John Quine: Counter-intelligence supremo at MI6 who exposed the double agent George Blake


John Quine was head of counter-intelligence at the British Secret Intelligence Service MI6 in the 1960s, and one of the team that extracted a confession of treachery from the double agent George Blake. Blake, a member of MI6, was, of all the spies uncovered in the Cold War, the one who did most damage to Britain. He received, in 1961, the longest jail sentence ever given out in a British court – 42 years – but did only five in Wormwood Scrubs before escaping in 1966 to Moscow via East Berlin, to which he was driven hidden inside an accomplice's family camper van.

Quine had a personal interest in Blake's unmasking, since of the at least 40 British agents killed in Communist Eastern Europe after being exposed by Blake to the Soviet Russian secret police, the KGB, many were Quine's appointees. So closely was Quine familiar with the workings of Blake's mind that he warned, after a visit to interrogate Blake further in prison, that Blake was plotting to get out and might do it – but was disbelieved.

The interrogation in the spring of 1961 that ensured Quine's life would ever after be remembered with Blake's took place at an elegant mansion in Carlton Gardens in central London. Quine was accompanied in the task by SIS colleagues Terence Lecky, just returned from Zurich, Harold Shergold, formerly head of stations in West Germany, and by a former police officer, Ben Johnson.

The men had sought advice on 20 March from MI6's Director D, Martin Furnival Jones, on whether to offer Blake immunity from prosecution in return for a confession, before summoning him back for supposed administrative reasons from a language course he was attending in Lebanon. But that would have been the last thing they wanted to do – and to their relief, it took them only two weeks, until the afternoon of 5 April, to get Blake to admit that he had offered his services to the KGB in October 1951 in Korea, where he had been posted under cover of being a British diplomat, and where he was interned by the Communist north during the 1950-53 Korean War. The details are recorded by Professor Christopher Andrew in The Defence of the Realm: the Authorized History of MI5 (2009).

The spymaster's life is linked in other ways to his quarry, the traitor's: Quine, only two years older than Blake, shared with him a naval start to his career, and his way forward, too, was determined by events in the Far East. But there the similarities end. Where Blake began his working life in the Second World War by joining up as an ordinary seaman, Quine was commissioned into the prestigious Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, joining Coastal Forces as a Motor Torpedo Boat officer, to pursue daring night actions attacking enemy convoys.

Where Blake was of foreign parentage, naturalised British, and joined the Dutch resistance, arriving from across the Channel only in 1940, Quine spent his childhood in Britain, a Dumfriesshire country doctor's son who later grew up in Kent. And where Blake's two-year Korean prison ordeal so broke his morale that he turned traitor, Quine learned success as the voice of the victor – from 1946 in Tokyo debriefing in Japanese, for Japan's American occupiers, senior figures suspected of war crimes.

John Quine was born in Gretna, Scotland, before his family moved to Seasalter, Kent, and he later attended Faversham Grammar School and went to university at King's College London. He was commissioned into the RNVR in February 1942, and is known to have taken part in an attack off the Dutch coast by the 11th MTB Flotilla on 13 September 1943, when five MTBs made a pincer movement against an enemy convoy under a near-full moon, but neither sank nor damaged any. This was made good on the night of 9 and 10 December, off Ijmuiden, however, when Quine and his fellow officers, firing their torpedoes from different angles, achieved two explosions on an enemy convoy's largest ship – and had the satisfaction of seeing their targets left in confusion, ships shooting at one another in the dark.

Towards the end of the Second World War, Quine answered a government appeal for volunteers to learn Japanese, and took a language course in 1944 in the United States at the University of Colorado. He joined MI6 in 1945, the year after Blake, and was posted to Tokyo from that year until 1954. Quine then moved to Warsaw, and was credited with setting up the network of British intelligence in the Communist German Democratic Republic that Blake was to destroy. A later posting was Lebanon, and Quine became Head of Counter Intelligence in London in March 1961.

After the Blake episode he worked for MI6 in Africa, including South Africa, in the late 1960s, followed by a stint in Mauritius, before retiring in 1975. In his leisure he read again the James Bond books by Ian Fleming that he had always enjoyed – and this prompted him to buy a house that Fleming had once lived in: the Old Palace, Bekesbourne, in Kent. Quine lived there with his family – his wife, Heather, whom he had married in 1946, and three sons, two of whom were born in Tokyo – until he and Heather separated in the 1980s.

Friends remembered him as an energetic presence, who made several attempts to get business projects off the ground, but without much success. He married again, and is survived by his second wife, Pat, and his sons.

Anne Keleny

John Quine, spymaster: born Gretna, Dumfriesshire 13 September 1920; married 1946 Heather Martin (died 2005; three sons), secondly Pat; died 29 April 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago