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September 2011 - Blythe House

Image of Blythe House

Blythe House at the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Stores in central London opened up its doors for the filming of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The film, which is set in 1970s London, has a stellar British cast including Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy and John Hurt shot substantially on location in the capital.

This long-awaited feature film version of John le CarrĂ©'s bestselling novel of the same name is directed by Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) and produced by Working Title.  Following a successful world premiere at Venice this week, it is released in UK cinemas on Friday 16 September.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
finds George Smiley (Oldman), a recently retired MI6 agent, doing his best to adjust to life outside the secret service. However, when a disgraced agent reappears with information concerning a mole at the heart of the Agency, Smiley is drawn back into the murky field of espionage.

The production consisted of almost 60 shooting days, of which nearly 50 were in London, including an ambitious shoot at Blythe House which doubled as Cambridge Circus, the home of MI6 in the story.

Blythe House is a museum store used not only by the V&A, but also the British Museum and Science Museum, who all house artifacts large and small in its network of storage rooms, many of which are blacked out.

With so many parties involved, Filming Manager Rachel Lloyd was key in coordinating the logistics of the shoot. She recalls that her priority was to ensure "that object safety, public safety, and services to the public during the filming period was maintained". Which she confirms was achieved "through sufficient, regular and honest dialogue with the location team".

During the four days of filming last October, Glenn Benson, Site Manager for Blythe House, remembers that "a crew of around 70 and a 140 ft crane rolled in". Although it was quite different to an average day on site, which usually houses quiet academics, Benson confirms "it was great fun and the staff were very supportive."

Designed by Sir Henry Tanner, Blythe House was built in 1898 as the headquarters of the Post Office Savings Bank. Its interiors are of a traditional Victorian public service building with tiled walls, iron railings and details on the main staircases and spiral staircase and it still has the original sash windows.

The building opened for business in 1903 to much praise for its modernity with electric lifts, extensive staff facilities and even staff tennis courts. However in some ways, it wasn't very progressive with male and female staff working in separate areas of the building kept apart by the fear of dismissal if they were caught having a secret liaison. As a result, Blythe House has two sides a grand facade through which the male staff entered the site, and a far more functional back of house side that was for the female staff.

Filming is nothing new to Blythe House, having been used extensively in the late 1970s early 1980s for other British classic espionage and detective shows including Minder and The New Avengers.

All in the heart of the capital, the site offers a secure area with extensive parking that affords privacy for the shoot, crew and cast. The period building is over 30m tall so there are a number of different views across London from its top floors and rooftop as well as its grand imposing facades.

For filming enquiries contact Rachel Lloyd: r.lloyd@vam.ac.uk  / 020 7942 2841.

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