Who was the fifth man? Burgess, Maclean, Philby, Blunt and ? Cairncross

Until 1994, MI6 (SIS) did not have a statutory basis and its existence was never confirmed publicly before 1992. Before that time, recruitment of the right kind of chap for both MI5 and MI6 was effected pretty well by a tap on the shoulder, which, given the rise of the Cambridge spies, was probably not the best method. The Secret Intelligence Service was finally put on a statutory basis with the Intelligence Services Act (SA) 1994, and citizens may now apply for a job at MI6 in the same manner as they would for any other civil service position.


Spy vs Spy

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

‘At a time when the Foreign Office remained anxious to recruit some of the ablest graduates straight from university, it remained apparently content that SIS [MI6]should recruit almost none, and that some of its leading officers should be positively anxious to exclude graduates from their ranks.


Amazingly, Soviet intelligence [NKVD, predecessor of the KGB 1934-41] was thus able to begin recruiting in Oxbridge several years before SIS. Probably no pre-war recruit to SIS was as able as Kim Philby, Donald Maclean or Anthony Blunt.’ Christopher Andrew, Secret Service: the making of the British intelligence community. 'Anthony Blunt, MI5 officer, art expert and Soviet Mole was a very nice and civilized man, and he betrayed us all.'



John Buchan, Erskine Childers, Andrew Croome, Ian Fleming

John Buchan – UK

The Author: John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir (26 August 1875–11 February 1940), was the son of a Scottish Presbyterian minister who became a novelist, historian and Unionist politician. He was educated in Glasgow and later gained a first at Oxford University. Buchan worked briefly as a lawyer and then as a private secretary in the colonial administration of South Africa during the Boer war.

During World War I he worked both as a journalist and for the Britain's War Propaganda Bureau. In 1935 Buchan was elevated to the peerage, becoming Baron Tweedmuir of Elsfield. Later that year he was appointed Governor General of Canada by King George V and occupied that post until his death in 1940. The Baron received a state funeral in Canada before his ashes were returned to the United Kingdom

The Books include: John Buchan is best known for The Thirty-nine Steps, which was first published in 1915 and has never been out of print. It is the first of five novels featuring Richard Hannay, action hero and British spy with a stiff upper lip and a penchant for getting himself into trouble and out of sticky situations by the skin of his teeth.

Described by the author as a ‘shocker’, it is one of the earliest examples of the ‘man on the run’ thriller archetype subsequently adopted by Hollywood as a favourite plot device. The novel formed the basis for a number of film and TV adaptations: Alfred Hitchcock’s UK 1935 black and white version starred Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll; Ralph Thomas’s UK 1959 starred the genial Kenneth More as Hannay and Tania Elg as Miss Fisher.

Watchwords best pick: The Thirty-nine Steps (1915). Europe is close to war in May 1914 and German spies are everywhere. Richard Hannay has just returned to London from Rhodesia to begin a new life. A freelance spy called Franklin P. Scudder reveals to Hannay that he has uncovered a German plot to murder the Greek Premier and steal British plans for the outbreak of war. A few days later, Hannay returns to his flat and finds Scudder murdered.

Hannay escapes from the German spies watching the house and makes his way to Scotland, where he is hotly pursued by both spies and police. Everything rests on the solution to the baffling mystery: what are the thirty-nine steps? (NOTE: Avoid the abridged versions of the novel for young people and schools and read the 1985 edition or the Vintage reissue of 2011 with an introduction by former MI5 Director, Stella Rimington,)


Erskine Childers – UK

The Author: Although English by birth and parentage, after Erskine’s family died he was brought up by his mother’s relations in Ireland and developed a strong affinity for his adopted country. He strongly supported the cause of Irish Home Rule and went so far as to run arms for the insurgents in his yacht Asgard – the last occasion in July 1914, only a few months before the continental war he had foreseen broke out in Europe.

The Books include: Erskine Childers wrote quite a few non-fiction books and pamphlets, many relating to his experiences in the Boer War and in support of an independent Ireland, however The Riddle of the Sands is sadly his only novel. Although it is fiction, Childers was right to observe that Britain was paying insufficient attention to military and naval preparations along the coasts of Germany in the North Sea and the book caused a sensation when it appeared in 1903.

Statesmen and soldiers were drawn into a heated debate about Britain’s readiness to repulse a naval invasion. The Times called the book ‘highly important’ and noted dryly that it ‘may be useful to the Admiralty and the War Office’. So strong was its impact that one critic later accused its author of almost singlehandedly starting a European war.

