Saturday, June 30, 2007

Spy Blogs and Online Files: An Annotated Directory


By Wesley Britton

I'm a frequent online searcher looking to uncover the latest news in the world of espionage . Often, I've found that, beyond established websites, nuggets of information are most often buried in avalanches of hits to blogs and forums that are essentially personal in purpose, opinionated without necessarily being informed, or often just nuts.

Over time, I collected a list of the most reliable places that are worth bookmarking as well as those of casual interest. In the main, the best reading comes from blogs, forums, and websites posting declassified documents, news stories, feeds from news services, and bulletins from organizations focused on a number of special interests. Blogs and forums that go beyond repeating what they find in international journals and periodicals also often contain perspectives and updates overlooked in mainstream media. Below is a directory of the best I've found to date along with notes on blogs more mysterious in their origins and purposes.

Note: Blogs and websites devoted to spy fiction and film tend to be very topic specific, that is they share material on one actor, author, TV series, and are easy to find with no need for listing here. I admit, I know of only one website that attempts to be interesting to readers, viewers, and news-hounds alike--and this is the place. If 007 is your thing, then a separate file


Is posted at this site. In addition, if your interest is Israeli intelligence, then check out--


I welcome notes and suggestions about sites that should be added to any of these files.

This directory is in alphabetical order. For most listings, I include descriptions taken from the source itself followed by my opinion of it. Additions will appear as addenda.


"Our areas of interest include the intelligence community (foreign and U.S.), espionage (including tradecraft, practices, and political ramifications), secrecy policy, the Freedom of Information Act, terrorism and counterterrorism, and conspiracy theory."

Postings tend to be of very high-quality and the site's archives and links include a long list of useful resources.


The Black Vault - 67k -

About The Black Vault Government Document Archive:

"For over 7 years, The Black Vault has striven to be the best source for U.S. Government documents online! Even the U.S. Government's databases, in some cases, are so hard to use -- many can not find use out of them. This is where The Black Vault is trying to help. With index categories and sub-categories, The Black Vault has put organization to an unorganized world -- Government Secrecy. Throughout The Black Vault's archive -- you will have access to well over 100,000 pages of material."

Essentially, this site is one of many collections of documents on CIA mind control experiments.


Center for the Study of Intelligence - 6k -

The CIA page includes public information about the agency--including how to get hired. Among the many useful publications are the renowned "World Factbook," articles on the history of intelligence, and declassified issues of Studies in Intelligence.

Eric Jackson says his blog provides "intelligence news for all of us. Disclaimers: We are not a government entity nor do we attempt to represent one. We do not
perform actual intelligence work, and have not acquired this information via spying. Info presented in this blog is for information and education, not
crime or action. If you choose to engage in spywork, be prepared for the consequences (detainment, incarceration, etc.). You are responsible for your own

Eric's most recent posts are reviews and discussions of spy equipment,methods,and books on these topics.


Congressional Research Service - Intelligence & Related Reports Archived by FAS - 5k -

Invaluable resource for reports, articles, links, and databases often correctly marked "Required Reading."


" The first multi-expert blog dedicated solely to counterterrorism issues, serving as a gateway to the community for policymakers and serious researchers. Designed to provide realtime information about terrorism cases and policy developments."

With articles and postings by a group of distinguished contributing experts, the site also includes the CT Library, information about the Counterterrorism Foundation, lists of Websites & Centers, Syndicate, and Archives.



marc parent's blog has comments, responses, criticism, and both lively and angry discussions of policy and intelligence reports in the media. Various posters have varying levels of credibility, but this is a place representing what the Blogisphere is all about.


In depth collection of articles on intelligence with a technological bent. One announcement:

"Donate $25 for a DVD of the Cryptome 10+-years archives of 39,000 files from June 1996 to December 2006 (~4.1 GB). Click Paypal or mail check/MO made
out to John Young, 251 West 89th Street, New York, NY 10024. Archives include all files of,,,,
and Cryptome offers with the Cryptome DVD an INSCOM DVD of about 18,000 pages of counter-intelligence dossiers declassified by the
US Army Information and Security Command, dating from 1945 to 1985. No additional contribution required -- $25 for both. The DVDs will be sent anywhere
worldwide without extra cost."


Early Warning - William Arkin's Blog
Posted at

"Starting Sept. 14 [2005], Early Warning will report daily on the comings and goings of the national security community -- military, special ops, intelligence, homeland security -- part blog, part investigative journalism (a jog!). Here I can post documents, go into great detail, stick with a story when others have moved on, and introduce one that has escaped the mainstream media.

"My basic philosophy is that government is more incompetent than diabolical, that the military gets way too much of a free ride . . . and that official secrecy is the greatest threat citizens actually face today."


An outstanding archive of articles on: Military, WMD, Intelligence, and Homeland Security. Under "Intelligence," categories include: Systems, Operations, Countries, Hot Documents, News, Reports, Policy, Budget, Congress, Imagery and Links.


Global Incident Map Displaying Terrorist Acts, Suspicious Activity, and General Terrorism News - 266k -

This group post terrorism Events and Other Suspicious Activity and automatically reloads every 240 seconds.


I am SPY
Espionage and theory of conspiracy news

More conspiracy theory than espionage, this blogger posts news articles touching on a range of topics. Erratic.


Intelligence Community Enterprise Services - Operations Center

Note: Access to this database is restricted. For those eligible--

DNI-U is the network infrastructure portion of the system formerly known as the Open Source Information System (OSIS). In mid 2006, the name OSIS which
referred to both the network and the content was retired. The network and content portions were decoupled. The network piece is now named DNI-U while the
content piece is named Intelink-U.

The DNI-U network is maintained by the DNI-CIO Intelligence Community Enterprise Services office (ICES). FOR ASSISTANCE PLEASE CONTACT:

Office of the Director of National Intelligence - CIO
Intelligence Community Enterprise Services - Operations Center
Phone: 1-301-688-1800
Email: accounts AT


Intelligence History - Dalhousie University Libraries - 16k -

"This web page is designed to be useful for research in Intelligence history by students at Dalhousie University, specifically to `enhance student's understanding of national intelligence communities in Britain, Canada, Russia and the United States.'"

While not updated since 2003, the holdings in this collection partially include:

Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS)
"ForeignRelations volumes contain documents from Presidential libraries, Departments of State and Defense, National Security Council, Central Intelligence Agency, Agency for International Development, and other foreign affairs agencies as well as the private papers of individuals involved in formulating U.S. foreign policy . . . particularly those involved with intelligence activity and covert actions." Volumes from recent years are available online including 1945-1950, Emergence of the Intelligence Establishment.

"This latter volume is the result of a massive retrospective attempt to gather the archival record of the intelligence institutions and their relationships to the Department of State."

Intelligence Forum
"a forum dedicated to the scholarly study of intelligence, history, theory and practice. The
News & Notes section offers numerous links to diverse news media around the world."

The Literature of Intelligence: a Bibliography of materials, with Essays, Reviews, and Comments Compiled by a former CIA officer, useful for its geographic breakdown, including links to Canada, United Kingdom,and Russia.

The U.S. Intelligence Community
(from Columbia University)"an excellent academic website devoted to library resources available for research on U.S. agencies involved in intelligence activities. It includes links to actual documents as well as agency web sites."

"a searchable collection of declassified military and intelligence documents concerning Gulf War Illnesses; includes a useful Guide to Intelligence outlining the intelligence process from raw information sources to finished intelligence products."

Liquidmatrix Security Digest

Specializes in internet security, but also post news related to internet and online spying.


Loyola Homepage on Strategic Intelligence - 78k -

Includes many documents and articles on military and economic espionage collected from print magazines, government agencies, institutes, and scholarly reports.


The Memory Hole - 17k -

According to Russ Kick, "The Memory Hole exists to preserve and spread material that is in danger of being lost, is hard to find, or is not widely known . . . The emphasis is on material that exposes things that we're not supposed to know (or that we're supposed to forget)."

Recent notes indicate that Kick's postings may slow down as he's involved in other projects, but this remains a source to watch. Can subscribe to e-mail notifications of postings.


Metro Spirit national security blog: Don't Look Here!

Apparently, the principal poster here is Corey Pein whose blog mixes news reports with lively commentary. Subjects include security at the NSA and political rants.


NARDIC Publications - 72k -

The Pentagon Library has catalogues, bibliographies, online sources, databases,even an "Ask a Librarian" link. Also has news about events and speakersat the library.


The National Security Archive
Gelman Library, The George Washington University
http// html

"The National Security Archive is a non-governmental research institute and library that collects and publishes declassified documents obtained through the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, a public interest law firm defending and expanding public access to government information through the FOIA, and an indexer and publisher of the documents in books, microfische, and electronic formats.

"The National Security Archive was founded in 1985 by a group of journalists and scholars who had obtained documentation under the FOIA and sought a centralized
repository for these materials. Over the past twelve years, the Archive has become the world's largest non-governmental library of declassified documents."

In the main, this is one of many collections with CIA declassified documents about mind-control experiments.


Secrecy News Blog

Items from the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy are typically de-classified or cleared by military sources for public distribution. Also accessible through a link at Above Top


Spy Blog - Watching Them, Watching Us

While I was unable to find out who's behind this one, browsing through the postings was quite interesting. Obviously, the focus is on British intelligence, and the blog is a mix of news items and reader responses.


I was unable to find who established this or any clear mission for the blog. The postings are more political statements on a myriad of topics, some related to terrorism, many not.


This blog is my own extension for this site (, sharing news and views on all aspects of espionage from books to the media to news items gleaned from a variety of sources. Thespyreport has no political, ideological, or any such agenda but I do offer reviews of spy projects on which I do have an opinion. Naturally, I recommend it strongly!


Tom Heneghan Intelligence Briefing - MySpace Blog

One endorsement at the blog claims:

"If you are not yet aware, be apprised that International Intelligence Expert, Tom Heneghan, has hundreds of highly credible sources inside American and
European Intelligence Agencies and INTERPOL, sources who are putting their very lives on the line, 24/7, for you and I and our loved ones to SAVE America
and the World from Traitors-Treason-Tyranny." --Mary Schneider, Court adjudicated Federal Whistleblower

Posts claim, among other things, that both Bush and Hillary Clinton use Mossad hit squads in the U.S. and that Heneghan himself has been a target. Apparently, among others, so was Sonny Bono. Ah ha.


The purpose of this site is to "expose lies" and is thus a mix of information with short, speculative essays on topics in the categories of: 9/11, The "War on Terror," US Bankruptcy and Vote Fraud, Israel, Conspiracies, Cover-Ups, and Deceptions, and Assassinations.

For related articles on espionage, see

Before Munich: Black September on TV and Film

Before Munich: Black September on TV and Film

By Wesley Britton

On September 5, 1972, what became known as "Black Sunday" or the "Munich Olympic Massacre" took place when Eight Palestinian "Black September" terrorists seized eleven Israeli athletes in the Olympic Village in Munich, West Germany. In a bungled rescue attempt by West German authorities, nine of the hostages and five terrorists were killed. (note 1) In subsequent years, these events have been explored and dramatized in various media projects. The response to the tragedy by the Israeli government has also found its way into film scripts, most recently Steven Spielberg's December 2005 Munich.

