Tutor passes the ‘Secret Agent’ test

AS a teacher, Debbey Clitheroe is usually the one helping to prepare her students for all the world can throw at them.

However, after she replied to a mysterious advert in The Stage magazine the Production Arts tutor from Priestley College was the one taking on the toughest of physical and mental challenges.

For after a rigorous selection process – which included fitness tests, an hour with a psychotherapist and mental agility assessments – the 47-year-old made it onto BBC2’s Secret Agent Selection: WW2.

“This wasn’t something I did as a teacher, as a mum or a daughter it is something I did for myself to see what skills I had,” said Debbey, who specialises in special effects makeup.

“I was also tired of people telling me what I couldn’t do because I was of a certain age so that is why I responded to the advert.”

The BBC programme offered an insight into how British people were trained to become Specialist Operations Executive officers during the Second World War.

During filming those taking part were cut off from the outside world with no mod cons and dropped into an undisclosed location in the Highlands.

Everything was made to feel like the 1940s down to the participants’ wooden toothbrushes, the newspapers they read and the radio broadcasts by Churchill.

“It was all very clever,” said Debbey, who is the ‘poster girl’ for the show on Netflix in America.

“We didn’t see the cameras and we hardly ever saw the crew working behind the scenes.”

The programme combined a historical re-telling of Churchill’s SOEs with a gruelling training plan for the participants.

Debbey, a mum-of-three, said: “One of my biggest fears is open water and for one of the tasks we had to swim across a loch while dragging a log and backpack in our 1940s’ uniform.

“That was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve done.”

Debbey, a vegetarian, also had to gut a live rat and stuff it with plastic explosives, train in guerilla warfare and become familiar with aspects of propaganda.

Despite the challenges she completed the challenge and was one of six participants who made it to the end.

When she returned to normality Debbey felt compelled to spread the word about the women whose lives she had some experience of during the reality show.

“They helped build the resistance groups and many of them didn’t come back,” she said. “It made me wonder whether we would have won the war without them.”