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The Illusionist

On sale

25th April 2024

Price: £25

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Selected: Hardcover / ISBN-13: 9781474626026

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Cairo, 1942: If you had asked a British officer who Colonel Clarke was, they would have been able to point him out: always ready with a drink and a story, he was a well-known figure in the local bars. If you then asked what he did, you would have less success. Those who knew didn’t tell, and almost no one really knew at all.

Clarke thought of himself as developing a new kind of weapon. Its components? Rumour, stagecraft, a sense of fun. Its target? The mind of Erwin Rommel, Hitler’s greatest general. Throughout history, military commanders have sought to mislead their opponents. Dudley Clarke set out to do it on a scale no one had imagined before. Even afterwards, almost no one understood the magnitude of his achievement.

Drawing on recently released documents and hugely expanding on the louche portrait of Clarke as seen in SAS: Rogue Heroes, journalist and historian Robert Hutton reveals the amazing story of Clarke’s A Force, the invention of the SAS and the Commandos, and the masterful hoodwinking of the Desert Fox at the battle of El Alamein. The Illusionist tells for the first time the dazzling tale of how, at a pivotal moment in the war, British eccentricity and imagination combined to thwart the Nazis and save innumerable lives – on both sides.


Literary Review
An excellent analysis
John Crace, author, Depraved New World
For more than 80 years, Dudley Clarke was little more than a footnote in the archives. His actions unknown even to his family and friends. In The Illusionist, Robert Hutton expertly returns the maverick - part showman, part soldier - to centre stage and forces us to rethink the conventional wisdom of the North Africa campaign. Sometimes war is fought as much in the imagination as it is on the ground: Clarke was a master of both. In the finest traditions of Ben McIntyre, this is a superbly written history that brings the dead alive. Once you've started reading you won't be able to stop
Simon Heffer, Telegraph
Warfare has been partly about deception since the days of the Trojan Horse, but by the time of the Second World War it appeared to have reached a peak of sophistication. And, according to Robert Hutton in this well-researched and often entertaining book, the ultimate sophisticate was Dudley Clarke
Damien Lewis, author of SAS: FORGED IN HELL
Riveting. Truly revelatory. Jaw-dropping. Stranger than any fiction, you simply could not make these stories up. At last, Dudley Clarke and his extraordinary war as it deserves to be told. The master of lies, trickery and deception uncovered. Huzzah! Great fun and wonderfully written
Sonia Purnell
A cracking tale. With admiration and pacy prose, Robert Hutton tracks one of the great British characters of WW2. Expect ingenuity and eccentricity by the barrow-load
Helen Fry
Hutton has revealed the brilliance of the 'master of deception', Dudley Clarke. It took a true creative eccentric like Clarke to become the brains behind the success of the SAS and commandos in North Africa. Meticulously researched, The Illusionist is simply superb
Dr Peter Caddick-Adams, author of 1945: Victory in the West
Hutton has cut through the myths to give us the real person behind Montgomery's deception campaigns that won WW2 in the desert and Western Europe. I was hooked from page one. THE ILLUSIONIST is vital history, a stirring tale well told
KIRKUS, starred review
Hutton has hit the jackpot with his subject, a vivid character who kept a revealing diary . . . A delightful account of a crucial piece of the Allied victory
Ciaran Martin, former head of the National Cyber Security Centre, GCHQ
This story is as crazy as it is compelling, and Robert Hutton tells it brilliantly. Dudley Clarke's wartime activities were so outlandish as to be scarcely believable, and Hutton's achievement is meticulously to sift fact from rumour and myth. He does this without losing the gripping drama and striking humanity of this remarkable, important and hitherto overlooked tale
James Holland
Robert Hutton has brilliantly brought one of the forgotten heroes of the Second World War back to the fore. Dudley Clarke not only emerges as a genius of deception but also as a colourful and highly attractive maverick who deserves far greater recognition. Hopefully, this page-turning and utterly compelling book will do just that. Superb