George Webb who died age 77, was a colonial administrator in Kenya and later a senior officer in the secret intelligence services, or MI6,
Webb managed to achieve high rank in SIS without the single mindedness displayed by some of his colleagues.
His forte was not as an operational intelligence officer, but rather as a developer of people and in a liaison role with foreign governments. He had a gift for understanding and motivating the brilliant, but often difficult, officers around him.
He was recruited into SIS at the age of 34 and was posted to Thailand, working extensively in the south, where Thai and Malayan Communists were holding out against their respective governments.
From 1969 to 1974 he was stationed in Ghana, where a major target was Eastern bloc diplomats and agents. It was a role which bored him, but one night, at the height of a very noisy toad-mating season, he conceived a plan to make life more interesting: he sent his domestic staff on to nearby wasteland to collect buckets full of toads which he then tipped over the garden wall of the KGB resident, ensuring that his opposite number suffered from severe sleep deprivation.
Webb had little rapport with the stolid east Europeans, and would concoct extraordinary stories and leaks which he would feed to cultural attachés at parties, in anticipation of the huge amount of paper work he was generating as they documented each meeting and then cross-checked the information in Sofia or Moscow.
Some of these unfortunates would be invited to the Webb’s for a “traditional English breakfast”, which, their host insisted, was the custom “each day we go fox hunting at home”. The meal would start with beakers of cherry brandy, followed by porridge, kedgeree and Drambuie omelettes. The effect, in 100 per cent humidity, was devastating.
Postings in Teheran and Washington followed, leading to Webb’s final job as one of three directors reporting to the Chief of SIS. Like other SIS officers with foreign Officer cover, Webb was content that his acquaintances saw him as an undistinguished diplomat.
George Hannam Webb was born on Christmas Eve 1929 at Kakamega, Kenya. From an early age he had resolved to return to Kenya as a colonial administrator, and in 1954 he sailed back to Africa. At Cambridge he had become enamoured of Jo Chatterton, a law student, and narrowly failed to persuade her to marry him. A year after arriving in Nairobi he went to a post office where, with great difficulty, he managed to book a telephone call to Jo at her home in Lincolnshire. Each time he proposed marriage she answered quickly, before the one-direction line had switched over, leaving them in a mutual, mystifying silence. On his fourth attempt the voice of the rural operator cut in: “She says yes dearie!” They married in 1956.
She survives him with their two sons and two daughters.