The secret world from one Ulster historian

 I know it’s a stale hangover from the Troubles.  But I still get a kick out of hearing the Ulster accent used to talk about something completely different and not thank God about US all the time. No, it’s not Jimmy or Fergal Sharkey on UK Music or broadcasters like Colin Murray, Peter Curran or our own Lady Gagga to Gloria’s Madonna, Christine Bleakley, but the deeply serious but very witty Keith Jeffrey letting rip on his history of MI6. I got an excellent preview in his Mile End Group lecture at the Foreign Office last April. Now it can be yours to treasure.

 Adds: Keith Jeffrey’s own account of how the book came to be written.

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  • fitzjameshorse1745

    As it only goes up to 1949, nobody on Slugger will be named in it…so hardly worth buying.
    Mr Jeffrey will be delivering a lecture in a semi public forum in Belfast in November…. a treasured experience no doubt.

  • Greenflag

    “The real story is much better than James Bond. It deals with real people in real situations, whose stories I have been able to tell in greater detail, and with greater accuracy, than ever before.’

    Better than Bond ? 😉

    I guess there are legal limitations for the 1949 cut off ?. Still it will include WW2 and the Irish ‘troubles’ early edition (1910 to 1923) approx . Should make for a fascinating read I’d think . At 800 pages a winter’s tale perhaps?

    ‘ I still get a kick out of hearing the Ulster accent used to talk about something completely different and not thank God about US all the time. ‘

    True enough . While I would’nt thank God for that small mercy still it will come as a bit of a shock for many 😉

    Great achievement by Mr Jeffrey . I’ll peruse it before ‘investing’ in it . The shelves are full and despite clearing out some tomes last winter I’m back to square one 🙁

  • Granni Trixie

    Jeffrey is talking at the launch of his book tomorrow at QUB.

  • Rory Carr

    I must say that I feel much the same way that you do, Brian when I hear an Ulster accent on BBC Radio 4 speaking on something other than ‘our recent difficulties’. To my mind Peter Curran, who engages in subjects perhaps less serious than Keith Jeffrey, is the daddy of them all. Nothing annoyed me so much on radio as the BBC’s inane decision to pass Curran by as presenter of Loose Ends when the original presenter (and Curran’s mentor), Ned Sherrin died. His replacement by the second-rate Clive Anderson came as a great disappointment – he simply does not have the dry wit, urbanity and charm that Curran holds in spades, although je would like to think that he has.

  • Jean Meslier

    “…But I still get a kick out of hearing the Ulster accent used to talk about something completely different and not thank God about US all the time…”

    Brian, I think you need to replace the word “the” with “an” lest the wider world get the wrong impression that the boys and girls from Armagh, Down, Donegal, Cavan, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Derry, Monaghan and Antrim all speak with plums in our mouths.

    Keith’s accent reminds me of the Oxford Christian theologian Alister McGrath, although I hope his book speaks more logic than the meandering rants of McGrath.
    But then books on spooks and truth don’t really go hand in hand, do they?

    I’d say this quote about a previous book of Jeffery’s, mentioned on Wikipedia, will raise a few eyebrows in N Down

    “..He has written a biography of the Irishman, Sir Henry Wilson, who was professional head of the British army in 1918–22 and is the only British Field Marshal to have died in action, having been assassinated on his doorstep in London in 1922 by two fellow Irishmen. ..”

    Send more of the Field Marshals to Afghanistan I say.
    They’ll not be long suing for peace, with the Taliban then, me thinks!!!

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    There is a second show in early November.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Hearing the “Ulster” accent or “an” Ulster accent is one thing. Listening to what it says is another.
    Peter Curran went the same way as Gerry Anderson….not everyone was as thrilled as hearing the accent as Mr Walker was.
    I suspect Mr Colin Murray will go the same way.
    And Ms Bleakley has (with her Brummie co host) presidd over a 20% drop in the Morning Shows audience.
    Huzzah for an/the Ulster accent.

