Hampstead Spies* Summer Schedule *Guided by former ITN Editor Stewart Purvis CBE

London calling.

London Walks connecting.

This… is London.

This is London Walks.

Streets ahead.

Story time. History time.


It’s April 12th, 2024.

Our pin for the day – it’s Happy Birthday Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. He was born on this day – April 12th – 1550.

And we’re remembering his birthday not least because yesterday we learned a new word, we learned that guff is British slang for fart. And Edward de Vere produced the most spectacular air biscuit in the history of British guffs. Here’s the tale. Prefaced, I hasten to add, that some people – some very benighted people – think the 17th Earl of Oxford was the author of Shakespeare’s plays. That’s an air biscuit in its own right. What was it Einstein said about cats. “A man has to work so hard so that something of his personality stays alive. A tomcat has it so easy, he has only to spray and his presence is there for years on rainy days.” Well, same goes for the air biscuit that the 17th Earl of Oxford was the author of Shakespeare’s plays. It was phwatted out into the world in 1920 by the aptly named Thomas Looney. And it lingers, it will not go away. No amount of scholarly air freshener has been able to dissipate it.

Thom Cat Looney –  there, I’ve mixed my eliminatory, corporeal metaphors, but you’ll get the idea – Tom Cat Looney was a bit of a religious nut. And a school teacher. Looney’s nonsense caught on with people who just couldn’t accept that a grammar school educated boy was the author of the most sublime works in the canon of English literature. People who thought that to be highly intelligent – indeed, to be a genius – you must have to be a nobleman. You would have thought that observation would have disproved that theory. But there you go, there’s no accounting for some people’s brain waves.

Anyway, the wonderful story about Edward de Vere’s guff goes as follows. He was of course an Elizabethan peacock. Very full of himself and always dressed to the nines. Perfumed gloves, lots of silk and fur, gems, ruffs – Pickadills as they were known – tights to show off his legs, well, you get the idea. Anyway, the day he was presented, at court, to Queen Elizabeth, he made a tremendous entrance, came forward with great fanfare and flourish, executed a scything bow… and, doing so, broke wind.  And look it wasn’t an ordinary guff. It was showstopper, an atomic bomb of a fart. Everybody heard it. The Earl of Oxford was tremendously embarrassed. So embarrassed. He went into exile. Went to Italy for a couple of years. What was he doing in Italy. What else? Writing Shakespeare’s plays of course. Never mind that he was in Italy several years before Shakespeare’s were written. That’s a minor inconvenience. The important thing is that he was the Earl of Oxford. The 17th Earl of Oxford. Anyway, after a decent interval – a couple of years – he decided the fart was all behind him and he came back to England. Came back to England to be presented once again, at court, to good Queen Bess. He made another flourishing entrance. And as he came forward in all his frippery and finery, Elizabeth beamed and said, my Lord of Oxford, we had almost forgot the fart.”

Moving on, today’s Random. We of course have several Beatles Walks that end at Abbey Road, the most celebrated recording studio in the world and of course leading to it, the famous crosswalk. At no little risk of belabouring the obvious the Beatles used it as the name of the last album they recorded; its famous cover photo of them crossing the road has them walking away from the studio (as if for the last time). But there’s so much more to that studio. And that’s why – well, one reason why – you go on Richard’s or Adam’s Beatles Walks. You don’t go up there just to see the studio. You go up there because you’ve cottoned on to what it is about great guides: they look at the world and think that everything has meaning. And that meaning is to be found in the stories about a building. Or a street. Or a neighbourhood. So on a Beatles walk it’s fun to hear an aside, at Abbey Road, about the great pianist Artur Schnabel. He believed that a performance could only be given once. And he had a hard time adjusting to a world where his recordings would be listened to by people he’d never see. In particular, he was worried about how they might be dressed whilst playing his record.

And that brings us to our Ongoing. Yesterday, for the first time ever, we sent out a mid-month London Walks newsletter. Up until now it’s just been one a month. Going out in the last week of the month and highlighting some of the highlights of next month’s walks. But things pile up here. 75 extremely gifted guides. A lot of them regularly coming up with new ideas, new walks. It’s too much cargo for one streamlined – the main newsletter was just seven items – too much cargo for one brief newsletter.

So we’re going to start producing a mid-month refresher. It’ll just be three items. But it’ll take some of the pressure off the main one. It debuted yesterday. We’re calling it Charmed Magic Casements. It’s Keats’s line of course. And one of the three items those magic casements opened on yesterday was Stewart Purvis’s Summer Schedule for his Hampstead Spies Walk. The walk’s hugely popular – it pretty much always sells out – and no surprise there, given that walking tour guides don’t come any more distinguished than Stewart Purvis. Stewart’s been described as one of the architects of modern television news. He’s the former Editor of Independent Television News. And subsequently its CEO. Since retiring he’s turned himself into an expert on espionage – and especially all the spies’ nests in his neighbourhood, Hampstead. He’s written an extremely well-received book about the subject. I remember when I mentioned to my best American pal David Hall that we’d got Stewart Purvis to guide a Hampstead Spies Walk and it was rejoicing in the the subtitle, The KGB in NW3, David, who’d lived in London for a couple of years and drunk deep from the London trough and thus knew very well who Stewart Purvis was, knew about his muzzle loading velocity – David exclaimed, “you got Stewart Purvis to guide Hampstead Spies for London Walks, how did you do that???? That’s like getting Dan Rather to guide Dealey Plaza.”

