smiley_george_mv3 smiley_george_mv2 Smiley_George3 smiley_george_bk_alos smiley_george_mv5 Smiley_George8 Smiley_George5 smiley_george_tv2 smiley_george_tv1 Smiley_George2 Smiley_George4 Smiley_George6 smiley_george_mv1 Smiley_George7 Smiley_George1 smiley_george_mv4
Full Name: George Smiley
Nationality: British
Organization: British Secret Service
Occupation Spymaster

Creator: John LeCarre
Time Span: 1961 - 2017


George Smiley is an agent with, and eventually spymaster of, the British Secret Service.

The history of Smiley is told as a foreword to the first book, letting the reader come to an understanding of the character far greater than you would get from most other series, all within the first few pages.

Smiley graduated from an 'unimpressive' school in his young twenties, trained in 17th century German literature and dreaming of a life as a Fellow continuing his studies. Life, in the form of a spymaster named Steed-Asprey, changes that direction when he approaches Smiley to help in the days just before WWII.

At first stunned at the suggestion, Smiley finally agrees and is sent to live in pre-war Germany. While teaching at a provincial German university, Smiley began to put together a spy network dedicated to giving his nation prior notice of how the German people were preparing for war. The fact that the leadership didn't listen did not change the value of the information he provided.

After subsequence servings in Sweden and Switzerland, Smiley was brought home to 'teach new men. Take time off. Get married or something.' He heeded his mentor's advice, proposing marriage to Steed-Asprey's secretary, the Lady Ann Sercomb.

His life as a spy was over, or so he thought. He had a new job teaching at Oxford and his marriage was a delight. Then Ann ran off to Cuba with a young lover in the first of her many infidelities and the Circus came calling. His services were needed again.

The best description of George Smiley comes from the first book. It reads that Smiley was 'short, fat, and of a quiet disposition, he appeared to spend a lot of money on really bad clothes, which hung about his squat frame like a skin on a shrunken toad.' It further refers to his 'fleshy, bespectacled face puckered in energetic concentration.'

In all matters, George Smiley is the absolute last person you would suspect of being a spy, least of all a man destined to become a great spymaster.

Unless, of course, it is your misfortune to have done something the Crown would did not like or you had some information that was thought important and Smiley was put onto it. His incredible persistance and tenacity, his inate understanding of people, albeit with considerable distaste, and his tremendously devious mind would wear you down and finish you. Smiley seldom lost because he could not envision himself losing.

For all that prowess at work, he is still a man that many underestimate, if only because it is better to belittle than to admit someone is so much better. Smiley is always considered "past it", even by himself at times. In Smiley's case it is likely weariness. His love of Ann has never wavered though he eventually says goodbye to her for good. His love of the Circus and his job is rewarded by being summarily swept out when a new broom came in and even the knowledge that he was begged to come and clean house himself later did not make up for the insult. He is left with his books which did not talk back to him and his memories which too often would not leave him be.


Number of Books:9
First Appearance:1961
Last Appearance:2017

The first book about Smiley was first and foremost an engaging murder mystery. The murder case does, however, twist in and out of the world of the Circus, the mysterious espionage bureau Smiley worked for. As a spy novel, it is good, even if Smiley was hardly an action hero. As a murder mystery, it was superb. It is a great read!

So, too, is the second book about Smiley. Though there is no reference to the Circus in it and the pace is far slower, it is still a great mystery and fun to read.

It is the third book that is the first real spy novel from the author and what a novel it is! It had it all: sex, violence, suspense, betrayal, and loyalty. You name it; it is in there in a fantastic format. The case revolves around an East German named Mundt, a spy first introduced in Call For The Dead, who is active again and who is involved in destroying the undercover network the British had in East Germany. Smiley's involvement is rather limited although he is referred to often. What is most important is that Smiley has returned from retirement to become the number two man at the Circus. This book was, of course, turned into a superb movie starring Richard Burton. The movie was far grittier than the book but it captured that agony of an agent who wants out and a world that won't let him. It also took the viewing public to another arena from the flashing, sexy world of espionage that James Bond was displaying.

