Peter Firth, who played the fictional head of MI5’s counter-terrorism department for nine years in BBC1 drama Spooks, is to play the real-life former head of MI6 Richard Dearlove in a Radio 4 drama — the first time Firth has worked on radio.
Firth stars alongside Richard E Grant and Anton Lesser in The Iraq Dossier, which tells the story of government scientist Dr Brian Jones’s attempt to curb exaggeration and inaccuracy in a dossier on weapons of mass destruction that was used to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
According to the play’s writer, David Morley, Firth felt he needed to ease himself into working in radio. “When Dirk [Maggs], the director, got talking to them about working with the microphone, Peter said: ‘This is my first radio – you’ll have to take it gently with me.'”
That’s not to say that Firth was at all unsure of himself and his role – in fact Morley knew that Firth’s work on Spooks would help him bring the requisite authority to the role of Dearlove. But he also altered the writer’s vision of what life was like within the confines of the Whitehall intelligence community.
“From talking to Brian and various other people,” Morley told Radio Times, “my picture of it hadn’t been this high-tech place. I wanted get more of a sense of the bureaucracy and rather stuffy and slow-moving pace of those Whitehall institutions. So I’d written scenes where people were drinking tea and talking about having a Hobnob.”
However, Firth’s experience on Spooks allowed him to paint a fuller picture: “Peter came in and said, no, we were all taken round the fourth floor of MI5 and it is exactly as you see it in Spooks. It’s all really hi-tech equipment and they’re monitoring every phone call that people that they’re watching make. They can monitor everything in the same way as they do on those rather glamorous TV shows like 24 and Spooks. It is actually as it is portrayed.”
The Iraq Dossier airs on Radio 4 on 2 March at 2.30pm