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'Paddy' Ridsdale

Lady Ridsdale, who has died aged 88, was an inspiration for Ian Fleming's character of Miss Moneypenny in his James Bond novels. Fleming, she said, was "very attractive, but with a great hardness in him". During working hours at naval intelligence headquarters in Whitehall he was constantly on the telephone to different women, arranging assignations at the Ritz.

When he returned from mysterious operational missions, he was invariably laden with gifts of silk stockings and scent; but he "had so many girlfriends that I was not tempted to become one of them". Miss Moneypenny's unrequited love for Bond was, she implied, pure fiction.

Elegant, sharp-witted and boundlessly energetic, Paddy Ridsdale was a formidable political wife during husband Sir Julian Ridsdale's 38-year career in the Commons, and in old age she remained indomitably cheerful.

In January 1997, she was set upon by a mugger in London. The man, his identity concealed by a motorcycle helmet, had seized her wristwatch and was tugging at her wedding ring when she lifted her high-heeled shoe and kicked him squarely in the groin. "It takes 10 minutes and a lot of soap to get those rings off -- I thought he'd chop my fingers off," she noted. "Well, I wasn't having any of that."

Victoire Evelyn Patricia Bennett, known to some of her family as Vicky but to everyone else as Paddy, was born on October 11, 1921. Her mother, deeming the nursing ward where she was installed uncomfortable, had moved into Claridge's for the birth.

Her mother (daughter of Sir Tommy O'Shaughnessy, the last English judge to sit as recorder of Dublin) was a passionate Francophile: hence the name Victoire, and the decision to finish the girl's education at the Sorbonne, where she studied architecture. In 1939, Paddy was given a job in naval intelligence. She was the only woman working for seven officers, of whom Ian Fleming was one, in Room 39 under the command of Admiral Godfrey, the model for Fleming's spy-chief "M".

She left the service to get married in 1942, but took a continuing part in "Operation Mincemeat". This famous caper concerned "the man who never was", a corpse equipped with an elaborately constructed false identity was floated in the ocean off Spain carrying fictitious plans of a purported invasion of Sardinia and Greece to deflect attention from the Allied landings in Sicily in 1943. Paddy's role had been to write love letters to be planted on the body.

Meanwhile, Paddy met her husband-to-be on the tennis court at Hurlingham. He was a staff officer recently returned from Japan, where he had been assistant military attache obliged to leave hurriedly to escape accusations of spying. Their home was her family's mansion in the Boltons, a grand enclave of South Kensington, where they kept chickens and gradually repaired the damage of wartime bombing and neglect. Among the Conservative members the Ridsdales recruited was the actress Diana Dors.

Julian Ridsdale fought North Paddington unsuccessfully in the 1951 general election, but won Harwich in February 1954. He was air minister from 1962 to 1964, and held his seat comfortably through 10 general elections -- becoming a loyal Thatcherite backbencher -- until his retirement in 1992. Paddy was his constituency secretary throughout. She became Lady Ridsdale when her husband was knighted in 1981, and was appointed DBE in her own right in 1991. The Ridsdales had a daughter, Penny. Julian Ridsdale died in 2004.

© Telegraph

Sunday Independent