Smiley's People (miniseries)

Smiley’s People is a 1982 drama miniseries in six parts, made for the BBC. Directed by Simon Langton, produced by Jonathan Powell, it is the television adaptation of the 1979 spy novel Smiley's People by John le Carré, and the sequel to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Starring Alec Guinness, Michael Byrne, Anthony Bate and Bernard Hepton, it was first shown in the United Kingdom from 20 September to 22 October 1982, and in the United States beginning on 25 October 1982.

Smiley's People
Opening title
Based onSmiley's People
by John le Carré
Written byJohn Hopkins
Screenplay byJohn le Carré
Directed bySimon Langton
StarringAlec Guinness
Michael Byrne
Anthony Bate
Bernard Hepton
Theme music composerPatrick Gowers
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of series1
No. of episodes6
Producer(s)Jonathan Powell
CinematographyKenneth MacMillan
Editor(s)Chris Wimble
Clare Douglas
Running time360 min (UK)
Production company(s)BBC Worldwide
Paramount Domestic Television
DistributorParamount Domestic Television
Original networkBBC2
Picture format4:3
Audio formatMono
Original release20 September (1982-09-20) 
25 October 1982 (1982-10-25)
Preceded byTinker Tailor Soldier Spy


George Smiley is called out of retirement when one of his former assets, an émigré general, is found murdered. In tidying up loose ends for the "Circus", his former employer, he discovers a clandestine operation run by his nemesis, Karla, for his own personal benefit. Smiley is able to use this irregularity against Karla, forcing him to defect to the West.



The series was produced in partnership with the BBC and Paramount Pictures with a budget of $3 million. Due to the success of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, director John Irvin had begun making movies and was unavailable. Later in pre-production, Simon Langton replaced John MacKenzie, Irvin's initial successor as director of the series. During filming, Guinness was not satisfied with Langton, writing; "I felt dubious about Simon's work... I greatly miss John Irvin's grip and inner tension." Arthur Hopcraft declined the offer to write the screenplay and was replaced by John Hopkins.[1] Author le Carré was called in to help resolve technical difficulties within the script. In contrast to the public television broadcast of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Smiley's People was telecast in the U.S. in November 1982 as an Operation Prime Time presentation on some 100 independent commercial stations across the country.[2]

The bridge leading from East to West Berlin for the defection scene was found in the Midlands city of Nottingham. Other location shooting was done in Berne, Hamburg, Paris, and London.


The initial reviews were good, but the enthusiasm decreased as the series progressed.[1] A contemporary review in The New York Times described the production as a "marvelously riveting television film" and referred to Guinness's performance as stunning and the supporting company as outstanding. The review summarized the series as "the best show you are likely to see on television for the time being."[3] In a retrospective review, Neal Justin of the Star Tribune called Guinness's portrayal of Smiley as "a master class in subtle acting."[4] Mark Lawson of The Guardian called the adaptation, "among the most beautiful and enduring achievements of TV drama."[5]


In 1983 Smiley's People won four BAFTA awards, including Best Actor (for Alec Guinness) and Best Actress (for Beryl Reid), and was nominated for six others. The series also won a Peabody Award. In 2010, The Guardian ranked the series at number 17 in their list of "The Top 50 TV Dramas of All Time".[6]


  1. Read, Piers Paul (2005). Alec Guinness: The Authorised Biography. Chicago: Simon & Schuster. p. 522. ISBN 9780743244985.
  2. Billington, Michael (20 December 1981). "Alec Guinness Does a Second Tour of Duty as LeCarre's Spy". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  3. "The Riveting Return of Smiley". The New York Times. 24 October 1982. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  4. Justin, Neal (15 April 2016). "5 best John le Carre adaptations, from 'Smiley's People' to 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy'". Star Tribune. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  5. Mark, Lawson (11 February 2015). "From Smiley's People to Wolf Hall, the best TV dramas can't be rushed". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  6. "The top 50 TV dramas of all time", The Guardian, 12 January 2010. Retrieved 2016-01-14.
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