Season 1
Episode 21: London: The Spy Who Whistled

Walking the fine line between the glamour of Bond and the gritty reality of Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

This week, Passport declassifies spies – from Bond, to Killing Eve, to the real life agents of MI5 –  on the streets of the city they all have in common: London.

On this episode of Passport, we go to the fog of London and walk the fine line between the glamorous lifestyle of James Bond and the realities of spies sitting on the complicated grey streets of England’s capital. 

We see this fictional world through the eyes of writers and films, from Bond to Villanelle, a stylish femme fetal character from the new series, “Killing Eve.” We dive into what could possibly have inspired these characters, and the city they all have in common.

Our touch of reality is Annie Machon, a legendary ex-MI5 whistleblower who fled the London streets leaving any possible spy devices at home, to escape one of the most surveilled cities in the world, and disappear into the picturesque countryside of France.

MORE TO EXPLORE

SAVED PINS

  1. CAFE DAQUISE
    A legendary Polish restaurant in South Kensington that’s served KGB spies and the Polish President in exile.
  2. SECRET ME
    A one of a kind experience for teams, friends, or families looking to feel what it’s like to be a spy.  Learn spycraft from former intelligence and counterterrorism officers.
  3. DOLPHIN HOUSE
    Don’t let the normalness of this block of flats fool you, it’s been home to some of the most well known and/or notorious spies in London’s history.
  4. BLETCHLEY PARK.Venture out of London’s city walls to the place where Alan Touring cracked the Enigma code during World War II.
  5. HAVE A MARTINI AT DUKES. 
    Put on your best outfit and live that James Bond lifestyle at this iconic bar inside the Duke Hotel in London.

CONNECT WITH US!

On Instagram: @passportpodcast

On Facebook: @passportpod

On Twitter: @passportpod

On The Web: frequencymachine.com/passport

Get The Ticket – the Passport newsletter with amazing new stories. 

CONNECT WITH OUR GUESTS!

Annie Machon on Twitter: @AnnieMachon

This episode of Passport was produced, written, and edited by Neil Innes and Harriet “the spy” Davies.

Big big thanks to Mark Birdsall, Annie Machon, and Luke Jennings for helping us make this episode.

Our theme tune was written by our operative Nick Turner, with extras from: 

Auracle, Rochelle Rochelle, Alan Smithee and Musicbox.

The show is mixed and mastered by Julian Kwasneski. 

Eliza Engel is our production assistant.

Stacey Book, Dominique Ferrari, and Avi Glijansky are our Connery, Craig, and Dalton and they also executive produce the show.

Which is hosted by Neil Innes and a man, who is more May Day than he is Pussy Galore… Andrés Bartos.

We’ll see you in the next place.

 

 

Banner images:
Big Ben, Photo by Lucas Davies on Unsplash
Big Ben, Photo by Luke Stackpoole on Unsplash

EPISODE 21 – TRANSCRIPT

NEIL: Cause the new Bond, the trailer for the new film came out today.

ANDRÉS: It did, didn’t it?

NEIL: Yeah.

ANDRÉS: I saw him falling and hitting things.  

NEIL: He hits a lot of stuff. He doesn’t look so good in this, very bruised.

ANDRÉS: COVID has been hard on a lot of us.

NEIL: Yeah, COVID Bond.

ANDRÉS: Confinement Bond. That would be a good movie.

[Laughter]

NEIL: Daniel Craig with a mullet.

ANDRÉS: Just like a shitty haircut.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: Trying to make bread.

[Laughter]

[PASSPORT MAIN TITLE]

ANDRÉS: A destination isn’t always a place.

NEIL: Sometimes it’s a new way of seeing things.

I’m Neil Innes

ANDRÉS: And I’m Andrés Bartos.

NEIL: From Frequency Machine, this is Passport.

ANDRÉS: Your ticket to everywhere.

[END MAIN TITLE]

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: Espionage. It’s such a great word.

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: Along with it comes images of Cold War, tall men in crisp suits and perfect hats, alleyway meetings in the middle of the night, mysterious women with guns tucked into garter belts. A hotel room drawer full of passports, a double cross, a vile of poison.

NEIL: The word espionage these days lives for the majority of the world in fiction.

It’s exciting, cool, sexy, and intriguing. From James Bond to Austin Powers to Killing Eve, John LeCarre, Ian Flemming – there’s only one city at the center of the greatest spy stories of all time.

[Song playing]

NEIL: The fog, the square mile, the big smoke, old London town. London is a city with not a straight line in sight. A complex, huge, layered, confusing mess to get lost in, to disappear in.

