A WEARSIDE double agent who was awarded Germany’s Iron Cross by a grateful Hitler will be the focus of a BBC2 TV show tonight.
Writer and presenter Ben MacIntyre will reveal the gripping story of Agent Zigzag in Double Agent: The Eddie Chapman Story.
“The programme goes on the trail of one of Britain’s most unlikely heroes,” said a BBC spokesman. “It is a story of adventure, love, intrigue and astonishing courage.”
County Durham-born Eddie Chapman moved to Sunderland as a child, where his father ran The Clippership pub at Roker – and drank most of the profits.
Living in poverty, with little love or guidance from his father, Eddie discovered a talent for bad behaviour – and a deep mistrust of authority.
A brief spell in the Coldstream Guards ended in a dishonourable discharge, when he went AWOL from his posting at the Tower of London.
A life of crime then beckoned in London’s Soho, then a ‘den of vice,’ where Eddie started “spending money as quickly as he could steal it”.
The petty criminal was forced to flee the country in 1939, however, after absconding while on bail for safe-cracking, but was quickly re-captured in Jersey.
When released two years later, Eddie found himself trapped on Jersey by the war. Eventually, to make ends meet, he opened a barber shop.
It was while chatting to German officer customers that Eddie decided to offer his services as a spy. But they proved deeply suspicious at first.
Indeed, he was sent to a tough Nazi prison in Paris for a while, until his spying offer finally reached the ears of high-ranking officers.
Months of exhaustive training in bomb-making followed until, on a chilly December night in 1942, he was parachuted into Cambridgeshire.
Working under the codename Fritz, his task was to blow up the De Havilland factory in Hertfordshire, where Mosquito bombers were built.
Instead, muddy and bloody from his parachute jump, he knocked on the door of the nearest house and gave himself up.
News of Eddie’s ‘surrender’ sparked the interest of MI5, who interrogated him for hours before asking him to become a double agent.
Given the codename of Agent ZigZag, he was told to double cross the Germans by faking a sabotage operation at the De Havilland site.
All went well and Eddie was hailed a hero by both Germany and Britain. He was happy too, as he was well paid for his efforts.
Other missions carried out by Eddie included submitting false doodlebug reports to the Germans, which are believed to have saved many lives.
He also fooled the Germans into thinking Britain had a “devastating” weapon capable of detecting and destroying U-boats.
Eddie grew increasingly unhappy, however, with his British handler and, as the war dragged on, found himself cursorily dismissed in 1944.
At the age of just 30 his career as a secret agent was at an end – leaving him to return to the shady world of wheelers and dealers he knew best.
• Find out more about Chapman’s life on Double Agent: The Eddie Chapman Story, to be broadcast on BBC2 at 9pm tonight.