ITV's Adaptation of Game, Set & Match - 1988

Game, Set & Match

The plot

This 12-part mini series was follows the plots of the three books pretty much to the letter: the discovery of the mole; Fiona's flight from London to Moscow; the turning of Erich Stinnes and then the dramatic end-game in Berlin, when Bernard inadvertantly plays the pawn in a Kremlin powergame.

There is one significant difference in the screenplay which does nevertheless work dramatically on-screen in helping move along the initial storyline. The first 40 minutes of the series goes back to 1978 and Bernard's escape from Poland with the help of members of the Brahms network. In the book, this back story is introduced intermittently. In the TV series, it frames the story right from the start, making more of Bernard's status as an ex-field guy and his reluctance to move from his safe desk in London to the dangerous streets of East Berlin.

Notes on the TV adaptation

This was at the time the highest-priced TV mini-series, with a budget of £8 million, much of it spent on location filming. It also employed a good range of quality British and German actors, so the omens appeared to be right that this would be a hit. It was received well, critically - Ian Holm, who plays Bernad Samson, went on to receive a BAFTA nomination for best actor (and the series also received a nomination for best film editing) and was promoted heavily by Granada TV and ITC as one of their hit autumn series. Click here to see how the drama was given front-page coverage in TV Times magazine, the leading listings title, in October 1988.

The adaptation is pretty faithful, but perhaps a weakness is that in covering all three of the books, it ended up at nearly fifteen hours of broadcast programming. That required a lot of the pre-Christmas TV audience on ITV (not, one would have thought, its natural station) and clearly, many didn't last the pace. Deighton clearly didn't share the producer's and the channel's enthusiasm for the show and bought all the rights to the series to prevent re-transmission.

Perhaps he knew something; it was in the end a ratings disaster for ITV (the main commercial channel in the UK). Copies were available for hire in some UK video shops but this series has never been shown again, which is a shame.

Granada TV no longer holds the copyright, which has reverted to Deighton, who has confirmed that he will not release a commercial version as he was ultimately unhappy with the casting, though he recognises the quality of the production. Bootleg copies are available from time to time online.

Filming over twelve parts did give the screenwriter scope for developing the key characters and plot lines. What does come across is that the directors wanted to demonstrate that all spies have a domestic and personal hinterland, from which they never can divorce their work. Significant chapters of the books are missing, but I think overall it develops key relationships well.

Of particular note are the extent to which the director plays up the close relationship between Bernard and Werner - how they both look out for each other against enemies from both sides of the wall - and the lengths to which Bernard will go to wind up and annoy his boss Dicky Cruyer, who despite being portrayed as a bit of a twit is shown to be clearly the master of the dark arts of office politics which Deighton portrays him as in the books.

Opening sequence, Game, Set & Match, 1988


Click here to see a gallery of the main members of the cast.

Click here to see images of key places in Samson's Berlin.

Production details

Directors: Ken Grieve and Patrick Lau
Brian Armstrong
Screenplay: John Howlett
Ian Holm (Bernard Samson); Mel Martin (Fiona Samson); Amanda Donohoe (Gloria Kent); Gottfried John (Erich Stinnes); Michael Degen (Werner Volkmann).
Richard Harvey
October 1988 over 12 weekly episodes