Peter Guillam is a fictional character in John le Carré's series of espionage novels. He first appears in Call for the Dead at which time he is working for the Ministry of Defence, and later appears in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.
In the novels
In the novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, in which he is a principal character, Guillam is head of "Scalphunters", the violent division of 'The Circus' that deals with operations such as assassination, blackmail, burglary, and kidnapping. He took over the division after the failure of Operation Testify led the former section head Jim Prideaux to leave the Circus. In the aftermath of Testify's failure, the division's importance was downgraded, and being in charge of it was considered a menial position. It was looked down upon even by Guillam's friend George Smiley, who jokingly describes the division's operations as "cosh and carry".
Nevertheless Guillam is the key in finding the mole, or traitor, within the Circus. When one of his subordinates resurfaces after disappearing, claiming to have information about the mole, Guillam alerts Oliver Lacon, the Civil Service overseer of the Intelligence Service. This bypasses the "inner circle", in Alleline's direct line-of-command, who have quashed any previous suggestions of a mole. Lacon and Guillam then seek the return of Smiley – who had been dismissed by the Circus following Testify – to secretly lead an investigation of the inner circle to find the mole. During Smiley's subsequent investigations, Guillam covertly provides helpers, and himself steals information from within the Circus's registry.
Guillam had lost a network of agents in Former French North Africa which makes his desire to find the mole personal because all of his people were hanged. On cornering the mole, he flies into a rage and attacks him, but calms down before doing any lasting harm.
Guillam is half-French, from a family that has been involved with the Circus for generations, and worked with Smiley in "Satellites IV" in the early 1960s, in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. His chronology has been reinvented by Le Carré: in Call for the Dead he is a near-contemporary of Smiley's, trained by him at the end of the Second World War, but in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy he is much younger than Smiley, probably around 40 at a point where Smiley is around 60. Guillam's age has to be changed for plot reasons – he is used in this novel as Smiley's trusted assistant, and cannot be senior enough in the Circus to be one of the senior men suspected of being the mole.
By the time of the events in Smiley's People (the third book in the "Karla Trilogy") Guillam is married to a young Frenchwoman called Marie-Clare and is head of Circus operations in Paris, though this too is considered to be a demotion.
In The Secret Pilgrim Guillam appears as the Head of Secretariat for Leonard Burr, the chief of the Service, but their working relationship is conflicted. Burr describes Guillam as "a thoroughly idle officer," while Guillam says of Burr, "Bloody man seems to expect me to work in my sleep." Guillam is replaced by Ned, the protagonist of the novel.
In other media
In the 1979 BBC mini-series of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Peter Guillam was portrayed by Michael Jayston. In 1982, the BBC adapted Smiley's People into a mini-series, in which Michael Byrne played Peter Guillam.
In the 2011 film version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Guillam is played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Guillam is portrayed as homosexual in the film (a departure from the books), and is forced to make the painful decision to break up with his partner. In speaking of this decision by the filmmakers, Cumberbatch said the necessity of the character's secrecy about his sexuality (for fear of blackmail) went well with the secretiveness of the spy world.
- Palmer, Martyn (13 July 2011). "Benedict Cumberbatch on fulfilling his acting dream". Daily Mail (London). Retrieved 22 September 2011.