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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.

Abstract only
Joseph Oldham

, it increasingly came to invest in a national space shown to be under attack from the existential threat of terrorism. Later, The Sandbaggers (ITV, 1978–80) adapted the spy series into a tense office drama, exploring the bureaucratic battles underpinning espionage work and demystifying these structures of power. Conclusion 197 Through productions such as these, the British television spy series over much of its first two decades was primarily associated with ITV, but from the turn of the 1980s the BBC progressively began to seize the initiative in this terrain

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

6 The precinct is political: espionage as a public service in Spooks (BBC 1, 2002–11) Although the 1990s proved something of a moribund period for the British television spy series, following the turn of the ­mil­lennium the BBC would experience great success with Spooks (BBC 1, 2002–11), an ongoing espionage-themed drama developed as a new flagship programme for its majority interest channel BBC 1. This series centred on the officers of Section D, a fictional counter-terror unit situated within the real British Security Service (MI5). Spooks made its debut in

in Paranoid visions
Callan (ITV, 1967–72) as an existential thriller for television
Joseph Oldham

, instead focusing firmly on social problems and inequalities. Thus, although the introduction of ITV marked a key turning point for British television in terms of both genre programming and class representation, prior histories of British television drama have generally characterised these two sites of innovation as essentially unconnected. This chapter, however, will trace how these two areas later converged into the cynical, anti-heroic spy series Callan (ITV, 1967–72). This reworked the existential spy thriller tradition associated with novelists such as John le Carré

in Paranoid visions
Procedure and bureaucracy in Special Branch (ITV, 1969–74) and The Sandbaggers (ITV, 1978–80)
Joseph Oldham

). Instead most of its episodes focus on Cold War intrigue in a manner not so dissimilar from Callan, this being perhaps the optimum source of drama for a series focused on national security whilst largely confined to studio sets. Yet the effect of placing police officers as the central characters in a programme which otherwise largely functions as a spy series creates some interesting generic variations. The focus is much more strongly on procedure, deduction and teamwork, with the officers as simple professionals lacking either the glamour of adventure series

in Paranoid visions
Abstract only
Joseph Oldham

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 Paranoid visions
Abstract only
Lez Cooke

reputation for original, innovative programming. While the company produced its fair share of low-cost popular drama for the network, especially in the early days of ITV, it gradually developed a reputation for distinctive ‘quality’ drama, both in its single plays produced for networked series such as Television Playhouse and Play of the Week and in its innovative anthology series, such as City ’68, Country Matters and Red Letter Day, as well as with its original drama series and serials, from Coronation Street to the spy series The XYY Man and the Northern police drama

in A sense of place
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (BBC 2, 1979) as a modern classic serial
Joseph Oldham

John le Carré’s novel Tinker Tailor Soldier 74 Paranoid visions Spy (1974). Whilst the existential thriller tradition associated with le Carré had provided a loose inspiration for some earlier spy series including Callan and The Sandbaggers (ITV, 1978–80), the strategy of directly adapting a novel by arguably the most acclaimed living spy author of the time marked this as far more of an ‘event’ production. Indeed, as this chapter will explore, the BBC’s approach to this adaptation was not in fact framed primarily in terms of genre, but instead within one of the

in Paranoid visions
The Patrice Lumumba Peoples’ Friendship University
Rachel Lee Rubin

USSR. But the overall priority of his book is to attack Obama with as many historical strategies as possible, and Lumumba University serves this purpose well. Fear of Lumumba University found its way into tourist guides. It found its way into cartoons. And it found its way into television shows. A very illustrative clip is found in ‘The Gladiators’, an episode of The New Avengers , a British spy series from 1976–77, in which the main characters discuss their fear of a Russian: John Steed

in The Red and the Black
Joseph Oldham

4 Conspiracy as a crisis of procedure in Bird of Prey (BBC 1, 1982) and Edge of Darkness (BBC 2, 1985) At the turn of the 1980s an episode of The Sandbaggers, 2.5 ‘It Couldn’t Happen Here’ (15 February 1980), centred on an unusual topic for a British spy series, that of political assassination in the USA. Following the killing of a prominent left-wing senator, the Head of the CIA’s London Office Jeff Ross (Bob Sherman) is shown expounding his theory to Neil Burnside that the FBI was responsible, not only for this but also for the assassination of progressive

in Paranoid visions