And Other Secrets!
As someone who doesn’t watch much TV, relatively speaking, the one time I do tend to put on my favourite type of programme, a documentary, is when I’m doing the ironing each week. This week I decided on the PBS show, Secrets of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, part of the Secrets of Britain series, which actually originally aired some years ago but is now showing again on Netflix. I have to say, I found it absolutely captivating!
I’ve always found the idea of espionage, usually a government-sanctioned spying, an enthralling concept. Something akin to the pirates and privateers of old, such spies seem to exist in a world that does not play by the normal rules experienced by those outside of its parameters.
The programme begins by taking us through the creation of Military Intelligence Section 6, aka MI6, with some intriguing glimpses into this mysterious yet world-famous organisation.
Most of us will be familiar with the fictional spy, James Bond and the almost equally famous character of M, the commander of the organisation in the book and films. What I didn’t realise until watching this programme was that the idea that the commander of the organisation would sign off using their initial was actually based in fact from a habit of the first commander of MI6, Sir Mansfield Cumming, who would sign off his communications as “C”, something all commanders of the organisation sign off as to this day. Another tradition of writing in green ink was also credited to being instigated at MI6 by Sir Mansfield Cumming who had brought the habit to the organisation from his days serving as an officer of the Navy.
Talking of James Bond, it is an interesting paradox that one of our most secretive organisations here in the UK is also one of the most famous in the world, mainly thanks to the success of the James Bond franchise. One of my favourite stories from the programme was how when MI6 was housed in one of its previous buildings, whilst its location was meant to be a secret, it was such a badly kept secret that when buses passing close by would stop at the nearest bus stop, conductors were known for sarcastically saying:
“All spies alight here”!
The programme also takes us briefly through disguises and aliases used in modern-espionage, as well as the invaluable service those serving in MI6 provided in World War II in particular, before bringing in the dark days of the Cold War and some of the more recent famous examples of espionage on the streets of London, such as the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko amongst others.
I’ve added a link to the PBS website page for the series below. So far I’ve managed to get through Secrets of the Tower of London, Secrets of Underground London and Secrets of Scotland Yard, all of which I strongly recommend as a really interesting take on some of the UK’s most well-known places and organisations.
- Secrets of Selfridges
- Secrets of Scotland Yard
- Secrets of the Tower of London
- Secrets of Underground London
- Secrets of Westminster
There’s also a Secrets of the Manor House series which include famous homes of the aristocracy including Chatsworth House and Althorp, the latter of which was the childhood home of the late Princess Diana, all chock full of interesting anecdotes and stories of past and present former inhabitants.
If you enjoy historical documentaries and you’re looking to watch an interesting series, why not give these a go on Netflix and let me know which stories you find most intriguing?