IT IS SO easy to become confused in the shadowy world of espionage. The Captain, then, has every sympathy for Jon Snow, the confident Channel 4 News presenter, who arrived at a buffet lunch at ITN headquarters to meet Stella Rimington, head of MI5, and introduced himself to the waitress. Could have happened to anybody.

Elsewhere, you will have seen that Mrs Rimington's new opposite number at MI6, David Spedding, went to Sherborne, as did his predecessor-but-one, and David Cornwell, aka John Le Carre, and Alan Turing, the code breaker. A good place to go, obviously, if you fancy a bit of the invisible ink and meetings in parks under the cover of feeding the ducks.

But it is Spedding's other school contemporaries and near-contemporaries who intrigue me: Richard Eyre, the director of the National Theatre, Timothy Clifford, director of the National Art Galleries of Scotland, Robert Key, the roads minister, Jeremy Irons, an actor, Jonathan Powell, former controller of BBC1, now a big wheel at Carlton Television, David French, director of Relate, General Cordingley, the Gulf war commander, and no fewer than four current directors of Christie's, the auctioneers. And now the head of MI6, too. Sounds familiar? A group of highly-motivated men in key positions right across the political, artistic and social spectrum of the nation, not to mention a stranglehold on the world of antiques? Remember where you read it first.

As for other espionage academies, my spies (forgive me) say that minor public schools are still very popular, providing a promising catalyst of harsh regime and total anonymity. Rupert Allason, the Conservative MP for Torbay, who writes about these things as Nigel West, thinks they now come mostly from Holland Park Comprehensive, but he was joking, I think.