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'I cannot think of a better biography of a spy chief' Richard Davenport-Hines, The Spectator The extraordinary story of the most highly decorated British spymaster of the Cold War, Sir Maurice Oldfield. Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (commonly known as the SIS or MI6), he was the first Chief to be named and pictured in the press, and often alleged by them to be the 'I cannot think of a better biography of a spy chief' Richard Davenport-Hines, The Spectator The extraordinary story of the most highly decorated British spymaster of the Cold War, Sir Maurice Oldfield. Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (commonly known as the SIS or MI6), he was the first Chief to be named and pictured in the press, and often alleged by them to be the model for the screen versions of both Ian Fleming’s M and John Le Carré’s George Smiley. This major study of Oldfield’s life portrays one of the UK’s most important and complex spies of the Cold War era. He was the first Chief of MI6 that hadn’t come from an upper-class background or studied at Eton or Oxbridge. Rather, he was a farmer’s son from a provincial grammar school who found himself accidentally plunged into the world of espionage by the outbreak of the Second World War. Oldfield was our man in Washington at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the assassination of JFK, and was largely responsible for keeping Britain out of the Vietnam War. This is the fascinating life story of Maurice Oldfield, written by his nephew Martin Pearce, who remembers asking his uncle what he did for a job. 'Oh it’s quite boring really, dear boy. I’m a kind of security guard at embassies,' was the reply...


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'I cannot think of a better biography of a spy chief' Richard Davenport-Hines, The Spectator The extraordinary story of the most highly decorated British spymaster of the Cold War, Sir Maurice Oldfield. Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (commonly known as the SIS or MI6), he was the first Chief to be named and pictured in the press, and often alleged by them to be the 'I cannot think of a better biography of a spy chief' Richard Davenport-Hines, The Spectator The extraordinary story of the most highly decorated British spymaster of the Cold War, Sir Maurice Oldfield. Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (commonly known as the SIS or MI6), he was the first Chief to be named and pictured in the press, and often alleged by them to be the model for the screen versions of both Ian Fleming’s M and John Le Carré’s George Smiley. This major study of Oldfield’s life portrays one of the UK’s most important and complex spies of the Cold War era. He was the first Chief of MI6 that hadn’t come from an upper-class background or studied at Eton or Oxbridge. Rather, he was a farmer’s son from a provincial grammar school who found himself accidentally plunged into the world of espionage by the outbreak of the Second World War. Oldfield was our man in Washington at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the assassination of JFK, and was largely responsible for keeping Britain out of the Vietnam War. This is the fascinating life story of Maurice Oldfield, written by his nephew Martin Pearce, who remembers asking his uncle what he did for a job. 'Oh it’s quite boring really, dear boy. I’m a kind of security guard at embassies,' was the reply...

30 review for Spymaster: The Life of Britain's Most Decorated Cold War Spy and Head of MI6, Sir Maurice Oldfield

