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Monday, June 13, 2011

Lt.-Col. Oreste Pinto

Lieut.-Col. Oreste Pinto was a Dutch spy hunter whose books Spycatcher and Friend or Foe? inspired a TV series - also called Spycatcher - was broadcast by the BBC. The show, which ran for 24 episodes over four seasons broadcast in 1959-61, starred Bernard Archard as Pinto. Pinto's exploits were also broadcast on radio.

Pinto was the most widely known Allied counter-espionage agent of the Second World War, working at first for MI.5 and, when the second front was opened in France, for the Dutch counter-espionage service. It was his task to interrogate refugees coming to Britain from the Netherlands, Scandinavia and later through the allied lines in Normandy, to spot those that had been trained as enemy agents. It was Pinto's belief that the careful psychological approach was of more value than the brutality in interrogation, quite apart from the moral issues involved. General Eisenhower once described Pinto as "the greatest living expert on security."

Pinto was born in Amsterdam on 9 October 1889. At the age of 19 he went to Paris to study philology at the Universite de la Sorbonne. Living in the students' quarter of the Left Bank, he was approached after some months by one of his fellow lodgers who was, in fact, an agent for the Deuxieme Bureau. Pinto was recruited and worked for them from 1911. During his summer break in 1913 he met two English girls and, speaking fluent English, was able to escort them around Amsterdam. Romance blossomed and, in 1914, Pinto was married to Anne Brookes in Farnsworth.

When war broke out, Pinto was asked to go to Germany, disguising his true motives by representing his elder brother's tobacco business. For nine months he reported on troop and warship movements before being forced to escape across the border when one of his contacts was arrested.

In his youth he was a skilled amateur boxer and was an international class bridge player. His hobbies included zoology and at one time he kept one of the largest private zoos in Europe, a collection which was eventually given to the London Zoo.

Pinto, who had been in poor health for some years, died in London hospital on Monday, 18 September 1961, aged 71. 


Spy-Catcher. London, Werner Laurie, 1952.
Friend or Foe?. London, Werner Laurie, 1953; as More Exploits of Spycatcher, London, Panther (1299), 1961.
The Boys' Book of Secret Agents. London, Cassell & Co., 1955.
Spycatcher 2. London, Four Square (216), 1960.
Spycatcher 3. London, Four Square (257), 1960.

The Spycatcher Omnibus. London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1962.

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