chapter  2
28 Pages

Between Battleground and Fairground: British Espionage Fiction and the Post-War City

Like Vienna, Berlin, or Bonn, London matters in espionage fiction. The city is always a centre of operations in the spy novels of Ian Fleming, Graham Greene, Len Deighton, and John le Carré but, crucially, the representation of London varies greatly between each author, reflecting not only the subjective experiences of their characters but also their own experiences of the city across successive decades. London’s importance is a reflection of how espionage fiction is concerned typically with the representation of urban environments; scenes of a rural nature, such as when Bond travels to Kent in Goldfinger (1959), or the trip ‘Harry’ makes to confront Dalby in his Chiddingfold home in The IPCRESS File (1962), are rare and used in conjunction with or in contrast to a focus on urban space. Instead, spies often operate exclusively within city spaces, indicative of the city’s status as a centre of intrigue and as an arena for clandestine activity. London in particular is most often the nerve centre for each of the Secret Service operations in post-war spy fiction, from Fleming’s Universal Exports through to Deighton’s W.O.O.C.(P) and le Carré’s Circus, a status that secures the city’s place in espionage fiction and demands its continued defence. This process of identification that links cities with secret services also serves to make them representative of the nation in which they are situated, illustrated by the way in which the names of capital cities are used as euphemisms for intelligence organisations. For instance, spies often refer to their orders coming from ‘London’ or ‘Moscow’; in this instance the city acts as a metonymic signifier of sovereign authority, embodying the governmental and ideological values of the nation in a seemingly singular yet imagined form.1 The fixity with which spies refer to the city is at odds with its constructed composition; the Second World War and the period of post-war redevelopment that followed, perhaps more than any other time in London’s modern history, illustrates how nothing in the city is ever permanent or inviolable.