A Spy Among Friends, Episode 6: No Man’s Land

The East German authorities built the Berlin Wall to stop people from escaping to West Germany.  Most of the 155 km wall was made up of 3.6m high concrete panels while the rest was barbed wire. A heavily guarded no man’s land (the title of the episode!) known as the “death strip” ran along the Eastern side of the Wall. More than 7,000 East German soldiers manned the watchtowers and the bunkers. It was the best-lit area in Berlin thanks to the lamp posts every 30 meters. In addition, there were alarms, ditches, barbed wire, guard dogs and weapons that automatically fired shots at the escapers.

A Spy Among Friends finale opens at one of the seven crossing points between East Berlin and West Berlin. As I try to understand who is in the car approaching the checkpoint to get into East Berlin…

…we find ourselves in Elliott’s living room where we left him with Sir Roger Hollis at the end of Episode 5 Snow.

Sir Roger is here at this very late hour because he needed the minister’s signature to come in person but the minister was at the opera. And the background difference between Sir Roger and Elliott is evident when Sir Roger has no clue about Elliott’s opera joke:


“I beg your pardon?”

“Wagner. Opera joke.”

Gotterdammerung is a reinterpretation of Ragnarǫk (literally “fate of the gods”) the myth of the destruction of the gods in a final battle with the forces of evil that ultimately results in the renewal of the world. It would be a good metaphor for the pissing contest between MI5 and SIS!

Sir Roger asks Elliott when he saw Blunt last. It is quite funny to see how he tries to save face as though everything is under control when Elliott tells him about the lunch at the club and that he hopes the MI5 has not lost Blunt 🙂  Once a knock on Elliott’s door brings the news that Blunt has resurfaced, Sir Roger, relieved, tells Elliott to be in his office 9am sharp and leaves. He is convinced that he should never have let Elliott go to Beirut.

Morning in Moscow. Philby is in his hospital room trying to convince Donald Maclean that he slipped on his way to Hotel Metropol where he was hoping to find a familiar face, preferably MacLean, and some music. MacLean has brought him tinned fruit and cigarettes from Burgess and jarred marmalade (Fortnum and Mason, not  less:)) from himself along with a book from Burgess’ personal library.

Philby calls Burgess a “clever bastard” as he takes a look at the book: Graham Greene’s It’s a Battlefield – a book that takes place in London in  1934 and is concerned with characters that do not actually know what they stand for 🙂

Philby looks for the letter he has written to Elliott, but when he cannot locate it in his coat pocket, he  asks for pen and paper. While MacLean is not sure about Philby writing to Elliott, Philby insists it is a personal letter. He does not even seal it so anyone else can read  it.

Morning in London. Elliott joins Lily and Sir Roger at the MI5 headquarters. Sir Roger says that Lily believes that Philby gave Elliott Sir Anthony Blunt and that is the reason Elliott let Philby go. He wants to know when Philby gave him Blunt.

“Last Day.”

“Out on the balcony?”


Sir Roger wants to know why Elliott has not disclosed this until now.

“I’d just learned that the man I trusted most in the Service and my best friend was a Russian spy. You could say I’m not quite sure who to trust any more.”

Well, especially after seeing Sir Roger with Blunt together on the bus, Elliott may have a point there!

Sir Roger’s personal assistant interrupts the meeting. Number 10 is on the line. While Hollis wonders what the call is about, Elliott’s educated guess could well be right:


Sir Roger kindly asks Elliott to wait outside but keeps Lily in his office. It is obvious he does not want Elliott and Lily sitting together.

What Philby does here is typically done when one intends to read the coffee cup to fortune tell 🙂

As he waits for Sir Roger’s phone call with Number 10 to end, Elliott remembers the last day in Beirut. He and Philby have Turkish coffee at the coffee house downstairs from the CIA safe house and talk about… cricket 🙂 There is a match in the afternoon Philby does want to listen on the radio, so Elliott advises they better get on with what they have to do…

….at which point Miss Sissmore shows up and Elliott and she get back into Sir Roger’s office and to the Beirut tapes…

…where Elliott asks after Philby’s head as they enter the safe house. Philby has no recollection of their fight at the hotel! And now that Elliott is telling him how he ended up in the pool, Philby realizes why his ears feel plugged 🙂 Philby has a serious alcohol problem, and how he was able to spy for the Soviets for three decades without slipping even once is incomprehensible to  me! And, now, too, he asks for a proper drink before giving Elliott what he calls “the scoop”: Nobody recruited him to the KGB. He fell in love in Vienna and became a communist in 1934… which Elliott finds laughable!

