Britain’s former MI5 spy chief, Stella Rimington, now spy thriller author

Robert Morton
3 min readMar 26, 2022


Stella Rimington was the first woman to head MI5

I have always enjoyed reading spy novels written by real-life spymasters and author Stella Rimington is one of them. She became the head of the British intelligence agency MI5, a manly feat in a man’s world at the time. She was educated at Nottingham Girls’ High School, and Edinburgh and Liverpool Universities.

In 1965 she joined the Security Service (MI5) part-time while she was in India accompanying her husband on a posting to the British High Commission in New Delhi. On her return to the UK, she joined MI5 as a full-time employee. The rest is history: Rimington eventually became the first female Director General of MI5 and served in that position from 1992 to 1996.

Her experience in spy craft comes across in her novels. She worked diligently for years at MI5, learning about all the critical fields of MI5’s responsibilities, learning spy craft in countersubversion, counterespionage, and counterterrorism. She directed all three of these branches until 1992 when she was appointed Director-General of MI5.

Meet other female spies in this issue of “Spy Agency Happenings!”

Not only was she the first woman to hold the post, but she was also the first Director-General whose name was publicly announced on appointment. She pursued a policy of greater openness in the spy agency. In 1995 she was awarded the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws by the Universities of Nottingham and Exeter, then she retired from MI5 in 1996 to spend more time with her two daughters and granddaughter.

Not surprisingly, Rimington brings credibility to her espionage thrillers. If you are a spy buff or professional working inside the Intelligence Community (IC), you will appreciate her well-crafted words. Her 27 years inside MI5 shows through. Her spy novels stealthily guide the reader through terrorist plots, counter-intelligence plots, and spy craft in a way that makes one feel she isn’t making this stuff up!

I have noticed that Britain seems to have a larger number of authors in the spy genre who were spooks themselves, more so than in most other countries. John le Carré and Frederick Forsyth both revealed much about the inner workings of MI6, although le Carré worked for both MI6 and MI5. Julia Child worked for the Office of Strategic Services and Roald Dahl was a spy, too, but I do not think either of them got deep into the practical details of spy craft like Forsyth and le Carré did.

I place Rimington right up there alongside Forsyth and le Carré- the few that I know of who have written intriguing spy thriller novels that make you think, “They can’t be making this stuff up!” BTW, Stella Rimington is not the only female spy around! An entire issue of the “Spy Agency Happenings!” newsletter features famous woman spies.

Robert Morton is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO) and enjoys writing about the U.S. Intelligence Community in his Corey Pearson- CIA Spymaster series. Read his newest spy thriller The Shadow War, episode by episode, as he writes it in the new Kindle Vella program.



Robert Morton

Spy thriller author, member of Association of Former Intelligence Officers, thrilling experiences await on my Author Site: