For a year or two in the Sixties, I would regularly stop off on my way home at the W. H. Smith by Earls Court station. Catering for so many well placed commuters, it was a reliable showcase of current literary taste while tending to skimp slightly on the Barbara Cartland end of the market. In 1968 they gave a decent showing to The Naked Civil Servant by local reprobate Quentin Crisp; but that was nothing compared with the previous year’s razzmatazz display of Adam Diment’s much-hyped first book, The Dolly Dolly Spy.
Ah – the great spy craze! Who now remembers it in its full flowering during the chilly depths of the Cold War, or the earnest speculation about exactly how grittily realistic the genre was? For teenage fantasists the adventures of James Bond seemed to have the true ring of authenticity. Those of us in our worldly-wise twenties were more easily convinced by the grimmer worlds of le Carré and Len Deighton. We were unable to cross Cambridge Circus or Holborn without glancing up to wonder which of those unremarkable façades concealed the tatty warren of top-security offices and communications rooms variously known as ‘Control’ or ‘Central’ or simply ‘No. 78’. Somewhere up on the third floor, beneath that soot-grimed frieze of late Victorian acanthus leaves, ‘M’ or ‘Henderson’ or the ‘Inner Circle’ were masterminding the country’s destiny. They were the brains controlling the fingers in Westminster – the politicians who, poor dears, fondly imagined they alone were pulling the realpolitikal strings.
We who had been to ivy-clad universities also knew about ‘That Don’ who would ask certain promising third-year students (always ex-public school) to his room and ply them with sherry while wondering whether they had ever thought about serving their country intelligently rather than joining the nine-to-five rat race. As we now know, such recruitment was by no means a fantasy. We
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