Trova il tuo prossimo libro preferito

Abbonati oggi e leggi gratis per 30 giorni
Paranoid visions: Spies, conspiracies and the secret state in British television drama

Paranoid visions: Spies, conspiracies and the secret state in British television drama

Leggi anteprima

Paranoid visions: Spies, conspiracies and the secret state in British television drama

353 pagine
2 ore
Jun 30, 2017


Paranoid visions explores the history of the spy and conspiracy genres on British television, from 1960s Cold War series through 1980s conspiracy dramas to contemporary ‘war on terror’ thrillers. It analyses classic dramas including Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Edge of Darkness, A Very British Coup and Spooks. This book will be an invaluable resource for television scholars interested in a new perspective on the history of television drama and intelligence scholars seeking an analysis of the popular representation of espionage with a strong political focus, as well as fans of cult British television and general readers interested in British cultural history.
Jun 30, 2017

Informazioni sull'autore

Joseph Oldham is Associate Fellow in Film and Television Studies at the University of Warwick

Correlato a Paranoid visions

Libri correlati
Articoli correlati

Anteprima del libro

Paranoid visions - Joseph Oldham

Paranoid visions

Paranoid visions

Spies, conspiracies and the secret state in British television drama

Joseph Oldham

Manchester University Press

Copyright © Joseph Oldham 2017

The right of Joseph Oldham to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Published by Manchester University Press

Altrincham Street, Manchester M1 7JA

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data applied for

ISBN 978 1 7849 9415 0 hardback

First published 2017

The publisher has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for any external or third-party internet websites referred to in this book, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

Typeset by

Servis Filmsetting Ltd, Stockport, Cheshire


List of figures


List of abbreviations


1  ‘A balance of terror’: Callan (ITV, 1967–72) as an existential thriller for television

2  ‘A professional’s contest’: procedure and bureaucracy in Special Branch (ITV, 1969–74) and The Sandbaggers (ITV, 1978–80)

3  ‘Who killed Great Britain?’: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (BBC 2, 1979) as a modern classic serial

4  Conspiracy as a crisis of procedure in Bird of Prey (BBC 1, 1982) and Edge of Darkness (BBC 2, 1985)

5  Death of a master narrative: the battle for consensus in A Very British Coup (Channel 4, 1988)

6  The precinct is political: espionage as a public service in Spooks (BBC 1, 2002–11)




List of figures

1.1  Callan (ITV, 1967–72), 1.1 ‘The Good Ones Are All Dead’ (8 July 1967), dir. Tony Robertson. David Callan (Edward Woodward) refuses to look Hunter (Ronald Radd) in the face as he receives his mission briefing.

1.2  Callan, 1.1 ‘The Good Ones Are All Dead’. Callan delivers two thoughtful asides on the left-hand side of the set; a gun plays a crucial role in both.

1.3  Callan, 1.1 ‘The Good Ones Are All Dead’. Hunter confronts Callan with his Red File in the centre of the set.

1.4  Callan, 1.1 ‘The Good Ones Are All Dead’. Callan reasserts his power in the space by leaning in threateningly towards Hunter.

1.5  Callan, 2.15 ‘Death of a Hunter’ (16 April 1969), prod. & dir. Reginald Collin. Callan kills Hunter #3 (Derek Bond) and is then shot by Toby Meres (Anthony Valentine) in the ground-breaking cliff-hanger at the end of the second series.

2.1  Special Branch (ITV, 1969–74), 3.6 ‘Red Herring’ (9 May 1973), dir. Mike Vardy. Radical anarchists wait in a gritty post-industrial landscape typical of the series.

2.2  Special Branch, 3.6 ‘Red Herring’. The Branch supervise the defusing of a car bomb in an ordinary suburban street.

2.3  Special Branch, 3.12 ‘Hostage’ (27 June 1973), dir. David Wickes. The Branch battle Black October in the evocative setting of an abandoned warehouse.

2.4  The Sandbaggers (ITV, 1978–80), prod. Michael Ferguson. A drama of intrigue in enclosed office spaces.

2.5  The Sandbaggers. SIS Director of Operations Neil Burnside (Roy Marsden) in conference with his superiors ‘C’ (Richard Vernon) and Deputy Director Matthew Peele (Jerome Willis).

2.6  The Sandbaggers, 1.2 ‘A Proper Function of Government’ (25 September 1978), prod. & dir. Michael Ferguson. A tense confrontation between Burnside and Sir Geoffrey Wellingham (Alan MacNaughtan).

