Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy — The Edits

If I’ve ever talked to you about about Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy before, it has probably gone a little like this:

And for many years, ever really since I found out about the two different versions, that was my brief. After all, seven episodes versus six — there’s an entire episode missing! What I never really did was examine what was missing in the US edit. During my first 2021 re-watch (I do it at least once a year, obviously), I announced to the world, or at least my Twitter followers, that 2021 was to be the year where I finally went through them and decided once and for all what was in and what was out.

You’ll notice that it’s 2022 now. I spent months of 2021 seeing this on my to-do list, carried forward every week. There was always something else, or I felt the weather was too good (TTSS really needs to be watched on a cold, drizzly day for the best effect), or any other number of excuses. But, over the Christmas break, I finally broke out GridPlayer and did side-by-side comparison, along with answering a mystery about Operation Testify that you may not even have wondered about. So let’s begin!

The Glasses

Episode 1

My original plan was to tackle an episode a week, stretching the feature out into the thinnest gruel to bulk out my posting in 2022. That plan disintegrated as soon as I watched the first episode, as there doesn’t seem to be any difference between the UK and US versions at all. Which seems to be completely at odds with my memory of things, but there you go.

(if you look at the running times of the episodes, they are different, but I think that’s basically explained by the difference in PAL and NTSC frame rates).

Anyway, love to Ann!

Love To Ann Everybody’s Love To Ann!

Episode 2


🇬🇧[0:00-0:43]: Ricky Tarr ready to start his story of his time in Lisbon.

🇺🇸[0:00-0:44]: Ricky Tarr ready to start his story of his time in Lisbon. Exactly the same as the UK, as you’d expect at this point!

We get our promised differences early on. At 🇬🇧[5:47-6:40], there’s an extra scene in the nightclub where Ricky Tarr is keeping an eye on Boris as her drinks vodka alone in the corner. Instead of this, we have a quick establishing shot of the next morning as Ricky heads towards Tufty’s office for debriefing at 🇺🇸[6:08-6:09].

Later, when Irina is heading to her meeting with Tarr, there’s a long shot of Irina walking up some stairs at 🇬🇧[13:09] which is missing from the US edit.

As Smiley moves into the Islay Hotel, his unpacking scene is extended at 🇬🇧[44:35-44:45], showing him checking the cupboards in the room, and there’s an extra scene with the hotel manager and Mendel about incoming post at 🇬🇧[45:17-45:52], which includes a repeated use of his “you’ve known me long enough” catchphrase (which, as he used it in the previous scene, likely made this ripe for editing). The US version replaces it at 🇺🇸[45:46] by an exterior shot of the Islay Hotel sign — an establishing shot that you’ll be seeing a lot of during the run.

At 🇬🇧[46:54], the episode ends, but the Americans are not finished yet by a long shot. Instead of ending with Smiley asking Guillam to head to the Circus, 🇺🇸[46:49-51:52] follows Peter into MI6 as he attempts to obtain the file on Tarr’s cables. This could be a way of ramping up the tension at the end of the episode instead of the UK’s flatter ending…or it could just be filling the hour (or it could be a way of not having Episode 2 end the same was as Episode 3 as we’ll see later).

Episode 3


🇬🇧[0:00-0:59] - Smiley asking Guillam to steal documents from the Circus.

🇺🇸[[0:00-1:26]: As well as a shorter version of the scene above in the Islay Hotel, the recap also includes a condensed version of Guillam playing “Burglar Bill” in the Circus.

Now things start to get wild. After the titles, 🇬🇧[2:20] starts us off with the Circus jaunt that was at the end of the previous episode in America. There’s an extra scene at 🇬🇧[3:00-3:25] where Guillam operates the squeaky lift to get to the top floor.

At 🇬🇧[5:58], Smiley walks out onto Broad Street in Oxford. Note that Peter still hasn’t got to the duty log yet! But, as he’s got it in the US, we open the US episode with Smiley in Oxford to see Connie Sachs at 🇺🇸[2:22] in the US. Once both episodes are done talking about ‘halcyon days’, the UK episode turns back to Peter, with an additional tiny scene at 🇬🇧[14:43-15:01] where he actually goes into the toilets which wasn’t present in the previous US episode’s telling of the event. There’s also an additional flick-through of another log book at 🇬🇧[16:12-16:20].

At 🇬🇧[29:12-29:50], Hayden and Smiley are talking in the corridor about the upcoming meeting — skipped in the US (for now, anyhow). This is followed by a scene in Control’s reception at 🇬🇧[29:51-30:50] where Smiley tries to find out why Control has cancelled all meetings and gone to ground before Smiley heads off to Hong Kong.

