Who was Henry Worthington?

Sam Frewer
21st October 2016, 11:36
Who was Henry Worthington?
Way back in my youth, when I went dashing around the world on business, I kept a patchy sort of diary - I just recorded things which seemed interesting or funny.
Once, in Singapore, I bumped into an acquaintance, the late James Foster. He invited me to lunch on his ship in the RN Dockyard. It was the huge RFA tanker named Olynthus, later changed to Olwen. This would have been some time in mid 1967.
After lunch James showed me a very official looking letter from the Ministry of Defence which dealt with fitting new fibre-glass funnels to RFA ships. Blue and white vertical stripes, and people on the ships had to measure carefully their existing funnels before they ordered the new ones.
This, James explained, was almost certainly a spoof, attributed to somebody on another RFA ship in the Far East. It bore the signature of one Henry Worthington, which struck me as a perfectly splendid name for a senior civil servant. Somebody with a name like that couldn’t possibly be anything else! As far as James knew, no such person really existed in the corridors of power.
Now move on a few decades to the recent past. I read in a book about the late Maurice Oldfield, one time head of the Secret Intelligence Service MI6, that the Security Service MI5 kept a file on the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson on the grounds that he may have been a Soviet agent of influence. The file was very sensitive, and was kept in the personal safe of the Director General: there were no references to it in the general filing system. Now for the good bit – this ultra sensitive file was known as the Henry Worthington file.
So – we have two apparently unrelated matters, both occurring in the mid 1960s, where an unusual nom de plume was used for somewhat duplicitous purposes by people in different arms of government service. Pure coincidence? Can anybody throw some light on this?

29th October 2016, 21:54
Sam - how nice to hear of my very great friend, the late "Gentleman Jim" Foster. We were friends and RFA colleagues over decades and in retirement lived fairly close in Northumberland. We would meet every month or so for dinner - Jim and Meg, and my wife and I. Sadly Jim died in 2003, Meg survived him until early 2014. The fibreglass funnel spoof was almost certainly the work of David Freeman, a gifted and amusing contemporary of mine. David rose to command in the RFA but left the Service around 30 years ago, and sadly I have had no contact with him since. With his intelligence, wit and contacts it is quite possible David used an inside name to add authenticity - I am afraid it is unlikely we shall ever know, Regards Hillshepherd

Sam Frewer
2nd November 2016, 12:42
Thanks for your input, Hillshepherd. You clearly pick your friends wisely!
I did not know James anything like as well as you, but I recall him being a cultured man, with a commanding physical presence and a strong baritone voice to match. The archetypal Central Casting Admiral, except that he was for real and not acting. Probably why I can still visualise him.
As regards the spoof letter, I wonder if an RFA officer would have access to such sensitive matters? Is it a chicken and egg enigma – did a copy of the letter find its way to the Security Service, and if so how and why? All very intriguing, but as you say we shall probably never know.

King Ratt
2nd November 2016, 15:12
I first sailed with "Gentleman Jim" around 1965 when he was First Officer in RFA Tidespring. I sailed with him again when he was in Command of the RFA Fort Austin and when he became seriously ill and was hospitalised in Halifax,Canada. The RFA lost a fine man that day.
I do recall the "funnel painting" incidents. Whether or not any of the Far East Fleet RFAs actually implemented the letter's instructions, I don't remember but Hillshepherd mentioned the name of the perpetrator. All good fun!