London has a particular association with spies: the Special Operations Executive, MI5, MI6, 007, and all that. However, there is more to London’s espionage heritage than tuxedoed, suave operatives with a preference for how they like their martinis.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union’s KGB had numerous agents at work in London. While some could operate under diplomatic cover, many others did not. These “illegal” agents, after gathering their information, needed some way to pass it discreetly onto their KGB superiors. Their reports would be left at selected drop sites, also known as dead letter boxes.
One such dead letter box was an inconspicuous lamp post in Audley Square, just outside the University Women’s Club at No. 2. Starting in the 1950s, agents would leave their documents behind the small door to the rear of the post. To indicate there was a message waiting, a chalk mark was made near the base.
The existence of this dead letter box was only revealed to British Intelligence after the 1985 extraction of their secret agent Colonel Oleg Gordievsky from under the watchful eyes of the KGB in Moscow. In a strange coincidence, back in the early ’60s No. 3 Audley Square was used as an office by Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman when they were casting the role of a certain James Bond—all the while unaware of the real-life spies who may have been lurking just outside.