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His understanding of what the story required, he says, was filtered through values born of empire. The aspect that I latched on to, I think, the one I felt personally, was the idea of service. Christian service and service to country. How that sense of Christian service could be corrupted into the most mendacious and reckless behaviour was something I was preoccupied with throughout the telling of the story.

While we are still living in a Britain ruled by public school elites, this aristocratic concept of service would appear long gone.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: John Le Carre and reality - BBC News

Tinker Tailor may be a story about betrayal, the hunt for a mole at the heart of MI6, but it occurs in a world defined by rules and procedures. In the modern era, with all its disruption and executive action, that seems odd. It depicts a country wearing its decline on its sleeve. Our contemporary age would never admit to as much and indeed it did not in the film version, where everything was carefully stylised and in the colour scheme of a 70s sitcom.

You also get to watch something that is slow and often silent, and all the more powerful for that. A spy story is a succession of masks. Those moments worked as Irvin hoped, and form the centre of Tinker, Tailor. They are like the extended interrogations in Line of Duty, except the tension is more drawn out and there are more gaps the viewer is encouraged to fill.

Those interrogations would not have been remotely as effective, however, had they not featured one of the greatest acting performances ever delivered on the small screen. Sir Alec Guinness , it was suggested at the time, was able to play Smiley because he was rolling in Star Wars money.


Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: John Le Carre and reality

That turned out to be a smart move and allowed Guinness some latitude in selecting his next roles. According to Irvin, however, that did not mean he leapt at the prospect of Tinker, Tailor. Requiring more time and patience, however, was Guinness himself. Any hint of that insecurity had entirely gone. And the same stark contrast is at work in Smiley, too. In the chess game of wits that follows, he comes face to face with old enemies, unsolved mysteries and his own past.

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

This is no one-dimensional thriller, but a subtle, gripping novel that derives suspense from moral complexity and psychological subtlety. He was educated at Sherborne School, at the University of Berne where he studied German literature for a year and at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he graduated with a first-class honours degree in modern languages. He started writing novels in , and since then has published 21 titles.

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