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Madoc Roberts is a UK based filmmaker and author. He started his career as a film editor and has worked for many of the world’s leading broadcasters, including the BBC, Channel4 UK, Discovery and the History Channel.
Among his most recent documentaries are "The Last of the Hitlers,” which traced the story of Hitler’s Liverpool-born nephew William Patrick Hitler and “Hitler of the Andes,” which examined the chaos that ensued at the end of WWII when whispers of Hitler’s escape to Argentina were rife.
He's now out with a new book, co-written with Nigel West and entitled "SNOW: The Double Life of a World War II Spy," which tells the story of Arthur Owens, a man previously thought to be a Nazi spy. Roberts and West discovered that Owens, whose code name was "Snow," was in fact a British double agent and had been working for MI5 (the British security service) all along.
Guylife - Can you tell us a little about your background?
Madoc Roberts: I am Welsh and live in Cardiff, the capital of Wales which is a small country that makes up part of the British Isles. I did my degree in film making, drama and art and then got a job working in television as a freelance editor which I have been doing for thirty years. It is not like a real job as every day is different. There is a fair bit of pressure but you get used to it. In the last few years, I have started directing and producing through my own company, Barkingmad TV.
Guylife - This is your first book; what is your other professional experience?
Madoc Roberts: I have made television programmes for many of the world’s leading broadcasters, including the BBC, Discovery and the History Channel. I mainly work on Arts and History programmes but I have worked on pop videos as well and last year I edited a documentary called Between Life and Death which won the BAFTA UK for Best Single Documentary. I recently worked on a feature film called Flick which starred Faye Dunaway, Liz Smith and Michelle Ryan. In the seventies, I was in a punk rock band called "The Tunnelrunners." Original copies of our EP can now fetch as much as £1,000 because they are so rare!
Guylife - Where does your interest in Hitler and related historical events spawn from?
Madoc Roberts: I don’t really have an interest in Hitler; it just so happens that two of the documentaries I made were about him. The reason we made those films was because they were good stories. “The Last of the Hitlers” came about through a chance meeting with the journalist David Gardner, who had been trying to find the relatives of William Patrick Hitler, the Liverpool born son of Adolph Hitler’s half- brother Alois.
The Nazi propaganda machine had always tried to portray Hitler as a superhuman being but when you find out that he actually had a lot of relatives, some of whom he wasn’t very proud of, it brings him back down to earth and undermines that image.
The second film we did about Hitler was to do with the events that occurred at the end of WWII when nobody knew what had happened to him, whether he was alive or dead. We made this film at the time that Saddam Hussein was on the run and there were a lot of similarities in the way that the fog of war clouds what really happened and allows myths to emerge.
Guylife - What was the most surprising thing you discovered while doing research on Hitler's lineage for your documentaries?
Madoc Roberts: The most interesting thing we found was the strength of the myths that still exist around Hitler. Even though we had discovered birth certificates and unearthed FBI files, people still had doubts about the stories we put together.
We even found relatives of Hitler’s living on Long Island who told us that they had decided not to have children so that the Hitler blood line would die out. David Gardner then wrote a book based on the research called “The Last of the Hitlers” which we published and that was my first experience in the world of books.
Guylife - How did you first learn about the double agent "Snow," and what intrigued you most about his story?
Madoc Roberts: As a small television company, we decided that we had to uncover stories that no one else was aware of. As a result, we decided to keep a close eye on any new documents released at the National Archives in London. When new documents started to appear that mentioned a Welsh double agent, I wondered if this might be an interesting story.
Guylife - Have you added any fictional elements to this story or is it safe to say that it is an entirely accurate account of how things actually happened?
Madoc Roberts: There are no fictional elements at all in the book; even the dialogue is from transcripts that were recorded during lengthy interrogations of Snow when he returned from one of his missions.
Arthur Owens' story didn’t need me to add anything as there were so many new and exciting elements to it. He was involved in a shady world where one mistake could have seen him put up against a wall and shot by either side. His nightly messages sent on a secret radio were used to fool the Germans and to make the first British break-through in the “unbreakable” German Enigma code.
He also went on exciting missions in which he had to smuggle bombs disguised as batteries as well as missions into the North Sea to try and capture senior German spies, so there was no need to make anything up!
Guylife - Is it possible for you to quantify how valuable Arthur Owens (pictured above) was to both the British and German war efforts?
Madoc Roberts: Arthur Owens was the most important spy in Britain for the Germans in the early years of WWII. What the Germans didn’t know was that he was also the most important MI5 asset at this time.
