In a nondescript building in London – not an MI5 safe house, but the offices of a film company – an old-school thespian reflects on his salad days in the service of an institution to which he was wholly dedicated: Spooks, the BBC spy drama that ran for ten adrenaline-fuelled series.
“I’d actually become quite settled,” reflects Peter Firth, wistfully. He’d spent a decade (from 2002 to 2011) as Sir Harry Pearce, patrician chief of Section D, coolly keeping his head while all around him were losing theirs. Literally, in the case of some of the cast – RIP Lisa Faulkner, David Oyelowo, Rupert Penry-Jones, Hermione Norris, Richard Armitage, Nicola Walker…
“All through my middle age I was employed doing Spooks. That was a great luxury. Harry grew with the show. The first episode, I was in two scenes. By the end, I was central to the whole thing… But I wasn’t surprised when they ended it. We’d run out of ideas. It was 86 hours of television,” he marvels, “and each story different.”
And the actor was OK being the spy who went out into the cold? “Yeah,” the 61-year-old shrugs. It’s like an old comfy pair of slippers – sometimes you’ve got to throw them out and get new ones.”
Meanwhile, a few miles away, in a café near his north London home, a hungry young spook is tucking in to a nutrition-packed salad. His head is bent, lest his well-known face blows his cover. Kit Harington – codename: A New Pair of Slippers – is pondering being the fresh face in one drama, while being the old hand in another.
“I wasn’t a Spooks fan,” admits the 28-year-old best known for playing Jon Snow in Game of Thrones. “But I remember it didn’t pull any punches in the way Thrones doesn’t – both shows are quite happy to kill off characters. And it didn’t pretend that our secret service was a particularly good corporation – it could do bad things. I quite liked that controversial side of it.”
Meet, then, Spooks: the Next Generation. Firth and Harington are the stars of the spin-off film (actually called Spooks: the Greater Good) and early on we see Harington’s disillusioned ex-MI5 officer crashing through a plate-glass window.
“I did all my own stunts,” the young actor notes with quiet pride. “I enjoy the action side of things. I like climbing up buildings, pointing guns, throwing swords about. That was the bit I was really comfortable with.”