It is hard to imagine a spy novel with more of a dark nature than The Spy Who Came In From The Cold but John LeCarre does it with this next book in the series. Again, George Smiley plays a small but crucial role in the affair. The book revolves around inter-departmental rivalry. The ruthlessness of Smiley comes across at the same time as his disgust for the antics of both the competing group and his own boss, Control. Smiley's intelligence shines through, as does his methodical planning and actions. This book was made into a very slow, dry and basically unpleasant movie starring Christopher Jones.

Smiley comes into his own as the main character in the fifth book, possibly the best spy novel I have ever read. After many years of operation, thing have changed drastically at the Circus. Control has died of a heart attack. George Smiley has been forcibly retired. Many of the loyal old guard have been sacked or demoted and the agency is under new management. This was seen as a normal 'changing of the guard' until word reached the Minister that there was something unpleasant going on, something that screamed of the presence of a mole. If a mole truly resided at the Circus, everything that organization did was in jeopardy and everything learned was suspect. George Smiley is once more called from the retirement he so desperately craved to lead a small team of investigators to ferret out the mole and restore order to the Circus. This means facing down a man who had an affair with Smiley's wife and digging deeply into the mind of Karla, the ultimate Soviet spy master. This is truly a fantastic novel. The characters are rich and understandable. Some are likeable and others despised but they all are real. The plight of Smiley and the manner in which he ever-so-carefully digs for the truth is remarkable reading. This book was turned into a tremendous mini-series starring Alec Guinness playing Smiley, an interesting fact in that the renowned actor looks nothing remotely like the character in the book and yet the acting is so real, the behavior so dead-on, that as I re-read the book, I saw him as Smiley. But let there be no mistake that the true genius behind this incredible spy and mystery novel is not the performance of a great actor, awesome though it was. It is the greatness of the author.

In the sixth book, with the capture of the mole completed, Smiley is placed in charge of the Circus in a caretaker role. It is while serving as such that he discovers a chance to go after the orchestrator of the affair, Karla. Unfortunately for Smiley's group, others in the intelligence field thought they should be running the show. and Smiley finds himself struggling to keep control. This novel shows the intelligence and the tenacity of the main character.

Smiley's People is the last of the trilogy concerning the conflict between Smiley and the Soviet master, Karla, and in it all of the talents of Smiley and his select group of experts would be tasked far more than ever when the chance comes to not only stop Karla but to actually capture him. George Smiley has once again retired from the Circus and, once again, he is pulled back to the fold with an appeal from the Minister's chief of staff. This adventure has Smiley on the offensive, planning moves to capture pieces and not just operate in a mostly defensive posture. His brilliance is matched by his eagerness. Smiley was not just doing what was right in this book; he was doing what he desired.

In the eighth book, and for almost two decades the final one, in the Smiley saga, the torch has been passed to the younger generation. George Smiley has retired for good. His awesome team has each moved on in life or beyond. New people, all younger, rule the Circus. The spymaster emeritus Smiley is invited to talk with a graduating class of new agents. What results is a recount of 40 years of espionage. Told in the form of reminiscing, these tales show the trials, and wisdom, of Britain's senior agent. While the story related in the book is interesting, the most fascinating part is the discourse that Smiley has with the young men and women. His candor over his successes and failures, as well as his attitude towards the next generation, is a delight to read.

After, as said, a long while (17 years), a return to the Circus and to George Smiley, albeit indirectly through the eyes of one of his staunchest allies, Peter Guillam. In the book several decades have elapsed since the debacle that was the death of Alec Leamas in TSWCIFTC. People who were barely alive at the time are muck-raking and Guillam is the pawn. It puts a new spin on what happened back then but is it new facts come to light or people's faulty memories or too many people with their own never-noble aspirations.

One awesome series.