Anyway, Stewart had just phoned in his summer dates and because his walk always sells out we wanted to give our Newsletter subscribers a heads-up. Put them in pole position, so to speak. So Stewart’s summer dates were one of the three items in the first ever London Walks newsletter half-time show.

But the thing is, stuff happens, as the saying goes. These guides it’s my privilege to work with – and your privilege to be guided by – they are, to put it mildly, switched on – 75 live wires –  ideas just bubbling away here, new walks, new discoveries and, well, Stewart took one look at the bookings for the monthly Sunday morning Hampstead Spies Walk and said, we really need to put on another one, a Saturday morning one. This less than 24 hours after we put out a Newsletter saying here’s Stewart’s summer dates for his Hampstead Spies Walk.

So here we are, it’s the London Calling podcast unto the breach, stepping up, picking up where the Newsletter left off.

And that’s all by way of saying this podcast – the main part of it – is a programme announcement. To wit: Stewart Purvis’s Hampstead Spies Walk is going to take place twice a month this summer. On the third Sunday of every month from June through October. 10.45 am from Belsize Park Tube Stop.

And on the first Saturday of every month from June through October. Stewart’s April outing – April 21st – is sold out. And the wild card is his Hampstead Spies Walk in May. That’s taking place on the third Saturday in May. May 18th. And it’s awfully close to being sold out for a walk that’s five weeks away.

Anyway, as always all the particulars are on walks.com. Just do a search for Hampstead Spies. Or the KGB in NW3. Or Stewart Purvis CBE. And if you’re American and wondering CBE stands for Commander of the British Empire. It’s a terrific honour. It was conferred on Stewart by the Queen. It’s just one notch down from a knighthood.

Anything else? Yes, watch this space. There’s another Stewart announcement in the pipeline.

You’ve been listening to This… is London, the London Walks podcast. Emanating from www.walks.com –

home of London Walks,

London’s signature

walking tour company.

London’s local, time-honoured, fiercely independent, family-owned, just-the-right-size

walking tour company.

And as long as we’re at it,

London’s multi-award-winning walking tour company. Indeed, London’s only award-winning walking tour company.

And here’s the secret: London Walks is essentially run as a guides’ cooperative.

That’s the key to everything.

It’s the reason we’re able to attract and keep the best guides in London. You can get schlubbers to do this for £20 a walk. But you cannot get world-class guides – let alone accomplished professionals.

It’s not rocket science:

you get what you pay for.

And just as surely,

you also get what you don’t pay for.

Back in 1968 when we got started

we quickly came to a fork in the road. We had to answer a searching question:

Do we want to make the most money? Or do we want to be the best walking tour company in the world?

You want to make the most money you go the schlubbers route. You want to be the best walking tour company in the world

you do whatever you have to do

to attract and keep

the best guides in London –

you want them guiding for you,

not for somebody else.

Bears repeating:

the way we’re structured –

a guides’ cooperative –

is the key to the whole thing.

It’s the reason for all those awards, it’s the reason people who know go with London Walks, it’s the reason we’ve got a big following,

a lively, loyal, discerning following – quality attracts quality.

It’s the reason we’re able – uniquely – to front our walks with accomplished, in many cases

distinguished professionals:

By way of example, Stewart Purvis, the former Editor

(and subsequently CEO) of Independent Television News.

And Lisa Honan, who had a distinguished career as a diplomat (Lisa was the Governor of St Helena, the island where Napoleon breathed his last and, some say, had his penis amputated –

Napoleon didn’t feel a thing – if thing’s the mot juste – he was dead.)

Stewart and Lisa –

both of them CBEs –

are just a couple of our headline acts.

Or take our Ripper Walk. It’s the creation of the world’s leading expert on Jack the Ripper, Donald Rumbelow, the author of the definitive book on the subject.  Britain’s most distinguished crime historian, Donald is, in the words of The Jack the Ripper A to Z,“internationally recognised as the leading authority on Jack the Ripper.” Donald’s emeritus now but he’s still the guiding light on our Ripper Walk. He curates the walk. He trains up and mentors our Ripper Walk guides. Fields any and all questions they throw at him.

The London Walks Aristocracy of Talent – its All-Star team of guides – includes a former London Mayor. It includes the former Chief Music Critic for the Evening Standard. It includes the Chair of the Association of Professional Tour Guides. And the former chair of the Guild of Guides.

It includes barristers, doctors, geologists, museum curators, a former Museum of London archaeologist, historians,

university professors (one of them a distinguished Cambridge University paleontologist); it includes

criminal defence lawyers,

Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre actors,

a bevy of MVPs, Oscar winners (people who’ve won the big one, the Guide of the Year Award)…

well, you get the idea.

As that travel writer famously put it, “if this were a golf tournament,

every name on the Leader Board would be a London Walks guide.”

And as we put it: London Walks Guides make the new familiar

and the familiar new.

And on that agreeable note…

come then, let us go forward together on some great London Walks.

And that’s by way of saying, Good walking and Good Londoning

one and all. See ya next time.

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