Spies might be supposed to be masters of disguise, but a British intelligence officer caused embarrassment to his political masters through his penchant for dressing up, according to official papers made public today.
Lieutenant Colonel Dudley Clarke, a key figure in British intelligence in the Middle East in the Second World War, set alarm bells ringing in Whitehall when he was arrested in Madrid dressed as a woman.
Files released by the National Archives show that Lt Col Clarke - who was supposed to maintain a low profile, travelling under cover as a war correspondent for The Times - had stopped off in the Spanish capital on his way to Egypt in October 1941.
The embassy - where staff had been "particularly struck by his intimate knowledge of military secrets" - cabled London: "Last night he was arrested in a main street dressed, down to a brassiere, as a woman."
Lt Col Clarke told Spanish police he was a novelist and had "wanted to study the reactions of men to women in the streets".
When the British consul visited him, he found Lt Col Clarke "unconcerned" by his predicament but offering a different story, saying he had been taking the clothes to a woman in Gibraltar and had put them on as a "prank".
"This hardly squares with the fact that the garments and shoes fitted him," the embassy noted.
While the Spanish police were inclined to treat it as a "homosexual affair" and release Lt Col Clarke with a fine, the local Germans believed it was a "first class espionage incident" which they were determined to exploit.
"I need hardly point out the damage this incident will do to us and The Times here," the embassy warned. "Jokes have already begun about 'the editor' of The Times masquerading as a woman."
The potential for embarrassment was considered so great that prime minister Winston Churchill was informed, and instructions were sent to get Lt Col Clarke to the safety of Gibraltar as quickly as possible.
"In no circumstances should it be revealed that C(larke) is a British officer," the Foreign Office insisted.