1 Call For The Dead Call For The Dead
Written by John LeCarre
Copyright: 1961

When the weary George Smiley was asked to investigate allegations concerning Fennan, he never expected the case to go the way it did. He had quickly interviewed the major players and came to the conclusion that the man was not a security risk and gave him a clean bill. Then why did Fennan kill himself the next morning, complaining of pressure?
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2 A Murder Of Quality A Murder Of Quality
Written by John LeCarre
Copyright: 1962

George Smiley, recently retired from the Circus and wanting to concentrate on his beloved 17th century German authors, receives a request from an old acquaintance who had just received a letter from a lady indicating her life was in danger. When the woman subsequently is found dead, the reticent Smiley is asked to investigate.
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3 The Spy Who Came In From The Cold The Spy Who Came In From The Cold
Written by John LeCarre
Copyright: 1963

The network in East Germany was at risk. The man chosen resolve the problem was the man who helped set up the network, Alec Leamas. Leamas was tired and wanted out. He was ready to start a new life with a wonderful woman he had recently met. But his boss, Control, was determined that he handle this last mission.

4 The Looking Glass War The Looking Glass War
Written by John LeCarre
Copyright: 1965

A competing group in the Intelligence community wants to learn information about the East German operations and to steal the thunder from the Circus. To do this, they recruit a young man, send him into enemy territory with little or no backup, and they abandon him when things look bad.
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5 Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Written by John LeCarre
Copyright: 1974

The possibility that there is a mole at the Circus pulls Smiley reluctantly again out of forced retirement and puts him up against the best that the KGB had to offer, the spymaster known as Karla.

6 The Honourable Schoolboy The Honourable Schoolboy
Written by John LeCarre
Copyright: 1977

To get even with Karla, Smiley goes after a Communist paymaster in Hong Kong, making use of a renegade, hard-to-control agent named Jerry Westerby. With others in government not anxious for the plan to succeed, Smiley has to fight hard to win and Westerby has to fight even harder to survive.

7 Smiley's People Smiley's People
Written by John LeCarre
Copyright: 1979

Something is up at Moscow Centre. Karla has gone to great trouble to create a false identity for a young woman, enabling her to leave the Soviet Union to seek mental health treatment in Europe. Smiley is certain that if played right, the great Soviet spymaster can be caught in a web of his own making.

8 The Secret Pilgrim The Secret Pilgrim
Written by John LeCarre
Copyright: 1990

The man in charge of training new agents for the Circus invites George Smiley to speak to them. The tales Smiley recounts are largely about the trainer himself and the different jobs that were done as the Iron Curtain fell and the face of Europe changed.

9 A Legacy Of Spies A Legacy Of Spies
Written by John LeCarre
Copyright: 2017

Peter Guillam, protege of George Smiley, is comfortably retired in the English countryside when a call from London pulls him back into the Circus. An old case is being revisited by a new group of analysts, people who never felt the chill of the Cold War and Guillam is forced to relive the events and try to make others understand.
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Number of Movies:4
First Appearance:1965
Last Appearance:2011

Being too young to have gone to see the first of Le Carre's novels turned into movies, I did not pay any attention to it when it came out in 1965. If I had, I would likely have had the same reaction apparently a few critics and a fair number of viewers had - it was not James Bond. It was, when I finally saw it many years later, terribly dark and to many still confusing. Luckily I had read the book so I understood what was going on and could really appreciate the brilliance that was Richard Burton's performance.

The second movie made about Smiley did not use his name, apparently for contractual reasons. It starred James Mason as the character. I had really enjoyed the Smiley book it was adapted from, Call for the Dead, even though I had already devoured and loved Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Smiley's People so was a tad surprised that this was a mystery, not a spy novel.

The same could not be said for the next movie, The Looking Glass War. The book was alright though not my least favorite of the books Smiley is in. The movie was, to me, horrid. It was dreary, boring, sloppy at parts, and the lead actor, Chris Jones, was handsome and charismatic and out of place. I did not like it. It seemed few did.

See the TV section for information about the two Alec Guinnes miniseries as well as that for A Perfect Spy.

