Gradually I came to realize that it had become a hopelessly depressing document, virtually informing the Chiefs that the chances were ten to one against the cover plan we had produced succeeding. So I decided to intervene personally, in an attempt to save the situation.

Since the ‘schoolroom’ days James, Ronald, Neil (after he joined us) and I had, except on very special occasions, always packed up and gone home at six o’clock; and none of us ever returned to the office after dinner. But I knew that Johnny always did, round about ten o’clock.

One night in mid-December I went back there at about nine. With me I took a novel to read, but I spread a lot of papers out on my desk and left the door ajar, so that anyone passing along the corridor would see that there was a light on in my room.

After reading for about an hour I heard footsteps approaching along the corridor of the silent, deserted basement. Slipping my novel into a drawer, I assumed the position of being hard at work. The footsteps were Johnny’s and, as I had anticipated, seeing the light on, he opened the door fully to pull the cord that switched it off. At the sight of me he showed great surprise and asked, ‘Dennis, what on earth are you doing here at this hour of night?’

Giving him a worried look, I replied, ‘Trying to rewrite this bloody Bodyguard paper.’

‘But why?’ he enquired, coming into the room.

Throwing down my pencil, I sat back and said, ‘Because if it goes in as it is, you are going to get the sack.’

He frowned, but sat down in the big armchair opposite my desk, lit a cigarette and said quietly, ‘I don’t understand. Tell me what you mean.’

‘It’s this,’ I told him. ‘By your inserting paragraph after paragraph, it has become so long and complicated that no one will be able to understand it.’

‘But,’ he protested, ‘all the arguments in it are in proper sequence and perfectly logical.’

‘No doubt they are,’ I retorted, ‘but they give the impression that the plan has as much chance of success as you or I would have of getting round the Grand National course on an elderly cab horse. Four-fifths of it is devoted to pointing out every sort of unexpected happening that may cause it to fail.’

He shook his head. ‘But, Dennis, we must put before the Chiefs the risks that will have to be run if they accept it. It would be utterly wrong to mislead them by allowing them to believe it is certain to be successful.’

‘Agreed.’ Said I. ‘But if it goes to them in its present form, they will come to the conclusion that it is bound to fail; that we have let them down and are incompetent to produce a sound cover plan. Then they’ll sack the lot of us and get in a new team in the hope that it will produce something acceptable.’

For a moment he was silent, then he asked, ‘Well, what do you suggest?’

‘Look, Johnny,’ I said, ‘we’ve had a marvellous run of success. You have built this show up so that the Chiefs of Staff now have absolute confidence in your judgement. Give them all the possible reasons you can think why our plan should be shot to hell. But put them in an annexe. You know as well as I that none of them will read it. They just haven’t got the time. All that is needed is a very brief paper on the following lines: “The Controlling Officer and his section have made an intensive study of the conditions under which plan Overlord is to be carried out. Their conclusion is that the best hope of deceiving the enemy about the timing and our true objectives lies in the following steps being taken: A, B, C, D etc. The reasons by which they have reached their conclusion are given in annexe A.” It is a good plan and, believe me, they will swallow it like lambs. No one could possibly guarantee complete success and, should we have the ill-luck that something does go wrong, you will still be covered by the annexe.’

He smiled at me. ‘I’ll think it over, Dennis. Now let’s go and have a night-cap in the mess.’ We did, and then went home.

Next day, plan Bodyguard was completely redrafted. The paper itself was still longer than I would have wished and ran to three pages; but we managed to reduce the whole by at least a third and the major part of it was pushed into a five page annexe. On 12 December it went to the Chiefs of Staff, and they accepted the whole of it without a murmur.

‘The Deception Planners’ pp 162- 164