A Spy Among Friends, Episode 2: The Admiral’s Glass

Elliott: Do you remember The Admiral’s Glass?

Philby: The Admiral’s what?

Elliott: Glass. By Southwark Bridge.

As her husband picks up the carrots he grew in their London backyard, Lily  listens and re-listens to the Beirut tapes. What happened at The Admiral’s Glass? And why on earth is Philby seriously alarmed when an ambulance with sirens on arrives at their building?

MI5 possesses 34 hours of taped conversation from Beirut. But Elliott and Philby were together for 96 hours which means nobody knows what they talked about in the other 62 hours! Besides, Elliott was also at a dinner party at Philby’s house. And Lily is convinced that the two of them did not talk about the weather there 🙂

At a meeting with her MI5 superiors before her morning session with Elliott, Lily posits that Elliott got something from Philby but there is no way to find out about it in a conventional interrogation. And she persuades her  superiors to give her permission to take Elliott off the leash and watch him closely. Well, Lily seems to be as good as Elliott in talking people into doing what she thinks is the best way to go.

Philby’s extreme reaction to the ambulance is the first question Lily asks Elliott that day. Elliott answers this right away. He believes Philby really thought people in white coats were coming to get him. But when Lily asks him about The Admiral’s Glass next, Elliott shrugs it off as a minor personal matter.

But Lily does not give up and The Admiral’s Glass takes Elliott to Spring 1941 and to Flora Solomon’s house (Philby’s old friend whose statement helps MI5 to nail Philby): Solomon invites Elliott to her house to talk about an urgent matter and when Elliott arrives at her house, he is surprised to find Philby’s heavily pregnant wife Aileen there. Aileen suspects her husband is cheating on her. The two women ask Elliott to follow Philby and find out what is wrong.

While he refuses to spy on his best friend in front of the ladies, Elliott ends up tailing  Philby to The Admiral’s Glass where there is a surprise waiting for him. His bestie is sitting with a young woman at the pub. They are in an intimate conversation.

Lily asks if he did not even have an inkling about Philby then, and Elliott gives a plausible answer. He was certain the whole thing was a misunderstanding thanks to the nature of  Philby’s work, their work, about which they were not able to talk to their wives.

“Secrets can be testing of a marriage.”

Now, Lily may not have the sense of British upper class friendships so she may not get how Elliott of all people, a career SIS agent, an expert on human behavior, has never suspected Philby. But I am certain that Elliott’s words about secrets and marriage hit too close to home for her…

A few weeks later, Elliott tells Lily, Philby shows up as he and Ian Fleming (yes, THAT Ian Fleming!)  are having a guy test some waterproof tuxedo to be used in an operation against Germany. Asking to speak privately for a few minutes, Philby spills the beans about Litzi – the woman he met at The Admiral’s Glass. He met her in Vienna in 1934 as a young journalist. She was the bravest woman he had ever seen in his life and happened to be Jewish. Philby married her just so she could get out of the Nazi Austria. And she happened to be in London a few weeks ago…

Elliott believes his friend. He goes back to the two women: he tells Aileen to believe in her husband and Flora Solomon to keep her nose out of other people’s business. Yikes!

Lily tries to understand why Philby chose to tell Elliott about Litzi because he could have easily told him he was having an affair. Elliott thinks his friend was probably trying to see how much Elliott knew about the matter. It is quite possible that Philby saw him at The Admiral’s Glass that day.

“Probably not my finest hour.”

Indeed. No wonder Elliott wanted to skip Lily’s question about the pub in as irelevant in the first place!

Lily plays hard ball: Given that it was known that the Jewish opposition in 1930s Austria was Communist, how come Elliott did not suspect Philby when he told him about Litzi?

Elliott: It was a workers’ uprising.

Lily: Right.

Elliott: Communism wasn’t the problem then. Fascism was.

Lily: OK.

Elliott: You’re probably thinking why on Earth didn’t I put two and two together, right there and then.

Lily: And?

Elliott: All I can tell you is we were at war with Germany and Kim happened to be one of the most effective espionage minds in that fight. That’s a fact. Despite everything that came later, that will never, ever change.

Well… I think we all know the answer to why Elliott did not p ut two and two together there and then. It is all there in the British upper class friendship Philby describes to Sergei in Episode 1 Boom-oh-yatatatah.

“You must understand a friendship within the British ruling class is built on an ingrained belief that victory over one’s enemy is preordained – God given. When you think about it, it’s very remarkable, the level of sentimentality and arrogance that must take in order to be so wilfully blind to the possibility that one of your own might see things differently.”

Lily turns on the tapes where we hear Elliott asking Philby about how long Flora Solomon has known he was a Soviet spy. Philby denies being a spy and claims that Solomon wants to get him into trouble because she finds him responsible for his wife Aileen’s pre-mature death.

Elliott knows that Solomon has known Philby for a long time, since their Cambridge days, and finds it impossible to believe that Solomon just remembered Philby was a Communist.

When you think about it…  If Solomon had come forward years ago,  hundreds maybe thousands of deaths could have been avoided. Still, when Lily asks him if he resents Solomon, Elliott’s answer is no. Solomon might know that Philby was a Communist, but not a spy. And she probably wanted to protect her friend Aileen as well.

“Hm… how can you not resent her?”

Hats off!

Lily may not look the part but she is such a master in getting under Elliott’s, or anybody else’s, skin for that matter. She has set her trap and now knows Elliott should be burning to visit Flora Solomon on the first opportunity. So she calls MI5 and gives instructions to have Solomon’s house bugged as soon  as possible. And she deliberately does not return to SIS in the afternoon, giving Elliott the window he needs to visit Solomon.