The sound of the accordion fills the safe house as Philby opens the door to the balcony and the conversation between the two men is not audible on the tape anymore. Sir Roger argues it was Elliott’s responsibility to control the environment, but Elliott has an excuse:

“I suppose I assumed whoever selected the safe house took an open open window into consideration. In a Mediterranean climate.”

Miss Sissmore: “Utter nonsense, Nick.”

Elliott: “It’s 1963. Too much to ask?”

I am from the Mediterranean and I know what Elliott means!

Sir Roger claims that the tape is supposed to be evidence, but Elliott makes his case that he did  not go to Beirut to solve a crime. He already knew Philby was guilty. So when Philby opened the door, he basically took it that Philby had to create some privacy before “baring his soul” to him.

And while Sir Roger cannot hear Philby “baring his soul”  on the tape, we do, thanks to Elliott re-living  it in his mind 🙂

Philby gives Elliott his so-called confession and hopes Elliott will allow him to go and listen to cricket.

Not so fast, Kim!

The signed confession has no names, no dates, no operations whatsoever. It just lists Philby’s Soviet handlers from the 1930s. WTF? It is 1963 and handlers from the 30s may not be active, they may not be even alive! It is chicken feed through and through. Besides, Philby put in there that he severed ties with the USSR in 1945. And when Elliott questions him on that, Philby’s answer is, and rightly so:

“You’ve said it yourself.”

And that is when Elliott takes him on to the balcony and tells him to say cheese in Russian, or in English! Elliott needs Philby to tell him that he understands why he said  Philby severed ties with the USSR in 1945.

Philby: The benefit of the Americans… to protect our relationship with them.”

Elliott: “I don’t give a toss about the special relationship. Try again.”

Philby: “You said it to protect me.

Elliott: “To protect you. Because as we both know, you’ve been very busy for the KGB until right fucking now.

Indeed. Elliott sounds like a friend who is genuinely disappointed that his friend does not seem to register that he lied to protect him. The MI5 bosses also think Elliott’s operating thesis with Philby was that friendship trumps ideology.

But was it, really?

Lily argues it may be wrong to view Philby as purely ideological which Sir Roger is surprised to  hear since Philby just defected to the USSR. Yes, that is right, but Elliott seconds Lily: a spy  is an adventurer, an opportunist…. and “an elitist” Lily adds… and working for the KGB within the SIS obviously put Philby in such an elite  group…

Elliott: “Burgess, MacLean, Philby, Blunt… 4 men…”

Sir Roger: “You’re implying there are more?”

Given his evening on the town with Sir Anthony Blunt,  does Sir Roger imply that Elliott may be implying him? 🙂

Elliott, who is not happy with Philby’s signed confession, hands him a list of names and asks him to confirm which of these men are working for the Russians and give it back to Elliott at the dinner party tonight.

Sir Roger: Who was on that list?

Elliott: Friends and associates of Burgess, Maclean and Philby.

Sir Roger: Specifically.

Elliott: Why does it matter? I’ve already told you I was bluffing.

Sissmore: Humour us.

Elliott: Tim Milne… John Cairncross, Tony Blunt, Guy Liddell, and one or two others I might be forgetting.

Sir Roger: Blunt was on the list?

Elliott: Thanks to his close friendship with Guy Burgess, dating back to their Cambridge days.

Sir Roger: Earlier… you said Philby gave you Blunt when you were out on the balcony… unless I’m missing something. So if he’d already given you Blunt… why then go through all the rigmarole with the list of names? Surely you already had your man.

Elliott: I was worried Blunt was chickenfeed.

Sir Roger cannot see the list but we can and yeah Sir Roger’s name is one of those few others Elliott may be forgetting 🙂

Sir Roger now tries to grill Elliott about why he agreed to go to the dinner party at Phiby’s place. Well, some friends they had in common had found out that Elliott was in town and they would have asked questions if he had not shown up at the party.

When Elliott shows up at the Philby residence, it is his filthy limericks that the guests are talking about. Then the conversation turns to England and America where Philby states England cares only about monarchy and her new patron America – the old donkey dick. His words seem to have rubbed Elliott the wrong way that he asks his friend where Russia fits in all of that.

