As we move into the festive season I thought that it was time to get the party started with a few of my friends who have what I would call a Quixotic view of life. Such a person is the delightful Agent Bertram Mainwaring. At the time of this interview, Agent Bertram is on a secret and delicate mission and was unavailable for comment. Not wishing to disappoint those of you who have especially tuned in today to meet this complex character, I nabbed his friend and biographer, William Frederick and he reluctantly agreed to spill the beans on one particular escapade that nearly cost Bertram not only his life but the love of his life.
Firstly William since you play such an important role, not only in Bertram’s life but also as the author of his biography, could you tell us a bit about your background and how you got into writing?
Ah well yes… It all started when I was very young. As a small child I wanted to be a Pirate but my parents were both pillars of the establishment and forced me to accept their high standards, on pain of scoldings worse than death! I was compelled to go to school and then on to Oxford University to have a mind numbing education crowbarred into me. There was no escape!
I worked hard and after a lifetime of toil I realised that my career had gone from nowhere to bugger-all, in just forty short years. My health had begun to fail and in short I had to look for something else to do. Even though my parents have long since passed-on to be pillars of the establishment in the sky, they would still disapprove if I were to write about a Pirate so Agent Bertram Mainwaring – Spy Extraordinaire, was born.
Bertram and I have a testing relationship. He looks just like me and a lot of his experiences are strangely similar to my own. I have to be careful as my beloved wife is always on the lookout to see if Gertrude (the love of Bertram’s life) displays any of her character traits, as that would not do! (I have to confess that Gertrude does display quite a few of them but so far I haven’t been caught, so mum’s the word.)
Anyway, back to my aimlessly roaming narrative, as I digress. I have always been a huge fan of P.G.Wodehouse and at times Bertram may remind you of Bertie Wooster. Sadly due to budget constraints, our Bertram can’t afford a valet like Jeeves and has to work for a living at The Sovereign Intelligence Ministry or simply The Ministry as the chaps like to call it.
As an author who works continually on the edge of skintness, I can’t afford a Graphics Artist for my book covers. So taking the bull by the horns, I learned to do this stuff for myself. I downloaded a copy of GIMP and I have never looked back since. It does impinge upon the amount of time that I have to write but there are those who would say that this is a blessing.
Similarly I haven’t got funds for an Editor, so my Beloved Wife stepped into the breach and hacked my literary drivel around, turning it into deathless prose.
We live a lonely life here in a remote corner of Argyll, bonnie Scotland, where together we have hand-built a modest log cabin. We moved in as soon as it was habitable and locked the door on the madding crowd. How lonely, do I hear you ask? Well suffice it to say that trips to the supermarket in Oban are nowadays considered to be a thrill. We do feel compelled to travel to Glasgow every couple of months to dip into the bright lights of city life. It’s the shiny things you see… Eventually our resolve cracks and we have to see these things again. One has to cherish them for a short while and then go home again, happy in the knowledge that we can do without.
Could you tell us a bit about Bertram as a friend and also as a stalwart of the British Secret Service?
You can look upon Bertram Mainwaring as the epitome of the antiquated British patriot. He is seen by his Ministry peers as a tolerable enough chap, a bit bumbling but with his finger firmly on the pulse of current events and the menus of most good restaurants. His ability as an analyst and planner is begrudgingly accepted as being of a very high standard and Bertram’s willingness to help his colleagues out of a scrape is met with an equal measure of begrudged regard. Bertram spends most of his time at The Ministry fulfilling his role as an intelligence analyst, looking after the interests of Her Majesty The Queen and finding ever more ingenious ways to ensure that The Duke of Edinburgh’s acerbic comments do the least harm. Sadly, history shows us that Bertram does not always get it right. The problem Bertram’s colleagues have with him is that he’s considered to be an oddball. Not one of the lads and certainly not a bloke you’d want to go for a beer with on a Friday evening. It’s a pity really as Bertram has saved their bacon on many an occasion.
Over the years Bertram has developed a Six Stage Response Scheme, for complaints about the Duke and his activities. It works like this :-
1) Deny It – as nothing is likely to happen.
2) Admit that something may have happened but as it was really not attributable to the Duke we should still – Do Nothing.
3) Maybe we should have done something but our hands were tied by protocol so there was really – Nothing We Could Do.
