The best thing about the post-007 spy is the paperwork. Maybe it’s just because I’m a stationery junkie or an indoor girl, but I appreciate that the le Carré school of learned, papered spycraft, rather than that of Broccoli’s PPK-toting slickster, has been adopted by the writers and producers of today’s espionage dramas. Spies in films like last year’s excellent remake of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy don’t wave weapons about, consort with supermodels or bust out gadgets that probably cost the GDP of a small country to produce. They are instead quiet, deliberate men in sensible hats who follow paper trails, do a lot of driving and know how to ask the right questions. The late lamented AMC series Rubicon, which takes place inside a fictional intelligence agency, got it spot on as well — the analysts are handed literally piles of documents, printouts, files and envelopes to sort through each morning, and people hardly ever leave the building. (I’m pretty sure it was cancelled because there weren’t “enuf exploshuns.”)
But a continual disappointment to me is the lack of female counterparts to my favourite leading male spies. I’m not sure even James Bond has a female counterpart (Lara Croft? Evelyn Salt? Whoever she is, she’s probably played by Angelina Jolie). And Judy Dench may be M, but she certainly doesn’t see any action. Showtime’s Homeland has Carrie Matheson, but she’s rather unhinged and irritating — hardly a match for the likes of George Smiley. Can we get a spy drama featuring a seasoned female actor playing the implacable, brilliant loner type that we spy enthusiasts enjoy so much? How about Tilda Swinton? Or Helen Mirren? I’d watch the crap out of that.
Until then, I suppose we have to fantasize about the quintessential female spy, how she would behave and live, what she would look like and what the tone of the world around her would be. Against the bleak backdrop of the Cold War in Europe, our heroine would begin in the British service under files, stacks, reams of paper intel and slowly weave together a conspiracy that threatens everything she knows and trusts (and necessitates a trip into the Eastern Bloc). Her appearance will unravel into attractive unkemptness as the drama builds. The climax will involve a battle of wits rather than sexual innuendo and perhaps the merest flash of a pistol rather than a nipple. And she will most certainly require the following equipment:
(I put this image together on Polyvore — lots of fun.)
1. A gun. Our heroine does not carry this with her all the time. That is impractical. It is in her desk at the office and may be packed into her valise on the train to East Berlin — with silencer, of course.
2. A typewriter. There is nothing less acceptable in the Bureau than reports that do not follow protocol. Our heroine has a standard-issue model at the office, but something more exciting — a souvenir from her studies in Italy, perhaps? — at home.
In picture: I think this is an Hermès 3000 mini typewriter. On Etsy: Beautiful orange vintage Olivetti typewriter.
3. A camera. A two-foot zoom lens is hardly useful for remaining incognito. A “tourist” camera is much better for photographing state secrets.
4. A hat. Our heroine does not remain behind a desk for the entirety of the drama. She will need to tail suspects through back streets and alleyways undetected, with her red hair tucked up into a fedora and her freckles hidden behind her sunglasses.
5. A comfortable chair. Long, late hours poring over white paper documents smuggled from the deepest recesses of the Bureau’s library necessitates black coffee, good scotch and an elegant, ergonomic chair.
6. A pen. A decent fountain pen never leaves her scrambling for a pencil when she needs to take down a license plate at a moment’s notice.
7. A trench coat. Since our first act is set in Britain, our heroine will of course be caught in the rain at least once. The trench is a stylish, practical, multipurpose item that, much like the hat, will protect her from the elements and help her to blend into a crowd.
8. Glasses. Morgan’s (which I’ve just decided is the name of our heroine) bookish tendencies and attention to detail are what got her recruited to the Bureau in the first place. She’s useless without her glasses.
9. A bag. A graduation present — and more than a month’s salary — from her working-class parents. Perfect for everyday use but can serve as an overnighter in case she suspects her flat is being watched.
10. A watch. Spies are people of habit. As they themselves undermine the stability of the world around them, they take comfort in quotidian ritual — and Morgan is quick to recognize such patterns in others.
11. Comfortable shoes. Durable, hardworking but elegant shoes are useful to a lady spy who knows how to take advantage of being underestimated.
12. A wedding band. Morgan has never had much time for play, but she knows that married people are more easily trusting, and keeps a gold band in an inside pocket.
13. File folders. As the threat appears to edge closer and closer to home, Morgan needs to collect documented evidence to leave behind in case of her demise. What better place to hide something than in plain sight?
On Etsy: Vintage office supplies.
14. A notebook. A good spy never writes down anything damning. But coded notes may prove necessary to build a pattern or to communicate with a reticent source.
In picture: Muji notebook.
15. A clean pair of sensible underwear. As the tension and uncertainty mount, Morgan must be constantly on the move — and a lacy thong has no place in the working wardrobe of a busy spy.
In picture: Sensible Shimera underwear.