Sir Richard Dearlove became the second MI6 chief to be named publicly, when he was appointed head of the secret intelligence service in 1999.
Described as an intelligence “all rounder”, his appointment was seen as a reflection of the agency’s new post-Cold War priorities – fighting organised crime rather than spying on the Soviets.
Chosen by then Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, in consultation with the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, Sir Richard took the classic route into the espionage business.
Born in Cornwall on 23 January 1945, he was educated at the independent fee-paying Monkton Combe School near Bath.
After a year at Kent School in the United States, he went to Queen’s College, Cambridge, a favourite recruiting ground for the intelligence agencies, where he was almost certainly “talent spotted”.
He began his MI6 career in 1966 and two years later received his first overseas posting to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
After postings in Prague, Paris and Geneva, Sir Richard became head of MI6’s Washington station in 1991.
He returned to the UK in 1993 as director of personnel and administration and became director of operations the following year.
In 1999 Sir Richard was appointed chief and, like all his predecessors since the agency’s founder Captain Sir Mansfield Cumming, became known in Whitehall simply as “C”.
A year later he had to endure the indignity of a terrorist rocket attack – blamed on dissident Irish republicans – on MI6’s headquarters on the south bank of the River Thames, although the damage was slight.
In 2001 it was the agency’s reputation that came under fire after the 11 September attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.
MI6 was accused by the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee of failing to respond with sufficient urgency to warnings that al-Qaeda was planning a major terrorist attack.
The agency has come in for more scrutiny since the government’s decision to publish an Iraqi weapons dossier based on secret intelligence – a move said to have made many in the intelligence community deeply uncomfortable.
Sir Richard is married with three grown-up children.
He received a knighthood in June 2001.