The range of such projects has included simple exploitation to insightful explorations into the human motivations that say much about our responses to violence. On one extreme, during the 1970s, "Black September" became a group useful for fictional adventures as in Black Sunday (1977), a thriller so violent even its scriptwriter, Earnest Lehman, had to turn his head when viewing it in a theatre. True enough, Robert Shaw and Bruce Dern were graphic in this story about Palestinian terrorists plotting to blow up Americans at the Super Bowl. In this release, there was no pretense of capturing history, and the big-screen spectacle prefiguring 9/11 was unintentional prophecy no one then dreamed was possible. On a much smaller scale, The Olympic tragedy was rumored to have inspired ABC to shift its 1972 projected series, Assignment: Munich to Vienna. (note 2) Later, “Black September” was the title of one episode of Return of The Saint (1978) in which Simon Templar (Ian Ogilvy) aided the Israelis battling Palestinian terrorists. But the actual historical events have not been neglected on the small and large screen and some projects are of special interest.

One Day in September

Narrated by Michael Douglas, One Day in September was a 1999 Arthur Cohn documentary including promos, newscasts, and interviews with athletes and survivors of the actual 1972 tragedy. Directed by Kevin McDonald, this straight-forward production Focused on the hours leading up to the attack, what transpired at the Olympics, but said little about the aftermath which would become the subject of Munich.

To begin, the film makes clear these Olympics were of historical importance even before the terrorist took their hostages. As the 1972 games occurred just 30 miles from the site of the Dachau concentration camp, Israeli competitors were thrilled to march under the Star of David flag unfurled in Germany for the first time since World War II. For Germans, these games were intended to erase old memories as the Nazis had used the Olympics to promote their world vision. So hopefulness was, in the words of one participant, in "overdrive." For example, even though Israel and Lebanon were at war, their athletes were able to meet and compare competition results, illustrating what the Olympics are all about.

Without editorial comment, in One Day, we learn how such goodwill was destroyed. In the moments leading up to the attack, we get glimpses into the men whose lives were about to change from jubilant success to fearful captivity. We learn the Israeli team viewed a production of Fiddler on the Roof the evening of the takeover of their quarters. One of them had nearly missed the train from Holland to attend that night, and we hear the words of his girlfriend who described her last happy hours with him. Later, we would hear her memories as she saw her last view of her boyfriend on television, a gun at his head as he stood on the balcony in the Olympic village hours before his murder.

According to the film, it was the East German team who allowed the Black September group to sneak into the grounds to survey the apartment building where the Israelis were staying. The report showed how the terrorists first captured a coach who led the gunmen to the apartment where the wrestlers and weight-lifters were housed, the coach thinking they might have the best chance of fighting back. He was the first to die. Then, Black September demanded some 200 political prisoners be freed or the hostages would be killed.

One Day then focuses more on what happened around the captives rather then what transpired behind the doors of the Olympic village. Of course, during these hours, little was known about what happened in the apartments, the number of captives and captors not certain until much later. If the documentary is accurate, it quickly became apparent the West German government was ill-equipped to handle the situation. The Olympic committee, in turn, was reluctant to let the events altar the schedule. While American swimmer Mark Spitz, winner of seven Gold Medals was spirited away as he was Jewish, the games were not, at first, postponed or affected in any way. While international anger grew, the committee felt the hostage crisis had nothing to do with the games. One sad moment in the film is when cheering crowds respond to the games while negotiators try to get the terrorists to delay their deadline. Later scenes showed athletes swimming and sunning themselves in a pond not 200 yards from the apartment building. One observer described the attitude as "selfish and obscene."

Then the horror mounts--again, not seen in the violence by Black September--but by the authorities charged with dealing with them. While the Israeli government offered to send in a rescue team, the West German government said no. The Germans did send in an untrained team of snipers in a ploy to get the terrorists out in the open, all the while an astonishing amount of security information was being broadcast over television. Other blunders included only five marksman being set up at the airport where the hostages were taken by helicopter even though eight terrorists were involved. While four of the five snipers fired their guns, none hit their targets until it was too late and these shots were not coordinated. The security squad in the plane allegedly there to take the kidnappers and their hostages to Egypt voted to abandon their mission just seconds before the group arrived. The police had forgotten to order armored cars which were then caught in traffic and did not arrive in time. Two security officers were shot by snipers, mistaken for terrorists. To compound blunders of action, an official made the statement the events were unfortunate and would hopefully be forgotten in a few weeks.

Again, without commentary, the film noted the West German government of Willy Brandt apparently colluded with the terrorists to get the imprisoned members quickly out of Germany. According to an interview with one surviving terrorist, the Germans agreed to exchange the three terrorists for kidnapped Germans in what he claimed to be a set-up. Why else the haste the Germans went through to get his group out of Germany?

At film's end, few viewers would think justice, on any level, had taken place before or after September 5, 1972. Rather, one might wonder why Israel didn't close their German embassy in disgust. After viewing this account, who would blame Israeli intelligence for taking the actions detailed in Spielberg's film?

21 Hours in Munich

With a very different spin, many of these same events had been dramatized in the earlier Orion Pictures 21 Hours in Munich (1976), a re-creation filmed in the actual locations in West Germany. Like One Day, starring William Holden, Shirley Knight, and Franco Nero, the story begins with the hope of the games, the setting described as more "Hansel and Gretel than Hitler and Goebbels." In Edward Feldman's rather bare-bones production--Israelis, Germans, and Arabs all speaking with decidedly American accents--viewers do see different perspectives from One Day.

For one example, the Olympic committee is shown in a better light. Its spokesman said the games had been going on for centuries and no hoodlums should be permitted to molest them. In the script, the committee feared if the games were stopped, crowds would descend on the secure area, complicating security matters. Perhaps more notably, the lead Arab is portrayed sympathetically, saying he desires no harm to anyone but only wants his brothers freed. This point is repeated throughout the film, making the Palestinians as much victims as their hostages.

Whether by design or a lack of direction, 21 Hours is no tense drama. Much of the focus is the dialogue between the West German negotiator and the lead terrorist which implies the Black September group were attempting to escape peacefully but were betrayed by the Germans. In this version of events, the German negotiator led the kidnappers to believe they could execute their hostages in Egypt even though that government had rejected the German request to let the plane come to them. The Egyptian Prime Minister apparently knew the Germans merely wanted the crisis to move off their soil. Still, the production showed German law enforcement as far more efficient than shown in the documentary, the final blunders tragedies no one could have predicted. On its own, 21 Hours points fingers at West German authorities, but all else were victims, including the driven Black September gunmen. From this view, they were more guerilla fighters than members of what would become known as terrorism.

The Sword of Gideon

Moving to events after September 1972, the 1986 HBO production, The Sword of Gideon (based on the George Jonas book, Vengeance) is well-known as the inspiration for Spielberg's Munich. (note 3) Produced by Robert Lantos, like Munich, the events in the Olympic village are dispatched quickly in a pre-title sequence as the story is about the Israeli response to the murders and not what happened to set this revenge in motion.

While the cast included the likes of Steven Bauer, Robert Joy, Leslie Hope, Rod Steiger, Michael York, Leno Ventura, and Colleen Dewhurst, the acting is not on the same scale as Munich although we do learn more about the Israeli team than the later version of the same events. Many situations are better handled in Munich. For example, in the scenes when the unit encounters the French "honey trap" killer, Sword rushes through the episode with no glimpses into character reactions. We don't get the killer protesting her death saying her murder would be "a waste of talent." But we do see her termination in the light of one directive the team was given, that no innocent bystanders should be hurt. What if a gun is pulled? Then you're no longer a bystander, an idea that is the theme of the entire mission.

As with Munich, the hunters become the hunted but this idea is better developed in Sword. As the mission progresses, the killings have less and less connection to the events that inspired them. At the end of the second kill, they cry "For Munich"--the shooting of the French assassin is for themselves. The purpose of it all gradually dissipates in this comparatively stream-lined account.

Perhaps stream-lined is not the best term. The running time of both Sword and Munich is roughly the same, but the episodes in Sword are fewer but longer. The old warning that once you're in, you can't get out frames Sword with the lead agent being warned by his father in the opening scenes, and the long denouement is of this agent being unscrupulously pressured by his chief to continue the job--a rather different conclusion than in Munich with more global themes and less personal interconnections. In short, Sword ends up as the story of an agent too good to return to a normal life.


When Munich premiered in 2005, the film seemed a clear metaphor for current issues regarding Middle-Eastern themes. For example, the list of 11 names to be hunted down evoked the playing card deck of Iraqis sought by U.S. forces in the first months of that war. The theme of violence responded to with violence in an endless cycle certainly pointed to ongoing bloodshetting between Israel and groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, and Fatah. In one scene in Munich, a German tells the Israelis that the Palestinians have the long-term upper-hand as their population will swell over the next century. This monologue reminded me of a recent Atlantic Monthly article spelling out the same conclusion. The birthrate is apparently certain to be in the Arab's favor.

And images from the movie connected with themes from the past. The bom-maker, a former toy-maker, echoed Hitchcock’s 1936 Sabotage, especially the scene where a bomb maker worked on his craft surrounded by children's toys and ordinary laundry. In Munich, we see the bom-maker apparently blow himself up, a scene reminiscent of the Hitchcock project and the Joseph Conrad novel on which it was based where a young child is also exploded accidentally.

For those interested, each of the projects described above are available on DVD or video. (note 4) for those wanting to learn more about the background for Munich, I recommend One Day in September as a story that does not duplicate events in Munich but rather sets the stage for that project. It seems appropriate to remember what happened in 1972 and those who senselessly lost their lives in the early days of the Palestine/ Israeli conflict. Then, we didn't know what was to come. In hindsight, Black September were the first seeds of the blood to characterize the opening years of a new century.


1. For many more details about related films, see "Defining Terrorism: A Short History of Fact, Fiction, and Film" also posted at this website.

2. For more information, see my interview with Robert Conrad posted at this website.

3. For reviews of books dealing with Munich and its aftermath, see “The Mossad and Israeli Intelligence: An Annotated Bibliography (Books)” also posted at this website. Related movies are listed in “THE MOSSAD ON SCREEN: A FILMOGRAPHY.”

4. For those living in the Dallas, Texas area, One Day, 21 Hours, and Sword are available for rent at Starlight Video.

For related articles, see

Friday, June 29, 2007

Sisters of Mata Hari


Review: Yellen, Emily. Our Mother's War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II (2004); Moran, Lindsay. Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy (2005). Adapted from posts that first appeared at, various months, 2006.

By Wesley Britton

Did you know the first spy film series ever made featured a girl? In 1909 and 1910, the four very short "Girl Spy" movies starred forgotten silent film actress Jean Gauntiett as a Civil War heroine fighting on behalf of the Confederacy. In fact, during the first three decades of Hollywood, there were probably more lady spies than men in the days of Victorian melodramas. In those days, little girls fought the "Huns" during World War I and older heroines battled to save their fathers, lovers, and country at the risk of losing life, limb, and--worst of all--their virtue. (note 1)

All this was mostly wild fiction with little connection to any historical fact. For most of the 20th Century, the number of real Mati Haris in actual espionage was quite small. But according to Emily Yellen's 2004 Our Mother's War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II, lady spies contributed much to the war effort in the 1940s.

