Spooks – Beginning of the End
As previewed in my last post, the BBC got underway last night with the last series of Spooks, its long-running show about the efforts of a group of glamorati within Britain’s security service to save the country – not to mention Western civilisation – from unspeakable catastrophe.
These days the BBC commissions most of its drama from independent production companies. The company responsible for Spooks is called Kudos Productions. Kudos was also the name of a group of companies I co-owned during the 90s and most of the last decade. For this reason perhaps, I was sometimes asked if I was an ex-spy. The other major Kudos at the time was a gay nightclub. I was never mistaken for a gay nightclub owner, although close friends did once question my orientation after seeing me acting in some awful 50’s comedy in Jeddah. Very Burgess and Maclean, they said.
Which brings us back to Spooks. The principal character is Harry – later Sir Harry – Pearce. Harry is the section head. Occasionally a superior pops up, usually in an obstructive role, but for a mere section head, Harry seems to spend much of his time hob-nobbing with the Home Secretary of the day – something that a real MI5 head would be unlikely to allow.
Harry is old school. Po-faced, sarcastic, but a man whose commitment to his country and job shine through. Also someone who has to assume a stoic mask in front of his living colleagues each time one of them gets knifed, blown up or deep fried in a vat of cooking oil.
Through successive series, the chinks in this lonely man’s armour are slowly revealed. He is accused of disloyalty, he nurses a long-hidden passion for Ruth, one of his key sidekicks, and in yesterday’s episode he is revealed to have had an affair with one of his key Russian assets while station chief in Berlin. Unfortunately she happens to be the wife of his opposite number, who is now a minister, and who is visiting London to head up a negotiating team that will discuss a radical rapprochement between Russia and the UK.
Ruth appears to be the only person apart from Harry who is beyond her third decade. The early Spooks series boasted a number of geeky characters of a certain age. It seems that ageism has taken its toll of the oldies – actually most of them have been bumped off – and these days almost all of Harry’s team are under thirty. To a man and woman, they would grace the catwalk at the London Fashion Week were they not sporting gun-shaped bulges in the usual places. Clearly the makers of the show have caught the spirit of the times in portraying a brave new workforce unpolluted by the wrinkly and obese.
Perhaps the reason for the lack of oldies, who tended to be the boffins, is that the tech is so high these days that anyone over twenty would be incapable of using it. The latest innovation is software that can identify a person by their gait. Imagine – a database of millions of silly walks, each with a recognisable owner. In which case I wonder which version of my walk is captured on some spook-driven CCTV: my shopping walk – focused and purposeful – or my limping shuffle after 36 holes of golf. Perhaps this is one of the nifty little tools the software giant Autonomy have up their sleeves. No wonder HP bought them.
The team used this wonderful application to identify an assassin, who gets his comeuppance after he infiltrates a reception at which the ex-KGB minister is the guest of honour. But who commissioned the hit? The Chechens, or even the sour-faced CIA man who comes to London to warn Harry of Uncle Sam’s displeasure at the UK cozying up to Russia? And what will happen to the FSB man assigned to the Russian security team who happens to be the son of the minister and his traitorous wife, and knows her dark secret? Next on the hit list? Perhaps not, because at the end of the episode he is revealed to be Harry’s son, the result of his affair with the minister’s wife.
No wonder this is the last series. Spooks without Harry Pearce would be like the six wives without Henry VIII, and Harry – already compromised in the eyes of his superiors because if his herniated relationship with Ruth – is surely on the downward trajectory towards discreet retirement or a grisly end.
Yes, it will be sad to see the end of Spooks. The last word comes from Peter Firth, who plays Harry Pearce. In my last post I marvelled at how the BBC managed to assemble such a talented team of actors for their 1979 serialisation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. In an interview published on Saturday, Firth was asked if he had managed a pay rise for his Spooks contract. He replied “if you start getting shirty and saying “I would like to be recompensed in a higher way”, they’ve got a brilliant out on Spooks – it’s one of the great successes of the show: it kills its heroes”.
Now there’s an idea for George Osborne, the British finance minister, as he struggles to cut the cost of Britain’s bloated civil service.