Still the best thing on TV: Apple TV+’s Slow Horses reviewed

Slow Horses is the best thing on television. And it’s now so successful and popular it can afford to launch series three with a sequence worthy of James Bond: Istanbul location budget; spectacular chase sequences involving cars and speedboats with some thrillingly dangerous manoeuvres round a huge container vessel; a beautiful, immaculately dressed female agent meeting (spoiler alert, though to be fair you can see this one coming a mile off) a tragically sticky end. Except it’s better than Bond – not that difficult these days, it must be said – because it is missing all that grim portentousness, over-earnestness and pomposity. The cars are beaten up and gadget-free; the

Too in thrall to today’s dogmas: ITV1’s A Spy Among Friends reviewed

In 2014, Ben Macintyre presented a BBC2 documentary based on his book A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal. The programme managed to shed new light on a familiar but still irresistible story by concentrating on Philby’s relationship with his old chum – and fellow Cambridge man – Nicholas Elliott. Elliott was sent in 1963 by the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) to question Philby in Beirut where Philby had become the Observer’s foreign correspondent after a long and successful career betraying his countrymen to the Soviets. Elliott did elicit some sort of confession, but a few days later, Philby absconded to Moscow. So had Elliott helped with

Can we brainwash our enemies?

Disinformation is on the rise, and Britain’s spies are on the back foot. Our intelligence leaders warn about election meddling, and our enemies are trying to undermine public trust in our national institutions. The United Kingdom needs to use covert means to disrupt anti-British activities at their source. That’s what Harold Macmillan said in the 1950s, shortly before becoming prime minister. Over half a century later, in 2017, the Chief of MI6 made the same point: adversaries should be ‘playing in their half of the pitch not ours.’ And half a decade on from that, here we are again. This week’s intriguing peek into the secretive work of the National

Russian spies and the return of the Cold War

Last week’s arrest of a security guard employed at the British embassy in Berlin, on suspicion of spying for Russia, serves as a stark reminder that the UK and its allies are in the thick of a new Cold War. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent collapse of communist regimes, it appeared that the East-West stand-off had come to an end. Nato allies breathed a collective sigh of relief and looked to new horizons, believing their principal objective had been achieved and that Russia’s days as a superpower were consigned to the history books. There can be little doubt that a second Cold War

The best Cold War thriller I’ve seen that I fully understand: The Courier reviewed

The Courier is a Cold War spy thriller and the prospect of a Cold War spy thriller always makes my heart sink. There will be agents. There will be double agents and triple agents and maybe even quadruple agents. Is he working for our side while pretending to work for the Soviets as someone pretending to be working for us? After any Le Carré adaptation, for example, I also need debriefing in a wood-panelled room filled with cigarette smoke and there is still no saying I’ll emerge any the wiser. But The Courier isn’t like that. This is a damn good, explosively tense story that focuses on the friendship that

John le Carré’s London of exiles is alive and well

‘I’m an Englishman born and bred, almost.’ So says Karim Amir, protagonist of Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia. If Karim, and by proxy Kureishi, is a funny sort of Englishman – ‘born and bred’ but not quite – then so was John le Carré, albeit in a slightly different way. Le Carré, or to give him his real name David Cornwell, died a week ago and the obits have been flowing ever since. They generally, and correctly, observe that his true subject was never spies but England (and it was always England rather than Britain). Born to a con-man father who sent him to a public school where he