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Paranoid VisionsSpies, Conspiracies and the Secret State in British Television Drama$
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Joseph Oldham

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781784994150

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9781784994150.001.0001

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‘Who killed Great Britain?’: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (BBC 2, 1979) as a modern classic serial

‘Who killed Great Britain?’: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (BBC 2, 1979) as a modern classic serial

(p.73) 3 ‘Who killed Great Britain?’: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (BBC 2, 1979) as a modern classic serial
Paranoid Visions

Joseph Oldham

Manchester University Press

This chapter examines the 1979 BBC 2 serialised adaptation of John Le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, positioning this as the first instance of the BBC seizing the initiative over ITV in the spy genre. It explores how this was produced within the BBC classic serial tradition, most traditionally reserved for adapting canonical 19th century novels, whilst the casting of acclaimed actor Alec Guinness in central role of George Smiley imparted further prestige from film and theatre. It argues that the serial achieved its popular impact through embracing the complex narrative pleasures of the long-form serial, whilst countering this with the simple through line of a whodunit (or mole-hunt) storyline, offering multiple possibilities for audience engagement. Finally, it argues that through extensive location filming the serial was able it to effectively visualise some of the elegiac themes of the novel through landscape and architecture.

Keywords:   Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, John Le Carré, Alec Guinness, George Smiley, BBC, Adaptation, Classic Serial, Mole

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