“St. Ermin’s Hotel, London” – The History of a Legendary Spy Site, with Stephen Duffy
What You’ll Learn
- The origins of the SOE
- MI6 and the SOE in the hotel during WWII (bad neighbors!)
- Incredible female spies of WWII
- St. Ermin’s Cambridge Five connection
- The history of the hotel
- The stories a hotel could tell if it could talk
- Proximity to power
And much, much more …
Spy fans and intelligence experts alike – if you ever find yourself looking for a place to stay in London, look no further than St. Ermin’s Hotel in Westminster. Opened in 1899 and situated directly between Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament, the hotel has inevitably been caught in the middle of some of history’s greatest moments during the UK’s tumultuous 20th century.
During World War II, the hotel was the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill’s Special Operations Executive – a crucial element in his initiative to “set Europe ablaze.” Notorious spies Kim Philby and Donald Maclean were known to enjoy a drink at the hotel bar while sharing secrets with their Soviet handlers. And that’s not all – to learn the rest, you’ll have to listen to the episode.
Sir Winston Churchill wrote down his plan for the SOE on the back of a menu. Weird? Maybe, but John Lennon wrote the original lyrics for “Hard Day’s Night” on a birthday card sent to his son Julian, and playwright Aaron Sorkin wrote the Oscar-nominated film “A Few Good Men” on the back of cocktail napkins. Great ideas don’t wait for a typewriter.
Quotes of the Week
“That’s where Burgess, MacLean, and Philby at different times met their Russian handlers in plain sight and sat there and spoke normally. Didn't talk out the side of their mouths, didn't have red carnations and copies of the Financial Times under their arm. They just passed over their information, their paperwork or whatever, in plain sight to everybody.” – Stephen Duffy.
- Hitler’s Trojan Horse – Nazi Intelligence with Nigel West (2023)
- Nazis on the Potomac – with former National Park Service Chief Historian Bob Sutton (2022)
- SPY@20: The Spy of the Century – Curators Alexis and Andrew on Kim Philby (2022)
- The Beverly Hills Spy – with The Hollywood Reporter’s Seth Abramovitch (2022)
- MI6 History & Facts, Encyclopedia Britannica (2022) [Brief history of MI6]
- World War 2 Chronology, B. Johnson, Historic UK (n.d.) [Timeline of Britain in WWII]
- How Churchill Led Britain to Victory in the Second World War, J. Taylor, Imperial War Museum (n.d.) [Short article]
- The St. Ermin’s Autobiography, St. Ermin’s Hotel (n.d.) [Pamphlet]
- Steve kindly provided the following photos of the hotel for us to share. For more stories, be sure to connect with Steve on LinkedIn – He’s got an excellent series of posts highlighting the men and women of the SOE, and is continuing to uncover more of St. Ermin’s history every day.