I am sure that this has been the title of some film at some point, but I have a broader point to make.
My one-time step father used to work for the Met Police and frequently came home in squad cars of an incredibly nondescript nature – a brown Hillman Avenger, a yellowy beige Morris Marina, etc. You may be getting my drift (incidentally, having been Hendon trained, he was quite adept at creating his own drifts, but that is another story).
Most memorable were a couple of white vans, a Marina (again) and a Mini which were used for observation details. These had false wooden divides between the front cabin and rear load area, covered with electricians tools and amongst these were spy holes through which unseen eyes or cameras could take note of their target. In case you are concerned, we are talking late 70s/ very early 80s, so I’m not exactly revealing anything current. This was the real world of undercover police work – cars which are mundane, commonplace, ordinary … invisible.
Why is it, then, that film producers can’t resist injecting a touch of glamour for their police or spy heroes to tear around in? The most obvious examples are just that, obvious, so I won’t recount them again here. My favourite recent(ish) example is the gold DS used in the (Gary Oldman) film version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The film was excellent and I love DS’s – so what’s not to like?
If you have not seen the movie, the thing that really stands out is how well the mood of the 70s is captured. The fashion, the boozing and smoking, the crap technology … the ‘murk’ enveloping everything about everyday life. It’s brilliantly evocative. Adding to my delight was the unexpected and, initially, welcome appearance of a lovely, late DS in gold – owned, it seems, by the Benedict Cumberbatch character.
But then, as my mind dwelt on it, much as I thrilled to the sight of what was clearly a well-preserved and lovely DS, it struck me as one of the most unlikely spy cars they could have chosen. Can you imagine trying to stay incognito, either parked up outside a terraced council house on a stake-out, or tailing a suspect through the streets of Slough in a DS? It’s not likely, is it? So, actually, the use of the DS, lovely as it was (did I already mention that?), kind of ruined the effect for me.
Reality is dull, no matter how interesting the job may sound. Cars in police and spy films should really reflect that. My step-father always claimed his job was 99% boredom and excruciatingly, painstakingly, dull ground work, with the odd 1% burst of excitement. Actually, on reflection, I can’t see anyone flocking to a film like that …
So, if anyone out there is reading this and planning to cinematise “Smiley’s People”, have you thought of placing a nice SM in the midst of it? I think we might know of someone who could be interested in helping you out (once he’s solved a chronic starting problem).