David John Moore Cornwell (born 19 October 1931), better known by the pen nameJohn le Carré (), is a British author of espionage novels. During the 1950s and 1960s, he worked for both the Security Service and the Secret Intelligence Service. His third novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963), became an international best-seller and remains one of his best-known works. Following the success of this novel, he left MI6 to become a full-time author.
In 2011, he was awarded the Goethe Medal.
David Cornwell was born on 19 October 1931 in Poole, Dorset, England. His father was Ronald Thomas Archibald (Ronnie) Cornwell (1906–75), and his mother was Olive (Glassy) Cornwell. He has an older brother, Tony, two years his elder, now a retired advertising executive. His younger half-sister is the actress Charlotte Cornwell. His younger half-brother, Rupert Cornwell, is a former Washington bureau chief for the newspaper The Independent. Cornwell said he did not know his mother, who abandoned him when he was five years old, until their re-acquaintance when he was 21 years old. His father had been jailed for insurance fraud, was an associate of the Kray twins, and was continually in debt. Their father/son relationship was difficult. A biographer reports, "His father, Ronnie, made and lost his fortune a number of times due to elaborate confidence tricks and schemes which landed him in prison on at least one occasion. This was one of the factors that led to le Carré's fascination with secrets."
The scheming con-man character, Rick Pym, Magnus Pym's father in A Perfect Spy, was based on Ronnie. When his father died in 1975, Cornwell paid for a memorial funeral service but did not attend it.
Cornwell's schooling began at St Andrew's Preparatory School, near Pangbourne, Berkshire, and continued at Sherborne School. He proved to be unhappy with the typically harsh English public school régime of the time and disliked his disciplinarian housemaster, Thomas, and so withdrew.
From 1948 to 1949, he studied foreign languages at the University of Bern in Switzerland. In 1950, he joined the Intelligence Corps of the British Army garrisoned in Austria, working as a German language interrogator of people who crossed the Iron Curtain to the West. In 1952, he returned to England to study at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he worked covertly for the British Security Service, MI5, spying on far-left groups for information about possible Soviet agents.
When his father declared bankruptcy in 1954, Cornwell quit Oxford to teach at Millfield Preparatory School; however, a year later he returned to Oxford, and graduated in 1956 with a (First Class Honours) Bachelor of Arts degree. He then taught French and German at Eton College for two years, becoming an MI5 officer in 1958. He ran agents, conducted interrogations, tapped telephone lines and effected break-ins. Encouraged by Lord Clanmorris (who wrote crime novels as "John Bingham"), and whilst being an active MI5 officer, Cornwell began writing his first novel, Call for the Dead (1961). Cornwell has identified Lord Clanmorris as one of two models for George Smiley, the spymaster of the Circus, the other being Vivian H. H. Green. As a schoolboy, Cornwell first met the latter when Green was the Chaplain and Assistant Master at Sherborne School (1942–51). The friendship continued after Green's move to Lincoln College, where he tutored Cornwell.
In 1960, Cornwell transferred to MI6, the foreign-intelligence service, and worked under the cover of Second Secretary at the British Embassy at Bonn; he later was transferred to Hamburg as a political consul. There, he wrote the detective storyA Murder of Quality (1962) and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963), as "John le Carré" (le Carré is French for "the square")—a pseudonym required because Foreign Office officers were forbidden to publish in their own names.
In 1964, le Carré left the service to work full-time as a novelist, his intelligence-officer career at an end as the result of the betrayal of British agents' covers to the KGB by Kim Philby, the infamous British double agent (one of the Cambridge Five). Le Carré depicts and analyses Philby as the upper-class traitor, code-named "Gerald" by the KGB, the mole George Smiley hunts in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974).
In 1954, Cornwell married Alison Ann Veronica Sharp; they had three sons—Simon, Stephen and Timothy—and divorced in 1971. In 1972, Cornwell married Valérie Jane Eustace, a book editor with Hodder & Stoughton; they have one son, Nicholas, who writes as Nick Harkaway.
Le Carré has lived in St Buryan, Cornwall for more than 40 years; he owns a mile of cliff near Land's End.
In 1998, he was awarded an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Letters) from the University of Bath. In 2012, he was awarded the Degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, by Oxford University.
In 1964, le Carré won the Somerset Maugham Award (established to enable British writers younger than 35 to enrich their writing by spending time abroad).
In 2008, The Times ranked him 22nd on its list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945".
