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Appreciating Smiley

Monday 14 December 2009, 09:53

Mark Damazer Mark Damazer

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Simon Russell Beale as George Smiley

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy part three has been and gone for me - though if you missed it you get the repeat next Saturday evening at 2100 and you can listen again on the Radio 4 web site.

And I thought it was fabulously good.

We have an audience measurement system for appreciation - called AIs - which should not be taken as religion. Sometimes the sample sizes are small, some genres (new comedy) always do less well than others... old favourites etc... and I do not use AIs as a mainstay of commissioning. So I risk inconsistency when I point out that the AIs for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy were 91. This is astonishingly high... indeed, about as high as it gets.

This is my third bout of Smiley-mania. First came Alec Guinness in the TV adaptation in 1979 - then I read the books - and now this with Simon Russell Beale as Smiley. I think he's been extraordinary. And the dramatisers - Robert Forrest and Shaun McKenna - have done wonderfully well in striking a balance between faithfulness to the text and necessary compression.

Do catch it.

Mark Damazer is Controller of BBC Radio 4

  • The Complete Smiley, Radio 4's season of dramatisations of John le Carré's Smiley stories, carries on until Summer 2010.
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is part of the BBC's 'series catch-up trial' so you can listen to all three episodes on iPlayer or on the Radio 4 web site until seven days after the final episode is transmitted (20 December). Read about the series catch-up trial here.
  • Jeremy Howe, Commissioning Editor for drama at Radio 4, wrote about the Smiley season here on the blog.
  • There's a Wikipedia entry about the BBC's Appreciation Index.
  • The picture shows Simon Russell Beale from a set of production pictures taken for the season by Phil Fisk. There are more here.

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    Comment number 1.

    I, too, have really appreciated 'Smiley' in all three media, Mark: television, book and radio, and in the same order.

    Why it should have worked so well on radio, I am not sure, although I have to agree with your AI.

    Great radio! Congratulations to all!

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Dear Mr Damazer,
    Yes, it has indeed been a brilliant series - congratulations to all concerned. However, I have a problem with The Secret Pilgrim: I've missed the first episode, and it's been removed from iPlayer, though episodes 2 and 3 will both be available until July 3rd. I obviously misunderstood the 'Series catch-up trial' - I thought, from the trails and iplayer notifications, that it was being used for all the multipart stories.
    Could Part 1 not be reinstated on iPlayer, at least until July 3rd, for all the other people like me who really would like to hear The Secret Pilgrim in its entirety.
    I have posted on the message boards, explaining the problem in detail, here
    and with further contibutions to here
    I have also contacted Feedback with the note below.
    I really hope that something can be done.
    Keith Hodgkinson
    Please Feedback - we need your help!!
    The Radio 4 website is pushing the final 'Complete Smiley' story very hard at the moment. And with good cause - the series has been excellent, as many others have commented on your programme. But I find that, in my dotage, I can't keep track of the complex plots* when they are spread over three 1-hour episodes each separated by a week.
    I have therefore been very grateful for the iPlayer 'series catch-up trial' that has kept all three episodes in a story available until 7 days after the transmission of the FINAL episode. It has been my practice to listen to all the episodes close together, either on the day of the final episode or just afterwards.
    I had been under the impression, from the numerous on-air trails, that all the (multipart) 'Complete Smiley' stories were part of this 'series catch-up', and had planned my listening accordingly. But it would appear I was wrong - this last story in the series is apparently NOT in the trial, and Episode 1 has already disappeared from the iPlayer, even though Episodes 2 and 3 will be available until July 3rd. I know this because I posted on the Radio 4 messageboard
    and was directed by one of the other posters to a BBC Blog by Sarah Prag (I really hate it when information is disseminated by blog - but that's another story)
    Sarah Prag says she would be happy to hear our views about the trial. Well, for me, it's simple: it's a great idea, even essential, for SERIALS catch-up, but of little importance as a SERIES catch-up.
    So what I'm asking for is a change of heart about this final Similey story - please, please, please reinstate Episode 1 at least until July 3rd. Otherwise I don't think I will be able to bring myself to listen to the other two parts without it.
    Can Feedback help?
    * Even Jeremy Howe, Radio 4's Commissioning Editor for Drama, admits to the stories' complexities: he says, "For me The Complete Smiley is the most ambitious drama we have embarked upon in my time at Radio 4. Smiley is one of the great characters of 20th century fiction and the way he threads, weaves, ducks and dives his way through the complexities of the Cold War has given us some of the century's most enthralling stories. Be prepared to spend a lot of your Saturday and Sunday afternoons glued to the radio."


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Find out about this year's panel and theme