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 new chief of the secret intelligence service referred to as The Circus, continues to investigate his spy service in the aftermath of his exposure of Bill Haydon as Gerald the mole. Attempting to follow the trail of Karla, the Moscow Centre spymaster and to protect his politically-weakened spy service, Smiley launches an offensive against the Soviets. He and analysts Connie Sachs and Doc di Salis look into investigations unreasonably suppressed by the outed mole. They discover that Sam Collins's investigation of a money laundering operation in Laos could point to involvement by Karla.

Smiley recalls The Honourable Jerry Westerby, a newspaper reporter and occasional Circus operative and dispatches him to Hong Kong. Westerby coerces a banker into allowing him to photograph the documents of a trust account; the destination of the Soviet money. The papers reveal the name of the holder, Drake Ko. Investigations in Hong Kong and London identify a missing woman named Elizabeth Worthington as Ko's blonde girlfriend, Liese Worth. She had believed herself to be a British intelligence agent working with Sam Collins.

U.S. Intelligence reports that Ricardo has approached them with information about an opium cargo he was to fly to China. The Americans want to arrest Ko but first allow Smiley up to twelve weeks to pursue Circus interests. Smiley quickly realises that Tiu, Ko's second-in-command, travelled to Shanghai six weeks before Ricardo's flight to meet with Ko's brother, Nelson, a high-ranking Chinese official and Soviet mole; Tiu was to arrange their rendezvous, through which Nelson would escape China.

Smiley decides to force Ko to react to being spied upon, thereby advancing Operation Dolphin. Westerby manipulates Lizzie Worthington into coming to dinner. She calls Tiu to the restaurant, but before he arrives Westerby interviews her about Ricardo, the bush pilot, about the connection between Indocharter Air Transport and the Soviet embassy in Vientiane. Surprised and somewhat relieved, Westerby perceives her ignorance of the gold seam, of Nelson Ko and of the Soviet connection.

On Circus orders, Westerby finds the bush pilot-opium smuggler Charlie Marshall in Battambang, Cambodia and manages to board a flight Marshall is flying en route to Phnom Penh. Ricardo also is aboard but Westerby doesn't grasp who he is until Phnom Penh; in evading him, Ricardo shoots at Westerby. That night, Westerby takes Marshall from an opium den and interrogates him, learning that Lizzie was a heroin courier for Collins; that she directly intervened with Drake on Ricardo's behalf; that Tiu offered Marshall $5,000 for a flight, which he turned down and where, between flights, Ricardo hides.

Westerby pursues Ricardo by ferry, across the Mekong River into Thailand; Ricardo tells Westerby that Tiu, on behalf of Ko, hired Ricardo to fly opium into China and pick up a package, paying Ricardo's debts as an advance for the job; instead of completing the job, Ricardo stole the opium and the Beechcraft airplane and went into hiding. Westerby tells Ricardo that Nelson was the package. Ricardo tries to kill Westerby again, using a delayed-action hand grenade in the fuel tank of his hired car; Westerby smells a rat and safely watches the car explode.

On 30 April 1975, Westerby arrives at an American air force base in north-east Thailand and cables his report to the Circus; he also learns that the North Vietnamese Army has captured Saigon, winning and ending the Vietnam War (1945–75). The Circus orders his return to London, not via Hong Kong. Westerby takes no notice and goes to Hong Kong. At his flat he finds the corpse of Luke, his photojournalist friend, who has been shot because the killer thought he was Westerby.

To ascertain the success of Operation Dolphin, Smiley, Guillam, and Fawn (Smiley's factotum-bodyguard), along with the CIA men Martello and Murphy, are in Hong Kong to capture Nelson Ko. Smiley knows that Nelson will escape China (as Drake did in 1951) on a fishing fleet junk, going to the southernmost island of Po Toi.

On the run, and spurred on by schoolboy romanticism, Jerry Westerby remains in Hong Kong to rescue Lizzie Worthington (he takes her from a cocktail party) and to protect Nelson from capture by the Circus, while the CIA spies on Drake. They go to her apartment; Smiley enters unannounced and Westerby, expecting either Drake or Tiu, assaults him, before realizing it is his boss. In turn, Fawn manhandles Jerry. Smiley orders Fawn and Guillam to put Westerby aboard a flight to London but Westerby escapes, gets Lizzie and they take a boat to Po Toi. There, she shows him the places special to Drake, helping Westerby to determine where Nelson will land from China. After arranging a next-night rendezvous with Westerby, Lizzie returns to Hong Kong.

That night on Po Toi island, Westerby finds Drake and Tiu at the beach, awaiting Nelson. After disarming and disabling Tiu, Westerby tells Drake that he wants Lizzie for himself, in exchange for saving Nelson from the British and the Americans. Drake is sceptical and hesitates. Yet just as Nelson lands, American helicopters appear and load Nelson on a helicopter. As the helicopters pull away, Westerby is shot and killed by Fawn. The CIA, not the British, detain and interrogate Nelson; his interrogators do not include di Salis and Sachs. The success of Operation Dolphin yields top Circus jobs for Enderby and Collins, who becomes (temporary) Chief of the Circus. Smiley and Connie Sachs are retired with pensions and Peter Guillam is sent to head the scalphunters in Brixton.

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, the scourge of the Circus
  • 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.