‘You’ll take the job, clean the stables? Go backwards, go forwards, do whatever is necessary?’
Lloyd and Tim take on the ‘holy scripture’ of spy novels, John Le Carré’s classic tale of 1970s Cold War intrigue and betrayal; the book that established George Smiley as one of the all-time great fictional characters – ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy‘.
The adventure starts on home turf: Smiley’s home, to be precise, on Bywater Street in Chelsea.
From there, we cycled off to Sussex Gardens.
The Hotel Islay in Sussex Gardens – where, on the day after his visit to Ascot, George Smiley under the name of Barraclough had set up his operational headquarters – was a very quiet place considering its position, and perfectly suited to his needs. It lay a hundred yards south of Paddington Station, one of a terrace of elderly mansions cut off from the main avenue by a line of plane trees and a parking patch.
We very much liked the look of one particular hotel on this stretch – the Castleton.
From there it was off to Lexham Gardens in search of the safe house where Smiley and Guillam interrogate Toby Esterhase, and following our re-enactment of a simple tracking operation down Marloes Road, it becomes clear to use that this is very likely to be the most curiously specific book we have encountered so far concerning dates and locations.
Having found the off licence where Smiley loses his tail, we discuss Connie Sachs, the redoubtable ‘memory’ of the Circus, and her real life counterpart, the redoubtable Millicent Bagot. Tim also reveals his research into another real life woman of substance, a Suffolk farm owner who may have provided Le Carré with another model.
Over a stop for Eccles cakes in Hyde Park Tim makes the case that even the out-of-London locations in the book – such as the safe house in Suffolk and the prep school in the Quantocks – are perhaps traceable in real life.
Lloyd points out that specific days and dates in the book firmly place the action in 1972 and 1973 – a time of ‘Dark Side of the Moon, ‘Live and Let Die’ – and Jeremy Irons in both ‘Godspell’ and ‘Playaway’ (although Lloyd doubts this last reference supplied by Tim).
MI6’s fictional hq – The Circus – is another easily found location (with the world’s most notorious surveillance operation, Facebook, living next door). Thanks to deep research from Lloyd, the building, known as Trentishoe Mansions is found to have been a famously great place to squat in the 1970s. Instead of being full of spies, the place would have been crawling with hippies.
And if you want to know who owns it now, here’s the deeds.
Then it’s off further north to the Regent’s Canal to find another safe house where Smiley finally traps his mole. Time for another reenactment – Guillam’s sprint down the canal towpath and up the metal stairs.
Ending south, in Brixton, in search of an ‘old flint-walled school’, the boys – with the help of local experts – have to admit this might be the one location Le Carré has completely made up.
Well, one can’t be a completely perfect spy.
When time and guidelines allow, we road test works of fiction that appear to be curiously specific about dates and locations. We go to the places mentioned and see if descriptions are accurate, journey times credible, dates and days all in order. Along the way, we learn things, about the book, and its author.
Sources & Credits
David Essex – Rock On – https://youtu.be/-XfmHyG8y-g
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979) Trailer – https://youtu.be/5h1XZ0LzVg4
Pink Floyd – Speak To Me / Breathe – https://youtu.be/R49d4f5sEs4
John le Carré: An Evening with George Smiley Highlights – https://youtu.be/1uLG3l5zKv4
Genesis – Cinema Show/Selling England By The Pound – https://youtu.be/E-jS4e3zacI
New Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Clip – https://youtu.be/442J1ASPseQ
TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY – INSIDE THE CIRCUS FEATURETTE – https://youtu.be/abBtFP8qCXI
Live And Let Die – https://youtu.be/NR0UmZcf89E
Colin Firth’s Official ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ Interview – https://youtu.be/5r9vE2B2Oj8
B J Arnau Live And Let Die 1973 – https://youtu.be/LWKGfbs8dzo
John Le Carré – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_le_Carr%C3%A9
The Secret Life of John Le Carré – https://archive.vanityfair.com/article/share/32650cf6-3fad-418d-8e33-4a7906ed6d68
Le Carré the spy who betrayed his best friend… – https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3258942/Secrets-lies-le-Carr-love-stellar-spy-novel-success-drove-arms-wife-womanising-best-friend-told-time-sensational-new-biography.html
1973 in the UK – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1973_in_the_United_Kingdom
Sparrows Farm, Great Henny – https://colnestour.org/magazine_article/story-sparrows-farm-great-henny/
Daphne Machin-Goodall – https://www.janebadgerbooks-oldsite.co.uk/misc/machingoodall.html
The Story of Cedar Falls – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B001BP34N8
Winston Churchill at Watts House – https://sites.google.com/site/jbseatrobe/political-somerset/winston-churchill-in-somerset
Cedar Falls Health Farm – https://www.cedarfalls.co.uk/cedarfalls/
Shaftesbury Theatre ceiling collapse (Hair) – https://www.shaftesburytheatre.com/about-us/theatre-history-2/
A house in St Marks Crescent – http://www.englishcubist.co.uk/house.html