The hit-man is not just a fictional anti-hero; the Jackal, after all, has just emerged into an all-too-real network of marksmanship and police chases. This is the world of Quiller and a new television series starting this week. It is a dangerous, lonely life. Here Russell Miller discovers how a man survives it: TOP SECRET - CONTROLLER'S EYES ONLY - (NOT TO BE REMOVED FROM FILES [AUTO-DESTRUCT].
Code Name: Quiller. Classification: 9 (has withstood torture). Date of Birth: 11.10.36. Personal History: Not recorded. Vulnerabilities: Nil. Operational Sphere: World-wide. Missions Completed: 35 as at Aug 75. Injuries Sustained: See medic file JA/594/B. Modus Operandi: Alone. Unarmed. Special Comments: Can be difficult - handle with care. Will: Nothing of value, no dependants, next-of-kin unknown. Quiller is not his real name. He works for an organisation known as The Bureau, which officially does not exist. His past is a mystery. He does not drink or smoke, never carries a gun, rarely smiles. He is obdurate, nihilistic, extremely dangerous..
This is how he describes his job: "You've got to learn to cross the line and live your life outside society, shut yourself away from people, cut yourself off. Out there you're alone and you have no one you can trust, not even the people running you: because if you make a mistake and look like fouling up the mission or exposing The Bureau, then they'll throw you to the dogs". The words are Elleston Trevor's. Mr Trevor, author of some thirty-four books, created the enigmatic figure of Quiller in the mid-1960s when the spy novel, as a genre, was at its zenith. Fleming, Deighton and Le Carre had presented the fictional secret agent with a totally new image. Gone were the unashamedly xenophobic and gentlemanly days of Richard Hanny and Bulldog Drummond. James Bond was packing the cinemas, laying all the best-looking girls, eating and drinking of the best, ruthlessly killing his enemies..
John Le Carre, in The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, had shown, almost for the first time, the seamy dishonesty of the whole espionage business. And in The Ipcress File, Len Deighton's spy hero was something else again: a cheeky working-class lad from Burnley with a cheerful dislike for all forms of authority. Following this illustrious line came Quiller. Close, antic-social, acerbic, almost puritanical, he owed nothing to his forebears. Elleston Trevor, writing under the pen-name Adam Hall, completed six Quiller books (the first of which was filmed as The Quiller Memorandum) and none of them sheds any real light on the emotions or motivation of the main character. Brain Spattered All Over The Wall: Paradoxically, it is the deliberately unanswered questions about Quiller that make him such an interesting man. You know nothing of his background, how he came into such a dangerous game. He claims he is in the business because he needs the stimulation of constant risks; yet there is an underlying implication of high morality, a desire for a better world..
Michael Jayston, who plays Quiller in the BBC-1 series starting this week, says that about the only thing they have in common is that neither of them carries a gun. Jayston is thirty-six, married with three children, and thoroughly enjoys both drinking and smoking. He was born in Nottingham and worked as a trainee accountant in the offices of the National Coal Board before he became an actor. "I had always been very keen on the idea of acting, but it wasn't until I happened to see a touring company in action that I decided to have a go". He won a scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and kept himself by working during the holidays in Nottingham fish market. After a spell with Salisbury repertory, he joined Bristol Old Vic and then the Royal Shakespeare Company. His portrayal of the Tsar in the film Nicholas And Alexandra established his reputation..
Last year he took over Alec McCowen's role in Equus at the National Theatre. Jayston does not take life too seriously. In Who's Who In The Theatre, he says his favourite sport is "listening to drains". "You mustn't get the idea that Quiller and I are totally out of sympathy," Jayston was careful to point out. "There is a lot about him which I respect. For example, he's an obstinate, perverse so-and-so. The way they get him to accept a mission is to tell him he can't do it, so he will then do his damnedest to get it out of sheer bloody-mindedness. That I like. But there are also elements of his character that would really frighten me. I mean, this business of refusing ever to carry a gun. He justifies it by saying that a gun would give him a false sense of superiority; he reckons his brain will get him out of tricky situations. Well, if you and I were agents on opposing sides out to get each other and you had a gun and I didn't, it seems to me that my brain is more likely to be spattered all over the wall than helping me escape"..
Although predominantly a classical actor, Jayston had no qualms about taking on the role of a contemporary hero. "I have always loved spy stories," he said. "I remember in the books I used to read as a kid, secret agents were terribly sporting. Of course it is different now: spies are just as likely to be inadequate, expendable, sordid little me as heroes. I suppose the reality of being a secret agent lies somewhere between the two extremes. Personally, I wouldn't think Bond bears much resemblance to the real thing. But Quiller well, who knows?". (Radio Times, August 23, 1975 - Article by Russell Miller)...