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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
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1963): Smiley’s World

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1963): Smiley’s World

Paperback edition; Rupert Davies as George Smiley

If Smiley’s first two novels reveal the man and his unique talents, le Carré’s third novel, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, illustrates the Cold War milieu in which Smiley thrived.  The central figure here is not Smiley, but Alec Leamas, the head of the West Berlin branch of the Circus. A daring agent during the war, the often drunk, world-weary Leamas is not quite up for the Cold War. After losing a double agent, he is called back to London and recruited by Smiley and Peter Guillam to pretend to defect in order to trap Hans-Dieter Mundt, an East German agent. (Mundt first appeared in Call for the Dead as a possible murder suspect.) While Smiley is only a minor character, he remains the story’s puppet master, controlling the various agents and their contacts. Before the novel went on to become an international best seller, producer/director Martin Ritt obtained the film rights, and eventually got Paramount to finance the dark espionage drama (even though many in the studio were wary of how out of sync it was with the popular James Bond-type spy adventure). Richard Burton was cast as Leamas and Rupert Davies as Smiley. By the time the film was released in 1965, both the book and film were global phenomena. The novel won the 1963 Gold Dagger award from the British Crime Writers Association for "Best Crime Novel,” and then later won the Edgar Award for "Best Mystery Novel” from the Mystery Writers of America, and was later picked as one of Time’s All-Time 100 Novels. The film was nominated for two Oscars (including Best Actor for Richard Burton) and won four BAFTA awards, in addition to winning the Edgar for Best Motion Picture Screenplay.