Will the real George Smiley please stand up?

Tinker tailor soldier spy by John le Carré has been made into film twice, the first time for TV with Sir Alec Guinness as Smiley and more recently, Gary Oldman. But who was the Smiley character based on? Le Carré has revealed that Smiley was actually based on two people, Vivian H. H. Green and John Bingham, his mentor in his early days in the Service. In the book The man who was George Smiley : the life of John Bingham by Michael Jago, the author sets out to reveal the man behind the character. Unfortunately, reality is more boring than fiction.

John Bingham was a real life spy working in MI5 when Le Carré, born David Cornwell joined. Le Carré actually called his mentor Bingham, le carré or the square one, a not so flattering moniker. It was also through Bingham that Le Carré embarked on a writing career as the first introduced his protegé to his publisher.

Stella Rimington, former head of MI5 as well an author of spy novels has written a review in The Spectator. The Scotsman as well as the Evening Standard has also reviewed the book.

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