Green biro pen ink Picture BFBS
Naval History

Why does the head of MI6 only write in green ink?

And why is he referred to as 'C'?

Green biro pen ink Picture BFBS

The Head of MI6, also known as 'C', has revealed the reasons why he only writes in green ink in secret service memoranda.

Richard Moore, the Chief of the UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), has a rather unusual quirk to his job which means that any correspondence people receive from the MI6 building in Vauxhall written in green ink is from him.

Moore told journalists Mishal Husain and Nick Robinson on BBC Radio 4's Today programme that he only writes in green ink and typeface to honour an MI6 tradition established by a Royal Navy officer more than 100 years ago.

Royal Navy veteran Sir George Mansfield Smith-Cumming was the first Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service which later became MI6. 

The former naval officer would sign his correspondence with a solitary C, written in green ink.

Sir George Mansfield Smith-Cumming Royal Navy veteran and First Chief of the Secret Service Bureau MI6 (Picture: Jimlop collection / Alamy Stock Photo).
Sir George Mansfield Smith-Cumming (Picture: Jimlop collection / Alamy Stock Photo).

Many people believe the role of Head of the MI6 is given the title of 'C' because it stands for Chief but it in fact stands for Cumming. Moore said: 

"This is a tradition that dates back to the first 'C', not standing for Chief, by the way. 

"Most people think that is. It stands for Cumming as in Mansfield Cumming. 

"He was a Naval man and he wrote in green ink." 

It is believed that world-renowned British 007 author Ian Fleming was inspired by this naming idea to create 'M' in his James Bond book series. 

In James Bond, 'M' was the codename for the fictitious Head of MI6 and has been portrayed on the big screen by the actors Bernard Lee, Robert Brown, Judi Dench and Ralph Fiennes.

During the interview, in which Moore also spoke about China "harvesting data from around the world" for leverage, the fall of Kabul to the Taliban and being more open about his work, journalist Nick Robinson highlighted MI6's decision to not shy away from its connection to James Bond, saying: 

"You openly acknowledge the James Bond heritage. 

"You've chosen to call your tech division Q; you could have called it something else."

Moore admits to thoroughly enjoying the James Bond franchise and embracing the character of 007 "even though we know it is not true life." He said that, while the film franchise does not represent the real life of a spy, it is not a burden around his neck, saying: 

"I think you've just got to celebrate it. 

"It is fiction. It is not reality, but the Bond franchise is a wonderful one. 

"I had such fun watching the most recent film. No spoilers here, but it is brilliant. 

"It doffs a cap to all the great James Bond traditions." 

Journalist Mishal Husain ends the interview by asking whether, if she were to follow Moore to his car, there would be anything exciting about his car to which 'C' responds: 

"Nothing, I can assure you.

"It is not sadly an Aston Martin."