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Spying on Spies: Popular Representations of Spies and Espionage

3-5 September 2015, Warwick Business School at The Shard, London

Keynote speakers: Professor Phyllis Lassner (Northwestern University), Professor James Chapman (University of Leicester) and Dr Rosie White (Northumbria University).

2015 will mark the 100th anniversary of John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps, one of the spy genre’s most influential novels. With its roots in the 19th century, the genre evolved and diversified throughout the 20th century, providing, as Michael Denning writes, a ‘cover story’ that has rendered ‘the political and cultural transformations of the twentieth century into the intrigues of a shadow world of secret agents’. Capturing the ever-evolving zeitgeist of cultural and political anxieties, the genre has encompassed (and exploited) ‘hot’ wars and ‘cold’, and most recently a global War on Terror.

In the same year that Buchan introduced Richard Hannay to the world, writers from William le Queux to Henry Aumonier were also fine-tuning an already-established tradition. Over the last hundred years, the heroic spy has undergone a series of re-inventions as an action-adventure hero for the modern age across all forms of popular media. While in the 30s and 40s, Graham Greene and Eric Ambler reintroduced literary realism, ‘Sapper’ maintained the heroic tradition; in radio, Dick Barton: Special Agent thrilled over 20 million daily BBC listeners with stories of international derring-do. Amid the existential paranoia of the 1960s, the secret agent became one of the dominant pop culture icons of the 1960s, from books (John le Carré; Len Deighton) to television (The Avengers; The Man from UNCLE) and film (Dr No; The Quiller Memorandum) combining terror and absurdity. Since 9/11, the ‘War on Terror’ has introduced a new range of explosive anxieties, from 24 to Bourne to Homeland. But recently these too have given way to a more psychological and reflective tone. Moreover, as the strictures of the Official Secrets Act begin to wane, scholars are increasingly able to explore the degree to which fact merges with fiction in these texts.

This conference aims to provide a timely forum for a retrospective discussion of the genre’s development and evolution across multiple media, exploring neglected and under-discussed areas of its long history, along with a consideration of where it is today and potential future developments.

Visit Main Conference Website for more information

REGISTRATION IS NOW CLOSED - Unfortunately we are unable to accept any further delegates, including guests of speakers, due to the need to inform Shard security in advance of everyone who will be needing to access the space.

If you have any queries, or are still interested in attending or contributing in some way, please get in touch at SOSconference2015 at gmail dot com


George Smiley


This event is sponsored by the Humanities Research Centre

This event is sponsored by the Humanities Research Centre