There have been two articles posted within the last month which suggest that Evelyn Waugh was, along with other writers of his generation, at some time during his career in the employ of the secret intelligence services. The first, written by Richard Lance Keeble, appeared as a post on the Orwell Society’s website last month. This deals primarily with the question of whether Orwell was at some point an intelligence agent through his connections with David Astor, publisher of The Observer which also employed Kim Philby after he left MI6 following the Burgess-Maclean affair. This note appears in that article:
Orwell would not have been alone in working for intelligence during the war: Other intellectuals/writers included A. P. Herbert, Arthur Koestler (who had previously served the Soviet Comintern while a journalist during the Spanish civil war), David Garnett, Elizabeth Bowen, novelist Muriel Spark, Alec Waugh and his brother Evelyn Waugh, and Graham Greene. Tom Bower, The perfect English spy: Sir Dick White and the secret war 1935-1990, London: William Heinemann, 1995, p. 227.
More recently, the suggestion also surfaced in the UK socialist daily paper The Morning Star. This appears in a review by John Green of a recent book: Journalism in an Age of Terror: Covering and Uncovering the Secret State by John Lloyd. The reviewer conceives the book as an apology for the state intelligence services co-opting journalists in their efforts to combat terrorism as they had in the past to combat communism;
As the work offers ideal cover, secret services have always used journalists and writers as agents — from Evelyn Waugh, Malcolm Muggeridge, Graham Greene and Kim Philby to unnamed writers in the papers today.
Graham Greene’s and Malcolm Muggeridge’s work for the secret services is well documented (e.g., Norman Sherry, The Life of Graham Greene: Volume 2, 1939-1955, pp. 166-83). However, none of Waugh’s biographers suggest that he was ever actively involved with the secret services, either as a journalist or in the military. He was assigned for a brief period to the SAS and trained as a parachutist with the SOE but never went on active service with those agencies. He acted as his Commando unit’s “intelligence” officer during the Battle of Crete, but this did not involve any covert espionage. He also prepared a report on Communist persecution of the Roman Catholic Church in Yugoslavia; but he undertook this report on his own initiative and it was largely ignored by the government of the time. I am not aware of any suggestions that he was working for the intelligence services when he was on assignments as a correspondent in Abyssinia.
The Orwell Society’s article is supported by a cite to a book by Tom Brower. Full access to that cite is unavailable on the internet, but from the snippet view on Google Books, it can be seen to include Graham Greene with Waugh but in what capacity cannot be determined and no supporting evidence is available. What Brower’s book have to say about the other writers mentioned in the book is also not available. The Morning Star offers no support for their claim and do not suggest that it is based on the book under review. Any readers having access to these or other sources that may relate to this issue are invited to comment below. The Brower book may well have more relevant information than what is available on the internet.
UPDATE (28 January 2017): An examination of the book by Tom Bower sheds very little light on any engagement by Waugh as an intelligence agent. In a section explaining the recruitment by Dick White of a number of intellectuals into the service this sentence appears (p. 47): “Also passing through White’s office were some of the great names of British literature, including Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene.” There is no further explanation or footnote. In a later passage (p. 54), Waugh is said to have provided a reference for Roger Hollis, brother of Waugh’s Oxford friend Christopher, who had applied for a job in the intelligence service. He got the job, and went on to become the Director General of MI5.