The Honourable Schoolboy

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The Honourable Schoolboy
JohnLeCarre TheHonourableSchoolboy.jpg
First edition
AuthorJohn le Carré
CountryUnited Kingdom
SeriesGeorge Smiley/The Quest for Karla
GenreSpy novel
PublisherHodder & Stoughton
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
ISBN1-135-43056-X (first edition, hardback)
Preceded byTinker Tailor Soldier Spy 
Followed bySmiley's People 

The Honourable Schoolboy (1977) is a spy novel by John le Carré. George Smiley must reconstruct an intelligence service in order to run a successful offensive espionage operation to save the service from being dismantled by the government. In 1977, the book won the Gold Dagger award for the best crime novel of the year and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. The Honourable Schoolboy is the second novel in the omnibus titled either Smiley Versus Karla or The Quest for Karla.


This is the sixth le Carré spy novel featuring George Smiley. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley's People were later published as an omnibus edition titled Smiley Versus Karla in 1982.


In 1974 George Smiley, the chief of the British secret intelligence service referred to as The Circus, is repairing the damage done to their operations by Bill Haydon and looking for opportunities to target Karla, the Moscow Centre spymaster. Smiley and analysts Connie Sachs and Doc di Salis look into investigations suppressed by the outed mole and find that a historic investigation of a money laundering operation in Laos by Sam Collins's could indicate a Moscow intelligence operation.

Smiley dispatches Jerry Westerby, a newspaper reporter and occasional Circus operative, to Hong Kong. Westerby traces the Soviet money to Drake Ko, a local businessman with links to both the criminal underworld and the British establishment. London establishes that Drake Ko has a brother, Nelson, who is a high-ranking Chinese official and has been spying on the Chinese for Russia.

Westerby, following up leads provided by London, interviews Drake's English mistress Lizzie Worthington and discovers that Drake has been attempting to set-up an illicit air route into China. Charlie Marshall and Tiny Ricardo (both pilots and smugglers) were approached by Drake to carry opium into China, and return with a package. The flights were never completed, and Smiley surmises that the package was Nelson, who was wished to defect from China. The money supplied by Moscow was intended for Nelson, to be accessed after he left China.

Nelson would be a prime intelligence source on both Russian and Chinese capabilities and political maneuverings between London and Washington hamper the investigation. It is finally agreed that the Circus will run the operation to capture Nelson and interrogate him afterwards, with all information shared with the U.S. Smiley instructs Westerby to become more pro-active in his investigations, forcing Drake to move forwards with his plans to extract Nelson. In the course of this Westerby travels in and out of war-torn Vietnam, Ricardo tries to kill Westerby, and two of his colleagues in Hong Kong are murdered. Westerby becomes increasingly stressed and begins to obsess over Lizzie's situation, the ethics of the operation and Western involvement in Asia.

Sam Collins has blackmailed Lizzie into bugging and informing on Drake. The Circus now has enough information to predict Drake's plan, which replicates his own escape from China via sea. Westerby is ordered to return to London. Westerby ignores this and contacts Lizzie to warn her of the danger she is in. Smiley along with Circus and CIA operatives arrives in Hong Kong to oversee the final stages of the operation. Smiley and his men encounter Westerby and try to force him to board a plane but Westerby escapes and with Lizzie's help, reaches the rendezvous point where Drake will meet with his brother. Westerby warns Drake of the plans of the intelligence agencies in an effort to protect Lizzie from reprisal and to have an opportunity to be with her. Drake does not heed Westerby's warning; at their appointed meeting place on the beach, CIA forces seize Nelson, and Westerby is killed by Fawn, a Circus operative, on Smiley's orders.

In the aftermath, the CIA, and not the Circus, detain and interrogate Nelson. The success of the operation yields top Circus jobs for Collins, who becomes (temporary) Chief of the Circus. Smiley and Connie Sachs are retired and most of the older generation of Circus personnel are moved on. In the aftermath of the debacle, Peter Guillam contemplates the possibility that Smiley allowed the CIA to gain the upper hand so as to have himself removed as head of the Circus.

Circus jargon[edit]

The characters' jargon establishes the fictional authenticity of the espionage portrayed in The Honourable Schoolboy; examples of John le Carré's tradecraft language are:

Tradecraft term Definition
Agent An external, freelance person recruited to provide information and services; Circus staff are referred to as intelligence officers.
Burrowers Circus researchers, usually academics recruited from universities.
Circus The British secret intelligence service headquartered at Cambridge Circus.
The Competition The internal UK counter-espionage and counter-terrorism security service, whom the Circus often calls "The Security Mob".
The Cousins The CIA in particular, and US intelligences services in general.
Ferrets Technicians responsible for finding and removing hidden microphones, cameras and other surveillance devices.
Housekeepers Internal auditors and disciplinary staff of the Circus.
Janitors Operations staff
Lamplighters Control surveillance and couriers.
Mothers Secretaries and trusted typists serving the head of the Circus.
Nuts and Bolts Engineers who develop and manufacture espionage devices.
Pavement Artists Circus officers responsible for covert street surveillance.
Scalphunters The most Bondlike part of The Circus, "Cosh and Carry" that was sidelined after Control's dismissal.
Shoemakers Circus forgers
Babysitters Bodyguards
Wranglers Radio signal analysts and cryptographers; the name derives from Wrangler maths students.


