Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Arts & Culture

Secrets Of Her Majesty's Secret Service

Exterior M15 Building in London, England.
Courtesy of Sam Mortimore /Pioneer Productions
Exterior M15 Building in London, England.

Airs Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016 at 8 p.m. on KPBS TV

From royal intrigue to real-life spies, this special uncovers elements of England’s iconic institution in “Secrets Of Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” The program highlights this emblem of British history through illuminating interviews and unprecedented access to key players with inside knowledge of some of Britain’s memorable milestones.

Security Cameras outside the M15 building, London.
Courtesy of Sam Mortimore / Pioneer Productions
Security Cameras outside the M15 building, London.
St. Ermines Hotel entrance. The Special Operations Executive unit carried out covert operations during WWII, from their headquarters – an entire floor of St. Ermin’s Hotel, while MI6 were stationed two floors above.
Courtesy of Harriet Harper-Jones / Pioneer Productions
St. Ermines Hotel entrance. The Special Operations Executive unit carried out covert operations during WWII, from their headquarters – an entire floor of St. Ermin’s Hotel, while MI6 were stationed two floors above.
Advertisement
Sir John Scarlet, Chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service, 2004 - 2009.
Courtesy of Harriet Harper-Jones / Pioneer Productions
Sir John Scarlet, Chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service, 2004 - 2009.

In the program, viewers learn about the legendary spy agency popularized by Ian Fleming’s James Bond, the urbane fictional spy who used high-tech weapons and gadgets to protect queen and country. The film lifts the veil on the shadowy culture of espionage, going back in time and behind the scenes to look at some the world’s most calculated and delicately executed operations.

Established in 1909 as the Secret Service Bureau, MI6, as it is known, initially was set up to control secret intelligence operations overseas, concentrating on Imperial Germany’s activities. The existence of MI6 was not formally acknowledged until 1994 — which goes a long way toward understanding the modus operandi of this government agency.

In addition to outlining the exploits of Reilly “Ace of Spies” and presenting some of the “gadgets” used in intelligence gathering, the film reveals how the practice of recruiting agents from the upper classes proved damaging to the agency and threatened the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States.

This special includes exclusive interviews with the former Chief of Service of MI6; a former MI6 spy, now an author; Mavis Batey — in one of her last on-camera interviews — who decrypted codes, including Nazi Germany’s “Enigma” system, at Bletchley Park; and a Cold War-era Russian double agent who asserts, “I was playing with death every day.”

Advertisement

WATCH ON DEMAND:

The full episode is available for online viewing via KPBS Passport, video streaming for members ($60 yearly) using your computer, smartphone or tablet. We offer Passport videos on ROKU! Activate your benefit now.

CREDITS:

Produced by Pioneer Productions for PBS. Executive producer: Jeremy Dear. Senior supervising producer: Alice Harper. Producer/director: Kasia Uscinska.

Explore all national, state and local returns now.