Born Stella Whitehouse in London in 1935, her father’s work
as a draughtsman took the family to Barrow-in-Furness during the war years.
They later moved to the Midlands where she attended Nottingham High School for
Girls. After taking a degree in English at Edinburgh University she worked as
an archivist and married John Rimington, a civil servant. He was posted to the
British High Commission in New Delhi and it was while living there that she had
her first taste of the intelligence world. Bored with the limited life of a
diplomat’s wife she secured some secretarial work with an official in the High
Commission, subsequently finding that he was in fact the MI5 representative in
New Delhi. Upon her return to the UK in 1969 she successfully applied for a
permanent position with the security services. Her career saw her involved in a
wide range of the organisation’s activities, progressing through the ranks
against much gender prejudice, culminating in a four year term as its head.
Upon her retirement in 1996 she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the
Bath. It has been speculated that she was a model for the character ‘M’ portrayed
by Judy Dench in the James Bond films.
After retirement she held a number on non-Executive directorships and has written a number of novels based on her experience of the intelligence services. She appeared on BBC Breakfast TV in 2013 and spoke about her writing career and the need to submit her novels to MI5 for approval,
Her first association with Merseyside was in 1940 when she and her mother and brother lived for several months with her maternal grandmother in Church Street, Wallasey. This was of course the time of the blitz and the stay on the Wirral was a traumatic one for her, the bombing being more or less a nightly occurrence.
In 1958, having acquired her degree she was searching for a possible career she came across a postgraduate diploma in the Study of Records and the Administration of Archives. Only London and Liverpool universities offered the course and on the basis that life in Liverpool would be cheaper than the capital she duly moved there. In her autobiography she has little to say about her nine month stay, summing things up by “I did not much enjoy my time at Liverpool”. She lived at 17 Canning Street L8 in a room in a flat at the top of the building, let to her “by a lady who lived there on her own, who seemed to resent my presence”.
Stella Rimington had a room on the top floor whilst taking a postgraduate course at Liverpool University 1958-59.
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