In 2011, he won the Goethe Medal, a yearly prize given by the Goethe Institute.
Call for the Dead (1961) and A Murder of Quality (1962), le Carré's first two novels, are mystery fiction, in which George Smiley resolves the riddles of the deaths investigated. In these, his motives are more personal than political. His third novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963), became an international best-seller and remains one of his best-known works. Following the success of this novel, he left MI6 to become a full-time author.
Most of le Carré's novels are spy stories set during the Cold War (1945–91) and feature Circus agents as unheroic political functionaries aware of the moral ambiguity of their work and engaged in psychological more than physical drama. le Carré's books emphasise the fallibility of Western democracy and of the secret services protecting it, often implying the possibility of East-West moral equivalence. Moreover, they experience little of the violence typically encountered in action thrillers and have very little recourse to gadgets. Much of the conflict is internal, rather than external and visible.
A departure from the use of the Cold War as a backdrop in this era is the spy novel The Little Drummer Girl (1983), which is set against the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.
A Perfect Spy (1986), which chronicles the boyhood moral education of Magnus Pym and how it leads to his becoming a spy, is the author's most autobiographical espionage novel, reflecting the boy's very close relationship with his con-man father. Biographer Lynndianne Beene describes the novelist's own father, Ronnie Cornwell, as "an epic con man of little education, immense charm, extravagant tastes, but no social values". Le Carré reflected that "writing A Perfect Spy is probably what a very wise shrink would have advised". Le Carré's only non-genre novel, The Naïve and Sentimental Lover (1971), is the story of a man's postmarital existential crisis.
With the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, le Carré's writing shifted to portrayal of the new multilateral world. His first completely post-Cold War novel, The Night Manager (1993), deals with drug and arms smuggling in the murky world of Latin America drug lords, shady Caribbean banking entities, and western officials who look the other way.
As a journalist, le Carré wrote The Unbearable Peace (1991), a nonfiction account of Brigadier Jean-Louis Jeanmaire (1911–92), the Swiss Army officer who spied for the Soviet Union from 1962 until 1975.
In 2009, he donated the short story "The King Who Never Spoke" to the Oxfam "Ox-Tales" project, which included it in the project's Fire volume.
In a TV interview with Jon Snow of Channel 4 News, le Carré remarked on his own writing style that, since the facts that inform his work were widely known, he felt it was his job to put them into a context that made them believable to the reader.[when?]
Credited by his pen name, le Carré appeared as an extra in the 2011 film version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, among the guests at the Christmas party in several flashback scenes.
Le Carré feuded with Salman Rushdie over The Satanic Verses, stating that "nobody has a God-given right to insult a great religion and be published with impunity".
In January 2003, The Times published le Carré's essay "The United States Has Gone Mad". Le Carré contributed it to a volume of political essays titled Not One More Death (2006). Other contributors include Richard Dawkins, Brian Eno, Michel Faber, Harold Pinter, and Haifa Zangana.
In 2017, le Carré stated: "These stages that Trump is going through in the United States and the stirring of racial hatred ... these are absolutely comparable signs of the rise of fascism and it’s contagious, it’s infectious. Fascism is up and running in Poland and Hungary. There’s an encouragement about."
In February 1999, le Carré was the guest in an episode of BBC Radio 4's Bookclub broadcast with presenter James Naughtie and an audience in Penzance.
In October 2008, a television interview on BBC Four was broadcast, in which Mark Lawson asked him to name a "Best of le Carré" list of books; the novelist answered: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Tailor of Panama and The Constant Gardener.
In September 2010, le Carré was interviewed at his house in Cornwall by the journalist Jon Snow for Channel 4 News. The conversation involved several topics: his writing career generally and processes adopted for writing (specifically about his latest book, Our Kind of Traitor, involving Russia and its current global influences, financial and political); his SIS career, discussing why – both personally and more generally – one did such a job then, as compared to now; and how the earlier fight against communism had now moved to the hugely negative effects of certain aspects of excessive capitalism. During the interview he said that it would be his last UK television interview. While reticent about his exact reasons, those he was willing to cite were that of slight self-loathing (which he considered most people feel), a distaste for showing off (he felt that writing necessarily involved a lot of this anyway) and an unwillingness to breach what he felt was the necessarily solitary nature of the writer's work. He was also wary of wasting writing time and dissipating his talent in social success, having seen this happen to many talented writers, to what he felt was the detriment of their later work.
