It's the height of the Cold War, and George Smiley is called up from forced retirement to spy on a Soviet mole in the "Circus," the highest echelon of the British Secret Intelligence Service.
Tensions are high and the stakes are serious as Smiley obtains information that eventually leads him to Jim Prideaux, the agent at the heart of a previous operation-gone-wrong in Budapest, Hungary. Will Smiley be able to save his agency and the world at large from Soviet destruction?
This fictional tale from "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," John le Carre's 1974 classic spy novel, just hit big screens across the U.S.
It takes place in the heart of London, where, during the mid-20th century, British spies helped topple Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime and later, the Soviet Union.
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London's touristy districts are jam-packed with places where spies thrived and plotted historically significant moves against enemy states. Luckily on a recent visit, Brian Gray of The Intelligence Trail, clad in sunglasses and trench coat, was there to dish the dirt. These five London spy haunts and their secretive stories are worth checking out.
Don't forget to look over your shoulder. You never know who might be watching.
Tower of London
William the Conqueror began building the Tower of London at the center of his fortress in the early 1080s. Connected to the widely photographed Tower Bridge, the tower has a morbid history. Not only is it rumored to be haunted by royalty (including Anne Boleyn and the two sons of King Edward IV), it was a prison and weapons arsenal. The tower remained an active military establishment for many centuries. Between 1914 and 1916 several spies were held and subsequently executed there. It was used during World War II as a prison for Rudolf Hess, Hitler's deputy, and an execution ground by firing squad in 1941 for German spy Josef Jakobs.
St. Ermin's Hotel
This historic hotel in Westminster was renovated and reopened under new ownership this year. The hotel was a haven for spies, who were recruited over dinner at its restaurant. It was here that Prime Minister Winston Churchill founded the Special Operations Executive, which committed espionage against the Axis powers during World War II from a full floor of the hotel. The MI6 was also based here during that time. Rumor has it that a now-sealed secret tunnel runs from the grand staircase to a mystery location. Does it lead to Parliament? St. James's Park underground station? Nobody is really sure. Don't be surprised to see members of Parliament and Scotland Yard sharing drinks there. At 2 Caxton St.
2-3 Carlton Gardens
Just outside of St. James' Park, this group of pretty buildings in a tranquil, tree-lined setting could fool the average person for being upscale housing. In was in 2 Carlton Gardens that in February 1954, the CIA and MI6 met to discuss plans for the Berlin Tunnel, a wire tapping operation that George Blake leaked to Russia before the project began. Today, the MI6 interviews prospective applicants at 3 Carlton Gardens. Every once in a while, diplomatic protection may be seen around. Keep your eyes peeled.
21 Queen Anne's Gate
Near St. James' Park, Buckingham Palace and posh private clubs such as the Royal Automobile Club, this was the residence and office of the second chief of MI6, Admiral Hugh Sinclair. The property was connected to MI6's nearby headquarters by a secret passageway and was headquarters of the "Passport Control Office," which gave a semblance of cover to MI6 officers in embassies abroad. Sinclair's successors remained in the building until 1966.
The Old Star Pub
Located in Westminster near Parliament, Scotland Yard and the St. Ermin's Hotel is this historic pub where MI6 operatives met recruits and where tense conversations were had over pints of beer. It's less likely today that the prime streetside view will give you glimpses of mysterious-looking men in black suits heading into unmarked buildings, but you still can enjoy a fine British ale and fish and chips while wondering what history is transpiring nearby. At 66 Broadway.