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A Short History of George Smiley

Posted November 18, 2011 to photo album "A Short History of George Smiley"

Since he appeared in John le Carré’s 1961 novel, Call For The Dead, the unassuming intelligence operative George Smiley has become the most intellectually cunning and emotionally complex spy of modern times.

Smiley Lives
Call for The Dead (1961): Enter Smiley
A Murder Of Quality (1962): Smiley on his Own
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1963): Smiley’s World
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974): Smiley’s Triumph
The Honourable Schoolboy (1977): Smiley in Asia
Smiley’s People (1982): Smiley’s Last Battle
The Secret Pilgrim (1990): Smiley Remembers
Call for The Dead (1961): Enter Smiley

Call for The Dead (1961): Enter Smiley

Call for the Dead; James Mason in THE DEADLY AFFAIR

The character of George Smiley appears in the first sentence of John le Carré’s first novel, Call for the Dead, with a less than heroic introduction: “When Lady Ann Sercomb married George Smiley towards the end of the war, she described him to her astonished Mayfair friends as breathtakingly ordinary.” The next paragraph notes he is “short, fat, and of a quiet disposition” and “appeared to spend a lot of money on really bad clothes, which hung about his squat frame like a skin on a shrunken toad.” But as Smiley would demonstrate in the eight le Carré novels in which he features, appearances can be deceptive. In Call for the Dead, Smiley is tasked with investigating the death of a government official who appears to have committed suicide just hours after Smiley had cleared him in an ongoing investigation. He and his trusted associate Peter Guillam start talking to the man’s friends and family, and, as in most of le Carré’s novels, they uncover a tangled web of espionage, counter-espionage, compromised intentions, party politics and human emotions. In the end, the suicide proves to be murder and none of the parties are exactly who they profess to be. Nor is the novel, which proves much more than a simple thriller. As mystery writer P.D. James later wrote, “In this novel and in all his others, this brilliant explorer of the murky labyrinths of treachery and betrayal is a sensitive chronicler of the byways of the human heart.” In 1966, the novel was adapted for the screen as THE DEADLY AFFAIR, directed by Sidney Lumet and starring James Mason. But since Paramount had just bought the rights for The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (and the name of George Smiley with it), Smiley was renamed Charles Dobbs.