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Every day we write the book: an incomplete history of civil service authors for World Book Day

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: GDS team

Today is World Book Day, so we thought it would be fun to look back through history and find out about some civil servants who dabbled as authors on the side.

Ian Fleming (image courtesy of Libor Kriz on a creative commons licence)
Ian Fleming (image courtesy of Libor Kriz on a creative commons licence)

Victorian author Anthony Trollope spent many years working for the Post Office, and was responsible for introducing pillar boxes after encountering them during travels in France and Belgium.

In his later years, poet William Wordsworth took a job in the civil service. Another government poet was John Milton, author of "Paradise Lost". He was one of the very earliest civil servants, writing propaganda for Cromwell's Commonwealth.

Science fiction novelist Geoff Ryman, now a lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Manchester, used to work with the team that built GOV.UK's predecessor, DirectGov. He led the teams that made the first versions of the British Monarchy and 10 Downing Street websites.

In 1996, Ryman published a novel as a website: 253 is the story of an Underground train and every passenger on board it, set in the moments leading up to a disaster.

Alan Blackshaw acted as Principal Private Secretary to three government ministers and took on all sorts of other government jobs during his years as a civil servant. His passion was mountaineering, and in the mid-60s he wrote a "bible" for climbers, "Mountaineering: From Hillwalking to Alpine Climbing" (now sadly, it seems, out of print).

The best known of all is probably Ian Fleming, who spent years working for British Naval Intelligence, and used his experiences as the basis for his series of James Bond novels.

You might not expect to see much about Bond on GOV.UK, and you'd be right. But there is this entertaining pun-packed speech by Sir James Bevan, the British High Commissioner to India:

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, friends and colleagues, welcome. I don’t have a Licence to Kill. But I do have a licence to open our house to friends for events such as this. And tonight, For Your Eyes Only, I also have a licence to mention the titles of every single James Bond movie in a speech.

That's just the start. You should see what he does for Moonraker.

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  1. Comment by Neil Stenton posted on

    Ian Rankin also worked at (what was) the Inland Revenue

    • Replies to Neil Stenton>

      Comment by Daniel Stapleton posted on

      And me, Daniel Stapleton!

  2. Comment by Helen Hardy posted on

    Let's not forget the women, including one Iris Murdoch at the Treasury.

  3. Comment by Ian Oliver posted on

    Erskine Childers who wrote Riddle of the Sands, one of the first and best spy thrillers, before becoming a fanatic Irish nationalist was a parliamentary clerk

  4. Comment by James Kemp posted on

    Don't forget Robert Burns either, poet and Excise Man.

  5. Comment by Tim Brooks posted on

    Big shout out please for Mr Samuel Pepys, secretary to the Royal Navy and of course the greatest diarist in the English language.