4) If The Duke gets caught ‘red-handed’, – Well maybe there was something that we could have done whilst we were busy doing nothing but sadly it’s Too Late Now. – After all, what did you expect? It’s The Duke!
5) If there is photographic or other definite evidence – We should do everything that we can for the injured party if they have somehow taken offence by the Duke’s well-meant words or actions. – Short Of Actually Doing Anything.
6) If all else fails and there is no way out – Offer A Bribe.
Using the above system Bertram has managed to deflect most of the Press Outrage, which in turn has freed up his time, allowing him to go to Amsterdam where he works as a Secret Agent for The Netherlands Internal Intelligence Service under Hoofdcommissaris Zwaard.
Most of Bertram’s spare time is spent with Tarquin, his Ministry colleague and his only other chum. After a hard day’s work (and assiduously avoiding the game of squash or other such physical activity recommended by their Mandarins, who Bertram noted are never seen on the squash court themselves), they would often head for Tarquin’s club, The Loafers, for an evening’s chat where they would usually sink a couple of bottles of their excellent Saint-Emilion.
On occasion, when the quiet of The Loafers club had lost its appeal, Bertram and Tarquin would slip off to frequent one of the hostelries in Soho, The Coach & Horses being a favourite, to sample their selection of draught beers and single malt whiskies.
Before you ask, it’s a topsy-turvy world when two fictional characters can’t sit in a pub enjoying a beer with their author, so I go with them in spirit at least.
Can you tell us a bit about Gertrude and why she is so special to Bertram?
Bertram has a penchant for strong women and they don’t come much stronger than Gertrude who from a very early age had a well-nourished look. They met at Oxford where they both enrolled in the University Gilbert & Sullivan Society. The spark of love arrived one evening when the conductor climbed up the narrow steps from the auditorium to scold the entire cast for not ‘filling the building with sound’ during their rehearsal of HMS Pinafore. He made a fuss of one exception, in the person of Gertrude, who he complimented on her volume… if not her pitch. Gertrude who was so overcome with joy at this praise, totally missed his comment about her pitch and slapped him on the back in her hearty, sporty, way, causing the poor chap to fly off the stage and land in the orchestra pit.
From that moment on Bertram was smitten. Their relationship blossomed over the next two years and eventually they both gained excellent degrees. Bertram’s path was already laid before him as he was destined to work at The Ministry following in the footsteps of both his parents. Gertrude quickly got an offer from Istanbul University, to teach English as a foreign language and asked Bertram what he thought she should do. He, being a noble and decent chap, would not stand in the way of her promising career and encouraged her to take the post, whilst his heart screamed FOR GOD-SAKE NO!
He drove Gertrude to the airport and waited there for three days, eating only pasties, pies and sandwiches awaiting her return. (He hoped beyond hope that the authorities would find the Oxo Cubes that he’d unwrapped and secreted away in her sponge bag in order to trigger an instant deportation.) Years later when Gertrude had him hanging upside down and naked from Amsterdam hotel window he learned that the Turkish authorities had indeed found the Oxo cubes and Gertrude spent a very uncomfortable day trying to explain that she knew nothing about them. Happily, eventually they believed her and they all settled down to a nice savory drink.
William, obviously it is difficult to talk about any secret missions without compromising security but perhaps we could talk about the unexpected real life adventure that overtook Bertram when on leave from the Ministry. Why did he decide to go to Amsterdam?
It may surprise you to hear that Bertram was not the most successful bloke around women. Because of his work he would ask far too many intrusive questions on the first date and whilst his intent was only to uncover any subversive family connections, he failed to realise that this was off-putting for his few lady friends. When for instance he asked if his date was aware that, “The Starlings Were Gathering In Red Square This Evening,” he usually got a blank look and a hurried exit. Suffice it to say that it rarely led to a second date. Except once, when he was inadvertently dating a Russian Spy who wanted to know if, “The Pigeons Were Gathering In Trafalgar Square Later That Evening”. This lead to a major international spat between MI5, MI6 and the KGB but eventually they realised their mistake and stopped shooting pigeons in case they were spies carrying secret messages.
Due to his lack of success with ladies of the opposite sex, Bertram had grown to assume that his private life was destined to be quiet, sedentary and sexually speaking, self-sufficient.
