The book is set in the Fifties, and the Shaftesbury Avenue and Denham Studios atmosphere is well caught: Laurence Olivier is putting on verse plays, theatre-in-the-round is coming in, ‘kitchen sink’ dramas are on the horizon, as is the growth of commercial television and the explosion in soap powder advertising... This whimsical memoir is much exaggerated, I should think. But that is not a criticism. Behind the masks of narrative invention there is a lot of fact here about Cold War surveillance techniques and prevalent Establishment attitudes. I loved it.
The narrative seems haphazard and the characters – actors, agents and producers, upper-class women – are lightly drawn with a few notes on appearance. Scenes set in hotels, flats and restaurants are short on descriptive detail. Bingham concentrates on amusing asides and scraps of dialogue, and the jokes carry the story blithely along. Spies and Stars is not quite a satire; nor is it a focused view of post-war life, but its self-deprecatory portrait of a girl adrift is engaging, and it captures well the chance encounters that are often part of growing up.
Much of the charm of this book for me is its evocation of aspects of the 1950s I had forgotten: the newly arrived coffee bars that seemed the height of glamour; the blind men selling matches outside Tube stations (Bingham claims that MI5 used them as undercover agents); and the weird euphemisms — ‘Uncle Dick’ for being sick, ‘the aunt’ for loo, and ‘Oh sugar!’ to express annoyance...The great joy of Bingham’s prose is its youthful insouciance. She writes like a teenager, but an exceptionally observant one. She notices that someone’s butler is wearing women’s nylons and has ‘a shifty look to his nostrils. People always go on about a shifty look to the eyes, but nostrils give away a great deal.’.. Stars and Spies is very much a period piece and perhaps for that reason unlikely to appeal to the young. But I loved it.