Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

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For the TV miniseries based on the novel, see Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (TV miniseries). For the film based on the novel, see Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (film).
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
JohnLeCarre TinkerTailorSoldierSpy.jpg
First UK edition
Author John le Carré
Cover artist Jerry Harpur[1]
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series George Smiley /
The Quest for Karla
Genre Spy novel
Publisher Hodder & Stoughton (UK)
Random House (USA)
Publication date
June 1974
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
ISBN 0-394-49219-6
OCLC 867935
823/.9/14
LC Class PZ4.L4526 Ti3 PR6062.E33
Preceded by The Naive and Sentimental Lover
Followed by The Honourable Schoolboy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a 1974 spy novel by British author John le Carré, featuring George Smiley. Smiley is a taciturn, middle-aged intelligence officer who has been forced into retirement. He is recalled to hunt down a Soviet mole in the "Circus", the highest echelon of the British Secret Intelligence Service.

In keeping with le Carré's work, the narrative begins in medias res with the repatriation of a captured British spy. The background is supplied during the book through a series of flashbacks.

Chronology[edit]

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is the first novel of the "Karla Trilogy," the second and third novels being The Honourable Schoolboy (1977) and Smiley's People (1979), later published in an omnibus edition as The Quest for Karla (1982). These are the fifth, sixth, and seventh le Carré spy novels featuring George Smiley. Three characters who are important players in TTSS first appeared in le Carré's very first book, Call for the Dead (1961). They are George Smiley, Peter Guillam, and Inspector Mendel.

Title[edit]

Control, chief of the Circus, assigns the code names "Tinker," "Tailor," "Soldier," "Poor Man," and "Beggar Man" to five senior intelligence officers at the Circus. He suspects that one of the five, whose identity is unknown, is a Soviet mole. Control assigns these code names with the intention that, should an agent named Jim Prideaux uncover information about the identity of the mole, Prideaux can relay it back to the Circus using an easy-to-recall codename. The names are derived from the English children's rhyme "Tinker, Tailor":

    Tinker, Tailor,
    Soldier, Sailor,
    Rich Man, Poor Man,
    Beggar Man, Thief.

The code name "Sailor" is not used as it sounds too much like "Tailor" and Control drops "Rich Man," resulting in Toby Esterhase being code-named "Poor Man." George Smiley is "Beggar Man."

Plot[edit]

In 1972, Control, the head of British Intelligence ("the Circus"), sends agent Jim Prideaux to Czechoslovakia to meet a Czech general who wishes to sell information. The operation is blown and a fleeing Prideaux is shot in the back by Russian soldiers and tortured. Amid the international incident that follows, Control and his deputy, George Smiley, are forced into retirement. Control, already ill, dies soon afterwards.

Through a love affair in Hong Kong with Irina, the wife of a Moscow Centre intelligence officer, British agent Ricki Tarr discovers that there might be a high-ranking Soviet mole, code-named "Gerald," within the Circus. After going into hiding to avoid Soviet agents, Tarr alerts his immediate superior, Peter Guillam, who in turn notifies Undersecretary Oliver Lacon, the Civil Service officer responsible for overseeing the Intelligence Services. Lacon enlists Smiley to investigate. Smiley and Guillam must investigate without the knowledge of the Circus, which is headed by Sir Percy Alleline and his deputies – Bill Haydon, Toby Esterhase, and Roy Bland – as any of these could be the mole.

Smiley suspects that Gerald is responsible for the failure of Operation Testify, the mission which led to the torture of Prideaux and the disgrace of Control. Prideaux, who was repatriated and dismissed from the Circus, reveals to Smiley that Control suspected the mole's existence, and that the true aim of Testify was to learn the mole's identity from the Czech general. Prideaux reveals that the Moscow Centre personnel who interrogated him already knew this, and it became clear to Smiley that the operation was a trap set by the Soviets to discredit Control and remove the threat to Gerald.

