Spymaster who knew the secret of silence: Alex Renton attends the memorial service for Sir Dick White, secret service chief
Friday 23 April 1993
'Yes, yes,' her friend said. 'When I left the service, and I could, I loved to use green ink.'
In a service at the Guards Chapel in London yesterday, they remembered the ink - and the life of Sir Dick White, former head of MI5 and then MI6, who died in February aged 86. The chapel was filled by 350 people but there were ghosts, too, from Sir Dick's 36 years in intelligence: Burgess, Philby, Maclean and Blunt; Buster Crabbe and Sir Roger Hollis.
The trouble with memorial services is that the people you really want to see aren't there. But Sir Ted Heath turned up, with Sir David Muirhead, Douglas Hurd's 'Special Representative'. Sir Dick had the honour, perhaps unique, of having the lessons read by both the current heads of the Security Service.
Sir Colin McColl, director-general of MI6, read slowly, weighing the words of Psalm 32: 'I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle while the wicked is before me.'
Stella Rimington, director-general of MI5, in deep blue suit and hat, read from Corinthians: 'Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.' The texts might have come straight from the Spymaster's Prayerbook.
Otherwise, it was all most British: Psalm 23, 'The Lord's my shepherd', to the Crimond tune; Jerusalem; Purcell and some songs of Strauss. Sir Dick's children read two of his poems: one dealing with his distrust of dogmatic ideology, the other meditating on his 20 years of happy retirement on the South Downs.
A picture emerged of a man more pen and trowel than cloak and dagger. Sir Dick, we were told, read Rilke, Auden, Spender and Jung when not planting his garden. A favourite text was from the Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset: 'If one wishes to do something serious, the first injunction is to keep quiet. True knowledge is silence and reserve.'
Silent he was - never commanding more than four lines in Who's Who, as his friend Lord Greenhill of Harrow told us. But he was charming. 'How do you get,' an American intelligence man once asked Lord Greenhill, 'a man of such culture, sophistication and gallantry to serve so effectively in this profession?' How effective? 'Serious mistakes,' Lord Greenhill stated, 'were made and suspicions, sometimes unfounded, diminished effectiveness and mutual confidence.' But it was Sir Dick who brought British intelligence through the nightmare period of cleansing after high-level Soviet infiltration, to restore internal self-confidence and international credibility. And, by all accounts, he was a lovely man to work with. Peter Wright, who did not attend, wrote in Spycatcher of a brilliant, popular and humane man with 'something of David Niven about him, the same perfect English manners, easy charm and immaculate dress sense'. Sir Dick called Wright's book 'third-rate'.
- 1 Apple has installed security backdoors on 600m iPhones and iPads, claims security researcher
- 2 UK pirates will get four warning letters a year
- 3 Fight Club 2: Chuck Palahniuk sequel is a 'meta-fictional comment on the cultural response to the original'
- 4 Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?
- 5 Israel-Gaza conflict: Deadly flechette shells 'used by Israeli military in Gaza Strip’
Hacking Trial: Rebekah Brooks, Raisa and a new twist in the saga of a horse fit for a Prime Minister
Israel-Gaza conflict: Palestinian death toll now exceeds 500 – but Israel fights on
Income tax league: Revealed - the UK towns where people pay the most and least tax
Israel-Gaza conflict: Deadly flechette shells 'used by Israeli military in Gaza Strip’
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Blogger captures footage ‘showing BUK missile launcher that shot down jet’ now back in Russia
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash: 'Nine Britons, 23 Americans and 80 children' feared dead after Boeing passenger jet is 'shot down' near Ukraine-Russia border
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Vladimir Putin is given 'one last chance' to end hostilities in Ukraine
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: victims’ bodies bundled in black bags and loaded onto trains
Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...
Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...
£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...
£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire