Entertainment

The wannabe woman spy who is 5ft tall – and as hard as nails: CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV

Secret Agent Selection: WW2 (BBC2)

Rating: The wannabe woman spy who is 5ft tall - and as hard as nails: CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night's TV

How astonishing, in this age of chemical bombs and beheadings on Facebook, to learn that early in World War II, the RAF and Royal Navy refused to drop British saboteurs behind Nazi lines.

Such warfare was not ethical, they believed.

It was not until 1941 that agents of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) — part MI6, part commando — were recognised as legitimate fighting men and women. Thankfully, Churchill had already given the go-ahead for training this cadre of spies for suicidally dangerous missions.

Conditions were as realistic as possible, with period uniforms and Forties newspapers, though the candidates did not have to survive on Spam and powdered egg

Conditions were as realistic as possible, with period uniforms and Forties newspapers, though the candidates did not have to survive on Spam and powdered egg

Conditions were as realistic as possible, with period uniforms and Forties newspapers, though the candidates did not have to survive on Spam and powdered egg

Secret Agent Selection: WW2 (BBC2) challenged a cross-section of modern Brits to tackle the gruelling SOE entry exams at a remote Scottish castle.

Conditions were as realistic as possible, with period uniforms and Forties newspapers, though the candidates did not have to survive on Spam and powdered egg. There’s probably a clause in the Geneva Convention about ‘weapons of mass indigestion’.

Many of the greatest agents were female, which is perhaps one reason why the admirals and air commodores balked: if women did not fight on the front line, how could they be expected to die behind it?

Faithful to the spirit of the trials, about half the trainees were women. One stood out, though she was barely 5ft tall: research scientist Lizzie Jeffreys flung herself at the assault course, scaling a wall twice her height, and declared she would kill an enemy without a moment’s hesitation.

Not all were so hardy. Actor and female impersonator Paul Stone from East London blubbed over press reports of the Blitz, and kept taking to his bed with migraines. Perhaps if he’d been a real woman, he might have been tougher.

Secret Agent Selection: WW2 (BBC2) challenged a cross-section of modern Brits to tackle the gruelling SOE entry exams at a remote Scottish castle

Secret Agent Selection: WW2 (BBC2) challenged a cross-section of modern Brits to tackle the gruelling SOE entry exams at a remote Scottish castle

Secret Agent Selection: WW2 (BBC2) challenged a cross-section of modern Brits to tackle the gruelling SOE entry exams at a remote Scottish castle

Reality TV has already shown us the ordeals faced by would-be SAS troops. This assessment looked less torturous: tests included building Meccano models.

That simply served to emphasise the sheer heroism of the wartime agents. They were pioneers, inventing the rules for undercover ops.

This five-part series respects their history. It doesn’t seek to stir up artificial conflicts between the contestants (unlike Bear Grylls’s atrocious The Island on C4) and there’s no fake emotion when people are sent home — just a curt ‘goodbye’.

The first four to leave included the drag artist and one woman who fretted about getting her hair caught on the barbed wire of the obstacle course.

Still, it was the remaining girls who scared me most. I’ll tell you what, I wouldn’t want to meet that tiny scientist in a dark alley, with a knife between her teeth and murder in her heart.

Kiss Me First (C4)

Rating: The wannabe woman spy who is 5ft tall - and as hard as nails: CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night's TV

Fighting women are the mainstay of Kiss Me First (C4), set largely in a virtual reality world where video game warriors brawl in 3D with everything from kung-fu kicks to anti-tank missiles.

If computer graphics don’t interest you, then this drama — aimed at young adults — will be meaningless. But it’s deeper and more thought-provoking than it seems at first. Tallulah Haddon plays Leila, an orphaned teenager enticed into a hidden level of the game where insecure, lonely people are befriended by a manipulative hacker.

Fighting women are the mainstay of Kiss Me First (C4), set largely in a virtual reality world where video game warriors brawl in 3D with everything from kung-fu kicks to anti-tank missiles

Fighting women are the mainstay of Kiss Me First (C4), set largely in a virtual reality world where video game warriors brawl in 3D with everything from kung-fu kicks to anti-tank missiles

Fighting women are the mainstay of Kiss Me First (C4), set largely in a virtual reality world where video game warriors brawl in 3D with everything from kung-fu kicks to anti-tank missiles

Haddon is outstanding — a newcomer, she makes Leila both odd and ordinary, a vulnerable child forced to fend for herself as an adult.

Kiss Me First echoes chilling news stories about online challenges in which young players are taunted to suicide.

But the virtual world could also be a metaphor for superstrong synthetic drugs: first soothing and seductive, then lethally addictive.

If you’re looking for something different on TV, try this.

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