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Classic TV: Smiley’s People – #3/6 – Alec Guinness, Michael Byrne, Anthony Bate, Bernard Hepton


Superb cast and drama

Smiley’s People was a 1982 drama miniseries in six parts, made for the BBC. Directed by Simon Langton, produced by Jonathan Powell, it is the television adaptation of the 1979 spy novel of the same name by John le Carré. Starring Alec Guinness, Michael Byrne, Anthony Bate and Bernard Hepton. It was first shown in the United Kingdom from 20 September to 22 October 1982, and in the United States beginning on 25 October 1982.


Smiley’s People is a spy novel by John le Carré, published in 1979. Featuring British master-spy George Smiley, it is the third and final novel of the “Karla Trilogy”, following Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Honourable Schoolboy. George Smiley is called out of retirement to investigate the death of one of his old agents: a former Soviet general, the head of an Estonian émigré organisation based in London. Smiley learns the general had discovered information that will lead to a final confrontation with Smiley’s nemesis, the Soviet spymaster Karla.

The character General Vladimir was partly modelled on Colonel Alfons Rebane, an Estonian émigré who led the Estonian portion of SIS‘s Operation Jungle in the 1950s.[1] David Cornwell (John le Carré) worked as an intelligence officer for both MI5 and the SIS (MI6).

Maria Andreyevna Ostrakova, a Soviet émigrée in Paris, is told by a Soviet agent calling himself “Kursky” that her daughter Alexandra, whom she was forced to leave behind, may be permitted to join her for “humanitarian reasons”. Maria applies for French citizenship for her daughter, but time passes with no sign of Alexandra and no further contact with “Kursky”. Realising she has been duped, Maria writes to General Vladimir, a former Soviet general and British agent, for help. Vladimir realises that Maria was used to provide a “legend”, or false identity, for an unknown young woman, a ploy which KGB spymaster Karla has tried before. Vladimir also recognises that the operation is unofficial, because Karla used a blundering amateur agent instead of trained intelligence officers.

Vladimir contacts Toby Esterhase, his old handler and “postman” in the Circus, but Esterhase has left the service and refuses to be involved in Vladimir’s plans. Nevertheless, Vladimir sends a confidant, Otto Leipzig, to interview Maria in Paris. From a photograph, Maria immediately identifies “Kursky”. Vladimir then sends the son of an old friend to Hamburg to collect vital proof from Leipzig. He contacts the Circus again, invoking Moscow Rules and insisting on speaking to his former “vicar” or senior case officer, George Smiley, not realising that Smiley is also retired. The Circus personnel, unfamiliar with Vladimir, are skeptical and uncooperative. Meanwhile, Vladimir’s activities are betrayed to Karla, probably by jealous members of Vladimir’s émigré organisation. Vladimir is assassinated on Hampstead Heath, evidently by Moscow Centre agents, while on his way to meet an inexperienced handler from the Circus. MORE AT LINK

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