3.1  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (BBC 2, 1979), Part Three (24 September 1979), prod. Jonathan Powell, dir. John Irvin. George Smiley (Alec Guinness) talks to his old colleague Connie Sachs (Beryl Reid).

3.2  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Part One (10 September 1979). The meeting of the Circus’ top personnel which opens the serial.

3.3  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Part One. Control’s suspect chart, presented at an early point in the serial, provides a visual motif for the whodunit narrative structure.

3.4  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Part Two (17 September 1979). Smiley and Oliver Lacon (Anthony Bate) converse amidst the autumn scenery of Lacon’s garden.

3.5  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Part One. The gentleman’s club in which Smiley dines with Roddy Martindale (Nigel Stock).

4.1  Bird of Prey (BBC 1, 1982), prod. Michael Wearing, dir. Michael Rolfe. The unlikely protagonist Henry Jay (Richard Griffiths), an unassuming civil servant.

4.2  Bird of Prey. Jay is characterised by his aptitude with the latest computing technology.

4.3  Bird of Prey 2 (BBC 1, 1984), episode 3 ‘Ducks in a Row’ (20 September 1984), prod. Bernard Krichefski, dir. Don Leaver. Jay’s flight from an assassin through a modern housing estate is intercut with metaphorical computer imagery in an innovative use of videographic techniques.

4.4  Edge of Darkness (BBC 2, 1985), prod. Michael Wearing, dir. Martin Campbell. Examples of the film noir-style high-contrast lighting deployed by the serial.

5.1  A Very British Coup (Channel 4, 1988), episode 1 (19 June 1988), prod. Sally Hibbin & Ann Skinner, dir. Mick Jackson. Socialist Labour leader Harry Perkins (Ray McAnally) gives a victory speech upon winning the 1991 General Election.

5.2  A Very British Coup, episode 3 (3 July 1988). Perkins faces intelligence chief Sir Percy Browne (Alan MacNaughtan) in the final version of the ‘High Noon encounter’.

5.3  A Very British Coup, episode 1. The elevated view over the Houses of Parliament from the office of press baron George Fison (Philip Madoc).

5.4  A Very British Coup, episode 2 (26 June 1988). The diagram drawn by Fred Thompson (Keith Allen) showing how the conspirators are connected.

5.5  A Very British Coup, episode 1. Perkins first encounters the staff of 10 Downing Street.

5.6  A Very British Coup. The BBC reports on Perkins’ government, the serial providing views both inside the studio and behind-the-scenes in the control room.

5.7  A Very British Coup. Perkins is interrogated by the media in two press conference scenes.

5.8  A Very British Coup. Newspapers, usually displaying headlines hostile to Perkins, are prominently displayed in the mise-en-scène of many sequences.

5.9  A Very British Coup, episode 3. Perkins exposes the conspiracy and calls a General Election at the climax of the serial.

6.1  Spooks (BBC 1, 2002–11), prod. Simon Crawford Collins. A typical establishing shot of Thames House as used throughout the series.

6.2  Spooks. The Grid, the programme’s stylish open-plan precinct space, as it appears in the first series (2002).

6.3  Spooks, 1.6 ‘Lesser of Two Evils’ (17 June 2002), dir. Andy Wilson. Head of Section D Harry Pearce (Peter Firth) stands next to the MI5 crest.

6.4  Spooks, 1.5 ‘The Rose Bed Memoirs’ (10 June 2002), dir. Andy Wilson. Zoe Reynolds (Keeley Hawes) and Danny Hunter (David Oyelowo) at home in their shared flat.

6.5  Spooks, 1.1 ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ (13 May 2002), dir. Bharat Nalluri. The first use of the series’ distinctive split-screen graphics as Tom Quinn (Matthew Macfadyen) and Zoe enter the Grid.

6.6  Spooks, 1.1. ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’. A more extensive use of split-screen as MI5 officers tail a terrorist suspect.

6.7  Spooks. The central characters discuss their response to a crisis in the Grid’s meeting room.


Many people have played a part in aiding the long development of this research project, and to all of them I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude. In particular, this book could not have been completed without the help of many members of the University of Warwick’s Department of Film and Television Studies. I am especially grateful to Charlotte Brunsdon whose encouragement, insightful advice and sharp judgement were indispensable throughout, as well as to Helen Wheatley whose feedback and advice were also hugely important for the shape that it ultimately took. My thanks also go to Tracey McVey, Anne Birchall, Heather Hares and Richard Perkins for all of their support over the years.