The pop culture boost of the nation’s image around the world. The quintessential gentleman spy can only and forever be London.

ANDRÉS: In this episode of Passport, Neil Innes and Harriet Davies, head to the world’s capital city, London, sorry New York, on a reconnaissance mission.

We’re going to try to connect the dots between James Bond and Alan Turing.

[News clip about Turing breaking Nazi codes]

ANDRÉS: Between a real life Mi5 whistleblower

ANNIE: The increasing paranoia because I think the spies were beginning to get conscious that something was going on.

ANDRÉS: and Killing Eve

LUKE: that there is no sense in which women who kill do so less viciously than men do.

NEIL: We want to find out how London’s real life spies have fashioned, cultivated and driven one of the biggest pop culture love affairs of modern times. Or is it the other way around?

ANDRÉS: Should I have prepared some James Bond puns for this?

HARRIET: We watched James Bond yesterday.

ANDRÉS: Did you!?

HARRIET: We did.

ANDRÉS: You bastards.

HARRIET: 77, James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me.

ANDRÉS: Roger Moore. That’s not a good place to start.

HARRIET: Really? Cause I thought it was beautiful.

ANDRÉS: Really?

HARRIET: Yeah.

ANDRÉS: I mean, Roger Moore’s all right.

HARRIET: I thought it was filmed nicely.

ANDRÉS: Sure.

HARRIET: The fight scenes were very quiet and made it slightly cinematic in a way that was quite uncomfortable and weird.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: There’s, yeah, it is. It’s a very like tuxedo fighting.

HARRIET: Yeah. There was a lot of beautiful women in it. It was nice. The first scene in the one we watched, because this is the only one I’ve watched, so I can’t comment on any more.

NEIL: Your first Bond movie.

ANDRÉS: This is very exciting.

HARRIET: The first scene is epic.

ANDRÉS: What’s the first scene?

HARRIET: He jumps off like a mountain and then parachutes to the ground.

Obviously it’s not him, but like epic scene.

ANDRÉS: Is he wearing a tuxedo as he does?

HARRIET: No, he’s wearing a bright, yellow ski suit.

NEIL: That’s the first thing Harriet said, that he, like, he leaves a naked woman by a fire place in a log cabin and it just cuts to Bond and he’s like, goodbye, my love or something.

And he’s like, Harriet’s like, oh my god, look at his outfit. Like Where’s Wally.

[Laughter]

HARRIET: It was so good. I want, I want one.

ANDRÉS: I mean, how did, how did London become this spy place, man? It makes no sense. Really. British people are not

NEIL: Suave

ANDRÉS: Suave, no.

[Laughter]

HARRIET: Are you trying to say I don’t walk around with a top hat on and a tuxedo on every day.

ANDRÉS: I have yet to see you in a tuxedo, you do dress pretty well Harriet, I’ll tell you that.

HARRIET: Aw, thanks. I’ll take that.

ANDRÉS: But I have yet to see you, you know, take down, um, you know, some crime syndicate while drinking a martini.

NEIL: It’s coming.

ANDRÉS: Now that you’ve done the Bond business, going into Graham Greene’s I think it’s Man in Havana.

NEIL: Yeah.

ANDRÉS: Or one of these where it’s like, Mi5, but proper. So, it’s just bureaucrats

NEIL: procedurals,

ANDRÉS: with shitty brown suits filing paperwork.

NEIL: Yeah.

ANDRÉS: Oh yeah.

NEIL: It’s brilliant.

ANDRÉS: I mean, proper spy stuff is very funny.

NEIL: Well that’s yeah. We’re walking both lane in this thing, we’re trying to.

HARRIET: Bringing the reality in.

[Song playing]

HARRIET: It said that spying is the world’s second oldest profession. And it’s a profession that can only be summed up in one popular phrase: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

You may remember it from the Godfather, but it’s from Sun Tsu, The Art of War. It’s debated when this philosophical military text was written, but some believe it to be some time in the fourth century. Ancient armies, medieval clans, the mafia, they have all used spies in one way or another.

NEIL: We only mention it because, well, spying is old.

It’s constant. It happens all over the world, all the time. And it rides forever on that one phrase. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

For the most part, though, as boring as it may seem, spying has become and is primarily all about one thing: security.

MARK: I’ve always worked in security and I’ve always found the subject of espionage fascinating.

HARRIET: I talked to the walking espionage encyclopedia, Mark Birdsall, from the rolling hills of the North Yorkshire Dales in the North of England, close to Meanworth Hill, a US base, which contains satellite antennas capable of intersecting 2 million conversations per hour. Coincidence? Mark couldn’t possibly say.