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Martin Pearce has a distinct memory of asking his uncle what he did and hearing the reply ‘Oh it’s quite boring really, dear boy. I’m a kind of security guard at embassies’. It was an unusual choice of career for the son of a Derbyshire farmer, who normally would have followed his father on the farm. But the truth was much stranger than that, because Maurice Oldfield was Head of MI6. He was educated at Lady Manners School and then went to Victoria University of Manchester after gaining a scholars Martin Pearce has a distinct memory of asking his uncle what he did and hearing the reply ‘Oh it’s quite boring really, dear boy. I’m a kind of security guard at embassies’. It was an unusual choice of career for the son of a Derbyshire farmer, who normally would have followed his father on the farm. But the truth was much stranger than that, because Maurice Oldfield was Head of MI6. He was educated at Lady Manners School and then went to Victoria University of Manchester after gaining a scholarship. He gained a First Class degree in Medieval history and was elected a fellow. Then World War 2 started and he went from a quiet university life to signing up; his potential was realised, and he was seconded into the Intelligence Corps. His war service meant that he was awarded an MBE, and promptly joined MI6, starting in Counter-Intelligence. So began his career in the shadowy world of the spies. He spent a lot of time overseas, working from the embassies in Singapore and Washington and cultivated a vast network of informants, both friends and acquaintances who would provide snippets of information and reports to him. His great strength was his analytical mind and the way that he could draw all these pieces of information to give him the bigger picture. His other strength was playing the waiting game, letting a target have some free reign with the hope that he would then make the mistake so they could bring him in. He was in Washington during the Bay of Pigs events and it is thought that his counsel with Kennedy played a small part in averting a larger catastrophe. Returning to the UK he was promoted to director of counter-intelligence, and second in line to the head. He missed getting the top job when Sir John Rennie was appointed, but his time had not come. That happened in 1973 and he became the first head not to come from an establishment upper-class background nor attended Eton or Oxbridge. He held the position until he retired. Peering into the smoke and mirrors that is the intelligence services in the UK, Pearce has uncovered and told us the true story of his uncle. It was a pretty blemish free career apart though it was tarnished at the end after an alleged event when he was the co-ordinator for security and intelligence in Northern Ireland. It was a minor blot on an exemplary career, but it was thought to have been a rogue element in MI5 that caused questions to be raised. It is a fairly balanced account as Pearce has sought to uncover the evidence and report accordingly. With all of these books on spies, it would be equally fascinating to find out the gaps in the account that Pearce was not able to discover. Would be right up your street if you like real life spies.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Gerry

    Maurice Oldfield was born in the kitchen of the family farmhouse, Meadow Park Farm, in the parish of Youlgreave, Derbyshire, on 16 November 1915 and grew up in the nearby village of Over Haddon. So from such humble beginnings, to rise to become the chief of MI6 was some achievement; it was usually the well connected and more often than not Oxbridge educated gentry that aspired to the post. After academic life in Manchester, he served in HM Forces during World War II when he ended up in the Field Maurice Oldfield was born in the kitchen of the family farmhouse, Meadow Park Farm, in the parish of Youlgreave, Derbyshire, on 16 November 1915 and grew up in the nearby village of Over Haddon. So from such humble beginnings, to rise to become the chief of MI6 was some achievement; it was usually the well connected and more often than not Oxbridge educated gentry that aspired to the post. After academic life in Manchester, he served in HM Forces during World War II when he ended up in the Field Security Police (FSP), a junior part of the Intelligence Corps, and this stood him in good stead for his later career. In his role in the FSP, Oldfield had his first taste of the middle east when he became part of the Security Intelligence, Middle East, when working in the Suez Canal Zone. He was later to spend much time in the Middle East in such places as Singapore and Malaysia where he built up a network of contacts that served him well with information about all the goings on in the area - and it was quite surprising to read that there was plenty of espionage activity to report on. He was to receive the MBE for the splendid work that he did while in the Middle East. Later when his wartime boss, Brigadier Douglas Roberts, joined MI6 in 1947 he only agreed to do so on condition that Oldfield would be appointed his deputy. Needless to say he was appointed and his MI6 career was about to begin and he was eventually to work his way up by some quite brilliant work around the globe to become the Director, this after spending time in such posts as Deputy Head of Station (Far East) and Head of Station (Singapore). In both these postings his previous experience in the area proved to be invaluable and he kept in contact with all his old contacts so that he was always well aware of what was happening. Thereafter he was involved in all the major espionage episodes in British history that took place while he was in office, including the Burgess and Maclean affair, the investigation of Philby, the outing of Blunt, the Commander Crabb incident and all the various Russian defections that took place. And as Councillor at the British Embassy in Washington he was close to the Cuban Missile Crisis before returning to London as Deputy Chief of MI6. This led to his becoming Director of Counterintelligence before becoming the head of MI6. He eventually retired with a deserved knighthood and was then appointed Security Coordinator for Northern Ireland. This appointment was short-lived for a variety of reasons and he resigned and went into retirement. Towards the end of his career the question of his sexual preferences came to light and some unfortunate questions were asked in the House of Commons that queried whether or not he could have been compromised in his time in MI6. He hadn't been compromised but it was a distasteful episode in the life of a man who was extremely well liked by all the Prime Ministers with whom he worked including Harold Wilson, his particular favourite, Ted Heath and Mrs Thatcher. He was also a dedicated family man who would take every opportunity to return to his roots in Derbyshire to see family and friends, this even when accompanied by his ever-present bodyguards. And wherever he was in the world he would always keep in contact with his family. 'Spymaster' is an exceedingly readable book and gives a fascinating, at times gripping and always candid account of the very complex world of a master spy.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Harry Buckle

