Some years ago, the famous British thriller writer Frederick Forsyth admitted that he had worked for the UK’s MI6 intelligence agency for more than twenty years during the Cold War. He was first recruited during the Biafran War in Nigeria (1967-70) where he was working as a journalist for Reuters. He says that he was approached by an MI6 officer to “tell us what’s going on”. He later undertook missions to Rhodesia, South Africa and East Germany. His famous espionage thriller The Day of the Jackal was published in 1971 and made his reputation overnight, but he still carried out occasional work for MI6 as his reputation as a writer gave him even better cover. His work was mainly as a courier taking messages or items to agents.
Now, aged 84, he has written to Bromley Magistrates Court apparently trying to use his intelligence record as a reason why he should get more lenient treatment. His crime was to drive at 37 mph in a 30 mph zone on the A40 near Paddington Green on 31 Oct 2022. When he filled in the postal form to plead guilty to the offence, he forgot to include his driving licence details and so was the offence was moved to a Magistrates court where he could expect an elevated fine. In a whinging letter to the magistrates, he made much of his secret service: “Fifty years ago, being bilingual in German, I used to slip through the Berlin Wall on errands for the Firm.” (The Firm is a sort of shorthand for MI6 that used to be used by those “in-the-know” but hasn’t really been used for some time. These days they are more often referred to as “The Friends” or “Those across the River”.) Forsyth also compared the surveillance of the roads by British police speed cameras to the East German Stasi, saying that the Stasi would have “salivated” at such powers.
He wanted to get the original fine imposed without any court costs. He was partly successful: The magistrates imposed just a £60 fine with a £24 victim surcharge – but they did impose £16 in costs and three penalty points on his licence. Sometimes being a spy does not mean that you get it all your own way.