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)

News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Field of broken dreams: Andy Bell visits Passchendaele
news5 News's Andy Bell visited the killing fields of the Great War, and his ancestor - known only from his compelling war diary - came to life
Travel
travel
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In my grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel