Sidetracked in spooks central

First the book, then the film, now the streets. SW1 is where spies still conduct business in London, writes Kayleigh Kulp.

I t's the height of the Cold War and George Smiley is called to spy on a Soviet mole in "the Circus", the highest echelon of the British Secret Intelligence Service. Smiley obtains information that leads him to the agent at the heart of a previous operation-gone-wrong in Budapest, Hungary. Will Smiley be able to save his agency and the world from Soviet destruction?

This fictional tale, adapted from John le Carre's 1974 classic novel, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, has just opened in cinemas across Australia. London's tourist districts are jam-packed with places where spies thrived and plotted moves against enemy states. Luckily, Brian Gray of The Intelligence Trail (intelligencetrail.co.uk), clad in sunglasses and trench coat, knows where to look.

St Ermin's Hotel

This Westminster hotel was a haven for spies, who were recruited over dinner at its restaurant. It was here that prime minister Winston Churchill founded the Special Operations Executive, which committed espionage against the Axis powers during World War II from an entire floor of the hotel. The agency MI6 was also based here during that time. Don't be surprised to see members of Parliament and Scotland Yard sharing drinks here.

2 Caxton Street, London, SW1; see sterminshotel.co.uk.

2-3 Carlton Gardens

Just outside St James's Park, this group of pretty buildings in a tranquil, tree-lined setting was where, in February 1954, CIA and MI6 officers met to discuss plans for the Berlin Tunnel, a wire-tapping operation. Today, MI6 interviews prospective applicants at 3 Carlton Gardens. Every once in a while, diplomatic protection may be seen around.

Just off Pall Mall, London, SW1.

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21 Queen Anne's Gate

Near St James' Park, Buckingham Palace and posh private clubs, this was the residence and office of the second chief of MI6, Admiral Hugh Sinclair. The property was connected to MI6's headquarters by a secret passageway and was headquarters of the Passport Control Office, which gave a cover to MI6 officers in embassies abroad. Sinclair's successors remained in the building until 1966.

Tower of London

William the Conqueror began building the tower at the centre of his fortress in the early 1080s and it remained an active military establishment for many centuries. Fast-forward to the 20th century and, between 1914 and 1916, several spies were held and executed there. During World War II, it was used as a prison for Rudolf Hess, Adolf Hitler's deputy, and an execution ground by firing squad in 1941 for German spy Josef Jakobs.

The Old Star pub

Near Parliament, Scotland Yard and St Ermin's Hotel, this historic pub is where MI6 operatives met recruits and tense conversations were had over drinks. It's less likely today that the prime street-side view will give you glimpses of mysterious-looking men in black suits heading into unmarked buildings, but you still can enjoy a fine ale while wondering what is transpiring nearby.

66 Broadway, Westminster, London, SW1.

The New York Times

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