To be fair, the bulk of Yellen's lengthy overview of the roles of women during the war years doesn't focus on spies. Many detailed chapters explore female workers in industry, the government, racial dimensions, and nearly every aspect of life at home and abroad during this period. Yellen's overview of female agents is primarily in one chapter, "Behind Enemy Lines: Spies, Propaganda Workers, and Those Who Worked for the Enemy." First are the numbers. Out of 13,000 employees in the O.S.S. (Office of Strategic Services), 4,000 were women. Most were file clerks and support staff--some very helpful in breaking codes-- in the overtly sexist organization, the predecessor to the CIA. Yellen described one Naval division devoted to code-breaking called OP 20G. By early 1944, 2,813 women worked for OP 20G, and 600 of them worked on the Top Secret program to break the famous German Enigma Code. Under the cover of working for the National Cash Register Co., these women were hired to build and keep the experimental machines going, 200 per shift for around the clock labors. They worked at a secret warehouse called "Sugar Hill" in Dayton, Ohio, but none knew for sure what they were working on. Some figured part of it out. Making wheels with 26 spokes was a clue. And the fact they were told if they said anything, they'd be shot was another.

Then Yellen provides a series of brief sketches of noted agents and operatives, and here is where readers can gain insights into what the real Sydney Bristos of their time were doing. Yellen believes the best of the lot was Virginia Hall who scoped out enemy movements, looked for good parachute drop sites, and helped create escape routes in France--all the while disguised as an elderly French woman. Code-named Diane, Hall was known as "The Limping Lady" because, in the middle of the 1930s, her left leg had been amputated from the knee down. The enemy knew what the thirty-something spy looked like, so disguises were needed. Posing as a stooped older woman was perfect for this unlikely agent. She was trained by the British S.O.E. (Special Operations Executive) as America was slow to put women into such roles. The Brits didn't see Hall or similar operatives as spies as they mainly organized networks rather than tried to get secret information.

Sexual escapades? Of course. Another American lady, Amy Pack, procured Navy codes from the Vichy embassy in Washington. At first, she was able to access confidential information during travels with her diplomat husband. Due to their unhappy marriage, she had a series of affairs and so uncovered Axis plans for North Africa from her lovers. Later, she pretended to be the daughter of one of her older amours, even helped by his wife, until the spouse found out the relationship was more than spycraft. The O.S.S. dispatched the wife off to Mexico telling her she was doing important intelligence work. But this was a ruse to keep her from blowing Amy's cover.

Some O.S.S. officers became celebrities. According to Yellen, former tennis star Alice Marble was recruited to go to Switzerland and spy on a former boyfriend. After a series of personal tragedies, Marble felt this would be her way to contribute to the war effort. So she slept with the enemy to find out about treasures Nazis were hoping to smuggle out along with their escape routes during the final months of the war. Like the later pair on television's I Spy, under the cover of tennis exhibition matches, she met her ex, photographed lists in his safe, and bolted out the front door, narrowly escaping.

Josephine Baker was another celebrity to help the cause, in this case an African-American singer-dancer who'd emigrated to Paris. She smuggled messages across Europe that were written in the margins of her sheet music in invisible ink. Notes about what she observed were said to have been hidden in her underwear. Julia McWilliams--later the famous "French Chef" Julia Childs--was rejected by the military for ordinary duty as she stood over six feet--no uniforms were made for such as she. She began work as a research assistant, then helped develop a shark repellent that kept Jaws and his brethren from prematurely exploding mines and ultimately bothering astronauts in splashed-down NASA spacecraft. For the O.S.S., she became an office worker, said there was nothing heroic about it, and that she did jobs men wouldn't. "It was all that was available for women," she said, but the job was the best opportunity to travel overseas. In the Far East, she met her future husband, Paul Childs, a fellow O.S.S. officer.

Elizabeth P. Macintosh was another American who served in the China/Burma/India theatre. A former journalist, she was sent out to provide morale busting propaganda among Japanese troops. This was "Black Propaganda"--lies, rumors, and innuendoes
supposedly coming from the enemy's own headquarters. ("White Propaganda," of course, was the truth dispensed from Allied channels.) One of Macintosh's operations was to alter postcards Allies had captured from Japanese soldiers. As they already had the censor's stamp on them, she cleverly had the messages changed to tell stories of defeat and poor morale and then smuggled them back into the enemy's mail delivery. Some of these operators paid the cost of covert work. Mildred Fishe Harnack was an American living in Germany who helped smuggle Jews out of the country. After providing intelligence to both the Americans and Russians, she was captured in 1942 and was the only woman executed by special order of Adolf Hitler.

Yellen also provides sketches of Mata Haris not always working for the Allies."The Red Spy Queen," Elizabeth Bently, was an American traitor who worked for the Soviet Union before and during WW II. She was one of the figures later sparking the McCarthy Era in the 1950s. She helped coordinate a large espionage ring in the U.S. against the Fascists for the KGB, but turned on them after World War II and reported to the FBI. Another traitor was Mildred Gillors, an American who served as a disc jockey for Hitler during the war. Known as "Axis Sally," she went into POW camps posing as a Red Cross worker and got captured Gis to record tape messages saying they were for the folks back home. Instead, she took the tapes and broadcast them, interjecting her own commentary that was invectives against President Roosevelt and Jews.

Later in her book, Yellen described the lives of women who didn't know what their husbands were doing in Chapter 11, "Inside the Secret City: Wives and WACS in Los Alamos." These were the wives of scientists and military personnel on the hidden mesa in New Mexico where the atomic bomb was created. Here, she describes the inadequate housing, provisions, mud, cold, dust, and isolation of a community sharply divided and mysterious. All the mail was routed to PO Box 1663--the only address listed on birth certificates issued at Los Alamos--a town that technically did not exist. Oddly, townspeople below wondered what was going on--are they making window wipers for submarines up there? So a covert mission was created. Women were sent into town to leak it was all about a new electronic rocket. They thought the natives would report the leaks to the military police. Surprisingly, no one cared. No reports were filed. So the electronic rocket mission was a failure in counter-espionage.

In this wide canvas, Yellen doesn't always provide in-depth background on various topics. For example, her chapter on movie actresses is surprisingly thin. She maintained that Hollywood movies of the era changed women from leisure, luxury-loving dolls into harder females showing they could take it on the chin alongside the boys, ready to do their bit for the war effort. Then again, she notes, the pin-up industry went into high gear during the war, with Hollywood's finest garter-belted legs and polished smiles on display in footlockers all over the globe. Betty Grable, the queen of the pin-ups, perhaps best represented the American ideal of womanhood--the sexy girl next door who was both alluring and accessible. But Yellen's short notes on moviedom don't support such claims, as there were ample examples of hard-bitten, determined women leads long before the propaganda films beginning after Pearl Harbor. Before then, Greta Garbo was Mata Hari in 1931, Marlene Dietrich was Dishonored in 1934, and Alfred Hitchcok began his use of independent leading ladies in The 39 Steps in 1935, to cite but a few. 2 On this topic, at least, it seems clear Yellen's focused research on the 1940s didn't include much digging into what came before.

Still, the book is a fine contribution to histories of the war years, adding much to a better understanding of the culture of this dramatic era. For espionage buffs, Yellen's short sketches might intrigue readers to look for more about these overlooked heroines of times past. Any female interested in what their mothers--or grandmothers--lived like during the 1940s, well, this book is indispensable.


"`I hope it's all worth it.' Emma had turned from me and was looking out toward the misty rain flicked street. `I mean, you would know. I am just counting on that fact. That you, and whoever it is you work for, that you guys know more than someone like me.' As it turned out, neither I nor the people I worked for knew any more than Emma. The myth of the all-knowing, omnipotent Central Intelligence Agency turned out to be just that, a myth. And it was shattered not just for all its employees but for all the Americans whom we failed in a single day."
(Lindsey Moran, Blowing My Cover, 2005)

Turning from World War Ii to the Cold War, if Lindsey Moran's Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy (2005) were ever to be filmed, it would most likely be destined for the Lifetime Channel with some title like "The Spy Who Couldn't Get A Date" or "Sleeping Alone for the CIA." While there are glimmers into actual undercover work with few revelations into areas not already widely known, Moran's autobiography is probably of most interest for any young woman pondering joining the CIA. It's not a world Sydney Bristo would recognize.

The memoir opens with Moran's early thoughts about becoming a spy, a mix of Bondish dreams and misgivings about what the job would actually be. After sharing her education and first attempts to join the CIA, Moran describes the training at "The Farm "and her learning her life would now be a series of lies to friends, family, and potential boyfriends. We pick up tidbits such as Mormons make for good recruits because of their squeaky-clean past and that the disguise experts, in her opinion, are over-hyped hairdressers.

Then, because of her previous time spent in Bulgaria as a student, Moran was assigned to that region where she learned her work would be boring and banal. She notes if the American taxpayer knew how much money was wasted on useless informants and exorbitant dinners at high-class restaurants, there'd be a revolt. Her job, like all case officers, wasn't to do any actual espionage but rather recruit natives to do the work through entrapment, appeals to patriotism, or, mainly, bribes. While she served in Macedonia during the period when Albanian rebels created unrest, we learn next to nothing about the political contexts of what was going on. We do get quick glimpses into embassy attacks and the unpopularity of Americans as the Macedonians resented the U.S. supporting the rush of Albanian refugees into their country. While the locals poison American cats as a protest, and we learn bands played in gloating refrains after 9/11, rarely is Lindsey in a life-or-death situation. And that only happened by misadventure as when three Macedonian soldiers mistake her on a bicycle for a unit of Albanian guerillas. More telling, she said while her superiors knew her assets and contacts were fruitless and pointless, she was told to keep running them as it was a "good career move." Sadly, this observation has turned out to be rather typical of her era in spycraft as has been explored in many books on the slide of the CIA during the 1990s.

More personal revelations crop up along the way as when Moran told of how having a foreign-born boyfriend endangered her original signing on for the agency, that her love-life was run by paperwork she had to fill out for every weekend retreat, and that simple intimacy was thwarted by her vague responses to men asking about her employment. With this as a backdrop, Moran resigned from the CIA in the wake of the Second Iraq War as she knew well it was a diversion from anything to do with any real war on terror and then found herself happy in a more normal life. To her credit, the tone of her book isn't the bitter, angry exposes published from the 1960s onward but rather reads like a look back at years of disappointment on every level. It's a human portrait, not an attempt to tell readers that undercover operations are dirty work. The CIA is shown as a sexist, lumbering bureaucracy which enjoyed the gamesmanship of the Cold War but completely inept In understanding how to deal with groups who despise U.S. interests on other grounds. On the other hand, it's difficult not to see her many passages on failed relationships as whining. From the get-go, she knew deception was part of the game and you'd think agents would expect rather intrusive interests in outside relationships. Again, little is new here, but this perspective might be eye-opening for those wondering just what CIA case officers actually do and what life might be like should a reader have their own fantasies about becoming an agent in the 21st century.


1. A number of these films are discussed in Chapter One, "When Spies Were Silent I: Leading Ladies and Victorian Melodramas (1898-1929)" from my Onscreen and Undercover: The Ultimate Book of Movie Espionage (Praeger, 2006). Chapter Five, "Fighting Hitler and His Heirs: Film Nazis from the 1930s to 2005" looks at movies including female characters.

In addition, among other sections, Chapter One, "THE 39 STEPS: Creating a Genre" from my 2005 Beyond Bond: Spies in Fiction and Film notes the neglected attention given to the important roles of independent women in early spy films.

See related articles at

Don DeLillo's Libra: America's Best Spy Novel?

Don DeLillo's Libra-- America's Best Spy Novel?