A TV movie was made of the first Smiley book, A Murder of Quality, with Academy Award nominee Denholm Elliott playing Smiley. He does a good job with the character and the movie is enjoyable albeit a tad plodding.

The latest Smiley movie was the theatrical version of Tinker Tailor starring Gary Oldman as Smiley and enjoying a cast of terrific supporting actors. Playing a role that Sir Alec had made his own had to have been daunting and trying to squeeze a book the size of Tinker into a two-hour drama was a challenge but they pulled it off.

1 The Spy Who Came In From The Cold The Spy Who Came In From The Cold
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Writers: Paul Dehn, Guy Trosper
Actors: Richard Burton as Alec Leamas, Claire Bloom as Nan Perry, Oskar Werner as Fiedler, Sam Wanamaker as Peters
Released: 1965

Alec Leamas is asked to become a disgruntled agent ready for defection in order to pass along false information but he quickly realizes he is being played by his own side for a purpose he does not understand.

2 The Deadly Affiar The Deadly Affiar
Director: Sidney Lumet
Writer: Paul Dehn
Actors: James Mason as Charles Dobbs, Simone Signoret as Else Fennan, Maximillian Schnell as Dieter Frey, Harriet Andersson as Ann Dobs
Released: 1966

George Smiley is asked to look into the apparent suicide of a British governmental employee. The name of Smiley was changed to Charles Dobbs for legal reasons.

3 The Looking Glass War The Looking Glass War
Director: Frank Pierson
Writer: Frank Pierson
Actors: Christopher Jones as Leiser, Ralph Richardson as LeClerc, Anthony Hopkins as John Avery, Susan George as Susan
Released: 1969

Fred Leiser is called back into service to head to East Germany to find out about Soviet missiles being repositioned nearer the border.

4 A Murder Of Quality A Murder Of Quality
Director: Gavin Millar
Writer: John Le Carre
Actors: Denholm Elliott as George Smiley, Joss Ackland as Terence Fielding, Glenda Jackson as Ailsa Brimley, Billie Whitelaw as Mad Janie
Released: 1991

A tv movie, Smiley is asked to help an old Circus colleague find out more about a letter from a college master's wife.

5 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Writers: Bridget O'Connor, Peter Straughan
Actors: Gary Oldman as George Smiley, John Hurt as Control, Benedict Cumberbatch as Peter Guillam, Colin Firth as Bill Haydon, Tom Hardy as Ricki Tarr, Mark Strong as Jim Prideaux
Released: 2011

George Smiley is called back to work when the likelihood of a mole in the Circus is uncovered.


Number of Episodes:2
First Appearance:1979
Last Appearance:1982

Alec GuinnessGeorge Smiley [ 1-2 ]

Two incredible miniseries were developed for television by the BBC bringing in the fantastic talent of one of the greatest actors of any time, Sir Alec Guinness. Each was a six-part presentation. They make up the first and last portions of the Smiley's saga known as the Karla Trilogy as they deal with the affect the Soviet spymaster has on the Circus and the Intelligence community. [One source indicated that the middle section, The Honourable Schoolboy, was deemed too expensive to produce.

Both of these miniseries are highly touted by me IF you are not expecting a Bondesque action film. Both take time to develop and both are more interesting in telling a story with great characters than with explosions. And this is from a man who relishes blow-'em-ups.

Along with all the tremendous acting in the stories, one terrific piece that deserves extra note is that of the younger Karla shown captured in India and interrogated by a younger Smiley. Patrick Stewart is able to show the hautiness, the contempt of the West, the total confidence in his own abilities that made Karla such a remarkable opponent. And he did so without ever saying a word. Awesome. And to do it in a long scene in which Alec Guinness did the talking is worthy of an award.

