys and dead drops and brush passes of Vienna, Budapest, Berlin, Biafra and Paraguay (and who knows where else?) from the late 1940s into the ‘60s. Terry chased down Nazis after the war; he wrote about every espionage organization in the world. What could be a more fascinating story, and why don't I know more about this guy?
Jeremy Duns lays out a strong case that Terry also willingly wrote propaganda on behalf of the English government, disguised as reporting and journalism. Does this mean he secretly worked for MI5 or MI6? Big deal or not, it's always topical, never more so than today.
Terry and his wife Rachel (who went on to pen spy novels using the name Sarah Gainham), had a long and tempestuous friendship with Ian Fleming. Both Antony and Rachel provided Fleming with background material for some of the James Bond novels, often going to extreme lengths with brief deadlines. Using existing letters between Terry and Fleming, Duns effectively fleshes out the relationship and displays the extent to which Fleming was unafraid to ask for assistance. Terry and/or Rachel usually responded at length, sometimes within one or two days.
Ian Fleming famously worked for British Naval Intelligence during WWII. His James Bond novels were written and published in the 1950s, only a single decade after the end of the war, and portrayed the world of MI6 and British Intelligence in popular fiction for the first time. I found it fascinating to learn how Fleming leaned on Terry at times to provide him with detailed background, lay-of-the-land information, and even dialogue.
Antony Terry’s work was a strong influence on Frederick Forsyth’s writing, also. Duns draws direct lines between Terry’s journalism and some of his novels, notably The Odessa File.
These relationships, and Duns' impassioned writing, bring Agent of Influence to life. Antony Terry was a superb journalist, unafraid to wade into the thick of things. He immersed himself in his work, letting his personal relationships slide as his writing and assignments and travel overtook his life. The back and forth between himself and Ian Fleming is engrossing, and new territory for me as an enthusiast and amateur historian of the era, interested in the writing and creative process.
I’m not exaggerating when I brandish my hope that Jeremy Duns wrote Agent of Influence hoping it would stir up sufficient interest in a longer, in-depth look at Antony Terry, his wife Rachel, and their intertwined professional relationships with Ian Fleming and Frederick Forsyth. I've barely touched on the insights Duns provides about propaganda from the typewriter of journalists such as Terry. That may be another book entirely!
Agent of Influence is superb reading, deeply annotated and researched. Duns put together a non-fiction book that flows like a fantastical spy tale. I could read and enjoy 1,000 pages of his work in this area.
Jeremy Duns has been kind enough to appear on the Spybrary Podcast. Check put his interview with Spybrary Spy Podcast host Shane Whaley here.