Tuesday 26 July 2022

GEORGE SMILEY novels and screen - Part Six - Rod Bishop examines THE HONOURABLE SCHOOLBOY (1977)


Cover of the 1st edition

“It was remembered that Bill Haydon had not merely been George Smiley’s colleague, but Ann’s cousin and something more besides.

Smiley’s fury against him, they said, had not stopped at Haydon’s death: he was positively dancing on Bill’s grave. George had personally supervised the clearing of Haydon’s fabled pepper-pot room overlooking Charing Cross Road, and the destruction of every last sign of himfrom his indifferent oil-paintings by his own hand to the left-over oddments in the drawers of his desk; even the desk itself, which he ordered sawn up, and burned.And when that was done, he had called in the Circus workmen to tear down the partition walls.”

“[Smiley] gave a studious frown, and blinked, then whipped off his spectacles and, to the secret delight of everyone, unconsciously subscribed to his own legend by polishing them on the fat end of his tie.”


This second part of The Karla Trilogy, published in 1977, opens with a group of rowdy, drunken, cartoonish journalists at the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents Club in 1974. They have discovered one of their drinking crowd, the British diplomat Tufty Thesinger, and all who sail in him, have disappeared overnight and are thought to have scuttled home to the Old Dart.

It's part of the dismantling and rolling up of British spy networks around the world - a necessity brought about by Bill Haydon’s betrayal and his years of passing on security information to Karla and Moscow Centre, including the names of British spies. An event now known in spy circles as “the Fall” – as in the Circus before the Fall and the Circus after The Fall.

Immediately after Hayden’s capture, all nine Soviet and East European networks went dead and in the Far East, it’s not just Hong Kong, but also Bangkok, Singapore, Saigon, Tokyo, Manila and Djakarta that are rolled up.

Richard Hughes

Journalist/spy Craw, a character based on the fabled Australian Richard (Dick) Hughes, called it:

A hoods’ Dunkirk…in which Charter DC8s replaced the Kent fishing fleets.”

Smiley, meanwhile, has the ‘ferrets’ completely rewiring the Circus after the discovery of surveillance bugs planted by Haydon for the Russians:

…Smiley now staged a modest piece of theatre. He ordered the ferrets to reactivate [Haydon’s] radio-microphones in the conference room and to modify the receiver on one of the Circus’s few remaining surveillance cars. He then invited three of the least bending Whitehall desk-jockeys…to drive in a half-mile radius round the building while they listened to a pre-scripted discussion…Word for word. Not a syllable out of place. After which Smiley swore them to absolute secrecy and for good measure made them sign a declaration…Peter Guillam reckoned it would keep them quiet for about a month. ‘Or less if it rains’, he added sourly.”

Smiley also aims to scrap all the UK outstations – the safe houses “now totally unsafe”; the holding and training centre known as the Sarratt Nursery; audio labs in Harlow; the Argyll “stink and bangs school”; the water school in Helford Estuary; the radio transmission base at Canterbury; and the wranglers’ headquarters in Bath.

“‘Scrap the lot’ he told Lacon.”

The Circus is now run by a hand-picked Group of Five:

Smiley himself; Peter Guillam, his cupbearer; big, flowing Connie Sachs; Fawn, the dark-eyed factotum who wore black gym-shoes and manned the Russian-style copper samovar and gave out biscuits; and lastly Doc di Salis, known as the mad Jesuit, the Circus’s head China-watcher…to have been one of them, said di Salis was like ‘holding a Communist Party card with a single-figure membership number.’”

“‘George Smiley isn’t just cleaning the stable’…Roddy Martindale remarked…he’s carrying the horse up the hill as well. Haw haw.’”

The reinstated Head of Research, Connie Sachs, has discovered “a goldseam” in Hong Kong and in the words of another British literary figure: “the game’s afoot”. 

In Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy, Jerry Westerby, the journalist who called the newspaper he works for “the comic”, was fired from his part-time job as a spy at the Circus for daring to pass on information about a mole at the top. Smiley now calls him out of retirement from Lucca, Tuscany and sends him to Hong Kong.

Most of this very long novel is based around the pursuit of two brothers, Drake and Nelson Ko, whose deceased parents were Chiu Chow boat people. The brothers were raised by the Reverend and Liese Hibbert and Drake escapes from Mainland China to Hong Kong where he becomes extremely wealthy from smuggling and prostitution. He also gets an OBE.

“[Drake Ko is]a Chiu Chow poor-boy who becomes a Jockey Club Steward with an OBE and hoses down his horse before a race. A Hakka water-gypsy who gives his child a Baptist funeral and an English effigy. A capitalist who hates politics. A failed lawyer, a gang boss, a builder of hospitals who runs an opium airline, a supporter of spirit temples who plays croquet and rides about in a Rolls-Royce. An American bar in his Chinese garden, and Russian gold in his bank account.”

His brother Nelson, a dedicated communist, was studying marine engineering in Leningrad when Karla recruited him to spy on China for Moscow Centre. Drake is fixated on having his brother Nelson join him in Hong Kong.

The ‘goldseam’ Connie Sachs discovers is $US25,000 a month ($US500,000 in all) from Moscow Centre transferred to Drake Ko who is to hand it over to his brother, in payment for Nelson’s spying activities in China. 

Nelson Ko is believed to have high quality intelligence on both the Soviet Union and China and Smiley’s pursuit of Nelson is another opportunity to take revenge on Karla and Moscow Centre.

There are assassinations; botched assassinations; opium smuggling into China; blackmail; territorial tussles between the Circus and the CIA; and even Jerry Westerby getting engaged in some Hunter S Thompson-style escapades in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.

In North East Thailand, Westerby:

“…passed a village and a cinema. Even the latest films up here are silents, Jerry recalled. He had once done a story about them. Local actors made the voices, and invented whatever plots came into their heads. He remembered John Wayne with a squeaky Thai voice, and the audience ecstatic, and the interpreter explaining to him they were hearing an imitation of the local mayor who was a famous queen.” 

And Ann?

“‘…don’t ask him about his wife,’ Guillam warned in a fast, soft murmur.”

With Haydon dead and the past buried, the Smileys had made up their differences and together, with some small ceremony, the united couple had moved back into their little Chelsea house. They even made a stab at being in society…had even for a few weeks made a modestly exotic couple around the higher bureaucratic circuit. Till overnight, to his wife’s unmistakable discomfort, George Smiley had removed himself from her sight, and set up camp in the meagre attics behind his throne-room in the Circus…while in Chelsea, Ann Smiley pined, taking very hardly to her unaccustomed role of wife abandoned.”

News that brought another bellow from Roddy Martindale:

The gall! Him a complete nobody and her half a Sawley!..After years of putting up with her perfectly healthy peccadillos…what does the little man do?...kicks her in the teeth…Smiley has gone too far.” 

No feature film or television series has been made of The Honourable Schoolboy. In 1983, the BBC adapted the novel for radio.

Previous: Click on title

Next: Smiley’s People

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.