Alleline, who was Control's rival, has risen to head the Circus as a result of seemingly top-grade Soviet intelligence from a source code-named "Merlin". The Merlin material is handled by a secret committee, consisting of Alleline and his deputies, in an operation called Witchcraft. Smiley's investigation leads him to believe that Merlin's information is false, and is being used by Moscow Centre to influence the leadership of the Circus. Cleverly, the Soviets have induced the Circus leadership to believe that Merlin maintains his cover by feeding the Soviets low-grade intelligence from a false Circus mole. As a result, the leaders of the Circus suppress any rumours of a mole, thereby protecting the actual mole; meanwhile, the "chicken feed" is given by Merlin in return for the Circus' "Crown Jewels."

Smiley pressures Esterhase into confessing his role in feeding intelligence to Merlin, and into revealing the location of the safe house where Gerald and his Soviet handler meet. Tarr is dispatched to Paris to send a personal message to Alleline, who alerts the Witchcraft committee and thus forces Gerald to seek an emergency meeting with his handler at the safe house. Smiley and Guillam break in on the meeting, and Gerald is revealed to be Haydon, a respected colleague and former friend who once had an affair with Smiley's now estranged wife, Ann. Haydon acknowledges he was recruited several decades previously by Karla, the Moscow Centre spymaster.

Alleline is removed, and Smiley is appointed temporary head of Circus to deal with the fallout. Haydon is to be exchanged with the Soviet Union for several of the agents he betrayed, but, shortly before he is due to leave England, is mysteriously killed while in custody. Though his killer is not explicitly revealed, it is strongly implied to be Prideaux, his old partner, whom he betrayed in Operation Testify.

Characters[edit]

Major characters[edit]

  • George Smiley. Educated at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he fully intended on making a career as a professor specializing in "the literary obscurities of seventeenth-century Germany." But in 1928 (mid-1930s in revised chronology) he was recruited by Circus "talent spotter" Jebedee. Smiley became a spy's spy for two reasons: first, his wife, Lady Ann Sercomb, described him as "breathtakingly ordinary." Secondly, Smiley saw the opportunity for "excursions into the mystery of human behaviour." As of the events of Tinker Tailor, Smiley has become Control's right hand man. However, Smiley is forced out of the Circus after Control's retirement and continues his academic research into the 17th century German Baroque literature.
  • Percy Alleline. Chief of the Circus following Control's ousting. “A lowland Scot and a son of the Manse”. “A bit of an athlete." “Missed the war by a year or two." Former field agent; Control despised him. Cambridge. Alleline spent his early career in South America, Northern Africa and India. One of the four who ran the double agent codenamed 'Merlin.' Alleline is knighted in the course of the book in recognition of the quality of the 'Witchcraft' intelligence provided by Merlin.
  • Roy Bland: Second in command to Bill Haydon of London Station. “Cockney voice.” Son of a dockworker who was “a passionate trade-unionist and a Party member." “A warm-hearted and impulsive fellow, red-haired and burly." Smiley had recruited him. Expert in Soviet satellite states. Oxford. One of the four who ran the double agent codenamed 'Merlin.' Bland was the top specialist in Soviet satellite states and spent several years as a left-wing academic in the Balkans before being instated in Circus.
  • “Control”: Former head of the Circus; forced to retire and now dead. Before the war he was a Cambridge don.
  • Toby Esterhase. “Runs between Bill Haydon and Roy Bland like a poodle." Ran the "lamplighters" (see "Jargon" below) when Control was in charge. White hair. “Dressed like a male model, but was unmistakably a fighter." “Tiny Toby spoke no known language perfectly, but he spoke them all." “Toby Esterhase would put the dogs on his own mother if it bought him a pat on the back from Alleline." Hungarian; recruited by Smiley as “a starving student in Vienna." One of the four who ran the double agent codenamed 'Merlin.'
  • Peter Guillam. Currently in charge of the “scalp hunters” (see "Jargon") at the Brixton location (“they were to handle the hit-and-run jobs that were too dirty or too risky for the residents abroad . . . they weren’t gradual, and they weren’t gentle, either"). Son of a French businessman and an Englishwoman and longtime associate of Smiley from the Ministry of Defence.
  • Bill Haydon. Commander of London Station; worked with the Circus since the war. “Dashing Bill Haydon, our latter day Lawrence of Arabia." “Painter, polemicist, socialite." “Of that pre-war set that seemed to have vanished for good." Reputed to be bisexual. Father was a high-court judge. Close companion of Prideaux since university. Oxford. One of Ann Smiley’s many cousins, also her lover. One of the four who ran the double agent codenamed 'Merlin.'
  • Oliver Lacon. “Of the Cabinet Office, a senior advisor to various mixed committees and a watchdog of intelligence." Recruited Smiley to find the mole. As Guillam phrased it, “Whitehall’s head prefect." Cambridge.
  • Mendel. Retired former Inspector in the Special Branch, who assists Smiley. A "quirkish, loping tracker of a man, sharp-faced and sharp-eyed". Keeps bees as a hobby.
  • Jim Prideaux (code name: Jim Ellis). Fluent Czech-speaker. Agent who was shot in Czechoslovakia on an operation code-named “Testify,” an assignment that was blown to the Soviets. Former head of the "scalp hunters." Now a schoolteacher. Close companion of Haydon. “A large fellow." Athlete; fluent in languages, raised partially abroad. Oxford.
  • Connie Sachs. Former Russia analyst for the Circus, forced to retire, now runs a rooming house in Oxford. “A big woman, bigger than Smiley by a head." Alcoholic.
  • Ricki Tarr. A field agent; the one who found Irina. Smiley originally gave him his job. Works for Guillam.

