THAT DARN TAT! The Lucas North/William Blake Case Revisited

Harry Pearce Sees Lucas;’s Tattoos for the First Time (from Library)

Since the first heart-stopping reveal of Lucas North’s naked torso displaying the tattooed image of William Blake’s “Ancient of Days ” (The Tattoo), fans of Richard Armitage and Spooks  have struggled to reconcile Lucas’s rumored admiration of the British poet, William Blake with what we know about him. here  and here  For example, why are we so fascinated with Lucas’s  fascination? Maybe because we don’t buy it. We don’t believe the rationale offered by Lucas’s ex-wife, Elizabeta: “Blake was a visionary and distrusted systems. Lucas is the same.” (Spooks 7.2). It doesn’t square with the spy we know. Yet we can’t ignore The Tattoo. It is front and center, a Blake icon, the  geometric composition  balanced and striking.  His other tattoos are crudely drawn,  blue ink  on ashen skin from years of confinement; but The Tattoo is artistic, familiar, especially to the British, and hauntingly beautiful. For me, it surpasses in beauty the garishly colored original. We ache for  Lucas,

Yet the beauty of  The Tattoo is some comfort. We need to know more.lucas3

And then there’s the anomaly. What the hell were the Spooks writers thinking when they described as an anarchist, a career government employee who, continually put his life at risk and endured eight years of torture and  prison to help protect and preserve the political and economic systems in place? How is Lucas North a “visionary” no matter what definition of the term is used, whether it be “a Utopian,”“one who sees the future with imagination” or “one who sees visions”?  On the other hand, there must have been some reason driving  the writers to define some aspect of Lucas’s personality or history with a connection to Blake when they first drew his character.  Whatever it was, except for a passing screen shot in season 9,  the crew entirely dropped the  matter after Lucas’s second appearance in episode 7.2.   Was this just another example of  Spooks writers lazy continuity, or is there another explanation?

If the goal was to give Lucas a softer, more  romantic side as a poetry lover,  then William Blake makes sense. Lucas, having grown-up in  England,  would know at least something of Blake, if not by study, then by osmosis.  Blake’s song, “Jerusalem,”  is the unofficial national anthem of England.  It is sung regularly, as well as for special occasions, for example,  the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics and the royal wedding. Despite the unapproachable aspect of Blake’s most important work, much of his earlier  poetry is very accessible.  It appears in most  poetry anthologies.

It’s less likely that Lucas would have been as conversant with Blake’s later canon of work, referred to as The Prophecies. These are a collection of related  epics  for which Blake created a complicated, overlapping, original mythology with many characters. Urizen  (often pronounced U-Reason)  the figure in The Tattoo, is the antagonist.  Urizen is Blake’s bad guy. ( Blake’s hero is sometimes the figure in the second print Lucas owned, shown below.) If Lucas knew even one of the Prophecies, he would have known that Urizen  is the allegorical symbol for,  among other things, Reason  and that he was in favor of systems. For Blake, Reason is stagnant and destructive because it stifles imagination, creation  and the sense of self.   Blake’s Urizen was the bad guy because he was the opposite of anarchy. Lucas  would not choose a depiction of Urizen as an emblem of anarchy. No one would if  he or she admired Blake.

Maybe the Spooks writers didn’t know, because they offer us nothing to resolve the inconsistency.  Lucas never mentions William Blake.  The image in The Tattoo is never identified.  Lucas does have  two popular Blake prints in his new flat, one of which is the same “Ancient of Days” as the The Tattoo . The other is “The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed In Sun.” That’s Blake for you, the god figure is the bad guy and the dragon/serpent is the hero. Lucas should have chosen the great Red Dragon if his back story were true –but the Dragon is neither beautiful nor suitable for the purpose.  Imagine that obscene tail trailing down Lucas’s front pointing directly past his middle waist. Not pretty.

