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"I've got a story to tell you, it's all about spies. And if it's true, which I think it is, you boys are gonna need a whole new organisation..."
—Ricki Tarr, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a seven-part miniseries based on the first book in John Le Carre's The Quest for Karla trilogy; it aired in 1979 and starred Alec Guinness as British Intelligence officer George Smiley. He reprised the role in Smiley's People, made in 1981 and based on the third book in the same trilogy.  Together, the chronicle Smiley's conflict with his opposite number in Moscow Center, a legendary spymaster known as Karla (Patrick Stewart), and thematically deal with the minutiae of spy work and the emotional toll it wreaks on people's lives.
These series provide examples of:
- Batman Gambit: Karla's plan in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Because of the very particular way that source Merlin operates, the heads of the Circus not only don't bother searching for a mole, they actively stop others from doing the same, because they believe they're keeping their own agent safe.
- Battle Butler: Fawn. Pretty handy with a karate chop.
- Chiaroscuro: There is a lot of this. The credits sequence lists "Photography" as by Tony Pierce-Roberts, and puts his name before that of the producer.
- Billing Displacement: The current publicity for the Smiley's People DVD lists Patrick Stewart (Karla) prominently among the main cast, even though he has approximately three minutes of screen time and zero lines.
- Code Name: Lots.
- Composite Character: For Smiley's People; Strickland is promoted to being Saul Enderby's number two and carries out all the roles that Sam Collins performed in the book.
- Deadpan Snarker: Bill Haydon.
- Everybody Smokes: Like the proverbial chimney. Lightens up considerably in Smiley's People.
- Heroic BSOD: Control after the failure of Operation Testify.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: Hey, it's Obi-Wan! And the Valeyard! And Francis Urquhart! And Captain Picard! And Livia! And, for about five seconds, Severus Snape!
- Jerkass Has a Point: Near the end of the appalling Roddy Martindale's passive-aggressive conversation with Smiley, he asks what turns out to be an extremely good question: Alleline is supposedly in charge of the Circus, but who is in charge of Alleline?
- Limited Advancement Opportunities: Why Toby Esterhase gets roped in by Alleline and company.
- Mandatory Unretirement: Smiley is forced out of retirement at beginning of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
- Matryoshka Object: The series has a traditional Russian doll in its intro. Each doll is revealed to have an irate expression until the final one, which is blank. This is reflecting the search for a Russian mole at the heart of MI 6.
- The Mole: Natch.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: In the novels, the Hungarian Toby Esterhase speaks English with a noticeable but unplaceable accent. In Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, he speaks English in impeccable Received Pronunciation.
- Averted in Smiley's People, where the character's English approaches Poirot Speak.
- The Other Darrin: Peter Guillam was recast for Smiley's People.
- Really Gets Around: George Smiley's wife Ann. She is unstoppably unfaithful.
George Smiley: She gets around.
- Sharp-Dressed Man: Toby Esterhase.
- Spy Speak: And not just any Spy Speak, it's dialogue and jargon lifted directly from le Carre's novels.
- Translation Convention: In Smiley's People.
- The Voiceless: Karla.
- The Watson: Peter Guillam in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Without The Honourable Schoolboy, there are some unexplained loose ends. Why was Smiley forced back into retirement? Why is he willing to recruit Toby Esterhase, but not Roy Bland? What happened to Fawn?
- The middle installment, The Honourable Schoolboy, was deemed too difficult to film due to budget constraints.