A week after this appearance, le Carré was interviewed for the TV show Democracy Now! in the United States. He told the interviewer, Amy Goodman, "This is the last book about which I intend to give interviews. That isn't because I'm in any sense retiring. I've found that, actually, I've said everything I really want to say, outside my books. I would just like—I'm in wonderful shape. I'm entering my eightieth year. I just want to devote myself entirely to writing and not to this particular art form of conversation."
The December 2010 Channel 4 broadcast John Le Carre: A Life Unmasked was described as his "most candid" television interview.
In the February 2013 edition of Sunday Morning, at the end of his conversation for CBC's Writers & Company with Eleanor Wachtel, le Carré told her, "You do it better than anyone I know" and that this would be his last interview.
Le Carré was interviewed at the Hay on Wye festival on 26 May 2013. The video of the event is offered for sale by le Carré to raise money to keep Hay Library open.
- Call for the Dead (1961), ISBN 0-143-12257-6
- A Murder of Quality (1962), ISBN 0-141-19637-8
- The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963), ISBN 0-143-12475-7
- The Looking Glass War (1965), ISBN 0-143-12259-2
- A Small Town in Germany (1968), ISBN 0-143-12260-6
- The Naïve and Sentimental Lover (1971), ISBN 0-143-11975-3
- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974), ISBN 0-143-12093-X
- The Honourable Schoolboy (1977), ISBN 0-143-11973-7
- Smiley's People (1979), ISBN 0-340-99439-8
- The Little Drummer Girl (1983), ISBN 0-143-11974-5
- A Perfect Spy (1986), ISBN 0-143-11976-1
- The Russia House (1989), ISBN 0-743-46466-4
- The Secret Pilgrim (1990), ISBN 0-345-50442-9
- The Night Manager (1993), ISBN 0-345-38576-4
- Our Game (1995), ISBN 0-345-40000-3
- The Tailor of Panama (1996), ISBN 0-345-42043-8
- Single & Single (1999), ISBN 0-743-45806-0
- The Constant Gardener (2001), ISBN 0-743-28720-7
- Absolute Friends (2003), ISBN 0-670-04489-X
- The Mission Song (2006), ISBN 0-340-92199-4
- A Most Wanted Man (2008), ISBN 1-416-59609-7
- Our Kind of Traitor (2010), ISBN 0-143-11972-9
- A Delicate Truth (2013), ISBN 0-143-12531-1
- A Legacy of Spies (2017), ISBN 978-0-735-22511-4
- The Good Soldier (1991), collected in Granta 35: The Unbearable Peace
- The United States Has Gone Mad (2003), collected in Not One More Death (2006), ISBN 1-844-67116-X
- Afterword (2014), an essay on Kim Philby, published in A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre
- The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life (2016)
- "Dare I Weep, Dare I Mourn?" (1967), in Saturday Evening Post, 28 January 1967.
- "What Ritual is Being Observed Tonight?" (1968), in the Saturday Evening Post, 2 November 1968.
- "The Writer and The Horse" (1968), in The Savile Club Centenary Magazine and later The Argosy (and The Saturday Review under the title A Writer and A Gentleman).
- "The King Who Never Spoke" (2009), in Ox-Tales: Fire, 2 July 2009.