Lucas Straightens His Newly Installed Artwork (SpooksFanBlog)

I suggest that The Tattoo came first, and the back story was a halfhearted attempt to explain it.  The writers had to give Lucas North tattoos because he spent eight years in a Russian prison. As Lucas tells Harry, tattoos show that you belong, and there is a strict iconography to their meaning. Don’t forget, these are the same writers who wrote the scene requiring Richard Armitage to give water boarding a try, for authenticity. And as it turned out, all the tattoos generated lots of discussion, analysis and attention,  so it was a good move. The Spooks boys didn’t bother telling us the meaning of the iconography, but you can find explanations of each of Lucas’s tattoos -except the Urizen – here . The explanation given for The Tattoo is speculative because the writer didn’t find it in her research as she did the others.  She reasonably considered it a religious image because the actual “Ancient of Days’ comes from the Bible . Blake did not consider Urizen to be a religious figure.

BlakeArtTattooI believe that the writers needed just the right tattoo for Lucas’s chest.  Probably the make-up team scouted books for images to make transfers, and they came upon The Tattoo.  They needed an outline form for practical and aesthetic reasons. It had to be recognizable. “The Ancient of Days” is iconic. It’s  on everything from  T-shirts to tote bags.

Clearly it was of  little import that The Tattoo was not a bona fide Russian prison Tat or that it is the one piece of Blake rt that no self-respecting  anarchist would choose as an emblem. Even the sole explanation they do give us shows a lack of interest. The phrase that “Blake was a visionary and an anarchist” is as ubiquitous as Ancient of Days. It appears in the title of many books and articles about Blake, and is how “he” described himself on his Facebook page.

More Colors!

More Colors!

Ancient Of Days Totebag

Ancient Of Days Totebag

39 thoughts on “THAT DARN TAT! The Lucas North/William Blake Case Revisited

  1. Pingback: New Richard Armitage blog: Armitage Agonistes opens with “That Darn Tat!” | Me + Richard Armitage

    • The whole Blake story bothered me from Day One. and the more episodes I watched, the more it bugged me. If he was in solitary with no visitors for eight years, as he says to Harry and Ros,- why did he have to fit in? Who gave him the tattoos? I guess he was really in solitary for only 4 years, as he says in season 8. A bit sloppy.


      • He could have been in solitary for the first eight years before they let him out with the rest of the prison population for the next four years. This would be how he would have gotten his tats then. It still doesn’t explain the Blake tattoo because it’s not necessarily fitting in when you’re wanting the tattoo artist to draw something so unfamiliar to a Russian. Oh well…it is what it is, though I still don’t plan on watching season 9.


        • Well he was in prison for eight years, so his statements don’t jive. Yes, I also wondered what sort of inmate would know enough about the Blake picture to draw it on someone. It didn’t seem like the sort of prison with a good library. Season 9 gives a whole new meaning to a “Broken” Lucas North.


  2. I felt they dropped the ball with the whole tattoo business and using it to help us understand this character better and gain great insights into his past. Terrible continuity in so many ways–consider the amazing travelling tattoo that kept inching from his wrist up his forearm.

    Oh, I know why they did it, it was smudging too easily where they originally located it. But it would have been nice is so MANY aspects had been thought through properly.

    As for the entire John Bateman scenario–all a fiction. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it! 😉

    thanks for this great post.


      • The new team of writers they brought in for S9 either didn’t bother to read any of the earlier scripts or did and cavalierly decided to dismiss virtually everything established about Lucas’s personality, character, past. They said something to the effect they wanted to make a big impression—well, they did. A rotten one. I also noted with interest a lot of their background in writing was in comedy.

        Interesting, because they gave us a not-at-all-funny comedy of egregious errors. And so in my little world, Bateman is the lie, Lucas is the truth, and he is So Not Dead.


        • I’m spinning. That thing took me 48 hours to put together. Not including some research. I’m practically incompetent with the program. Re: Lucas and season 9- it was almost criminal what they did to that character.  He just disintegrated into a jelly mess. Even if Lucas were John Bateman, Lucas would have found a way out – so it was just not credible. And that Maya story- I’ve was so tired that I had to keep going back to correct where I wrote Armistad instead of Armitage.



  3. Really liked your blog. Also thought the whole tattoo thing was overdone. I think the writers couldn’t use the red dragon because Finnes wore it in the movie of the same same. All over his back. Maybe that’s where they got the idea. The Blake tattoo was too well done to be a fellow inmate’s work. Did he copy it from the prison library or his I pad?


