Spymaster who knew the secret of silence: Alex Renton attends the memorial service for Sir Dick White, secret service chief

'I REMEMBER the green ink,' an old spy said. 'Only the chief was allowed to use green ink.'

'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'.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine