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WEEKEND: BOOKS: Villainy behind the scenes of the war.

Byline: Michael Wood

An Underworld at War by Donald Thomas (John Murray, pounds 20).

WHEN a bomb hit Buckingham Palace during the blitz, the then Queen Elizabeth said she could now look the East End in the face.

I dare say she wasn't referring to the side of the blitz highlighted in this book.

After reading it, you are left with the impression that pickpockets and conmen were busy fleecing the people taking cover in rickety shelters, which had been badly built by corrupt contractors, while, up above, the blackout streets were rife with safebreakers, black marketeers and looters.

Coventry barely gets a mention, presumably because author Donald Thomas was unable to unearth sufficiently striking examples of villainy.

Thomas's book is packed with fascinating anecdotes which capture the mood of the times, the most extraordinary relating to the myriad minor offences governed by "strict liability" - meaning ignorance wasn't a defence - that caught out even the rich and famous.

Noel Coward (above) was fined for "currency violations" because he failed to declare some American dollars, while Ivor Novello was imprisoned for four weeks for "misuse of his Rolls-Royce" after falling foul of petrol rationing regulations.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jul 19, 2003
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