The original Miss Moneypenny and Conservative hostess
Born: 11 October, 1921 in London.
Died. 16 December, 2009 in London, aged 88.
SHE was a startling beauty and a much respected and feisty wife of a leading Tory MP. But Victoire Evelyn Patricia Bennett, who became Lady Ridsdale and was always known as "Paddy", gained renown firstly as Ian Fleming's redoubtable secretary during the Second World War and then as the model for the equally redoubtable Miss Moneypenny, who acted as James Bond's long-suffering, aloof but fiercely loyal, secretary in the 007 books.
Ridsdale was also involved in one of the most imaginative deceptions of the Second World War when she assisted Fleming's counter-intelligence efforts to confuse the Germans about the Allied plans in the Mediterranean.
The secret documents regarding the planned Allied invasion of Italy were (on purpose) captured and led the Germans to believe that there was to be an invasion of Greece. In a senior officer's case were "secret" papers showing a plan of attack. The officer's "body" was washed up on the coast of Spain where local German spies found it. Fleming had made the body totally convincing and the utmost care was taken to ensure that the details were authentic. Theatre tickets and personal information were on his person and – most convincing of all – love letters written by Ridsdale. The saga of "Major Martin", as the body was named, proved successful and later became an excellent film called The Man Who Never Was.
Ridsdale was educated at the Sorbonne in Paris and when war broke out, she began work at the Admiralty in Whitehall. She met Fleming who was working in Naval Intelligence and already creating clandestine missions throughout Europe to confuse the Nazis. The two worked in the celebrated Room 39, one of the more secret parts of the Admiralty building, where Fleming cooked up some outlandish schemes to deceive the enemy.
The "Major Martin" scheme displayed Room 39 at its most inventive. Fleming and Ridsdale gained immense credit for the operation – it was both simple and daring. The body was, indeed, picked up by fishermen in April 1943 and the subterfuge convinced the Axis powers: they were caught utterly by surprise on 9 July, 1943, when the Allies invaded in vast numbers through Sicily.
Despite what the Bond films imply, the "real" Miss Moneypenney was never enamoured with 007. "Fleming based Bond on himself," she once said in an interview. "He was the brave, handsome spy who had women falling at his feet.
"He was always wooing me with presents of silk stockings and lipstick from strange places. But I was never taken in by his charm because I knew what he was like. He was always on the telephone to different women, taking them to lunch and dinner at the Ritz. He had so many girlfriends that I was not tempted to become one of them."
Indeed, she became engaged while working at the Admiralty, and was married to an army officer Julian Ridsdale, later Sir Julian, in 1942 at the height of the war.
Even in her domestic life she showed a cool head. On one occasion, her husband held her by her ankles while she used a broom to push an incendiary bomb off the roof of their London house.
That same brave spirit returned years later when she was mugged near her house in Chelsea. Ridsdale gave the mugger a hefty kick where it hurt and he ran.
"I felt cross. That was why I hit out," she said. The prosecuting counsel, said: "Lady Ridsdale may be of retirement age, but she was not prepared to submit to such indignity without response. So she kicked the intruder in a place where it appeared to hurt."
But, in truth, Ridsdale enjoyed her association with Fleming and her part in the novels as the secretary to 007's boss. The playful badinage between M and 007 in the office never really occurred, but she considered them hugely enjoyable. Ridsdale met Lois Maxwell, the Canadian actress who played Miss Moneypenny in all the early Bond films and they exchanged stories about the movie Bond and the real Bond.
After the war, Ridsdale settled down to being the wife of a constituency MP: her husband held Harwich in Essex from1954 until 1992. He gained minor appointments – notably as under-secretary for air and under-secretary for defence – and, among other appointments, was a prominent president of the Anglo-Japanese Parliamentary Group.
Ridsdale was not one to accept a purely secondary role as an MP's wife. She founded the Conservative MPs' Wives Group, which arranged meetings at the House of Commons so that the wives could become better informed about political and social affairs. She and her husband gave a party at their Chelsea home for 100 Tory MPs in 1974 who were disenchanted with the then leader, Edward Heath.
She survived her husband, who died in 2004, and Paddy Ridsdale is survived by their daughter, Lady Newall.