FORMER director of intelligence and security agency GCHQ Sir Brian Tovey, who lived in Oxford, has died aged 89.

Sir Brian was described by his family as “a warm, affectionate and gentle man, a brilliant strategist and a natural leader.”

His wife, Lady Mary Tovey, called him “a wonderful, charming, highly intelligent” man.

Sir Brian John Maynard Tovey was born in London in 1926 to Anglican vicar Collett Tovey and his wife, Catherine, née Maynard.

He grew up in Oxford and was educated at St Edward’s School and then St Edmund Hall.

Sir Brian was called up for training in the Royal Navy in 1945 but completed his national service in the Army, serving in the Intelligence Corps until he was commissioned into the Education Corps.

Soon after he left the Army he went to the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, where he completed a degree in Chinese.

He was talented in written Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese and Vietnamese and also spoke Italian.

His flair for languages led directly to him being hired in 1950 by GCHQ, the government communications centre in Cheltenham.

He worked there until 1983, serving as director for the final five years.

In January 1980 he was appointed KCMG (Knight Commander) in the New Year’s Honours List, thanks to his work with GCHQ.

On retiring, Sir Brian embarked on a second career as a company director in partnership with his fourth wife, Mary, nee Lane, who he met in Cheltenham in 1979 at a social event at the town’s racecourse. They married 10 years later.

Together they provided political consultancy services to a number of organisations and also co-founded the Learning Skills Foundation and the charity Learning Skills Research. They lived in South Kensington.

Sir Brian and his first wife, Elizabeth Christopher, had four children – Anne, Helen, Dominic and Catherine.

The couple divorced in 1959 and he married twice more before meeting Lady Mary Tovey, who he was married to for 26 years until his death.

While retired, Sir Brian turned a love for Italian art from the 13th to the 17th centuries into a new career, becoming a lecturer and author, as well as a Visiting Fellow at the British Institute of Florence.

In 2010, the couple moved to Elizabeth Jennings Way, Woodstock Road, Oxford, and Sir Brian continued to work in Oxford University’s Sackler library, writing a biography of Italian art historian Baldinucci, which he finished shortly before he died on December 23.

He is survived by his first wife, Elizabeth, his fourth wife, Mary, his children Helen, Dominic and Catherine, 10 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. His eldest daughter, Anne, died in 2012.

Sir Brian’s funeral was held on Monday at The Oxford Oratory and a burial will take place tomorrow at Wolvercote Cemetery at 10am.