By Wesley Britton

"Someday, this operation would be studied at the highest levels of intelligence, in Langley and the Pentagon . . . Astonish them. Create coincidence so bizarre they have to believe it. Create a loneliness that beats with violent desire. This kind of man, an arrest, the false name, a stolen credit card, stalking a victim can be a way of organizing one's loneliness, making a network out of it, a fabric of connections. Desperate men give their solitude a purpose and a destiny."
(Don DeLillo, Libra, 1988)

In July 2006, The New York Times Book Review devoted one issue to what over 100 authors and critics felt are the best 25 American novels published over the last quarter century. Toni Morrison's Beloved topped the list; Philip Roth had the largest number of titles.

Such a list might not seem the most likely source to look for American spy fiction. Whenever critical discussions of espionage in literature take place, it's usually the Brits who take the top prizes. W. Somerset Maugham, John Le Carre', and Graham Green, in particular, are considered writers who used what Le Carre' called the "furniture of espionage" as a means to explore themes with literary depth. Their books looked at the ramifications of the Cold War, the meaning of secret lives, the costs of sacrificing innocents and professionals alike, the unknowns of choices made at the highest levels, and the depths of misguided human motives.

In contrast, American writers didn't contribute much to spy fiction until after the Bond boom made espionage a central focus of popular culture. Even then, excepting atomic age defectors and traitors popping up in headlines during the 1950s, the world of spycraft was largely Euro-centered in cities like Berlin and Moscow. The CIA and U.S. based books were mainly the pulp thrillers of Donald Hamilton and others wanting an American slice of the Bond pie. Not until the post-Watergate era did we see much serious use of secret ways in American literature. Then the themes were typically pointing to fears of the U.S. government being at best no better than the Reds or, at worst, conspiring against its own citizens. But, from time to time, noted writers who worked in wider spheres took a hand with spy stories, from Kurt Vonnegut Jr. to William Buckley to Norman Mailer.

What has all this to do with the New York Times Top 25 list? Two titles, both by Don DeLillo. The list included his 1997's Underworld, in which J. Edgar Hoover is one character. DeLillo's Libra got one vote as well. While no one would suggest Underworld would qualify as a spy novel, if The New York Times Book Review mention is a clue, Libra could be the best American espionage novel in contemporary literature.

Analysis of an Assassination

In my Beyond Bond: Spies in Fiction and Film (2005), I noted that in Mao II (1991),

"DeLillo claimed that the powerful exercise and retain their control in secret which forces the powerless to act in more dramatic ways. This concern was a continuation of themes expressed in DeLillo's most overt nod to espionage, Libra (1988), a novel on the life of Lee Harvey Oswald. The book is told from the point of view of Nicholas Branch, a retired senior CIA analyst who has been hired to write the secret history of the Kennedy assassination. According to Branch, disgraced and overzealous CIA agents hatched a plan to undo the disaster of the Bay of Pigs by staging an assassination attempt on President Kennedy. With a carefully manufactured trail leading to Fidel Castro, they hoped to provoke the United States into a full-scale second invasion of Cuba. Two agents think they're planning a surgical miss; a third intends to make the murder real and finds his gunman in the cipher, Lee Harvey Oswald. In this account, Oswald is a man who, in both fact and fiction, eludes easy description." *1*

Without question, DiLillo's creative intentions went far beyond most reality-based spy stories. DeLillo seemed to indicate that he saw Libra as an epic project when he had Nicholas Branch refer to his work as reviewing "the megaton novel James Joyce would have written if he'd moved to Iowa City and lived to be a hundred. Everything is here . . . this is the Joyceian book of America . . . the novel in which nothing is left out." Forced to examine the most minute of documents along with the 26 volumes of The Warren Report, Libra is the dramatization of what Branch studies. The fragments of events and mindsets over three decades and speculations of motives and coincidences all cumulatively demonstrate that forces beyond easily graspable truths shaped the death of a president.

DeLillo's Branch surely reflected DeLillo's own task as a writer, author and character both researching the historical record for starting points. Facts: Oswald--who was never known as Lee Harvey until he became headline news--was a high-school dropout, twice court-martialed in the Marines, an unwanted defector, and a failed suicide. DeLillo's Oswald was someone drawn to Marxism as the ideology demands the individual disappear in favor of the greater good. He is a survivor treated badly at worst and ignored at best. One memorable scene has Oswald in the Marine brig, forced to stand behind a white line and ask permission to use a urinal. He is senselessly beaten while he stoically tries again and again to comply with harsh rules that are unfairly enforced.

This Oswald became an unreliable spy. After defecting to Russia, thinking it the home he never had in the U.S., he invented information about u-2 spyplanes to make himself seem more important than he was to his interrogators. Later, his claims about the height of U-2 flights are measured against those of pilot Francis Gary Powers who actually flew the plane. While he doesn't know it, Oswald has begun to become part of history, in the form of a man who is already blurring and confusing reality with his own ill-defined identity. "He'd be a real defector posing as a false defector posing as a real defector" trained intensively as a Russian agent in naval intelligence-at least in his imigination. In his thoughts, he'd be like TV FBI informant Herbert Philbric on I Led Three Lives. Instead, he is given menial work in a radio factory as the Russians have no idea what to do with him. When he later decides to return home, they give him his permits in but 48 hours, an unusual fulfillment of such a request. Are they setting loose their agent--an unlikely scenario--or jettisoning an enigmatic émigré?

This Oswald continues to see himself as a secret agent, although without apparent acceptance by any agency. DeLillo's Oswald is an excellent forger, able to create documents for various aliases and may, or maybe not, was a sharp-shooter. His Mother believes he was an American agent in Russia who married a KGB spy. Not likely. But he becomes the observed pawn in the game of rogue elephants who want to get America back into Cuba. He's now in a world of secret layers, a world in which the Mob manipulates the CIA by doing patriotic duties to keep prosecutors--and Robert Kennedy--off their backs. This CIA is, in one character's view, "the best organized church in the Christian world. A mission to collect and store everything that everyone has ever said and then reduce it to a microdot and call it God. "

In Libra, mysterious spymasters are indeed playing God-games. From a small town in Texas, the ex-CIA conspirators first seek a shooter who will give them a "spectacular, surgical miss" of JFK before deciding history determines he should die. The hit is wrapped in mazes to confuse future investigators and Oswald is just too good a figure not to use. Without explanation, the puppet-masters seem to know Oswald was the would-be assassin of right-wing General Ted Walker who gets a minor wound when Oswald tries to murder him in Dallas. *2* They think the hit on the president should be in Miami but history seems to favor them by bringing Kennedy to Dealy Plaza. Something beyond the schemes of men with limited vision is pulling the threads together.

Logically, why Oswald would interest this group makes little sense. He disappears for long periods of time, and they can't keep tabs on him. For him to show up in New Orleans and walk into the office of their chief recruiter was just one of many striking coincidences. The FBI is watching him as well for their purposes--for a conspiracy to align themselves with a man under surveillance isn't a likely choice. Oswald even bungles his alleged FBI cover by calling the bureau in for assistance when he's arrested for disorderly conduct. The conspirators have to manipulate his motives as Oswald wanted to shoot Walker as he thought Castro would consider it a favor and allow him to defect to Cuba, but he has no anti-Kennedy feelings. In fact, this Oswald reads James Bond books when he learns Kennedy likes them. True, Oswald is being set up as the "traceable artifact" and another rifleman is assumed will get in the actual kill shots. But no one could have predicted he'd be working at the Texas Book Depository in the month just before the presidential trip. In short, as one character put it, history is a force greater than what analysis will yield.

But the plotters don't get it all their way. They plan to murder Oswald in a movie theatre after the assassination where he goes thinking he's making the contact to take him to Cuba. Instead, he pointlessly murders a policeman and is arrested. Which brings Jack Ruby into the drama, a man who thinks of the assassination as akin to the crucifixion of Christ. Like fellow Dallasites, he's overwhelmed with the grief and fear their city is now forever tainted. History has found him and will make him a hero for killing the killer--and gangsters nudge history by offering Ruby a means out of his financial debt. But his motive is deeper, to erase Oswald from consciousness. Ruby's failure was that he was now forever linked to what he wanted to wipe clean.

In the end, we hear the testimony of Oswald's mother who remained convinced her son was a U.S. agent in Russia and that some force began shaping Lee as early as high school. Her muddled certainty is juxtaposed against the backdrop of coincidence piled on coincidence even beyond the biographies of those involved. After all, who can explain the parallels of the deaths of Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy? Who can explain the mysterious deaths of so many participants in the years after the assassination?

The Unresolvable Epic

In his "Afterword" for Libra, DeLillo admitted he was not attempting to present historical truth and created all of his intelligence officers and Mafia figures. "After reading parts of the Warren Commission Report and visiting sites where Oswald lived, DeLillo's fictional biography and thoughts on the aftermath of the murders in Dallas resulted in the author's conclusions that the killing led to Americans living in a culture of national paranoia from which we have not recovered. He claims that his novels, ultimately unresolveable, could not have been written in the world before the Kennedy assassination. In later interviews, DeLillo stated Libra was a story without end as new theories, new suspects, and new documents appear that keep conspiracy fears alive." *3*

In my Beyond Bond, I made one note putting the novel in the context of spy literature:

"On another level, DeLillo's intellectual fiction can be seen as the other side of books in the John Buchan tradition where independent agents are drawn into defending their homeland. The dark side of covert loners, the terrorists and assassins in DeLillo's works, choose a secret life that empowers them in ways writers of fiction no longer have as a means to address social grievances."

To elaborate on this point, in much spy fiction, heroes and rogues alike take on secret missions reluctantly, drawn into the covert world for revenge, to understand events that have disrupted their lives, or for simple patriotic adventure. In Libra, DiLillo looks from the other side of the "Great Game"--examining individuals who see their outsiderness as a basis for striking back at a social order they are alienated from. In addition, one perennial theme of spy fiction--as in Le Carre's The Spy Who Came in From the Cold--is that agents often pursue assignments without knowing the true purpose of their mission or what the "endgame" is for their masters. DiLillo's Oswald is even more the patsy, unaware he's been herded into a clandestine corral he has no stake in. He has indeed become a secret agent, but one who believes he will finally find honor and acceptance from a dictator who knows nothing about him. Instead, his path to alienation is complete and fatal.

Beyond Libra, Exploring themes of menace and meaning, violence and paranoia, DeLillo has frequently touched on cultural reactions to events many associate with the covert world. For example, his Running Dog (1978), an imaginative tale about a useless quest to find a secret pornographic film of Adolf Hitler, was partly a statement about the inquisitive nature of Americans who uncover things they no longer care about once the secrets are discovered. His 1985 White Noise is the story of a history professor with many secrets--as in being a Hitler scholar who can't speak German--and has several ex-wives who were involved in intelligence. The meaning of terrorism was dealt with in The Names (1982), set in Greece and the Middle East.

