Saturday, January 30, 2010

"On the Subject of Sex"

At the NYTBR, Ben Macintyre reviews Christopher Andrew's history of MI5:
Perhaps inevitably, in an organization relying on imagination and subterfuge, the ranks of MI5 included more than a fair share of eccentrics and fantasists. Among the most notable of these was one Maxwell Knight, whose agents successfully penetrated both Fascist and Communist networks in London. He was also a passionate naturalist who went on to become “Uncle Max,” a much loved children’s broadcaster on the BBC.

Knight could often be seen taking his pet bear, Bessie, for walks around London. He published the definitive book on how to keep a domesticated gorilla. He also wrote a delightful internal MI5 memo, “On the Subject of Sex, in connection with using women as agents.” This declares: “It is difficult to imagine anything more terrifying than for an officer to become landed with a woman agent who suffers from an overdose of Sex.” (Knight consistently capitalizes “Sex,” of which he was plainly ­terrified.)

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