MARK: Cause I worked in publishing I thought we’d try and do something of an espionage magazine.

HARRIET: Mark launched his magazine, Eye Spy, in 2001. After September 11th of that year and the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, the world’s interest in espionage was peaked once more.

Mark’s work as a journalist has led him into a very different world.

MARK: You’ve got to be careful. And, uh, as I say, I’ve met a great many people and traveled to a great many places where I felt uncomfortable. Glad to get out if you like, that’s the role of an investigator. If sometimes you end up in places where you don’t want to.

NEIL: Journalists and spies have always had a pretty close relationship. So much so that it’s thought of as a separate branch of the service.

And with the worldwide rep the British press has, it’s not surprising at all.

MARK: Well the fourth estate is basically an entity, which is made up of people who work in the news media, but it also trusted and have connections to the intelligence world.

NEIL: So I guess that makes me and Harriet spies, at least for today.

MARK: There allure of that world is so great because of the silver screen.

But one thing that I do know is when a person does apply for the job, the process is multifaceted. There’s about six or seven different processes to go through before you even get to an interview stage.

HARRIET: You can imagine the amount of CVs arriving.

Boys and girls with dreams of hanging off flying helicopters, diving off buildings, swanning around in tuxedos and designer dresses, cutting red wire one second before destination, saving the world.

There is in fact a preliminary test online you can take at mi5.gov.uk. Neil and I took the test and according to her Majesty’s secret service, we are both spy ready.

NEIL: People with wild imaginations have always been drawn to this world. Aldous Huxley, George Orwell and Sigmund Freud, all fantastical brains, all worked in some way for the British secret service.

The attraction in the line between fact and fiction has always been there, but still, actual espionage is a real job. A job in which London is the center.

MARK: Espionage is, is evolved probably from more quickly from around about the 1600s and suddenly information became King and the, you know, the British really started it, you know, with Queen Elizabeth the first and her spymasters.

And as I say, you know, if you knew what other countries were doing and planning, you know, it gave you a hidden advantage.

HARRIET: In the 1500s, the protestant Queen Elizabeth the first created the first official network of spies, mainly due to the paranoia of looming Catholic assassins.

The royal court gathered trade merchants, street kids, landlords and kidnappers to snoop, to gossip and to spread information.

The spy world has come a long way since crossing a barman’s hand with silver for some backroom information. Spying is something done by almost every single country on earth.

MARK: But you know, the more high-end espionage, that is done to a standard where it’s virtually undetectable. Russia, America, all of them are engaged in this type of activity.

And that ultimate objective of course, is to solve secrets. So information is king and it always has been in the game of espionage.

NEIL: Along with keeping your enemies closer than your friends, this is the other mantra of the spy: Information is King.

There are three branches of the secret service set up to help the UK be the king of information.

Mi5, Mi6 and GCHQ. The latter was set up after the First World War as a government code and cypher school and during the Second World War, it did something remarkable. To get an idea of how big a deal spying can be, it’s worth looking at perhaps the most famous British spy story. One which almost feels fictional.

When Alan Turing and his team at Bletchley Park built a machine to crack the Nazi enigma codes during the Second World War, the computer had barely been heard of.

MARK: At times of conflict, espionage is so, so important. And you know, the British during World War Two, they crack the enigma code and, uh, you know, and the Germans didn’t know, tremendous espionage effort. You know, it, it shortened the war by several years and possibly saved millions and millions of lives by doing so.

HARRIET: A computing genius building a code breaking machine in a secret manor sounds like a perfect villainous plot line from a Bond film.

But it was really a mathematical marvel of cogs and buttons with a possibility of 159 trillion combinations. The machine which historians claim was directly responsible for shorting the biggest conflict the world has ever seen by two years was built with information.

Trial and error and the work of a lot of spies behind enemy lines, all taking their orders from bunkers under the streets of the capital.

MARK: Yeah, London was central, really, you know, London was central and especially when America joined the war as well in 1941, suddenly, uh, London became a hub of spy activity. London’s always fascinated me. If we’re talking about London area, spy capital of the world, really.

[Song playing]

HARRIET: Aside from London’s infamous tube, there’s a second layer of underground tunnels that zigzag under the condense confusing streets of London. Layers and layers.

This is something that Mark knows very well.

MARK: A lot of the buildings were connected, especially in Whitehall, Central London, around Downing Street and things like this where underground passages did exist, you know, when, uh, and they still do.

