So you think you want to be a Spy? You might want to re-think that….

While I’m probably the biggest fan there is of the BBC series, Spooks (or, MI5 in the States), if push ever came to shove, I’m not sure I would actually want take Harry Pierce’s place at any point of time. While Harry seemed to survive the full complement of 10 series of Spooks, there definitely was a limited life span for the Tom Quinn’s, Adam Carter’s and Lucas North’s of the espionage world.

On paper, being a spy looks like a great idea. But with the current BBC series, London Spy, starring an absolutely brilliant cast headed by Ben Whishaw, Mark Gatiss, Charlotte Rampling, Adrian Lester and Jim Broadbent, you quickly see that the world of espionage is not all traveling the world staying in fancy hotels and driving killer cars.

Ben Shishaw in London Spy

If your still considering a life where you possess multiple passports, can never tell anyone you know the truth and always have to wonder if the person your talking to is also a spy, then the 2004 series, Spy, is for you. For my money, it had to be one of the best ‘reality’ series ever. Actually, calling it a reality series in this day and age of American Idol, The Bachelor, Survivors, etc., is doing it a gross injustice. Spy, which was produced by Wall to Wall in the UK, was addictive, gripping, tense telly and well worth the time spent viewing.


The series followed a group of real-life volunteers as they are trained by former spies in espionage techniques, including maintaining a false identity, surveillance, persuasion and recruitment. Over 5,000 candidates from across the United Kingdom applied to be on the series, which was broadcast on BBC3 in 2004 and several years later on public television in America.

The candidates were narrowed down to a pool of eight recruits before the start of the show. The three experts, called their “tutors”, who devised the training missions, trained the recruits, and evaluated their performance were Mike Baker, a former CIA field operations officer, Sandy Williams, a former Intelligence Officer, and Harry Ferguson, formerly of MI6.

As you can see, right from the start, the show sought to see if anyone had what it took to be a spy. Stripped of their old identities, the raw recruits meet for the first time in London on day one. They receive their first briefing from their ‘tutors.’ With no time to unpack, they are sent on their first mission: a real test used by Mossad, the Israeli Secret Service. They are given just 10 minutes to talk their way into a stranger’s flat and be seen by their trainers drinking a glass of water on the balcony.

After only 24 hours on the course, the recruits must learn a vital lesson: every spy can break under pressure. Without warning they are abducted from their safe-houses in the middle of the night and interrogated by intelligence professionals. They must stick to their cover names and avoid giving away any details about their real lives.

As the show progressed, recruits who failed to demonstrate sufficient potential as agents were unceremoniously dismissed from the competition or, if you need a present day reality series reference, voted off the island.

The remainder of the 10-part series would go on to teach the art of ‘going grey’, the ruthless art of ‘cultivation’, the art of betrayal and the all-important art of observation and surveillance.

Spy is reality definitely worth checking out now matter what your career path is.



In: Drama