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Feature: Spooks

Having a Blast

What is going on?

The first series seemed to end with a massive explosion in lead agent Tom Quinn’s house. But if you thought that was it you ain’t seen nothing yet, as the cast and crew explain…

It’s March 27th, it’s surprisingly warm and sunny, and at Pinewood Studios Thunderbirds are being constructed, Angelina Jolie has recently been dodging bullets as Lara Croft, and, most importantly, a team of MI5 spies is helping to make the world a safer place. In 2002, Spooks took the country by storm, introducing viewers to the nasty, dangerous and unpredictable lives of three spies in the service of their country: Tom Quinn (Matthew MacFadyen), Zoe Reynolds (Keeley Hawes) and Danny Hunter (David Oyelowo). “I thought it was a good show when we were making it but you can never really tell,” offers MacFadyen. “I was thrilled when the producers called me to tell me how well it had done.”

An independent production for the BBC, Spooks was created by David Wolstencroft, whose previous credit was the BAFTA-nominated Psychos for Channel 4. “I’d always been a fan of espionage in general; I’d read a lot, the whole gamut from Smiley through Bond and so on, and there really hadn’t been something in that genre for ages that’s been slightly parodic. I’d caught a couple of Sopranos, and it really debunked a myth: suddenly it was real and quite visceral and emotional and psychological. They took the myth and they did something with it. And I thought, ‘You could do that with the world of secrecy’. I always wanted to write or be involved with a show that had an ambitious scope and you could sort of go behind the headlines a bit.”

This is one of the key elements of the show: its topicality. Peter Firth, a character actor recognizable from countless TV shows and films, plays Harry Pearce, the head of this particular branch of MI5. “The power of television, it seems to me, is its ability to deal with things that are in the now,” he considers. “Because you can make a programme and have it out pretty quickly, this is very topical, the subjects we deal with. We’re having difficulty staying ahead of the news, actually, because we finish filming and go and watch the news – it’s happening. In fact, there’s quite a strong chance some of these episodes will be deemed too sensitive to show.”

Wolstencroft relates one particular tale: “The second episode of series one was about rights and immigration, and left-wing governments almost acknowledging the activities of the far-Right to taint the Right, so that if they move the Right further right, the Left can move slightly more central and bring in policies that seem conservative. So we have the ending of the episode – straight into a news broadcast about asylum rules being changed and strengthened. It was extraordinary, it couldn’t have been planned. People were saying, ‘Was that you, did you do that?’ We don’t pay Peter Sissons.” He laughs. “The last episode of Series One, which was about the attack on Sefton B, the fictitious nuclear power station, was quoted in Hansard in the House of Commons. They were debating nuclear safety and mentioned the show.”

by Paul Spragg

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Photo © BBC
Feature © Visual Imagination 2003. Not for reproduction

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Cult Times #92
May 2003
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