This is absent in the US edit, which instead comes crashing in medias res at 🇺🇸[24:46] (🇬🇧[31:01]) where Control is ranting about Witchcraft.

The UK edit gives up at 🇬🇧[44:08], basically on the same note as episode 2, with Smiley asking Peter to steal more documents from the Circus, this time on Operation Testify. And again in the US, we see Peter back at the Circus again rather than waiting until the next episode, with an establishing Circus shot at 🇺🇸[38:13] (previously seen at the start of episode 1) and then into the Testify Caper itself. The episode ends at 🇺🇸[50:41-54:23] with George and Peter in the car on the way to see Tarr, finishing on the detail that Karla is feeding information to the Circus.

Episode 4


🇬🇧[00:0-0:55]: Back at the Islay Hotel, summing up Control’s downfall and Smiley asking Guillam to go back to the Circus to get more information on Operation Testify.

🇺🇸[0:00-1:25]: Replay of the Circus interrogation scene, this time including the Hayden huddle talk before cutting to the car with Peter and George, with Peter yelling at slow cars that wasn’t present in the last American episode, but is present in this UK episode’s telling of the scene when the British catch up with the narrative.

Once we get into the UK episode, we’re back at the Circus, 🇬🇧[02:14-2:26] but instead of an establishing shot of the London exterior, we start in the Circus library instead, complete with an extra cut-away back to the librarian in comparison to the US section in the previous episode. The UK edit continues its obsession with lifts with an extra scene again at 🇬🇧[07:30-07:59] where Peter talks to Toby and Paul about martial arts training.

At 🇬🇧[15:01] , the scene is extended as Hayden huddles with Bland and Peter as Peter is signing the Witchcraft form, and at 🇬🇧[15:31-15:40], there’s little bit more of Peter explaining to George in the car about the form he signed before yelling about Tarr. Once you get to 🇬🇧[16:28], we’ve caught back up with the end of the previous US episode.

Let’s have a stern picture of Patrick Stewart doing his cheapest role. Two series, not one word.


Incidentally, at 🇺🇸[21:45] or 🇬🇧[34:41] is likely where Smiley works out who Gerald is - the UK version gives us a longer in this scene at 🇬🇧[35:40-35:49] to have Smiley stand up in the hotel bedroom and ponder a little more than he does in the US edit.

At 🇬🇧[40:14], the UK episode ends with the news that Prideaux has been traced and is working as a teacher…but the US still has half its running time left, so at 🇺🇸[27:21] cuts over to Prideaux at the school. It still has even longer to run, so at 🇺🇸[36:18] we’re off to talk to Sam Collins about the night of Operation Testify (🇺🇸[51:33] - is your first flashing alarm about who the mole is) before ending at 🇺🇸[51:50].

Episode 5


🇬🇧[0:00-0:46]: The UK loves the Islay Hotel. Summing up of where they are on Testify and that they’ve found Prideaux.

🇺🇸[0:00-2:54]: Retelling of Sam Collins and Hayden on the night of Operation Testify. Then, back in the present, Collins and Smiley wrapping up their conversation.

The UK episode opens with the adventures of Jumbo and the Alvis as seen in the previous US episode. Aside from the two edits being at completely different places in the narrative, there’s not a huge amount of additional material here in the British version. At 🇬🇧[25:35-25:44] there’s a couple of extra shots of Prideaux walking through the woods to meet up with Smiley, and at 🇬🇧[32:46-33:09], Prideaux comes out of the hotel bathroom and demands to go somewhere they can breathe. And finally at 🇬🇧[42:16], there’s a tiny extra portion of footage with Smiley driving off in the darkness which isn’t in the US edit.

The material in the UK edit only takes the US up to 🇺🇸[21:00], so it’s Joss Ackland time!

Joss Ackland Stealing The Show

I know The Honourable Schoolboy is problematic due to the Hong Kong location being central to the plot and it not being all that great of a book anyhow, but we were totally robbed of a Grand Jerry Westerby Adventure when they skipped it in favour of Smiley’s People.

(I’ve also just found out that they merged him with Collins in the 2011 film and I am outraged all over again)

Episode 6/7


🇬🇧[0:00-1:16]: Prideaux and Smiley finishing up their conversation at night outside the school. 🇺🇸[0:00-3:31]: Prideaux and Smiley talking at night and the confrontation with Toby Esterhase. 🇬🇧[0:00-0:52]: Our final visit to the Islay Hotel, and Tarr holding up the Paris Embassy.

Episode 6 in the UK is so so short - 41 minutes and that’s with titles!