  • Alias

    I don’t think it is fondness for the accent, per se, but rather that the normalisation agenda is progressing to the point where the natives no longer make any troublesome mention of the renounced national rights as they are too busy proving that non-sovereign nations can live in comfort under the Sovereign’s rule and therefore have no actual need for that which they renunciated…

  • HeinzGuderian

    I wonder when an assassination is not a plain old murder ??

    ( ‘derry’ is not a County in Ulster ) That would be LOMDONDERRY !!

    jeanie…….you take a wee trip to Afghanistan………….then you may be more qualified to talk about it !! 🙂

    I must agree with you here Brian. Twas a breath of fresh air to hear Keith Jeffrey’s Ulster accent on the news,not whinging about some perceived wrongdoing,in the distant past !!!

    I,for one,wish you every success with you book !!! 🙂

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Not quite….Mr Colin Murray has (perhaps like me) the kinda “Ulster accent” which makes even the most benign statement seem like a threat.
    Whereas the truly wonderful Ms Annita McVeigh on the BBC News Channel can make the worst news seem wonderful.
    But I am curious about Mr Jeffrey and his MA course in Spookery at QUB…….in a world where qualifications should be directly linked to employment……what opportunities are there for young MAs with such a qualification.
    Working in Cheltenham perhaps or Holywood or North Korea…..(where in the latter case the “Ulster accent” might stick out) or a BBC Foreign Corresppondent.

    Its hard to think that such a MA course in Belfast would go ahead without at least the tacit approval of the British security services. And the open recruitment in recent years must be a welcome improvement on those uncomfortable wine and cheese receptions promoted by a tutor in the 1970s……er……allegedly.

  • Alias

    MI6 sponsors many academic careers, requiring historians in particular to write the state-approved version of history. A book demouncing Irish nationalism and its claim to sovereign British territory will find a publisher more readily, and receive more favourable reviews, than a book denouncing British nationalism and its claim to sovereign Irish territory. Many publishers make themselves useful to the state in that regard which is handy when the book will not garner enough sales as a commercial proposition, and the cheque doesn’t count as MI6 sponsorship. MI6 even funded the bold Robert Maxwell’s Pergamon Press for the express purpose, and Mossad found him useful too so the rewards are there.

    Anyway, the point about accents is that we were supposed to look forward to the day when the airwaves were filled with folks talking about their national rights and advancing them through that means but it seems that de-politicised voices are what interest more…

  • Brian Walker

    I hope Peter Curran reads Slugger. I sometimes confuse him with the similar JP Devlin but never with the late JG, revered character actor. And how could I forget Sean Rafferty, now presenter of Radio 3’s In Tune drivetime show ( 5 pm)?

  • Brian Walker

    fitz and alias… you’re working well with the conspiracy theories! and Fitz what a wonderful putdown of Curran and Anderson in half a dozen words! You win a slugger lemon
    ( now there’s an idea for a competition). Both still thrive. Can you still tell that Anita McVeigh comes from NI if you don’t know it already? The odd inflection perhaps but those telltale yews are well ironed out. I know the feeling….

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Ah Mr Walker…I was not putting down either Peter Curran or Gerry Anderson (without my occasional emails the mans show would be in dire straits). Rather my target was those in middle England who were not quite as thrilled as you are at hearing an “Ulster accent”.
    Annita (sic) McVeigh does indeed still sound like a wee girl from Moy or Benburb.
    The sight and sound of Sean Rafferty holding court in and around Bedford Street will not be easily forgotten by me either.
    As for conspiracy theories……well everyone is entitled to one (Im sure you are signed up to at least one also)…..without being considered a nutter. But as you will note from my reply to Mr Mark McGregors post on the cost of bonfires…I am fully paid up to the “screw up” school of bad decision making.
    But interesting that you bring up almost accidently J G Devlin…….to those of a certain generation (and Im not THAT old) who knew him rather well…..”Jimmy” was a very articulate and well read man who (along with Lily Begley and Joe Tumelty) made a career out of saying “Fair cop Mr Dixon” in Dock Green or similar in Z Cars and Steptoe & Son.
    He was so much better than that.
    But you touch on a truth there. The much loved Ulster accent will never break out of the character actor role……no matter how sophisticated we think we are.
    As Charles Lawson (ex Campbell College) who plays Jim McDonald in Coronation Street might put it……”thats right……so it is”

