"Cheese has always been good to me."
Jim Friteuse

Saturday, September 8, 2012


The New Zealand Secret Service was referred to by its agents as The Big Top because it was built on the site that was once been home to William Foley’s Victoria Circus in 1855 and Jim’s spycraft training on that historic site began in earnest in the July of 1984. He was taught how to blend in with different cultures – this proved harder than anticipated, especially when he tried to cover up his New Zealand accent. 

Flyer for William Foley's Victoria Circus of 1855

“When you’re working undercover in Britain, for example,” his language trainer had instructed, “you have to move your vowels around – for example, when you ask for a pair of pliars you have to swop the ‘o’ and the ‘i’ with an ‘i’ and an ‘a’ – so ploirs becomes pliars.”

He was under strict instructions not to reveal anything about the covert activities he was involved in to anyone – especially not his wife.

“Don’t tell the little lady anything about what you’re doing here. Not one thing.” he was told by Liam Schiffrin one day after range practice, "Women are fickle, don’t trust them – especially Australian women – they just blab blab blab. Did you know that all the junk mail we receive here in New Zealand is sent out by Australian women?”

“Err, no.”

“Well, it is – and that’s a fact. You’re wife’s not Australian, is she, Jim?”

“Definitely not.”

“Good. That’s one less thing we have to worry about.”

Each night Jim would return home exhausted and, with Claire’s television career beginning to take off, whenever he entered the house there was not even a sniff of anything cooking on the stove.

“I’m sorry, darling,” Claire said to him one evening, “I’m just so tired. I couldn’t even look at another can of beans.”

“It’s alright, love, I’ll put some bread in the toaster. Do you want some?”

“Do you know what the controller said to me today?”


“He said that when Cooking With Cans has finished its run he wants me to start working on a new series straight away called Cooking From Packets.”

“Well, that’s good isn’t it?

“Good? As if opening cans isn’t stressful enough – now they want me start opening packets. That’s a whole new form of cookery I’ll have to learn from scratch.”

“Yes, but think of the money you’ll be bringing in.”

Title sequence from Cooking With Cans

“Never mind the money. I’m getting RSI from all the different can openers I have to demonstrate. Have you any idea what damage a Butterfly Opener can do to your wrists? Well, have you?”

“No dear.”

“And now they want me to start opening packets. Think of the danger all that tearing and stirring will expose me to! It’s not as if your job is as difficult or as dangerous as mine – all you do is sniff cheese all day – I mean, how hard can that be? Even an Australian could do that.”

Jim frowned. If only he could let her know about his real job – about the dangers he may have to face in the future for the sake of his country – maybe then she would understand. In the meantime he had to remain silent, especially about what he learning in G Section.

G or Gadget Section was run by a tall, dapper Englishman in his late sixties who went by the name of Sir Crispen Fotherington-Smythe.

On his first day in G Division Jim was interviewed by Fotherington-Smythe. He followed the same routine whenever a new recruit called Jim arrived in his Section.

“You don’t mind if I call you James, do you Jim?” Fotherington-Smythe asked in his clipped British accent.

“The only person who ever called me James,” replied Jim, “was my mother, and that was only when I was in trouble.”

Jim fought back a tear as he remembered the day when his parents had tied him to the railings of the Nikkinakkinori Boarding School and abandoned him with just a note and a bundle of cash. The last words his mother had said to him were, “Be a good boy, James . . . and stay away from dirty girls who offer you sweets.”

“It’s just,” continued Fotherington-Smythe, “that it reminds me of when I used to work for British intelligence and you-know-who.”


“You know.”

“I don’t.”

“007 of course – you know, James Bond – licensed to kill and all that.”

“Err, I’m sorry G, but I’m pretty sure that James Bond is a creation of the writer Ian Fleming – he’s a fictional character.”

“Aren’t we all James,” Sir Crispen said mysteriously, “aren’t we all?”

Sir Crispen Fotherington-Smythe could trace his family line back to when one of his distant ancestors arrived on the shores of England from Normandy with William the Bastard on October 14th 1066. His pedigree was unquestionably aristocratic and the blood that ran through his veins was the same blood that ran through the veins of the fearsome, well-educated Norman baron who had made the treacherous channel crossing almost two millennia earlier. 

Sir Crispen Fotherington-Smythe's ancestor riding into battle

Over the centuries, however, all trace of courage, intelligence and wit disappeared as the Fotherington-Smythe’s went from baronic to moronic through several generations of in-breeding. By the late 1930s the entire family, bar one, were hopelessly dull, cripplingly unintelligent and totally unaware of the looming global crisis that was about to threaten their very existence.

Crispen, possibly as a result of a recessive gene, was regarded as odd by his family because he earned a first class degree with honours reading classics at Oxford. He graduated in 1936 and was immediately recruited by MI6, where he worked in Q Division developing gadgets for agents working undercover, first in Nazi Germany and then in the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

His inventions started to come under the scrutiny of his superiors at the start of the 1980s when he presented them with what looked like a Dan Dare Ray Gun that fired a string of high tensile cheese, capable of carrying the weight of a fully grown man. They feared that he was losing the plot but they let that invention slide, mainly because it worked. 