They still do. In fact, on one or two of the tube stations which no longer function. Well, one of the major British intelligence services, they actually stored their archives there.

NEIL: The tunnels between Whitehall and Downing Street built during the Second World War are often denied by the government. But one of the most important military citadels today is in Central London.

It’s called Pindar, a huge bunker deep beneath Whitehall. But Pindar isn’t a Second World War remnant.

It opened in 1991, right at the end of the Cold War, relatively new in the scheme of things.

Things are forever changing in the world of espionage. Tech satellites, GPS, hacking, spying is more complicated, but it’s also more open to anyone than ever before.

MARK: 30, 40 years ago when, uh, officers had to travel thousands of miles to, to solve information. Now, of course it can be done from the comfort of their own office or living room.

As I say, the screen version of a, of a spy is very, very different to, to the people that I’ve encountered.

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: The people that are into spy stuff, it’s like people like my dad.

NEIL: Yeah.

ANDRÉS: You know, people that are also into like crossword puzzles or mensa books, things like that.

NEIL: Yeah, I know, thirty years writing about spies he reckons.

ANDRÉS: Well, that’s the thing like journalism is spying, really.

NEIL: Yeah.

ANDRÉS: Gathering information, gathering intelligence, trying to make sense of it.

NEIL: Well, up until recently when BBC was in Bush House in Shepherd’s Bush.

ANDRÉS: Okay. You’re saying bush a lot.

NEIL: Yeah, there’s lots of bush in London.

Mi5 shared rooms of Bush House with the BBC.

ANDRÉS: Is this real? So you’re telling me the spy agency was basically next door to the BBC.

NEIL: In the same building.

ANDRÉS: Ostensibly, they were working together? Nobody knows.

HARRIET: I got told off when I said that and I was like, so the, basically the BBC has spies and he went,

NEIL: Whoa, calm down now Harriet.

ANDRÉS: Don’t get crazy. There we’re just having coffee together.

HARRIET: Chatting over secrets.

ANDRÉS: Wow.

[Song playing]

NEIL: After the break, we’ll talk to a real life Mi5 spy who blew the whistle on her own agency and then the creator of one of the world’s greatest modern fictional spy characters. Find out after the break.

[Song playing]

HARRIET: Mark Birdsall’s work writing for Eye Spy magazine has meant he’s been allowed a little peek behind the curtain of the fourth estate and others secret services. And Annie Machon is one spy that Mark has met.

MARK: Well, I met Annie, I met Annie. It was, it will be 20 years ago now when I first met her at a safe house, actually that was being run by the, I think it was the Daily Mail at the time.

HARRIET: The fourth estate strikes again, a British newspaper safeguarding a spy, a spy on the run, actually a couple of spies.

MARK: She was with David Shayler, another Mi5, I think they left around the same time.

NEIL: The story of Annie Machon and David Shayler is straight from the pages of a John LeCarre novel. It was 1997, an ex-publisher, and an ex-journalist then working at Mi5, Machon and Shalyer became disgruntled with some bungled operations.

The nail in the coffin had been an alleged Mi6 assassination attempt on Libyan leader Colonel Gadaffi with a car bomb.

The bomb was planted under the wrong car, and several civilians were killed. As they saw it, Shalyer and Machon had had enough. They wanted to air the dirty laundry of an inept secret service. They wanted to whistle blow the whistleblowers.

We had to talk with Annie. So me and Harriet got in the booth to talk with a real life ex-spy.

[Video connecting beep]

ANNIE: Hello? Oh, good, that works. Thank god for that.

[Laughter]

ANNIE: Yeah. I don’t know what’s going on with the other thing. It just wouldn’t let me give permission. And normally, you know, our little spy devices want permission all the time.

[Laughter]

ANNIE: Anyway, we’re here now. Very happy to meet you.

HARRIET: With our spy devices listening, we got straight into Annie’s spy life.

ANNIE: I was lucky enough to end up based in Pimlico, favorite spy hangout and that’s where spies have lived over the decades.

Partly because it’s fairly central um, and also, you know, if there’s some sort of mad dash in the middle of the night because you’re running a live operation, it’s pretty easy.

[Song playing]

HARRIET: Pimlico, sandwiched between Westminster and Chelsea, is close to Victoria Station and the houses of Parliament and has always been one of the spy centers of London.

Strolling the bridges of the bank of the River Thames, there could be espionage training or surveillance drills going on. The suits at the table next to you in the local pub might be hiding licenses to kill.