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    oops….my suggestion that you are signed up to “at least one” conspiracy theory reads badly as it implies you might have more than one.
    That should read “only one”.

  • Jean Meslier

    “…I wonder when an assassination is not a plain old murder ??
    When it’s a plain old Irish Nationalist…”

    “..( ‘derry’ is not a County in Ulster ) That would be LOMDONDERRY !!..”
    Errr LOMDONDERRY Heinzy?

    “..jeanie…….you take a wee trip to Afghanistan………….then you may be more qualified to talk about it !! …”
    Heinzy I was talking about Field Marshal’s getting their jackboots dirty in Helmund instead of the cannon fodder from Larne and Portydown (slang).
    The Portydowner’s don’t have the same accent as Jeffery or the Field Marshal’s, but then you were just a Colonel General of the Army, although Rommel, who was a Field Marshal, did once recommend you to replace him whilst he was recuperating if I’m not mistaken.
    I personally have no desire to visit an Afghan battlefield, but I have seen “Carry on up the Khyber”, so I have as much understanding of that mountainous country as the present Brit leaders have. Wouldn’t you agree?

    Last point.- Do you have any opinions on McGrath the Christian theologian?

    I must agree with you here Brian. Twas a breath of fresh air to hear Keith Jeffrey’s Ulster accent on the news,not whinging about some perceived wrongdoing,in the distant past !!!
    No. Just committing the wrong doing

  • Rory Carr

    “The much loved Ulster accent will never break out of the character actor role……no matter how sophisticated we think we are.”

    Hmmph, Fitzy. Better not recall the late Stephen Boyd in Ben Hur or Colin Blakely in A Man For All Seasons or Liam Neeson whose Broadway roles in A Streetcar Named Desire and The Crucible had them swooning in the aisles, not to mention his enviable film roles, or indeed James Nesbit who has yet to shine on the international scene but has carved a lucrative niche for himself in British television. I might also mention British film but British film is widely regarded as shite and an embarrassment to all who partake because the money comes in handy.

  • Alan Maskey

    Alias: How did MI6 fund Pergamon Press?
    One of the small benefits of a Belfast degree might be an Irish passport. One BBC dude who was captured by Iraqie resistance fighters said they were singularly unimpressed when he said he had an Irish passport.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    I am much too young to remember Stephen Boyd.
    My recollection of Blakely (This Sporting Life, Jesus) is probably not as good as it should be as he died much too young.
    But Nesbit is probably his true heir….his accent is incidental to many of the roles he gets. Not many are specifically Irish. Adrian Dunbar perhaps also. Stephen Rea certainly.
    But there was a whole gaggle of Belfast (and wider Irish actors) Devlin, Tumelty, Begley , Dermot Kelly(Arthur Haynes stooge) who were specifically Irish character actors. Oirish to be shure to be shure to be shure.

    These ease with Shaw or whatever on Irish stages had to do the Oirish thing, petty criminals or whatever on Z Cars. The Troubles widened the requirements. Enter Neeson, Rea, Dunbar etc who would be able to play the required terrorists who got dutifully killed in the last scene. Most have moved past that to become actors who are simply actors…rather than Irish/Oirish actors.

  • Alan Maskey

    Jeffrey says MI6 discovered a readily availalbe source for secret ink, one that is all too familiar and is the source of umpteen jokes.

  • Mark

    I was really starting to enjoy this thread until Alan Tabloid Maskey came along …..