Jargon[edit]

The characters in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy use a great deal of spy jargon which is presented as the authentic insiderspeak of British Intelligence. Le Carré has said that, with the exception of a few terms like "mole" and "legend," this jargon was his own invention.[2] Examples are:

Term Definition[2]
Agent An espionage agent or spy; a citizen who is recruited by a foreign government to spy on his own country. This term should not be confused with a member of an intelligence service who recruits spies; they are referred to as intelligence officers or more particularly case officers.
Babysitters Bodyguards.
Burn Blackmail.
Circus The in-house name for MI6, the SIS (Secret Intelligence Service), which collects foreign intelligence. "Circus" refers to the (fictional) locale of the headquarters in Cambridge Circus, London.
Coat trailing An officer of one side acting as if he is likely defector material, drinking, complaining about his job, in the hope of attracting a recruitment offer from an enemy intelligence officer, with the object of recruiting the enemy as a double agent instead.
The Competition MI5, the Security Service, the UK's internal counter-espionage and counter-terrorism service, which the Circus also calls "The Security Mob".
The Cousins The CIA in particular and the US intelligences services in general.
Ferrets Technicians who find and remove hidden microphones, cameras, etc.
Honey-trap A sexual blackmailing operation.
Housekeepers The internal auditors and financial disciplinarians of the Circus.
Inquisitors Interrogators who debrief Circus intelligence officers and defectors.
Janitors The Circus headquarters operations staff, including those who watch doors and verify that people entering secure areas are authorised to do so.
Lamplighters A section which provides surveillance and couriers.
Legend A false identity
Mailfist job An espionage job denoting an operation with an object of assassination.
Mole An agent recruited long before he has access to secret material, who subsequently works his way into the target government organisation. Le Carré has said this was a term actually used in the KGB; an equivalent term used in Western intelligence services was sleeper agent.
Mothers Secretaries and trusted typists serving the senior officers of the Circus.
Neighbours The Soviet intelligence services, in particular the KGB and Karla's fictional "Thirteenth Directorate"
Nuts and Bolts The engineering department who develop and manufacture espionage devices.
Pavement Artists Members of surveillance teams who inconspicuously follow people in public.
Persil The cleanest security category available, used of questionable foreigners, "Clean as fabric washed in Persil".
Reptile fund The source of money for covert operations, a slush fund, [1], [2].
Scalphunters Handle assassination, blackmail, burglary, kidnap, etc.; the section was sidelined after Control's dismissal.
Shoemakers Forgers of documents and the like.
Wranglers Radio signal analysts and cryptographers; it derives from the term wrangler used of Cambridge University maths students.