NEIL: A good spot to see in Pimlico is Dolphin House. It was once the largest residential building in Europe with more than 1200 flats. Over the years, it has housed James Bond creator Ian Fleming, the French World War II President Charles De Gaulle and Winston Churchill. Princess Anne, numerous Soviet spies, many Mi5 agents, and a litany of other scandalous goings on.

If the streets of Pimlico could talk, they would scream. Annie and David tested the convenience of a Pimlico exit for real.

ANNIE: My exit from Pimlico was, um, through the whistleblowing years with David Shayler, so um, that excision involved one week’s notice, um, booking some flights to the continent and going on the run for a month and then to begin a remote French farmhouse with no car and no TV for the next year, quite an abrupt change we’d say.

HARRIET: Annie and David’s decision to go rogue came in August 1997. They disappeared into the fog of London with a briefcase full of stolen reports, which skewered the three main secret service agencies. Mi5, Mi6 and GCHQ.

The Gaddafi Plot that David claimed Mi6 was part of involved a payoff to an extremist organization to the tune of 100,000 pounds. A fee to plant a bomb under his motorcade.

The intel was incorrect. While David headed over to the newspapers to begin unloading his information, Annie got their papers in order to flee.

ANNIE: David was in the newspaper office of the Mail on Sunday, doing all the debriefing and setting the first articles up. So I was running around, um, Central London, um, trying to book flights out of the country and using different, different, call boxes everywhere only once so that it could not be traced and things like that.

Um, but also the run up to it, you know, the increasing paranoia, because I think the spies were beginning to get conscious that something was going on.

NEIL: A moral duty, perhaps, but in the process, Annie and David would have to break the official secrets act, which prohibits all intelligence offices from divulging information on their time as spies.

ANNIE: It was a, it was a mad, um, decision to take. I mean, I look back and think, how the hell did we get our heads around that. One, we felt we had to do it. Um, we tried all we could on the inside. Um, two, we knew that by going public you defacto break the official secrets act. Um, so we knew that we would face arrest and the motivation was to get the hell out of the country.

NEIL: France at the time protected political prisoners and whistleblowers from being extradited.

But as agents, they really needed to disappear. They hid out in the French countryside and waited. Meanwhile, the press in the UK were having a field day.

ANNIE: What we were hoping for was to cause a bit of a scandal and that would lead to pressure for a public inquiry into what had been going wrong in the 1990s.

NEIL: But their story didn’t quite turn out the way they thought.

ANNIE: Unfortunately, one week after we went on the run, Princess Diana died in Paris.

[News broadcast of the death of Princess Diana]

HARRIET: On the 31st of August, 1997, a few weeks after Annie and David had left England, the nation’s pricess died in a tunnel under the French capital. It was the biggest story of the decade. It washed Annie and David’s story away and left them stranded.

ANNIE: So we suddenly found ourselves lost in France on the run with Mi5 after us and no media protection whatsoever.

So it became, um, slighty more shambolic, should we say. It’d be like a surreal backpacking holiday around Europe, trying to evade capture.

HARRIET: Facing arrest with no one looking into an enquiry anymore, Annie felt she had to turn back.

ANNIE: So I flew back voluntarily saying, you know, I’ll hand myself into the police.

And, um, the bastards still came and arrested me at the immigration desk at Gatwick airport. Um, threw me into the counter-terrorism suite in Charing Crosspolice station for a day’s interviews, which was fun. And eventually they dropped whatever threat of prosecution they had over me within six months, so.

NEIL: You see, Annie didn’t take the papers. That was all on David.

ANNIE: If he’d gone back to the UK, he would have been arrested. He would have been charged. Um, so the plan at that point was for me to go back and sort everything out and then hopefully be free, be less out on bail, keep my passport, so that I could then go and find him wherever he settled in Europe, which is what I did.

And we had a year in this strange remote little primitive, French farmhouse with no TV and no car or anything cause everything has, of course has to be tracked that way. It was a bit of a lifestyle change we’d say.

[Laughter]

NEIL: 1998, the British requested to extract David. The French court held trial. They ruled the motives of the requests to hand him over were politically based and they released him back into the wilds of the French countryside.

He tried to stay present in the news and on TV to keep the possibility of an inquiry open. It wasn’t until 2000 David returned voluntarily to the UK. He faced charges and he was sentenced to just six months in jail.

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: Okay. First of all, these two are together. This is a love, this is a spy love story, how romantic, and then how tragic that Princess Diana ruined their plans. I’m very upset about this.

NEIL: It’s really hard to talk about Annie, but the story, the story goes on.

HARRIET: They were in the countryside for a year. And during that time they were still continuing to try and be in the press.

