The Secret Listener


Olive Milne Myler courtesy of Braunton Museum

The Secret Listener follows two intertwining strands, the story of Olive Myler who lived in rural North Devon and played the violin and the autobiographical story of a violin my father was given in the 1950’s. The performance is my search into the stories of both my father’s violin and Olive Myler and takes us on a journey from Vienna to the south west of England.

Just before the war a solitary woman lived in a rural hamlet in North Devon, she never went out and had her groceries delivered. People say she had been a violinist in the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra and also worked for MI6 in some capacity. She was so mysterious that local people thought she was an enemy spy – the delivery boy had seen a gun on her dining table.

The story of Olive Myler [who was a voluntary interceptor] was originally passed down aurally via gossip, local history books or mentioned in newspaper articles, it has no neatly tied up ending, no answers, only potential for real drama. The story of a quiet rural life on the surface that hides a wealth of intelligence and intrigue on a national scale.

The Secret Listener performance is based on multiple source materials including the story of Olive Myler in the 2005 book Jews in North Devon during the Second World War by Helen Fry. To research Olive’s story I followed a trail through many books, museums, archives and online resources, these sources included

  • Adams, AJ [2010] Knowle in the Wars, Braunton Museum: N. Devon
  • Dunlop, Tessa [2015] The Bletchley Girls, Hodder & Stoughton: London
  • Fry, Edmund David [2003] The Life and Tines of a Knowle Boy, Braunton Museum: N. Devon
  • Fry, Helen [2005] Jews in North Devon During the Second World War, Halsgrove: Devon
  • Fry, Helen [2014] Spymaster: The Secret Life of Kendrick, Marranos: London
  • Hinsley, FH & Alan Stripp [1993] Code Breakers, University Press: Oxford
  • MacDonogh, Giles [2009] 1938 HItler’s Gamble, ebook
  • Newman, Richard [2000] Alma Rosé: Vienna to Auschwitz, Amadeus Press: Portland
  • Pidgeon, Geoffrey [2003] The Secret Wireless War: the story of MI6 Communications 1939-1945, Arundel: Richmond


There will also be a podcast associated with the performance, we are currently looking for stories of other voluntary interceptors and people’s hidden wartime stories.

Here is an example: The story of Odette Sansom aka Odette Hallowes recorded by Ed Jobling in conversation with Nancy Powell-Brace, owner of Odette’s Tearoom Wellington.

And here is a short film to accompany Odette’s story – created by Ed Jobling working with Forkbeard and Actiontrack

The Secret Listener  2019

  • The Theatre Royal Plymouth 24/25th July

Playfully weaving personal and historical narrative, Ruth draws us in to her irresistible curiosity. Gracefully enigmatic, Mitchell doesn’t pretend to know the answers but she asks the questions and tunes the strings or our imaginations. Freddie Crossley, Assistant Director, Theatre Royal Plymouth

We loved it. Thank you. Intriguing, gentle, fascinating. Beautifully acted and written Sue Stratton, Audience

Outstanding storytelling, performance and a beautiful sound score Josh Slater, Audience

  • Cornwall’s Regimental Museum Bodmin 12th October @2pm

The Secret Listener was a great fit with our WW2 collection.  Ruth’s atmospheric and polished performance, highlighted a hidden history which was of great interest to our museum audience  Jo Keenan, Regimental Museum, Bodmin

  • The Old Library Bodmin 12th October @ 7.30pm

A wonderfully engaging and charismatic piece of theatre. Seamlessly moving between Ruth’s own family story and the multi character tale of Olive Myler.  Enhanced by an immersive soundscape, The Secret Listener is brilliantly captivating  Fin Irwin, Director, The Old Library, Bodmin

lottery_Logo_Black RGB

Supported using public funding from Arts Council England, and a Development Grant from the South West Creative Technology Network

2121 SWCTN Logo

With support and development from the Theatre Royal Plymouth


and support from these organisations, the Radio Society of GB; Plymouth Community Homes; intoBodmin at the Old Library, Bodmin