Thursday, April 23, 2009

License to Kill?

This week the Fellows of the College conducted interviews for a new Principal of Somerville (more on this later). During this process there were many recollections of former Principals and their relative merits. While everyone is very fond of the soon-to-retire Principal, Dame Fiona, by far the most colorful, and perhaps the most popular in recent memory was Daphne Park, now Baroness Park of Monmouth.

Daphne Park does not look like James Bond – in fact her beady cosiness is more reminiscent of Miss Marple – but she was the true face of British Intelligence for the second half of the twentieth century. She served in the SOE (Special Operations Executive) during the Second World War, in Moscow during the Cold War, and in Hanoi during the Vietnam conflict. She smuggled men out of the Congo in the boot of her car (not an Aston Martin, but a 2cv), and became a senior controller for MI6, before moving on to become Principal of Somerville College, Oxford

Apparently she was exceedingly popular with the students and fellows alike because she would break open the brandy and whiskey at the drop of a hat. Then after a few, she would start telling crazy stories from her former life as a secret agent. At the time, her former career was officially classified, so everyone thought she was stretching the truth just a bit (although they still thought she was very entertaining)… but it turned out that all of the crazy stories were actually true.

You can find more about Baroness Park here and here and here.

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