I should say that watching Spooks from Australia makes me miss London. Spooks will give you a slightly misleading view of London. In Spooks, it never rains, the Northern Line is always working, it is possible to cross the city and diffuse a bomb in 8 minutes, the A&E wards are never overcrowded and budget cuts only seem to affect people like Harry Pearce who are trying to keep us safe for less, not real people lining up at, you know, places like real law centres that are closing down. But Spooks is thrilling and entertaining – I love it and its London.
In Spooks’ London, very pretty men dressed like G Star Raw models are constantly running through its perpetually sunny streets. They never seem to sweat heavily into their perfectly tailored clothing, no matter how close London is to total annihilation (again), and no one ever uses an inhaler after such exertions. Not that there is anything wrong with needing an inhaler after you save the world. Husband frequently needs one and he makes it look sexy.
In Spooks’ London, small but supernaturally strong, icy blonde women, also dressed immaculately in G Star Raw, say things like, “Don’t move or I will kill you with this biro.” The closest I get to that is thinking “I am going to kill that child” when I see Tercero’s handiwork with a biro, or more likely (as we are still living with my parents) “My mother is going to kill me when she sees Tercero’s handiwork with a biro….”
These same women can drive Lexus SUVs at high speeds, forwards and backwards, and the pressure of being observed by the FSB never seems to faze them when they are reverse parallel parking. The pressure of being watched by the latte loving mummies of Red Hill is enough to make me arrive at school 15 minutes earlier than every one else so I can park (and repark) before they arrive.
When I lived in London, Spooks fed my over-imaginative paranoia. I am the passenger on the plane who always reads the Safety on Board booklet. When the flight attendant says “Please note the emergency exits” I note the emergency exits. I am the parent who says things like, “Husband, if we crash, you take odds, I’ll take evens” (Yes, we organise and allocate our children in a variety of ways, for example by: numbers, odds/evens, prime numbers, gender, vomiters/non vomiters, whingers/criers etc).
After one particularly moving episode of Spooks, in which my brother-in-law (an actor of great international renown in family circles), played an A-Q informant and died dramatically in Liverpool Street station, I found myself approaching the station every day on my way to work with heightened suspicion, racially profiling every one from the Asians to the eastern Europeans to my own reflection. If you look at me for long enough, I think you’ll agree I look like Indian Intelligence, perhaps even Special Forces.
When I was a girl I wanted to be a spy. My mother bought me a little spy kit and armed with baby powder and a roll of sticky tape I would dust down a room for prints. I tried the credit card in the door thing and it only works in the movies. When I lived in London, watching Spooks made me look at CCTV cameras in a completely different way, and ponder the emotional baggage and short life spans of our secret services. If I was Ros, I’d probably have issues too. It also made me put civil liberties organisations such as Liberty and Reprieve in the family address book, under ICEVCR for “In Case of Emergency and Violation of Constitutional Rights.”
Regular watchers of Spooks didn’t need Wikileaks to tell them that Russia is controlled by corrupt oligarchs, the US still clings to its hegemony using under-handed and heavy-handed means, China will be the top dog in the new world order and super-spies look awesome in tight black clothing. Harry Pearce was on top of all of that by Season 3.
Now that I live in Australia and still miss London, a dear friend sends me new episodes of Spooks that she records for me. They keep me thrilled and entertained. And although my life in Primrose Hill could not have been further from Spooks, I have never used a biro as a bayonet, when I watch those pretty boys run through the streets of one of the world’s most beautiful cities, I long for its perpetually sun-kissed streets and I think “Thank God for Harry Pearce”. When it’s over, I make myself watch the BBC World Weather, I think about George Alagaiah in his thermals and snow boots, and I remind myself that you shouldn’t believe everything you see on TV.