Once I finished watching this political thriller, I learned it was based on Chris Mullin’s 1982 book: A Very British Coup. Six years later the book aired as a TV miniseries of the same name.
The series, like the book, tells the story of Harry Perkins, an ex-steel worker who led his far left Labour Party to victory on ambitious plans to withdraw from NATO, nuclear disarmament and removal of US bases from Britain. This agenda horrifies the British Establishment (i.e. senior civil servants, press barons, high-ranking bank officials and more) who act quickly to bring the new leader down. It isn’t long before Perkins figures out what is up and fights for his and his party’s survival.
The basis for Secret State, like the 1988 miniseries, was Mullins book. There were some changes but largely the plot is the same. The main character Perkins became Dawkins, who transitioned from the military to being a minister of parliament. He rose to second in command to British Prime Minister Felix Durrell.
At the start of the series Dawkins is in charge of investigating an industrial accident in Tesside that killed nineteen people and damaged or destroyed the surrounding homes and buildings. The plant belongs to PetroFex, an US petrochemical company, who has a home base in Texas. Durrell hopes an in person meeting with company executives will lead to a compensation package for the citizens of Tesside.
Then out of the blue Durrell dies in a mysterious plane crash, and Dawkins becomes acting Prime Minister. While seeking the truth and justice not only for those who died in Tesside but for Durrell’s death too, he battles the Establishment in his country who want certain secrets to stay that way.
The Secret State script was co-written by Mullin who along with script writer Robert Jones kept the concept of A Very British Coup intact while at the same time updating the material for the current century. I would highly recommend Secret State to others to watch. It pacts a powerful punch and, I think, the program like its source and original miniseries will long present a relevant picture of current politics.