The Queen of Disguise
Known as the ‘Queen of Disguise’, Annette Kerner was a leading detective in the 1940s. Born into a wealthy family, Annette trained as a mezzo-soprano with Ivor Novello’s mother, Clara, before opening the Mayfair Detective Agency in the 1920s.
Annette’s parents opposed her singing career so, aged seventeen, Annette secretly negotiated a singing contract with a nightclub in Geneva. While crossing the Channel to France, she flirted with a fellow passenger who told her that he was an intelligence officer keeping an eye on a suspected foreign agent. The passenger went on to explain that the agent’s briefcase contained vital evidence of his guilt. Eager to impress her new friend, Annette calmly stole the briefcase and presented it to him. The agent responded by contacting his London headquarters; he urged his bosses to employ Annette as a freelance, and they agreed.
Annette Kerner, in disguise
Drawn into the world of spying, Annette left the Geneva nightclub and sang instead at a Zürich club, a popular haunt of intelligence agents. She mingled with those agents with ease and when the time arrived for her to return to London she decided that a routine career was not for her and so opened her detective agency.
Although small in stature, Annette was a fearsome opponent and from her Baker Street office she mixed with criminals from all classes. During one investigation in the 1920s, Annette posed as an opium addict. She entered an opium den and to allay suspicion she sampled the drug. She was also held captive during the same investigation and had her wrists slashed, though ultimately she did assist the police in arresting the culprit.
In 1948, Leader magazine described Annette as ‘the woman of a hundred faces – at one moment she is a neat, matronly children’s nurse pushing a pram, only to confront a gentleman blackmailer, then she is an untidy waitress in a dingy backstreet restaurant mixing with fences.’ During her eventful career Annette took on the role of a cheerful char lady, a society vamp and a modest widow proving that female detectives can be as tough as their male colleagues, and just as resourceful.