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Real life `M` Dame Stella Rimington talks about her 007 counterpart

19-Aug-2004 • Bond News

She was the first female director-general of MI5, the first spy chief to be publicly named, and a cornerstone of Britain's national security – battling the threats of the Cold War, secret agents and terrorism.

Yesterday, however, Dame Stella Rimington revealed one of the most satisfying results of more than 30 years at the heart of the country's spy network – the performance of another dame, Judi Dench, as a thinly-veiled impersonation of Dame Stella in the latest Bond movies - reports The Herald.

Dame Judi has played M in the past four James Bond movies, since her first appearance as a stern spy chief in 1995's Goldeneye.

M's real name is Barbara Mawdsley – but her character is generally agreed to be a cinematic version of Dame Stella, complete with closely cropped hair, sensible suits and a healthy intolerance of lazy sexism.

Speaking to a capacity audience at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which is sponsored by The Herald and Sunday Herald, Dame Stella said she thoroughly approved of the impersonation.

After pointing out that M is the head of MI6 in the movies and not MI5, she added: "I think she does a great job. I could recognise elements of myself in her portrayal.
"I have two daughters and they were breathtaken when they saw her in the films.
"The eldest one said 'Gosh, she even holds her hands like you do'."

Dame Judi once said she did not think that Ian Fleming, Bond's creator, would have approved of a female M, and has denied the part was modelled on Dame Stella.

The two dames have never spoken, but Dame Stella said she suspected Dame Judi had been performing some surveillance of her own.

"We have never met but she must have seen some interviews of television footage of me because it was remarkably similar," she added.

Dame Stella also questioned the concept of a "war on terror" and criticised the use of intelligence in the run up to the Iraq war.

She said that the loud trumpeting of a "war on terror" was aiding the recruitment of new members to terrorist bodies.
"I think its a misleading to talk about a war on terror per se, because it's implying a war that you can win," she said. "But I think terror will be there for a long time, as long there are people with grievances who want to use terrorism to pursue their aims.

"It's a misconceived idea in my opinion."
Dame Stella, who retired from MI5 eight years ago, added that any counter-terrorism measures should be taken as subtly as possible.

"In my opinion it is something that needs to be attacked quietly, because if you are declaring war with a big furore, you attract people to terrorism because it sounds so dramatic."

She later added that she found the situation of the prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay "very difficult to come to terms with".

The ex-spy made the comments as she spoke about her move from the world of security intelligence to fiction writing and to talk about her recently published first novel, At Risk.

Dame Stella said: "It cannot be right to keep people in complete isolation, denied human contact and denied any access to the courts for an interminable length of time."
Asked about why she thought Osama bin Laden had not yet been traced, she put it down to the fact that he is "very good at hiding" and said she had "no doubt he will be located".

Dame Stella joined MI5, after receiving a "tap on the shoulder" while living in India in the late 1960s, and held the post of director-general from 1992 until 1996.
The former Edinburgh and Liverpool University graduate was the first director-general to be named publicly – something she described as a "complete nightmare" because of the intense media attention.

Thanks to `Ken` for the alert.

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