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"The great advantage of being a writer is that you can spy on people. You're there, listening to every word, but part of you is observing."
October 11, 2010 8:13 AM   Subscribe

Graham Greene, Arthur Ransome and Somerset Maugham all spied for Britain, admits MI6 "The authors Graham Greene, Arthur Ransome, Somerset Maugham, Compton Mackenzie and Malcolm Muggeridge, and the philosopher AJ "Freddie" Ayer, all worked for MI6, Britain's Secret Intelligence Service admitted for the first time today . They are among the many exotic characters who agreed to spy for Britain, mainly during wartime, who appear in a the first authorised history of MI6."
posted by Fizz (27 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
I wonder if Greene thought of his spy "work" as a novel or as an entertainment.
posted by chavenet at 8:35 AM on October 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


Somehow, the phrase "authorized history of MI6" doesn't inspire trust in me.
posted by dortmunder at 8:39 AM on October 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


We already knew about Maugham, of course. He wrote the Ashenden stories about his experiences as a spy during the first world war.
posted by Naberius at 9:01 AM on October 11, 2010


finally admitting what everyone knows.

BREAKING NEWS:
Blunt was a SPY.
posted by clavdivs at 9:04 AM on October 11, 2010


in b4 Dances w/ Wolves joke
posted by Eideteker at 9:04 AM on October 11, 2010


Yes, this isn't exactly an amazing revelation considering that the intelligence work of Greene, Ransome, Maugham et al has been discussed in numerous biographies over the last 30 years.
posted by Mocata at 9:13 AM on October 11, 2010


I agree it's not an "amazing revelation" but at least it's been confirmed officially. In biographies and other interviews it's always hinted at or unconfirmed.
posted by Fizz at 9:20 AM on October 11, 2010


A.J. Ayer? He was a friend of mine!
posted by wittgenstein at 9:21 AM on October 11, 2010 [11 favorites]


I'm waiting to hear that Agatha Christie was a trained assassin, that Bertrand Russell interrogated prisoners with a truncheon, and that G.B. Shaw sneaked an exploding cigar into Stalin's humidor during his visit to the Kremlin.
posted by Faze at 9:28 AM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


this gives me motivation to finish G. Greene's autobiography.
posted by angrycat at 10:07 AM on October 11, 2010


Somehow, the phrase "authorized history of MI6" doesn't inspire trust in me.

It's 50+ year old history where they had enemies doing things like shooting at them and hurling V2 rockets at London. Where if you wanted information you didn't rough up grunts to find out yesterday's marching orders, you crippled a mine sweeper and stole its code books. They'd love nothing more than to tell you more about this that anyone would ever want to hear.

The next 40 year volume - where everyone has nukes but nobody is really doing anything in particular other than keeping careful tabs on one another and letting third world proxies duke it out - that's the one not to put your confidence in.

The volume after that will be Codex Seraphinianus.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:10 AM on October 11, 2010


Somehow, the phrase "authorized history of MI6" doesn't inspire trust in me.

Hmm, yes. They're still denying that PG Wodehouse killed Rasputin using a tiny pistol concealed in his left cuff link (before escaping in a tiny biplane concealed in his top hat).

Only when they clear that one up can we even begin to trust them.
posted by Ahab at 10:43 AM on October 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


They must really be having trouble recruiting good people.
posted by subdee at 10:45 AM on October 11, 2010


::glances suspiciously at JK Rowling::
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:58 AM on October 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


A.J. Ayer? He was a friend of mine!

Oh come now, Ludwig. You and I both know you don't have any friends.

and besides he only became acquainted with you because Britain feared you knew too much about their secret coding project which aimed to send coded messages by using private languages. The project, as you well know, failed.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:59 AM on October 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


Shouldn't come as much of a surprise that Maugham was a spy, seeing as how he wrote about his experiences as an intelligence agent, basically inventing of the modern spy novel in the process.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:23 AM on October 11, 2010


Oh come now, Ludwig. You and I both know you don't have any friends.


Keynes liked me.
posted by wittgenstein at 11:27 AM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


All the criticisms above are valid, but I've learned from this that Ian Fleming had a friend named Biffy Dunderdale .

It makes one think P.G. Wodehouse should have had a friend named "James Bond".
posted by darth_tedious at 11:44 AM on October 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


Oh come now, Ludwig. You and I both know you don't have any friends.

Keynes liked me.


"He even tried to seduce Cambridge philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein"

Touche! and damn, that'd have been pretty hot. Keynes invites W. over for brandy. K. sets the mood by putting on a little Beethoven 6 on the record player, only to turn around and find W. slapping his forehead mumbling something about the speed of the player not being set right and the symphony slightly off pitch. W. gets up from the sofa to adjust the record player. Embarrassed by his inability to correctly regulate even his phonograph, K. proceeds to drop his trousers and empty himself on the rug in front of W. W., enraged by the audacity of this behavior, reaches for the fire poker. No sooner did W. begin to launch into a polemic about urinating on rugs until he realized that nothing could be said on the subject, what with such actions being so mystical and all, and, with K.'s trousers still round his ankles, the two men leap almost angrily into each others arms and fall back upon the sofa, upon which an odd but impassioned tryst ensues. After, smoking cigarettes and talking about the implications of having at the same time been one but also two beings, they digress into talk of their shared fantasies of a menage a trois with G.E. Moore.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:11 PM on October 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


Lutoslawski, thank you, I will not get that mental image out of my head for months. Philosopher slash RPF fan fic AHOY!

This makes me love Ayer even more than I already did.
posted by strixus at 12:33 PM on October 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I always suspected that "Our Man in Havana" was closer to the truth than any James Bond movie.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 1:37 PM on October 11, 2010




I always suspected that "Our Man in Havana" was closer to the truth than any James Bond movie.

The documentary Garbo the Spy (yt) uses clips from the film of Our Man in Havana to illustrate the true story of Joan Pujol GarcĂ­as:

Operating initially in Lisbon, he pretended to the Germans that he was in Britain. He fabricated reports about shipping movements based on information gleaned from the library in Lisbon and from newsreel reports he saw in cinemas, and successfully convinced the Germans that he was reporting real information. He claimed to be travelling around Britain and submitted his travel expenses based on fares listed in a British railway guide. A slight difficulty was that he did not understand the pre-decimal system of currency used in Britain, expressed in pounds, shillings and pence. He was unable to make sense of the British monetary system, and was unable to total his expenses. Instead he simply itemised them, and said he would send the total later. Other mistakes would take some ingenuity in explaining by his later handlers - he once reported concerning a supposed visit to Glasgow that "There are people here who would do anything for a litre of wine". During this time he created an extensive network of fictitious sub-agents living in different parts of Britain.

posted by juv3nal at 12:40 AM on October 12, 2010


he once reported concerning a supposed visit to Glasgow that "There are people here who would do anything for a litre of wine"

Well it's certainly true today.
posted by kersplunk at 2:51 AM on October 12, 2010


Perhaps he was talking about this?
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:04 AM on October 12, 2010


Write what you know. There's a reason that those authors, Greene and Maugham especially, were so brilliant with characters.
posted by Scoop at 10:57 AM on October 12, 2010


Well it's certainly true today.
The implausibility there is that they would be much more likely to be plied with whiskey or beer than wine.
posted by juv3nal at 11:14 AM on October 12, 2010


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