Easily my favourite genre of TV drama is the espionage thriller. First it was American spies in Homeland, then it was French ones in The Bureau and now, finally, I am catching up on Cold-War era East German spooks in the brilliant Deutschland 83. The personalities vary depending on the nationality of the agent but the spy craft is always the same. I have been watching shows like this for so many years that I regard myself as a pretty much qualified secret agent.
Admittedly, my natural personality traits wouldn’t mark me out as an obvious MI6 candidate. I mean, I’d have to work on my really loud speaking voice, rampant indiscretion and constant need for attention. But the more important stuff, like switching identical briefcases on trains, hiding coded messages inside old library books and making up awesome false identities (“Bonsoir madame! I am Everald De Boise, a diamond dealer with a club foot from Bruges”) I am totally ready for.
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In fact, should any spymasters be reading this (a lot of them do take The Big Issue, I’m told), please keep me in mind next time any freelance work comes up. I couldn’t commit to anything full time as I have this column to write, childcare to take care of and quite a busy Fifa 2021 playing schedule to keep up with. But any simple missions you’ve got going, particularly ones based in warm climates, then I’m your man.
I should say, mind you, that I am only really interested in working for liberal democracies with at least half-decent human rights records. I mean, yes, I am desperate for money and recognition but I still have my ethics. Ideally I’d do a bit of part-time spying for somewhere benign and lovely like Denmark. Do the Danes even have a spy agency? It doesn’t seem to fit with their laidback attitude to life. But I suppose they need someone to keep an eye on the Swedes in case they try to make a regional power-grab at some point.
Anyway, Deutschland 83 is about six years old now (and has spawned two follow-ups, 86 and now 89) so forgive me for being so late to the party. I have been watching other stuff. I am glad to have caught up with it now, not least because I have a perverse nostalgia for Eighties-period Cold War shenanigans. It reminds me of the exhilarating tensions that would accompany me on my way to school every day, knowing that a distant mushroom cloud on the horizon could signal the end of everything at any given moment.
Although watching Deutschland 83 reminds me that I didn’t really have any clue of just how close we ever were to Armageddon. It is fictionalised drama that is rooted in historical truth: detailing the daily misunderstandings between Washington, Moscow and Berlin that often led the world to the brink of a missile exchange that none of the parties ever really wanted.
History can be so dull when delivered by nerdy documentary hosts and academic books. But in the hands of skilled dramatists like the ones behind Deutschland 83 we are reminded of just what a thrill ride the past really was.