- The Incongruous Spy (1964), containing Call for the Dead and A Murder of Quality
- The Quest for Karla (1982), containing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley's People (republished in 1995 as Smiley Versus Karla in the UK; and John Le Carré: Three Complete Novels in the U.S.), ISBN 0-394-52848-4
- The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), directed by Martin Ritt, with Richard Burton as the protagonist, Alec Leamas
- The Deadly Affair (1966), an adaptation of Call for the Dead, directed by Sidney Lumet, with James Mason as Charles Dobbs (George Smiley in the novel)
- The Looking Glass War (1969), directed by Frank Pierson, with Anthony Hopkins as Avery, Christopher Jones as Leiser, and Sir Ralph Richardson as LeClerc
- The Little Drummer Girl (1984), directed by George Roy Hill, with Diane Keaton as Charlie
- The Russia House (1990), directed by Fred Schepisi, with Sean Connery as Barley Blair
- The Tailor of Panama (2001), directed by John Boorman, with Pierce Brosnan as Andy Osnard, a disgraced spy, and Geoffrey Rush as the emigre English tailor Harry Pendel
- The Constant Gardener (2005), directed by Fernando Meirelles, with Ralph Fiennes as Justin Quayle, set in the slums in Kibera and Loiyangalani, Kenya; the poverty so affected the film crew that they established the Constant Gardener Trust to provide basic education to those areas (John le Carré is a patron of the charity)
- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), directed by Tomas Alfredson and starring Gary Oldman as George Smiley
- A Most Wanted Man (2014), directed by Anton Corbijn and starring Philip Seymour Hoffman
- Our Kind of Traitor (2016), directed by Susanna White and starring Ewan McGregor
- The Russia House (1994), BBC Radio 4, featuring Tom Baker as Barley Blair
- The Complete Smiley (2009–2010) BBC Radio 4, an eight-part radio-play series, based on the novels featuring George Smiley, commencing with Call for the Dead, broadcast on 23 May 2009, with Simon Russell Beale as George Smiley, and concluding with The Secret Pilgrim in June 2010
- A Delicate Truth (May 2013), BBC Radio 4's Book at Bedtime, recorded by Damian Lewis
- Abridged excerpts from The Pigeon Tunnel, broadcast as BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week, commencing on 12 September 2016
- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979), BBC seven-part television mini-series, with Alec Guinness as George Smiley
- Smiley's People (1982), BBC television mini-series, with Alec Guinness as George Smiley
- A Perfect Spy (1987), BBC television adaptation directed by Peter Smith, with Peter Egan as Magnus Pym and Ray McAnally as Rick
- A Murder of Quality (1991), Thames Television adaptation directed by Gavin Millar, with Denholm Elliott as George Smiley and Joss Ackland as Terence Fielding
- The Night Manager (2016), a BBC and AMC mini-series, directed by Susanne Bier, with Tom Hiddleston as Jonathan Pine and Hugh Laurie as Richard Onslow Roper
- The BBC announced on 8 November 2017 that The Little Drummer Girl would be their next John Le Carré project and is set to go into production in January 2018. 
In 2010, le Carré donated his literary archive to the Bodleian Library, Oxford. The initial 85 boxes of material deposited included handwritten drafts of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Constant Gardener. The library hosted a public display of these and other items to mark World Book Day in March 2011.
Awards and honours
- 1963, British Crime Writers AssociationGold Dagger for The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
- 1964, Somerset Maugham Award for The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
- 1965, Mystery Writers of AmericaEdgar Award for The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
- 1977, British Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger for The Honourable Schoolboy
- 1977, James Tait Black Memorial Prize Fiction Award for The Honourable Schoolboy
- 1983, Japan Adventure Fiction Association Prize for The Little Drummer Girl
- 1984, Honorary FellowLincoln College, Oxford
- 1984, Mystery Writers of America Edgar Grand Master 
- 1988, British Crime Writers Association Diamond Dagger Lifetime Achievement Award
- 1988, The Malaparte Prize, Italy
- 1990, Honorary degree, University of Exeter
- 1990, Helmerich Award of the Tulsa Library Trust.
- 1991, Nikos Kazantzakis prize
- 1996, Honorary degree, University of St. Andrews
- 1997, Honorary degree, University of Southampton
- 1998, Honorary degree, University of Bath
- 2005, British Crime Writers Association Dagger of Daggers for The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
- 2005, Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters, France
- 2008, Honorary doctorate, University of Bern
- 2011, Goethe Medal of the Goethe Institute
- 2012, Honorary doctorate, University of Oxford
- ^"Rupert Cornwell". The Independent. Retrieved 4 March 2010.
- ^"Espionage: The Perfect Spy Story". Time. 25 September 1989. Retrieved 4 March 2010.
- ^ abcBrennan, Zoe (2 April 2011). "What Does le Carré Have to Hide?". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 5 April 2011.
- ^"John Le Carre Biography, Plus Links to Book Reviews and Excerpts". BookBrowse. Retrieved 4 March 2010.
- ^ abcAnthony, Andrew (1 November 2009). "Observer Profile: John le Carré: A Man of Great Intelligence". The Observer. Retrieved 4 March 2010.
- ^"Scholar, linguist, story-teller, spy..." 17 July 1993 – via www.theguardian.com.
- ^ abGarton Ash, Timothy. "The Real le Carre". The New Yorker. 15 March 1999.
- ^"The Reverend Vivian Green". The Daily Telegraph. 26 January 2005. ISSN 0307-1235. OCLC 49632006. Retrieved 4 August 2011.
