Title: Water on the Brain
Author: Compton Mackenzie
Mackenzie, Compton (1933). Water on the Brain. Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, Doran & Company
Date Updated: February 25, 2015
This book is a vicious spoof written by Mackenzie after he had been prosecuted under Britain’s Official Secrets Act in 1932. Nigel West groups this book with his list of the Best Spy Novels by Spies.
The journalist, Richard Norton-Taylor, reported the following on Mackenzie in The Guardian.
Sir Compton Mackenzie was prosecuted in 1932 for revealing information about intelligence service in Greek Memories
The First World War memoirs of Sir Compton Mackenzie are to see the light of day 78 years after they were banned after the intervention of MI6 and MI5.
In 1932 the author of more than 90 books, including Whisky Galore, was prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act for revealing information about Britain’s intelligence service in Greek Memories.
Mackenzie was charged with identifying wartime intelligence officers and revealing that passport control and visa sections of UK embassies were often used as cover for the secret service. He also disclosed the existence of a department of the Secret Intelligence Service‚ now known as MI6 but then known as section “M.I.i.c” of the War Office.7
Worst of all, Mackenzie revealed that the first head of MI6, the one-legged Captain Sir Mansfield Cumming, was referred to as C. It is a moniker that his successors, including the incumbent, Sir John Sawers, maintain. They sign their telegrams and correspondence‚ sent to the Queen as well as the foreign secretary, C in green ink.
The unexpurgated version of Greek Memories will be published next week by Biteback Books [in 2011]. It includes a memo sent to the government’s law officers by Valentine Vivian, then head of the intelligence service’s counter-espionage section. “The keynote of this book is authenticity”, warned Vivian, adding that Mackenzie was clearly determined to “outdo in outspokenness and realism” an officially approved account of British intelligence during the first world war that had been published earlier.
Worried about the embarrassing publicity a trial would provoke, MI6 and MI5 persuaded Mackenzie to do a deal: if he pleaded guilty, he would avoid jail and be fined a sum “not exceeding £500 and £500 costs”.
Mackenzie’s lawyers had already managed to persuade a Foreign Office official to admit that although the book included information protected by the Secrets Act, he did not believe the public interest had been prejudiced by publication. It emerged that one intelligence officer named in the book, Colonel Sir Eric Holt-Wilson of MI5, had encouraged Mackenzie to write it.
Under strong pressure from MI6 and MI5, the publisher Cassell agreed to withdraw Greek Memories–although not every copy was destroyed–and to publish a censored version. As late as 1994, officially it still could not be read without the permission of MI6 and government lawyers. It was not even catalogued in the British Library, although the Bodleian Library in Oxford made it available in its “suppressed books” section.
Mackenzie took his revenge in Water on The Brain, a satirical fictional account of the Directorate of Extraordinary Intelligence, MQ 99(E), run by N. The organization’s headquarters, Pomona Lodge in north London, became a lunatic asylum, wrote Mackenzie, “for the servants of bureaucracy who have been driven mad in the service of their country”.
Other former members of MI6, including Graham Greene and John le Carre, also later stuck to fiction.
 Richard Norton-Taylor, “Mackenzie Memoirs Banned for Spilling Spy Secrets to Be Republished,” The Guardian (18 November 2011)
 In 2014 a search of Biteback Books web site doesn’t show the book, and a Google search reveals Greek Memories (Paperback) – Biteback Publishing https://www.bitebackpublishing.com/books/greek-memories-paperback, with is a broken link. One wonders if this book has been effectively suppressed.