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Full Name: Papa Pontivy
Nationality: French
Organization: French Intelligence
Occupation Agent

Creator: Bernard Newman
Time Span: 1939 - 1968


Papa Pontivy is an agent with French Intelligence.

It might be more accurate to state which organization he actually worked for but as we will discover through the many adventures we have of him, he works for, it seems, all of them at one time or another. 

As he tells it himself, "When there is a dispute between the Deuxieme Bureau de l'Etat Major and the Surete Nationale - when they dispute between themselves as to who should take control of a case, they always compromise by saying, 'Send for Papa Pontivy and let him do it'; for Papa Pontivy has been both in the Deuxieme Bureau and the Surete Nationale."

When we first meet him, he is already being described as "old Papa Pontivy" which means that when we finally say goodbye to him many years later, he has to be very old indeed. Our initial encounter is just several years before the start of WWII and our last meeting will be in the middle of the Vietnam War.

Pontivy is always called Papa. Undoubtedly that was not his given name but what that might have been is never mentioned (as I could find). He is always Papa to everyone, a mercurial man who is not only highly respected in France but is also greatly esteemed by British Intelligence "though his unconventional methods often occasioned hectic moments".

The adventures of Pontivy are also the adventures of Captain Bernard Newman, the fellow who is not only the narrator for all the cases the two work together on but is also the man whose name is applied to each of the publications. The relationship between Newman and Pontivy is a close and deep one; sometimes it is Newman who will bring a matter to Pontivy's attention for assistance and sometimes it will be Pontivy who places a call to Newman for help. There are also times when Inspector Marshall of the Special Branch will be the summoner of both of them.

"In some ways Papa Pontivy was a most remarkable detective. He did not look like a detective - which may have been one explanation of his success. Imagine a nondescript man of middle height and scanty frame; a thin weather-beaten face typical of the French provinces: a drooping moustache which had once been brown, but was now grey above and a dirty red below. I suspect that he bought his clothes ready-made: if not, his tailor ought to have been executed. You would have passed him in the street and never noticed him - an excellent attribute for a police officer, but one not normally encouraged by the standards of size and strength usually considered essential.

"In the theory of police work he was amazingly ignorant. I doubt if he would ever have passed out of the police college at Hendon. He had nothing of the Frenchman's natural logic. I have heard him contradict himself twice in a single sentence. Regulations and routine meant little to him; he admitted their importance but left the observance to other people. Once I heard him describe the English Judges' Rules as the finest piece of comic literature he had ever read. Chicago could teach him nothing about third degree; once he had decided that a man was guilty, there were no rules in the fight."

Newman indicated that it had been "suggested that Papa Pontivy must have been the original of Mrs. Agatha Christie's famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot" though he disagreed, not just because they were so dissimilar in appearance but because Poirot was "a personality and has a sense of drama" which showed best during the expected denouement". Pontivy "was at the other end of the mental world" in that he has "no mannerisms to speak of - he was just ordinary". He also "had no streak of logic in him. He had an untidy mind and no great erudition: he claimed to get his results by his '"instinct'", not logic or brilliant deduction. "He broke every rule in the policeman's manual but he usually got his man".

All this talk, though, of whether he was a good or not so good policeman is really misleading for when it comes down to brass tacks, Pontivy has no real interest in catching crooks. It is spies that he is after and at that, Pontivy is superb, even if he is notorious for being "old and curmudgeonly" and cantankerous. Still, Newman's wife Margaret liked Papa Pontivy except for his moustache which had an occasional tendency to dribble.

After his retirement, Pontivy will choose to stay in London rather than back in his beloved France due to a "serious difference of opinion with General Charles de Gaulle". This is quite alright with both MI5 and Special Branch who would not hesitate to call upon him for assistance.

Good Lines:
- On why he will catch spies but not appear for their trials, Pontivy explains, "Your lawyers ask ridiculous questions."
- Observing Papa Pontivy's annoyance with Inspector Marshall's lateness for a dinner and decrying the English had no idea of time, Newman rebuts, "I have known [Pontivy] to forget the day, not merely the hour".


Number of Books:20
First Appearance:1939
Last Appearance:1968

The Papa Pontivy set of adventures are actually part of a large oeuvre by the author Bernard Newman about a British spy-catcher named ... Bernard Newman.

That series got its start four years, and four books, earlier when that individual, who was already deeply working with British Intelligence during the First World War, had his first recorded case which involved, in part, stopping an assassination of the sitting Prime Minister.

