Sir Christopher Curwen, who died on December 18, aged 84, was head of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, or MI6) from 1985 to 1988.

Sir Christopher Curwen, KCMG, CMG
Sir Christopher Curwen, KCMG, CMG

The son of a vicar, Christopher Keith Curwen was born on April 9th 1929 and educated at Sherborne.

During National Service as a second lieutenant with the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars in Malaya, Curwen was mentioned in dispatches for his gallantry in jungle warfare against communist guerrillas.

An officer who served alongside him in Malaya said of Curwen: “There are some people you’d go into the jungle with and some you wouldn’t. I would be very happy to go back into the jungle with Chris… He was tough and fair. He was an excellent officer and his men liked him very much.”

Curwen went to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where he was a keen rower and occasional rugby player. In the summer of 1951, he drove across the Sahara after visiting his elder brother, then working in the Colonial Service in Nigeria.

In July 1952 he joined SIS and two years later, in 1954, was posted to Thailand. In July 1956 he was moved to Vientiane, where he married his first wife, Vera Noom Tai.

In May 1968 he began a three-year appointment as SIS’s liaison officer in Washington, DC.

In 1977 his first marriage was dissolved, and in the same year, he married Helen Stirling. He was posted to Geneva as head of station, and in May 1980 was back in London as “C” ’s Deputy and then as “C”.

Curwen was appointed CMG in 1982 and KCMG in 1986.

He finally retired in 1991, when he took on a part-time role as a member of the Security Commission, a body which became redundant when the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee was created three years later.

Sir Christopher Curwen, who lived near Bath, listed his interests in Who’s Who as books, gardening and motoring.

He had five children: a son and two daughters with his first wife, and a son and a daughter with his second.

Related topics

  1. A short history of The 4th Hussars
  2. Malaya 1948-51