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Blockbuster tales of spying & deception display at new IWM exhibition

This autumn, Imperial War Museums (IWM) explores one of the most enthralling and elusive areas of conflict, with a major exhibition that interrogates the role, purpose and human cost of espionage, deceit and misdirection, from the First World War to the present day.

Opening at IWM London, Spies, Lies and Deception (29 September 2023 – 14 April 2024) is a free exhibition exploring the tricks, tools and elaborate plots that make up the secret world of spying and deception. From the battlefields of the First World War to the betrayal by double agent Kim Philby and the recent Salisbury poisonings, Spies, Lies and Deception features over 25 of the most intriguing, inspiring and shocking stories of the last hundred years.

Showcasing over 150 objects, including gadgets, official documents, art and newly digitised film and photography, Spies, Lies and Deception invites visitors to explore how these real-life fictions have changed the course of conflict and the lives of the people who created them. Newly commissioned and archive interviews reveal the personal stories of people with direct experience of deception and the viewpoints of industry experts.

LGfL is delighted to have been able to share unique footage from one of the last-ever interviews with Fritz Lustig one of the original secret listeners. Fritz was featured in the 2014 LGfL The M Room’ KS3/4 Resource produced in partnership with Dr Helen Fry, one of the expert historians and journalists involved in contributing to the IWM exhibition. Helen was our consultant and lead presenter for The M Room resource, securing unique access to World War II listening sites, as well as featuring an interview with one of the original secret listeners it also features extensive primary-source material from the Ministry of Defence and the National Archives.


The M Room was so secret that only the secret listeners who operated it and some intelligence officers knew of its existence. The letter M stood for 'miked' and reflected the fact that the room was set up with the latest listening technology. Access was gained through two locked doors and the keys were given only to designated staff. From here the operators could listen in to the prisoners' conversations in their cells or in one of the interrogation rooms. Sometimes the interrogations were recorded if prisoners started to give away important military information. Monitoring prisoners' conversations continued every day of the year, including Christmas Day, so nothing was missed.

The resource targeted at the KS3 History curriculum features 50 high-quality video clips filmed on a range of locations including declassified military sites as well as images of personnel, maps, locations and previously classified documents.  The resource also includes a curriculum mapping section including lesson plans for Key Stage 3 and 4.  A trailer of the resource can be viewed here:

The History of Computing also includes a section focussing on another espionage-related activity… code-breaking during WW2. That resource looks at the impact of Alan Turing and his work at Bletchley Park, a place of exceptional historical importance as it is the home of British code-breaking and the birthplace of modern information technology.  It played a major, yet highly secret role in World War II, producing intelligence which directly influenced the outcome of the conflict. The role of women during this time can also be looked at in our Women in Computing resource

Back to the IWM exhibition and Spies, Lies and Deception also features

story of Operation Mincemeat explores how misdirection can be used to make the enemy think what you want them to think. Other clandestine plots and tools of espionage further illustrate how deception has been used in times of conflict. Among the items on display will be a box of matches with a match specially adapted for writing secret messages, footprint overshoes made by SOE (Special Operations Executive) in Southeast Asia during the Second World War, to disguise the wearer’s real footprints, and the creation of papier-mâché heads used to deceive snipers in the First World War trenches.

Spies, Lies and Deception invites visitors to interrogate the lasting consequences and personal costs of deception and uses diverse case studies to shine a light on the people at the heart of deception. The exhibition invites visitors to consider the human cost of these plots, and asks what happens when we are deceived - and who pays the price?

Amanda Mason, Lead Curator of Spies, Lies and Deception, said:

“Stories of spying and subterfuge are endlessly fascinating and capture the popular imagination. By exploring some of the most ingenious, surprising and daring plots from the two World Wars, through the height of Cold War espionage to the present day, this exhibition shines a light on many of the true stories and undercover plots of the past 100 years.

“Covering everything from inflatable tanks and dummy parachutists to the stories of Kim Philby and the Salisbury Poisonings, Spies Lies and Deception will be a must-see exhibition for anyone who is interested in finding out the truth about the use of deception and espionage.”

Bob Usher, LGfL Content Manager said.:

‘We have been delighted to be able to share our unique material originally produced to support the History GCSE curriculum with the IWM in support of this important and fascinating exhibition. Capturing original testimony to preserve the unique legacy of those who helped win WW2 is important for each new generation to understand and appreciate whether they are school children or the wider public.

Throughout its run, Spies, Lies and Deception will be accompanied by a programme of activity at IWM London. Expert talks with historians and journalists including Dr Helen Fry and Shrabani Basu will dig deeper into the topic. At the same time, families will be invited to get up close to the world of deception through themed activities. This September, IWM will publish a facsimile of an unpublished MI9 devices manual, created by intelligence officer Christopher Clayton Hutton in 1942, titled Most Secret: MI9 Escape and Evasion Devices. The book is an opportunity to look at another aspect of wartime deception and subterfuge beyond the exhibition.

Spies, Lies and Deception opens at IWM London on 29 September 2023

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