The dark arts of the secret agent have always held Hollywood movie makers in thrall, writes Tom McParland.
Our first forthright spy was the magic mirror in Snow White, which could only relay to the Queen that she had become an also-ran in the beauty stakes. Later in childhood we learn – if not the noun, the verb – about the capabilities of my little eye. But perhaps our earliest awareness of deliberate duplicities is Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial. One for money, the other for skin-saving. That’s why only the child of a cynic is called Judas, and why becoming a spy is never high on a child’s gonnabe agenda.
We were further inculcated into the black arts by everything from The Beano and Girls Crystal to the School Friend and Wizard. We learned from them how to easily identify spies. If a sneaky class prefect had an older male cousin with a van, most likely she had her eye on the school silver. Foreign spies stood out always wearing beards or a fez.
Also, although words like perspicacious or catastrophic caused foreign spies no problems, their pronunciation of the (zee), or this (zis) was a dead giveaway. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? That in spite of this thorough grounding, what we know about spying could be written in code as duck awl.
It is on our – and their – thankful ignorance that the writers of spy fiction depend. For the unambiguous enjoyment of spy stories the reader or viewer must occupy the position of the totally incorruptible. And we do. Would we betray our country? No. Not even for money? Certainly not. If our life was threatened? Definitely still no. The wife’s life? – Em – Definitely still no! The mother-in-law? Em – OK, whaddaye offering?