Agnes Bernelle (7 March 1923 – 15 February 1999) was an actress and singer, long-based in the UK for much of her career, although she later settled in Ireland. Her family had fled Berlin in 1936. She appeared in over 20 films and also made stage and television appearances.
Born as Agnes Elizabeth Bernauer in Berlin, she was the OSS wartime 'Black Propaganda' radio announcer codenamed "Vicki", famous for demoralizing a German U-Boat Captain into surrendering with one of her targeted broadcasts.
During the Second World War, she became involved with top secret British Special Operations radio broadcasts. Transmitting from Woburn Abbey alongside the top secret Enigma project, Bernelle was introduced to black propaganda. She was recruited for her perfect German and was suggested by her father, Rudie Bernauer, after he was sourced for his theatrical and German connections, operating under the codename "Vicky". Her radio broadcasts on Deutsche Kurzwellensender Atlantik were bounced over to Germany and primarily were aimed at spreading confusion and lowering morale among German forces, along with being littered with code messages for resistance fighters on the continent disguised as record labels and numbers. The most notorious story featured the impressive feat of convincing a German U-boat to surrender by broadcasting a made-up message to the captain, stating that his wife had given birth to twins, when he had not been on leave for more than two years. She would later learn that the man in charge, known to her only as "The Beard", was in fact the British black propagandist Sefton Delmer, her unofficial boss.
Bernelle was married (from 1945 to 1969) to Desmond Leslie (1921–2001) who briefly became notorious for assaulting Bernard Levin during a live transmission of That Was The Week That Was in 1962 for writing a hostile review of one of his wife's performances. The show was 'An Evening of Savagery and Delight' which had had rave reviews at the Dublin Festival but lasted only three weeks at London's Duchess theatre and polarised audiences. On the first night an usherette tipped a tray of hot coffee into Levin's lap, which may have affected his view of the performance. Bernelle bravely posted all the bad reviews along with the good outside the theatre. The couple had three children:
- Shaun Rudolf Christopher Leslie (b. 4 June 1947), married Charlotte Bing; no offspring.
- Christopher Mark Leslie (b. 7 December 1952), married Cliona Manahan and had two children, Leah Leslie and Luke Leslie.
- Antonia Kelvey Oriel Leslie (b. 1963), married Colm Nolan, and raised one daughter, Lola Leslie.
As an international cabaret singer she collaborated on record with artists such as Marc Almond, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, and The Radiators. She released three albums. The first, Bernelle on Brecht and... was produced by Philip Chevron of The Radiators and released in limited numbers by the Midnite Music Company in 1977, featuring Irish jazz musicians Louis Stewart and Peter O'Brien. In 1985 she released Father's Lying Dead on the Ironing Board, again produced by Chevron. This was followed in 1988 by Some Bizzare label produced album, Mother, The Wardrobe is full of Infantrymen. The first two albums are filled with songs from Weimar cabaret (her father Roudie Bernauer ran a cabaret in Berlin) and the third has more modern updates on the form with songs from Tom Waits and Roger McGough. She also sang a duet with Marc Almond on his The Stars We Are album, a song called Kept Boy.
In 1978, Bernelle appeared Off Broadway in New York City in the American premiere of Bertolt Brecht's Downfall of the Egotist Johann Fatzer, with Shelter West Theater Company at the Vam Dam Theatre, directed by W. Stuart McDowell, with an original musical score of ballads sung by Bernelle, composed by Tony Award-winning composer/arranger, Bruce Coughlin.
She spent the later years of her life with her second partner, the historian and author Maurice Craig, in Sandymount, County Dublin. The Fun Palace, her autobiography, was published in 1995.
- Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), Lady in Waiting (uncredited)
- But Not in Vain (1948), Mary Meyer
- The Missing Princess (1949), The Baroness
- Stranger at My Door (1950), Laura Riordan
- Over the Garden Wall (1950)
- The First Great Train Robbery (1979), Woman on Platform
- The Irish R.M. (1985), Mrs. Maguire (1 episode, 1985)
- The Fantasist (1986), Mrs. O'Malley
- Hear My Song (1991), Receptionist
- An Awfully Big Adventure (1995), Mrs. Ackerly
- The Tale of Sweety Barrett (1998), Mrs. Walsh
- Still Life (short, 1999), Old woman
- Obituary: Agnes Bernelle - Arts and Entertainment - The Independent
- http://irishrock.org/irodb/bands/radiators.html The Radiators
- For photos of Bernelle in this production, see Downfall of the Egotist Johann Fatzer