Philby, having drunk quite a bit, tells his guests that Elliott is trying to shut him up. Because he came all the way from England to…

Elliott: “Check his liver.”

When Philby needs some fresh air, Elliott takes the opportunity to take his friend out of the dining room where Philby gives him a key.  And in the left hand drawer of Philby’s desk, Elliott finds a new confession and the list he gave Philby earlier with two names circled on it!

Anthony Blunt

Sir Roger Hollis 


Elliott mentions only Blunt’s name at  the MI5 meeting and adds that this was the last time he saw Philby…

…but because we, the viewers, are able to get into Elliott’s mind, we know that Elliott waited in a dark alley late at night and saw Philby escape with a suitcase in hand. That is why he probably saw Philby with a suitcase when he “saw” him sing “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” on stage in Episode 1 Boom-oh-yatatatah.

Sir Roger wants to know more. So he suggests he and Elliott stretch their legs a bit and they all regroup in  the afternoon.

On their walk,  Sir Roger shares with Elliott that Blunt came to him last week and confessed about his past. Then he called him this morning to tell him that Angleton interrogated him at some CIA safe house in Buckinghamshire that Elliott managed to stop.

Sir Roger wonders whether Moscow knows that Blunt’s cover is blown. According  to Elliott, the Russians would kill Philby if  they knew he gave him Blunt.  And when Sir Roger suggests they leak it to the Russians, Elliott takes him to his  club for a steak and kidney pie lunch:)

Sir Roger inquires who else Philby gave Elliott from the list. And he is smart enough not to ask other questions after Elliott’s response below:

“Right now… probably as we speak… Jim Angleton is back at the CIA, getting ready to tear the place apart… in search for traitors, due to implications, insinuations and outright disinformation that Philby has been planting in his brain for the last quarter of a century.

So when you ask… who else he gave me, I think the question that it’s important that we… you and I… first ask ourselves is this… are we here in London… ready to withstand such a level of witch hunt… and take on those kind of casualties? Because, thanks to Philby… who among us is now safe?

Which is why, if you’ll allow me to blow my trumpet briefly for a second… I was precisely the right person to go to Beirut. Because had it been anybody else, who didn’t know Philby as I do… there’s no telling who they’d be accusing next.

Accordingly, the afternoon meeting in  Sir Roger’s office is quite short. Sir Roger asks whether anyone has any other questions. None. Meeting adjourned 🙂

Cut to Elliott’s breakfast place. Elliott shows Lily the letter he has received from Philby. Philby offers to meet and salvage their relationship.

“Because as you always said you forgive your friends and their faults.”

Well, Kim, there are faults and there are FAULTS 🙂

As Lily reads Philby’s letter, we find out that it was Elliott who is in the car at the East Berlin checkpoint.

The border guard makes Elliott open the trunk, and examines the umbrella in there. This is the umbrella Philby gave Elliott in 1955 after Elliott helped him to get out of the trouble he was in when Burgess and MacLean defected to the USSR.

Elliott tells the border guard in German and I translate:

“Never Judge A Man By His Umbrella.”

Well, I really need to jump in here and tell you that Nicholas Elliott wrote a memoir called Never Judge A Man By His Umbrella in his retirement. And, probably inspired by the sentence, Damian Lewis has written a song about spies!

Once she’s done with the letter, Lily’s words to Elliott are quite powerful.

“You’re your own worst enemy. Do you know what’s worse? You’re my worst enemy. You’re the whole bloody country’s worst enemy. The man, he has fսck¡ng lied to you from the first moment that he set eyes on you. He has lied to you and he has used you. That is all that he has ever done, and that is all that he will ever do. What’s more, I’m not convinced that you haven’t known that for the last 23 years. When are you gonna fucking accept that… and be honest with yourself?”

We do not know if it is Lily’s words that convince him but Elliott finally comes to terms with his best friend’s betrayal. He goes to Berlin, sees Philby sitting  at the bar they would meet from outside, he leaves the umbrella on the window sill – returning Philby’s gift -and leaves. Philby goes out  as soon as he sees Elliott outside but what he finds is the gift he gave to Elliott and what he sees is a car leaving. This is the way Elliott says “thank you, but no thank you” to Philby’s offer to salvage their friendship. There is nothing left to salvage.

