1 9 8 8 (UK)
13 x 60 minute episodes
Granada spent £13 million on this 13-part serial of Len Deighton’s trilogy of thrillers – Berlin Game, Mexico Set and London Match – about secrets and moles and the relationships between spies in the Glasnost era.
Ian Holm, who had been fascinated by spies ever since he went to Moscow in 1958 and met Guy Burgess (“he was a sad pathetic figure”), took on the role of Bernard Samson, the disgraced British spy.
His devoted wife Fiona (Mel Martin) turned out to be a KGB agent who had to flee to Moscow leaving their small children as pawns in a tense battle of nerves and loyalties.
Small, serious and growing more grim-faced by the week, Ian appeared in 660 scenes out of 664. The year-long filming schedule included work in the sub-zero temperatures of Berlin where East German border guards photographed every member of the crew, arrested, stripped and searched two of them for wandering off the main autobahn, and popped up everywhere in the director’s viewfinder with binoculars and machine guns trained on their groups.
It also involved filming in Mexico where everyone suffered from the intense heat, seasickness and the trots.
Response to the serial was lukewarm. One mistake, producer Brian Armstrong later decided, had been to screen the first two hours together, which included several difficult-to-grasp backstories, flashbacks and a somewhat sombre escape ‘over the wire’ back to the West (actually they were crossing farmland in Cheshire).
By 11:30 on a Monday night, most viewers had gone off both Berlin and Bernard Samson.
Philosophically, Ian Holm said, “if it’s not a success . . . well, I’ll go back to what I was doing during the year before – voiceovers for adverts like Duracell, Condor and Red Mountain Coffee”.