“NOT while I still draw breath.”
Sir Harry Pearce is a joy to behold in the first episode of the last ever series of Spooks.
With just six hours left before we say goodbye, the writers of our favourite spy drama appear intent on celebrating the man who has been there from the very start.
Or perhaps more accurately, a skilled actor by the name of Peter Firth.
There’s very little I can say about Spooks 10.1 without spoiling it.
Big secrets are revealed in a thrilling opener.
There are flashbacks, deaths and iPads.
The jamming of a guillotine.
And a classic final four words of 10.1 script.
Quite aside from Harry making Ruth his “plus one” for a black tie event.
Ruth: “Very glamorous.”
Harry: “Yes. We’ll fit in perfectly.”
Extract from the first episode – don’t watch if avoiding spoilers:
Spooks fans will know to expect some shocks along the way in this farewell series.
Not least in episode two, of which more next week.
We’ll miss Spooks when it’s gone.
It’s a shame BBC schedulers have placed it in direct Sunday night competition with the second series of ITV1 drama phenomenon Downton Abbey.
But what’s done is done. I hope as many people as possible watch both series because they’re equally excellent in their different ways.
For now, let’s look forward to a cracking finale.
I went on set again back in April for small round table interviews with Peter Firth, Nicola Walker and other cast members.
At that stage they were working on the third episode and had yet to learn for certain how the series would end on screen.
My MEN feature interview with Peter Firth is below, followed by some extras from both him and Nicola.
Be warned, there are spoilers. But nothing, I hope, too revealing.
I’ve edited out much of what they told us about their characters and series 10 storylines.
Update: As well as the below, you can also now read further series two interviews:
SPOOKS star Peter Firth has no regrets about the spy drama being killed off.
The actor, who plays MI5 head of counter-terrorism Harry Pearce, says: “I will miss it but it’s been a fantastic run.”
Peter, 57, has starred in the show since the very first episode in 2002 and is at the centre of the action as Spooks (BBC1, Sunday, 9pm) begins its tenth and final series.
Sir Harry is facing a tribunal, accused of trading a State secret to a foreign power. Viewers saw him handing over “Albany” last year to save the life of fellow spook Ruth Evershed (Nicola Walker).
He denies his personal feelings for Ruth came into play and produces a report on her in an attempt to convince the panel members he did the right thing.
And that’s all before the opening titles at the start of a six-part series producers Kudos promise will do the Spooks legacy justice, having taken the decision to go out while the drama was still at a high.
Sitting in his dressing room on set, Peter is philosophical about the end of an era.
“I would have been reflective anyway. I think you get to a certain age and everything changes. Values change and concepts and direction. I’m definitely at a crossroads and I think Harry most certainly is too.
“But I think that’s inevitable. He takes stock. And he’s at that age when people begin to question their lives and the direction they’re going in. But it’s fine. And I won’t miss getting up at five in the morning for filming.”
Secrets from Harry’s past emerge in the opening episode which begins a couple of months after we last saw him on top of a skyscraper, with Lucas North (Richard Armitage) having jumped to his death.
Some fans hoped Lucas might have somehow lived, as his leap was off screen. But brief added re-cap footage to episode one and a conversation between Harry and Ruth make clear he won’t be coming back.
“The last series stands out for me, series nine, as being the best we’ve done,” insists Peter. “Although it didn’t quite work, the end of it, with Lucas North’s departure. We ran out of money basically.
“We were in the last couple of days of shooting and what we planned for him, we couldn’t film. It was much more spectacular – involving the very tall skyscraper and a helicopter. But we couldn’t afford the helicopter.
“Lucas was always going to die. It was just how he was going to die. There was a version where Harry shot him on top of the skyscraper. And that involved a long falling man picture.”
The backdrop to the farewell series is Britain’s attempt to cultivate a “special relationship” with Russia, rather than America. True Blood star Lara Pulver joins the cast as Erin Watts, who has taken temporary charge in Harry’s absence. While Geoffrey Streatfeild as Calum Reed is another new arrival.
Action man Dimitri (Max Brown) and Tariq (Shazad Latif) are still there but Beth Bailey has left following actress Sophia Myles decision to live in the USA with her American partner.
Star Trek actress Alice Krige plays Elena, wife of Russian cabinet minister Ilya (Jonathan Hyde).
Then there’s Harry’s own special relationship with intelligence analyst Ruth, who turned down his marriage proposal last year. Peter chooses his words carefully when asked what is to become of them.
“The Ruth – Harry thing is entering a new phase and it may be too late for them to proceed any further. They may have gone past the moment,” he smiles. “Harry does have a past – when he was with MI6 he was stationed in West Berlin in the 1980s during the Cold War. And, of course, he had a life then which could well come back to haunt him.”
There’s much more to say about Harry but perhaps best to stop there, for fear of spoiling what is to come. Safe to say, you may need the odd glass of whisky to hand as you watch these final six hours.
Peter was half way through filming when we met and scripts for the very last episode had yet to be finalised. How would he feel if Harry was killed off at the end? “They won’t kill Harry off,” he replied without hesitation.
Had producers Kudos told him that? “Never believe anything you’re told by a production company, let alone MI5. But it’s my belief that they would never kill Harry.”
Would he like Harry to enjoy the quiet retirement he surely deserves after 10 series of saving Britain from disaster?
“I’m not sure about that. It’s not a tea shop in Devon. So I don’t quite know. But a let up from conflict would be appropriate, wouldn’t it?”
As I get up to leave, I ask a last question. So no hope for Harry and Ruth? “Well, with love you never know, do you? You just never know. Anything can happen.”
Peter Firth Extras:
Where do we find Harry at the start of the series?
“We find him on gardening leave, or just having had a couple of months out whilst his tribunal is convened to deal with his misdemeanor. We open with the tribunal, which is threatening him with a charge of conspiracy to High Treason. In the last series, there was a deal with Albany, a state secret, which he traded for Ruth’s life. So they take a very dim view of that. And it has to be dealt with. But a situation arises whereby they need Harry, so he’s temporarily re-instated for the first episode.”
Britain has to forge a new relationship?
“Yes, it’s quite interesting. Again, a prophetic storyline it seems to me from the writers about the special relationship with the US, which seems to be deteriorating. But we do need friends and partners in the world and perhaps the Americans are not the ones we should be so pally with, as they have such an atrocious foreign policy. So Russia is the obvious choice for Britain to align itself with because they are a superpower and they have a much better image in the Middle East. And given the current turmoil in the Middle East, who knows what’s going to emerge from that, the threat being that rogue states…that hardline extremists may take power with the possibility of openly sponsoring terrorism agains the west. We’re in the front line here. It’s a longer flight from Tripoli to Washington than it is from Tripoli to London. So that puts us in the front line and perhaps we didn’t really want to be buddying up with the aggressors, the aggresive Americans, quite so much.”
Ten years of Spooks?
“We’ve only got three episodes so far. They write it on the hoof and try and keep abreast of the current situation in the world. But the great thing about Spooks is it keeps topping itself and keeps getting more adventerous with the storylines. This year is no exception. That’s partly the secret to its success but as the Hollywood screenwriter William Goldman said, ‘Nobody knows anything.’ And that’s true. Nobody knows why a thing is a success.”
Seeing cast members come and go?
“It’s great. I’ve met everyone in the profession. Everyone who comes loves to do it. It’s not just a job, it’s not just a gig for people. They’re invariably fans of the show and very happy to be in it.”
New regular characters this series?
“We’ve got Lara Pulver, who has made us all pull our socks up. She’s extremely enthusiastic and full on and filling quite difficult shoes to fill. It’s a very demanding role and she’s all over it. So that’s great. Max Brown, who joined us last year, who’s gorgeous, absolutely adorable and much loved by the ladies. I’ve got a 19-year-old daughter at university and they’re queuing up to visit the set, just to see Max. And we have a new character, Calum…he’s a welcome injection of a modern casual attitude to national security, who’s quite amusing. He’s very laid back.”
Many viewers will be surprised that Beth is not back in this series? A decision that Sophia made?
“Yes. I think she wants to live in America and who can blame her? She got married to an American and now she’s living in Laguna Beach. Bermondsey, Laguna Beach?” (laughter)
This series reduced from eight episodes to six?
“I wouldn’t imagine they’re spending the same amount of money that they would on eight on six. I think it’s a proper budgetary cut. So they can actually afford to make six. So it won’t impact what you see on screen, the fact that there are six rather than eight.”
How do you feel about just six episodes?
“It’s good. Eight is a long haul. We used to do 10 at one point and that just took up your whole life. Eight is quite a long haul, six is a breeze relatively speaking because it’s 16 weeks filming. So it’s not too demanding.”
Erin and Harry’s relationship?
“It’s set up that she would ruffle feathers. They presume that I’m going to find it difficult to work with her because she’s all business and new school, rather than my rather laconic old school stance. But no. That hasn’t emerged yet and we’re getting on fine. I’m very proud of her character-wise as a potential replacement.”
Nicola Walker Interview:
Harry and Ruth is more complicated this year?
“Yes. And I think that’s good. I rate them for that. All the writers they get, they’re quite grown up about the relationship. They’re not going to make it easy for Harry and Ruth. I have no idea what they’re going to do. In all honesty. I know people always say that. They have told me and Peter that they have about six or seven different ideas and they’re not telling us any of them.