  4. Hi Perry, great post! Thanks!

    I always wondered how that tattoo could be so skilfully done in a Russian prison (apart from all the other questions). Now I have to go and hunt for the travelling tattoo mentioned by Fedoralady!


    • Urizen was not G-d, but he was the creator of the world when he first appeared in Blake’s mythology. In Ancient of Days, he is holding a huge compass which is an architect’s tool, so Mr. Armitage is not far off.I’m not sure about his take on “recreating oneself.”


      • Urizen was also thought to represent the abstraction of human self, so one’s “self” can be changed into anything, if it’s only thought of as an “idea”. also since Urizen was always trying to enforce law & order, the symbolism for the tat could appear to be a bold neon sign: look at me, I’m doing what you want, I’m conforming. but to Lucas personally, it could actually be the reverse: this is what I’m fighting against, the uniformity.


  5. That’s really interesting– I never put those two elements together, but you’ve done it beautifully. But I think the Ancient of Days symbol suits Lucas perfectly, at least in series 7 & 8.
    Okay, here’s my theory: IMHO, spy novels typically tell the story of one noble protagonist fighting against an evil, corrupt, monolithic system. It’s not a fight against one enemy system. All systems are evil: social structures, governments, even your own, they’re all flawed and bad.
    It is the duty of the one noble protagonist to lay everything on the line to allow Justice to prevail. Even if the ONP loses everything during the course of the struggle, he or she has prevailed if, at the end of the story, ONP is alive to fight again another day.
    In that context, the ONP (that is, Lucas, as he was in series 7 & 8) has no reason to trust any system, not even his own, which abandoned him to the Russian prison.
    In Series 9 and 10, the new writers have changed everything to make Sir Harry Pearce the ONP and in the process they trashed everything Lucas was up until then.
    Early in Spooks/MI-5, the stories didn’t follow this spy-novel paradigm at all — it was about the human relationships among a group of co-workers whose secret and dangerous jobs compelled them to bond together almost as a family. It was like The Sopranos in that way, that it showed the complexity of the characters who had to show one face to some people, and a very different one to others. In that sense, the story was about individuals vs. individuals, not individuals vs. nature (or the system).
    That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. 🙂


  6. Pingback: Letters are the Commonality Between Jesus, Richard Armitage and A Supreme Court Justice | Armitage Agonistes

  7. Pingback: I Dream of Lucas North | Armitage Agonistes

  8. Viggo Mortensen did extensive research on russian tattoo for his role in Eastern Promises which explains the history and meaning of them. Each depicts and has a specific meaning and only specific people in the prison can tattoo these onto a prisoners body. There is an excellent documentary on utube on russian prison tattoos if anyone is interested in this subject. It is still practised in russia today.


    • Thank you and welcome. I’m aware of the video since it was brought to my attention when this, my first substantive post ever, was published. I can’t recall though, whether the Viggo story was brought to my attention at the time. Russian prison tats turn up a lot in the crime/police shows I love to watch.


  9. Hi, hope you don’t mind me popping in here. But as a former Correctional Officer and admirer of tattoos, for the most part. To presume prison tats are crudely drawn is wrong. While the bell towers on Lucas’ back are rather child like compared to the Blake one. I can assure you I have seem some of the most beautiful tattoos that have been done while in prison. There are some amazing artists in prison. It surprised me he only had one Star tat, most go for two. Which doesn’t mean, he didn’t have two on his knees.
    The whole tattoo thing bothered me as well. There are major gaps in his story. There might have been a John Bateman but Lucas’ first memories of him were correct and Vaughn was the true manipulator. I too feel like Lucas’ death was faked. He wasn’t this crazed maniac. Sure he drugged Ruth but she wasn’t going to die, the bomb was a fake. If he were the “true” John, John wouldn’t have cared and let Ruth die and he would have blown the bomb. He would have killed Harry and then, maybe jumped to his death. Lucas did none of these things.
    Sorry if I seem a bit rambly. My brain moves faster than my fingers and my thoughts tend to jumble!


  10. Pingback: I Can Hear the Press Questions Now. Will Richard Armitage Sport Another William Blake Tattoo? | Armitage Agonistes

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  12. Pingback: Someone really needs to ask Richard Armitage about Blake in an interview sometime | Me + Richard Armitage

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