How To Tell If You Are A Character In A Le Carré Novel

19/09/2015 8:25 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Patrick Stewart and Alec Guinness as George Smiley in "Smiley's People." (Everett Collection)

You are male, English and went to a public school which you hated intensely. If you happen to be a woman, you are either an impoverished, aristocratic brunette with an unsatisfactory father and a yen for saving the world or an arthritic Oxford don with a photographic memory and a past spent in Her Majesty's Secret Service.

You are a spymaster. You are probably a "small, frog-like figure in glasses", "an earnest, worried little man" and by appearance "one of London's meek who do not inherit the earth". No we don't do suave, lantern-jawed lady killers, thank you.

You are a Lit major or maybe Modern Languages but you are definitely the humanities type. No engineering students or economics prodigies thank you, we are the British Secret Service.

You were recruited by an Oxbridge language don with a hyphenated surname.

You are a major domo of the Secret Service or used to be or will be. Your employers, when not gainfully occupied in endless internecine squabbles, have a habit of recalling you from retirement to do a round of stable cleaning at the Circus.

"You are a mild mannered cuckold, and the love of your life is your lustrous lady wife who will dispense her favours to almost anyone who asks nicely..."

You go to work at the "Circus" presided over by a ringmaster who goes by the name of "Control".

You are a polyglot. Your choice of light reading is German medieval poetry.

You are a mild mannered cuckold, and the love of your life is your lustrous lady wife who will dispense her favours to almost anyone who asks nicely, including the Russian mole you are hunting and obsessing over.

No running around after assorted international crooks and associated daredevilry, unlike an Ian Fleming character. The most strenuous thing you ever do is polish your glasses on the broad end of your tie.

Your world is not simplistic and buttoned down with moral certitude. You are the thinking man's spook.

No known family. Control was probably the father you never had or wish you never had and "family" is jargon for fellow spooks. The "cousins", code for American spies, are notorious for their shenanigans sans style or subtlety. They also happen to be bumbling idiots.

Your world is peopled by "lamplighters", "babysitters", "scalphunters", "mothers" and "joes". There's not even the hint of a blond goddess anywhere on the horizon.

You invent jargon that the real world of espionage then adopts. Your tradecraft is your "handwriting" and you are a past master at springing a "honeytrap", hunting a "mole" or "burning" an enemy agent.

If you are on the side of the angels, you will most likely be shot for your pains. At the very least, your cover will be blown and you will spend the rest of your life filling coloured forms in triplicate in a basement office in a nameless government department.

You are a dogged hunter. Much of the hunt is conducted among dusty files and archives.

Tubby, unremarkable and middle-aged with watery eyes hidden behind thick glasses, you are ethical and classy.

You are a survivor. Your fans, who are legion the world over, are dogged loyalists.

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