All the books in the Newman series are told from the first person perspective of Newman, even the Pontivy books. The Pontivy series entry here exists because numerous places listing spy series has Papa Pontivy as a major one during the 30s and 40s. Even the various publishing houses who have printed those stories have clearly and loudly marked them as Papa Pontivy spy thrillers, even though the main character was someone else.

Reading them, however, shows another reason for their special treatment. Newman may be the narrator and a very active participant in these missions but there is no doubt the driving force and the power behind the tales is the phenomenal Papa Pontivy.

1 Maginot Line Murder Maginot Line Murder
aka Papa Pontivy and the Maginot Murder
Written by Bernard Newman
Copyright: 1939

Book #1 in his own series and #5 in the Bernard Newman series.
The year is 1939. War is imminent in Europe but Captain Newman is on his honeymoon traveling the Continent. Papa Pontivy summons him to help investigate a "seemingly impossible murder" in one of the fortified bunkers making up the Maginot Line. They will have to deal with enemy spies even more than killers.

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2 Death To The Spy Death To The Spy
Written by Bernard Newman
Copyright: 1939

Book #2 in his own series and #6 in the Bernard Newman series.
The date is August, 1939. A group of Italians working in Corsica are suspected of espionage so Papa Pontivy, using Captain Newman for help, is called in to investigate. He soon learns that the men are in the pay of Germany, not Italy. He also discovers, over time, that their paymaster actually wants them to be caught to sour relations between France and Italy.
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3 Siegfried Spy Siegfried Spy
Written by Bernard Newman
Copyright: 1939

Book #3 in his own series and #7 in the Bernard Newman series.
Papa Pontivy calls upon his old friend and colleague, Captain Bernard Newman, when reports of a German espionage ring come in talking of that group's plan to use a new, horrible weapon to destroy Allied forces. Newman must again make use of his abilities with disguises to infiltrate the enemy.
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4 Death To The Fifth Column Death To The Fifth Column
Written by Bernard Newman
Copyright: 1941

Book #4 in his own series and #8 in the Bernard Newman series.
Before the fall of Paris, Papa Pontivy and Captain Newman start to investigate reports of the theft of British officer uniforms from a Paris Hotel. When they find the hotel manager murdered, they know that German spies are disguising themselves with those uniforms. Newman and Pontivy reciprocate by disguising themselves as a German officer and his French chauffeur to infiltrate Hitler's High Command to learn who the fifth columnists are.
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5 Secret Weapon Secret Weapon
Written by Bernard Newman
Copyright: 1942

Book #5 in his own series and #9 in the Bernard Newman series.
Drummond is a British scientist who, in the early days of 1942, had created a powerful new bomb with which to strike terror in Germany and Italy. Not trusting politicians to use it properly, he decides to enlist the aid of Captain Newman and Papa Pontivy to head into enemy territory to show how it should be used.
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6 Black Market Black Market
Written by Bernard Newman
Copyright: 1942

Book #6 in his own series and #50 in the Bernard Newman series.
Pontivy decides to forego for a while chasing German agents and concentrate on another major issue plaguing his beloved France - the Black Market. It is wrecking havoc on the economy and bringing down morale so Pontivy decides to spend time investigating and he pulls Newman in to help. Newman has also been temporarily pulled by spy-hunting to go on an extended lecture tour for the Ministry of Information.
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7 Second Front - First Spy Second Front - First Spy
Written by Bernard Newman
Copyright: 1944

Book #7 in his own series and #11 in the Bernard Newman series.
With the fall of France to German forces, Papa Pontivy has been forced to relocate to England to help with the war effort. He and Captain Newman begin a search for German sleeper agents - people placed into position years before to be available when called.
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8 The Spy In The Brown Derby The Spy In The Brown Derby
Written by Bernard Newman
Copyright: 1945

Book #8 in his own series and #12 in the Bernard Newman series.
The FBI needed the testimony of both Captain Newman and Papa Pontivy in a spy case so they are flown in the States to be available. Deciding to take a vacation, the two head to the West Coast where in Hollywood, Papa Pontivy is offered more than a year's salary to read a spy book being turned into a movie. This side gig as a technical advisor will land Pontivy in trouble with a young girl is found drugged in his hotel room.
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9 Dead Man Murder Dead Man Murder
Written by Bernard Newman
Copyright: 1946