The Circus

  • The Hon. Jerry Westerby — a reporter and retired secret agent
  • George Smiley — (temporary) chief of the Circus
  • Peter Guillam — Circus "cupbearer" to Smiley
  • Fawn – Hardman Scalphunter, later Smiley's minder
  • Connie Sachs — chief Moscow-gazer
  • Doc di Salis — head China-watcher
  • Molly Meakin — skilful, junior staff; a pretty Circus girl who catches Peter Guillam's eye
  • Sam Collins — an "old Circus" field officer, formerly based in Vientiane, Laos. Codename: "Mellon"
  • Stubbs — Westerby's managing editor at the newspaper

The Steering Committee (authorising further operations after the Ko bank account papers are obtained)

  • Oliver Lacon — Circus watchdog from the Cabinet Office
  • Roddy Martindale — of the Foreign Office, a gossiping poseur
  • Saul Enderby — of the Foreign Office, was ambassador to Indonesia; the chief pundit on South East Asia; future chief of the Circus
  • Wilbraham — of the Colonial Office
  • Pretorius — of the Security Service
  • The Welsh Hammer — a Treasury banker

Other characters

  • Ann — Smiley's unfaithful wife
  • Peter Worthington — the husband Elizabeth Worthington abandoned
  • Mr. and Mrs. Pelling – Elizabeth Worthington's parents
  • Mrs. Matthews – unofficial widow of Control
  • Mr. Hibbert – as a missionary in Shanghai, knew Drake Ko and his brother Nelson
  • Martello – CIA chief of London station (COS London)
  • Murphy – Martello's assistant
  • Tiny Ricardo – Mexican frontman for Indocharter Vientiane S.A.
  • Elizabeth Worthington, alias Lizzie, alias Lizzie Ricardo, alias Liese Worth – first, common-law wife of Tiny Ricardo; then, mistress of Drake Ko
  • Charlie Marshall – sometime business partner of Tiny Ricardo
  • Luke – Californian journalist in Hong Kong
  • Big Moo – local journalistic jargon for the governor of Hong Kong
  • Rockhurst ("The Rocker") – Superintendent of Police in Hong Kong
  • William Craw – an ageing journalist, working for the Circus, character based on Richard Hughes[1]
  • Jake Chiu – Luke's landlord, a real-estate entrepreneur
  • Major Tufty Thesinger – Erstwhile SIS Head of Station, Hong Kong
  • Frost – works at a Hong Kong bank, is used by Westerby
  • Drake Ko – Hong Kong Fat Cat, receiving US$25K a month from the Soviets
  • Nelson Ko – Drake's brother; also the name of Drake's deceased son
  • Tiu – Ko's assistant
  • Arpego – wealthy Filipino, friend of Ko
  • Phoebe Wayfarer – half-English, half-Chinese agent for Brit Intel
  • Sally Cale – art faker, illicit bullion dealer, occasional heroin trafficker, business partner or employee of Ko, introduced Liese to him
  • Keller – veteran journalist whom Westerby meets in Phnom Penh
  • Lorraine – American journalist in Phnom Penh


Jonathan Powell, producer of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979), said the BBC considered producing The Honourable Schoolboy but a production in South East Asia was considered prohibitively expensive and therefore the BBC instead adapted the third novel of the Karla Trilogy, Smiley's People (1979), which was transmitted in 1982.

In 1983 the BBC adapted The Honourable Schoolboy to radio. Martin Jarvis played Jerry Westerby and Peter Vaughan played George Smiley.[2] A subsequent BBC radio adaptation, first broadcast in 2010 in the Classic Serial slot, featured Simon Russell Beale as George Smiley and Hugh Bonneville as Jerry Westerby, as part of Radio 4's year-long project to adapt all eight Smiley novels.[3]


  1. ^ 'There is the great Dick Hughes, whose outward character and mannerisms I have shamelessly exaggerated for the part of old Craw' (Author's Foreword)
  2. ^ "radio plays, DIVERSITY WEBSITE, bbc, radio drama, saturday night theatre – Lost, 1988–1970". Retrieved 21 January 2013.
  3. ^ – 05:20. "Radio 4 – Drama – The Complete Smiley". BBC. Retrieved 21 January 2013.