The History of Espionage – part 4

We recorded this episode in June and then took another six months or so to edit it, which means that we very suddenly went from one or two episodes a month to one a year. I think that this length of time is a message that we have certainly reached the end of a stage. I cannot say for sure whether this is the end of Our History Podcast but it certainly means that we are at the end of a season and if we do come back it will be in a different guise. I am working on something based in the Spanish Civil War that may or may not see the light of day at some stage.

The shame of this is that this episode sounds a lot better than previous ones, thanks to the assistance I have received from the excellent Tom Rouse, who actually knows what he is doing when it comes to making things sound good. Tom mixed, edited and sprinkled some magic on this episode and I hope your collective ears will appreciate the improvement.

I seem to have lost my Acast account, so just iTunes and Stitcher links available:



This episode is all about the spies we have grown to know and love from books and movies. James Bond, the most famous of all fictional spies, is also the least representative. Spying is not, generally, a glamorous way of life; it is furtive, deceptive and sordid. If you listen to the end of the episode, you will hear me reading from a passage of John Le Carré describing Berlin in A Perfect Spy, in which he mentions the lowlife that make up the world of spying.

In the episode, we cover the period spanning the hot Second World War, when, suddenly, attentions had to change from the far left to spying on the far right, to the Cold War. One of the most renowned spymasters of this period was Maxwell Knight, known as M. He ran spies that infiltrated the British Communist Party in the pre-war period but had to change tack and spy on Nazi sympathisers and then revert to the Communists after the war.

The Cold War was, in many ways, the heyday of espionage. The opposing blocs of the West and the Communist East threw resources at the various agencies that we have come to know so well: the CIA, the KGB and Britain’s own MIs. Signals intelligence became increasingly sophisticated but also human intelligence reached such a point that it felt as if the secret services could infiltrate foreign governments at will.  We spend some time discussing the Cambridge spies – a group of British Communists, all apparently confirmed members of the British Establishment, who sent secrets to Moscow over an extended period of time.

The cover image is of a stamp of Kim Philby, one of the Cambridge spies. It says a lot that Russia released a stamp with his face on it in 1990

I imagine the people responsible for the cover designs of two of the books I used to research this episode must have been pretty annoyed when they saw that another 2017 spy book had used the exact same “shadowy figure” image from an image library.

If this is a sign off, I would like to thank Tom for his help with the sound on this episode, Martin for the jingles and Anup for our cover artwork and of course, to anyone who has actually listened to us wittering on, particularly Rowena, who gets a mention.



Le Carré, John, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, 1963, 
A perfect Spy, 1986
A Legacy of Spies, 2017. All Sceptre
Hemming, Henry, M: Maxwell Knight, MI5's Greatest Spymaster, 
Preface Publishing, 2017.
Pearce, Martin, Spymaster: 
The Life of Britain's Most Decorated Cold War Spy and Head of MI6, 
Sir Maurice Oldfield, Bantam Press, 2017
Andrew, Christopher, Defend the Realm:
The Authorized History of MI5, 2009, Knopf.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy IMDB
Bridge of Spies IMDB
James Bond films (all!)

The Cambridge Spies IMDB


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