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Representing the British Spy: Fictions, Histories and Futures

From the Elizabethan courtier and spy Sir Philip Sidney to the graphic novel Kingsman and its film adaptations, may be traced a rich tradition of individuals, texts and narratives that have spanned creative works informed by experience of actual espionage to tales and characters shaped by the ever-evolving genre conventions of what has become an immensely popular story form.

The History Of The British Spy

British spy stories have featured both gentleman adventurers – in the Erskine Childers, John Buchan, Leslie Charteris tradition – and career professionals – such as the characters conceived by Ian Fleming and Len Deighton.

Their tone has ranged across gritty verisimilitude and procedural detail, through the melancholy of betrayals and vocational doubts to implausible plotlines, kinetic action, and tongue-in-cheek parody.

Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden, John le Carré’s Smiley, Graham Greene’s Wormold and Mike Myer’s Austin Powers indicate some of the variety of ways in which the British spy has been represented.