Rake, born in 1901, was the son of the Times correspondent in Brussels and a Belgian soprano. He spent his youth in a circus - and in Occupied Belgium in the First World War. His father was shot by the Germans for aiding Allied escapers. Rake himself spent some years as the gay lover of various exotic European mentors. He was working at Drury Lane with Ivor Novello when war came. He became an SOE wireless operator, and served in France with immense courage on two missions, surviving capture by the Germans and escape across the Pyrenees. Slight of stature and defiantly gay even when living amid a band of maquis (resistance fighters) in the Auvergne, Rake was one of the most raffish and endearing of SOE's extraordinary gallery of stars, and was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery in battle. The Special Operations Executive warmed by Churchill's sponsorship, gathered together an extraordinary range of individualists and exhibitionists, heroes and lunatics. Denis Rake was one of the most extraordinary of these. Denis Rake was a delightfully camp figure who in 1947 was eking a living as Douglas Fairbanks Jnr's butler.
His employer was disconcerted to see a letter arrive at the house, addressed to 'Major Denis Rake, MC'. 'Oh dear, I'd hoped you wouldn't know about all that nonsense', said the butler apologetically.
Geoffrey Elliott is the author of I Spy, and co-author of Secret Classrooms: An Untold Story of the Cold War. An Honorary Fellow of St Anthony's College, Oxford, and a graduate of the Joint Services School for Linguists, he has translated several books from and into Russian. He lives in Bermuda.