In addition the book uses terms from British English and foreign words, such as: mews, peach (to inform against, betray) shirty, redbrick and, D-Notice, thé dansant, coq au vin, Märchen and Gemütlichkeit.

The television adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy also uses the term "burrower" for a researcher recruited from a university, a term taken from the novel's immediate sequel The Honourable Schoolboy.

Background[edit]

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is John le Carré's novelisation of his experiences of the revelations in the 1950s and the 1960s which exposed the Cambridge Five traitors, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, Anthony Blunt, John Cairncross and Kim Philby, as KGB moles in the British Intelligence services.

Karla is modelled on KGB Gen. Rem Krassilnikov, whose obituary in The New York Times reported that the CIA considered him as such. Moreover, skewing in favour of the latter, Smiley reports that Karla was trained by "Berg", Alexander Mikhailovich Orlov, an NKVD intelligence officer who defected to the West in 1938.

The character Bill Haydon is partly derived from Kim Philby, a senior SIS officer who defected to the USSR in 1963. David Cornwell (John le Carré), who worked as an intelligence officer for both MI5 and the SIS (MI6), has said that Philby betrayed his identity to the Russians, which was a factor in the 1964 termination of his intelligence career.[3][4]

Connie Sachs, the Circus's principal Russia researcher, is modelled upon Milicent Bagot.

Adaptations[edit]

Television[edit]

In 1979 a TV adaptation of the same name was made by the BBC. It was a seven-part miniseries and was released in September of that year. The series was directed by John Irvin, produced by Jonathan Powell, and starred Alec Guinness as George Smiley.

Radio[edit]

In 1988, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a dramatisation, by Rene Basilico, of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in seven weekly half-hour episodes, produced by John Fawcett-Wilson. It is available as a BBC audiobook in CD and audio cassette formats. Notably, Bernard Hepton portrays George Smiley. Nine years earlier, he had portrayed Toby Esterhase in the television adaptation.

In 2009, BBC Radio 4 also broadcast new dramatisations, by Shaun McKenna, of the eight George Smiley novels by John le Carré, featuring Simon Russell Beale as Smiley. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was broadcast as three, one-hour episodes, from Sunday 29 November to Sunday 13 December 2009 in BBC Radio 4's Classic Serial slot. The producer was Steven Canny.[5]

Film[edit]

Swedish director Tomas Alfredson made a film adaptation in 2011 based on a screenplay by Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan. The film was released in the UK and Ireland on 16 September 2011, and in the United States on 9 December 2011. It included a cameo appearance by John le Carré in the Christmas party scene as the older man in the grey suit who stands suddenly to sing the Soviet anthem. The film received numerous Academy Award nominations including a nomination for Best Actor for Gary Oldman.

References[edit]

Notes
  1. ^ Modern first editions – a set on Flickr
  2. ^ a b Le Carré, John; Matthew Joseph Bruccoli, Judith Baughman (2004). Conversations with John le Carré. USA: University Press of Mississippi. pp. 68–69. ISBN 1-57806-669-7. 
  3. ^ Anthony, Andrew (1 November 2009). "Observer Profile: John le Carré: A man of great intelligence". Guardian News and Media. London. Retrieved 4 March 2010. 
  4. ^ Le Carré betrayed by 'bad lot' spy Kim Philby, Channel 4 News. Retrieved 3 October 2010.
  5. ^ "The Complete Smiley". BBC Radio 4. 23 May 2009. Retrieved 14 June 2009. 

External links[edit]