I am indebted to colleagues and friends in the department’s postgraduate and early career researcher community who have given me invaluable intellectual support and a sense of community over the years: Hannah Andrews, Paul Cuff, Matthew Denny, Gregory Frame, Adam Gallimore, Ivan Girina, Claire Jesson, Nike Jung, Catherine Lester, Derilene Marco, Celia Nicholls, Barbara Ottmann, Santiago Oyarzabal, Michael Pigott, Patrick Pilkington, Nicolas Pillai, Anna Reynolds Cooper, Isabel Rhodes, Zoë Shacklock, E. Charlotte Stevens, James Taylor, Lauren Jade Thompson, Richard Wallace, Marta Wasik, Owen Weetch and Josette Wolthuis. I am also grateful to the members of the Midlands Television Research Group for providing a stimulating community for discussing television research during the timeframe of this project.

My sincere thanks go to Jonathan Powell for kindly taking time to share his recollections of working in British television in the 1970s and 1980s, helping me to gain an invaluable new perspective on the internal cultures of drama production during this time. The staff at both the BBC Written Archives Centre and the BFI Special Collections were also hugely helpful in my research enquiries, and for this I am very grateful. I am further indebted to Lez Cooke for his comments and feedback, to Andrew Pixley and Ian Greaves for aiding me in exploring some of the dustier corners of British television history, and to Christopher Moran for advising me on my explorations in the field of Intelligence Studies, thereby helping to open up a fascinating new dimension for my research. Thanks are also due to my co-organiser Toby Manning and all of the participants of our international conference ‘Spying on Spies: Popular Representations of Spies and Espionage’ (3–5 September 2015, The Shard, London), through which I discovered a global community of researchers on the spy thriller and was able to gain a much wider perspective on the genre than I could have imagined when starting out.

For three years my research was fully funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which I gratefully acknowledge, along with the subsequent Early Career Fellowship from Warwick’s Institute of Advanced Study that supported the further development of this project for another ten months. Without this generous assistance, this research would not have been possible. Thanks are also due to the team at Manchester University Press for their insight and guidance in developing the project into book form.

I would also like to thank two friends who have kindly shared their constructive feedback on chapter drafts; Ruth Pearce, who as my housemate through much of the book’s development period has also been a constant source of support, and Andrew Rimmer, with whom I collaborated on a conspiracy thriller submitted to (and rejected by) the BBC in 2005, leading me to ponder whether we might be a tiny footnote in this history. I am also grateful to many other friends and musicians who have been such kind and supportive company over the years including Alexander Eley, Freja Sohn Frøkjær-Jensen, Daniel William Kerr, Jane Klyne, Zoë Kristensen, Kirsty Lohman, James Powell, Claire Sheridan, Helen Thomas and Tori Truslow.

Finally, my enormous thanks to my parents Robin and David Oldham, firstly for letting me spend far too much time on university campuses from an early age and instilling within me a fascination with this mysterious academic world, and later for all of their support and encouragement in my own academic endeavours.

Chapter 3 provides an expansion of arguments previously advanced in the author’s published article ‘Disappointed Romantics: Troubled Heritage in the BBC’s John le Carré Adaptations’, Journal of British Cinema and Television 10:4 (October 2013), pp. 727–745.

List of abbreviations


At the conclusion of John le Carré’s novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974), the charismatic traitor at the heart of British intelligence articulates one of the key themes of le Carré’s work, declaring his belief that ‘secret services were the only real measure of a nation’s political health, the only real expression of its subconscious’.¹ When five years later the novel was adapted for television by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), this metaphor would acquire an additional layer. Asked by director John Irvin how the interior spaces of the intelligence service should be depicted on-screen, le Carré was said to have replied that ‘the dusty offices, the corridors, the elderly office furniture and even the anxiously cranking lifts of MI5 felt like, looked like and had some of the same kinds of people – as the BBC.’²

In fact, this point of comparison was neither unique nor historically specific. Twenty-three years later writer David Wolstencroft was devising the format for a new original BBC spy series which depicted the activities of a counter-terror section within the British Security Service (MI5). In a later Radio Times interview he admitted to the impossibility of gaining access to the real MI5 as part of his research for Spooks (BBC 1, 2002–11), but noted that ‘having been in the BBC quite a lot, I wondered whether it wasn’t quite a good model.’³ Yet the BBC of the 2000s that Wolstencroft used as his inspiration was a very different place to that described by le Carré in the late 1970s. So too, for that matter, was the intelligence world that both programmes presented as their subject.

