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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 

1:17 | Trailer
In the bleak days of the Cold War, espionage veteran George Smiley is forced out of semi-retirement to uncover a Soviet Agent within MI6's echelons.
3,695 ( 179)




Nominated for 1 Primetime Emmy. Another 4 wins & 7 nominations. See more awards »





Series cast summary:
Alec Guinness ...  George Smiley 7 episodes, 1979
Michael Jayston ...  Peter Guillam 7 episodes, 1979
Anthony Bate ...  Sir Oliver Lacon / ... 7 episodes, 1979
George Sewell ...  Mendel 7 episodes, 1979
Bernard Hepton ...  Toby Esterhase 5 episodes, 1979
Ian Richardson ...  Bill Haydon 5 episodes, 1979
Hywel Bennett ...  Ricki Tarr 5 episodes, 1979
Terence Rigby ...  Roy Bland 4 episodes, 1979
Ian Bannen ...  Jim Prideaux 4 episodes, 1979
Michael Aldridge ...  Percy Alleline 4 episodes, 1979
Alec Sabin Alec Sabin ...  Fawn 4 episodes, 1979
Alexander Knox ...  Control 3 episodes, 1979
Duncan Jones Duncan Jones ...  Roach 3 episodes, 1979
Daniel Beecher Daniel Beecher ...  Spikely 3 episodes, 1979
Beryl Reid ...  Connie Sachs 2 episodes, 1979
John Wells John Wells ...  Headmaster 2 episodes, 1979
Frank Compton Frank Compton ...  Bryant 2 episodes, 1979
Frank Moorey Frank Moorey ...  Lauda Strickland 2 episodes, 1979


George Smiley has been retired for about a year when he finds a friend from the Circus, his old outfit in British Intelligence, sitting in his living room. He is taken to the home of an advisor to the Prime Minister on intelligence matters, where he finds evidence that one of the men in the senior ranks of his old agency is a Russian spy. Smiley is asked to find him, without official access to any of the files in the Circus or letting on that anyone is under suspicion. With only a few old friends, his own powers of deduction, and secrecy as weapons, Smiley must unearth the spy who turned him out of the Circus. Written by John Vogel <jlvogel@comcast.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Alec Guinness is George Smiley in John le Carré's thriller See more »


TV-14 | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


Several night shoots were lost for various reasons. See more »


In episode 5, Fawn's hair is shaggy and hangs over his ears. A day later (in episode 6) it is short and trim. He's been guarding the kidnapped Toby Esterhase for the intervening period, so he could hardly have run out and got it cut. See more »


George Smiley: Topicality is always suspect.
See more »

Crazy Credits

In the closing credits, the church prayer "Nunc dimittis" is played. This prayer describes Simeon's wish to depart this world after having witnessed the newborn Messiah. In context, this theme is used to bid farewell to the viewer. See more »

Alternate Versions

The American DVD edition is a syndicated edit comprised of six episodes instead of seven. See more »


Spoofed in The Steam Video Company: I Was Hitler's Bookie (1984) See more »


Nunc Dimittis
Composed by Geoffrey Burgon
Sung by Paul Phoenix and the Boys of the St Paul's Cathedral Choir
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User Reviews

Gerald's World
18 February 2003 | by rrichrSee all my reviews

Although more schematic than its marvelous sequel, Smiley's People, and carrying less emotional weight, the BBC adaptation of John LeCarre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which aired in the colonies on PBS, is still superb. As purely a suspense piece, Tinker, Tailor actually wins by a nose. Although hints are dropped throughout, and are fun to see after the initial viewing, the outcome remains up in the air until the climax. This was never quite the case in Smiley's People. There, the suspense was delivered by other means and played a lesser role in the overall plot. One requirement for really appreciating Tinker,Tailor might be having lived through at least some of the Cold War. This will allow one to read more between the lines as it is there that the story really lives and breathes. Barring that, even post-Cold War mystery fans will relate well to Tinker,Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

As in Smiley's People, George Smiley, now and forever in the minds of most John Le Carre aficionados Sir Alec Guiness, is no longer with British Intelligence, termed by Le Carre `The Circus', although the plot periodically flashes back to times when he was still active. Smiley did not actually retire but was sacked from his post as head of personnel, despite his long and meritorious service. Smiley's dismissal had nothing to do with the performance of his duties but was the result of a manipulation of truly remarkable elegance, orchestrated by the Dracula of espionage, the Soviet spy master, Karla. The Soviets may have failed to produce a viable nation but could they ever spy. They punched so many holes in the American nuclear weapons program that it ended up looking like a screen door. In this vein, Le Carre fashioned an espionage that almost takes the breath away with its beauty and scope.

Spying is, apparently, like playing the stock market. To profit, one must usually be in for the long term. On the eve of WW II, while still a junior intelligence officer, Karla recruited an Oxford student who eventually became one of the half-dozen senior officers in the Cold War-era Circus. Once in place, Karla's recruit, Soviet code-name Gerald, proceeded to eat the organization alive from the inside out. The head of the Circus, known only by the designation `Control' (played wonderfully by Alexander Knox) was subjected to a particularly cruel manipulation; a ploy driven by a profoundly cynical understanding of human nature. Even more sphinx-like than Smiley himself, Control had been detecting markers of Karla's intricate scheme for months and had narrowed the mole's identity to five senior officers. To stop him, Karla fashioned a set-up in the form of an offer that Control could simply not refuse. Control's necessarily unsanctioned operation to exploit the offer failed catastrophically. Of course, it never had a chance. Control, disgraced, was forced out, taking with him Smiley who, as Control's most trusted ally, was found guilty by association and also banished.

When the dust settled, Karla had the West's two most effective intelligence services, The British, and through them, the American, working for him. Anyone who might have put the pieces together is either out or dead. The Circus is gutted but does not really know what has hit it. Control is replaced by a politcally astute but otherwise incompetent functionary whom Karla had been priming as a superstar by providing him with bogus intelligence lightly salted with just enough real value to make it stick. But when a resourceful, low-level field agent (Hywel Bennet), thought to have defected, turns up in Britain with solid evidence pointing to the existence of the mole, thereby validating Control's long-term suspicions, Smiley, the sole remanent of the old order who can be trusted, is called in to `spy on the spies'.

Here, the incomparable, dialog-driven, Le Carre plot engine begins its juggernaut roll as Smiley goes to work. Like Smiley's People, the story proceeds as a series of superbly written and acted one-on-one encounters. Included in these is a fascinating flashback in which Karla (Patrick Stewart, yes the Jean-Luc Picard guy) and Smiley actually meet. Tinker, Tailor doesn't wear its heart as much on its sleeve as does Smiley's People and has an almost clinical quality, at least on the surface. Once Smiley understands that the mole is real, he seems to know that he will eventually unmask him. Smiley simply connects the dots, moving ahead like a snowplow. The beauty resides in his meticulous process. For Smiley, the truth is absolutely out there, just out of sequence. The acting, set against the production's shadowy, gray-scale backgrounds, is flawless. The two tragic figures, Control, and the agent Jim Prideaux, the other pawn in Karla's game (Ian Bannen; his final role was the leprous Scottish nobleman in Braveheart) are especially good and provide this very cool production with its beating heart. Tinker, Tailor is not a Whodunit but rather a Whoisit; a classic mystery with the added cachet of espionage and is one of the very best things to have ever appeared on television. It's bloody good stuff, old chap, like the best single-malt you ever sipped.

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English | Czech | Russian

Release Date:

29 September 1980 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy See more »

Filming Locations:

Lisbon, Portugal See more »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


| (7 parts)

Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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