Spies might be supposed to be masters of disguise, but one British intelligence officer caused embarrassment to his bosses through his habit of dressing up, according to official papers recently made public.

Lieutenant Colonel Dudley Clarke, a key figure in British Intelligence in the Middle East during the Second World War, set alarm bells ringing in Whitehall when he was arrested in Madrid dressed as a woman.


Files in the National Archives show that Lt Col Clarke – who was supposed to maintain a low profile, travelling undercover 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 them, 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 perfectly,” the embassy noted.

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