Watching a 70s drama about Philby, Burgess & Maclean the other night (in which Derek Jacobi got Richard Hurndall and Arthur Lowe all cross), the Dr asked why spies so appealed.
The things the spies did and reported on led to the deaths of thousands – and they colluded willingly. (This led to a discussion of party politics, team games and all this current rubbish, my thoughts on which I’ll write up once I’ve prised “Interesting Times” from her paws.) She also decried what ruthless, vicious bastards spies are.
I concede she does rather have a point.
So what appeals? The charm and sex appeal of the style begun by Bond does lend the bastards some humanity, and a lot of what I like is the tension caused by the wretched ruthlessness of the job. Then there’s the tedious wish-fulfilment bullshit of one man who can make a real difference.
Spies are also clever protagonists, relying on wits and skill. They face constant danger in the field, battling against all the odds. Though they may have support and resources back home, they’re very much on their own. They face terrible, unforgiving brutality should they get things a bit wrong. As a result, they immediately make a plot into a thriller.
One of the great appeals of Casino Royale when I read it all those years ago was Bond getting things a bit wrong. Am hoping the new film (full trailer now here) will include his penance-by-tennis-racket.
See also: Millennium Dome on DangerMouse.