So they were going on every talk show, everywhere that they could kind of get attention, I guess, to keep them safe is how they saw it.

ANDRÉS: Right.

HARRIET: But also everyone just took the piss out of, especially David for about a year.

NEIL: He went to prison in 2000, was out 2001. Annie and David break up.

HARRIET: They break up in 2006 and David takes a different direction.

ANDRÉS: Okay.

NEIL: Somewhat of a break?

ANDRÉS: Like what do you mean?

HARRIET: He ended up living in an anarchistic squat outside of London, claiming he was someone called Dolores.

ANDRÉS: Excuse me?

NEIL: Dolores Kane. He’s a transvestite conspiracy theorist basically.

HARRIET: But then also became a messiah.

ANDRÉS: What?

NEIL: In 2016

ANDRÉS: Okay wait. There’s too many chunks, too many chunks are happening at once.

[Laughter]

NEIL: It’s like a degustation menu of farce.

ANDRÉS: I was gonna say. If I do, if I flash in my mind to the moment I came into this booth, to this moment, I am as far as possible from where I thought I would be.

NEIL: That’s where we’d like you to be. You ready to become a double agent?

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: Is he, is he, is he transgender or is he just cross-dressing or?

HARRIET: I think he’s a cross dresser.

It’s like an alter ego how he puts it, like Dolores isn’t David, there’s David and Dolores, I think.

ANDRÉS: So, he’s, he’s kind of projected a different person to exist in the world that

NEIL: He claims she’s kind of the feminine side of Christ.

ANDRÉS: So wait, is David Christ or is

NEIL: He is Christ. His Twitter handle is David Shayler Christ.

ANDRÉS: Wait, I can follow him on Twitter as Christ?

NEIL: The new Christ in a series of Christs, the last, which was our friend Che Guevara.

ANDRÉS: Woah.

NEIL: Yeah.

HARRIET: The line of journalism through this is so strong that the way that they tore him apart, and it maybe caused his breakdown as well as before Annie and David were spies, they were journalists and writers.

ANDRÉS: Interesting.

NEIL: Yeah. Mark, Annie, David, all journalists, I mean, this whole fucking thing needs a movie. Like then, cause it’s so insane.

ANDRÉS: Yeah. Obviously being an actual spy, the level of pressure is high. And then if you’re turning on that agency, the stress is insane.

NEIL: Paranoid schizophrenia and like breaks like that like, you know, they’re not uncommon.

ANDRÉS: Being a spy, in the very nature of it is paranoia. It’s all about who is, who is watching you, who are you watching? How many entrances and exits are there into this room? You know, that kind of stuff. It’s, your brain is already put in that place.

And then there is this interesting thing, like sure, journalism. But then writing like Ian Fleming, John LeCarre, even Graham Greene and all these people. There’s a thing about psychology and understanding people and understanding people’s motivations. 

NEIL: It’s not paranoid if they’re after you.

ANDRÉS: Exactly. So if your brain is built for that already, it’s, you start making your little board with lines drawn across…

NEIL: Exactly. You instantly start losing because you just end up chain smoking and drinking coffee until you have a nervous breakdown.

[Andrés making noises]

[Laughter]

[Song playing]

NEIL: The espionage world has certainly become a place where fiction blends with reality. Sadly, the reality of it might end with a total break from it. The fictional side remains playful. This very British calmness, perseverance, but also a national love of farce, comedy, double entendre created Bond. There’s no doubt about that.

The over cooked psychotic and eccentric villains, the morose, chainsmoking near mute male protagonist, the ludicrous gadgets. Add to that the quipping campiness of what the seventies and eighties of Thatcher’s England did before the 90s saw Pierce Brosnan helm more tech based movies than ever before.

Then of course, the new millennium made Bond blonde and brooding, serious and dark. A character as a sign of the times.

But there are still writers out there who are up for turning the secret service upside down.

LUKE: I read the James Bond books when I was in my teens. It was very glamorous in a sixties kind of way when these things were glamorous. It certainly thrilled me as a teenager.

HARRIET: This is Luke Jennings, one of the biggest names in spy fiction.

LUKE: I didn’t want to imitate the James Bond books as a, as you say, I wanted to turn that genre on its head, but I did want to have the same sense of excitement and pleasure that I remember getting from the James Bond books.

HARRIET: He created the villanelle series of novels, the novels that became the BBC smash hit series, Killing Eve. In creating it, Jennings purposely turned away from the brutish womanizing masculine world of 007.

LUKE: I just thought it would be much, much more interesting to have that same world people with female protagonists, as much in advance, just to see what would happen.

