Voiceover: Paul Brightwell


Mike Baker (former CIA agent)
Sandy Williams (former Intelligence Officer)
Harry Ferguson (ex-MI6)
John Potter (trainer)


Wall to Wall for BBC Three, 18 July to 12 September 2004 (10 episodes in 1 series)


Spy is remarkable in a number of ways. The contestants break the law, they assume a new identity, they live in the real world - not in prefab house arrest in East London - and yet have very little contact with their family. And it pulls off the remarkable stunt of getting away with an audacious idea - allowing ordinary members of the public to become spies using real techniques and exercises.

File:Spy_bbc_group.jpgLeft to right: David Clark, David Clark, David Clark, Karen Willis, Karen Willis, David Clark, David Clark, Karen Willis, Karen Willis

Eight contestants (curiously all called David Clark or Karen Willis) meet in a disused tube station on the Strand, London - a real location, incidentally. They begin with benign tasks like getting someone to let you into their home and work up to full missions, 24-hour surveillance and betraying the other contestants.

File:Spy_trainers.jpgThe trainers, struggling over 14 Down

At the end of the two month course, the final three went off to North Africa in a genuinely gripping finale. Although much of it was 'staged', you can be sure the contestants didn't know what to think.

File:Spy bbc mugshots.jpgContestants mugshots

What was refreshing about the elimination process here was that it happened ad hoc, on the run, rather than whenever we came to the end of a programme. The tasks were carefully plotted to accommodate the sizes of the teams.

File:Spy school.jpgSo, you wanna be a spy huh? Do a cartwheel.

Much of the casual audience didn't understand the series structure - what was it all for? is there a prize at the end? a job? - and that admittedly wasn't really spelt out. So, if the programme had a flaw, it was that the ultimate winner - who was very capable and really wanted to be a spy - had surely blown their cover. And even if they hadn't, we're hardly going to see Spy: The Winner's Story, are we?

No matter, for this was a superbly judged piece of television which must have taken many months of hard work to research. It stands out as an excellent game show success for BBC Three.


According to a study by PACT (Producers' Alliance for Cinema and Television [1]), Spy was one of the most-exported British TV programmes (as opposed to formats) of 2004. It has been sold to 129 countries... and counting. In terms of game shows, only the all-conquering Pop Idol was more successful (unless you count Miss World as a gameshow).


Spy: A Handbook by Harry Ferguson

Web links

Wikipedia entry

Off the Telly review

See also


Weaver's Week review


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