Book #9 in his own series and #13 in the Bernard Newman series.
Claiming that he is tired of catching spies, Papa Pontivy cries for a simple murder case. He gets one immediately but soon finds that the death of his dinner host, a former colonel in British Intelligence, is murdered in his own home. Now he and Bernard Newman have a killer to catch but the killer has his own plans.
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10 Moscow Murder Moscow Murder
Written by Bernard Newman
Copyright: 1948

Book #10 in his own series and #14 in the Bernard Newman series.
It is the late 1940s. The citizens of Moscow distrust everyone, especially each other, so it is no surprise when a visiting Bernard Newman is pulled in for questioning for no apparent reason. Which is why he will be spotted and pulled in to help with investigating a murder at his hotel. The deceased is a British citizen who had worked for years as a propagandist for the Soviet Union in England. Now in Moscow, he is dead and a Russian inspector wants Newman to help solve the case. Newman in turn calls upon Papa Pontivy when it is learned there is a German involvement in the matter.
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11 Double Menace Double Menace
Written by Bernard Newman
Copyright: 1954

Book #11 in his own series and #17 in the Bernard Newman series.
The blurb on this adventure cries "McCarthyism comes to 1950s Britain". An English press magnate is starting his own version of communist-bating, pushing strongly for the establishment of a police state to combat this perceived problem. Papa Pontivy is suspicious and decides to investigate, with Bernard Newman's help. They will discover there is a major Soviet agent presence in the matter but the question remains what is the purpose?

12 Operation Barbarossa Operation Barbarossa
Written by Bernard Newman
Copyright: 1956

Book #12 in his own series and #18 in the Bernard Newman series.
This is a flashback adventure showing a case Bernard Newman was involved in back in 1941 and the Second World War. An RAF officer is shot down and held in a POW camp. He holds classified intelligence much needed at HQ so Bernard Newman is ordered to break in, get it, and get out again. What he learns is the facts of Operation Barbarossa, a secret plan underway by the Germans. He and his friend, Papa Pontivy, decide to put a stop to it.
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13 The Otan Plot The Otan Plot
Written by Bernard Newman
Copyright: 1957

Book #13 in his own series and #19 in the Bernard Newman series. It is also Book #10 of the Tiger Lester series.
An attack on a teenage schoolgirl in England has major espionage implications so Tiger Lester is called in to investigate and he asks his close friend and colleague, Midge Parker, to go undercover as a student. Since this matter is far more than just a sex offender case, Lester also asks the help of Papa Pontivy who also brings in Bernard Newman. The whole case will start to point towards the building crisis at the Suez Canal as well as an effort to destroy NATO cohesion. In French, NATO is spelt OTAN.
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14 Silver Greyhound Silver Greyhound
Written by Bernard Newman
Copyright: 1960

Book #14 in his own series and #20 in the Bernard Newman series.
A high ranking official in the British Foreign Office wants the help of retired French spy-catcher Papa Pontivy to act as Queen's Messenger and deliver vital dispatches to a British agent behind the Iron Curtain. That official asks Bernard Newman to help convince Pontivy, which of course leads to Newman playing a major part in the matter.
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15 This is Your Life This is Your Life
Written by Bernard Newman
Copyright: 1963

Book #15 in his own series and #21 in the Bernard Newman series.
George Allin was a very, very smart man. He was also quite bitter about the way he had been treated by life and society and decided to declare war on that society by going into a life of crime. He was very good at it, enough so that he was able to gain respect as a philanthropist, even as he continued his life of crime. The authorities decided they needed help bringing to justice so they appealed to Papa Pontivy to turn his spy-catching into criminal-catching. Pontivy, aided by Bernard Newman, chooses to use the popular This Is Your Life television program to catch him.
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16 The Travelling Executioners The Travelling Executioners
Written by Bernard Newman
Copyright: 1964

Book #16 in his own series and #22 in the Bernard Newman series.
The term Travelling Executioners was used for the muscle men of Stalin's O.S.2 department, tasked with tracking down and eliminating any "enemy of the regime". When Khrushchev disbanded the organization, one of its leaders transferred himself to London to take over spying there. When he goes after a young diplomat with a honey trap, Papa Pontivy is asked to step in to help bring the spy cell down.
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17 The Spy at No. 10 The Spy at No. 10
Written by Bernard Newman
Copyright: 1965

Book #17 in his own series and #23 in the Bernard Newman series.
Marshall of the Special Branch entices both Papa Pontivy and Bernard Newman into helping in an espionage-hunting case. Usually the Soviet operatives are very sophisticated and hard to spot. Not so with newly arrived Tomski who seems to make it a point to stand out as a spy. The question then is why. The answer will lead them all into a matter involving blackmail, theft, and murder.
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18 Evil Phoenix Evil Phoenix
Written by Bernard Newman
Copyright: 1966

