The Encyclopedia of TV Spies

Author: Wesley Britton
Publisher: Bear Manor Media
Release Year: 2009

Over the past month or so, on this site there has been a bit of fanfare regarding the release of Wesley Britton’s Encyclopedia of TV Spies. Now it’s time to thumb back the pages and see what it’s really all about.

Firstly, due to it’s style – and it has been designed this way – it’s not a book that you’ll read cover to cover. Most likely, you’ll be like me, start at the beginning, but then skip ahead to say, The Persuaders, which will make you think of The Saint, so you’ll skip forward again. Then you’ll check out The Prisoner, which will make you skip back to Danger Man – I am sure you get the idea. You’ll hop from one series to the next. But dear reader, this is where discipline is required. If you hop about, just sticking to the shows you know, you’re going to miss out on a whole host of TV shows that you’ve never heard of, which is where the real gold lies in this book – and then, if you’re like me, you’re are going to want to track down these mythical television series.

All in all, The Encyclopedia of TV Spies looks at over two-hundred individual series. Sure, as I’ve already alluded to, all the big names are in this book – The Man From UNCLE, The Avengers, The Six Million Dollar Man, Alias, The Scarecrow and Mrs. King, I Spy and so on, but if you are reading this blogsite, I am guessing you already are familiar with these shows. Most likely you have copies on DVD and know them inside out. The reason to flick through Wes’ book are the shows you don’t know quite so well – like Hong Kong (with Rugged Rod Taylor), Passport To Danger, The Sandbaggers, Doomwatch and many, many others. Yes, there were shows included that I had never heard of.

The thing that you’ve got to remember is this is an Encyclopedia, and as such, the book is not a collection of reviews, but more of a collection of overviews on each series. Wes does a great job of condensing down the essential information on the major series and presenting it in a fashion that gives you a good understanding of what each series was like, and quite often background information on how the show came about, and how it ended.

My only small quibble is that the book is very Western, and by that I mean, it only looks at shows generally from America and the United Kingdom (I think there’s a couple of Canadian productions in there too). Particularly as espionage is such a global profession, I would have liked some exploration of shows outside the English speaking sphere – shows such as the French ‘Coplan’ series from 1989, or the critically acclaimed Danish series ‘The Eagle: A Crime Odyssey’ – and yes, even Australia’s ‘Spy Force’ (although we do speak English in Australia). But having said that, the book is already 500 plus pages long – which entries do you leave out to include this extra material?

As an adjunct, because little has been made of it in the other reviews, there’s a great appendix section in the book that goes into the spin-off novelisations of popular spy shows. You wouldn’t believe how handy this is. If you’re trying to track down complete sets of these books (like I have), even the big book sites like ABE or Alibris don’t have complete listing of spy series. You really have to scour the internet searching for this information, one piece at a time – I know – I‘ve done it. But here, much to my delight (because the missing pieces are listed) and annoyance (because of all the hours I wasted), Wes has presented a concise listing of all the major published paperbacks (and some magazine listings too).

Now as I come to the end of the review, I know what you are thinking. Wes is a fellow COBRAS member, and as such, I am not going to say a bad thing about the book. Well you’d be wrong – that’s not my style. And I am sure Wes wouldn’t want me to candy-coat the review. The good news is, I don’t need to. The Encyclopedia of TV Spies is an essential reference book if you’re a fan of Spy television. All in all this is a very good package, and one that is going to see a lot of use in my household.

The Encyclopedia of TV Spies

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