May 15, 2012

AWRF 2012: An hour with Stella Rimington

Fashion plate Robin Whitworth from Mt. Albert Library put on her best beige trench coat and went to hear Sean Plunket interview the ex-spy and current author of the Liz Carlyle thriller novels. Here's her report:
From the auditorium, you have an upward view of the stage and people’s feet are very much visible. Me being a shoe person, I do a quick character analysis of people from their choice of footwear. Dame Stella’s were sensible flats. What did I expect a spook to be like? James Bond glamorous? No. George Smiley grey and gloomy? No. In fact, slightly headmistressy in appearance. In character, warm, lively and forthcoming, with a good sense of humour, and not the least reluctance to answer any questions put to her by her interlocutor Sean Plunket, and later, the audience. She was asked what was the most important quality of being the Director General of MI5, and she said calmness, and indeed you got a good sense she would be unflappable in a crisis.

Another Dame, Judi Dench, based her portrayal of ‘M’ in the Bond movies on Dame Stella. Dame Stella concurred that Judi Dench had her off pat, even down to the way she holds her hands. She seemed to be quite charmingly flattered by this, and was looking forward to meeting this alter ego at a function for Dames on her return to the UK.

Dame Stella was the first female DG, and when she started in the service in 1967, there were no women. It was indeed a world of men in tweed jackets smoking pipes a la Smiley’s World. She stated John Le Carre was her favourite spy writer, and the most authentic. Intelligence work is largely unglamorous and unexciting; a lot of watching and waiting. In her own novels, she has added more action for her heroine Liz Carlyle than would be normal.

She started her writing career with her autobiography five years after her retirement from the Service in 1996, with little hope that she would receive clearance for publication. But the new era of openness, which started with her being the first DG to be publicly identified, continues, and there was only minor censoring. She had always read spy novels (“for relaxation, not to get tips”), and so her own series began. She is up to number seven, Geneva Trap, now, and has agreed to two more. She has to submit them for vetting before publication. She tries to keep them current. For example, Rip Tide is about radicalized young British Islamists.

She was there at the end of the Cold War, and said it was very strange to go to Russia and meet her KGB counterparts, these previous enemies, who were still very hostile. And of course the KGB is still active; “espionage goes on”.

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 03:00


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