Serving professional journalism since 1912

Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

Gordon Thomas (1933-2017)

A longstanding member of our Institute, and sometime contributor to this Journal, Gordon Thomas was an investigative journalist and prolific author who specialised in espionage and the secret intelligence services. He was the author of no fewer than 53 books, including Inside British Intelligence: A Hundred Years of MI5 and MI6Gideon’s Spies: Mossad’s Secret WarriorsSecrets and Lies: A History of CIA Mind Control, and The Assassination of Robert Maxwell. He also co-wrote, with Max Morgan-Witts, the bestselling Voyage of the Damned, concerning the fate of the MS St Louis ocean liner carrying Jewish refugees from Germany to Cuba in 1939, which became a Hollywood film starring Max von Sydow and Faye Dunaway in 1976.

Gordon Thomas was born in Wales, in a cemetery keeper’s cottage. He had his first story published at nine years old in a Boy’s Own Paper competition. His father served in the Royal Air Force and had a series of overseas postings which meant young Gordon went to various schools in Egypt, South Africa, and Bedfordshire.  His cousin was none other than Dylan Thomas, and it was the celebrated Welsh poet who helped Gordon get his first book published. This was Descent into Danger, the story of a British spy in Russia during World War II, which he wrote when he was just 17. After school he spent a year with a travelling fair, using those experiences as the material for his novel Bed of Nails.

As a journalist he found himself in a series of conflict zones and was a war correspondent for over 40 years, beginning with the Suez Crisis and ending with the first Gulf War. He was also a BBC writer and producer for three flagship BBC documentary programmes, Man Alive, Tomorrow’s World and Horizon. His book Gideon’s Spies: Mossad’s Secret Warriors, was based on years of extensive research during which he was given unprecedented access to Mossad personnel including top spies Ari Ben-Menashe and Rafi Eitan. It was later turned into a Channel Four documentary entitled The Spy Machine, which Gordon wrote and narrated. His last book on secret services was Shadow Warriors: Daring Missions of World War II by Women of the OSS and SOE (written with Greg Lewis).

Spies and spooks were not Gordon Thomas’s sole subject matter and his literary and journalistic output covered a diverse range of topics. His books The Jesus Conspiracy: The Trial and Inevitable Crucifixion of Jesus ChristPontiff: Inside the Vatican and The Day the Bubble Burst: A Social History of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 showed that, as a good investigative reporter, Gordon could readily immerse himself in any given subject. Farewell, Gordon – it was a privilege to know you. Enjoy your next great adventure – and please write about it, if the opportunity arises!

Andy Smith