The knack: How to become a spy

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"The best way to become an SIS (Secret Intelligence Service) officer is to go to a public school and thence to Oxford or Cambridge. If you're at Oxbridge it's assumed that you already subscribe to the cultural concepts on which SIS is built - Queen and country. All the colleges there have `talent spotters', academics who recruit promising students. You will be asked if you have ever thought of working for the Foreign Office, and then invited to an interview in London, at which the true meaning of `Foreign Office' will be revealed - if they like the look of you.

Alternatively, to become an SIS agent, equip yourself with computer or language skills and other bits of arcane technical knowledge (banking, money laundering, etc), and choose an occupation that provides you with good cover, ie gives you a plausible reason for being in areas of interest to HMG.

Journalists are often recruited, especially foreign correspondents. Businessmen and bankers also have great cover, as well as access to a lot of secret information. Nowadays, with the emphasis increasingly on economic intelligence due to the end of the Cold War, bankers and SIS agents do much the same job - go out to Dubai or wherever and find out what's going on on the ground. If you become an agent, however, always remember that whilst they may court you in the recruitment stage, when the shit hits the fan, the message will be, `You're on your own.' Interview by Fiona McClymont

Robin Ramsay is editor of `Lobster' magazine, which monitors the intelligence services (