Spycatcher Chapman Pincher turns 100

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The Principal of King’s College London, Professor Sir Rick Trainor, has congratulated King’s alumnus and Fellow, the distinguished journalist, historian and novelist Chapman Pincher BSc FKC, on reaching his 100th birthday. 

Harry Chapman Pincher was born on 29 March 1914 and studied zoology and botany at King’s, graduating in 1935. He is best-known for his work on spies and the security services, including Their Trade is Treachery, published in 1981. Based on interviews with retired MI5 Soviet counter-espionage officer Peter Wright, it accused the former Director-General of MI5 Sir Roger Hollis of being a spy. Pincher has developed this theme over the rest of his career, culminating in Treachery – Betrayals, Blunders and Cover-Ups: Six Decades of Espionage,  published in 2009, and he continues to make controversial allegations about the British security services.

Born in India, Pincher had a peripatetic childhood before the family settled in Croft, near Darlington, where his father ran a country pub.  He attended Darlington Grammar School, and his biology master there, a King’s alumnus, inspired him to become an academic and to follow in his footsteps. Pincher came to King’s in 1932 and studied under the controversial geneticist Professor Reginald Ruggles Gates, who arranged for two of Pincher’s papers to be published (as ‘Genetical Interpretation of Alternation of Generations’ and ‘A Genetical Interpretation of the Origin of Heterospory and Related Conditions’) – a rare achievement for an undergraduate. 

Pincher intended to join King’s academic staff as a junior lecturer. But due to the straitened economic times the necessary grant never materialised. Instead he became a teacher at the Liverpool Institute, and in 1940 he joined the Royal Armoured Corps before receiving a commission and transferring to the Rocket Division of the Ministry of Supply. 

In 1946 he became Defence, Science and Medical Correspondent at the Daily Express, and during his remarkable career there he became one of Fleet Street’s most recognisable names. He ascribes his frequent front-page scoops to his ability to be taken into the confidence of senior government members and officials, often over lunch at his favourite restaurant, L’Ecu de France in Jermyn Street. In 1972 he was appointed Assistant Editor of the Daily Express and Chief Defence Correspondent of Beaverbrook newspapers.

Over the course of a publishing career spanning almost seven decades, Pincher has published nearly 40 books, starting with The Breeding of Farm Animals, (1940) and including a variety of non-fiction, novels and children’s books as well as his well-known revelations on the security services. 

His autobiography, Chapman Pincher: Dangerous to Know: A Life, was published last month by Biteback Publishing, to enthusiastic reviews. Dr Michael Goodman of King’s Department of War Studies commented: ‘For half a century, Chapman Pincher was a thorn in the side of successive governments. No investigative journalist, before or since, has managed to reveal quite so many things that the government wanted kept secret. British Cold-War politics would not have been the same without him.’

Looking back over his career, Pincher himself has commented: ‘My only regret was that I was never on the staff at King’s, but then my life wouldn't have been so interesting. I met everyone, went everywhere and travelled like a prince.’

Pincher was elected a Fellow of King’s in 1978. He has donated his papers to the College, where they form part of the holdings of the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives at King’s (www.kcl.ac.uk/library/collections/archivespec/collections/lhcma).

King’s Principal Professor Rick Trainor commented: ‘Chapman Pincher is one of our most colourful and interesting alumni and a distinguished Fellow of the College, and we are delighted to know that his warm relationship with King’s will continue into his second century. We send him our sincere congratulations and wish him a very happy birthday.’

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