Looking for an in-depth guide to John Le Carré radio adaptations? Look no further than the BBC's extensive catalog of thrilling spy dramas.
From “Call For The Dead” to “The Secret Pilgrim,” Le Carré's iconic novels have been brought to life on BBC Radio, featuring talented actors like George Cole, Simon Russell-Beale, and Brian Cox. Whether you're a fan of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” or “The Honourable Schoolboy,” there's a radio adaptation that will captivate you. Our comprehensive list compiled by Spybrarian Martin Reynolds covers all the adaptations, including production notes and where to find them online. So, tune in and discover the world of John Le Carré radio adaptations today!
Martin also recently appeared on the panel of our first-ever edition of the John Le Carré Movie Club on the Spybrary Podcast. You can listen on our favourite podcast app (search Spybrary) or at Spybrary HQ.
BBC Radio adaptations of John Le Carré Books
The BBC has, since its inception, produced many radio dramas on the UK, World Service, and local language services. Whilst the majority of the work consists of original commissions many feature adaptations of both conventional plays and books. Within the world of spies, Fleming, Deighton, Higgins, and Le Carré have all featured, with Le Carré seeming to have been a frequent source of inspiration.
To this end, I've managed to put together a list of the Le Carré adaptations, many of which I've been able to listen to with the help of both Radio4 Extra/BBC Sounds (or Audible). Unofficial sources such as Internet Archive and short lived YouTube channels are necessary locations as much of the older material has long since been removed from public distribution (typically taped box sets) or was never available beyond its original broadcast.
For ease, I've listed by book publication order. Beyond dropping in a few production notes, I won't review the individual adaptations for now.
Call For The Dead
Adapted by René Basilico and produced by John Fawcett-Wilson this is a five part/30 minute episode serial that was originally for the World Service. George Cole (yes, Arthur Daley himself) appears as George Smiley, and Alfred Burke as Mendel
Adapted by Robert Forrest and produced by Patrick Rayner this was the first of ‘The Complete Smiley' adaptations being presented as a single 1.5-hour Saturday Afternoon play. Simon Russell-Beale appears as Smiley.
A Murder of Quality
Adapted by regular Saturday Night Theatre writer Frederick Bradnum and produced by David Geary this is the earliest radio adaptation of Le Carré that I am aware of. Broadcast as a single 1.5 hour play as part of the Saturday Night Theatre strand it features David Bird (not a name I recognise) as Smiley.
René Basilico and John Fawcett-Wilson return with another serial, again five parts of 30 minutes each and George Cole as Smiley.
Adapted by Shaun McKenna and produced by Marc Beeby, this is also a single 1.5 hour play. Simon Russell-Beale returns as Smiley with Geoffrey Palmer guesting in a typically strong cast.
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold
René Basilico and John Fawcett-Wilson are again at the helm if a six part/30 minute serial. The casting of Colin Blakely as Leamas sounds intriguing but attempts to find this series have so far come to nothing.
Robert Forrest and Patrick Rayner take ‘The Complete Smiley' adaptations into long form with a series of three 1 hour long episodes for the Sunday Afternoon ‘Classic Serial' strand. Whilst Simon Russell-Beale appears as Smiley the key performance across the three plays is Brian Cox as Leamas.
The Looking Glass War
Shaun McKenna adapted and Marc Beeby produced the sole version of this book as two 1 hour episodes. Simon Russell-Beale appears briefly as Smiley; Ian McDiarmuid and Philip Jackson as LeClerc and Haldane are memorable performances.
A Small Town In Germany
René Basilico and John Fawcett-Wilson took seven 30 minute episodes on this adaptation. Kenneth Haigh takes the lead role as Turner. Another adaptation on the ‘to be tracked down list', I've only ever caught one episode on a short-lived YouTube stream.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
What René Basilico and John Fawcett-Wilson may have lacked in time, again only seven 30 minute episodes, they certainly didn't lack in cast for this adaptation. Bernard Hepton joins as Smiley with other cast including James Grout, Alan McNaughton, Rosemary Leach and John Bennett.
Shaun McKenna and Steve Canny delivered three 1 hour long episodes. Simon Russell-Beale returns as Smiley with Ewan Bailey, Kenneth Cranham, Maggie Steed and Anthony Calf in other roles.
The Honourable Schoolboy
Frederick Bradnum returns to write with Roger Pine producing two 1.5 hour long episodes in the ‘Saturday Night Theatre' strand. Martin Jarvis (credited as a National Theatre Player) leads the cast with a rather quiet Peter Vaughn as Smiley.
Shaun McKenna adapted and Marc Beeby produced on the three hour long episodes for the ‘Complete Smiley Adaptation'. The ‘regular' cast is enhanced to take up the wider number of characters; Hugh Bonneville is superb as Jerry Westerby.
Finishing their stint with Smiley, René Basilico and John Fawcett-Wilson returned with seven 30 minute episodes. Bernard Hepton undertakes the final duties of short form serial Smiley.
Robert Forrest and Patrick Rayner return to finish the Karla trilogy section of ‘The Complete Smiley'. Simon Russell-Beale gets to pick up the lighter from the Berlin cobbles.
The Russia House
René Basilico and John Fawcett-Wilson with seven 30 minute episodes. Tom Baker as Barley Blair
A Perfect Spy
René Basilico adapts and John Fawcett-Wilson produces on eight 30 minute episodes. James Fox takes on the role of Pym (mostly at a Typewriter) with James Grout as a really abrasive Brotherhood.
Robert Forrest returned to adapting Le Carré with Bruce Young (responsible for producing most Rebus adaptations amongst other work) producing on three 1 hour episodes in the ‘Classic Serial' strand. Julian Rynd-Tutt takes promotion to Pym (he played Young Pym in 1993) alongside Bill Patterson as Brotherhood and a wonderful Anton Lesser as Axel.
The Secret Pilgrim
Robert Forrest and Patrick Rayner round off the ‘Complete Smiley' adaptations with three 1 hour episodes. Simon Russell-Beale features as Smiley ensconced in a creaky armchair next to a fire, with Patrick Malahide in the primary narration role as Ned representing the post-Smiley Circus.
Want even more Spy Book recommendations?
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