While Underground (1997) doesn't directly deal with espionage, it has much to say on the meaning of intelligence gathering during the Cold War. According to Laura Miller, Underground is the story of America's awakening from the dream of the Cold War, "which like most dreams seemed so convincing and compelling in the moment, only to strike us as utterly pointless later." It was but a contest akin to a baseball game. "Picking up a theme that runs through Libra," Miller says, "DeLillo suggests that the contest was little more than an excuse to lay plots and keep secrets, that the Cold War supported covert activities, not the other way around. Secrets are DeLillo's great passion, and the reason why his (male) characters love the Mafia, nuclear weapons research, intelligence work, conspiracy theories, dossiers and even baseball trivia so much." *4*

In Miller's view, characters fantasize about locating the Underworld where secrets are hidden and they study varieties of "Dietrologia, the science of what is behind something. For main character Nick Shay, God is powerful precisely because he keeps his secrets from us. But, echoing ideas expressed in Running Dog, uncovering the meanings of these secrets is not satisfying. "Like the precious enigmas of the Cold War, `all the banned words, the secrets kept in white-washed vaults, the half-forgotten plots,' Nick's sequestered soul turns out to be something outdated, pretentious and ultimately banal."

Other Contenders

If Libra is the best of the offerings for American spy literature, who else would be contenders for the top rankings? Norman Mailer's 1991 Harlot's Ghost springs to mind, an epic of over 1,000 pages. The story of the Hubbard family, involved in the CIA from the inception to 1963, was unfinished as Mailer claimed his opus was but part 1 of his saga. Unlike Libra, Mailer's canvas is much wider in its reach, a scope Robert Litell mirrored in The Company: A Novel of the CIA (2002) which also took on the story of the agency from its roots but took it through the fall of the Soviet Empire. Of these two, Litell's is a more straight-forward multi-generational story and was not intended for serious intellectual musings; Harlot's Ghost defies a full analysis as it is incomplete with missing background and hints at what is to come in part two. On it's own, Harlot should probably rank as Number Two in the Top 10 of American spy novels, but the jury must remain out until Mailer finishes his long-delayed project.

It can be said the most thoughtful American fiction has dealt with looking back to find the meaning of the Cold War and the costs of its covert games. But, for the most part, American spy writers from Tom Clancy, Charles McCarry, William Sapphire, to William Buckly have used the "furniture of espionage" to showcase ideologies supporting the need for these covert warriors, despite obvious misgivings with its misuse and fumbles. Most offer excellent reads and should be measured within the goals of genre writers. Few attempt to match the intentions of a DeLillo, and there is no dictum that says they need to try.

All this being said, it is useful to sort through the published contributions of the last 25 years as the Cold War novel is now historical fiction. Looking at the impact of the undercover world on American consciousness is important to an understanding of our culture, and Don DeLillo best exemplifies our search for meaning when truth is illusory, the secrets are more significant when not told, and what we believe about the powerful and manipulative in a vacuum of information. If there's a better contender for Number One American spy novel than Libra, it's hard to imagine what it would be.


1. Britton, Wesley. Beyond Bond: Spies in Film and Fiction. Westport, CT: Praeger Pub, 2005. DeLillo is discussed on pages 186-8.

2. Ironically, this Walker was a darling of the John Birch Society and Christian Crusade--for which FBI informant Matt Cvedic contributed articles. Samples of these are attached to my " They Were Communists for the FBI: The Stories of Matt Cvetic and Herbert Philbric" posted at this website.

In the same piece, there's a note about Herbert Philbric's thoughts on Oswald and the Paine family in Dallas which he included in one edition of his book, I Led Three Lives.

3. Qtd. From Beyond Bond. DeLillo's continuing interest in possible CIA involvement with the JFK assassination was demonstrated in a 2003 letter he co-signed with Norman Mailer, among others, requesting that the CIA release "all relevant records on the activities of a career CIA operations officer named George E. Joannides." For more information, see:

4. Miller, Laura. "One Nation, Under Cover." Salon magazine. Sept. 26, 1997. - 7k -


For related articles, see

Review: The Avengers on Radio


By Wesley Britton

(Note: To obtain the full series discussed below, your best source is Jon Foulk at OTRCAT.COM. He also has MP3s of many other spy radio shows listed elsewhere at this site.)

In 1969, one of the most beloved and longest lasting spy series on television ended its original run. The Avengers, which had introduced Patrick Macnee as John Steed, Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale, Diana Rigg as Mrs. Emma Peel, and Linda Thorson as Tara King seemingly rode off into the syndication sunset. But some epics don't just fade away in reruns or become simply immortalized in video and DVD releases. The Avengers, for example, were re-born in novels, comic books, as The New Avengers on television, and, ah, in a film about which the less said, the better. Other series from the '60s can claim the same, but in most cases, new versions rarely captured the magic of the originals.

Uniquely, as discussed in my Spy Television (Praeger, 2004), The Avengers also became a stage play in 1971. Few fans ever saw it. In 1972, Sonovision Ltd. Went one better and produced The Avengers for radio in 15 minute episodes broadcast daily, Monday through Friday. Unless you lived in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, or New York during that year, you likely haven't heard these "new Avengers starring Donald Monat as John Steed and Diane Appleby as Mrs. Emma Peel. After its 18 month run, the show was the stuff of legend and it was thought only 13 episodes survived.

Luckily, this wasn't the case. Thanks to efforts by South African broadcast companies, radio series of the era are available now and The Avengers are again ready for your listening pleasure. The question is--are these stories worthy of your time and cash? How do 15 minute serialized cliff-hangers fare against other incarnations of the show?

Judging from the 22 stories I’ve heard, one important point is that most of The Avengers radio scripts are re-workings of original TV broadcasts. But this isn't to say nothing new was added to The Avengers legacy. True, only two adventures, including the first five-part drama, "Getaway," were the only original stories. "Getaway," a tale of prison inmates drinking special potions that made them invisible was never a televised drama. "Straight from the Shoulder," the last of the series from the set I purchased, was a yarn with a long car chase, an extended duel on a target range between Emma Peel and a one-shot crack killer, and the end of an arms-for-sale ring. All other yarns were adaptations of stories both from the Steed-Peel years and many more from the Steed-King season.

This means over half of the scripts were slightly altered to have Peel saying and doing things Tara King had done back in 1968 and 1969. For the most part, little change was needed in the plots or dialogue to accommodate the switch in the female role. However, as the radio Avengers used the character of "Mother"--who appeared only once in a Peel story, her last, writers added new scenes to include the oafish boss in tales in which the character had not been part of before. Sometimes, this added new twists as in the radio version of the Steed-Peel "Escape in Time." In the spirit of the King season, during which "Mother" popped up in unusual places, the head of this section of British Intelligence set up his headquarters in the Tower of London. This allowed for some historical commentary on old weapons that fit in with the time travel motif.

Some alterations provided other new settings as in "Too Many Oles," a re-telling of the Steed-King television story, "They Keep Killing Steed." In the radio version, this took Steed and Peel to Spain and we heard the final battle in a bullfight ring. This shift in setting and character accents gives the script a freshness that would add new interest for even the most knowledgeable fan. In addition, many stories restructured the plots to emphasize, or cut, scenes from the TV productions. For example, "Nothing to Sneeze At," a re-working of the Steed-King "You'll Catch Your Death," spent more time in the laboratories of the germ clinic than in the original King outing. Writer and director Dennis Falby made many such changes to create new circumstances for our heroes. Steed didn’t speak while wearing a gas mask on television, and neither Mrs. Peel nor Tara King were forced to wear straight-jackets or sneezed just before falling through an air duct. The ladies were tortured in many ways, but the televised episodes never had either suspended from a beam tied to one hand. Looking for such differences, of course, is a sport for the most die-hard of fans. Are there other pleasures?

Of course, radio drama is a different medium from television, and we gain insights into this from Donald Monat's short introduction taped for the new release. He said that, normally on Thursday or Friday afternoons, a cast of seven or eight actors gathered to record a week's worth of episodes in the Johannesburg studios. He claimed the actors didn't see the scripts beforehand, that 7 or 8 actors played up to 20 roles between them, and that the taping took only 3 to 4 hours including speaking the parts and adding the sound effects. Editing would later pull the process together. One noticeable difference between the TV outings and these remakes were the added lines for the uncredited narrators. Happily, the writers provided more than plot exposition and we heard both wry commentary on the character's actions as well as comic warnings about what was about to happen. One example: Steed "followed the shapely form of the nurse down the corridor. Steed privately decided that he quite liked women with ample flesh on their bones. When the matron appeared, Steed wondered if quite so much flesh was necessary." Supervised by producer David Goodan, the production qualities were quite good,
so the music, sound effects, and editing were all first-rate. This remains true in the new
releases. So the series works simply on the level of listenable entertainment.

For many reasons, new audiences don't need to be familiar with the original Avengers to enjoy these stories. While one reason The Avengers remains timeless is its fantasy elements, avoiding topical issues which can date more grounded efforts, some stories were unintended prophecy. In both the TV and radio versions of "Who Shot George XLR40," for example, we saw and heard a scene any contemporary audience should respond to with an ironic smile--that of cybernetic doctors desperately laboring at an operating table to keep a computer alive, a computer shot by a ruthless assassin. Well, computers still have one limitation. As Mrs. Peel observed, "They can't duck." In the aforementioned "Nothing to Sneeze About," The killers mailed empty envelopes laced with deadly germs, a foreshadowing of the anthrax terrorism that occurred in the same fashion in fall 2001. Even listeners not born when either the TV or radio versions were produced can draw parallels between strange fiction and the post-9/11 world.

But what of actors playing roles so identified with Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg? Admittedly, this call is a matter of taste. For my money, Donald Monat comes off as a very credible Major John Steed. As we're talking radio, it's easy to hear a new voice and still see the face and mannerisms of Patrick Macnee. It takes a bit to get used to, perhaps, but Monat seems to be Steed and not merely an actor standing in for the real McCoy, er, maybe McSteed. I wasn't so convinced with Appleby's version of Emma Peel. Perhaps she lacked some of the sauciness of Diana Rigg, perhaps she seems too proper and upper-crust in her vocalizations. Again, this is a matter of preference, but this Mrs. Peel sounds like a good detective but not quite full of the vitality that suggests a woman of action.

Well, as Patrick Macnee's dandified Steed prove to a wide variety of televised adversaries, appearances can be deceiving. So can voices. To be fair, Appleby's Emma Peel "wheed" with delight while sliding down a banister to join the fray and, as one narration put it, "Kicks like a mule, and moves like lightening, does our Mrs. Peel." Perhaps Applyby was simply underused in many stories. In these Avengers, Steed is frequently the star of the show and Mrs. Peel a supporting character knocked out, gassed, imprisoned, or with simply less to do. Perhaps Falby was more comfortable with the male point-of-view. We hear much about what Steed is thinking and looking at, less so for Peel. However any listener responds to the inflections of Monat and Appleby, it was a smile to hear one scene that clarified one point debated in Avengers circles--indeed Steed and Peel were amorous. I leave it to new listeners to find the evidence.

Beyond this incident, the set I purchased included an additional live, on stage comic scene in which Steed and Peel were retired, clearly living together, and called into action one more time. Mostly, the short scene--unexplained as to when and why it was made--allowed for sexual jokes. For example, Mrs. Peel learns Steed has been wearing his bowler all those years in bed and she'd been fingering his brim at night.

Of course, 15 minute episodes with cliff-hangers are not suited for much character development of any kind to begin with, so these adventures are more plot driven, trying to build mysteries to keep listeners tuning in to discover what all these clues and murders add up to. By comparison with the original TV broadcasts, these incarnations are often on the thin side. Some stories translate better than others, and this often depends on how good the original scripts were in the first place. Still, while fans of the original show have the pleasure of comparing and contrasting what changes were made, or not, listeners less familiar with the first broadcasts can enjoy the stories just like the first South African audiences with one decided advantage--you don't have to wait to hear each episode over the period of five or six days.

