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(based on the book "Operation Mincemeat")
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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Ben Macintyre ...
Himself - Presenter
Peternel Hankin ...
Herself - Girlfriend of Charles Cholmondeley
Jeremy Montagu ...
Himself - Son of Ewen Montagu
Patricia Trehearne ...
Herself - Section Assistant 17M 1941-45
Stuart Hamilton ...
Himself - Home Office Forensic Pathologist (as Dr Stuart Hamilton)
Jean Leslie ...
Herself - Counter Intelligence Section MI5 1941-44
Bill Jewell ...
Himself - Commander of HMS Seraph - Speaking in 2003 (voice) (as Captain Bill Jewell MBE)
Pepe Morales ...
Himself
Simon Greenish ...
Himself - CEO Bletchley Park Trust
Roger J. Morgan ...
Himself - Researcher
Pete Noakes ...
William Martin
Lyndal Marwick ...
Pam
Annabel Capper ...
Hester Leggett
Stuart Saunders ...
General Nye
Jan de Lukowicz ...
Bank Manager
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dramatization | reenactment | See All (2) »

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The true story of the corpse that changed the course of World War Two.

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Documentary | Drama | War

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5 December 2010 (UK)  »

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Connections

Features The Man Who Never Was (1956) See more »

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Corkscrew Thinkers.
3 April 2016 | by (Deming, New Mexico, USA) – See all my reviews

I've read two books on Operation Mincemeat -- the dumping of a faux British officer's body along with misinformation to mislead the Germans about the invasion of Sicily -- including Ewan Montagu's original, plus the up-dated book by another author that used now declassified material, and this one-hour program contains more detail of the construction of Major William Martin than both those books. Not much on strategy or political context but details that are usually blurry or entirely skipped over. For instance, Ewan Montague was one of a pair of officers behind the plan, although the feature film, "The Man Who Never Was", gives him sole credit. His partner in deception was an RAF officer, Charles Cholmondeley, pronounced "Chumley." The dead body was that of a Welshman who committed suicide by eating rat poison. Chained to the body's wrist was a briefcase containing letters hinting that the invasion would take place in Greece, rather than Sicily.

The presenter, Ben Macintyre, shows us the ancient death certificate. We learn where Montagu and his pal obtained the proper drawers for the body -- from the desk of a warden of King's College, Oxford. Then Montagu and Cholmondeley set about assembling what in espionage is called "wallet litter." They decided to make the fictitious Major Martin a man of principle, in love, but disorganized and deeply in debt. The military ID card sported a mug shot of a fellow intelligence officer. A bill showed that Lloyd's Bank was dunning him for 79 pounds. The major needed a snap of his girl friend so Montagu held a beauty contest among all the girls in the typing pool. Jean Leslie won. She's kind of cute, too, without being staggeringly beautiful. She was given the name Pam and a pic of her on the beach was included in the litter. She's one of the several talking heads and she still chuckles over the affair. Among the other talking heads are a few experts and Montagu's son. There are a few reenactments, some of them parodies.

Actually, considering the serious, macabre nature of the operation, this film is pretty funny in a dry British way. When Montagu held that "beauty contest" among the girls on the intelligence staff, the film shows us a beauty contest on a stage with the winner, all smiles and about to tear up, receiving the didadem or whatever the hell that thing is called that they put on the heads of beauty contest winners. And for the love letters the major has in his wallet litter, a young woman in a rosy spotlight reads the corny material dramatically -- "Who can forget that perfect summer afternoon" -- while Rachmaninoff's piano concerto sobs melodically in the background. The love letters were actually written by one Hester Legett, the stern, elderly Chief Secretary in MI5. For anyone familiar with the case through the feature film, "The Man Who Never Was," has already picked up the many divergences from historical reality.

It gets better.

Montagu had shipped his wife and two children off to America and now lived the life of a bachelor. He began courting Jean Leslie, the beauty contest winner, taking her out dining and dancing, and generally living the kind of life Major Martin would have lived. Leslie now comments that she was only 18 or 19 at the time and Montagu was a much older man. She was flattered and gave him a copy of the beach photo, signed "Till death do us part, your loving, Pam." Montagu began writing letters to her, addressing her as Pam and signing the letters Bill. Someone wrote Mrs. Montagu suggesting she return.

In the feature film, when the briefcase is returned, a British scientist puts it through all kinds of tests to determine whether it had been opened by the Germans. Historically, Montagu simply placed one human eyelash in an internal fold of the letter. The absence of the eyelash indicated that the letter had been opened.

The scenario at times became almost farcical. Yes, the body with the secret information washed up on the designated Spanish beach. It was in the hands of the neutral but fascist Spanish Navy. The German spies were dying to get their hands on the briefcase. The British were equally anxious for them to have it, and sent frenzied messages to Spain demanding its return. The Spanish flatly refused. It was more than a week before the information reached Hitler -- and it worked perfectly. An entire Panzer division, 90,000 men, were sent from Sicily to Greece, along with a flotilla of E-boats. Gun emplacements were changed. The forces defending Greece jumped from one division to eight.

The invasion of Sicily was successful and we won the war.


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