In the past few years Operation Mincemeat has resurfaced. From being a true wartime tale, and staple of the kind of film they used to put on BBC 2 every Sunday afternoon, The Man Who Never Was now, remarkably, has a name. And the back story of how loner, loser suicide Glyndwr Michael came to be Major Martin, a drowned man of importance, was given a further thrilling twist by theatre company Cardboard Citizens by Radio 3 Drama on Remembrance Sunday.
Ben Macintyre’s book Operation Mincemeat is a bestseller (so popular even I’ve read it) and the revised story of one of the greatest wartime deceptions has now been retold in numerous ways, showing up in the BBC evening schedules a few times as well. Given the short description given to this drama by the Radio Times I actually thought we were just going to be getting a standard variation, this time as a radio play, but I had reckoned without the dimension that a group who work with people who are either homeless or who have been homeless would bring.
The standard version is all the typical English being typically English and fooling jerry. Japes with a cutting edge if you will. How amusing it is that they created a life from discarded theatre tickets and love letters. It is, in its way, beautiful. But even Macintyre can’t find a lot to say about poor Glyndwr Michael who could only achieve any kind of fame through posthumous, and for decades, anonymous service. And he could only do that because he was so completely alone at the end that nobody of note would miss him.
The play never let you settle. Just when you’d caught on that it might be a modern update suddenly we were recreating the 40s, just when you’d caught a narrative thread the cast had a discussion about whether it was going well. And throughout Glyndwr Michael and the voices of the lost keeping it focused on the nameless who will always struggle to achieve in the face of the easy superiority of the officer class. Offered the possibility that his death and the use of his body would lead to victory in the war and a better life for people like him, Michael responds with: “Come back in a thousand years and I reckon there will still be people like me.”
I don’t know what was altered from the original stage adaptation but this made for excellent and intelligent radio. It’s sad to think that Radio 3 will soon be cutting back on drama like this in the name of efficiency meaning that smart and beautiful works like this will only be available to people with money for theatre tickets and not for people like Glyndwr Michael who might just find an echo of themselves for free on the radio dial.