Horrible Histories Spies exhibition, at the Imperial War Museum

Before Christmas I attended a lovely festive morning at the Imperial War Museum hosted by the splendid Brit Mums. We had coffees and piles of biscuits and they invited everyone to bring a book to swap which meant that all of us mums got a present before Christmas had even kicked off.

We also had a welcome and an introduction to the museum by the IWM Marketing team, bizarrely enough this was by an old pal of mine from Uni days, and the parting bonus was a complimentary family ticket to see the Horrible Histories Spies exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, anytime before the end of its run.

Of course the days of our Christmas holidays were packed, and I didn’t get a chance to get back to the museum with the kids until the last weekend of Spies, which was last weekend. Unfortunately, if you haven’t seen it yet, you won’t now be able to go, but read on to hear all about what you missed!

Last Saturday, the first of the year, was wet and grey and, as we found out, a perfect day for museum-going. The place was packed.  The grounds are already impressive, with the battleship guns out front to greet you. As you enter, the iconic planes and missiles which hang suspended from the ceiling make for quite a sight. The museum has only recently been refurbished, and re-opened in time for the centenary of the First World War last year, with its new First World War Galleries, atrium and terraces. There is an impressive roof terrace, which is a great empty (but covered) place for younger kids to have a run.  The building is built on different levels which give off into different café areas and shops. There are several exhibitions on at once, and as you meander through the museum you see real life-size planes and trucks, footage to watch on screens and information galore. It is a place not only for military enthusiasts but also, as I now saw, for families and the youngest kids. A visit to one of the cafés is a must although, like most pleasant museum eateries, they are pricey.

But on to Horrible Histories Spies, the exhibition we were here for. The exhibition was based on the books by Terry Deary, which appeal so much to kids because they are funny, irreverent and use the word poo a lot. Following the trail of some very suspicious looking rats of different nationalities, we learnt a lot about what a spy does and what they go through during war-time. You don’t realise you are learning, as the exhibits are visual and very interactive. There are funny television clips which you listen to on headphones, codes to crack, disguises to try on and tons of information about some good -age words such as sabotage and camouflage. There is also the chance to do some rat splatting. Don’t ask me, it’s about putting explosives up rats’ bums. No wonder the kids liked this part.

My favourite bit of the exhibition was the chance to alter your appearance by selecting different disguises on the computer.  First you got it to take a photo of yourself, then you could drag different items onto your face – beard, glasses, pipe, hats. When you were happy with your completed disguise, your photo was displayed on the big screen alongside all the other shady suspects and – the best bit – you could also have it emailed to your inbox. It’s a fun souvenir to take away with you.  I caught a fair few adults perfecting their best spy disguise too (that’s the reason why some of the beards look just a bit too real).

There’s a quiz at the end to test your knowledge and, quite without realising it, you discover you have learnt a lot about what it takes to be a spy. At the end you find a gallery of the real faces behind the stories, which brings it home that the exhibition is based on real life spies from history.

Here are some of our photographs. You can click on any of them to see the enlarged version.

Big thanks to Brit Mums for having me along to their Christmas meet, and to the Imperial War Museum for hosting, and for providing us with tickets to Horrible Histories Spies.  I definitely want to bring the children back to see the essential Holocaust exhibition, recommended for 14+, but we won’t leave it that long before we return. I would strongly urge you to include the Imperial War Museum as a destination for children’s exhibitions if, like me, you have not thought of doing so before.

The Imperial War Museum is open daily from 10am – 6pm.  Last admission 5.30pm.

The museum is partially government-funded but needs sponsorship and donations to sustain its programmes. You can now donate online. The Imperial War Museum library is also now under threat of government cuts and you can sign the petition here to help save it.

Disclosure: We were given free tickets to attend the Horrible Histories Spies exhibition.
All opinions are my own. All photos taken by me.


6 thoughts on “Horrible Histories Spies exhibition, at the Imperial War Museum

  1. Great post. Glad you got to see Spies. My kids loved it too. Despite working there, I never knew there was a roof terrace. If you go again, I recommend the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, medals and the stories of why people got them. My kids wouldn’t leave that gallery.

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