The Secret Agent

In this, the 5th CSB podcast, Lloyd and Tim sink into the murky and topographically challenging world of Joseph Conrad’s imagined London, as described in the classic 1907 novel ‘The Secret Agent’.

It’s a world of foreign agents, mysterious assassinations, international tensions and suspicious Russian intrigue – so nothing like the world today, right? Our route through London takes in foreign embassies in Knightsbridge, dodgy book shops in Soho, underground beer halls on the Strand, plus the wide green spaces of Greenwich Park.

Lloyd gets very excited about finding signs of 1880s (or is it 1890s?) London about 15-20 feet below street level (hidden under a grille in the middle of the Charing Cross). Tim is in a disputatious mood, questioning pretty much all the dates in the book and the siting of Verloc’s dirty bookshop on the edge of Leicester Square.

There follows learned and lager-fuelled conversations about the history of London porn shops, the right or wrong way to take a train to Greenwich, and the enthusiasm of late-Victorian anarchists free-thinkers – and Bismarck – for lager itself.

Each month we road-test a work of fiction that appears to be curiously specific about dates and locations. We go to the places mentioned and see if descriptions are accurate, journey-times credible, dates and days all in order.

Sources & credits

Theme from The Ipcress File – John Barry: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBCqP7R42K0&t=111s
‘A’ Bomb on Wardour Street – The Jam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9T9bqQh-gFI
Spy – Ashbrg: http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Ashbrg/Music_for_Cats_1467/Spy
T S Eliot vs Portishead: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXsItbsr4o0
The Place I Love – The Jam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YPqcR2SHwko
Do The Strand – Roxy Music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5X6BifSQ9U
Fly – The Jam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8EMs2ByKDI

Links

London Fictions on The Secret Agent: https://www.londonfictions.com/joseph-conrad-the-secret-agent.html
Martial Bourdain: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martial_Bourdin
Chesham Place: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chesham_Place
The Assassination of Alexander II: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_II_of_Russia#Assassination
Bismarck’s Bench: http://www.cabbieblog.com/bismarcks-bench/
Exploring London – 32 Brett Street: https://exploring-london.com/2017/02/08/10-more-fictional-character-addresses-in-london-3-32-brett-street-soho/
The Buried Remains of Little Compton Street: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/the-buried-remains-of-little-compton-street-london-england
The Bomb Shop – Christopher Draper: http://radicalhistorynetwork.blogspot.com/2018/03/the-bomb-shop-1907-1989-66-charing.html
A Brief History of Cecil Court – Tim Bryars: https://www.cecilcourt.co.uk/history_of_cecilcourt.php
The Street Where London’s Victorians Bought Their Porn – Dr Matthew Green: https://londonist.com/2016/06/how-london-s-victorians-bought-their-porn
Joseph Conrad’s Silenus Beer Hall: https://boakandbailey.com/2016/07/quote-joseph-conrads-silenus-beer-hall/
North Kent Line – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Kent_Line