    Brilliant and remarkably honest. Given that author Martin Pearce is the nephew of Sir Maurice Oldfield, respected long time head of the UK's MI6...The Secret Intelligence Service, and as is usual such secret organisations as the years pass the 'warts and all' start to appear. Pearce does not adopt the usual 'protective, sweep any problems under the carpet' approach but entertains us to a very well researched and remarkably human story. These days the heads of most security services are publicly Brilliant and remarkably honest. Given that author Martin Pearce is the nephew of Sir Maurice Oldfield, respected long time head of the UK's MI6...The Secret Intelligence Service, and as is usual such secret organisations as the years pass the 'warts and all' start to appear. Pearce does not adopt the usual 'protective, sweep any problems under the carpet' approach but entertains us to a very well researched and remarkably human story. These days the heads of most security services are publicly known, they even have face book pages, twitter accounts and suchlike. Many I would imagine, like author Stella Rimmington - the ex head of MI5- actually the first such person openly acknowledged by the UK Government- even have a presence on Goodreads. Sir Maurice (then Maurice) was DG of the then 'non existent' service through the Kennedy era, much of the Vietnam war and then into the troubles in Northern Ireland. One of his tasks was to restore a degree of confidence from our Allies as the UK service had been torn apart by the now well documented Philby, Burgess, Maclean scandals. (for the best book on Philby check out journalist Ben Macintyre's 'A Spy Among Friends.') Martin Pearce's Oldfield book really gives an insight into the man and his job. 'The man' of course generally acknowledged to be 'the real' George Smiley, and the model also for Ian Fleming's head of service 'M.' As it was Fleming that got me my first job as a journalist I wish I known then, what I know now. There would have been a lot to ask him about. In the meantime, Martin Pearce answers much. If I could give it 6 stars I would.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mark Sohn

    If Sir. Maurice Oldfield had written a book about Networking, it would have flown off the shelves. This man came from unlikely stock for an MI6 spy, a Derbyshire farming family. That he rose to become 'C', or Chief of Britain's Secret Service is well-documented elsewhere, but this book is far and away the best way to learn about this extraordinary man and his life. The Author is Oldfield's nephew, so had some, limited unique access (Pearce was just a child when he died), but what sets this book If Sir. Maurice Oldfield had written a book about Networking, it would have flown off the shelves. This man came from unlikely stock for an MI6 spy, a Derbyshire farming family. That he rose to become 'C', or Chief of Britain's Secret Service is well-documented elsewhere, but this book is far and away the best way to learn about this extraordinary man and his life. The Author is Oldfield's nephew, so had some, limited unique access (Pearce was just a child when he died), but what sets this book apart is Pearce's talent for discerning fact from rumour - time and again as we travel with Sir. Maurice through the ranks of the Service and around the Globe, the Author deals with the inevitable clouds of misinformation, lies and half-truths that are the legacy of spies... and manages to find the best available version of the truth. It helps he managed to talk with many notable figures in the Espionage trade, but perhaps it's that Derbyshire stock again; hard to sell these people a dud. As the book progresses, we are treated to a spy on the wall viewpoint of events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis as well as Oldfield's covert attempts to avert global disaster; this man was everywhere in major World events during the majority of the Cold War period, though you never saw his hand until now. So what was that about Networking?; simply that's how he did it. The man liked to meet people, make friends and would regale them with stories all night that no-one could seem to remember the next morning - though they had most certainly given him everything and anything he required of them at the same time. With this man, anyone could become a spy and some without knowing it. The end of both his career and life and the book are tinged with sadness. Sir. Maurice had committed that oldest of crimes, being Gay in a time when Homosexuality was illegal. Had, say the Soviets discovered this, this book might have taken a far darker turn - blackmail was always a possibility in such cases. Yet he seems to have kept his own secret to the grave - although forced to hang up his cloak (no dagger needed) prematurely, an exhaustive investigation cleared him of all suspicion of compromise or damage to Great Britain and Pearce is passionate in his defence of his slighted Uncle. Better still, he isn't too passionate to forego logic - demolishing the allegations thoroughly while pointing at the probable culprits behind them; MI5, then in the throes of it's own scandal... but that's enough from me. If you are fascinated by Espionage as it truly was in the 20th Century, get this book. Easily the finest biography of our most secret of servants.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Robert Neil Smith