At 🇬🇧[32:08-32:09], there’s an extra second or so of footage of Smiley waiting by the door after Peter says he’ll join up at Sussex Gardens. The episode ends for viewers in Britain at 🇬🇧[38:33], which includes a little bit more of Ricky Tarr walking along the ferry and looking out to see, for those of you that really get into that smouldering Hywel Bennett action.

We’re now into episode 7 (but still 6 in the US), and there’s just a smidgen more of the setup at Lock Gardens, with 🇬🇧[2:09-2:10] including a little more of Guillam fiddling with wiring before Gerald comes a-calling. But otherwise, the two edits play out exactly the same.

Back At The Circus

Perhaps the most surprising outcome of the exercise is that there’s actually not much difference between the two edits at all, completely contrary to what I remembered and have been telling people for years. The six/seven episode structure really does make you think that you’re missing a lot in the US edit…but it turns out you’re really not.

So why are they so different? shrugs My speculation, for what it’s worth, is that the seven episode edit is what the director intended. I’ve looked through the Radio Times entries for the initial broadcast on BBC2 and I can’t see any real reason that the programme would have been chopped up — if the episode runs to fill a 50-minute slot, then Horizon follows at 21:50. If there’s only enough for a 45-minute slot, then Horizon is on at 21:45. I don’t think that would be acceptable in the US, though. Even back in the early 80s, WGBH would have to have formatted the show for broadcast on the PBS network, and each episode would have to be roughly consistent for scheduling purposes. And you can see that in the run-time differences; there’s only 2:55s separating the shortest and longest US edits, whereas the UK version is basically inventing Netflix variable runtimes 35 years early with a massive 8:10s.

I also wonder if there was a conscious decision in the US edit to change the ends of episodes 2 and 3 to prevent them both ending with Smiley asking Guillam to steal documents from the Circus, as this really is the only point of the two versions that messes around with the narrative.

Anyhow, returning to the original question, which should you watch? Well, I’m still biased towards the UK edit, I’m afraid. Yes, there’s not much difference in the end, but the more leisurely pace afforded by the extra shots here and there and the episode breakpoints feels better to me. Take the introduction to Prideaux at the school — the scene with Jumbo and the Alvis feels like it belongs at the start of an episode, introducing us to a new world within the story and it just breathes so much better there than slap-bang in the middle of the US’s episode. And although I can think of good reasons above why they messed with the narrative in episodes 2 and 3, I think the UK’s extended version of the Circus visit interleaved with the visit to Connie Sachs works better from a storytelling perspective than doing them serially.

But having said all that, I probably won’t yell at people demanding they watch the UK version any more, so consider yourselves all lucky.

Bonus: When Did Operation Testify Take Place?

But before we leave, one last thing. Inspired by @mumoss’s amazing work over at Dirty Feed, I wondered if we could actually pin down the date that Operation Testify actually took place. The smoking gun is Sam Collins’ retelling of the night in question; while he’s drinking the cans that eventually get him fired, he’s watching a football game.

I’m not exactly a huge football fan, but I am a British person of a certain age, and I can definitely recognize Barry Davies’ voice when I hear it. So that means it’s Match of the Day, and his commentary mentions a few players, one in particular being Paul Mariner. One search later, and we discover that one side is Ipswich Town.

If we assume that the filming dates on IMDB are correct (which is normally dangerous, but hear me out for a bit), then filming took place between October 1978 and March 1979. While we shouldn’t rely on those dates, given that it was broadcast in September 1979 we can probably say that filming likely took place during the 78-79 football season.

If only we had a site that lists Match of the Day matches with commentators and even YouTube clips. You know, even in these terrible days of grifters and web3, the Internet can still be amazing sometimes.

After looking through the list, we’ve narrowed it down to the four Ipswich Town matches Barry Davies provided commentary for (after checking 77-78 as well, just to be certain that we’re not trusting the IMDB):

Can we go even further? I think so. Firstly, we have a video clip of Arsenal vs. Ipswich, and Ipswich are playing in blue, when they’re clearly playing in their white away kit in Tinker, Tailor. I think we can eliminate the Forest as well for the same reason, as we can see in the highlights.. And here’s a programme of the Liverpool game that also says Ipswich were playing in blue.

We’re down to only one real date. And I think there’s even more evidence. Take a look at this screenshot from the episode itself.

[The TV]

From the commentary and what we can see of the two different kits, this is clearly showing the captain of the other team. He’s wearing a number 5 shirt, and if we have a look at the programme for the Man. City v. Ipswich game, we can see that their captain was indeed wearing 5 that night.

[City Ipswich Programme]

Operation Testify took place on the night of the 25th November, 1978.