William Ashenden is an agent with the British Secret Intelligence Service.
By trade he is an author, a man who has written a novel or two, if inferences can be believed, but who is better known for the plays that he has devised. Most often these plays are of a humorous nature for in the years leading up to the Great War and into it things which can take a person's mind from the seriousness of the world's situation are much to be desired. More importantly, since his plays do not deal with world events or politics or anything so somber and controversial, their nature do not bring him particularly to the attention of the nations in which he might travel.
This is by no means an accident. Ashenden had been a writer living abroad for several years, being likely in his late 30s at the time of the first recorded adventure. As nation after nation fell into one of two major camps and the bombs started flying, he eventually made his way back to his native England where his intention had been to reside until the bloodshed ceased. A chance meeting with a high ranking member of the SIS would change that.
The man, known officially as "R", presented to Ashenden the idea of moving to neutral Switzerland and working as a covert operative for Britain. He would be given a few different identities to use to travel to neighboring countries and would issue regular reports on things he learned, both militarily and politically. Being a very patriotic man and not a little interested in the exciting task, Ashenden agreed almost instantly.
It would not be correct to think of Ashenden as a man of action in the stories related about him but not because he could or would not be but because the situations he was in were usually of the type where subtlety is called for far more than action but when the need arises, he is a fast mover and quite decisive. The most important thing that Ashenden is, obviously one which makes him a good writer, is his ability to observe and record. He has a great skill in just watching and listening. The latter causes people he meets to feel the urge to talk and in the many ramblings, he gleans the information that he came for.