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Series / Secret State

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A four part British Conspiracy Thriller Mini Series which ran on Channel 4 in late 2012. It stars Gabriel Byrne and Stephen Dillane and is based off the Chris Mullen novel A Very British Coup.

In the run up to a general election, a devastating industrial accident on Teesside kills 19 people and raises questions about the safety procedures of a US petrochemical company, PetroFex. The British Prime Minister claims to have secured a compensation package from them, but on his return from the US, his plane crashes in the Atlantic under mysterious circumstances. Deputy Prime Minister Tom Dawkins takes command, and during his quest to seek justice and closure for the victims and their families, he uncovers a conspiracy within the very government he is now leading.


This show contains examples of:

  • Alliterative Title
  • Arc Words: In a drunken quip at Dawkins when the latter is leaving his flat, Tony exclaims how he is "not allowed on little Tommy's trampoline". When Agnes Evans later leaves Tony information with a message at his local pub reading "This might help you get back on Tommy's trampoline", Tony immediately realises he is being bugged, and proceeds to trash his flat to try and find a listening device.
  • Awesome by Analysis: Tony Fossett is able to identify all three of Dawkin's plainclothes bodyguards when he meets him in the pub, given that before he became an alcoholic investigative journalist he worked for MI 5.
  • British Brevity: The series is only four episodes long.
  • Broken Pedestal: Tony Fossett, big time. A former high ranking member of MI 5, he was fired by Duchenne (his superior at the time) to cover up her own screw ups in an undercover operation. He now works as a freelance investigator and tabloid phone hacker, and has also descended into intense paranoia and crippling alcoholism.
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  • Bodyguard Betrayal: Averted. Despite virtually everyone in his personal circle scheming against him, Sgt. Wrigglesworth, Dawkins personal bodyguard, remains loyal to him to the very end. He even holds a group of MI6 officers at gunpoint to buy Dawkins more time to speak to Agnes Evans before she is arrested.
  • Buy Them Off: After Dermot Matthews, a worker at the Petrofex factory nearly drowned in a vat of experimental drone fuel the company was manufacturing, PetroFex put him on a bonus package and provided him with a private doctor to treat any condition he had developed in exchange for his silence.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Paul Clark, the CEO of PetroFex initially appears as one. However, it is later revealed he wanted no part in the conspiracy to depose Dawkins, resulting in the PetroFex board of directors firing him from the company.
  • Corrupt Politician: Most members of Prime Minister Tom Dawkin's cabinet.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The loading trolley in the background of the photo's taken of the Prime Ministers jet in Texas. Close analysis by Tony reveals that a cannister of volatile drone fuel fell off the trolley, and was unsuspectingly put back on and loaded into the plane. Due to the damage, and further interference from an electrical storm the plane passed through, it later exploded and destroyed the aircraft. An unfortunate accident, not an assassination of a world leader by the Iranian government.
  • Creator Cameo: Chris Mullin, the author of A Very British Coup, which served as inspiration for the series , appears briefly as a vicar.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Tony bleeds out slowly after his skull is cracked open (possibly also causing him brain damage) after he is attacked by a government operative who breaks into his home.
  • Dark Secret: When Tom Dawkins served in Bosnia, he was involved in a cover-up after a black ops mission to save his groups translator resulted in everyone but him being killed. The military later attempt to use this to smear his reputation and force him to resign.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Sergeant Wrigglesworth, Prime Minister Dawkins' bodyguard.
    (Approaching the grounded private jet of the PetroFex CEO)
    Tom Dawkins: "You don't think they will shoot us, do you sergeant?".
    Sgt. Wrigglesworth: "Well, you never can tell with the Americans, sir".
  • Death of a Child: One of the victims of the Scarrow explosion was a two year old girl. When Dawkins is surveying the damage post incident, he picks up her glove which still has some of her fingers inside it.
  • Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit:
    • The security services are quick to try and blame Sayid Khan, an adviser to Prime Minister Flyte, for orchestrating the plane explosion that killed both himself and the PM, as he took various pictures of the plane and sent them to his cousin before it took off. It is later revealed the only reason he and his cousin were so interested in the plane was because they were both avid aviation enthusiasts.
    • In order to get out of paying a hefty compensation package to the people of Scarrow, PetroFex attempts to place the blame on Dermot Matthews, a factory worker killed in the blast, suggesting he sabotaged the plant prior to the incident.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Dawkins chastises the head of the Royal Caledonian Bank (the majority shareholder of PetroFex), for transferring PetroFex's assets before the British Government can freeze them. A few days later, underground networks in London, Newcastle and Glasgow go into total shutdown as their bank refuses to sanction Oyster and debit card payments. No prizes for guessing which bank they operate with.