As she gets ready to leave, Elliott lets Lily know that Miss Sissmore told him she was leaving MI5 and asks:

Elliott: Why do you think Jane Sissmore felt it necessary to tell me you were resigning?

Lily: I dunno. Really? ( She laughs ) Erm… Apparently, according to her, erm… I intrigue you.

Elliott: Are you really prepared to walk away and let chaps like me continue running things, knowing what you now know… about us all?

It is June 16, 1963. And while Galina is watching on TV, with Philby asleep in his armchair, Valentina Tereshkova, a 26 year old Soviet Cosmonaut who becomes the first woman in space, Elliott is watching Lily Thomas who arrives at her new office at the SIS!

Elliott has already left a welcome gift for Lily on her desk.

She takes one.

As the mini-series ends, we learn that Elliott retired from the SIS in 1968, only 5 years after his trip to Beirut, with his reputation as an excellent intelligence officer intact. He died in 1994. Jim Angleton infected the CIA with paranoia and mistrust until they fired him in 1974. He died in 1987. Sir Roger Hollis, who has long been suspected to be a KGB agent, left MI5 in 1965. A later investigation cleared him. Sir Anthony Blunt’s treason was kept as a secret, thanks to him being a distant cousin to the queen, until the PM Margaret Thatcher exposed him in  a speech to the House  of Commons in 1979. This forced the queen to  remove Blunt’s knighthood. Blunt died in 1983. And Kim Philby lived in Moscow the rest of his life and died in 1988. I admit they all had long lives considering the amount of smoking and drinking they did! And, sadly, Lily Thomas never existed.

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!

18 thoughts on “A Spy Among Friends, Episode 6: No Man’s Land”

  1. One interesting note. Its a battlefield was written about “communist” characters who don’t know what they stand for, by Graham Greene in 1934 – who reported to Philby during his tenure at MI6…..

  2. These recaps have been so helpful. I have one question- why did Elliot let Philby get away in Beirut? Maybe this has been discussed, I am in Seattle so just finished the series last night.

    1. Thank you so much for reading and for your kind words! There are two things Lily Thomas discusses in the mini-series in relation to Elliott letting Philby escape – which I think make sense: their friendship and the reputation of MI6. But Elliott also made sure (for example – by standing with Philby on the balcony in Beirut – a display of friendship for everyone that’s watching) that the Soviets would never trust Philby. So he sort of gave Philby the rope to hang himself with. Brutal 🙂

  3. Thank you for your recaps and trivia! I looked forward to reading them after I viewed each episode. I’ve already downloaded this book on Kindle. Sadly indeed Lily Thomas never existed. Fantastic miniseries – maybe the best yet! This miniseries opens up a new world of spy stories for me to read.

    1. Thank you so much for reading and for your kind words. I’m so happy to hear you enjoyed my recaps. And since you’ve now found a new world of spy stories to explore, we have some good news: damian-lewis.com/?p=46088

      1. Thanks a lot for your commented summaries. Not being a native english speaker, It helped me tremendously to fully grasp the insides of this outstanding mini series.

        1. Thank you for your kind words! You’ve made my day. I’m very happy the summaries have been helpful!

  4. Thank you for the time and effort you put into the episode recaps. I have never commented on something like this but the level of work and research demanded it. The detail and knowledge of the story you shared made my understanding of it so much better. I enjoyed it even more because of your work. Here’s mud in your eye! Thanks!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words! I’m so happy to hear that my work helped you understand the mini-series better!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. I’m so happy to hear this. It has been a bad week for me, you’ve just made my week. THANK YOU.

  5. What a fab series. And your recaps have added to my appreciation and understanding of the intricate ins and outs of the series.

    1. Thank you so much for reading and your kind words. I’m very happy if I’m of any help to the viewers with understanding the intricate details of ‘A Spy Among Friends.’

  6. What difference would it make if these spies never existed? Would fascism of communism have spread around the globe? Would the Allies have still won WW2? Would the Berlin Wall have still been dismantled? Hard questions….

    1. Very hard questions indeed. Intelligence was so important for the Allies to win WWII. Not just spies but also think about the Turing Machine and the information it brought to the Allies from Germans…

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. You’ve made my day. I loved the mini-series and it was a pleasure to write the episode recaps.

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