Tina Tamman

Portrait of a Secret Agent who Knew Kim Philby

Portrait of a Secret Agent who Knew Kim Philby - Tina Tamman

Finding the happy medium between inserting all the detailed information you can while still maintaining an interesting and easy to read biography is a delicate thing. 

Tina Tamman pulls it off well with Portrait of a Secret Agent who Knew Kim Philby. Every chapter contained interesting information that flowed well and kept me highly intrigued. 

This is an extremely well written book and I strongly recommend it for anyone who enjoys biographies or is particularly interested in intelligence officers. 

Some Bio Information

Tina Tamman was born in Estonia when the country was part of the Soviet Union. Arriving in England in 1974, she first worked in the wine trade and then for the BBC, translating and editing news. She was awarded a PhD by the University of Glasgow in 2010, her thesis was published as a book and she has been researching and writing ever since.


1. What inspired you to write this book?

Having learnt that freedom of information does not apply to the secret service, which means that you cannot ask a single question about MI6, I wanted to see how much I could find out about a middle-ranking intelligence officer without access to the archives and with no intelligence links. I saw it as a challenge and I’m pleased I was able to put together Brian Giffey’s life story. I’d come across his name in my previous research and then found added excitement in the fact that, while serving in Estonia, the country of my birth, Giffey fell in love and married a local girl 25 years his junior. A moving but unusual love story.

2. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process?

It was important, I felt, to write up as I progressed in my research. Research is really like detective work - therefore quite emotional (both exhilarating and frustrating) - while writing up requires peace and quiet. This contrast creates a pleasing rhythm.

3. What was your favorite part of writing this book?

Selecting passages from Giffey’s and his  wife’s diaries and letters to quote. Many of those were love letters - very moving but also surprisingly repetitive. Also, selecting photographs for publication was enjoyable. In the process I got to know and admire Giffey.

4. What does the perfect writing environment look like to you?

Desk at home, laptop and my husband sitting across at his desk, similarly writing. 

5. How would you describe your writing style?

I always aim for brevity and clarity.

6. What would you like readers to take away from your book?

The main thing I’d like readers to remember is that there were numerous British agents who were not traitors. I would like the reader to begin to question why it is that only traitors are well known. Brian Giffey was a loyal man, and yet he is unknown.

7. What’s your ultimate writing goal?

I’d like to write a good thriller.