The recent release of the ‘Big screen’ version of John le Carre’s novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy has sparked an interest in the world of international espionage and known ‘spy’ locations for a whole new generation. The movie has a fine, strong cast, including Gary Oldman who may be nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of George Smiley, Benedict Cumberbatch, John Hurt and Colin Firth, Kathy Burke, as one of the few women in the tale, makes a welcome return to the big screen. The celebrated novel about British spies, was published in 1974 and was adapted for TV by the BBC in 1979. The TV version starred Alec Guiness as Smiley, the man who must uncover the ‘mole’, both versions remain true to the books mood, brilliantly recreating the sullen, sombre mood of the Cold War years. The London of today is a far different place, however for interested parties [spies and others alike!] it’s practically awash with known spy locations, here are just a few to whet your appetite :
54 Broadway: Under the guise of the Minimax Fire Extinguisher Company, M16 moved it’s headquarters to this building in 1926. It didn’t take to long for London’s taxi drivers to realise it was a spy location. German Intelligence used a blind match seller, standing on the opposite side of the road, to monitor activities at the building in the 1930’s.
In and Out Club, Piccadily: a recruiting venue for both M15 and M16 the building fell into disrepair in recent years however it is now being renovated. This adress was used in correspondence found on a dead British officer, who was deliberately dropped into the seas off Spain during WW2. The officer carried documents which led the Nazis to believe the Normandy invasion force would land elsewhere, the true story was told in the 1956 film ‘The Man Who Never Was’.
2 Whitehall Court: This imposing building housed the headquarters of M16 until 1919. The Service’s first and most famous Chief, Sir Mansfield Cumming had an office built which could only be accessed by a series of confusing corridors, with false walls and staircases which led nowhere. Cumming created a tradition which has been continued by all subsequent heads of the Service, he always signed his correspondence with a ‘C’ in green ink.
St Ermin’s Hotel, Caxton Street: Parts of the hotel were used by M16 as an operational centre during WW2. In 1940 Winston Churchill established SOE, the Special Operations Executive, who would carry out many daring spy operations on mainland Europe during the war and whose officials also operated from this building.
Leconfield House, Curzon Street: Early in 1945 this building became MI5s headquarters. The original structure had windows which could accomodate machine guns which could be used if the German’s ever reached the capital. Many famous names from the Service drank here at a bar called the “Pig and Eye”, including Peter Wright, author of one of the greatest espionage books ever written, Spycatcher. The building has now been modernised and refurbished.
18 Carlyle Square, Chelsea: Once home to Kim Philby, one of Britain’s most infamous spies. Philby was an MI6 officer who spied for the KGB in the 1950s, he is believed to have cost the lives of hundreds of Western spies in Soviet controlled Eastern Europe. The double agent was one of the Cambridge Five, unmasked in 1963, he fled to Moscow and he was paid a salary by the KGB until his death in 1988.