  • The Dog Bites Back: In response to the Royal Caledonian Bank (acting on behalf of PetroFex) threatening to destabilise the markets if Dawkins does not back down from his crusade, Dawkins instead strikes a deal with the Indian Government to underwrite Sterling and buy up the remaining shares of RCB (the British government already owned over 80%) in order to nationalise it, removing all power from Sir Michael Rix and the PetroFex board.
  • Downer Ending: The compassionate Tom Dawkins is removed from power by his own party, and is implied to have been replaced by the corrupt Felix Durrell. Agnes is in prison and Ellis story about the conspiracy, including the real cause of Charles Flyte's death, is buried. Sir Michael Rix, despite losing his position after the nationalisation of RCB, still wields considerable influence as a member of the PetroFex board. Furthermore, Tony is dead, the war hungry General Munnery (suspended by Dawkins) is brought back to active duty and it is implied that the the United Kingdom will go to war with Iran.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Dawkins is appalled when General Munnery suggests bombing terrorist suspects whilst they are praying. However, he is the only one in the room to voice an objection.
  • Military Coup: Elements of this are seen, but it is primarily the military collaborating with the intelligence services, banks, the private sector and members of government to remove a Prime Minister who goes against all of their interests.
  • Fictional Counterpart:
    • PetroFex can be seen to represent any large American chemical/oil company.
    • The Royal Caledonian Bank stands in for the Royal Bank of Scotland.
    • The New York Spectator, a tabloid press website Tony is seen reading during his investigation, stands in for the New York Post.
  • Give Me a Sign: When Tony has his skull broken by a government operative and is bleeding out, he pleads to Agnes, the GCHQ analyst he knows is spying on him, to give him a sign she heard the ordeal and will pass on the information exposing the conspiracy to the Prime Minister. She responds by remotely activating his cell phone to vibrate and light up.
  • Holding the Floor: Sgt. Wrigglesworth holds several MI6 officers at gunpoint and meticulously checks their ID's to buy the Prime Minister time to talk to Agnes Evans before she is arrested.
  • Honor Before Reason: Seen with John Hodder, the Chief Whip. Throughout the series he seems to primarily take Dawkins side, dismissing the smear campaign by the Mo D and disapproving of Durrell and Yelland's bickering and scheming. However, when it comes to the decision on whether or not to go to war with Iran, as chief whip his responsibility is to tow the party line, so he goes against both Dawkins and his own personal views and advises him to go ahead with the plan in order to show strength and solidarity.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Agnes Evans, a GCHQ analyst spying on Anthony Fossett later rebels against the very organisation she works for when she discovers they had Fossett killed and are implicit in a conspiracy to invade Iran under false pretences.
  • Ice Queen: Ros Yelland, the Foreign Secretary.
  • Impersonation Gambit: Tony specialises doing these over the phone in order to acquire sensitive information he would otherwise not be given access to. He impersonates both the pathologist examining the bodies from the Scarrow incident and a civil servant from the Scarrow Inquiry investigating the incident to acquire classified information which he then passes on to Dawkins.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Ellis Kane and Anthony Fossett.
  • Ironic Juxtaposition: The series opens with then Deputy PM Tom Dawkins walking amongst the bleak, scorched ruins of Scarrow after the explosion at the Petro Fex plant. In the background is a damaged election poster that reads 'Let's build a brighter Britain'.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: Sgt. Wrigglesworth (Special Branch) faces down with several MI6 officers in the final episode, assessing them as a threat to the PM (not unjust considering the lead agent is the man who killed Tony). He even briefly holds them at gunpoint to buy the Prime Minister some time.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Prime Minister Charles Flyte is in the middle of talking to Dawkins on the phone when the PetroFex plane transporting him back to the UK blows up.
  • Lower-Class Lout: PetroFex CEO Paul Clark reckons the government think this of both himself and the Prime Minister, due to their working class backgrounds.
    Paul Clark: "Do you know why we always find ourselves deep in the shit, Tom? You and me, we just didn't go to the right schools".
  • Mega-Corp: PetroFex, an American petrochemical giant.
  • Meaningful Name: Prime Minister Charles Flyte is killed when his plane crashes over the Atlantic.
  • Morally Bankrupt Banker: Sir Michael Rix. He is willing to be part of the conspiracy to declare war on Iran simply so foreign money will flow into his bank.
  • Never Suicide: It is implied MI6 kills the coroner investigating the bodies of those killed in Scarrow because he discovered the explosion was caused by a volatile new drone fuel being secretly manufactured at the plant. However, as he had been refusing to release the bodies to the families (as he wanted to do more toxicology tests to prove the drone fuel had caused injury to workers prior to the explosion), much to the dismay of the public, they are able to pass it off as the suicide of a man being hounded by the local community.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: Scarrow, the industrial town in Teesside where the PetroFex explosion took place, is fictional.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: A government operative delivers one to Anthony Fossett in his flat after he obtains information implicating members of the government in a conspiracy to go to war with Iran.
