Cheltenham Literature Festival: Charlotte Gray wouldn't make a spy
Film heroine Charlotte Gray would never have been a Second World War spy, according to a former member of the Special Operations Executive (SEO).
Noreen Riols, the last surviving female member of the SOE's France section, said Gray would not have made it through the tough selection exercise.
She said Gray joined the SOE, which was known as Churchill's Secret Army, "for all the wrong reasons" and because of that she would never have been chosen.
In Sebastian Faulks' novel, which was later adapted into a film starring Cate Blanchett, Gray joins the SOE and is parachuted into France to support the Resistance.
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However Gray's mission soon becomes personal when she tries to find her RAF pilot lover who was shot down.
Mrs Riols, who joined the SOE aged just 18 in 1943 because she spoke fluent French, trained agents ahead of deployment to France.
When she was recruited Mrs Riols was warned not to tell anyone about her work – not even her family and friends – and used the cover of working as a secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fish in London.
Mrs Riols, now 87 and living in France with her husband Jacques, attended The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival to discuss her recently published autobiography The Secret Ministry of Ag. & Fish.
She spoke of her admiration of what the SOE agents went through in occupied France.
"It's awfully easy to say 'I would never betray my country' but the Germans had very subtle methods. It wasn't just physical torture – it was mental torture," she said.
"When you get to that breaking point, when your body and your spirit can no longer take the torture, then you break.
"That's why the SOE rather encouraged them to take the 'L' tablet, which was cyanide and it would kill you within two minutes.
"I think it's then that I realised there is nothing romantic about war – it's not like it is portrayed in the novels or films.
"Sebastian Faulks' heroine Charlotte Gray would never have been accepted into training in the first place," she added.