I DEPLORE the way the media – that means you, Bill – can never get enough James Bondery,” replied former diplomat Oliver Miles. I had asked about his encounters with the MI6 double agent George Blake who betrayed a large number of British Cold War spies to the KGB.

If you live in Oxford James Bondery is not simply something that happens on the silver screen. It happens here.

Oliver Miles, retired ambassador to Libya and Greece lives in Oxford. George Blake, 92, the spy who got away, lives in a dacha outside Moscow. The two met in Oliver’s room at Merton College during the height of the Cold War.

Oliver told me “I had two encounters with him which were interesting in themselves and also had some effect on my career.

“The first took place when I was an undergraduate at Oxford. I had studied Russian in National Service before I came up to Oxford and, as a result of that, I was involved in some Russian activities in Oxford including going on an exchange visit to Moscow as a student in 1958. “During my last year as an undergraduate in 1959, a chap came to see me. He rang up, didn’t say who he was or give me a name. He obviously knew who I was and he knew a bit about me. The man explained that he was working in the Ministry of Defence and that his job was to try to keep an eye on Russian students in British universities and make sure they weren’t getting up to anything they shouldn’t be getting up to.”

George Blake came to Oliver’s room in Merton College and introduced himself as George Askey. Oliver recounted the scene: “My visitor said ‘I understand you know some of the Russians who are here in Oxford as undergraduates.’ Would I be willing to keep track of what they were doing and let him know if I thought any of their activities were something that ought to be brought to the attention of the authorities? “Though at that time I was a naïve young undergraduate and convinced of the wickedness of the Soviet system, I was not terribly keen on becoming an unpaid spy.

I said that to him, and I also said thankfully this was my last year as an undergraduate reading very difficult subjects, Arabic and Turkish, and I intended to get a First and was spending all my time working, so there was not a lot I could do for them.

“He was very sensible about that. He came to see me a couple of times more and he even asked me if I was thinking of trying to join MI6 myself. I said, ‘No I thought I would try to join the Foreign Office’. He said, ‘What happens if you don’t get in?’ I replied that I was not sure what happens if I don’t get in. He said, ‘Well, let me know because maybe I can give you a hand.’ “And then I got my First, and I got into the Foreign Office and I was sent off to the Arabic School at Shemlan in Lebanon in September.

“In about October of 1960 the new students arrived at Shemlan from the Foreign Office to do a full-year course, followed possibly by the six-month course I was doing. There was big excitement at the school because the new boys were arriving. And who should come in but this chap George.

He took me on one side and said, ‘Look, the first thing that I want to tell you is that my name isn’t George Askey. My name is George Blake’.”

Oliver Miles gave his reaction. “By this time I had to some extent rumbled him. I knew what he was, so to speak, and I said, ‘I’ll call you whatever you like. You tell me a name and I’ll call you that.’ “He said, ‘No, it really is George Blake’. And it was of course. He had been sent out by the Foreign Office to study Arabic because they were on to him. They suspected him of being a Soviet spy but they were not yet ready to arrest him and wanted to put him somewhere where he could not do any harm while they waited. Learning Arabic was not going to do anyone any harm.

“I got to know him socially quite well and his wife. We used to have dinner together, that sort of thing.”

All this interfered with Oliver’s career. An early posting to Moscow was cancelled. Oliver was told the Foreign Office couldn’t send a chap to Moscow who had had a relationship with George Blake. The future ambassador had a diplomatic reply.

“I said rather feebly when I was given this bad news from the Security Department, ‘Look, if there is one person in the world who knows that I am not a spy, it is George Blake. He actually tried to recruit me as one.’ “And they said, ‘Don’t bother us with the details’. So that was the sorry end of my relationship with George Blake.”

But it wasn’t the end of George Blake. After he was exposed in 1961 he received a sentence of 42 years for treason, the longest sentence ever handed down by a British court, excluding life terms.

Five years later, Blake escaped from Wormwood Scrubs using a ladder made from knitting needles and landed up in Moscow – where he is hailed as a hero by Vladimir Putin.

Blake insists he is not a traitor because he never felt British: “To betray, you first have to belong. I never belonged.” In an interview he said: “Once, when I was meeting up with the comrades from the secret service, I joked to them: ‘What you see before you is a foreign-made car, that has adapted very well to Russian roads.’ They found it funny.”