  • Mark

    No offence Tabloid but you did lower the tone .

  • Brian Walker

    Some actors could switch the accent on and off. Colin Blakeley with whom I did a half hour interview in the 70s kept a trace of it for his memorable role in Equus. Does anybody remember Noel Willman from Derry for his west end direction and film appearances including Omar Sharif’s coachman in Dr Zhivago? Dear Denys Hawthorne, died last year, whom Harold Pinter called the ” beautful Denys with the beautiful voice.” – and, he might have added, a beautiful nature. Although often appearing in English character roles, the Ulster intonation never left him.

    How many know that James Burke whom my generation knew well as a presenter of the BBC’s Apollo moonshot programmes is a Derry man? He was taken to Maidstone when very young, leaving little trace of his origins and none in his speech. But if we included the immigrants, we’ll go on for ever…

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Willman, I am sorry to say Ive not heard of. Hawthorne yes…..but there was little about him which was overtly “Ulster”.
    James Burke…..the man who told me tomorrows world would be better and it isnt. Yes I knew he was from Derry.
    Your colleague Dennis Tuohy of course the first person to appear on bbc2 24 hours later than planned.
    Burke and Tuohy sadly underused i believe.
    where are they now?
    i believe the bbcs midlands political guy patrick burns spent time at local bbc…..and of course gordon burns…..presumably somewhere in granada land (a bit like eamonn holmes would be like….if holmes had talent)

  • Munsterview

    The following is from the ……..I thought that I would share it with you all. Nothing new for Republicans of course, just proof at last of what we always knew !

    Top UK spies revealed as wankers
    Cory Doctorow at 11:07 AM Wednesday, Sep 22, 2010

    The UK spy agency MI6 experimented with using semen as invisible ink; presumably because this fluid was readily available to several of their field agents on a few moments’ notice. The agent in charge of the project? Mansfield Cumming. This and other revelations appear in MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-1949, to be published this week.

    A member of staff close to “C”, Frank Stagg, said that he would never forget his bosses’ delight when the Deputy Chief Censor said one day that one of his staff had found out that “semen would not react to iodine vapour”.
    Stagg noted that “we thought we had solved a great problem”.

    However, the discovery also led to some further problems, with the agent who had identified the novel use having to be moved from his department after becoming the butt of jokes.

  • Brian Walker

    A final word on the accent theme. fitz I can’t let the moment pass without correcting your claim that there was little about Denys Hawthorne that was overtly “Ulster.” Like most actors he went where the work was and based himself in England from the late 50s, true. Like most actors, he crossed the water easily in every sense. That after all is that an actor should be able to do.

    Denys actually quit that notable nursery the Group Theatre when the board pulled Over the Bridge. He steered away from overt politics but he had a very clear idea of the importance of drama and the arts generally in helping to build a civilised Ireland. The Irish Times captures the sense of his Irish work, from Joyce adaptations to Yeats, Stephens and a host of radio drama roles over 40 years.

    I knew him well during his stint as a radio drama producer in Belfast in the early 70s. and his frequent visits later . He was also a busy adapter and a noted reader of poetry, MacNiece probably most notably.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Im sure youre right about Hawthorne.
    He was one of those actors who didnt have to “dumb down”.
    And thankfully there is less dumbing down now than there was in the bad old days.
    Paddy Joyce….grand nephew of James Joyce as the Irishman who kept his donkey in the Ogdens back yard in Coronation Street went on to play a leprachaun iin the Rolf Harris Show.

  • Just stumbled upon this exchange, perhaps you could take a look at my website,, for more information on those actors mentioned previously and many more.

  • Alan Maskey

    I don’t see Ray McAnally, Sean McGinley, Ardal O’Hanlon to name but a few.

  • Unfortunately it is Ulster as in Northern Ireland, much as I would have loved to have included the first two mentioned.Two exceptional Donegal born actors.