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Spies, conspiracies and the secret state in British television drama
Author: Joseph Oldham

This book 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. The analysis is framed by the notion that the on-screen depiction of intelligence services in such programmes can be interpreted as providing metaphors for broadcasting institutions. Initially, the book is primarily focused on espionage-themed programmes produced by regional franchise-holders for ITV in late 1960s and 1970s. Subsequently, it considers spy series to explore how many standard generic conventions were innovated and popularised. The relatively economical productions such as Bird of Prey demonstrated a more sophisticated treatment of genre conventions, articulated through narratives showing the collapse of standard procedure. Channel 4 was Britain's third and final broadcaster to be enshrined with a public service remit. As the most iconic version of the television spy drama in the 1960s, the ITC adventure series, along with ABC's The Avengers, fully embraced the formulaic and Fordist tendencies of episodic series in the US network era. However, Callan, a more modestly resourced series aimed more towards a domestic audience, incorporated elements of deeper psychological drama, class tension and influence from the existential spy thrillers. The book is 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.

The battle for consensus in A Very British Coup (Channel 4, 1988)
Joseph Oldham

5 Death of a master narrative: the battle for consensus in A Very British Coup (Channel 4, 1988) The 1980s had seen the development of a new kind of serialised conspiracy drama demonstrating great anxiety over the growing hegemony of Thatcherite politics. In the final years of the decade, however, a new conspiracy drama would take a somewhat different approach, beginning instead with the apparent defeat of Thatcherism. A Very British Coup (Channel 4, 1988) opens with the coming to power of a radical socialist Labour government in an imagined General Election of

in Paranoid visions
Joseph Oldham

, but finds his superiors unwilling to take action officially. In an ironic twist characteristic of writer Ian Mackintosh, Burnside ultimately finds himself ordering an assassination, the episode openly highlighting the disturbing potential of ‘opening the door’ to America’s rampant culture of conspiracy. As it transpired, the 1980s would be dominated by a new political culture which readily lent itself to a new cycle of grounded, contemporary conspiracy dramas on British television. The 1979 election of a new Conservative government under the leadership of Margaret

in Paranoid visions
Abstract only
Joseph Oldham

how both of these concerns came to intersect with the British television spy series and its later offshoot, the conspiracy drama, examining how 8 Paranoid visions they adapted generic conventions of action and suspense in order to engage with the revelations, rumours and suspicions surrounding the increasingly ‘known’ (but no less secretive) intelligence world, whilst deploying aesthetic innovations and sometimes radical politics from the progressive realist tradition. John Corner identifies several different aspects of television which might receive differing

in Paranoid visions
Espionage as a public service in Spooks (BBC 1, 2002–11)
Joseph Oldham

dramatised instead through Special Branch’s (ITV, 1969–74) portrayal of the Metropolitan Police unit of the same. By contrast, prior depictions of MI5 had been largely confined to 1980s conspiracy dramas where it had typically been portrayed as a shadowy, malevolent force. That MI5 was now seen to offer suitable material for a 168 Paranoid visions precinct drama, a strand of programming centred on a familiar and accessible workplace family, is indicative of the service’s changing public profile following the openness drive of the 1990s. Indeed, by 1997 the service had

in Paranoid visions
Helen Wheatley

season, latterly becoming associated with Carter’s own brand of paranoid, government-conspiracy drama, and his earlier show, The X-Files. However, in the first season of Millennium (in which the boundaries of the serial’s initial generic identity were set), the focus was once again placed on the threatened American family, plagued by monstrous villains and guilty secrets, a focus which, it

in Gothic television