how to be a spy

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The Independent Culture
The resurrection of national heroes can be a risky business. As Pierce Brosnan (right), breathing new life into James Bond, may find when Goldeneye opens across the country tomorrow. But some things just don't change. Q, for example, Desmond Llewelyn's old inventor, who will be called upon to give Bond his techno-briefing. Ejector-seats, torpedo-tipped cigarettes and pen-grenades remain the order of the day.

As you trudge home, you may be thinking it's all fantasy. A multi-million- pound romp in wonderland. But not if your way home takes you past Portman Square in the West End of London. I don't know whether Q or Pierce Brosnan have ever been this way, but there's a shop called Spymaster, which is a must for any budding spy. Here, you can make your every 007 fantasy come true. So how about a Bond girl?

But it was strictly business first, as I asked Michael Marks, the director of Spymaster, how he would fix up 007's briefcase for mission impossible. Tip- toeing past bugs which can pick up a whisper at four metres, we went down to his office. I politely refused a cigarette... you never know. Then we got down to business.

If the unthinkable happened, and Q went AWOL, Spymaster could step in to issue 007 with a fully-equipped communications system: a briefcase terminal, providing worldwide phone and radio contact. This includes an encrypted receiver and transmitter - you never know who's listening in. Bringing the information back to base need not involve any particularly compromising activity. Built into a small stud on the side of the case there is a 2mm camera, and Bond could have a watch to take still photographs.

Spymaster is not a shop you should ever think of shoplifting from: it's full of these crafty hidden cameras. One of them, the most mind-boggling, is disguised as a small dot between the numerals of a clock.

Should the case fall into the wrong hands, it would self- destruct. And if things got really bad, Bond could use his Emergency Position Indication Radio Beacon (EPIRB), which gives his exact location to military satellites, ensuring his return, shaken but not stirred.

So there it was in front of me. A small case, packed with everything a spy could possibly need. But just as I was planning my first assignment, Mr Marks dropped in the price - pounds 20,000.

How about something more down to earth? Like the man who suspected his girlfriend of having an affair. Spymaster staff advised him on the bugging devices he could use. A couple of days later, he returned red-faced, having found three of them at home, where she had been keeping an eye on him.

Spying on lovers accounts for a small percentage of Spymaster's work. The shop deals mainly with businesses and government agencies. With the cold war over, the majority of espionage is industrial. While Spymaster sells the hidden cameras and bugs necessary for surveillance, they are more concerned with counter-surveillance - for example, checking premises for bugs.

Unfortunately, some of the most interesting devices in the shop can't be sold to the general public. These are "restricted user products": equipment used by government and law enforcement agencies, like the computer which can listen in to mobile phones in the area.

If you must know, I had a quick listen. But all I heard was a couple of nutty lovers calling each other "squidgy".

Spymaster, 3 Portman Square, London W1 (0171-486 3885)