In parallel, at a port in the Black Sea, Philby is hesitating to set foot on the country for which he worked for three decades! This is the point of no return for Philby.

Besides, from saying he would not want to be in the USSR if he had the choice on his arrival, to asking for a moment before crossing the bridge between the ship and the land earlier in the day, and giving a surprised look at the old train that will take them to Moscow now, Philby has given Sergei quite a few reasons not to believe he is a real communist.  Maybe that is why Sergei now asks Philby about how he has become a communist. And when he finds Philby’s answers unconvincing, Sergei directly asks about Vienna.

Sergei: So, it starts for you with romantic adventure.

Philby: It started for me as the only way to fight fascism.

Sergei: Romanticism is a weakness.

Weakness or not, the way he remembers Litzi in his mind hints that Philby loved this woman.

As he wanders about the train late at night, Philby is alarmed (like he was in Beirut when an ambulance arrived at their building with sirens on) when he sees a passenger with hand-made English shoes. He makes sure Sergei talk  to the man and it turns out the man’s father was a military officer and the shoes were a gift to him from a British officer at the end of the war. But Sergei rubs Philby the wrong way when he patronizes him saying that an English spy would never wear hand-made English shoes in the USSR.

Philby drops a name: Konstantin Dimitrievich Volkov. Volkov was the Deputy Chief of Soviet Intelligence in Turkey during  WWII and became friendly with Elliott during his service in Istanbul. Volkov wanted SIS, and especially Elliott, to help him defect to Britain in return for a list of Soviet agents in Britain. And when Volkov finally decided to defect to Britain in 1945, Philby, as the Chief of Soviet Counter-intelligence in London,  controlled the whole process without Elliott knowing a thing. Philby never leaves anything to chance. And he is obviously upset Sergei does not know this about  him.

Elliott, waiting for Flora Solomon on her door step, watches two boys playing on the street: this is a repeating pattern in A Spy Among Friends possibly referring to Elliott and Philby as two boys playing spies. What Elliott doesn’t know is that Lily is sitting in a vehicle a few buildings away – ready to hear the conversation between him and Solomon 🙂

Solomon is not surprised to see Elliott. She thought he would appear at some point 🙂 Elliott asks her how long she has known about Philby being a Communist.

“We almost caught him  in ’45.”

Elliott refers to the Volkov incident that Philby told Sergei about on the train when he talks about ’45. But the reason he is here today is to ask Solomon about 4 years earlier than that. About the time she invited him to her house and that she and Aileen asked him whether Philby was having an affair. Did Solomon know Philby was a KGB agent?

Flora knew that Philby flirted with Communism at Cambridge but everyone flirted with communism at the university so she did not take it very seriously.

But, Elliott wonders, why did she introduce Eileen to Philby then?

“I want to believe in the best of my friends. Surely, you of all people can understand that.”

May I just say both the British dry humor here as well as the look on Elliott’s face are priceless!

Solomon now turns the tables on Elliott. She, exactly like Lily, is convinced that Elliott did not let Philby go without getting something from him. Because, she says, Philby once commented to her about Elliott that the most dangerous thing about him is that he is always more switched on than he lets on…

Maybe. But it seems Elliott may have turned off the switches in his close circles 🙂

The episode, taking place in a single day, ends with four lead characters reflecting on life one way or the other, at the end of the day.

Philby arrives at his new dwellings in Moscow, a dark and depressing flat complete with a comrade lady to cook and clean and do whatnot for him. She has pork and potato soup ready. Oh and by the way she does not know English and it is Philby who is expected to learn Russian. Philby’s face speaks volumes. He wants to wake up from this nightmare.

Lily and her husband are in bed. As Elliott rightly pointed out earlier in the day, secrets could be testing of a marriage. And Lily’s doctor husband sometimes feels they are worlds apart and that he does not really know his wife. But he does not want to lose her. And we root for them when Lily tells him about taking off her wedding ring everyday at work because she loves putting it on in the afternoon!

Elliott, who has talked to Solomon about Volkov earlier in the day, looks at the old photo albums and focuses on one particular photo: Volkov and his wife. What if Flora Solomon had come forward about  Philby during the war? Would the Volkovs have been alive today rather than being dead for years with a bullet in their heads?

Oh, and it turns out that Philby’s paranoia of being followed was, in fact, not a paranoia. One of the women on the train who seemingly traveled with her family is an agent whom Angleton planted in the USSR. She sends a message about Philby’s exact location in Moscow to Angleton who marks it on the map.

James Angleton is up to something. What is it?

Episode 3: Allegory of the Catholic Faith 

Author: Damianista

Academic, Traveler, Blogger, Runner, Theatre Lover, Wine Snob, Part-time New Yorker, and Walking Damian Lewis Encyclopedia :D Procrastinated about a fan's diary on Damian Lewis for a while and the rest is history!

5 thoughts on “A Spy Among Friends, Episode 2: The Admiral’s Glass”

    1. Nicholas Elliott found out from his asset at the Russian Embassy that Philby arrived atthe portthat day. I am sure CIA also has an asset at the Russian Embassy that tell them that Philby arrived at the port city. It shouldn’t be difficult to know which train they would take. The agent has been probably waiting at the train station for some time 🙂

  1. The book doesn’t have Angleton with agents in Russia.spying on Philby nor did it happen in reality.

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