Literatures, Languages & Cultures

Spy Week events give literary experts a licence to thrill

The fictional and real worlds of spying and espionage are being explored during a literary Spy Week organised by the University of Edinburgh.

Events on the history of secret services, talks by celebrated spy writers and a public lecture on the relationship between Britain’s best loved agent, James Bond, and the real world of intelligence are among the highlights. The annual event runs from Sunday, April 10 to Friday, April 15.

Best-selling author and University of Edinburgh alumna Dame Stella Rimington, who was the first woman to head MI5, will explore the theme of women in spy fiction in conversation with Professor Penny Fielding, Grierson Chair of English at the University of Edinburgh.

Dame Stella will also join a discussion on the history, current events and potential future trends in the worlds of intelligence and counterintelligence. Also taking part will be scholars who have written widely on national security issues – Richard J Aldrich, Professor of International Security at the University of Warwick, and Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones, Emeritus Professor of American History at the University of Edinburgh.

The world of Ian Fleming’s celebrated fictional spy, James Bond will be probed by Dr Christopher Moran from the University of Warwick, who will separate fact from fiction in the Bond phenomenon.

Historian Dr Malcolm Craig will lift the curtain on an attempt to censor a BBC programme about Britain’s intelligence agencies during the Margaret Thatcher administration of the early 1980s.

Historical espionage – including plots against Mary Queen of Scots and spy scandals in Edinburgh following the Napoleonic Wars – will be examined by academics in an event at the National Library of Scotland.

A mini-series of films exploring spies, voyeurs, and psychological and political ‘paranoid states’ will be screened at the Edinburgh Filmhouse, with introductions from University academics.

Another event will address the question of what is at stake in writing spy biographies. Two writers will be interviewed –  spy novelist and biographer Jeremy Duns, author of Dead Drop: The True Story of Oleg Penkovsky and the Cold War’s Most Dangerous Operation (2013), and historian, journalist and biographer Ben Macintyre, author of Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal (2014).

Professor Penny Fielding, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures, said: “Spy Week is back for its third year to celebrate and explore the influence of spy literature. There is an enormous appetite for this genre. The world of espionage has not only provided authors with some fantastic plots but spy fiction also confronts some of the ethical, cultural and historical events which have shaped the modern world.”

Edinburgh Spy Week is organised by the University of Edinburgh, the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh Filmhouse and Blackwell’s Bookshop. Most events (aside from the films) are free but ticketed via Eventbrite. 

Details of the events are available at the Spy Week website -

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