Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (BBC 1979). Episode Three

tinker 03

Beryl Reid had an interesting career.  She first came to prominence in the 1950’s via the radio series Educating Archie, where she played several roles (the mischievous schoolgirl Monica and the Brummie Marlene).  During the 1960’s she continued to ply her trade as a comedienne and comic actress across a variety of different series.  She would later reflect that “comedy is the longest apprenticeship in the world.”

But it was a non-comic role, The Killing of Sister George, firstly on stage (for which she won a Tony award) and later on film (where she received a Golden Globe nomination), that really bought her to prominence.  During the 1970’s she appeared in a number of films such Rosie Dixon – Night Nurse and Carry on Emmannuelle, which are pretty grim viewing, although they’re apparently comedies.  But there were also decent roles in several BBC Plays of the Month, such as Mrs Malaprop in Sheridan’s The Rivals and Amanda in Bernard Shaw’s The Apple Cart.

Her somewhat unpredictable career path would later lead her to the role of Connie Sachs in episode three of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.  Critically, both this and her later appearance as Connie (in Smiley’s People) can be considered career highlights – she was BAFTA nominated as Best Actress for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and won the BAFTA Best Actress award for Smiley’s People.

In Tinker Tailor she gives an effortless performance as she plays opposite Alec Guinness.  Smiley is the patient observer, gently guiding the voluble Connie to the topic he wishes to discuss.  Connie cuts a somewhat sad figure – disfigured by arthritis and living in rather shabby surroundings.  Like Smiley, she has been cast out of the Circus – and she still feels the pain.  “I was the best Head of Research the Circus ever had!  Everyone knew that! And what did they say the day they gave me the chop?  That personnel cow!  ‘You’re losing your sense of proportion, Connie.  Time you got out into the real world.’  I hate the real world!  I like the Circus and my lovely boys!”

With official Circus records not available to him, Connie is an invaluable resource, since she has instant recall of every case that ever passed her desk.  Smiley is interested in an agent called Polyakov and Connie recalls that when she tried to get Esterhase and Alleline to investigate him further, they declined.  And shortly afterwards Connie was retired from the Circus.  Another example of someone too close to the truth about the mole having to be removed?

Although her screen-time is only a little over seven minutes, it’s still one of the most memorable parts of the serial.  “Poor loves. Trained to Empire, trained to rule the waves. Englishmen could be proud then, George. They could… All gone.”

Smiley has entrusted Peter Guillam with the task of obtaining the log recording Ricki Tarr’s reports to London concerning the Russian agent Irina.  Smiley reminds him to exercise extreme caution.  “You must assume, Peter, the Circus has dogs on you twenty four hours a day. Think of it as a foreign country.”

The Circus, as befits Britain in the late 1970’s is somewhat shabby and tired-looking.  This is exemplified by the squeaky lift door.  When Guillam says it’s about time that it was sorted, the receptionist gloomily tells him that he’s asked for it to be dealt with on more than one occasion.

Guillam’s visit is fruitless – the log has been tampered with and a vital page removed, but along the way he bumps into Haydon, Bland, Esterhase and Alleline who all react to him with varying levels of suspicion.  Haydon seems the most amused.  “What the hell are you doing here, you pariah?”.  But like all spies, he’s not always easy to read.

These scenes give us our first proper look at the four top men at the Circus – one of whom is “Gerald” the Soviet mole.  They didn’t appear in episode two and their only appearance in the first episode was in the pre-credits sequence, when the four of them silently entered a meeting-room.

The scene in the first episode is worth looking at in a little more detail, as even though none of them utters a word, it clearly defines their characters.  First to enter is Toby Esterhase, the fact he’s the first to arrive and that he gets up later to close the door behind Haydon clearly demonstrates his fussy, precise nature.  Next is Roy Bland, who arrives with a casual air and a cigarette dangling from his mouth.  Bill Haydon is the third one in – balancing his cup of tea with the saucer on top, he betrays a sardonic, amused attitude.  Finally, Percy Alleline arrives, with a pompous, self important persona.

The remainder of the episode is told in flashback, some six months before Control’s death.  Alleline has just proudly unveiled his Witchcraft material, much to Control’s disgust.

Alleline: Merlin is the fruit of a long cultivation by certain people in the Circus. People who are bound to me as I am to them. People who are not at all entertained by the failure rate about this place. There’s been too much blown, too much lost, too much wasted. Too many scandals. I’ve said so many times, but I might as well have talked to the wind for all the heed he paid me.
Control: “He” means me, George.
Alleline: The ordinary principles of tradecraft and security have gone to the wall in this service. It’s all “divide and rule”, stimulated from the top.
Control: Me again.
Alleline: We’re losing our livelihood. Our self-respect. We’ve had enough. We’ve had a bellyfull, in fact.

Does Control distrust the material or Alleline?  He charges Smiley to speak to Haydon, Bland and Esterhase.  “Sweat them, George.  Tempt them.  Bully them. Anything damn thing.  Give them whatever they eat.  I need time.”

Smiley draws a blank with all three.  First he speaks to Toby Esterhase.

Esterhase: My problem is promotion. I mean the absence of it. I have so many years’ seniority that I feel actually quite embarrassed when these young fellows ask me to take orders from them.
Smiley: Who, Toby? Which young fellows? Roy Bland? Percy? Would you call Percy young? Who?
Esterhase: When you’re overdue for promotion and working your fingers to the bone, anyone looks young who’s above you on the ladder.
Smiley: Perhaps Control could move you up a few rungs…
Esterhase: Actually, George, I am not too sure he is able to.

Roy Bland, despite being a protegee of Smiley’s, is equally disinterested.

If there’s no deal, you’ll have to tell Control to get stuffed! I’ve paid, you see, you know that! I don’t know what the hell I’ve bought with it, but I’ve paid a packet. Poznan, Budapest, Prague, back to Poznan – have you ever been to Poznan? – Sofia, Kiev, two bloody nervous breakdowns and still between the shafts! That’s big money at any age. Even yours.

The relationship between George Smiley and Bill Haydon is tense, since Haydon had previously had an affair with Ann, Smiley’s wife. He does, however, argue quite convincingly that Control’s problem is with Alleline – not the Witchcraft material.

Merlin would do if he were my source, wouldn’t he? If dazzling bloody Bill here pottered along and said he’d hooked a whacking big fish and wanted to play him alone and sod the expense, what would happen then? Control would say, “That’s very nifty of you, Bill boy. You do it just the way you want, Bill Boy. Have some filthy jasmine tea.”

With the personalities of the four top men now firmly established, Smiley begins his investigation in earnest.

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