I am reminded by the publication of an enormous new book (810 pages) written by Keith Jeffery that Great Britain’s first official secret service agency has just passed its hundredth anniversary. The book is called MI6: the history of the Secret Intelligence Service, 1909 – 1949.
It was late in 1949 that a retired naval officer, Mansfield Cumming was prompted to organise what became known by its initials – SIS – the Secret Intelligence Service. Cumming was only 50.
In 1910 it was unthinkable that a whole book might eventually be dedicated to an analysis of a secret service, which, by the nature of its name, should be secret. This heavy tome is probably the first part of a two-volume history, since it deals with the period ending in 1949. Mansfield Cumming himself once said that if he had been asked to write an autobiography he would agree and produce a 400 page book, vellum-covered, with every page blank.