If there's one major disadvantage, it's the fact most of these episodes include the original commercials. At first, it's quaint to hear ads that explain how over a million South African housewives live better with the wonders of Cold Water Omo in their wash. We hear how well "Shield for Sportsman" deodorant actually works for men whose only sports are changing tires and trimming hedges. For those who didn't know, "lovely actress Jill St. John" loves creamy Lux soap in her bath. We learn South Africans need toothpaste to fight tooth decay and the candies that cause it. After awhile, the charm wears off. Well, this affliction is edited out of the later episodes and that's one way to spell r.e.l.i.e.f.

So, alongside the DVDs of the series that started it all, these clever artifacts of a more innocent time are more than worthy of joining your spy collection. Fans of The Avengers now have an opportunity to enjoy old friends and old stories performed and produced in a different mold retaining much of the flavor and spirit of what made the concept so popular in the first place. One of the pleasures of radio drama is allowing the mind to fill in the pictures that go with what we hear. In this case, we get to plug in visuals firmly part of our memories into something like an alternate universe. I was glad to go there.

For more interviews, articles, and reviews on TV spy shows, see

Review: The New Avengers on DVD

Review: The New Avengers on DVD. Vol. 1. (A&E, 2003)

By Wesley Britton

Without much question, if TV spy fans were polled and asked to choose one secret agent series that would be "the best," "most popular," or simply "classic" television, The Avengers would either head the lists or at least be in the Top Five in any category. In particular, the pairings of Patrick Macnee's Major John Steed with his leading ladies--Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg, and Linda Thorson--remain the most frequently
Aired spy adventures and are the dramas most available on VHS and DVD.

However, rating the 1976-78 follow-up, The New Avengers, is another matter. In America, few aficionados ever saw the original broadcasts starring Patrick Macnee as Steed with new partners Purdee (Joanna Lumley) and Mike Gambit (Gareth Hunt). Much to the distress of the show's backers, CBS had opted to air the new episodes only late-night in competition against the then king of post-prime-time programming, Johnny Carson. In the years afterward, few viewers had much to remember the show by beyond the print overviews published by such Avengers experts as Dave Rogers and John Peel. In 1989, actress Joanna Lumley, the witty "Purdee" of the series, published her fond memories of her Avengers days in Stare Back and Smile (Viking). Such sources helped me assemble my own discussion of the show in my Spy Television (Praeger, 2004) along with my assortment of bootleg videos gathered at various conventions and antique fairs. But such publications and collector's items were of interest primarily for diehard fans but of little inspiration for the general public.

Now, with the first set of New Avengers DVDs, perhaps it's time to investigate the series anew, to see if a show seemingly so disappointing in its first appearance can reach a fresh audience in the 21st century. Are The New Avengers worth rediscovering in their new format? Was this simply a series that suffered in comparison with its namesake or should it be relegated to the artifacts of minor TV spy efforts?

The Avengers as a Trio

To begin, I felt it only fair to watch the first 13 episodes of The New Avengers on DVD largely disregarding the title. If there's one truism about the show that's hard to debate, it's that the 1970s incarnation of John Steed and his new partners worked in a far different world than the best loved escapades of the Peel-King years. As I observed in Spy Television:

"For one matter, the feel of the show had lost most of the elements that gave the original series its flavor. Gone were the surreal, over-the-top bad guys. Gone were the quaint backwater British villages. In the original series, Steed’s garb and cars were anachronistic, and Peel and King wore and drove their own unconventional fashions and stylized sports cars. But the realism of the new team would ultimately make this series look more dated than its predecessor. Its emphasis on topical issues such as drugs also dates the series in an era not fondly remembered for its fashions or artistic milieu. By design, the opponents were far too believable, at least by 1970s standards . . . To a large extent, the original show had drawn viewers into a mythological England which is precisely the element giving those episodes the timelessness they continue to enjoy. With the loss of quirky local color and surprising supporting characters, The Avengers were out of sync with what had made them unique. Producer {Brian} Clemens, with the help of original Avengers scriptwriter Dennis Spooner, felt these changes were needed as audiences were more sophisticated. He saw no sense in repeating what had already been done."

So, just as Laurie Johnson's New Avengers title music began with the strains of his original Avengers theme before jumping into the percussive march composed for the new series, let me quickly observe a few notable connections between the shows of the two decades before looking at The New Avengers on their own terms. First, the single lynchpin that mattered was the role of Patrick Macnee's Major John Steed. From 1961 to 1969, Steed had progressed from a character who'd been created largely to play second-fiddle to series lead Ian Hendry to becoming a pop culture icon impossible to imitate. As others have noted before, the Steed in The New Avengers wasn't the Steed fans remembered. Instead, he played a respectable gentlemen leading his private team while maintaining contacts at the highest levels. But as this Steed no longer cavorted in anachronistic clothes with his trademark eccentricities, the character could have been
any seasoned mentor for younger agents. Any English actor of Macnee's generation could have played the role with few changes in scripts or characterization.

Occasional nods to the past were fleeting, as in one scene when Steed mistook one lady friend's interest in photos which he thought were of his three favorite horses. In fact, the lady was looking at pictures of Cathy Gale, Emma Peel, and Tara King.

Beyond this comic moment, in the first 13 episodes, only two adventures were overt nods to the past, and these were two of the best. "The Last of the Cybernauts" was an episode in which the robot-men Steed and Peel had battled twice in the old days were reactivated one more time. This comeback inspired frequent mentions of the old adventures as Mike Gambit admonished Purdee about her reluctance to even mention Mrs. Peel. Unlike other villains in The New Avengers, the wheelchair-bound Caine wearing masks with different expressions was memorable, the best--or the worst--mad man in this DVD set. A more oblique reference to the past occurred in "To Catch A Rat" when the actor who played the original Avenger, Dr. David Kiel, returned. In this case, Ian Hendry didn't play his old character but instead another agent who had been out in the cold for 17 years. In the final moments, Macnee was able to say, "It's been 17 years, but welcome back." While few modern viewers might be aware of this inside joke, the script and acting of this hour make it one of the best of the batch.

Beyond these two outings, looking at The New Avengers as essentially a series unto itself is simple enough. True, "Sleeper," a yarn about bandits who put all of London to sleep with only the three heroes awake to foil them, was a plot already used in the Steed-King season. The final episode of the first DVD set, "Dirtier by the Dozen," was about the two younger agents infiltrating a private army of mercenaries. This was another situation well-trodden in the original series, not to mention other '60s shows like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and the Saint. Had an ounce of originality been injected into the scripts, re-working these old devices could have had their points of interest. Beyond the witty rebuffs of Purdee to Gambit and secondary characters alike, there's not much to mark these retreads as anything special.

In my view, "Cybernauts," the fourth aired episode, was the first to show any flair at all. The series debuted with "The Eagle's Nest," a story with an old but intriguing twist. A plane of Nazi's, fleeing in the last days of World War II, had crashed onto a British island where the Germans had taken over a monastery, preserved "Germany's greatest treasure"--the frozen body of Adolf Hitler--and planned on a comeback. In typical Avengers style, this hidden army had unusual killers, in this case soldiers expert in using fishing lines to snag escapees and spies. But this premise fell flat. The second outing, "The Midas Touch," featured a killer infected with a deadly virus he conveys by touch. Again, a premise on paper didn't come alive on the small screen.

As the series progressed, there were occasional moments that spiced up the storylines. In "Cat Amongst the Pigeons," a story about a badguy able to control birds made overt and subtle references to Alfred Hitchcock's film, The Birds. Had Hitchcock only known--killer birds are no match for the ordinary housecat. Alongside "Cybernauts," another standout hour is "Target," a clever tale about agents killed on a target range by mysterious pinpricks that infect both Steed and Purdee. But, in the main, all the other episodes, from "House of Cards" to "The Tale of the Big Y," are about ordinary secret agents and counter-agents with little twists that make them more detective stories than spy adventure. On the other extreme, we get "To Catch a Rat" in which the enemy is a giant rodent roaming around London sewers. Viewers, then and now, are more likely to know what's going on long before our heroes do. Had such a script been played with a tongue-in-cheek tone, maybe, maybe, this might not have been among the worst hours in the secret agent genre.

But we're supposed to take this stuff seriously, and that's the central problem with The New Avengers. Modern viewers would likely have never heard of this show if it had been called anything else. If Brian Clemens felt audiences of the '70s were more sophisticated, then those in the 21st century are even more so. Given a choice between Sidney Bristo and Purdee, I suspect Sidney would win every bout, even without the quips that make Joanna Lumley's impudent feminist the best aspect of a show without focus or fresh tone.

While no one is likely to follow my advice, The New Avengers seems a series that would be better presented in a "Best of" collection offering the most successful episodes. Four DVD sets are to complete the run, and on each there will be two or three nuggets indeed worthy of new appreciation. But how many collectors will find themselves wanting or needing the entire series with so many hours of rather mundane and ordinary encounters? On video, there were collections of "the best of" the original Avengers which whetted the appetites for having the entire series issued and rightly so. The Saint and The Wild Wild West have also been offered in such VHS collections, both series worthy of being available on DVD from first to last. But lesser productions of interest shouldn't be dismissed outright but instead offered anew in less comprehensive form. Adding new features, particularly interviews with producers and actors, would add value to these collections, but none are on set 1 of this series.

True, The New Avengers have their supporters. I know of one fan who saw this series in the '70s before even hearing about the original. For him, Mike Gambit was a childhood hero and the concept of three agents working together makes the pairings of Steed and one partner seem a bit thin. For other fans, John Steed in any context is better than no Steed. Nostalgia is always one key factor in marketing old material, so there are those who'll grab up the New Avengers collections just as many of us await other TV memories to find their way into the DVD library. For the most part, however, The New Avengers is for completists only. Knowledgeable folks may pick and choose from future sets to have the episodes they know are of special interest, such as "K is for Kill," the two-parter with a short Diana Rigg cameo. Still, I suspect few viewers who aren’t already predisposed to this show will find it worthwhile to find much new in The New Avengers.

For more articles, reviews, and interviews on TV spies, see

Review: Robert Vaughn and The Protectors on DVD

Review: Robert Vaughn and The Protectors on DVD

By Wesley Britton

In January 2006, American fans of Robert Vaughn were delighted when Amc began airing episodes of the British-produced hustle in which Vaughn played a senior statesman of, well, high-dollar grifting. In many interviews promoting the show, Vaughn stated he saw his new role as an updating of what might have happened to his iconic character from the 1960s--the elegant Napoleon Solo, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The year before, Vaughn had been interviewed by magazines like Cinema Retro when DVDs for his second TV series, The Protectors, were finally made available for the U.S. market. Back in 2002, I'd asked him about this little known syndicated series, one he acted in during his self-imposed exile from the U.S. during 1972 to 1973. (note 1) He told me Sir Lew Grade, who ran all the commercial programming in England at that time, had called his agent in England and asked if Vaughn would be interested in doing a spy show there. "I said I wasn't very interested," he told me, "and then they said, `Well it's only a half-hour show, you'd only be here one year,' and they offered a pretty good deal. I didn't realize that in England, it took them five to six to seven days to shoot a half-hour show whereas in America it would take only three days. I wound up doing a second season, so I was there almost three years. "

While neither of us knew it during our talk, the circumstances of filming The Protectors would foreshadow his work on Hustle. "I lived in London," he said with fondness. "Every weekend we spent in some place in England, Ireland, or Scotland. We did a lot of filming, actually, on the continent in Spain, Italy, Germany, Denmark, and just about every country available in Europe. " But, of course, drawing too many connections between The Protectors and Hustle wouldn't be fair to the actor or his current project. Hustle is earning well-deserved critical praise and Vaughn himself didn't think much of his '70s show. For many viewers, The Protectors was a transitional series that demonstrated, for one thing, the glories of the '60s spy renaissance were over. Still, the show is worth some exploration even if few modern fans will find DVD sets indispensable additions to their libraries. And, whatever Vaughn is claiming, his current role in hustle has more in common with The Protectors' Harry Rule than U.N.C.L.E.s Mr. Solo.

