I’ve just finished watching Spies on Channel 4, which was intriguing. It’s essentially The Apprentice meets The Night Manager in which a series of contestants are put through their paces over four episodes to find out which one of them could cut it as an intelligence officer. Watching it was fascinating and oddly reassuring. I couldn’t help thinking that the fundamentals of espionage, or at least running agents, as they are depicted in this show, haven’t changed that much over the ninety years since Maxwell Knight began to learn his craft.
‘An intelligence officer is made, not born,’ as a former MI6 man reminds us at the start of each episode. Was the same true of Knight, or ‘M’?
Just as the contestants were judged on their ability to build up a rapport with potential agents, their charisma, and how well they listened, so too was he – albeit from more of a distance, and often by himself.
Also intriguing was the emphasis placed by the show’s former spies – one ex-GCHQ, one ex-MI6, another ex-MI5 – on the need for an intelligence officer to have some kind of x factor that draws people in and makes them want to work for them. The same was certainly true of M.
Another moment that struck a chord was when one former spook, possibly the ex-MI6 officer, Julian Fisher, said as an aside that espionage is about being able to wait.
Would M have passed the course?
I think so.
If you haven’t seen Spies yet, do. It’s great.
Image (c) Channel 4