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Spooks writer Neil Cross goes off The Grid

As the latest explosive series of Spooks comes to an end (the final episode is on Monday at 9.30pm), we caught up with the writer Neil Cross and talked death, offending the Russians and smashing up hotel rooms.

You're well known for killing off the leads and pretty quickly! We can refer to Helen Flynn (played by Lisa Faulkner) unfortunate clash with a deep fat fryer in Series 1 and recently Adam's (played by Rupert Penry-Jones) demise in the car bomb.  What's the secret to killing off the leads in such shocking ways without ever losing the impact?

Neil Cross:  Those moments are terrifying and no-body decides them for themselves how to do it.  I think I've probably got the highest hit rate!  I think I've killed more than anybody else!  There's one still to be seen in this series... Well there are two in the series but only one of them is mine - the final one. 
We tend to know who is leaving and who is not, before the series starts.  We had big, big conversations with Rupert Penry-Jones about how Adam Carter was going to go.  It's never just the caprice of the writer.  We just all sit in a room together and talk about roughly the kind of death we want that character to have.  So for instance, we all decided, unanimously, that for Adam, it had to be a  hero's death involving plenty of pyrotechnics.
Bizarrely I've never written an episode of Spooks with a bomb in it before.  All of my episodes had avoided bombs.  So I thought well, in this series there have been so many bombs that stopped one second before it detonated, wouldn't it be great for the one time that Adam wasn't lucky... So he had this spectacular heroic death.  He died saving lives and died in a halo of fire. 

What we particularly liked as well was the scene after that with the child and how he knew - it was so powerful.

Neil Cross:  Oh yeah, I love that.  A lot of people wrote to me and cried when they read the script for that.  That's one of my favourite little moments, people love that moment.  I love that moment. 

How has Harry survived for so long?

Neil Cross: He doesn't get out in the field as much as he used to does old Harry - he's mostly at The Grid because he's boss material now.  One of the lines from my episode which has been taken up a couple of times since is that Harry (Pearce) is the still point of the turning world in many ways. Peter Firth as Harry Pearce is absolute lynch pin of Spooks.  There may be chaos and death and destruction all around him but I think it would be tragic for the series to lose Harry.  Nations all over the world would go into mourning..

How much support from the real MI5 do you and the team get?  Do you have a spook who keeps you in the loop?

Neil Cross:  Yeah, we use KGB, CIA and MI5 advisors.  Personally I've never actually made use of them because I don't trust spies.  The information they volunteer isn't the information I want to hear.  I want to hear what they're not allowed to tell us, what they don't tell us.  But certainly there are security service liaisons and I managed to insult the KGB liaison last year enormously. It was the read-through for episode one of this series where the Russians are the baddies.  In the original script there was a quote from Karl Marx (I can't remember exactly now) but it was about how Russian psychology and essentially how Russia is a ravenous beast and it will never be satisfied.  And a lot of people attend the read-throughs and I was sat next to Peter Firth who plays Harry and behind us were a bunch of people I'd never met.  Peter then read this line about the Russians and I just heard from behind me go 'this is not true'. 
And behind me was the ex-KGB advisor that they used and the weird thing about him was you've never seen anyone look more like a KGB advisor in your life!  He had a black suit and a black turtle neck and a very thin face with his hair in a widow's peak swept back.  So I had to spend the rest of the day avoiding him. 

Ros (Hermione Norris) is nothing less than ruthless - but we saw a different side to her after Adam died...

Neil Cross: It's very tough with Ros.  Ros is my favourite character to write.  Hermione is the most fantastic actor and she does give a fantastic depth to Ros.  She does have all the emotions.  I have written a few emotional episodes for her including the one where she smashes up the hotel room, which is one of my favourite bits of Spooks ever. She is able to tap into those emotional depths and then return to icy/controlled world which is a fantastic feat for an actor to achieve.  But the demands of Spooks are just that we don't have enough time, I think, to explore our characters private lives and depth we explore them exercising their duty.  Ros is too busy to be fluffy. 

What's been your favourite series to write? 

Neil Cross: I've got favourite bits.  Most of my favourite bits involve Ros actually.  There's one in Series 6 where Ros dies and is poisoned by Juliette and I love Hermione's performance in that episode and I love the death scene in particular.  And I loved Ros smashing up the hotel room.  Those two bits are probably my favourite moments. 

Click here to find out about Burial, the latest novel by Neil Cross.