Special operations

Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road,London SE1 (0171-416 5000) from 5 July

From Mata Hari to James Bond, spies hold an enduring fascination. The idea that wars can be won and millions saved or killed through the ingenuity and courage of one individual seems so much the stuff of fiction. But just how much the tales of such masters of the spy novel as Fleming and Deighton are dependent on truth is revealed by a new permanent exhibition opening at the Imperial War Museum next week.

Using over 700 exhibits, documents, photographs and film footage, including previously restricted material, Secret War aims to lay the twin folk myths of the spy as romantic hero and unseen agent of state control. Highlights include coded messages, enciphering machines (left), suicide pills, sabotage devices and confidential letters. Special displays deal with the often questionable activities of MI5 and MI6, the science of code breaking and the Second World War as seen by the Special Operations Executive and the nascent SAS.

Perhaps the most fascinating innovations though are two multi-media presentations which enable the visitor to experience something of the terror of being an agent of the SOE dropped behind enemy lines during the Second World War. Ever wanted to be 007? Now's your chance.

IAIN GALE

Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Rd, London SE1 (0171-416 5000) from 5 Jul

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