Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (TV miniseries)

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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Opening title
Distributed by BBC Worldwide
Great Performances
Paramount Television (North America)
Directed by John Irvin
Produced by Jonathan Powell
Written by Arthur Hopcraft
Screenplay by John le Carré
Based on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 
by John le Carré
Starring Alec Guinness
Michael Jayston
Anthony Bate
George Sewell
Music by Geoffrey Burgon
Cinematography Tony Pierce-Roberts
Editing by Chris Wimble
Clare Douglas
Country UK
Language English
Original channel BBC
Original run 10 September 1979 (1979-09-10)  – 22 October 1979 (1979-10-22)
Running time UK – 315 min
US – 290 min
No. of episodes 7
Followed by Smiley's People

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a 1979 seven-part drama spy mini-series made by the BBC. Directed by John Irvin, and produced by Jonathan Powell, it is a television adaptation of the 1974 novel of the same name by John le Carré (which also had a movie adaptation produced in 2011). The mini-series, which stars Alec Guinness, Ian Richardson, Michael Jayston, Anthony Bate, George Sewell, and Michael Aldridge, was shown in the United Kingdom from 10 September to 22 October 1979 and in the United States over a year later beginning on 29 September 1980.

The main title credits feature a matryoshka doll progressively revealing a doll looking more irate than the previous, with the final doll being faceless, an allusion to Winston Churchill's describing Russia as "A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma."[1] Analogously, the literary George Smiley concludes that only Karla saw the last doll in the British traitor.

In the US, syndicated broadcasts and DVD releases compressed the seven-part UK episodes into six,[2] by shortening scenes and altering the narrative sequence. In the UK original, Smiley visits Connie Sachs before Peter Guillam's burglary of the Circus, while the US version reverses the sequence of these events, in line with the time sequence of the novel.[3]


George Smiley (Guinness), deputy head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, is forced into retirement in the wake of "Operation Testify", a failed spy mission to Czechoslovakia. Veteran British agent Jim Prideaux (Bannen) had been sent to meet with a Czech general he's been told has information identifying a deep-cover Soviet spy planted in the highest echelons of British Secret Intelligence Service, known as the Circus because of its headquarters at Cambridge Circus in London.

The mission proves to be a trap, and Prideaux is captured and brutally tortured by the Soviets. Britain's chief spymaster, known only as "Control", is disgraced and soon replaced for his role in Testify by Percy Alleline (Aldridge). Control's obsession with the Soviet mole was not shared by others in the Circus. On the contrary, it is the British who believe that they have a mole working for them in "Moscow Centre," passing them highly classified information code-named "Operation Witchcraft."

Fears of a mole are revived when Ricki Tarr (Bennett), a British agent gone missing in Portugal, turns up in England with new evidence backing up Control's theory whilst not actually identifying the mole. Control had narrowed down the list of suspects to four men – Roy Bland, Toby Esterhase, Bill Haydon and Percy Alleline – all of whom occupy high positions in the Circus. Knowing that the covert Soviet spy enjoys considerable influence in the Circus, the British cannot trust their top spy masters to uncover the mole or even let them know of the investigation. Instead, Smiley is recalled to hunt the mole down.

Under instruction from Oliver Lacon, the civil servant responsible for overseeing the intelligence services, Smiley begins a secret investigation into the events surrounding Operation Testify, believing it will lead him to the identity of the mole, whom Smiley calls "Gerald". With the help of his still-serving protégé Guillam, he gradually uncovers an ingenious plot, but also the ultimate betrayal – of country, of the service, and of friendship.[4]



Shortly before filming began, Alec Guinness asked author John le Carré to introduce him to a real spy to aid him in preparing for his role. Le Carré invited him to dinner with Sir Maurice Oldfield, who served as Chief of the British Intelligence Service from 1973–1978. During their meal, Guinness studied Sir Maurice intently for any mannerisms or quirks that he could use in his performance. When he saw Oldfield run his finger around the rim of his wine glass, he asked whether Oldfield was checking for poison—much to Oldfield's astonishment, as he was only checking how clean the glass was.[5] The series was shot on location in Glasgow, Scotland; at Oxford University in Oxfordshire, England; and in London, England.


The end credits music, an arrangement of Nunc dimittis ("Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace") from the Book of Common Prayer (1662), was composed by Geoffrey Burgon for organ, trumpet and treble; the score earned Burgon the Ivor Novello Award for 1979[6] and was a Top 10 hit on the UK Singles Chart. The treble on the original recording, Paul Phoenix, was a tenor in the King's Singers later in his career.[7]


Year Award Nominated Result
1980 BAFTA TV Award Best Actor Alec Guinness Won
1980 BAFTA TV Award Best Film Cameraman Tony Pierce-Roberts Won
1980 BAFTA TV Award Best Actress Beryl Reid Nominated
1980 BAFTA TV Award Best Costume Design Joyce Mortlock Nominated
1980 BAFTA TV Award Best Design Austen Spriggs Nominated
1980 BAFTA TV Award Best Drama Series Jonathan Powell & John Irvin Nominated
1980 BAFTA TV Award Best Film Sound Malcolm Webberley Nominated
1980 BAFTA TV Award Best Graphics Douglas Burd Nominated
1980 BAFTA TV Award Film Editor Chris Wimble & Clare Douglas Nominated
1980 Broadcasting Press Guild Award Best Actor Alec Guinness Won
1980 Broadcasting Press Guild Award Best Drama Series Won
1981 Emmy Award for Outstanding Miniseries Jac Venza (executive producer), Jonathan Powell (producer) and Samuel Paul (series producer) Nominated


  1. ^ Floyd, Nigel (15 September 2011). "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy Review". IGN. Retrieved 12 September 2012. 
  2. ^ Kung, Michelle (2011-12-02). "‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ Miniseries Director John Irvin on the New Film". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2014-12-26. the seven-episode series — which was condensed to six episodes for U.S. audiences 
  3. ^ Fletcher, Brett (17 November 2011). "Tinker, Tailor, Soldir, Spy (1979 BBC Miniseries) | Review". GotchaMovies. Retrieved 12 September 2012. 
  4. ^ Lim, Dennis (27 November 2011). "A Second Look: 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' miniseries". LA Times. Retrieved 12 September 2012. 
  5. ^ le Carré, John (11 October 2002). "Over lunch, he turned himself into a spy". The Guardian (London). ISSN 0261-3077. OCLC 60623878. Retrieved 5 January 2013. 
  6. ^ "Geoffrey Burgon, British composer". NY Times. 24 September 2010. Retrieved 12 September 2012. 
  7. ^ Daily Telegraph

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