Although both anecdotes are clearly presented with a degree of humour, this comparison is more revealing than it might first appear. In the very broadest sense the worlds of intelligence and public service broadcasting are both part of the UK’s utility infrastructure, a key part of their function being to gather information and ideas from the nation and from overseas. Both, however, deploy this information for almost entirely opposing purposes. The intelligence services are tasked with supplying intelligence to their customers in other parts of the state apparatus, an interaction most commonly without a public dimension. Indeed, throughout most of the period covered by this book, they were officially unavowed by the British government, operating without statute or external regulation until the end of the Cold War, although by then their existence had long been an open secret.

The BBC, by contrast, is fundamentally oriented towards the dissemination of information and ideas to an external public, having been established under its founding Director-General John Reith with a remit to create a responsible, informed and educated citizenry. As Paddy Scannell writes, the arrival of British broadcasting in its original public service model brought into being ‘a culture in common to whole populations and a shared public life of a quite new kind’.⁴ In providing an unprecedentedly equal access to the wide spectrum of public life, it fundamentally enhanced British democracy. A view that this public institution was (or should be) a social microcosm of the entire country was therefore not merely a literary device or matter for interpretation but in fact a central tenet of its mission and self-identity.

This book provides a history of the spy genre in British television drama, alongside its cousin the conspiracy genre which also often focuses upon the world of intelligence but typically from an external and more critical perspective. The analysis is framed by the notion that the on-screen depiction of intelligence services in such programmes can be interpreted, to varying extents, as providing metaphors for the broadcasting institutions that create them. As such, it provides parallel and intersecting case studies through which it is possible to trace the changing roles of such large public institutions in British politics and society over the latter half of the twentieth century.

The history of intelligence in Britain is arguably irreducible from its representation in popular media. The earliest generation of spy novels by authors such as William le Queux and E. Phillips Oppenheim grew out of paranoia about national security and imperial resilience in the run-up to the First World War, and had stoked popular paranoia about German espionage to such an extent that they helped to inspire the creation of the Secret Service Bureau, the foundational organisation of British intelligence.⁵ Later administrative changes brought about by the First World War saw the development of two major sections specialising in humint (human intelligence) that would endure through the twentieth century and beyond. The Security Service (MI5), responsible to the Home Office, was charged with domestic counter-espionage intelligence with a remit to cover only British territory, whilst the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, or more popularly MI6), responsible to the Foreign Office, was charged with supplying the British government with intelligence from overseas.

The spy thriller would also develop during the war in the hands of writers such as John Buchan, forging one of the most ostensibly political of popular genres, described by Michael Denning as providing ‘cover stories’ which translated ‘the political and cultural transformations of the twentieth century into the intrigues of a shadow world of secret agents’.⁶ Although the fictional genre’s relationship to real intelligence activity would often be subject to criticism over the years, it nonetheless provides a point of interest to intelligence scholars through, as Wesley K. Wark writes, providing ‘a guide not to how things are, but to how things are perceived to happen’.⁷

The following decade saw the emergence of the BBC, initially as a radio broadcaster. Despite it originating during peacetime, the early interwar period was still a time when the government continued to accept an interventionist role. Thus, influenced by the massive centralisation of resources in the First World War, the BBC was established as a public corporation, its Royal Charter enshrining political independence from the government and a duty to political balance, founded as Jean Seaton writes ‘on a rejection of politics’.⁸ A limited television service commenced in 1936; however, it was the role of its radio broadcasts during the Second World War, by which time 75% of the British population possessed a radio set, which cemented the BBC’s position in the national psyche.

Intelligence and broadcasting would both expand in the post-war period. Richard J. Aldrich describes how ‘a revolution in the nature of secret service, especially intelligence-collection, beginning with the outbreak of the Second World War, accelerated over the next half-century. The end result was intelligence and security organisms on an unimaginable scale.’⁹ This came in response to the onset of the Cold War against Soviet Communism, a state of prolonged geopolitical tension which dominated the latter half of the twentieth century in which, as Peter Hennessy writes, ‘intelligence was the surrogate for hot war’.¹⁰ In parallel, television rapidly established itself as the mass medium of choice for the increasingly affluent post-war society. In 1955 the BBC gained a commercial rival in Independent Television (ITV), funded according to the advertising model established in American television, yet still enshrined with a public service remit enforced through regulation to address fears of trivilialisation. This established a duopoly which would endure for the next 27 years.