HARRIET: In Killing Eve we have two female characters. One of them is villanelle, a glamorous post-Soviet Union assassin. On the other side, there’s Eve, a bored Mi5 agent doing liaison with police and security services, living in a flat in Hampstead, London. The pencil pushing and the fantasy side by side.

And what other city could inspire the daily grind like London.

LUKE: Eve is a slightly bored civil servant doing work that is not quite interesting enough for her and subject to all of these rules, subject to all of this protocol, subject to male bosses who don’t quite see her value in and are quite possibly less smart than she is.

HARRIET: Luke’s journalism background meant he knew the real life mundanity of real espionage.

LUKE: Thames house is this huge rather kind of monolithic block on the terms, you know, physically it’s a place of long corridor or with acronyms on the doors, you know, that kind of fairly grainy London world is a big contrast of a splash of color that Villanelle lives in in Paris.

NEIL: Killing Eve works so well because of this contrast. Villanelle feels like a fictional character and assassin who speaks multiple languages, lives in a glamorous flat in the center of Paris with beautiful clothes, zero remorse.

Eve is the reality.

LUKE: I wanted people to feel yeah, well, you know, that’s the life I’ve got.

NEIL: But reality is often stranger than fantasy and Jennings desirable killer spy has very real influences.

LUKE: There was a female hit woman for ETA, Lopez Riano, who killed 23 people.

[Song playing]

NEIL: ETA was a Basque separatist group based out of Paris. It called for separation from France and Spain, committing over 850 acts of crime, which included murder, extortion and kidnapping

HARRIET: Lopez Riano is one of the most famous femme fatal characters to have lived and became the most wanted female assassin of the 1980s.

LUKE: She was just a hit woman and, um, went to prison for 23 years, one for each person that she killed. Um, and she was, you know she was an interesting character. She was, she was quite vain, very sexual. She, um, she liked, she liked fashion and clothes apparently and allowed herself to get distracted in the middle of some, setting up some assassination by getting riveted by the, uh, her own image in a fashion shop window.

HARRIET: Her nickname was La Tigresse for her calculated moves, ability to seduce and for just being an all round stone cold killer.

LUKE: There are all sorts of women who’ve killed, women who’ve murdered, women who’ve um, done political assassinations. And of course I read about all of those people. I think certain what I took away from all of that was that, that there is no sense in which women who kill do so less viciously or malevolently than men who do.

But I guess the way that I wrote it is, is more a kind of, um, within the idiom of a certain kind of spy writing, which is quite kind of granular and close to the ground and procedural.

HARRIET: Writers and journalists are never able to resist a good spy story.

Luke is both. His blend of fact and imagination highlights our own fascination infancy, but grounds it in reality.

[Song playing]

NEIL: The modern spy is of course, a very different beast. Now espionage lives much like we do, online. Code breaking, hacking, bugging. There’s a new generation of want to be spies. Here’s Annie again, with a little story that led me and Harriet to find some new blood.

ANNIE: There was a story. I think it was last year where a teenage girl, I think in America had been banned for bad behavior from using her mobile phone as punishment, she wasn’t allowed to use it.

And she loved using Twitter and her mum sort of confiscated the phone. Um, and somehow she found out they had a smart fridge in their house. And this 11 year old worked out how to tweet using this fridge.

NEIL: The recruitment ideas to get civilians into the service have always been pretty crazy. Coded messages, tabloid quizzes, an obscure quote, and a phone number.

David Shayler himself found an advert in the Observer in the 1980s, which simply said, GODOT NEVER COMES, a reference to Samuel Beckett’s play.

Below the quote was a phone number. He called it and that was it. He was on his way to being spy.

[Song playing]

HARRIET: Over the years, there’ve been stories of Mi5 looking for candidates on Mumsnet, in online gaming forums, even setting up their own choose your own adventure style games for you to play. They can log on and see your progress and find out if, like me and Neil, you’re ready to be a spy.

But as the world moves more and more online, the globe trotting, passport falsifying, microfilm stealing world of 007 is fading very, very quickly.

Tuxedo wearing 50-year-old men are out. In the spy world, the kids are the new thing and they’ve got some serious skills.

[Song playing]

NEIL: The secret service’s recruitment plans remain as crazy and ingenious as ever. Many places in the UK, including BlueScreen IT, a British cybersecurity school, has found an incredible source of new cyber protection offices.

You see, the average age of a convicted hacker is around 17 years old. So, BlueScreen IT have helped create HACKED or hack education, a programming initiative to target talented young people, train them and steer them away from cybercrime. Instead, encouraging them to use their skill for the good of the community and the security of a nation.

