UK Script consultant looks back on the original Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979)

As the top UK script consultant in the business I like to watch a lot of classic films and TV shows from the past.  This week, in between my work as a script writer for hire and script doctor I thought I’d write a blogpost about probably the best thing the BBC ever did.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979) was a mini-series made by the BBC as an adaptation of John le Carre’s acclaimed novel.  Of course, recently a pretty good film was made from the same material. But the film is no match for this series (the series has an advantage – it’s nearly five hours long.)

While the recent film had to condense a lot of the material, the series doesn’t need to do that, and it can take it’s time with smaller moments, and it can build steadily, slowly, as layer and layer of intrigue, lies and deceit pile on top of each other.

The cast are also to die for – standout performances from everyone including Ian Richardson, Hywel Bennet – who feels like a ‘real headhunter’, Ian Bannen (not to be messed with) Beryl Reid – perfect and of course, Alec Guinness – who does one of the greatest actor tricks (with his spectacles) ever essayed on film – it’s like watching a magician in the closing seconds of the first episode – all he does is take off his glasses and it sends shivers down the viewers spine…

Screenwriter Arthur Hopcraft and director John Irving both deserve a tremendous amount of credit. Alongside Coppola’s The Godfather films – this is one of the best book to screen adaptations ever made anywhere, and the very best of the BBC, something they’ve not got anywhere near since.

Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire  and script doctor for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer. He’s also a leading UK script consultant. You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb. You can get in touch with Matthew on or hire him on Peopleperhour

His directorial debut Markham will be released in 2019.