It’s a bit glib to say so, but in some ways the Special Operations Executive (SOE), Britain’s secret warfare organisation during the Second World War, resembled an amateur dramatics society (with added plastic explosive). I find SOE’s dependence on professional theatrical production techniques and personnel pretty striking. SOE developed characters and scripts, casting and acting coaching, costume and prop design, and its agents – its actors – put on the performance of their lives.
Costumes, props, art direction – SOE camouflage section
The camouflage section employed several people who had worked in film, and some have had their files opened to the public for the first time as a result of the HS 9 Project.
James Ernest Elder Wills, the section head, was an experienced film art director before joining SOE. He later became chief art director for Hammer Films, most famously working on ‘The Quatermass Xperiment’. 1 Another camouflage officer, Lawrence P. Williams, a qualified architect, later became art director on ‘Brief Encounter’. 2