George Smiley

character by John le Carré

George Smiley OBE[1] is a fictional character created by John le Carré. Smiley is an intelligence officer with "The Circus". This is the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), commonly known as MI6.

George Smiley
First appearanceCall for the Dead
Last appearanceA Legacy of Spies
Created byJohn le Carré
Portrayed byRupert Davies (film, 1965)
James Mason (film, 1966)
George Cole (BBC Radio, 1978, 1981)
Alec Guinness (TV, 1979, 1982)
Peter Vaughan (BBC Radio, 1983)
Bernard Hepton (BBC Radio, 1988, 1990)
Denholm Elliott (TV movie, 1991)
Simon Russell Beale (BBC Radio, 2009-2010)
Gary Oldman (film, 2011)
OccupationIntelligence officer
AffiliationThe Circus
Spouse(s)Lady Ann Sercomb

He is a central character in the novels Call for the Dead, A Murder of Quality, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy, and Smiley's People, and a supporting character in The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, The Looking Glass War, The Secret Pilgrim and A Legacy of Spies. The character has also appeared in a number of film, television, and radio adaptations of le Carré's books.

Le Carré, who created Smiley, wanted to show that Ian Fleming's James Bond series was an inaccurate picture of espionage life.[2] Smiley is polite, shy and humble. He often allows others to mistreat him, especially his unfaithful wife. But his humility masks his inner cunning, excellent memory, mastery of tradecraft, and occasional ruthlessness.[3] His genius being underestimated helps Smiley achieve his goals. In the end, he becomes one of the most powerful agents in Britain.[4][5]

The character is held in high esteem in Britain, where he has become a pop-culture icon on par with Bond.[4][6] The Guardian called him "the sort of spy [Britain] believes it ought to have: a bit shabby, academic, basically loyal, and sceptical of... his political masters".[7]


  1. A Murder of Quality p. 167
  2. Parker, James. "The Anti-James Bond". The Atlantic. Retrieved 13 July 2020.
  3. James Bell (30 June 2016). "George Smiley: Nobody Does It Better". Archived from the original on 2018-01-09.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Marsh, Calum (November 2, 2017). "Why George Smiley is among the richest, cleverest and most fascinating characters in post-war fiction". National Post. Retrieved 13 July 2020.
  5. We Are All Smiley's People
  6. "Tubby little spy who was more real than 007". 24 May 2009.
  7. In Praise of George Smiley