1 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Episode 1-1, first aired 1979
Director: John Irvin
Writer: Arthur Hopcraft
Guest Stars: Bernard Hepton as Toby Esterhase, Michael Jayston as Peter Guillam, Alec Guinnes as George Smiley, Ian Richardson as Bill Haydon, Hywel Bennett as Ricki Tarr, Ian Bannen as Jim Prideaux

A six-part miniseries telling the detection of a mole in the Circus and how George Smiley, tossed out some time earlier, is brought back to catch the rat.

2 Smiley's People
Episode 2-1, first aired 1982
Director: Simon Langton
Writer: John Hopkins
Guest Stars: Michael Byrne as Peter Guillam, Bernard Hepton as Toby Esterhase, Eileen Atkins as Madame Ostrakova, Beryl Reid as Connie Sachs, Alec Guinness as George Smiley

A six-part miniseries in which George Smiley is pulled back into the Circus one more time when a chance to bring Karla to the West is presented. He puts together a team to pull it off.


Number of Episodes:5
First Appearance:1978
Last Appearance:1978

George ColeGeorge Smiley [ 1 ]

1 Call of the Dead
Episode 1-1, first aired 1978

BBC Radio 4 presented this production in 5 parts recounting the events of the first George Smiley novel. The air-times were:
1) Part 1 - 10/02/1978
2) Part 2 - 10/09/1978
3) Part 3 - 10/16/1978
4) Part 4 - 10/23/1978
5) Part 5 - 10/30/1978


Number of Books:1
First Appearance:1986
Last Appearance:1986

1 Smiley's Circus Smiley's Circus
Written by David Monaghan
Copyright: 1986

"A guide to the secret world of John LeCarre"
"A top-grade intelligence report on the world's most esteemed fictional espionage service"

Section 1 is THE CIRCUS (History of Major Operations, Chronology of Major Operations, The Fennan Case, The Fiedler-Mundt Operation, The Haydon Case, Operation Dolphin, The Karla Case, Hierarchy of the Circus, Cambridge Circus Headquarters)

Section 2 is WHO’s WHO (Biographies of People, Places, and Particularities in the Secret World of John LeCarre)¸ Appendix, Index to the Circus Chapter.


My opinion of the George Smiley series is simple.

This is best of all the spy series you are likely to read.

End of opinion!

If you really need more, then let me say that the writing is absolutely superb. The plots keep moving steadily while the characters keep you guessing as to their real motivation and the twists are never seen coming but make sense when it is all done. The desperate feeling of the people in the field have never been captured as well as they are in these books.

The pettiness and spitefulness of the people in headquarters is also spot-on. When the fellows behind the desks do not have to worry about bullets flying and torture and dying and helplessness, they easily forget those out there doing the real work who still have to contend with that stuff. And when the lucky agents do make it back home, they are never listened to as much as they should because, well, they do not know the "big picture" now do they?

These books feel so darned right!


My Grade: A+++

Your Average Grade:   A+


Sir Gerald A+ 5/9/2012 10:17:25 PM

Le Carre is difficult to comment on within the "Spy" context . His works include some of the most important novels of the last century, any genre, and within his own super league, the "Smiley" books are his best works. They work on so many different levels. As character studies, as thrillers, as murder mysteries, as period pieces and even as political commentaries. They are just marsterpieces and "The Honorable Schoolboy" is his best - absolute perfection!

alanna09618 A+ 1/27/2013 7:43:06 AM

I love how George Smiley spends most of his time in the shadows as a spy. George Smiley is a spy you can have a conversation with everyday your whole life still not know him that well. By far the Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley's People are my favorites. And The Secret Pilgrim bring everything we know about George Smiley to a head. I think that Gary Oldman did the best with George Smiley. I think he is one of the best spies there is.

Lynchie A++ 2018-02-13

The Master Of Espionage

Nemo A++ 2019-12-03

It''s so good it casts a shadow over everything that came afterwards. No wonder, every once in a while, the press calls a new author "the new Le Carre".

Rustyspanner23 A++ 2023-12-11

Le Carre is the gold standard. Smiley is the hero for every day folks who (like me) love the action, gadgetry and glitz of 007 but realize it is all too unrealistic.

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