  • No Party Given:
    • Although never mentioned by name, it is strongly suggested that the party in power is the Conservatives, especially due to references describing them as "out of touch" and having an "image problem". Tom Dawkins and Charles Flyte (the former Prime Minister) are presented as more moderate, whereas Felix Durrell and Ros Yelland are shown to be much more traditionalist.
    • Given the strong implication that the ruling party is the Conservatives, it can be assumed that the Opposition, lead by Carol Malloy, are the Labour Party.
  • No True Scotsman: Various members of the Dawkin's party claim this when Dawkins, their own Prime Minister, nationalises the private Royal Caledonian Bank.
    Felix Durrell MP: "He's acting like some crazed Marxist!".
  • Properly Paranoid: Tony Fossett can be seen to fit the bill, removing the battery from his phone whenever he discusses confidential information. He is later proved right after finding a bug, with its own power source, planted in his cell phone.
  • Police Brutality: The MI6 officers who arrest Agnes Evans for breaching the Official Secrets Act are very rough with her, much to the Prime Minister's disgust.
    Tom Dawkins: "For Christ's sake take it easy!".
  • Pretext for War: When the Prime Ministers plane blows up across the Atlantic, and it's revealed an member of the crew had ties to Muslim extremists and made visits to Iran, various members of the government, banks and military see it as an excuse to start a war with Iran for monetary gain.
    • It is later revealed to be completely false, as the explosion was an accident caused by a cannister of volatile drone fuel being damaged prior being loaded onto the PetroFex plane carrying the PM. Furthermore, the PetroFex employee's trips to Iran were simply business related and he only hung around an extremist mosque in New York to convince his nephew to leave it.
  • Precision F-Strike: When PM Dawkins announces he is nationalising the Royal Caledonian Bank, due to many private banks failing the British people in the 2008 financial crisis.
    Tom Dawkins: "In return for this bailout they promised to lend to small businesses. Well did they lend to small businesses as they promised? Excuse my French, but did they fuck.".
  • Rank Up: After winning the general election it is implied that Felix Durrell is promoted from Home Secretary to Chancellor of the Exchequer by Dawkins.
  • Remove The Rival: Both the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary want to remove Tom Dawkins from power so they can compete for the office of the Prime Minister.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Prime Minister Tom Dawkins.
  • Retired Badass:
    • Prime Minister Tom Dawkins is a former soldier, and served in the Bosnian War before entering politics.
    • Anthony Fosset is a former MI 5 officer turned journalist who keeps a handgun in his apartment. However, after his descent into alcoholism it is obvious he has lost his edge, as when a government operative breaks into his house, he suffers a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown and is unable to fire a single shot, despite anticipating the break in.
  • Secret Police: Both MI6 and GCHQ act like this to a capacity. GCHQ bugs investigative journalist's phones and MI6 acts as the muscle in supporting factions of the government who want to go to war with Iran.
    • Especially evident when MI6 officers kill the Teeside coroner, Tony Fossett and arrest GCHQ analyst Agnes Evans.
  • Sinister Surveillance: GCHQ plants a bug and miniature battery in Tony Fossett's cell phone, so they can listen to and record every word he says even when he removes the phone's main battery.
    • Laura Duchenne, the head of MI 5, uses Londons CCTV to observe the Prime Minister meeting in private with journalist Ellis Kane.
  • The Alcoholic: Tony Fossett, Dawkins reporter friend who's second home is the pub opposite his apartment.
  • Time Skip: Between the first and second episodes. Only a few days has passed, but it is revealed that Dawkin's party won the general election and remain in control of the government, and Dawkins remains Prime Minister.
  • War Hawk: General Munnery, the Chief of Defence Staff. When Dawkins has to make a decision whether or not to authorise a drone strike to kill a terrorist leader, both Munnery and his subordinates purposefully fail to inform the Prime Minister that the location of the terrorist is incredibly close to the Iranian border, resulting in the Iranian government declaring war after Dawkin's authorises the strike.
  • Wham Line:
    • Ros Yelland, the Foreign Secretary, delivers one to Prime Minister Dawkins at the end of the second episode.
    Ros Yelland: "That drone strike. The Iranians say it was on their side of the border. They're treating it as an act of war".
    • When the Prime Minister reveals the true cause of the former PM's death and then declares a vote-no-confidence in his own government.
    Tom Dawkins: "The Iranians did not kill our Prime Minister. PetroFex did".
  • With Us or Against Us: The majority of the government towards Prime Minister Tom Dawkins. Made explicit during a discussion with Felix, his Home Secretary.
    Felix Durrell MP: "You have a choice. Come into the chamber now, and announce retaliation against Iran. Or, come in there and resign".


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