    Martin Pearce, Spymaster (Corgi, 2017) In Spymaster, Martin Pearce narrates the biography of his uncle Sir Maurice Oldfield, the head of MI6 who rose from the ranks to the top job in the UK’s secret service only to be torn down by the wolves of internal departmental politics. Pearce makes a good job of it too, insofar as he can. The unassuming Oldfield was an unlikely yet obvious candidate to be head of MI6. His background was solid Derbyshire farming stock, though he gained a degree in Mediaeval Martin Pearce, Spymaster (Corgi, 2017) In Spymaster, Martin Pearce narrates the biography of his uncle Sir Maurice Oldfield, the head of MI6 who rose from the ranks to the top job in the UK’s secret service only to be torn down by the wolves of internal departmental politics. Pearce makes a good job of it too, insofar as he can. The unassuming Oldfield was an unlikely yet obvious candidate to be head of MI6. His background was solid Derbyshire farming stock, though he gained a degree in Mediaeval History at Manchester University. He worked in intelligence during World War II, mostly in the Middle East, then he was stationed in the Far East where he avoided the scandals associated with the Cambridge Spy Ring that brought British intelligence to its knees. That probably helped Oldfield who was brought in to work with the distrusting Americans in the early 1960s then went on to become head of MI6 in the 1970s. After his retirement, Margaret Thatcher used him in Northern Ireland, but Oldfield’s personal life, and in particular his alleged homosexuality, gave his enemies the excuse they needed to send him into retirement a tainted man. Pearce highlights throughout how espionage truly works through making friends in high and low places and gathering snippets of useful information. Oldfield’s attention to detail and his ‘catch more flies with honey’ approach made him the perfect model for Le Carre’s Smiley rather than Fleming’s Bond. Pearce should also be commended for finding out as much as he did in the secretive intelligence world, though his familial relationship to Oldfield perhaps makes him gloss over some issues that may have seriously compromised his uncle, making me wonder if I was getting the full story. Still, if you want to know more about MI6 beyond the traitor scandals, Spymaster is an excellent introduction.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Bernard Tan

