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Maurice Oldfield
Allegiance United Kingdom Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
Service Secret Intelligence Service (SIS/MI6)
Rank Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service
Operation(s) Second World War
Cold War
Award(s) Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George
Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Born 16 November 1915
Over Haddon, Derbyshire, United Kingdom
Died 11 March 1981
London, United Kingdom
Nationality British
Occupation Intelligence officer
Alma mater Manchester University

Sir Maurice Oldfield GCMG, CBE (16 November 1915 - 11 March 1981), was a British intelligence officer and espionage administrator.


Early life

Oldfield was born on 16 November 1915 in the village of Over Haddon, near Bakewell, Derbyshire, the first of eleven children of Joseph Oldfield, a tenant farmer, and his wife, Ada Annie Dicken. Oldfield went to school at the local Lady Manners School in Bakewell.

In 1934 he won a scholarship to Manchester University and specialized in medieval history. After the award of the Thomas Brown memorial prize, in 1938 he graduated with first class honours in history and was elected to a fellowship. However, the Second World War upset his plans for an academic career.[1]

World War II and MI6

Oldfield joined up and became a sergeant in Field Security in Egypt, Palestine and Syria, was commissioned in 1943 and posted into the Intelligence Corps; his service was spent mostly at the Cairo headquarters of SIME (Security Intelligence, Middle East) where his talent was spotted by Brigadier Douglas Roberts. Oldfield finished the war as a lieutenant colonel with an MBE. Immediately after the war Roberts was made the head of counter-intelligence in the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), more commonly known as MI6: Oldfield became his deputy from 1947, a post he held until 1949. Oldfield was posted to Singapore from 1950 to 1952 as deputy of SIS's regional headquarters and then from 1956 to 1958 as SIS’s regional head, covering south-east Asia and the Far East. In 1956 he was appointed CBE.[1]

Following a short spell in London from 1958 to 1959, Oldfield was selected for the key post of SIS representative in Washington, where he remained for the next four years, with the main task of cultivating good relations with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), a task he had started during his Singapore posting. In 1964 he was appointed CMG. His close ties with James Jesus Angleton, the head of the CIA's counter-intelligence branch, were reinforced by their shared interest in medieval history. But Angleton also persuaded Oldfield to believe without question the product of KGB defector, Anatoliy Golitsyn, who was claiming, amongst other things, that the Sino-Soviet split and President Tito of Yugoslavia's breach with Moscow were clear cases of Soviet disinformation. Soon after leaving Washington, Oldfield withdrew his belief in most of Golitsyn's more creative stories.

On his return to London, Oldfield became director of counter-intelligence and in 1965 C's deputy. He therefore had reason to feel aggrieved when he was passed over in 1968 in favour of Sir John Rennie from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, whom he later succeeded as C in 1973. This made Oldfield the first member of the post-war intake to reach the top post. Under his leadership, SIS benefited from the good relations he cultivated with both Conservative and Labour ministers at home and from its improved standing with friendly foreign intelligence services with which he kept in personal touch. Oldfield personally liaised with Lord Carrington at the time of the Littlejohn Affair in 1972 and mounted the black propaganda campaign against the Littlejohn Brothers, Kenneth and Keith, in the world media. His support enabled Lord Carrington to survive as the Minister of Defence in the Heath government. Oldfield was privately a great admirer of the Littlejohn brothers and admitted that he reluctantly agreed to their sacrifice when a swap was arranged with the government of Jack Lynch in Éire for another agent John Wymann and an Irish Special Branch officer Patrick Crinnion. Oldfield was appointed KCMG in 1975 and GCMG on his retirement in 1978: the only C so far to have received this award. He was also the first to cultivate chosen journalists at meetings in the Athenaeum Club. This led to the smile on his pudgy face behind horn-rimmed glasses appearing in the press when he became the first Director General of SIS to disclose his identity to the public when he gave an interview to the Daily Express in August 1973 to deny that the SIS had armed the Littlejohn brothers. He later admitted they had us on the ropes so we had to fight dirty. The Littlejohn brothers, serving 20 and 15 years penal servitude in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, were unlikely to have viewed the events of the period in the same light hearted manner of the man who had given them their orders and then reneged on his obligations to them. Pamela, Countess of Onslow, who was a close friend of Oldfield, and of Keith Littlejohn, confused the previously known account of the Littlejohn Affair by stating shortly before her death that the two were known to each other for two years before the events in Ireland took place. She described a typical Oldfield machiavellian manoeuvre in which the information Keith Littlejohn had passed to her about Kenneth's discovery of Russian arms in Éire, was firstly given to Oldfield who requested that she passed it to Lord Carrington. Carrington then involved himself by contacting Oldfield. It was Oldfield's way of protecting the SIS and himself from any serious consequences from the involvement of a loose cannon like Kenneth Littlejohn. He created a political buffer between SIS and the subsequent furore and the earned kudos for assisting Carrington. To the credit of the brothers, they never revealed the fact that Carrington was the patsy in the affair.

After MI6

All Souls made Oldfield a visiting fellow in 1978, where he began a study of Captain Sir Mansfield Cumming, the first C, but soon lost interest in it through lack of material.[1] He therefore welcomed Margaret Thatcher's proposal in October 1979 to appoint him co-ordinator of security intelligence in Northern Ireland. In Belfast he did his best to improve relations between the chief constable and the new general officer commanding, but the strains of office soon told on him. It was not only incipient cancer, but also alleged evidence on his unprofessional contacts that caused his return to London in June 1980. Subsequent interrogation resulted in the withdrawal of his positive vetting certificate, after he confessed he had lied to cover up his homosexuality. In 1987, Thatcher confirmed to the House of Commons that Oldfield was gay.[2] Oldfield himself had previously admitted that "from time to time [he] engaged in homosexual activities." Former colleagues in MI6 denied this, and there is no evidence that his private life had prejudiced the security of his work at any stage in his career. He died, unmarried, in London on March 11, 1981.

He was reputedly the model for John le Carré's fictional character George Smiley, though Le Carré disputes this.[3]


  1. ^ a b c The Times, Obituary, March 12, 1981
  2. ^ Coogan, Tim Pat (2002), The Troubles: Ireland's Ordeal and the Search for Peace, Macmillan, p. 346, ISBN 0312294182  
  3. ^ In an interview included in the BBC's DVD release of Smiley's People (1982, DVD release June 28 2004), Le Carré says of Oldfield:
    "…little, tubby man with spectacles. Was never the model for Smiley, I didn't meet him till after I'd invented Smiley but the press wouldn't wear that…"
  • R. Deacon, ‘C’: a biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, 1984
Government offices
Preceded by
Sir John Rennie
Chief of the SIS
1973 - 1978
Succeeded by
Sir Dick Franks


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