One of my Facebook friends re-posted the wonderful 30 day Richard Armitage challenge from http://recycledvinyl.tumblr.com/ today and the first of a long list of questions about our favourite actor is ‘What was the first role you saw Richard Armitage in?’. Well, I’m going to be brave, take a deep breath and make a clean breast of it. I was terribly late coming to the Richard Armitage party! Richard didn’t hit my radar until he stumbled towards Harry Pearce as the somewhat undernourished MI5 agent Lucas North in season 7 of Spooks. I know! I know! How DID I manage to miss John Thornton? I really have no idea but will stick with the feeble defence that I used to be a bit of a workaholic and didn’t watch much TV at all. In fact, I’ve been without a TV altogether from time to time and most of that was during the pre-iPlayer era, so no chance of catching up with any of those wonderful BBC programmes I might have missed. It may, however, go some way to explain why Lucas North is still my favourite RA character to date. I have a real soft spot for this troubled soul. His black hair and grey-blue eyes, that designer stubble and – I never thought I’d say that – those tattoos. How long did it take to apply those and who, oh who, was the lucky lady who got to rub these on?
I know that Spooks, with its propensity for guns and gadgets, has precious little to do with the reality of how MI5 operate – yes Mr Le Carré, we’re not that naïve! – but I loved it no less for that. I have watched Spooks from the very first episode and it has brightened my life for ten glorious years. I loved everything about it. The somewhat larger than life characters, Harry’s witty one-liners and clever retorts, the unavoidable plot-holes and, above all, its liberal use of far-fetched technology and gadgets. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to lay my hands on the iPhone app which would enable me to download all the encrypted data from a secure network within the customary 60 seconds. Or, failing that, the app that will get me the password to said server within those same 60 seconds. I’d never have to work again! How did MI5 cope before the invention of this unintentional bit of (sp)iWare?
Skimming some old Spooks episodes for inspiration, I actually came across one such tech-crazed scene with our delectable Lucas North (in full biking leathers!) and simply couldn’t help myself. I just had to use it to try out my not-quite-so-recent iMovie video-editing software and post it onto my new ‘A is for Armitage’ YouTube channel to see if it would all work. Well, any excuse really!
Every MI5 agent needs a good set of gloves!
And then there’s the guns mentioned in the title of this piece. Is it wrong to admire a man who packs a piece with style? Probably, but I just can’t help myself. I’m not a massive supporter of the gun culture per se but, as they say, ‘guns don’t kill, it’s the people who use them’. Lucas probably killed more than his fair share (has anyone actually kept a tally?) but up until season 9 he mostly deployed his Glock 17 for Queen and country.
There’s something about the instant justice of Spooks that can’t help but appeal. In times when too many criminals go unchallenged or get sentences that are frankly laughable we can’t help but cheer when a villain is swiftly and irrevocably dealt with. We know that’s probably not the way it works, or even how it should work, but it’s strangely satisfactory non the less. We know it’s all fiction and so we are allowed to cheer on the winning team without feeling heartless or callous.
All those killings, however justified, must have taken its toll though. And that’s another reason I loved Spooks – its MI5 agents did not have emotional immunity. They were human and had nervous breakdowns. They fell in love and craved a normal existence that was forever lost to them. They were fallible. They were as mortal as you and I and, sometimes, their luck ran out. They lose themselves to the job, as Ruth Evershed so aptly observed in the final episode of Season 10; ‘With every lie we tell, our true selves got buried that little bit deeper and I worry that one day I wake up and look for it, look for me, and I won’t be there any more.’ Or, like Lucas/John – damaged and beyond redemption – are consumed by it; ‘This job, what we do, is a machine. Good people go in, they get chewed up, they get spat out. That’s how you make sense of it.’