    This biography of Maurice Oldfield details how a farm boy from Over Haddon in Derbyshire rose to become the Head of MI6 - the UK's spy agency. Highly unusual given Oldfield's non establishment background. MI6 has had a storied history as a spy agency with its most famous poster boy being Ian Fleming's James Bond. But it was also an organisation that was deeply compromised during the Cold War by the Cambridge Five led by Kim Philby and other moles. Oldfield remained above all this. He served in C This biography of Maurice Oldfield details how a farm boy from Over Haddon in Derbyshire rose to become the Head of MI6 - the UK's spy agency. Highly unusual given Oldfield's non establishment background. MI6 has had a storied history as a spy agency with its most famous poster boy being Ian Fleming's James Bond. But it was also an organisation that was deeply compromised during the Cold War by the Cambridge Five led by Kim Philby and other moles. Oldfield remained above all this. He served in Cairo during WW2, became station chief in Singapore in the 50s (he lived in Flower Road, knew LKY well and sponsored the education of Ngiam Tong Dow) and then served in Washington during the time the Cuban Missile Crisis. Oldfield was universally described by those who knew him as friendly, generous and avuncular. He developed contacts everywhere. Quite unlike many expatriates during that time, he went out of his way to localise himself, which endeared him to those around him. Singapore remained a special place in his heart for years to come. The only issue with this book is that Pearce, his nephew, has published this book almost 30 years after his death. Given the passage of time, he has no doubt found it difficult to verify, confirm or develop stories which I am sure if Oldfield was alive, would have recounted with vivid detail.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Gemma Harris

    Plot The extraordinary story of the most highly decorated British spymaster of the Cold War, Sir Maurice Oldfield. Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (commonly known as the SIS or MI6), he was the first Chief to be named and pictured in the press, and often alleged by them to be the model for the screen versions of both Ian Fleming’s M and John Le Carré’s George Smiley. Review This is an informative and interesting story of one of the most fiercely loyal holders of the top job at MI6. Even th Plot The extraordinary story of the most highly decorated British spymaster of the Cold War, Sir Maurice Oldfield. Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (commonly known as the SIS or MI6), he was the first Chief to be named and pictured in the press, and often alleged by them to be the model for the screen versions of both Ian Fleming’s M and John Le Carré’s George Smiley. Review This is an informative and interesting story of one of the most fiercely loyal holders of the top job at MI6. Even though it’s written by Oldfield’s great-nephew, it presents a well balanced view of the Spymasters life both professionally and personally. His professional achievements are honourable and noteworthy whilst managing at the same time to remain stoic and fiercely private in his personal life. As a historian I enjoyed this very much but would say that if your looking for a James Bond type romp then this isn’t it even though Oldfield May have been the man who inspired him. Rating 4 stars Recommend I would definitely recommend especially for those interested in this type of history.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Katherine

    Confession: I read at bedtime, and sometimes that makes it difficult to follow a book as I’m reading it in bits and pieces. This one was an interesting read: a warm homage detailing the rise of a master spy, one with unique gifts. I confess that due to my bedtime reading, I often had difficulty keeping track of all the diverse characters, but I don’t fault the writer for that. The book is an enjoyable and interesting read, but (without any spoilers) it is the end of the book that ties it all toge Confession: I read at bedtime, and sometimes that makes it difficult to follow a book as I’m reading it in bits and pieces. This one was an interesting read: a warm homage detailing the rise of a master spy, one with unique gifts. I confess that due to my bedtime reading, I often had difficulty keeping track of all the diverse characters, but I don’t fault the writer for that. The book is an enjoyable and interesting read, but (without any spoilers) it is the end of the book that ties it all together and moves it to another level. Worth reading? Yes - if one is interested in MI6 and and MI5. Or in interesting characters who defy convention and succeed precisely because of their unique qualities.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Completely engrossing and interesting read of the real life work of a Spy Chief who was supposedly the basis for Ian Flemings M (although that too is addressed in the book). Dedicated and intelligent but hiding a secret for the best part of his life (he was gay) which would cause him a great deal of grief towards the end of his service, a bitter sweet portrayal of a man who was dedicated to his country but was let down by his own government towards the end. A lot of research and love has gone int Completely engrossing and interesting read of the real life work of a Spy Chief who was supposedly the basis for Ian Flemings M (although that too is addressed in the book). Dedicated and intelligent but hiding a secret for the best part of his life (he was gay) which would cause him a great deal of grief towards the end of his service, a bitter sweet portrayal of a man who was dedicated to his country but was let down by his own government towards the end. A lot of research and love has gone into this book and it would be fascinating to see what else may come out of the archives in the years to follow, the documentation on Hess being an extremely interesting source which may give a whole new light on why he flew to Scotland.

  10. 4 out of 5

    iain finlayson

    I found this book to be thoroughly engrossing on three levels. Firstly as a biography of Sir Maurice Old field (MO) the head of MI-6 from the late 60s and early seventies, secondly as an expose of rivalry between MI-5 and MI-6 and lastly as a family memoir detailing his family life interweaved with his work. The book is written by one MO's nephews and this adds to the books integrity. As history is always the judge, I think it will find Sir Maurice Oldfield as one of the most effective heads of I found this book to be thoroughly engrossing on three levels. Firstly as a biography of Sir Maurice Old field (MO) the head of MI-6 from the late 60s and early seventies, secondly as an expose of rivalry between MI-5 and MI-6 and lastly as a family memoir detailing his family life interweaved with his work. The book is written by one MO's nephews and this adds to the books integrity. As history is always the judge, I think it will find Sir Maurice Oldfield as one of the most effective heads of MI-6 we the British have had. Well worth a read to any fan of espionage, the cold war or Britain in post WWII era.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Brenda Yamaji

    This book is so so good!! I love the spy stuff, even read Tinker tailor solder spy, and watched the movie. All the James Bond films...Jason Bourne. This subject is interesting to me. I enjoy reading historical/non-fiction stories. And this one had both-history and spies! It is amazing to read of all the cool things Maurice Oldfield did, but it’s very disheartening to see people have such hatred and fear of the successes for others to sabotage others instead of bettering themselves. It’s was a gre This book is so so good!! I love the spy stuff, even read Tinker tailor solder spy, and watched the movie. All the James Bond films...Jason Bourne. This subject is interesting to me. I enjoy reading historical/non-fiction stories. And this one had both-history and spies! It is amazing to read of all the cool things Maurice Oldfield did, but it’s very disheartening to see people have such hatred and fear of the successes for others to sabotage others instead of bettering themselves. It’s was a great read!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Paul Grant

    Worth a read - Sir M Oldfield, believed to be the person on which Le Carre's George Smiley was based. Follows his career with interesting insights into the intelligence community and MI6 relationship with the CIA/ US.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    Despite being a relative of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Martin Pearce provides a balanced view of Oldfield's career, the result being a unique vision of international developments after WW2, particularly from the perspective of MI6.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Trevor

    An interesting look at the life and times of Maurice Oldfield, the head of MI6. It looks at the way the organisation was run and how Oldfield transformed it and how he kept his sexuality under wraps.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ian Todd

    Excellent For anyone interested in the spy genre, then this book if for you. The author gives MO a human perspective considering the head of MI6 is supposed to be this shadowy figure. Easy to read and covers some of the 20th centuries greatest cold war events.

  16. 4 out of 5

    kenneth sharpe

    Head of security A very enlightened book about a man very comited to protecting the security of our country.and a very brave man.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    A very interesting book although a little dry in places.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dоcтоr

    Excellent, well written, and a remarkable story.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mark Barnes

    8/10 (very good): An interesting biography of an unusual man. On the plus side, it's both sympathetic and personal, and gives helpful summaries of the major world events that affected Oldfield's tenure as head of MI6. On the negative side, there's very little information about specific missions, and very little that would be regarded as the revealing of a secret. But what does come across is Oldfield's humanity and ordinariness, which is no bad thing.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Linda Le Masurier

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Gorman

  22. 4 out of 5

    Gavin Parnell

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mark S B Lewis

  24. 5 out of 5

    James Mccullagh

  25. 4 out of 5

    Clifford Freight

  26. 5 out of 5

    Marianne Jespersen

  27. 4 out of 5

    john griffin

  28. 4 out of 5

    ZackG505

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dave Whenham

  30. 5 out of 5

    D M Leggett

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