By James Fenimore Cooper, dramatised by DJ Britton.
New York State, 1778. Henry Wharton, a young soldier for the British in the American War of Independence, creeps into no-man's land to spend an evening with his family. But the happy reunion is cut short when American troops surround the house. Can the mysterious peddler Harvey Birch provide Henry with a means of escape?
Harvey Birch....Burn Gorman
Mr Wharton....James Lailey
Mr Harper....Timothy Watson
Peyton Dunwoodie....Simon Bubb
Captain Lawton....Gerard McDermott
Colonel Wellmere....Adam Billington
Isabella Singleton....Victoria Inez Hardy
Directed by Sasha Yevtushenko.
Studio managers: Anne Bunting, Jenni Burnett, Alison Craig.
Editor: Anne Bunting
Production Co-ordinator: Beverly Tagg
Published in 1821, The Spy was the first commercially successful American work of popular fiction. On top of that, it is also generally regarded as the world's first espionage novel. Until Fenimore Cooper, spies in fiction had been villains, the lowest of the low. But in creating Harvey Birch (played here by Burn Gorman), a double agent during the American War of Independence, Cooper began the tradition of spy-as-hero, leading to the great genre novels of the late 19th and 20th centuries.
Set in Westchester County, New York State, in 1778, we meet Harvey Birch, a mysterious pedlar, when he turns up unexpectedly at The Locusts, a house in no-man's-land between British and American forces, owned by the wealthy Wharton family. The Whartons are a family of divided loyalties: one of the daughters, Frances, is engaged to an American officer. The other, Sarah, is a romantic royalist. Birch who, with his father, lives in a small house nearby is, it is rumoured, a double agent and both sides have put a price on his head. His house has been attacked by British forces, and Birch has been forced to take to the dangerous road...
Travelling on foot with his salesman's pack on his back, Birch appears to steer clear of political or military allegiances, trading with both sides. Yet whenever the honour and the safety of decent people is in danger, Birch is at hand. He suffers appalling indignities, is robbed, burnt out of his home by the terrifying Skinners - American outlaws posing as Patriot irregulars - and is sentenced to death by the American forces. He never uses his privileged position to save his own skin, for, only at the very end of the story is it revealed, that he has a personal commission - from George Washington himself.
Henry Wharton creeps into no-man's land to spend an evening with his family.