Spy Scandal: You couldn't make it up

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WHEN I saw the story about Hola in this morning's paper it seemed more like a hoax than reality. How wonderfully inconceivable that this grey-haired granny should actually have sold atom secrets to the KGB.

The fact that she worked as a secretary for the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association takes us into the realms of parody. I'm sure most spy fiction writers would dismiss such an idea as absurdly extravagant.

But perhaps I should not have been too surprised by the story. Spies have a habit of making truth seem extremely improbable. Much the same could have been said about the Krogers, who ran a spy ring from their bungalow in Ruislip. When I researched their story for my play Pack of Lies, I found that truth far outstripped anything I could have invented.

Hola is a character who seems to have been created more by John Betjeman than John le Carre. The image of her drinking Co-op tea from a Che Guevara mug made me hoot with delight.

One can now spend a few happy hours wondering who will play her in the inevitable film or TV drama. What a shame Joan Hickson is no longer with us. It would have been a striking piece of casting to have Hola played by Miss Marple.

The award-winning playwright Hugh Whitemore has written three plays about spying, `Act of Betrayal', `Pack of Lies' and `Breaking the Code'.