The Luminous Man

Guy Liddell’s diary, 18 Sept 1952
National Archives

As Deputy Director-General of MI5 from 1940 to 1952, Guy Liddell was one of the its key figures during a pivotal time that included World War II and the early years of the Cold War. Known for his role in elaborate counter-espionage schemes including the famous “Double Cross System,” which turned German spies into double agents, Liddell’s work was critical but clandestine, making his posthumously-published diaries an invaluable window into this shadowy world. He wrote the following entry in September of 1952, and a year later took early retirement from MI5 as rumours swirled that he might be a double agent, largely due to his friendship with Kim Philby, who was later exposed as a Soviet spy. Though never formally accused, the speculation added a layer of intrigue to an already enigmatic career.

The Diary Entry

The Ministry of Health rang up on Wednesday evening after 7 o’clock with an urgent request to the N.D.O. to vet someone named THOMPSON, about whom they had rather inadequate particulars. The vet was done to the best of our ability, after the Ministry of Health had refused to give us any reasons. Further enquiries today by Graham have caused the Ministry of Health to refer us to the Ministry of Supply.

Graham thinks that the enquiry may relate to an individual known as ‘The Luminous Man’, a man who has been working in one of our atomic energy establishments and has become radioactive. Apparently he shines in the dark. If this is so, it is difficult to see why there should be so much secrecy – in fact I cannot imagine how the Press have not already got on to this extraordinary case, since it is clearly a matter that cannot be kept in the dark! It seems possible that THOMPSON may be the doctor who is going to take him under special observation.

Further Reading

Two volumes of Guy Liddell’s diaries have been published, both edited by Nigel West:

In 2012, the National Archives released, in PDF format, Liddell’s original diaries, including later entries that stretch to 1953. Those files have since disappeared from the National Archives website but have been re-hosted here (scroll right to the bottom).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *