From school teacher to spy

Leytonstone teacher Marlene Service explains how an interest in espionage helped make her a reality TV star

Marlene Service

Marlene Service in an episode of reality show Spies (credit Minnow Films/Channel 4)

My spy skills have been tested by means that include kidnap simulation, gun handling, surveillance, anti-surveillance, ethical hacking, and manipulation techniques.

It has all been an attempt to ascertain whether or not I have what it takes to make it in the world of espionage. But it isn’t a job at MI6 that I’ve applied for – in fact I am still a teacher at a Leytonstone secondary school!

The tests have been part of a new Channel 4 reality show called Spies. I got involved when I saw the training programme advertised online and applied through the website. The selection process was gruelling and encompassed several interviews and tests on and off camera before I was finally accepted; an old acquaintance of mine was even contacted, visited, filmed and asked to give a character reference for me as part of the vetting procedure.

For me this process was intense and difficult but undeniably character-building and extremely exciting. I remember feeling my heart beat rapidly several times, especially during an anti-surveillance task where I had to detect and identify whether or not I was being followed, and by whom, giving a detailed description.

We were advised to isolate ourselves from family and friends during the making of the show, and this was tough as I had to be away from my husband and children. But it was also important that I remained focused and contributed my best efforts; knowing that they were well cared for and rooting for me at home.

My interest in espionage stems from when I studied criminology at university in 2009. I chose this course because the study of people and behaviour fascinated me, and I was particularly interested in understanding what different variants make people tick and why people commit specific types of crimes. Since studying I have invested a lot of time looking into crime-prevention research methods that focus on how to reduce crime across particular social groups.

This curiosity of the ‘unknown world’ around criminal justice was part of the appeal for me to take part in this reality series. Being part of the show motivated me to look at crime in a different way, considering potential weaknesses in an infrastructure as opposed to putting single focus on ‘the criminal’.

There are people who will offend if they are given the opportunity, perhaps as a society we could put our efforts into removing these opportunities. Is a car thief at fault if we were to leave the car unlocked with the keys in?

Since being on the show I have considered a career adjustment and have enrolled back into higher education; I am now completing a masters in security management and fraud prevention. I guess reality television can be inspiring after all!

I am often asked what is going to happen next in the show; but I’m afraid, if I told you, I’d have to kill you.

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