Based on a true story, the plot centres on Bob and Barbara Jackson (in real life Bill and Ruth Search) and their daughter Julie (in real life Gay Search), a television reporter and newspaper journalist in the UK. The Jacksons are friendly with their neighbours, Peter and Helen Kroger, until the couple is arrested and charged with espionage in 1961. It is revealed the Krogers actually are Morris and Lona Cohen, who during the 1950s and 60s worked with fellow spy Gordon Lonsdale photographing and encoding as microdots various pieces of material which they then sent to their colleagues in Russia.
The original West End production, starring Judi Dench and her husband, Michael Williams, as the Jacksons, opened on October 26, 1983 at the Lyric Theatre, where it ran for nearly a year. Dench won the Laurence Olivier Award as Best Actress for her performance.
After five previews, the Broadway production opened on February 7, 1985 at the Royale Theatre, where it ran for 120 performances. The cast included Rosemary Harris, George N. Martin, and Tracy Pollan as the Jacksons, Dana Ivey and Colin Fox as the Cohens, and Patrick McGoohan as Stewart. Both Harris and McGoohan were nominated for a Tony Award, and she won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Play.
In 1987, Whitemore (under the name Ralph Gallup) adapted his play for an American television production starring Ellen Burstyn, Alan Bates, Teri Garr, and Daniel Benzali. It received three Emmy Award nominations, for Outstanding Drama/Comedy Special, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Special (Burstyn), and Outstanding Writing in a Miniseries or a Special.
In 2009 The Ratae players did a performance of the play with Sue Bourne as Helen Kroger and David Parker as her cunning husband Peter Kroger. Terrie Dodds was cast as Barbara Jackson and Phil Norman played her husband Bob Jackson.
The 2009 UK touring production starred Jenny Seagrove, Simon Shepherd, Daniel Hill and Lorna Luft.