Sir Crispen's high tensile cheese string firing ray gun

His was not so fortunate when he presented his superiors with the Babybomb, a Babybel cheese that was packed with high explosives. He was accused of having cheese on his mind and suspended from all duties and sent on gardening leave pending psychiatric evaluation.

"Why," asked the psychiatrist, "would a secret agent be carrying cheese around with him all the time?"

"Why not," replied Sir Crispen.

"But it doesn't make sense," stated the pyschiatrist.

"What does?" asked Sir Crispen.

Fotherington-Smythe’s inventions did not, however, escape the attentions of Everard Hinchcliffe and in 1983 he submitted a request to MI6 for the old man to be loaned to him on a permanent basis.

Sir Crispen's Babybomb, primed and ready to use

MI6 were only too happy to oblige.

Following the issue of his Ray Gun and Babybel grenades, Jim walked with Fotherington-Smythe down a corridor, at the end of which was a room where he would be meeting his handler. All fledgling agents were assigned a handler for their first six months in the field. Jim had never met him (or her) – for security reasons all potential agents were not introduced to their handlers until they graduated.

As they made their journey along the corridor Jim paused next to a wooden trophy cabinet. It was all but empty, save for one item.

“What’s that?” asked Jim.

“Ah, that,” said Fotherington-Smythe, looking rather sadly at the glittering object within its prison of dark wood and glass. “That, I’m afraid, represents the end of any hopes and dreams I had of ever becoming an acknowledged writer of espionage fiction. I had hoped to join the ranks of Fleming, Deighton and Le Carre, but, alas, it was not to be.”

“But what is it?”

“That, James, is my Golden Gruyere.”

Sir Crispen's Golden Gruyere award

 “Your Golden what?”

“The Golden Gruyere, old chap, is presented each year by the Australian Cheese-makers & Spy Novelists Association and is awarded to the writer of the spy novel with the most plot holes in it. My book, Chunderball, won the award in 1983 with a total of 236.”

“236 plot holes is not that bad,” said Jim, in an attempt to comfort the old man.

“There were only 250 pages in it.”

Sir Crispen's award-winning spy novel

“Oh,” said Jim, rather flatly. He thought he detected the trace of a tear in the corner of Fotherington-Smythe’s eye. “I suppose it was for the best.”

“Yes, James,” replied Fotherington-Smythe, straightening himself up, “I suppose it was. Come on, old chap, let’s make haste or we’ll be late.”

Everard Hinchcliffe and Liam Schiffrin were waiting in the presentation room with another agent, who Jim assumed was his handler. He had dark hair and was a little swarthy looking. Jim was surprised to see that he was slouched on the couch in the corner of the room watching a reality TV show.

“Good to see you,” said Hinchcliffe shaking Jim’s hand, “from now on your codename will be Palmer 11.” He turned to the man slumped on the couch. 

“This guy’s name is Tony Revolver. He'll be your handler for the next six months. Any problems give him a call. His codename is Palmer 2.”

"Like Harry Palmer," interrupted Sir Crispen.

"That's right," confirmed Hinchcliffe.

"Ah, Harry . . . he was a bright one, he was, despite his state school education."

"Fictional," said Jim, "Len Deighton.".

"But none-the-real for it," Fotherington-Smythe added.

"Shut up, Crispen," snapped Schiffrin, "and get back in your box."

Jim looked over at his handler “Hi,” he said cheerfully.

“G’day, mate” replied Tony Revolver, not moving an inch from where he was slouched.

“Don’t mind him, Jim,” laughed Hinchcliffe, “he’s an Australian, but you shouldn’t hold that against him.”

“At least he’s not an Egyptian,” said Jim.

“Too bloody right,” said Schiffrin. “Have you seen that show Star Trek? It’s full of the little buggers.”

Hinchcliffe handed Jim an envelope. “This is your first assignment, Jim.”

Jim opened the envelope. Inside was a file that contained a blurry photograph of an indistinct man, two air tickets to England, the keys to an address in Braintree, Essex and £10,000 in cash. “Crikey, what’s this?”

The only known photograph of the enemy agent known as 'Cheesefinger'.

The memo containing Jim's secret orders

“You'll be working at Frontiere in England for the next six months,” said Schiffrin. “We have a small operation over there, but for you it'll be just a cover while you carry out an investigation into the person we know only as Cheesefinger. According to our intelligence he has a network of spies operating throughout the UK. Study the file, you and your wife will be leaving in ten days. Your contact is a guy called Peter Perkins. He'll be waiting for you when you land.”

"My wife? But why does she have to come along?"

"She'll give your cover story more credibility."

“But what about her telly programme?" asked Jim.

"Don't worry about that, Jim. I've squared all that away. The controller of Channel 1 will be giving her the sack for some non-specific reason as we speak."

"But . . . err . . ."

"Don't thank me, Jim. Just be grateful that you're a man and therefore permanently employable."

"Oh my," thought Jim, as he headed towards the door.

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