HARRIET: In the spy world, both the real and the fiction, things have changed.

Technology demands it because that’s where we get our information, from tech. And although information is king, tech is now God. The era of the digital double agent may have just begun.

And with London being the third most surveilled city on it earth after Taiyaun and Wuxi in China, London looks to stay at the forefront of a new kind of spy.

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: When we started off, we were talking about James Bond and we were laughing at it because it seems so quaint and out of time, like completely out of time. But this now starts feeling like we’re getting closer to what we’re, our world.

NEIL: Yeah. It’s only a matter of time before stay at home spies,

ANDRÉS: but aren’t we all kind of spying on everybody in a way?

NEIL: Yeah. Well, that’s that William William Burroughs line where it’s like in the future the government won’t need to spy on us. We’ll do it for them.

ANDRÉS: We definitely are.

NEIL: Yeah. The thing that I think is like really cool. There’s a, there’s a GCHQ, when they were building it, they had to bring everything in clean and assemble everything there, including hard drives, microchips, like everything was built on site.

There’s no outside tech allowed in at all. And then, so I think I was thinking the interesting thing is, you let these kids in there who can like hack anything.

ANDRÉS: Sure.

NEIL: Break anything, copy anything. Like it’s, it’s almost like, okay, this might be like, like digital, digital, double agents.

ANDRÉS: Oh totally. If, if you’re saying, you know, these kids are looking at it, 27,000 pound paycheck, just taking one piece of that out, they’re gonna triple their paycheck.

So kids, if you’re listening, you have a great business opportunity ahead of you.

[Laughter]

[Song playing]

NEIL: If you’re heading to London and you want to do some spying, these five saved pins are going to help you out.

ANDRÉS: Number one, Cafe Daquise. In the borough of South Kensington, the legendary Daquise has been serving delicious Polish cuisine for over 60 years. This little place has hosted KGB spy, Yevgeni Ivanov and Edward Raczynski, the president of Poland in exile, who anointed Daquise his unofficial headquarters and planned many campaigns to overthrow the Communist regime right from this restaurant.

NEIL: Number two, Secret Me. If you’ve ever fancied yourself as a spy, you can take the fantasy to the next level. Secret Me is a learning and development company in the capital that uses rapid fire training in an unusual range of military and spy skills delivered to you by a former UK special forces, counter terrorism and intelligence officers.

If you’ve got the money, this would be a luxury five-star role playing blast.

ANDRÉS: Number three, Dolphin House. In Pimlico, the beginning of Annie’s adventure, lies a normal looking, 10 story block of flats. It was home to some of the most notorious spies where Mi5’s Maxwell Knight recruited Ian Fleming to the secret service a few doors down and the origin of leaked tapes of Lord Sewel snorting cocaine with two prostitutes.

Yes, if only these walls could talk.

NEIL: Number four, Bletchley Park. If you’re willing to leave the city walls, take a trip to Bletchley Park, the legendary place where Alan Turing cracked the enigma code. The secrecy and scrutiny exhibition explores the impending cyber threat we could all face. Get in the know of spy safety and learn all about the enigma code.

ANDRÉS: And number five, have a martini at Duke’s. After running around London all day, put on your best suit, slick your hair back and settle down in the drawing room at Duke’s where you can sip on one of the most renowned cocktails and feel the luxury of the James Bond lifestyle. Shaken, not stirred.

NEIL: That’s it guys.

Thanks so much for listening. If you want to connect with us, you can find us a Passport Podcast on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. We’ll be back next week with more conspiracy stories. This time from the skies of Peru. Writer, producer, Darren Loucaides and Andrés Bartos head south, look up and hunt for UFOS.

See you next week.

[Song playing]

This episode of Passport was produced, written and edited by me, Neil Innes and Harriet Davies.

Big big thanks to Mark Birdsall, Annie Machon and Luke Jennings for helping us make this episode.

Our theme tune was written by our operative Nick Turner, with extras from Auracle, Rochelle Rochelle, Alan Smithee and Musicbox

The show is mixed and mastered by Julian Kwasneski. 

Eliza Engel is our production assistant.

Stacey Book, Dominique Ferrari and Avi Glijansky are our Connery, Craig and Dalton; they also executive produce the show.

Which is hosted by me, Neil Innes and a man, who is more May Day than he is Pussy Galore… Andrés Bartos.

We’ll see you in the next place.

 

 

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© 2018, Frequency Machine Studios.
© 2018, Frequency Machine Studios.