Real-life James Bonds were more likely to drive a Ford Escort than an Aston Martin, the former head of MI5, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, claimed, as she interviewed Dame Judi Dench about the award-winning film role she inspired.
Dame Eliza, in her role as guest editor of Radio 4's 'Today' programme, said her agents were given bicycles to travel round on "if they were lucky", as she compared reality with the fiction seen on screen.
For a special edition of 'Today', broadcast this morning, Dame Eliza also recounted how she nearly failed an early mission, after a barman mistook her for a "hooker".
Dame Judi, disclosed how she was invited for lunch with Sir David Spedding, the then head of MI6, but was late because the secret service's driver could not find her.
Dame Eliza said she chose to interview Dame Judi because she thought it would be "fun", telling the actress she hoped it would be interesting to "talk about you as the fiction and me as the fact".
Dame Judi replied that listeners would be "surprised" to learn how closely her portrayal of M was based on Dame Eliza, and on Dame Stella Rimington, who was also a former director general of MI5.
Speaking of the differences in the "terrific" role, she said: "Of course certainly in my life there were no Aston Martins and Ferraris.
"Bicycles if you were lucky, and Ford Escorts. That sort of level."
Dame Judi, who won a Bafta for her role as M, told Dame Eliza she had once been invited to MI6 to have lunch with Sir David Spedding.
She had intended to use her own driver, only for MI6 to insist it was not appropriate and send their own.
"They did send their driver but he couldn't find me," she said.
"So sub-sequently I was three-quarters of an hour late." Dame Eliza also shared secrets of her early career, saying she had passed parts of her spy training with distinction as a result of good fortune when she was picked up in a pub.
"The task was to pick someone up in a pub and learn enough about them that you had their date of birth and what they did and what their full name was," she said.
"I was sent off to a particular pub and it was quite clear that the barman thought I was a hooker and he tried to throw me out and I was getting desperate because I knew I was going to fail this particular test."
After "sitting in the corner feeling rather miserable", she was then picked up by an American who sold lasers to the Russians, and told her his life history without being prompted.
"I got sort of an essay on him and I got a distinction in that particular part of the test and I had done nothing except sit there," Dame Eliza added. (© Daily Telegraph, London)