Creating The Protectors

In the beginning, as they say, the concept came from very creative minds. British ITV head, Sir Lew Grade, the man who'd brought us The Saint, Danger Man, and The Prisoner, Got backing from Faberge for a project produced by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, then best known for their puppet shows. (note 2) Writers and directors included the likes of Ralph Smart, Brian Clemens, Dennis Spooner, and Donald James whose credits included Danger Man, The Avengers, and The Champions.

Despite such talent, the show's conception was a mixed bag. From the onset, one problem was determining just what The Protector organization was. Apparently, Harry Rule (Vaughn) was the head of a group that had agents based in European cities including Rome and Paris. It's never clear how these "Protectors" got their credentials. They're apparently independent operatives who work for private clients, governments, and carry enough clout to get the U.S. and Russian governments to airlift Contessa Caroline di Contini (Nyree Dawn porter) halfway across the world to help a dictator's wife.

In addition, while the casting might have seemed just right for a new spy series, both Vaughn and co-lead Nyree Dawn Porter were brought in at nearly the last minute, which meant their personalities and characters were ill defined. Porter, for example, brought elegance to her part but it wasn't clear what skills she had beyond good shooting. According to DVD commentary by director John Hough for the first episode, "2000 Feet to Die," This conflict was ongoing and a source of tension between Vaughn and producer Gerry Anderson. For his part, Hough had been brought in because of his experience with stunts, and The Protectors was intended to have more of them than usually seen on television. According to Hough, Bond connections were subtle, as in scenes in the title sequence based on similar shots in From Russia With Love. While he didn't make the connection, Hough used filming techniques Sidney Furie had employed in The Ipcress File. Bringing Furie's cinematic approach to television, Hough said he wanted unusual camera angles, especially reflections from mirrors and windows. At the time, Haugh clamed, such filming was innovative.

Perhaps. Hough had worked on such shows as Danger Man, The Saint and especially The Avengers, a show that loomed very large in the backdrop of the new series. Along with the writers and directors mentioned above, Terence Fieley, a frequent scripter for The Avengers, wrote the first episode. In both shows, the leads flirted and the male of the species clearly had occasional amorous intentions. Porter, who'd been considered for the role of Cathy Gale and did guest-star on The Avengers, now played a character who had a late husband, a parallel to Mrs. Peel thinking she's a widow throughout her run. One episode in particular, "Disappearing Trick," also Seemed to point to The Avengers. In the 1966 black-and-white season of the Patrick Macnee/Diana Rigg pairing, an introduction for American audiences was used identifying Macnee's JohnSteed as a "top professional" and Emma Peel as a "talented amateur." In the early moments of "Disappearing Trick," we hear Caroline and Rule saying:

"You're a 24 hour surveillance machine."
"I'm a professional."
"What am I? Just a talented amateur?"

This set up one of the better story lines in the series when the Contessa, wanting to prove herself, accepts a job in spite of Rule's objections and finds herself in need of rescue from her team. In another outing, slightly reminiscent of "Return of the Cybernauts" in The Avengers, Caroline and Harry butt heads again when she's reluctant to believe an ex-boyfriend is behind an attempted coup d'etat on an island country. (One last Avenger connection was a rare guest-star appearance by one of the original leads, Ian Hendry.)

Looking Back

For most viewers, The Protectors were too realistic with too little flair of the better '60s fantasy series. With little originality, story lines seem like Saint episodes with two savvy Saint's for the price of one; in others, the plot seemed like a watered down Mission: Impossible. In many episodes, Caroline and Harry take turns setting up cons or discovering they're victims of them. Hmm, expert cons? Shades of Hustle! In most cases, as in "Quick Brown Fox," an interesting premise--in this case about yet another group of neo-Nazis--fizzles into a brawl at episode's end. There were the occasional over-the-top bad guys, like the nutcase who kidnapped the Contessa because she'd testified against him in a court. In one episode, criminal cartels pool their resources and hire a group to take out the Protector organization. Several agents are killed while Rule is tortured to get the names of all the Protectors who had access to then cutting-edge computer technology. Such episodes suggest some series should be issued in "Best of" sets and not first-to-last season runs.

One contribution to the spy genre was the notable theme song, "Avenues and Alleyways," with music by Mitch Murray and lyrics by Peter Callander. Viewers could be forgiven for thinking the singer in the end-credits was Tom Jones as the actual vocalist, Tony Christie, was as close to a sound-alike for Jones as one can imagine. But, in the end, The Protectors remains a series with almost bloated potential that never jelled. Perhaps the 30 minute format didn't allow for character development that connected the audience with the attractive leads. Perhaps the vagueness of the premises were too confusing and not the mysterious milieu the creators had in mind. Whatever the case, The Protectors does have its friends and defenders. For them, the DVD incarnation is a treat. For my money, I await the real Robert Vaughn treasure surprisingly not on store shelves--of course, the show that started it all, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.


1. See "Robert Vaughn, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., is Alive and Kicking" also posted at this website.

2. As discussed in my Spy Television (2004), ITV and Gerry Anderson also produced a sister series to The Protectors. Actor Gene Barry, attempting to recapture the style of his Amos Burke, Secret Agent, starred in the syndicated The Adventurer. Like The Protectors, "Barry’s series exploited the marquee draw of star names with production values from the syndicated bargain basement." Barry played Jim Bradly, a multi-millionaire who pretended to be an international film star to work on secret missions near film locations or pleasure resorts. Ex-Fugitive detective, Barry Morse, played his contact, Mr. Parminter. He passed himself off as Bradly’s producer/manager. Filmed in the south of France and England, the 26 short episodes couldn't answer one question. How does one pretend to be a film star, Barry’s ostensible cover? "More likely, the series perished as the ‘60s spy boom was waning, and the show couldn’t survive despite theme music by Bond composer John Barry and production input by Saint producer, Monte Berman."

For more reviews, articles, and interviews on TV spies, see

Collecting TV Spy Music


By Wesley Britton

Before listing what I consider the hits and misses of "spy music," I must confess there are those who don't see secret agent themes as a genre unto itself. In 2002, I SPY theme composer Earl Hagen told me, “If there is a 'secret agent' genre, I am not aware of it . . . When you analyze the themes and scores to shows like MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and compare them to SECRET AGENT or THE AVENGERS, you have to come to the conclusion that the film dictates the style of the music.”

However, a number of composers have indeed shaped a distinctive tone and feel for television and film spy projects. In America, Jerry Goldsmith, Lalo Schfrin, and Mort Stevens were especially significant in the '60s; in England, Edwin Astley, Ron Grainer, and Laurie Johnson were equally influential. Many do see themes and motifs in musical styles that identify them as "spy music" beyond their being included in soundtracks and as incidental tracks for the large and small screen. (For a fuller discussion on these points, see "SPY GUITAR: FROM VIC FLICK TO SPY-FI" at this website.)

Of course, sampling these melodies is but a mouse-click away--from title music posted at YouTube to downloadable ring-tones for your cell phone. Below are notes and suggestions for collecting the old-fashioned way--on CD and even vinyl. I welcome your responses--write me at--



In 2004, EMI Music released the first soundtrack for 24 by composer Sean Callery. After winning two Emmys for his work on the show, Callery then issued 24: Seasons Four and Five to wide critical acclaim. Callery had earned his role as composer after distinguished scores for Le Femme Nikita. He later contributed his music for the 2004 James Bond video game, Everything or Nothing and 24: The Game created for Sony's
PlayStation 2 in 2006.



Alias: Original Television Soundtrack (Touchstone Television Prod., 2003) mainly includes tracks by composer Michael Giacchino, although the main title theme was written by series creator, J.J. Abrams. The Hollywood Studio Symphony performs the varied menu, which should surprise no one familiar with the pumped-up beat for Agent Bristo's smash-mouth fight and escape scenes. In the liner notes, Abrams praises Giacchino saying his music adds a "high-budget" movie feel to each episode of the series.

Perhaps. One disappointment is the extremely short title music which is well worth a longer version for a CD like this. Listening to the short cut, I remembered a few sentences composer Earl Hagan shared with me regarding TV scores: "music for films is now vastly superior to music for TV. Composers in TV no longer have the time or money to indulge in a decent sized orchestra. Most TV shows are done with synthesized music. An average main title is now less than a half minute where shows in the sixties had a full minute. It makes an enormous difference in making a statement.”


The Avengers

Laurie Johnson’s The Avengers title music has long been a favorite for collectors, and it has been available on a number of compilations in various incarnations (see below). Leika and the Cosmonauts, a Danish instrumental band, issued one unique version of The Avengers theme on their “Colossal Band” CD (Upstart Rec.) in 1995. The most recent and extended version was on the soundtrack to the 1998 film. Like the soundtrack for the film version of THE SAINT, the CD includes collectible title music along with a number of songs not in the movie and are obvious "padding" to justify issuing such albums.

Some material available on old-fashioned vinyl may never appear on CD. For example, one unusual version of THE AVENGERS theme appeared on one album by CBS group, Jerry Murad and the Harmonicats. A mix of gunshots and Murad playing the Johnson melody on the harmonica, this track belongs on a future CD of the oddest renditions of spy music. Lauri Johnson issued an "official" soundtrack likely in 1977. This project was more a promotion for two then new series Johnson had commercial interest in, THE NEW AVENGERS and the sister cop show production, THE PROFESSIONALS. One side of the disc has AVENGERS and NEW AVENGERS music and the other features THE PROFESSIONALS.


Get Smart

The GET SMART theme, along with the comic "Max" and "99" by Barbara Feldon, are on the Raven Records GET SMART CD, a reissue of the original LP. Not a soundtrack collection, this souvenir of '60s popular culture is primarily a collection of audio-clips from the series linked with added narration by Don Adams. Details about the CD, along with the cover art, are on a collectibles page:


I Spy

Thanks to Film Score Monthly, an excellent two-CD set of original I Spy music was released in 2003. According to I Spy expert Debbie Lazar, theme composer Earle Hagen published his book, Memoirs of a
Famous Composer-Nobody Ever Heard Of, by Xlibris Press in 2003. According to Debbie, the discussion on I Spy music runs "way over 40 - 45 pages . . . He begins with the round the world
trip he and his wife took with Sheldon Leonard and his wife, while scouting locations before the actual filming began until the final days when the show was canceled."


The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Noted composer Jerry Goldsmith scribed two important spy themes including the frequently anthologized OUR MAN FLINT film title and the original music for The MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. in 1964. For years, Goldsmith's original tracks were popular bootlegs in the collector's market while the two "official" MGM vinyl soundtracks were known more for their covers than contents. In 1997, the best of the MGM tracks were released on THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.: THE ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK AFFAIR CD (BMG). I recommend it for the rousing Hugo Montenegro rendition of the title melody, although the rest of the album pleases few U.N.C.L.E. fans.

