Maurice Oldfield

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Maurice Oldfield
Sir Maurice Oldfield.jpg
Born 16 November 1915
Meadow Place Farm, Youlgrave, Derbyshire, United Kingdom
Died 11 March 1981(1981-03-11) (aged 65)
London, United Kingdom
Nationality British
Alma mater University of Manchester
Occupation Intelligence officer
Spying career
Allegiance United Kingdom Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
Service Secret Intelligence Service (SIS/MI6)
Rank Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service MI6
Operation(s) Second World War
Cold War

Sir Maurice Oldfield GCMG CBE (16 November 1915 – 11 March 1981) was a British intelligence officer and espionage administrator.[1][2] He served as the seventh director of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), from 1973 to 1978.

Early life[edit]

Oldfield was born on 16 November 1915 at his grandmother's farm just outside Youlgrave, a village in Derbyshire. He grew up at a house called Mona View in Over Haddon. He was the first of 11 children of Joseph Oldfield, tenant farmer, and his wife, Ada Annie Dicken.

He was educated at Lady Manners School at the nearby market town of Bakewell, before winning a scholarship to the Victoria University of Manchester. There, he studied under the historian A. J. P. Taylor.[3] and specialised in medieval history. He graduated with a first class degree and was elected to a fellowship.

Second World War[edit]

During the Second World War Oldfield joined the British Army. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Intelligence Corps in July 1943.[4] Most of his wartime service was in Egypt at the headquarters of SIME (Security Intelligence Middle East) in Cairo. This was primarily a counter-intelligence organisation, the role of which was to detect hostile agents in the region and counter their activities.[5]

By the end of the war, Oldfield had been promoted to major. In 1946, he was awarded an MBE.[6]

Intelligence career[edit]

After the war, Oldfield joined the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), commonly known as MI6. From 1947 to 1949, he was deputy to Brigadier Douglas Roberts, the head of counter-intelligence, with whom he had served in Egypt during the war. After two postings to Singapore (the first as deputy head, the second as head of the SIS regional headquarters) he was awarded the CBE. From 1959, he spent four years as the SIS representative in Washington DC. This was a key post, important for the maintenance of good relations between the SIS and the Central Intelligence Agency. On his return, he became director of counter-intelligence and deputy to the Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service Sir Dick White. Oldfield was passed over for promotion when Sir John Rennie succeeded White in 1968. He eventually became director when Rennie resigned in 1973; he held this post until his retirement in 1978.

In 1979 the new prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, asked Oldfield to coordinate security and intelligence in Northern Ireland. Shortly afterwards it was discovered that he was using the services of male prostitutes. He was subject to a security review to ensure there had not been blackmail or pressure from Soviet counterintelligence. When nothing was discovered, he was told to curb his behaviour and left in his Northern Ireland post. In a statement on the matter to the House of Commons in 1987, Thatcher said: "he had contributed notably to a number of security and intelligence successes which would not have been achieved had there been a breach of security."[7][8]

Oldfield died in March 1981; he is buried in Over Haddon.[9]

Oldfield was reputedly one of the models for John le Carré's fictional character George Smiley, though Le Carré disputes this.[10] In his memoir "The Pigeon Tunnel. Stories from My Life" Le Carré describes a lunchtime session between Oldfield, himself and Alec Guinness; intended to provide the actor with a sense of the manner and appearance of an "old spy in retirement".[11]

It was reported by the BBC's current affairs program Panorama in October 2012, that he had been linked to the Elm Guest House child abuse scandal, supposedly involving senior MPs and security personnel, by the Operation Midland investigation, and a Metropolitan Police informant. The investigation ended without charges, and in 2017 Oldfield was cleared of all allegations of child abuse at Elm Guest House and elsewhere.[12]


  1. ^ The Times, "Obituary", 12 March 1981
  2. ^ Coogan, Tim Pat (2002). The Troubles: Ireland's Ordeal and the Search for Peace. Macmillan. p. 346. ISBN 0-312-29418-2
  3. ^ Wrigley, C. (2006). A. J. P. Taylor: Radical Historian of Europe. I. B. Tauris. p. 295. ISBN 1860642861.
  4. ^ "No. 36112". The London Gazette. 30 July 1943. p. 3434.
  5. ^ Hinsley, Francis Harry Simkins, C. A. G. (1990). British Intelligence in the Second World War: Security and counter-intelligence. Cambridge University Press. p. 151. ISBN 0521394090.
  6. ^ "No. 37407". The London Gazette. 1 January 1946. p. 29.
  7. ^ Thatcher says former spy chief was a homosexual, Associated Press, 23 April 1987
  8. ^ Gay Spy Wasn't Security Risk--Thatcher, Los Angeles Times 24 April 1987
  9. ^ Over Haddon webpage Archived 15 December 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  10. ^ [In an interview included in the BBC's DVD release of Smiley's People (1982, DVD release 28 June 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…"]
  11. ^ Le Carré, John. The Pigeon Tunnel. Stories from My Life. ISBN 978-0-241-97687-6.
  12. ^ "MI6 head Maurice Oldfield: The spy boss 'dragged through the mud'" BBC News 7 March 2017
  • Deacon, Richard (1985) ‘C’: a biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield. London: Macdonald ISBN 0-356-10400-1
  • Pearce, Martin (2016) Spymaster: the life of Britain's most decorated cold war spy and head of MI6, Sir Maurice Oldfield. London: Bantam Press ISBN 978-0-593-07520-3

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
Sir John Rennie
Chief of the SIS
1973 - 1978
Succeeded by
Sir Dick Franks