Blog: John le Carre - An Evening with George Smiley

There is nothing like reading a well-written book by an intelligent and knowledgeable author. Through into the mix lots of espionage, cultural references and a subtle British humour, and you get an incredible reading experience. And that is John le Carré’s books in the nutshell.  

John le Carre


John le Carré is a British author of espionage novels. During the 1950s and '60s, he worked for both the Security Service and the Secret Intelligence Service. His third novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963), became an international best-seller and remains one of his best-known works. Following the success of this novel, he left MI6 to become a full-time author. In 2011, he was awarded the Goethe Medal.

I didn’t know that John le Carre did any public appearance, as he is of a rather advanced age, but the moment I heard of this presentation, I knew I had to go and see it. It was broadcasted live by Cineplex on October 25, 2017.





Captured live from London's Royal Festival Hall, join us for a celebration of one of the world’s greatest writers as he shares the secrets behind the creation of his most beloved character. From his extraordinary Cold War novels – such as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – to his powerful descriptions of the arms trade in The Night Manager, and the War on Terror in A Most Wanted Man, the writing of John le Carre has come to define the last half century. In this one-off event, the author discusses the full breadth of his career, and reflects on the continuing story of his most famous creation, the tubby, bespectacled spy, George Smiley. Coinciding with the publication date of his new novel, A Legacy of Spies, the event will include readings from the book by the author. The novel sees the return of some of le Carre’s most iconic Cold War characters, including George Smiley and his trusted lieutenant, Peter Guillam, as their past comes back to claim them in the present. With a rare question and answer session, this will be an unmissable opportunity to experience one of the foremost chroniclers of our age, direct and in his own words. In support of MSF, the leading emergency medical humanitarian aid organisation, John le Carre is donating his speaker’s fee, and the producers of the live cinema broadcast, The Ink Factory, are donating their share of the profits to the charity.


My experience


The theatre was only half full with, predictably, people far older than me (I find it rather refreshing to be the youngest in the room). Right before the start, a Cineplex representative came into the auditorium and announced a one-question quiz. The prize was the new George Smiley book, “A Legacy of Spies”.


The question asked was “What is the latest book by John le Carre?”. I did a double take, as I am sure many in the audience, as nobody expected to be asked a question with such an obvious answer, so I didn’t say a thing. Someone in the audience yelled out the title of the book, and we had our winner.


Except, that person already had a copy of “A Legacy of Spies”.


The Cineplex rep was stuck - he had to do the giveaway but he ran out of questions - so a gentleman in the audience voiced the question for him.


Somebody answered it, and the Cineplex rep was ready to hand over the price. Except - that person also already owned a copy.


Can you guess what happened next?

The helpful gentleman asked the audience another question.

It was also answered by someone who already had the book.


We all were starting to giggle hysterically, because it was just too good. There were, perhaps, only about 50 people in the audience, and most of them have already purchased and read the book that was being given as a price. But since there were more than one people who didn’t have a copy, the rep couldn’t just give it to somebody.


To be honest, I didn’t even try to participate. I am not good with quizes and the questions concerned the George Smiley books that I haven’t read yet (I also have a feeling that I was spoiled certain things from the Karla trilogy), but I was enjoying the show a lot!


The fourth question came up, and finally an elderly lady next to me answered it with a help of her friend. The game was over. The Cineplex rep thanked everyone for an incredible entertainment and especially the person who stepped in with his questions (his questions were so deep, that they reminded me of my late professor of XX Century World Literature).


Finally, the show began.


The first part had John le Carre talk in extensive detail of his writing journey, how he came up with the character of George Smiley, as well as his own experience in intelligent service in UK and his work abroad. He also read small bits from “A Legacy of Spies” and talked about certain characters in detail. He mentioned several actors who portrayed George Smiley and Peter Guillam in various adaptations. (He even mentioned Benedict Cumberbatch in 2011 movie version of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and how his movie character was different from the book - which is something that I am still on the fence about.)


His hour long presentation is interrupted by interviews with several actors and producers: Tom Hiddleston and Olivia Colman (The Night Manager, 2016), Simon Russell Beale (who narrated The Complete George Smiley Radio Dramas: BBC Radio 4 Full-Cast Dramatization), Michael Jayston (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (miniseries)), and some others whom I, unfortunately, did not remember by the name.

The second part of the broadcast was a Q&A session with John, which was run by Jon Snow.


It was a delightful evening overall. I left Cineplex itching to read the first novel about George Smiley, “Call for the Dead”, as soon as possible. So far, I have only read “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and “The Night Manager”. But I can’t wait to get my hands on more of le Carre’s books. If anything, this broadcast got me even more into the spy novels set during the Cold War.


Buy the latest book

A Legacy Of Spies


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