Watchwords best pick: The Riddle of the Sands (1903). This classic book, one of the first and the finest spy stories ever written, introduced Edwardian readers to the idea of a ‘secret service’. In an enthralling tale set among the islands and sandbanks of the North Sea, two amateur investigators and yachtsmen, Carruthers (a gentleman from the Foreign Office), and the practical but wistful yachtsman, Davies, discover sinister preparations off the German coast. Thrown into great peril from both an implacable enemy and furious storms at sea, they stake their lives on the strength of their doughty boat, the Dulcibella. Will they make it back to England in time to sound a warning?


Andrew Croome – Australia

The Author: Andrew Croome was raised in Hobart and Albury-Wodonga and now lives in Canberra. Andrew’s first novel Document Z won the 2008 Australian/Vogel Literary Award and the UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing at the NSW Premier’s literary Awards, as well as being shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book, and the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction.

In 2010, Andrew was named a Sydney Morning Herald Young Novelist of the Year. His articles and reviews have appeared in various publications, including The Age and The Australian. Andrew holds a PhD in creative Writing from the University of Melbourne and has worked as a computer programmer and writing teacher. When not writing fiction, he works as a freelance copywriter.

The Books include: Document Z. I have been unable to ferret out any subsequent novels by Andrew Croome, which is a great pity.

Watchwords best pick: Document Z (2007). It is Canberra 1951 and the Cold War is at its height. Into an atmosphere of paranoia, rumour and suspicion, Vladimir and Evdokia Petrov are among a group of new arrivals at the Soviet Embassy in Canberra. Both are party loyalists, working for the MVD, Moscow intelligence. The atmosphere in the Embassy is tense and suspicious; the Ambassador resents their presence and is secretly working to have Vladimir disgraced and recalled.

In the meantime, ASIO is determined to discover who in this new group works for the MVD. Only three short years later, Vladimir has defected and his wife Evdokia is held prisoner at the Soviet Embassy, waiting to be transported back to Russia to face punishment or death for crimes against the state.

Ian Fleming – UK

The Author: Ian Lancaster Fleming was born in Green Street, London on 28 May 1908 and was educated at Eton College before studying languages in Europe. His first job was with Reuters news agency, after which he worked briefly as a stockbroker. On the outbreak of the Second World War Fleming was appointed assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence, Admiral Godfrey, where he played a key part in British and Allied espionage operations.

After the war Fleming joined Kemsley Newspapers as Foreign Manager of the Sunday Times, running a network of correspondents who were intimately involved in the Cold War. Ian Fleming died of heart failure at the comparatively young age of 56 on 12 August 1964 at Sandwich, Kent. Go to the website at for more about the Bond books and films.

The Books include: The Bond books were written in Jamaica, a country Fleming fell in love with during the war and where he built a house, ‘Goldeneye’. The novels have sold over sixty million copies and inspired a hugely successful film franchise which began in 1962 with the release of Dr No, starring Sean Connery as 007.

In order of publication, the Bond books are: Casino Royale (1953); Live and Let Die (1954); Moonraker (1955); Diamonds Are Forever (1956); From Russia With Love (1957); Dr No (1958); Goldfinger (1959); For Your Eyes Only (1960); Thunderball (1961); The Spy Who Loved Me (1962); On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963); You Only Live Twice (1964); The Man with the Golden Gun (1965); Octopussy and The Living Daylights [novellas] (1966).

Ian Fleming married Anne Rothermere in 1952 and his short story about a magical car, written in 1961 for their only child, Caspar, went on to become the well-loved novel and film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. (NOTE: In 2013, the author William Boyd (see above) published a further Bond book Solo in the style of Ian Fleming.)

Watchwords best pick: Casino Royale. It’s always best to start at the beginning. In this, the first of Fleming’s 007 adventures, a single game of cards is James Bond's only chance to bring down the criminal network of desperate SMERSH agent Le Chiffre. But Bond soon discovers that there is far more at stake than money. (NOTE: On the other hand, the fifth Bond title, From Russia with Love, was particularly well received and sales soared when President Kennedy named it as one of his favourite books, so you might like to start with that one.)


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Pictured above is the very window through which Bond, James Bond crashed during a scene in one of the innumerable films made about Ian Fleming’s hero 007. When MI5 and MI6 outgrew the buildings that housed them, the government initially hoped that both agencies would fit into Thames House on Millbank, a modernised listed building located on the south-west end of Lambeth Bridge in London, but that proved to be impossible. MI6's squalid block in Lambeth, Century House, was falling to bits and a new building for MI6, complete with bristling antennae, was designed by architect Terry Farrell and built at enormous expense approximately one kilometre away from Thames House on the other side of the Thames River. The head office for MI6 (known to its intimates as Legoland) is on Vauxhall Cross and is immediately visible after you exit the tube station, sail down the river or lurk about on the opposite bank. One can’t help thinking that a well-placed rocket launcher...