What Watching "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" Feels Like

And not the 2011 version with Colin Firth and Gary Oldman either, the one that holds your hand and says reassuring things throughout, but the 1979 miniseries with hardly any background orchestration, and no subtitles, and Alec Guinness’ huge, serene head, half-cat, half-bread-dough, looming throughout:

  • Judging a professional pausing competition, Round-Robin division, middleweight class

  • “Well, Scower House never was one for practicalities, when a panic would do.”

  • Looking through someone else’s grandmother’s scrapbook of “Small, rueful smiles I have seen”

  • You’ve Just Missed It, But Their Hands Almost Touched – Or Didn’t?

  • THE YEAR IS 1994 AGAIN. I HAVE A SLIGHT FEVER. I AM RESTING ON A COUCH AT MEGHAN O’DONNELL’S HOUSE, A SCHOOL ACQUAINTANCE WHOSE HOUSE IN REAL LIFE I VISITED ONLY ONCE. HER MOTHER MAKES MACARONI AND CHEESE IN A FASHION WHOLLY ALIEN TO ME. SOMEONE IS HUMMING SLIGHTLY IN THE NEXT ROOM. WHY?

  • “An argument? Careful, Walsham. Never that.”

  • Men Whose Expressions Never Change But Who Will Set Their Coffee Down In Delicate Surprise If The Situation Calls For It

  • “Oh, Waiter…”

  • Six Minutes Yet To Go — But Is He Fond Of Horses?

  • “A careful assent, then, Cavendish? Or was it the other kind? Those silent Cs were always murder…”

  • A series of unpleasant dinners, mistrustful breakfasts, suspicious coffees, lunches of forced-bonhomie, and cigarettes in a library

  • Wearing the jugs already, eh Minister?

  • The mob’s already rushed him for a clever-boots. Eager.

  • Oh, I’m on too many committees already

  • “You sound a little anxious. Perhaps I oughtn’t to have offered you that second cup of coffee, Magwitch.”

  • “Offshore balancing. Very chic nowadays, I’m given to understand.”

  • Peace is suicide. Didn’t they tell you? You never guessed it? Oh, Beaverton, that is disappointing – and you always so keen to get first marks in everything. Well, you can settle down with the middle-form boys in the rest of the class at last. Cigarette? Brandy?

  • The Theatrics used to command the network from every port. Now it all comes down through the wire. His wire. What a tight little guest list the Ringmaster’s corralled for himself. Taut as a daisy.

  • Alec Guinness purrs through the entire city of Brno for an otherwise-silent five-minute wide shot

  • A tennis court explodes

  • “Don’t come back, Jeoffrey. I was a fine secretary, but – don’t come back.”

  • Alec Guinness eats a single scallop in an overheated restaurant without taking his scarf off, eight minutes

  • “I’ll tell you what you said that night. You said, ‘Purpose as motivation, or purpose as headline, or purpose as budget-justification? They don’t have to sell me on purpose. I can scribble my own on the headlamp, and that is not the same as the half-drunk smugness that comes from no longer working for a living.’ I thought that was pretty impressive stuff, from a man as drunk as you were, and who’d never spoken Polish before. At least I had the good sense never to sign my name on your stationary, Jamesmith.”

  • A Grubby Place, Lisbon — Rather Like Heaven

  • “It simply doesn’t all fit together, does it? Oh, it adds up, and it washes out, and it signs on the dotted line, and it holds it shape after washing. But it doesn’t fit. Maybe it never did.”

  • “Ah, there’s Demarceaux at last.”

  • “I’d rather be my kind of traitor than his. No, not Devereaux’. Devonscunter’s.”

  • “I’m afraid you must be mistaken, Lesterhaben. They never let me play in that sandbox, even when I’d washed my hands and said my prayers.”

  • Turn That Radio Off — This Is The Train

  • After, Delhi

  • That Sweater Denotes Permanent Junior Status

  • You didn’t believe that memo about Parr being in love as the reason he gave for chucking it, did you? Oh, you did? How awful, Gareth. How really awful.

  • She’s not dead, Fanscape. She’s on staff.

  • The elevator’s always gone higher than the top floor. Or didn’t you see the blueprints? You really aren’t the surveyor you once were, are you, Menx?

  • What an upsetting little shooting-party this has turned out to be. And not a bird-dog to be found, to bring home the corpses. And you can pass that on to Herne the Huntsman himself.

  • My God, what a shock. Like Little Lord Fauntleroy flying a kite in a hailstorm.

  • “The Home Office? You might as well have written to François Vatel. Then, you always were pound-foolish, weren’t you, Starling? Or should I say – Never mind.”