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WHITE LIES OVER DOVER

Magic–Top Secret and The War Magician mistakenly claim that Maskelyne participated in camouflage and deception operations in southern England during the Battle of Britain.After the humiliating evacuation from Dunkirk in June 1940, the British appeared to be on the verge of defeat. Vital weapons and equipment had been abandoned in France. Fear of imminent German invasion led to the creation of rudimentary defences. In retrospect,some of these measures appear Pythonesque. Dummy sheep, packed with dynamite, were supposedly positioned in open fields along the most vulnerable stretches of coastline, in readiness for unsuspecting enemy gliders. In the official records, there is a pathetic photograph of a gun-position disguised as an ice-cream stall on an English beach. This solitary outpost was hardly an impregnable barrier against invasion. Fortunately, such amateurish schemes were never put to the test under battle conditions. These idiosyncratic, futile gestures at least gave the camouflage units something to do. Maskelyne and his ghost writer absurdly claimed that these desperate countermeasures amounted to the “biggest magic show in history.” Fisher also called this “the greatest deception ever attempted.”
In the mid-1960s, Twentieth Century Fox commissioned two American writers to produce a screenplay based on Magic–Top Secret. In one letter to Jasper Maskelyne they write: “We are using as our microcosm of your work, Dover Beach.” This line may have caused Maskelyne discomfort because there is no evidence that he ever did camouflage work at Dover Beach or worked on any coastal defence in England. Four independent sources, including his army record, confirm Maskelyne arrived at Farnham in mid-October 1940. Any claim that Maskelyne was involved in camouflage before this date is untrue. In the summer of 1940, Maskelyne had not even joined the army, let alone begun specialised training. By the time he had completed his Farnham course, the perceived threat of German invasion had receded.

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