- ^Singh, Anita (24 February 2011). "John le Carré: The Real George Smiley Revealed". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
- ^Plimpton, George (Summer 1997). "John le Carré, The Art of Fiction No. 149". Paris Review.
- ^Morrison, Blake (11 April 1986). "Then and Now: John le Carre". Times Literary Supplement. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 4 August 2011.
- ^Brennan, Zoe (2 April 2011). "What Does John Le Carré Have to Hide?". The Daily Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. OCLC 49632006. Retrieved 4 August 2011.
- ^Debrett's People of Today, "Le Carre – John (pen name of David John Moore Cornwell)," 1 November 2000
- ^Walker, Tim (5 June 2009). Eden, Richard, ed. "Le Carré pays tribute to his first love". The Daily Telegraph.
- ^Herbert, Ian (6 June 2007). "Written in his stars: son of Le Carré gets £300,000 for first novel". The Independent.
- ^Gibbs, Geoffrey (24 July 1999). "Spy Writer Fights for Clifftop Paradise". The Guardian.
- ^ ab"Honorary Graduates 1989 to Present". bath.ac.uk. University of Bath. Retrieved 18 February 2012.
- ^"Oxford announces honorary degrees for 2012". University of Oxford. 19 January 2012. Retrieved 2013-07-26.
- ^Staff writer (5 January 2008). "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945". The Times. London: Times Newspapers. Retrieved 24 July 2015.
- ^Tayler, Christopher (25 January 2007). "Belgravia Cockney". London Review of Books. 29 (2): 13–14. ISSN 0260-9592. Retrieved 4 March 2010.
- ^ abcHolcombe, Garan (2006). "Contemporary Writers". British Council. Retrieved 4 March 2010.
- ^Rausing, Sigrid. "The Unbearable Peace". Granta. Retrieved 4 March 2010.
- ^"Ox-Tales". Oxfam. Archived from the original on 18 July 2011. Retrieved 4 March 2010.
- ^Snow, Jon. "TV Interview with le Carré". Channel 4 News.
- ^"The spy who came in from the cold". The Economist. 30 October 2015. Retrieved 30 October 2015.
- ^le Carré, John (15 January 2003). "Opinion: The United States of America has gone mad". The Sunday Times. Archived from the original on 4 December 2010. Retrieved 8 February 2011.
- ^Not One More Death. The Library of Congress. 2006.
- ^Tempest, Michelle (2006). The Future of the NHS. ISBN 1-85811-369-5. Retrieved 13 October 2015.
- ^Brown, Mark, Arts correspondent (7 September 2017). "John le Carré on Trump: 'Something seriously bad is happening'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 8 September 2017.
- ^"John Le Carré", Bookclub, Radio Four, February 1999.
- ^"Mark Lawson Talks To ... John le Carre"(Adobe Flash). BBC Four. October 2008. (Subscription required (help)). [link expired]
- ^Le Carré betrayed by 'bad lot' spy Kim Philby, Channel 4 News. Retrieved 3 October 2010.
- ^Goodman, Amy (20 September 2010). "Legendary British Author John le Carré on Why He Won't Be Reading Tony Blair's Iraq War-Defending Memoir". Democracy Now!. Retrieved 20 September 2010.
- ^Goodman, Amy (11 October 2010). "Exclusive: British Novelist John le Carré on the Iraq War, Corporate Power, the Exploitation of Africa and His New Novel, Our Kind of Traitor". Democracy Now!. Retrieved 11 October 2010.
- ^December 2010, [[Channel 4, John Le Carre: A Life Unmasked]
- ^CBS News Sunday Morning, 27 February 2013.
- ^Hay Festival Interview with le Carré and Philippe Sands (1 hr 40 mins), 31 May 2013.
- ^Kean, Danuta (7 March 2017). "George Smiley to return in new John le Carré novel, A Legacy of Spies" – via www.theguardian.com.
- ^Robert McCrum (9 March 2014). "A Spy Among Friends Review: Kim Philby's Treacherous Friendship with Nicholas Elliot". The Observer. Retrieved 25 March 2014.
- ^Penguin Random House to Publish John le Carré’s Memoir in September 2016, Le Carré Productions, 9 October 2015, retrieved 21 February 2016
- ^"The Complete Smiley". BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 23 May 2009.
- ^"John le Carre: 'My Frustration with Britain'". BBC News. 13 May 2013. Retrieved 13 May 2013.