After two and a half decades of keeping tabs on the Royal Consort, Bertram realised that the only girl he’d ever loved was Gertrude. He ‘looked her up’ on the grid at The Ministry and discovered that she was still unmarried and living in Istanbul. He’d not had a letter from her for three years but as fate would have it, an envelope was lying on his doormat that very evening. It was from Gertrude. Frantic with anticipation, Bertram prepared a large plate of ham sandwiches (made with rustic bread, with a soupçon of English mustard on each), cut a large chunk of mature Cheddar Cheese, brewed a pot of tea and sat down to read it.
It read, ‘Bertie you old duffer! I want a holiday and Cynthia (my chum at The Ministry) tells me that once again you will be forced to take your leave soon or lose it. I have made a decision. We shall holiday together for one week on neutral ground in Amsterdam. I have booked myself a room near Walkenburgerstraat so book yourself a hotel near-about. Be there or suffer the consequences. Gertrude.
Bertram had booked his flight even before the sandwiches were finished!
After twenty-five years apart what were Bertram’s expectations of their meeting?
To be honest he confided in me over a pint in The Coach & Horses before he left for Amsterdam that he had a great many questions about the reunion. Would they get on after all this time? Would she want his body? What would she do with it? Could she still be that naughty? Would he put his back out? Who was going to pay for the food? Why is he asking me?…
I did glean from him that he was hopeful of a rapprochement on some level but he never dared to dream that they would end up married, as Man and Boss. He confessed as the tears started to trickle down his cheeks that he was emotionally overwhelmed at the thought of their first meeting in twenty five years. So much so that he was terrified of the thought of giving the game away and breaking down into a tearful mess. I handed him a hanky at this point to help him wipe away his discomfiture. He blew his nose, filling it and then handed it back.
I understand that they really never got around to answering those questions as events overtook them very quickly.
Well most secret service operations in other countries keep an eye out for friendlies who arrive in their patch and it so happened that Bertram had jetted in just as an explosive situation involving a Chinese drugs gang erupted. The ever shrinking Dutch Secret Service seconded both Bertram and Gertrude into the escalating situation and then all hell let loose.
Obviously you cannot give everything away since it would undermine the official report of the following incidents that has recently been published in full but perhaps you could give a brief recap on them anyway?
Well – I can’t say too much but things came to a head when Gertrude was rumbled by the Chinese and got herself captured. They locked her in the back room of their drugs factory barge with the intention of terrorising her. Bertram was utterly devastated, having just connected with her again and found that his ire had become raised and his pique exacerbated. Happily the Chinese gang had no idea of just who would be doing the terrorising. They spent several days facing the consequences of kidnapping and holding captive a spirited girl who quickly traumatised them. Bertram contacted a bunch of friendly Scousers who he had met a few days before and asked for their help. Together he, his team and a Bee-Hive borrowed from The Nemo Science Centre, exacted a terrible revenge in a heart pounding climax… when he told me the story, I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, change my trousers or applaud his audacity. He’s really quite a chap!
Although not yet 30 years since the event and still subject to the official Secrets Act I understand that due to the importance, significance and heart-warming story line The Ministry decided to release the official report for all to read. Titled Bertram & Gertrude’s Steamy Amsterdam Weekend it is available to download but only from Amazon Kindle.
This is true. At first The Ministry were worried about adverse publicity but now it is becoming quite ‘hip’ to be a Secret Agent, (witness Spooks on the telly, most of whom Bertram trained). We are currently awaiting permission to allow us to host the book at other vendors such as Barnes & Noble, and to have a paperback copy made. If Her Majesty agrees, this should all happen within the next few months.
Would you mind terribly if I were to mention my forthcoming book at this point as it should be available in Kindle format shortly before Christmas? The timing is quite fortuitous.
It is called “Bertram & Gertrude’s Extra Sensory Spy.”
Finally as we head into Christmas do you have a favourite song that represents the season to you?
What a lovely idea! I don’t have a song to offer as such but there is a piece of music that I love to play at Christmas :-
Here it is being used by Woody Allen in the closing sequence of one of my
favourite films “Love & Death”
Website for William Frederick to admire the reviews and buy via Amazon Kindle.
For an Amazon Link in your own country – getBook.at/BnGsSAW
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/WilliamFrederickandAgentBertram
My thanks to William Frederick for his frank and revealing interview about Agent Bertram who seems to be the perfect choice for our next Prime Minister. Personally anyone with the diplomatic skills to prevent International incidents due to a certain personage’s comments is to be applauded.