The 1950s also saw a popular re-emergence of the spy novel. At the forefront of this was a series of novels by Ian Fleming featuring the glamorous super-spy James Bond, beginning with Casino Royale (1953). Responding to the mass professionalisation of society in the Second World War, these reworked the protagonist from the gentlemanly amateur of early twentieth-century spy thrillers to a licensed professional agent, and therefore stand as a crucial moment at which the secret state emerged as a popular topic for fiction. The Bond novels initially only achieved modest sales in their original hardback editions; however, they were dramatically propelled to huge commercial success with the publication of paperback editions by Pan later in the decade. Like the television medium, they can therefore be situated with the emergence of the post-war mass culture, as affordable popular media circulated more readily amongst middle- and working-class audiences. With Bond demonstrating an ostentatiously consumerist streak (albeit countered by a reassuring conservatism in attitudes to empire, patriotism, race and gender), both Bond himself and the secret agent more broadly became heroes for the affluent society.¹¹ Whilst this may, in many regards, seem a peculiar response to the paranoid landscape of the nuclear stand-off, ultimately this was simply a reworking of the spy thriller’s established strategy of, as Michael Denning describes, using the spy to link ‘the actions of an individual – often an ordinary person – and the world historical fate of nations and empires’. Through this, ‘the secret agent returns human agency to a world which seems less and less the product of human action.’¹² This was the fantasy at the heart of the genre’s most heroic incarnations.

As the popularity of Bond grew, on several occasions Fleming entered into negotiations with US networks for a television series based on Bond or similar characters, evidently recognising the potential of the television medium (and particularly the commercial television series) for such heroic spy narratives.¹³ However, it would be Britain’s ITV who would pioneer the television spy series from the turn of the 1960s, having already given US-style action-adventure series a British twist in the form of costume swashbucklers such as The Adventures of Robin Hood (ITV, 1955–59). Thus the commercial broadcaster traded off the genre’s strongly British roots with a myriad of espionage-themed action series over the new decade. These were a key part of the new populist strain that ITV brought to British television, and many would achieve international popularity including sales to US networks. Some harkened back to the gentleman amateur tradition, particularly those derived from pre-war literary sources including The Saint (ITV, 1962–69) and The Baron (ITV, 1965–66), whilst others including Danger Man (ITV, 1960–68) and The Avengers (ITV, 1961–69) featured professional agents closer to the Fleming tradition. Indeed, it is the somewhat ambivalent relationship that these programmes have with professional espionage that leads James Chapman instead to argue for the alternative term ‘adventure series’ in order to prioritise the central ‘emphasis on action and suspense’.¹⁴

Despite being one of the best-known incarnations of the spy genre on British television, it may disappoint some readers that this book gives only passing attention to these 1960s adventure series. This is partly due to their highly exceptional status within British broadcasting history, produced more according to the institutional model of American television, as briefly explored in Chapter 1. It is also due to the fact that these have already been analysed by an extensive body of literature, most notably Chapman’s expansive study of the cycle, Saints and Avengers: British Adventure Series of the 1960s, as well as Toby Miller’s short monograph on The Avengers and key chapters of David Buxton’s From The Avengers to Miami Vice and Miller’s Spyscreen: Espionage on Film and TV from the 1930s to the 1960s.¹⁵ Such studies typically consider the programmes in question as products of the popular culture and social changes of the 1960s, although Buxton further situates them within the broader development of action-adventure series on either side of the Atlantic.

This book, by contrast, provides a full diachronic account of the spy and conspiracy genres across British television from the 1960s to the 2000s. In exploring the long-term evolution of a genre, it mirrors analyses of the evolution of the spy novel by writers such as Denning, John G. Cawelti, Bruce A. Rosenberg and Allan Hepburn,¹⁶ as well as studies of the development of the James Bond phenomenon across different media by scholars such as Chapman, Tony Bennett and Janet Woollacott.¹⁷ It is also designed to complement more general diachronic histories of British television drama, most notably Lez Cooke’s expansive account,¹⁸ using this generic case study to providing a fresh perspective on the institutional and

Hai raggiunto la fine di questa anteprima. Registrati per continuare a leggere!
Pagina 1 di 1


Cosa pensano gli utenti di Paranoid visions

0 valutazioni / 0 Recensioni
Cosa ne pensi?
Valutazione: 0 su 5 stelle

Recensioni dei lettori