Beneath the streets of Limehouse…

‘This is it, she thought. Not hanging doors on a brutal building site or forcing T level carpentry into the heads of nutty kids in East London. This is living.
Every second within the Hive was accounted for. The facility was thus named not for the level of industry that thundered away beneath its façade, but for its architecture, designed to train an unknown number of field agents in the hermetic quarantine of self-contained units, modelled on the inherent genius of the appis meliffra, the European honeybee…’

Above the Hive

The Hive

‘CCTV showed the coast was clear from all approaches. Shev emerged from the Hive into the arched tunnel on Ratcliffe Lane— the covert egress—adorned as usual by the dank scent of stale urine.

Aerosol graffiti intermittently graced the drab Victorian brickwork, its flow covering all surfaces within a square mile like twenty- first century hieroglyphs, its message unintelligible to any soul over twenty-one and foreign to the borough, save for the sprayed red runic S and N either side of the central Venn-like overlapping letters of SOON. This was the logo that appeared on walls, windows and pavements across Europe that tinder summer, as the ominous harbinger of the Grass Riots…’

The Spy in Black-Classic espionage movie

Is a touch of classic Spy Noir down your strasse? I recently spent 80 minutes in the company of The Spy in Black, a charming 1939 flick starring Conrad Veidt. In B&W of course but beautifully shot with with a small main cast. It’s set in my #ShamstoneSpyNovel era of March, 1917: Imperial Germany has resumed unrestricted submarine warfare to tip the balance of war and Kapitan Hardt (Conrad Veidt) is the intrepid U-Boat Commander despatched to the Scottish coast.

DVD cover

He is ordered to acquire critical intelligence from a treacherous Commander Ashington (Sebastian Shaw), an aggrieved man following a charge due to drunkenness. The traitor is expected to provide the location of the British fleet so a decisive wolf pack attack can take place.

Hardt, once on Scottish soil, finds himself under the command of a female agent, Fräulein Tiel (Valerie Hobson) in the guise of a local school mistress. Rejecting Hardt’s advances, Tiel implies she has already sacrificed her virtues in order to turn Ashington. But as is to be expected, no-one is who or what they seem…

Original movie poster

There are rutting-stag exchanges as former the enemy officers compete for Tiel’s affections, with Ashington conceding, ‘Ok old chap we both won last time!’ But amid the cut-glass dialogue and jousting egos there are moments of light relief, such as the ongoing schtick related to butter (no Last Tango antics), Hardt’s German uniform, an Irish Royal Marine’s musings (pre commando) and a Scottish ship’s engineer, whose despairing lines would one day be repeated Where No Man Had Gone Before.

That director Alex Korda would later go on to make the Graham Greene penned classic , The Third Man, is no surprise, but The Spy in Black was actually conceived by Roland Pertwee. Three weeks after the film’s release in 1939, WW2 would break out, in which his son, Jon, would end up a naval officer himself, crossing paths with a certain Mr Fleming.

Released in the U.S. as U-Boat 29

A word about the film’s star, Conrad Veidt. Here he’s an anti-hero and was often cast as a villain but his own story is as heroic as any cinematic portrayal. He was an established star of silent films in Germany in the ‘20s and his fame and appeal successfully crossed the Atlantic to Hollywood. He made a personal and moral stand against the rising Nazi regime and escaped to Britain with his Jewish wife just in time. On his return to America, Veidt donated much of his fortune to Britain’s war effort, which included funds set aside to treat underprivileged children in the East End bomb shelters. He died in 1943 from heart failure.




Art by Curio #ShamstoneSpyNovel

…Desperate to prevent brutal revenge exacted on his loved ones, Finn makes a bargain for protection with the Secret Service Bureau and becomes a Great War spy.

Code-named SHAMSTONE and fully armed with charm and mimicry, the new secret agent is sent to Ireland, New York, and Mexico to infiltrate the rising threat of Imperial Germany…