On the outbreak of the Second World War he joined the Royal Artillery, under his mother's maiden name of Wharton. After obtaining a commission, he was sent to India, where he became an intelligence officer, eventually being attached to the General Staff and rising to the rank of acting lieutenant-colonel.
Since the threat to India from both Germany and Japan was largely theoretical towards the end of the war, Wharton's restless imagination came into play. He invented the Thargs, a sect of redheaded tribesmen in the Sind Desert, descendants of Alexander the Great's soldiery who were in wireless contact with Hitler's High Command.
He reviewed a few books, but otherwise had little to do with other departments of the paper, seeming to most of his colleagues a stout, shy man who offered commonplace remarks when encountered waiting for the lift.
Nevertheless, "Peter Simple" began to build up a loyal and diversified readership, which ranged from members of the Conservative Monday Club to the Labour MP Tom Driberg, as well as those who, like his character Lt-Gen "Tiger" Nidgett of the Royal Army Tailoring Corps, were incapable of spotting the most obvious leg-pull.
A paragraph on a book called The Naked Afternoon Tea by Henry Miller prompted complaints that it was impossible to purchase. An advertisement "Learn Etruscan the Way They Did" produced a host of orders which eventually led to an announcement that the Etruscan records were sold out but that there were still stocks of Old Prussian, Aztec and Pictish; several requests inevitably followed.