Throughout Whitehall, members of the Old Boys’ Network suffered a collective attack of apoplexy!

‘Because I'd written it very carefully, it was not full of the nation's secrets at all – it was my life story, and yet they were anxious about this.’ Stella Rimington, former Director- General of MI5 and the author of her autobiography ‘Open Secret’ (published three days before the events of September 11th, 2001) and the MI5 Intelligence Officer Liz Carlyle novels. ‘Stella Rimington deserves our thanks for resisting the bullying of the Cabinet Office and many of her colleagues and associates in Whitehall, and pushing on to publication.’ New Statesman.


Spy vs Spy

An overview of some of the best writers of espionage and their books! (Plus a little background)


‘There was this deathly silence until one day somebody in the clearance process broke cover and put this completely uncleared manuscript into a brown paper envelope and sent it to the Sun newspaper, which is one of our most tabloid of tabloids.

'And they didn't know what to do with it. So they put it back in another brown paper envelope and sent it to Number 10 Downing Street in a taxi with a press photographer, and that started a huge great press furore about whether I should be allowed to do this or shouldn't be allowed to do it.’ Stella Rimington.




Eric Ambler, William Boyd, Kevin Brophy

 Eric Ambler – UK

The Author: Eric Ambler (1909–1998) was one of the most fascinating British writers of the late 1930s and is often credited with inventing the suspense novel. The five thrillers, republished as Penguin Modern Classics for Ambler’s centenary, retain a remarkable sense of the dread and terror that filled Europe as world war broke out. Some of Ambler’s novels were made into films (not the least of which was Orson Welles’ superb version of Journey into Fear). ‘Mr. Ambler is a phenomenon!’ said Alfred Hitchcock.

The Books include: The Dark Frontier (1936); Uncommon Danger (1937) [US title: Background to Danger]; Epitaph for a Spy (1938); Cause for Alarm (1938), The Mask of Dimitrios (1939) [US title: A Coffin for Dimitrios]; Journey Into Fear (1940); Judgment on Deltchev (1952); The Schirmer Inheritance (1953); The Night-Comers (1956) [also published as State of Siege]; Passage of Arms (1959) [Gold Dagger Award];The Light of Day (1962) [also published as Topkapi – Edgar Award for Best Novel 1964]; A Kind of Anger (1964); Dirty Story (1967); The Intercom Conspiracy (1969) [also published as The Quiet Conspiracy]; The Levanter (1972) [Gold Dagger Award]; Doctor Frigo (1974); Send No More Roses (1977) [US title: The Siege of the Villa Lipp]; The Care of Time (1981).

Watchwords best pick: The Mask of Dimitrios (1939). English crime novelist Charles Latimer is travelling in Istanbul when he makes the acquaintance of Turkish police inspector Colonel Haki. It is from him that he first hears of the mysterious Dimitrios – an infamous master criminal, long wanted by the law, whose body has just been fished out of the Bosporus. Fascinated by the story, Latimer decides to retrace Dimitrios’s steps across Europe to gather material for a new book but soon finds himself running for his life.


William Boyd – UK

The Author: William Boyd was born in 1952 in Accra, Ghana, and grew up there and in Nigeria. His first novel, A Good Man in Africa (1981) won the Whitbread First Novel Award and the Somerset Maugham Prize. Throughout his career as a novelist, William Boyd also continued to write numerous non-fiction books, which provide a fascinating contrast to his fictional works. ‘William Boyd is English fiction’s master storyteller’ – Independent. William Boyd’s website is at

The Books include: An Ice-cream War (1982 [shortlisted for the 1982 Booker Prize and winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize]; Stars and Bars (1984); The New Confessions (1987); Brazzaville Beach (1990) [winner of the McVitie Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize]; The Blue Afternoon (1993) [winner of the 1993 Sunday Express Book of the Year Award], Armadillo (1998); Any Human Heart (2002) [winner of the Prix Jean Monnet]; Restless (2006) [won the Costa Novel of the Year Award and was filmed as a TV miniseries]; Ordinary Thunderstorms (2009); Waiting for Sunrise (2012).

Watchwords best pick: Ordinary Thunderstorms (2009). One May evening in London, as a result of a chance encounter and a split-second decision, the young climatologist Adam Kindred loses everything – home, job, reputation, passport, credit cards, money – never to get them back. With the police and a hitman in merciless pursuit, Adam has no choice but to go underground, joining the ranks of the disappeared, struggling to understand how his life has unravelled so spectacularly. ‘The fastest page-turner, dry-mouthed and sweaty-palmed [novel this year]’ Nicholas Hytner, Guardian Books of the Year.


Kevin Brophy – UK

The Author: Author’s Note for The Berlin Crossing: ‘In the 1990s, after the fall of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), there was an understandable reluctance among many who had been Party members to wear their past on their sleeve. In my work as an English-language teacher in Germany I was fortunate enough to meet a few such individuals who took me into their confidence.

'These very different individuals, regardless of where they lived in the GDR, shared a common sense of grievance: in the ‘new’ Germany their accomplishments and experience were spurned and, secondly, many of the ‘Wessies’ who had come east were, to them, just a bunch of carpetbaggers. It was from the personal stories of these disenchanted former citizens of the GDR that the idea for this book emerged.’

The Books include: The Berlin Crossing (2012).

Watchwords best pick: The Berlin Crossing (2012). The wall has fallen, but for many people the divisions of the past run deep. Brandenburg 1993: Germany is reunified and thirty-year-old school teacher Michael Ritter feels his life is falling apart. His wife has thrown him out, his new West German headmaster has fired him for being a socialist and former party member and he is still clinging on to the wreckage of the state that shaped him.

Disenfranchised and disenchanted, Michael heads home to care for his terminally ill mother. Before she dies, she urges him to seek out an evangelical priest, Pastor Bruck, who is the only one who knows the truth about his father. The Berlin Crossing is a compelling portrayal of one man’s struggle to understand his past, in the course of which he uncovers a powerful story of love and survival in sixties Stasi East Germany.


Agents and their handlers will find more intel at:






Pictured above left: In honour of the first head of MI6, Mansfield George Smith-Cumming, successive heads of MI6 continue to sign their name ‘C’ in green ink; ‘Meet me at my Club for a spot of lunch’ signified an impending tap on the shoulder from a member of the Old Boy’s Network. ‘The first head of what became the foreign section of the Secret Service Bureau (the future SIS or MI6), probably founded in October 1909, was a short, thick-set naval officer, Commander (later Captain Sir) Mansfield George Smith-Cumming (usually abbreviated to ‘Cumming’). In Cumming’s honour, the present head of SIS is still known as “C” (not “M”, as in Ian Fleming’s novels) and signs his name in the special green ink used by Cumming. “C” once startled his secretary by telling her he proposed to publish his memoirs after he retired: “I shall call them ‘The Indiscretions of a Secret Service Chief’. It will be a splendid-looking publication bound in red with the title and my name embossed in gold, and consisting of 400 pages – every one of which will be blank!” Christopher Andrew, ‘Secret Service: the making of the British intelligence community’.