For the 1979 TV miniseries based on the novel, see Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (miniseries). For the 2011 film based on the novel, see Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (film).
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a 1974 spy novel by British author John le Carré. It follows the endeavors of taciturn, aging spymasterGeorge Smiley to uncover a Soviet mole in the British Secret Intelligence Service. Since the time of its publication, the novel has received critical acclaim for its complex social commentary and lack of sensationalism, and remains a staple of the spy fiction genre.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is John le Carré's novelisation about 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. The five had risen to very senior positions in the British Intelligence services.
The character Bill Haydon is partly derived from Kim Philby, a senior SIS officer and double agent who defected to the USSR in 1963. David Cornwell (John le Carré) worked as an intelligence officer for both MI5 and the SIS (MI6). He has said that Philby betrayed his identity to the Russians, which was a factor in the 1964 termination of his intelligence career.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was followed by The Honourable Schoolboy in 1977 and Smiley's People in 1979. The three novels were later published as an omnibus edition titled Smiley Versus Karla in 1982.
These are the fifth, sixth, and seventh le Carré spy novels featuring George Smiley (The first four being: Call for the Dead, A Murder of Quality, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and The Looking Glass War). Two of the characters, Peter Guillam and Inspector Mendel, first appeared in le Carré's first book, Call for the Dead (1961).
It is 1973, the height of the Cold War. George Smiley, former senior official of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (known as "the Circus" because its London office is at Cambridge Circus), has been living in unhappy retirement for a year after an operation in Czechoslovakia, code-named Testify, ended in disaster with the capture of agent Jim Prideaux. The failure of Testify resulted in the dismissals of Smiley and his superior, Control, the head of the Circus. Smiley is unexpectedly approached by Peter Guillam, his former protege at the Circus, and Under-Secretary Oliver Lacon, the Civil Service officer responsible for overseeing the Intelligence Services. At Lacon's home they hear the account of Ricki Tarr, a Circus agent who has been missing for months. Tarr tells them of the existence of a Soviet mole at the highest level of the Circus. The mole is code-named Gerald and is handled by Moscow Centre's agent, Polyakov, stationed at the Soviet embassy in London. Tarr tells them that when he obtained this information from a female Russian diplomat visiting Hong Kong and informed London, the woman was immediately and forcibly returned to Moscow. Tarr, realizing someone in London had betrayed him to Moscow, went on the run. He came out of hiding and contacted Guillam, his former boss, the only person in the Circus he could trust.
Smiley accepts Lacon's request to investigate in total secrecy, since all senior Circus staff are suspects. He soon focuses on the details of the Circus's best source of intelligence on the Soviet Union, code-named Merlin, a source Control had deemed suspicious from the start. Merlin had been developed and vigorously sponsored by four ambitious senior Circus men, led by Percy Alleline, who wanted to oust Control and had rallied Circus overseers in Whitehall to their cause at the time of Testify. Smiley believes Gerald must be one of these four: Alleline himself, a vain and politically skilled Scot who took over as Chief from Control; Roy Bland, a gifted if boorish intellectual of humble origins; Toby Esterhase, a self-serving Hungarian refugee hungry for promotion; or Bill Haydon, an aristocratic polymath and a Circus legend who once had an affair with Smiley's now-separated wife Ann.
By examining classified documents surreptitiously provided by Lacon and Guillam, Smiley discovers that Merlin is not one source but several and that the operation has an ultra-secret London end: a safe house where Alleline and his inner circle personally collect information from a Merlin emissary posted in London under diplomatic cover. Eventually, Smiley realizes the truth: the Merlin emissary is none other than Polyakov himself and that the actual flow of information goes the other way, with Gerald passing actual British secrets ("gold dust") while receiving fake and worthless Soviet material ("chicken feed").
Smiley suspects a link between Merlin and the botched Operation Testify, whose details Control had hidden from him at the time. He tracks down Prideaux and all other Circus participants and confirms the connection. Control had independently concluded the existence of a mole and mounted Testify to learn his identity from an aspiring defector in Czech intelligence who claimed to be privy to the information. Polyakov and Karla, Moscow Centre's spymaster and Smiley's nemesis, were both present at Prideaux's interrogation which focused exclusively on the extent and status of Control's investigations. The Czech defector was a plant, engineered by Karla to provoke Control's demise through Testify's failure and so protect the mole.
