The name’s Bond, Muriel Bond

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  • Saturday, 04 Aug 2018

MOVE over James, here comes Muriel.

The late Ian Fleming would have been both shaken and stirred. His fictional character, the vodka- martini swilling, gun toting, fast-car driving womaniser in a tux; the one and only James Bond has been officially put out to pasture.

The United Kingdom’s overseas intelligence agency, MI6, wants its new spies to be mothers for their emotional intelligence.

Indeed, according to an article in the South China Morning Post, MI6 is on a recruitment drive aimed at women with kids and black and minority ethnic candidates. Why? Because the changing nature of the security threat calls for a more diverse workforce with different skills.

“We want, oxymoronically, people who never thought of joining MI6 – to join MI6,” the agency’s chief Alex Younger said deadpan at the launch of a new TV and online advertising campaign. “We want different points of view when making the crunchy decisions.”

In the shadowy world of John Le Carre’s George Smiley spy novels, MI6 chiefs were neither seen nor heard. They were mysterious figures, all called M or Control, who wouldn’t be caught dead on TV.

But Younger thought that one had to keep up with the changing times. He was a frugal sort of fellow – “why spoil the mood with a good tip?” – who believed in human interaction.

Occasionally, he even chatted with his secretary whom he secretly suspected wasn’t quite all there.

Those suspicions began the day old Younger told his secretary that he thought he saw a camel on his way to work in the morning. “How do you know it was on its way to work?” replied his secretary and Younger felt a great dread wash over him.

But we were talking about the MI6 ad-campaign. The advertisement plays on the public’s imagination of what a spy should look like. Footage shows menacing sharks circling their prey before the cameras pan out to reveal a mom at an aquarium able to anticipate danger. It concludes: “Secretly, we’re just like you.”

Even so, any would be applicant would have to go through the usual rigorous tests. Sample question on the emotional quotient test.

Question: What’s the difference between ignorance and apathy?

All those who answered: “Don’t know and don’t care” were snapped up immediately

The successful candidate had to be a reasonably good writer with absolutely correct punctuation.

The latter, of course, is the difference between a sentence that is well written and one that is, well, written.

The would-be spy was also tested for more intangible qualities like bravery.

The candidate who confessed that when she was in the water she would “scream exactly the same way whether I was about to be devoured by a great white shark or if a piece of seaweed touched my foot” got the job immediately. Her candour carried the day.

Being egotistical helped. When asked what were the four most beautiful words in the English language, one candidate said: “I told you so.” She got the job.

The agency is seeking to recruit 800 more staff by 2021. As of March 2016, the agency employed 2,594 people.

Of those, 39% were women in junior positions, with 24% of female staff in senior jobs. Just 8% of MI6’s workforce were black and minority ethnic workers – all in junior roles.

But now MI6 was hiring in a big way and old Younger was in the thick of it, dispensing advice here, philosophising there. “The problem with troubleshooting is that sometimes, trouble shoots back,” he told an Espionage101 class.

And when a new employee complained of her low pay, he explained it away airily; “I started off with nothing and I still have most of it left.”

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