When the Germans wanted to parachute spies into Britain, they told Arthur Owens because they thought that he was working for them; however, he handed these men over to MI5, which gave them the choice of becoming British double agents or being executed.
This is how MI5 was able to control every German spy in Britain by the end of the war. The Germans trusted these spies so much that they believed them when they told Hitler that the D-Day landings would be at Pas-de-Calais rather than Normandy.
This enabled the Allies to get ashore and press inland before German tanks could move south and stop them. The double-cross system has been described as the greatest military deception since a large wooden horse was left outside the city of Troy. Arthur Owens was the first of these double agents and he set the pattern for all those who followed, so he was very important!
Guylife - Can we expect more books from Madoc Roberts or was it just this particular story that you felt had to be told?
Madoc Roberts: I never thought I would write a book but this story became too big to cover in a documentary. Now that I have done it, I think if a good story came along then I might be tempted to give it another go.
Guylife - Can you give us a little insight into your research process? How long did it take to collect all the material you needed and how difficult was it to procure those MI5 files?
Madoc Roberts: It took six years to put the book together. It wasn’t difficult to get hold of the MI5 files as they were released into the public domain. However, there are thousands of these files being released, so you have to be on to a story and then go hunting to see what they have got. The hardest part of uncovering this story was tracing what happened to Snow after the war.
MI5 never trusted him and eventually, once they had the double cross system up and running, they no longer needed him so they interned him in Dartmoor prison. After the war, there was pressure to hang the people who had betrayed Britain and Owens was worried that someone he had double crossed might catch up with him. So he used all the skills he had learned as a spy to change his identity and vanish.
This made it very hard to find him. I had to go back to the patent records for one of his inventions to find his real name and this led to a contact on the Internet whose father had the same name. This is how I met Arthur Owens’ son living in Ireland and he took me to see Snow’s unmarked grave.
Guylife - Was it a task to delegate the work between yourself and Nigel West, or did you both have clearly defined roles in the writing process?
Madoc Roberts: I did all the initial research and wrote a first draft but I am not a historian and certainly not a specialist in the field of espionage. Nigel had all this kind of information at his fingertips and knows this subject inside out. He took my draft, added his expertise and then we passed it back and forth until we were happy with the end result.
Guylife - There's a Hollywood angle to your story; can you tell us a little bit about it?
Madoc Roberts: One of the most surprising things that emerged was that Arthur Owens' daughter (the glamorous lady pictured above) went on to become a Hollywood film star. I knew that he had a daughter who was born when the family was living in Canada because a girl named Pat was mentioned in the MI5 files. However it is very difficult to trace people in Canada unless you are a relative.
The only Patricia Owens I could find was a film star, so I dismissed her as too much of a coincidence. However when I finally found Snow’s son he told me that as a boy, he had been taken to the cinema to see the original version of The Fly and his mother told him that the woman starring in the film was his sister.
She was the same Patricia Owens I had dismissed and she went on to have a glittering career appearing in over thirty films. She starred alongside Marlon Brando in Sayonara, which won five Oscars, and in Island in the Sun with James Mason.
She was a big star in the late 1950s but all that time, she knew that her career could come to an end if the Hollywood press found out that her father was a Nazi spy. Information about him being a double agent wasn’t released by the National Archives until the 1970s.
Guylife - The book reads like a thrilling movie plot. Is a film forthcoming?
Madoc Roberts: I am a film maker, so when a story like this comes along, it obviously has potential to be either a documentary or a feature film. So yes, I would love to make a film about the story of Snow. If there is anyone out there who would like to fund it, I would love to talk to them.
Guylife - Are there any interesting bits of information or factual details that you couldn't incorporate into your book for whatever reason?
Madoc Roberts: There are always loose ends on a big project like this but the one thing that really intrigues me is Arthur Owens' death. He died within a month of the first newspaper article about the double cross system. He had the perfect cover to go to Ireland and gather information about the IRA, having been interned as a German agent during the war. He died on Christmas day but the night before he died, he gave his son a ten pound note. Why didn’t he wait until Christmas day? Is there really anyone buried in the unmarked grave?
Guylife - Anything else you'd like to share with us?
Madoc Roberts: Anyone wanting more information about agent Snow can go to www.codenamesnow.com, where they can also buy the book. Or there is a Facebook page where I keep people updated about any developments.
An interview I filmed with Snow’s son can be seen here:
-Pictures courtesy Madoc Roberts-
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