Smiley reveals to Esterhase that he knows the truth of the ultra-secret "London end": that Esterhase has been posing as a Russian mole, with Polyakov as his handler, ostensibly in order to provide cover for Merlin's emissary Polyakov. Smiley pressures Esterhase into revealing the location of the safe house, by making him realise that not only is there a real mole (Gerald), who prepared the material passed by Esterhase to Polyakov as part of the cover (and thus, what Esterhase thought was "chickenfeed" is actually likely to have been real intelligence "gold dust") but also that Polyakov has not been "turned" to work in the British interest pretending to run the "mole" Esterhase, and in fact remains an agent of Karla's whose real job is to run Gerald the mole. Tarr is sent to Paris where he sends a coded message to Alleline about "information crucial to the well-being of the Service". This triggers a "crash" (i.e., "emergency") meeting between Gerald and Polyakov at the safe house where Smiley and Guillam are lying in wait. Haydon is revealed to be the mole.
Haydon's interrogation reveals that he was recruited several decades ago by Karla and became a full-fledged Soviet spy partly for political reasons, partly in frustration at Britain's rapidly declining influence on the world stage. He is expected to be exchanged with the Soviet Union for several of the agents he betrayed but is killed shortly before he is due to leave England. Although the identity of his killer is not explicitly revealed, it is strongly implied to be Prideaux. Smiley is appointed temporary head of the Circus to deal with the fallout. Smiley visits Ann in an attempt to salvage their relationship.
Control, chief of the Circus, suspects one of the five senior intelligence officers at the Circus to be a long-standing Soviet mole and assigns code names with the intention that should his agent Jim Prideaux uncover information about the identity of the mole, Prideaux can relay it back to the Circus using a simple, easy-to-recall codename. The names are derived from the English children's rhyme "Tinker, Tailor":
rich man, poor man,
Alleline was "Tinker", Haydon was "Tailor", Bland was "Soldier", Toby Esterhase was "Poor Man", and George Smiley was "Beggarman" ("sailor" was not used due to its similar sound to "tailor".)
- 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. 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 recruited him at Oxford. Bland was the top specialist in Soviet satellite states and spent several years under cover as a left-wing academic in the Balkans before being instated in Circus.
- "Control": Former head of the Circus 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" 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". "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".
- Peter Guillam: In charge of the "scalp hunters" 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. He and Smiley have worked together before and Smiley trusts him more than most. A "quirkish, loping tracker of a man, sharp-faced and sharp-eyed". Keeps bees as a hobby.
- Jim Prideaux (code name: Jim Ellis): Fluent speaker of Czech and several other languages. He was shot in Czechoslovakia during the operation code-named "Testify" which was blown to the Soviets. Former head of the "scalp hunters". Now teaches at a boys' prep school. Close friend, possibly lover, of Haydon. "A large fellow". Athlete. Raised partially abroad and educated at Oxford University.
- 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, but with an excellent memory. She is said to have been modelled on Milicent Bagot.
- Ricki Tarr: A field agent who found Irina and gives a clear indication that there is a "mole" in the Circus. Smiley trained him and gave him his first job. Works for Guillam as one of the "scalp hunters".
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy employs spy jargon which is presented as the authentic insider-speak of British Intelligence. Le Carré said that, with the exception of a few terms like "mole" and "legend", this jargon was his own invention.
|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.|
|Circus||The novel's name for SIS (Secret Intelligence Service), MI6, which collects foreign intelligence. "Circus" refers to the (fictional) location of its headquarters in Cambridge Circus, London.|
|Coat trailing||An officer of one side acting as if he is a likely defector - 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 US intelligence agencies in general and the CIA in particular.|
|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 assassination operation.|
|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||A slush fund, to provide payment for covert operations. (Attributed to Otto von Bismarck)|
|Scalphunters||Handle assassination, blackmail, burglary, kidnap; 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.|
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.
In other media
Main article: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (miniseries)
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. In the US, syndicated broadcasts and DVD releases compressed the seven-part UK episodes into six, by shortening scenes and altering the narrative sequence.
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 dramatizations, 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. The series was repeated on BBC Radio 4 Extra, June/July 2016 and has since been released as a boxed set by the BBC.
Main article: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (film)
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 for his role as George Smiley. The film also starred Colin Firth as Bill Haydon, Benedict Cumberbatch as Peter Guillam, Tom Hardy as Ricki Tarr, and Mark Strong as Jim Prideaux.