Book #18 in his own series and #24 in the Bernard Newman series.
The year is 1965. In East Berlin, a major player in the call for reunification of the two Germany's, under communist control, has been revealed to be a card-carrying Nazi. After he disappears, the whole matter was hushed up. Now it appears his work has continued in the shadows and Europe is about to explode. Papa Pontivy is brought out of retirement to help track down who is behind it all and he asks Bernard Newman for help.
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19 Draw the Dragon's Teeth Draw the Dragon's Teeth
Written by Bernard Newman
Copyright: 1967

Book #19 in his own series and #25 in the Bernard Newman series.
The year is 1966. The Vietnam War is going strong and the tensions between China and the Soviet Union are extremely strained. With Red China declaring it had its own nuclear weapons. the fear in London is that China would likely bring about WWIII unless its small stockpile was eliminated. Papa Pontivy is asked to help out and he comes up with the idea of the Legion of the Thousand to pull it off.
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20 The Jail-Breakers The Jail-Breakers
Written by Bernard Newman
Copyright: 1968

Book #20 in his own series and #26 in the Bernard Newman series.
The escape of a notorious spy named George Blake from Wormwood Scrubs prison was the talk of the town. Papa Pontivy and Bernard Newman are asked to help find out how the escape happened. They will discover a prolific jail-breaking gang is at work and the pair will have their work cut out for them bringing the team down.
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Number of Stories:5
First Appearance:1945
Last Appearance:1945

In 1945 a collection of 31 stories of espionage was released in the volume titled Spy Catchers. Five of those tales involved Papa Pontivy in one form or another.

1 The Biggest Picture In The World The Biggest Picture In The World
Written by Bernard Newman
Copyright: 1945

Story #5 in the collection Spy Catchers.
This story contains a mention only of a comment that Papa Pontivy once made so he is not actually involved in this story. The short tale deals with a lowly German sentry who is captured by enemy spies and coerced into revealing a small but important piece of intel.
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2 The Wholesale Spy The Wholesale Spy
Written by Bernard Newman
Copyright: 1945

Story #10 in the collection Spy Catchers.
In a tale involving Inspector Marshall, Bernard Newman, and Papa Pontivy, the letters coming from a prisoner in a POW camp in Germany is somehow connected with a major spy ring operating in Birmingham.
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3 22.50 To Vallorbe 22.50 To Vallorbe
Written by Bernard Newman
Copyright: 1945

Story #23 in the collection Spy Catchers.
Papa Pontivy comes into this matter to try and fix (cover up) a mistake by one of his agents relating to the killing of a German spy while trying to avoid capture. The agent had just stolen some classified plans but the plans where not on him when he died, only some ashes of recently burned papers. But it made no sense for the man to have destroyed the plans after going to the trouble of stealing them so what happened to them? And what had been burned?
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4 Papa Pontivy and the I.R.A. Papa Pontivy and the I.R.A.
Written by Bernard Newman
Copyright: 1945

Story #25 in the collection Spy Catchers.
The year is 1938. The I.R.A. is making threats against the Dominion Secretary and it falls to Inspector Marshall to find a way to quell those plots. When he mentions to Bernard Newman and a visiting Papa Pontivy about the matter at dinner, the two decide they must help.
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5 The Trial Of Marius Derocq The Trial Of Marius Derocq
Written by Bernard Newman
Copyright: 1945

Story #26 in the collection Spy Catchers.
Papa Pontivy is a key witness, and Bernard Newman is on hand to help, at the trial of a man for espionage for helping in the procurement of info on the manufacturing of a new seaplane, one of the fastest in the world.
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When I first read a Papa Pontivy adventure many years ago, before the recent set of re-releases that I am pleased to see made available, I saw in my mind a rather thin mustached non-descript individual. Image my surprise when in those re-issues on the cover used over and over, with varying color motifs, a short but quite rotund individual.

Is that chubby fellow Pontivy or is it Captain Newman? No picture I have seen of the real Newman has him that shape so I am guessing it is Pontivy. That flies in opposition to my memory and to my looking again through the tales. Who knows!!

I like Pontivy. I love the fact that he does not let silly things like facts get in his way, all the while doing so not through farce but through force - his reputation.

I do not recommend Papa Pontivy to anyone out for a load of action as there is one long conversation after another in these pages.

But for someone quite memorable, go with the Papa!


My Grade: B


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