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Spy week comes in from the cold…

2017-04-22 11b Spy week

Paul writes: Edinburgh Spy Week is an annual event, run and hosted jointly by the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures at the University of Edinburgh, the National Library of Scotland, Filmhouse, and Blackwells, in conjunction with the Institute for Advanced Studies and the Centre for Security Research at the University. It really ought to be more visible, and I will certainly be keeping my eye on the ball for next year.

This year’s events included a season of John le Carré films at the Filmhouse, and a series of talks and events at the NLS, the University, and Blackwells. Presenters and participants included spy-novellist Aly Monroe, historian Niall Whelehan, intelligence expert Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones, author Henry Hemming, and former MI5 officer and whistleblower Annie Machon. The final session at the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures was on the 22nd of April (despite what it said on the screen – see above), when the topic for the afternoon was ‘Spies on TV’. Joseph Oldham, Associate Fellow in Film and TV Studies at the University of Warwick, took us on a tour of the changing face of TV spy drama, from Danger Man and The Avengers via Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy to The Night Manager. He even mentioned Adam Adamant – but not Callan! It was anyhow a presentation that made the audience appreciate the subtle and not-so-subtle changes that TV spy drama has undergone over the past few decades.

2017-04-22 12b Spy week Zinnie Harris

Zinnie Harris

Most enjoyable was an interview with playwright and scriptwriter Zinnie Harris, who worked on episodes of Spooks. When prompted by a short question, Zinnie launches into long answers which, notwithstanding a rapid delivery, are crystal clear. It is amazing how she can get across so cogently what the experience of writing a TV script is like, compared to creating a play from scratch, or adapting a work for the theatre.

The final hour of the afternoon was a presentation and question-and-answer session on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, with Penny Fielding, Simon Cooke, and David Sorfa from the University, joined by Joseph Oldham.

What is the future for the the genre of espionage – in literature and popular fiction, on film, and on TV? Or indeed in computer gaming, graphic novels, or any other medium? Are there any new writers out there who can think outside the box of Smiley ‘tradecraft’, Bond CGI, or the hi-tech hacking of Homeland, or use such elements to novel effect? Or is the whole genre a dead-letter-box where no one picks up the half-empty packet of Gauloises or notices the chalk mark any more? I wonder…

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