In 2003, two outstanding 2-CD sets of original U.N.C.L.E. themes and incidental music were issued by Film Score Monthly after their successful CD of original music from I SPY, also released that year. Widely praised by fans, FSM issued two more sets, Volume 4 released in December 2006. Serious collectors will appreciate the detailed liner notes in these releases describing the many composers who contributed to the flavor of the series.

In the 1990s, a short version of the U.N.C.L.E. title music Was part of a TV theme medley on THE SOUNDTRACKS OF JERRY GOLDSMITH (Deram/Decca Rec.). In 2000, he conducted yet another version of the U.N.C.L.E. theme on his THE FILM MUSIC OF JERRY GOLDSMITH (Telard SADD). Film buffs should enjoy either of these collections, but only diehard collectors should seek out the alleged soundtrack album for THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. (MGM, 1968). Male voyeurs will appreciate the go-go boots in the leggy cover art, but not one track on the vinyl album came from the series, not even the lackluster mutation of the title music. For display, not replay.


Mission: Impossible

While there are numerous offerings of the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE theme, the best is, appropriately, The Best of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (GNP/Crescendo). This CD is a compilation of the two albums issued by Lalo Schfrin in the 1960s, music from the 1988 remake, and live versions of the title track. An added feature is an interview with Peter Graves who discusses the music of the series, production of the 1988 revival, and his other work. (Lalo Schifrin also wrote for The MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., and samples of his work can be heard on the Original Soundtrack Affair CD.)


The Prisoner

Of special interest are three soundtrack albums of music from the short, 17 episode British series, THE PRISONER (Silva Screen Records). The genesis for these recordings began with the most influential and prolific fan club in the spy genre, the “Prisoner Appreciation Society” or “Six of One.” In November 1978, they got principal composer Ron Grainer to re-master his original tapes, and for some time only members of this club had ready access to the soundtrack albums. Now more available through internet sales, most critics praise the first two collections, dismissing Volume 3 as a mere anthology of classical music heard in the series.

For the record, as it were, rock group Iron Maiden made two references to THE PRISONER in their music. On their album, Power Slaves, one cut was called “Back to the Village.” Another song, “Number of the Beast,” begins with the opening title music of the show. A thorough look at the music in the show and links to more research areas can be found at:


Secret Agent/Danger Man and The Saint

One of the most recognized, and most re-worked, spy melodies was the television theme to SECRET AGENT, the American title for the British series, DANGER MAN. American hit-makers P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri (responsible for 1960s hits for Barry McGuire and the Grassroots, among others) crafted the guitar-driven "Secret Agent Man" title as sung by Johnny Rivers. In subsequent years, the song was redone at least 26 times by various artists such as Devo and was used in films such as AUSTIN POWERS, INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY.

One non-Rivers version is on SECRET AGENT (Bmg, 1997), the official and excellent soundtrack performed by composer Edwin Astley who wrote all the show's music beyond the American hit. Some of this music appeared on a 1966 vinyl album, SECRET AGENT MEETS THE SAINT, as Astley was responsible for both series. On CD, THE SAINT (BMG, 1997), also conducted by Astley, offers genuine music from the series, with a program of genuine musicality and international flavor. The 1998 soundtrack for Val Kilmer’s THE SAINT includes an excellent, percussive extended re-interpretation of Astley’s television theme by Orbital, although this theme was only heard in the film for less than a minute.

As it happened, the first whistle-tune for THE SAINT was actually composed by Simon Templar's literary creator, Leslie Charteris, for the radio versions of Saint adventures. For those wishing to hear the short, original Charteris theme, there are numerous cassette tapes and MP3 editions of the radio shows issued by various companies. The video releases of the 1938-1941 films also include the whistle theme, and the films starring George Saunders feature him walking into scenes whistling the signature bars.


The Wild Wild West

As of this writing, no soundtrack album for the original series of THE WILD WILD WEST was ever released, but Mort Stevens and Richard Markowitch’s theme can be found on many compilation albums including those noted below. It also appears on the 1999 GREATEST SCIENCE FICTION HITS
IV SOUNDTRACKS (Crescendo). (Morton Stevens, a principal composer for W3, also worked for U.N.C.L.E., and samples of his music can be heard on the ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACKS AFFAIR CD discussed above.)

Two CDs were released with music from the film version of THE WILD WILD WEST, but Elmer Bernstein's score isn't highly regarded, and the Will Smith raps are more for fans of this musical genre and contribute nothing to spy music. The theme to the original series appears briefly, and late, in the film. After Film Score Monthly released its first two sets of music from THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., a number of fans requested that THE WILD WILD WEST be considered for similar treatment, so perhaps FSM will be the company to remedy this gap.


The X-Files

THE X-FILES: SONGS IN THE KEY OF X (Warner Bros., 1996)is one of the most imaginative TV soundtracks issued to date, and it is also the easiest to track down. After the Mark Snow theme, the album includes songs used in the series along with material written for the album by Cheryl Crow, Fu Fighters, Soul Coughing, Nik Cave and the Bad Seeds, Filter, Mean Puppets, Frank Black, Danzig, Alice Cooper, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Elvis Costello, Brian Eno, among others. The late Beat poet William S. Burroughs provided one of his last gravel-voiced readings, backed by REM, shortly before his death. The album also includes the “hidden track” by Chris Carter 10 minutes and 15 seconds after the last listed song. It's a strange disc, perhaps more appropriate for folks into Goth, spooky things, and sci-fi.



Without question, spy music has been most popular on vinyl and CD compilations of theme tunes, both on collections of more general interest and those geared for spy music buffs. Some collections are of original recordings, others remakes in a variety of styles.

In the former category, The MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., GET SMART, The WILD WILD WEST, and virtually every American TV theme melody are on various volumes of TELEVISION'S GREATEST HITS (TeeVee Records). Varying in sound quality, each theme is only the original, short title music, usually one minute or less.

TV CLASSIC THEMES (Breakable Records, 1998) not only features themes from U.N.C.L.E., I SPY, THE PRISONER, and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, but spoken word clips from the stars introduce most themes in full album-length cuts, including an extended spliced tape rendition of the 3rd season version of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.

Interesting interpretations of the U.N.C.L.E. theme and other spy title tunes are also available on various collections by the instrumental guitar group, The Ventures. Doing the old band one better, Thomas Pervanje's Ohio-based "Spy-Fi" has issued two tributes to the surf sound and spy themes. Volume One, Music for Spies, Thighs, and Private Eyes: The Thigh Who Loved Me (Silve Records, 2003) is indispensable for those loving this genre. Volume Two, AKA Music for Spies, Thighs, and Private Eyes: Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Silve Records, 2003)contains similar material including medleys of classic TV themes. A detailed review of these discs, and ordering information is in "SPY GUITAR: FROM VIC FLICK TO SPY-FI" at this website.

Compilations of strictly spy music include vinyl and CD versions of SECRET AGENT FILES (GNP/Crescendo, 1992) with some lively re-workings of both movie and TV spy themes. A collection of special interest is JAMES BOND AND BEYOND: CLASSIC THEMES FOR SECRET AGENTS (Spyguise Inc., 2002). Arranged by Michael Boldt, the CD includes excellent versions of 007 title tracks, TV themes, and a number of original radio spots promoting THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., OUR MAN FLINT, and the Robert Vaughn feature film, THE VENETIAN AFFAIR. This treasure-trove is only available through the SpyGuise website, the world's largest distributor of vintage and new spy products.

Other compilations of note include the two CD set, CULT Files (Silva Screen Records, 1996), and MISSION: ACCOMPLISHED--THEMES FOR SPIES AND COPS (MCA Special Markets and Products, 1996). The latter is a mix of tracks from various soundtrack albums, lackluster versions of famous themes, original music from no film nor television score, and songs with a spy mentioned in the title. Similarly, MUSIC TO SPY BY, created for the International Spy Museum, has 19 tracks including Henry Mancini's "theme from "The Pink Panther," which seems as acceptable as PETER GUNN in terms of '60s cool, and the much, much overused song, "Agent
Double-O Soul". It can be ordered through the Acorn online catalogue or at:

One superior collection is THE ABC’s OF BRITISH TV (Vol. 1. Play It Again, 1992). On it, the themes to The Avengers, THE CHAMPIONS, DANGER MAN, The NEW AVENGERS, THE RETURN OF THE SAINT, THE SAINT, and Ron Grainer's highly treasured MAN IN A SUITCASE are contained in one Superlative package. Similarly, The Avengers AND OTHER TOP 60s TV THEMES (Sequel Records) is a two-CD set featuring the Emma Peel version of the theme as well as MAN IN A SUITCASE, DANGER MAN, THE SAINT, THE CHAMPIONS, THE SENTIMENTAL AGENT, DEPARTMENT S, and TOP SECRET’s Laurie Johnson title melody. (The TOP SECRET theme, “Sucu Sucu,” was a Top 10 hit in England in 1961.)

For the collector who wants it all, Barbara Feldon’s comic “99” and Nancy Sinatra’s Thunderball parody, “The Last of the Secret Agents,” are most readily available on the uneven SPY MUSIC (Rhino, 1994). Like other odd anthologies, this package is filled with popular tunes that use the word “spy” in the title, which ostensibly qualifies them as spy music. Not to me. However, this CD also provides excellent versions of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, Secret Agent, and PETER GUNN. As noted by many collectors, PETER GUNN wasn't a spy program, but Henry Mancini's trumpet fanfare does include many elements associated with secret agent adventure. Ironically, Mancini was surprised by popular reception to the melody, which he'd originally recorded merely as music to serve as background when the lead character walked from scene to scene in the series.



1. For those who still have usable turntables, or for collectors who enjoy cover art as much as the black vinyl discs they protect, there are many record albums out there I didn't mention here. My purpose was to review music most listeners can find and enjoy now on CD. For listeners who want it all, during the 1960s, a number of record companies issued a plethora of film and TV music albums, most cheap knockoffs of Bond themes, TV title music, and original instrumental tracks performed by both orchestras and big bands. Few are memorable.

2. One interesting insight into TV music can be seen in the fact that, during the '60s, the three networks regularly recycled music among the shows they made in-house. For example, music from first season HAWAII FIVE-O episodes can be heard in fourth-season WILD WILD WEST adventures. “Wave “ music from FIVE-O’s second outing, “Strangers in Our Own Land,” was re-used in “The Night of the Raven Part II” in WWW for one of the "box" pieces of music. ("Wave" and "box" refer to music just before the commercial break when each program would show its title logo). Many shows, like THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., often recycled scores penned for one episode in later outings. As U.N.C.L.E. fan Janet Wilson noted, parts of the MFU episode music for composer Gerald Fried's score for "test-tube Killers Affair" were recycled for STAR TREK; the motif used for the climax of TTK appeared in a similarly climactic scene in the ST episode "Friday's Child." Reportedly, Lauri Johnson scored each episode of THE AVENGERS individually to give the adventures distinct feels. Many more notes on TV music can be found in my SPY TELEVISION. I hereby thank spy and music expert bill koenig for the information about "box" and "wave" music in HAWAII FIVE-O and WWW--he has many more examples of this overlap for those interested.

Related articles are posted at