Spy on BBC Three

I'm really enjoying the Spy [website no longer available] series, broadcast on BBC Three. It's a documentary-come-reality-tv series where eight members of the public go through a training programme to learn to become a spy. It's well filmed, well presented, and gripping viewing.

When I was a boy I used to love the idea of being a spy. I had kids books detailing how to make a wig out of a ball of wool and how to make codes that your brother wouldn't be able to decipher. I think spies are a national obsession though - it's not just me. James Bond is, after all, a national icon, and there are tons of books, films and tv series (notably Spooks) made featuring spies.

The interesting thing about the Spy programme though is that it seems a bit more 'real'. Whilst Spooks is a fantastic drama series, and tries to be as realistic as possible, it's still based around telling a story in an entertaining way. In Spy, 'real' people become 'real' spies (kinda) in a 'real' world. This sense is what makes reality tv successful - in a world where we're all well practised at spotting artifice, blurring the barriers between reality and fiction adds an extra element of excitement.

In Spy, the recruits have been learning to observe, spotting out-of-place behaviour, 'go grey', making themselves as unmemorable as possible, and to go undercover, convincing other people that they're something they're not. One of the early tasks that the recruits had to do was to get onto the balcony of a selected flat, holding a glass of water. The people in the flats had no idea, we were told, of the task or that they were being filmed. It's a great task, and one apparently used by real spy agencies as a test of their spies' abilities to quickly think up legitimate reasons to obtain access to areas.

Other tasks so far have included a mission to get into a staff-only area of a shop or workplace and take a photo of a particular notice. Some were more successful than others. In another task, they had to go for a job interview in various industries (including fashion stylists and sports photographers) and convince the interviewer that they were professionals in this field (more than a hint of Faking It in this task).

New episodes are broadcast on Sunday evenings, and repeated throughout the week. It's well worth looking out for.