Being the boss of MI6, chief of intelligence, a veteran spymaster? That’s James Bond stuff isn't it? I suppose someone has to do it in the real world. Here I am at the grave of such a person. You’d think they’d be buried in Surrey or London wouldn’t you but here I am in the Derbyshire countryside at the grave of Sir Maurice Oldfield. He was believed to have been the model for "M" in the James Bond novel and for George Smiley in John le Carré’s spy novels (played by Alec Guinness in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.)
I had to drive to a high small village called Over Haddon to find the church and graveyard. Maurice is buried here as he was born on the kitchen table of the family’s farm which is nearby. He was a working-class lad who went far - the first of eleven kids and an unlikely candidate to lead the UK's secret service. After university his plans for an academic career were ruined by the war and he joined the army. At Cairo headquarters his talent was spotted and he moved into security (finishing the war as a lieutenant colonel with an MBE.) After the war he entered MI6 for a second stellar career. He restored relations after the Cambridge spy ring was exposed, calmed down the American government Harold Wilson declined to send British troops to Vietnam.
I looked at the plot of grass under which this high achiever lies and thought “The keeper of a thousand secrets lies here.” He was Britain’s 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. He became the head of MI6 in 1973 when the spy agency was reeling after years of Soviet infiltration. Thankfully he was a safe pair of hands and stabilised the ship between the UK and Russia. Just as he was about to retire in 1979 prime minister Margaret Thatcher asked him to take on one more job and sent him to Belfast to sort out the bitter rivalry between the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the army and MI5 (that year the IRA blew up Lord Mountbatten.) For all his efforts to keep Britain safe he died of stomach cancer aged 66.
He didn't marry and was homosexual, a secret he'd kept even from his siblings until the near end of his life. An investigated regarding the possibility of the Russian’s blackmailing him found nothing.
I doubt I’ll return to this rural village so I had a good walk around the headstones. There were about ten Oldfield members - probably Maurice's siblings. I had one last look at his grave. He’d done well - the first Chief of MI6 that hadn’t come from an upper-class background or studied at Eton or Oxbridge. Not bad for a farmer’s son. If asked what he did for a living he said he was a kind of security guard at embassies. I did a salute and left.