Usually concerned with top secret matters affecting national security, Britain’s eavesdropping spy agency GCHQ was also on the lookout for leaks of a yet-to-be-published Harry Potter book, its publisher has revealed.
Shortly before the publication of one of the volumes in JK Rowling’s seven-part wizarding saga, publisher Nigel Newton received an unexpected phone call.
“I remember the British spy eavesdropping station GCHQ rang me up and said ‘we’ve detected an early copy of this book on the internet’,” Mr Newton told the ABC’s Conversations program in an interview last week, which gained attention in Britain on Sunday.
“I got him to read a page to our editor and she said ‘no, that’s a fake’,” said Mr Newton, founder and chief executive of publishing house Bloomsbury, which published the Harry Potter series.
A spokesman for GCHQ said: “We do not comment on our defence against the dark arts,” in reference to a subject taught at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, in which pupils learn how to defend themselves and fight back against the evil deeds of Dark Wizards.
He said it was lucky that they had “many allies”, describing the spies as “good guys” and those trying to ruin the plot of the book as “the enemies”.
The incident appears to represent the absolute fever pitch surrounding the books at that time, with Mr Newton adding the publishers had a number of security measures in place — including guard dogs and stationed security at printing houses.
“I remember Jo Rowling phoning me once after she delivered a new book and saying, ‘please, Nigel, will you release the name of the title because I have people outside searching my trashcan looking for bits of paper’.
“At that time we had to go into a complete security lockdown because people were trying to steal the manuscript.”
Mr Newton recalled another breach when a security guard fired blank rounds at a journalist while trying to sell stolen copies of the book to the media.
He also described one incident where Sun newspaper sent a journalist with an attache case full of 5,000 pounds in notes to circle the printing factory at Clay’s, Bungee and Suffolk.
“They offered a worker this money if he would go in and make a copy,” he said.
The publishing house, described by Mr Newton as the midwives for the series, regarded keeping the plot secret as very important.
“It’s one of the reasons that people read it all at once,” he said.
“[After] a midnight launch, most of the kids had read the book by the next day.”
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