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Spies: What’s real and what’s fake in Channel 4’s new espionage series?

Everything you need to know about the wannabe James Bonds competing to be secret agents

Published: Thursday, 19th January 2017 at 4:21 pm

Could you be a secret service agent? New Channel 4 series Spies is trying to find out just that, challenging regular members of the public to see if they are born to be Bourne or full of boundless Bond-ness.


Over the course of four weeks, 15 candidates (whittled down every episode) will be put through their paces by a trio of former spies and intelligence officers known collectively as Control, revealing the techniques of the Intelligence Officer New Entry Course (aka IONEC) used to train real-life spooks.

However, just as Channel 4’s previous surveillance/manhunt reality series Hunted raised eyebrows about exactly how genuine its action was, certain scenes in Spies may have viewers questioning whether they’re watching something staged as opposed to seeing genuine spycraft.

For example, the first episode sees the wannabe contestants trail a man down a busy street, go undercover at a public event and receive presumably illegal fake ID documents, all of which are presented as real but may have viewers wondering if they’ve been had.

To find out the truth we went to Channel 4 to find out just how real what you see on screen is, and we have some good news – because for the most part, the contestant’s experiences are authentic.

Who are the spies in Channel 4's Spies?

The scenes where they trail a former agent did take place on genuinely open streets, and a tech conference infiltrated by the budding 007s using fake undercover identities really existed.

None of the other conference attendees (who were only told they were being filmed for a Channel 4 programme) were aware that some guests were there under false pretences, with only the conference host given some details of what the documentary really involved.

In fact, the only real bit of TV production tomfoolery comes in scenes where the contestants are given fake IDs as part of their spy training. According to Channel 4 the driving licenses wouldn’t pass muster, and were not intended for use. In the episode they function more as a way for the expert spies to reminisce about their own use of falsified documents anyway.

So for now, it seems like Spies is committed to keeping things real while it searches for the ideal secret agent.

We’d say more, but that this article is about to self-destruct in 10 seconds…


Spies continues on Channel 4 every Thursday at 9pm


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