“At the moment, I’m being courted quite vociferously by the Home Secretary, Simon Russell Beale. So I get to do loads of scenes with Simon. I’m having an absolute ball. Especially as he’s just finished being in a ballet for the first time in his life. He’s been talking a lot about that.”
Ruth’s past still haunting her?
“I think it was last series. She was weighed down by that, last series. I think she’s changed significantly because of it. She’s become a different person. She’s lost a lot of her ease in the workplace, which I think is really interesting. When I think about how she arrived, she arrived tripping over, dropping files, swearing at lamps. She was very sweet, very naive, very comical. She’s grown up in the series and not necessarily always the best ways. The knocks that she’s had have taken away some of her joy. Which is really awful. Standing away and looking at her, I really feel for her that she’s lost some of that.
“I’m not sure if it’s going to come back in this series. She’s certainly getting on with her job and her and Harry are trying to find a way of working together without bringing their personal feelings into the workplace too much. But it’s sort of impossible for them because of what they mean to each other now. So it’s as it’s always been in a sense because it’s there whether it’s written or not. The writers are very keen on dropping little breadcrumbs through the series, which I think is better than doing a big full on obvious storyline about it. I think it’s more interesting.”
Courted by the Home Secretary – romantically?
“Well, me and Simon are playing it for that. We are definitely. Yeah. He thinks she’s been overlooked. It’s really interesting. That’s why I think Spooks is such a good series. When I read the script I was really surprised that the writers had chosen to go in that direction. He gets her in a very soft place that I didn’t think Ruth had – her pride about how good she is at her job, which she always plays down. She’s always trying to just get on with her job. And the Home Secretary works out how to get to her. He’s saying – you’ve been overlooked.”
Does that make Harry jealous?
“He doesn’t know.”
Do we see this from episode one?
“Yes, they drip feed it from ep one. I don’t know how it develops but I know it goes all the way through.”
Does that mean we get scenes of Ruth on the Embankment walking along?
“God I hope so.” (laughs) “I love walking along the Embankment and being filmed. What is that? That’s some weird, strange need, ego thing in an actor. It’s just the most exciting thing in the world to be in the centre of London with the London Eye behind you. It’s so thrilling.”
Any more action / fight scenes for Ruth this series after last year?
“Yes. They were good, weren’t they? No, not so far. Maybe they think that – we let her out and she shot some guy! They’re not letting her out anymore. Not at present. I do go out. I am going out a lot more. But I tell you what’s nice, it’s very much more old fashioned spying going on. A bit more of the old feel, that sort of Seventies spying for Ruth, anyway, in this. She’s not going out and suddenly doing kung-fu! We’ve got a meeting coming up in an art gallery. I’m looking forward to that. Lots of that. Old school spying.”
How does Ruth deal with the new people on The Grid?
“Well the best thing is, because of the time jump you find her…already the new Erin has been working there for about eight weeks. She likes her. She thinks she’s fun. They get on great. I think she just thinks she’s brilliant at her job. It’s very odd to have her in Harry’s office. That bothers her. I don’t know if you ever get to see that. I just think that it does bother Ruth. She’s in Harry’s chair – that’s weird. Every time Ruth looks into Harry’s office she sees this young woman in his chair. But apart from that…”
Lots of people would assume some friction between two women?
“Yes, I’m pleased. They never do that. That’s great. I find that really tiresome when they do that. They’ve never done it in Spooks. Ruth’s always adored her colleagues, irrespective of their sex. I don’t think there’s ever been anyone that she’s disliked. They’re all at the top of their game all those young spies and I think she has complete respect for them, going out risking their lives every day. And she knows they are because she’s seen a lot of them come and a lot of them die. So she’s aware of what they’re doing and I think she has complete respect for them.”
Speculation (at the time of this interview) that this may be the last series of Spooks?
“There was speculation that it was the last one last year. And then at the end when it flashed up, ‘Spooks will be back next year.’ It surprised me!”
IF it did turn out to be the last series, how would you feel about that?
“I don’t know. I’ve been involved with it for nine years on and off. It would be…I was talking to Hermione Norris the other day about how she felt when she left. And we were both agreeing that the real thing that happens is that you form these relationships with cast and crew, and this building as well, strangely. That so much happens in your life over nearly a decade and it all gets tied up with not just the work but in the people that you’ve spent those 10 years with and in the fabric of the building. It’s very odd. It’s a very emotional thing to walk back on that Grid every year wondering if you are going to come back next year. To be honest it’s something that you always think about with Spooks. It always sounds like a cliche when we say we read the scripts and we don’t know if we’re there until the end. But you don’t. We have lost cast members. I was totally shocked when Ros went. And we had no heads up on that. So you know that every year could be your last year.
“So I have no idea how I would feel. Probably incredibly emotional. I’ve had a child while I’ve been here. Lots of things have happened.”