Key Characters

Quick revise
The video and text below explore the key characters in the novel Spies by Michael Frayn
Spies by Michael Frayn Video Link


  • Stephen’s background is shrouded in mystery, as are a number of elements in the novel, and is only explained later.
  • Stephen, it turns out towards the end of the novel, is not English, but German.
  • His family moved to England in 1935. This would most probably have been because they were escaping the persecution there. His father is a German Jew and his mother is English.
  • They live a very middle class life, but he feels inferior to his friend Keith, who goes to a better school and his family are a higher class than his.
  • He is very much a follower and does what he is told to do, to the extent that he gets too involved in their spying game/ action.
  • He grows up a lot in the novel as he realises that things aren’t as they seem.
  • He has sexual feeling too, as Barbara awakens his adolescence.
  • Stephen is an outsider and it seems he is bullied at school.
  • Intelligent, calm, organised, he comes up with all the ideas in his activities with Stephen.
  • A leader, Stephen follows him obediently to begin with.
  • An outsider, no one seems to like him, except for Stephen.
  • He is aloof and does not like to mix with those he considers to be beneath him, which seems to be all the children on the street.
  • He is deceptive and Stephen always gets the blame for leading him astray when it is clearly he that is leading Stephen.
  • Keith is brought up strictly by his parents, particularly his father.
  • His life is ordered and controlled.
  • School dominates his life (showing order) and he is always cleaning his cricket bat or tidying his bedroom to emphasise this sense of ordered life. In some ways Stephen’s involvement with him breaks down the order and this eventually leads to the problems.
  • Barbara spies on the boys during the novel.
  • It is never explained how she knows exactly when they are in their hideout, but she does.
  • She challenges Stephen and encourages him to be independent of Keith.
  • Stephen feels threatened by her, but also strangely attracted to her.
  • She stirs feelings in Stephen and contributes to his sexual awakening.
  • She contributes to Stephen’s experimentation with smoking. She is a lower class than Keith and even Stephen, although she can relate to Stephen more.
Mr Hayward
  • A very strict, ordered man.
  • Perhaps he is making up for the fact that he isn’t fighting like the rest of the men so he has to have a strong sense of control at home.
  • He appears quite brutal and his beating of Keith, although never actually described, seems unpleasant.
  • There is a sinister edge to his character as he never seems to get annoyed in an uncontrolled manner, as his voice remains calm and casual, which makes him seem even more threatening.
  • Whilst he has control over Keith in the end, he has to work hard to keep his wife in check.
  • He is not a character we feel any affection towards.
Mrs Hayward
  • There is a lot of mystery surrounding her. Is she a spy? Where does she go on her frequent shopping trips?
  • She is presented as an attractive lady.
  • She hardly ever speaks to Stephen at first and it is only when she realises they are spying on her that she has to.
  • Out of desperation she implores Stephen to help her.
  • Her emotional nature breaks in here and we feel sorry for her.