Spies. There’s something about the word that sends a frisson of excitement down your spine, be you 5 or 50. The concept of discovering secrets – be it from the shadows, or in plain sight – has an air of romance to it. It takes a certain level of intelligence, duplicity and talent to be a spy. And while many of us believe we could excel at it, it’s probably more accurate that very few of us could.
But lucky for us, we can enter that world through film and television. And for that purpose, we cannot recommend the Masterpiece program, Mrs. Wilson, enough. Featuring the charming and talented Ruth Wilson (Luther, Small Island) portraying her real-life grandmother, Alison, the mini-series weaves a labyrinthian tale as the titular Mrs. Wilson conducts her own postmortem investigation on her late husband – an MI6 spy.
But rather than spoil the surprises of Mrs. Wilson, today we’re going to bring to you five other honeypot spies – men and women each as conniving, witty, and dangerous as Alexander Wilson himself.
Ginny and Lottie Moon
While most of the boys and girls on this list were ‘active’ (ahem!) during World War II, the concept of ‘the honeypot’ started long before the Nazi’s invaded Paris. Ginny and Lottie Moon were two sisters who served as Confederate spies during the Civil War. Operating in Tennessee, the sisters used their charm to extract info from Union soldiers. They took their missions so far, in fact, that at one point they were engaged to 38 soldiers between them.
Two things set Anthony Blunt apart: an intense dedication to his work, and a lack of allegiance to any one country. Blunt was recruited in 1936 by Russia’s NKVD – a proto-KGB agency. For this role, he enrolled in the British Intelligence Corps, sending notes on everything he saw and learned during his training in Russia. Once in MI5, however, Blunt continued to, well, do his job. Even as he spied and recruited for the Soviets, Blunt excelled at managing field agents for MI5 – even when it came to sending agents to spy on Russians. According to the Historical Dictionary of Sexspionage, his most notable deployment of an agent was that of his boyfriend, Jack Hewitt, who was sent to England to seduce a Catholic priest named Father Clement Russell, known to be homosexual and also suspected of being a Fascist plant.
Mary Bancroft was born in Boston in 1903. Fluent in German and French, the war saw her residing in Bern, wife of a Swiss accountant who was frequently on the road. It was perhaps this absence that led to her falling in with the local OSS representative, Allen Dulles. During their affair in 1942, he recruited her as a spy, and it was under this role that she embarked on a second affair — this time with senior Gestapo official Hans Bernd Gisevius — and actually served as the intermediary for the two.
British Special Ops Executive Denis Rake had a knack for getting his way. After escaping from prison in Dijon, France, he sought to make contact with another agent in Paris, but instead met German Officer Max Halder. Rake quickly moved in with Halder – who believed his lover was an out-of-work Belgian actor. But once Rake was able to secure a fake ID, he quickly fled town. On his way to rejoin his team in Paris, Rake was arrested and sent to a POW camp. But Rake's charm and luck saved him once again, as he convinced a sympathetic prison commandant to release him. With two other freed prisoners, Rake traversed the Pyrenees mountain range into Spain and eventually Rake made his way to Gibraltar, where he was finally reunited with his Special Ops unit after almost a year in the field.
Yes, your favorite children’s book author was also a spy. While his career as a British pilot started with a successful run with the Royal Air Force, a crash rendered Dahl unfit to fly. Determined to continue serving his country, Dahl took an assignment doing public relations with the British embassy in Washington D.C.. His charm and wit allowed him to quickly fall in with the journalists and officials that comprised the D.C. social scene – and it wasn’t long before MI6 noticed. Once recruited, Dahl not only spied on President Roosevelt but he also found a knack for bedding wealthy and powerful socialites, and swaying their (and their husbands) views on the war that the U.S. had still not joined.