Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (BBC 1979). Episode Five

tinker 05

LeCarre’s novel opens with Jim Prideaux taking up his new role as a schoolmaster.  Periodically through the book we return to Pridaeux and witness his growing friendship with one of the boys, Bill Roache, nicknamed “Jumbo” by Pridaeux.

Arthur Hopcraft’s adaptation chooses to hold back the school material until this episode, rather than scatter it throughout the story.  This was probably the right thing to do, although it does mean we lose a great deal of the interaction between Prideaux and Roach.  But a little does remain, such as the scene where Roach spies Prideaux digging up a package.  Roach can’t resist taking a peep through the caravan window (where Prideaux lives) and is shocked to see him holding a gun.

Prideaux: We’ve got a secret, haven’t we? I can trust you, I know that. We’re good at keeping secrets, loners like you and me.
Roach: Is it because of that man? Would you shoot him? Are you working undercover, like Bulldog Drummond in the book? Some of the boys wanted to call you Bulldog, but we thought Rhino was better. Bigger than a bulldog.
Prideaux: Well I, uh… I used to be a soldier, Jumbo. What you saw just now, that’s a souvenir, you know, it’s like this…
[he points to his back]
Prideaux: How I got it, they’re both secrets, I keep them to myself. Y’understand that, don’t you Jumbo?
Roach: Yes, sir.
Prideaux: Knew you would, knew you would.

Since getting shot, Jim’s turned into something of an eccentric, at least when the schoolboys are around.  He lets them drive his vintage car (an Alvis, his pride and joy) and has clearly made a deep impression on many of them (especially Roach).  But he still has wounds that haven’t healed (and not just physical ones) which will be examined later on, when Smiley visits him.

But before Smiley speaks to Prideaux, he makes a call on Sam Collins (John Standing) who was duty officer the night Jim Prideaux was shot.  When the crisis happened, Sam was unable to get much sense out of Control – so he recalls how relived he was when Bill Haydon turned up.  It’s been repeated several times already just how close Bill Haydon and Jim Prideaux were, and this is clear when Bill takes charge.

All right, Sam. Now, first thing you do, you call this number, it’s Toby Esterhase’s. Tell him you’re speaking for me, and he’s to pick up the two Czechos we’ve had our eyes on in London School of Economics, and lock them up. Now, right away, Sam. Jim’s worth a lot more than those two, but it’s a start. I’ll have a word with the chief hood of the Czech Embassy. If they hurt a hair on Jim Prideaux’s head, I’ll strip the entire Czech network in this country bare. You pass that on. I’ll make him a laughing-stock!

Later, Smiley finally speaks to Jim Pridaeux.  Given the number of flashbacks we’ve seen in the series so far, it was a little surprising that we don’t see Pridaeux’s interrogation by the Czechs – instead Pridaeux just tells us about it.  But in retrospect, that’s actually a plus – as it allows Ian Bannen full reign to describe exactly how bad it was.  And sometimes, words are more powerful than pictures – for example, when he describes the moment they finally broke him.  “I hoped I’d go mad. And no, they knew how to stop that. They left me alone for a couple of days; got me ready for the long one. That was when I ga… ga… gave… g… gave them what they wanted.”

Another interesting moment is when Smiley discusses the friendship between Haydon and Prideaux.  Haydon recommended Prideaux for the service and Smiley is able to quote verbatim from part of the letter that Haydon wrote to the Circus talent-scout, some thirty years earlier.  “He has that heavy quiet that commands. He’s my other half. Between us we’d make one marvelous man. He asks nothing better than to be in my company or that of my wicked, divine friends, and I’m vastly tickled by the compliment. He’s virgin, about eight foot tall, and built by the same firm that did Stonehenge.”

If Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a collection of great acting moments, then Ian Bannen’s in this episode must rate very highly.  And although his part of the story seems to be over, events might prove otherwise ….

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