Jean Overton Fuller

1915 – 2009

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Jean Overton Fuller

A   M E E T I N G   O F   M I N D S: Letters to Dr Megs Little

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Jean Overton Fuller

Writer whose books exposed serious failings in SOE


Roderick Bailey

The Guardian, Monday 18 May 2009

O B I T U A R Y

“Of one thing I am sure, where there is real affection there can never be any separation, neither by distance nor even by death itself. For the links of love are eternal.”

Jean Overton Fuller

Portrait of a teenage Jean

by her mother,

Violet Overton Fuller

Jean Overton Fuller with her mother, Violet

With her mother, Violet Overton Fuller

Fuller's books were controversial but she was determined in her research. With few public documents on which to draw, she interviewed SOE agents and staff at length, and traced and spoke to former German interrogators. She came to know - and like - Déricourt, believing him when he said that he had helped the Germans as a way of protecting what he was doing for the SOE and that senior officers in London had approved it. Yet her judgment could suffer from a tendency to become emotionally attached to her subjects. Déricourt, for instance, was an unscrupulous conman whose contact with the Germans earned him money and sent British agents to their deaths.

In 1949 Jean Overton Fuller, who has died aged 94, read in the press of the posthumous award of the George Cross to Noor Inayat Khan, a female agent of Britain's Special Operations Executive (SOE), the wartime organisation tasked with encouraging resistance in enemy-occupied territory. Noor had been captured in Paris, where she had gone to work secretly as an SOE wireless operator, and then executed in Dachau concentration camp. Noor had also been Fuller's friend: the pair had been neighbours in London. And the revelations about her wartime role saw Fuller embark on pioneering inquiries that led not only to Madeleine, a moving biography of Noor published in 1952, but to subsequent books that accused the SOE of serious failings in its operations in occupied France.

In The Starr Affair (1954), an apologia for the actions of a captured SOE agent who helped the Germans while a prisoner in Paris, she revealed that the Germans had played back captured British wireless sets and that the SOE had sent several agents straight into German hands. Double Webs (1958) made public the fact that one of the SOE's own officers, Henri Déricourt, had worked at the same time for the Germans. Responsible for choosing and organising secret SOE airstrips in northern France, he had passed to his enemy contacts copies of messages being taken to London and allowed newly arrived agents to be tailed.

Noor Inayat Khan

Noor Inayat Khan Jean Overton Fuller as an actress

As an actress

Portrait of a teenage Jean by her mother, Violet Jean Overton Fuller

Among her most notable books were biographies of leading figures in the fields of theosophy and the occult. A biography of the poet Victor Neuberg, an associate of the mystic and hedonist Aleister Crowley whom she had known in the late 1930s, appeared in 1965. Studies followed of the founder of the Theosophy doctrine, Madame Blavatsky, of the spiritualist and philosophical writer Jiddu Krishnamurti and of the Comte de Saint-Germain, an 18th-century alchemist and adventurer. A prominent British theosophist in her own right, Fuller would write regularly for the quarterly journal Theosophical History.


She also penned well-received studies of Shelley and Swinburne, though a biography of Francis Bacon met with less acclaim. Indeed, her research did become less rigorous: one source was a French clairvoyant. Fuller was herself vice-president of the Astrological Lodge.

Overton Fuller was brought up by her mother and grandfather, her father having died in the first world war. After school she flirted with an acting career and studied English at the University of London. Throughout most of the second world war she worked in London as an examiner in postal censorship.

Afterwards she devoted her energies mostly to writing, maintaining her interest in the SOE's French activities but publishing too on a colourful range of other subjects, from spiritualism and literary criticism to cats and Jack the Ripper.

Fuller developed these themes in The German Penetration of SOE (1975) and Déricourt: The Chequered Spy (1989).

Sickert and the Ripper Crimes (1990), her contribution to the literature on Jack the Ripper, claimed that Walter Sickert, the painter, was the guilty man. Her final book, Driven to It, published in 2007, was a lively autobiography.

Jean Violet Overton Fuller, author and theosophist, born 7 March 1915; died 8 April 2009