Toby Esterhase is a fictional character who appears in several of John le Carré's spy novels that feature George Smiley, including Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy , The Honourable Schoolboy, Smiley's People , and The Secret Pilgrim . Esterhase also makes a cameo appearance in Le Carré's A Legacy of Spies .
Esterhase is an intelligence officer in The Circus, le Carre's fictionalized version of MI6. He is the head of the Lamplighters, the section of The Circus responsible for surveillance and wiretapping. Hungarian by birth, Esterhase is an Anglophile with pretensions of being a British gentleman. He is the Circus' resident ne'er-do-well, often involving himself in either morally questionable or outright criminal plots, although his superiors look the other way due to his high level of competence and loyalty to the service. Initially something of an antagonist to Smiley, due to his loyalty to Smiley's bureaucratic nemesis Percy Alleline, Esterhase ultimately switches allegiances and becomes one of Smiley's top lieutenants, aiding him in a number of high-profile intelligence missions.
Esterhase is exceptionally short; he's called "Tiny Tobe" by colleague Connie Sachsand known around The Circus as "Snow White" for his meticulously maintained white hair, which he covers with a net when he sleeps. He further gained the nickname "Our shadow foreign secretary" from Bill Haydon. Esterhase is known for multiple eccentricities, including "dressing like a male model," washing his own clothes rather than having them laundered, never smiling, and sending all of his colleagues bottles of alcohol for Christmas. He has a unique manner of speech which vacillates between ultra-correct English and unusual syntax. Esterhase's former espionage partner, Peter Guillam, indicates that he's something of a polyglot, musing "Toby spoke no known language perfectly, but he spoke them all." In The Secret Pilgrim, though, he is seen to speak fluent Hungarian to a pair of fellow expatriates, during which the narrator Ned notes that he becomes more animate and expressive than when speaking any other language. Guillam further recounts that Esterhase appears impervious to fear, recalling an incident in which he stopped to tip hotel employees while fleeing would-be captors.
During the events of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Esterhase has a son at Westminster and a daughter at medical school.He is married, but has a reputation as a womanizer. No information is ever given about his wife or the circumstances of his marriage.
Despite his odd behaviour, Esterhase proves himself to be a valuable spy and extremely competent at his job; characters often find themselves conflicted between being put off by his eccentricity and being glad to have him on their side.He has also endeared himself to those around him due to his genuine affection for Smiley, even though they sometimes clash professionally, and his unwavering loyalty to England in general and the Circus in particular. Esterhase is particularly adept as the head of Lamplighters, the division of the Circus responsible for surveillance, wiretapping, and maintaining safe houses. Esterhase personally assembled the Lamplighters by recruiting housewives, vagabonds, and other individuals whom no one would suspect of espionage work, and honing them into an efficient, tightly-knit unit that becomes something of a surrogate family for them. He runs the Lamplighters from an office in the back of a launderette, which functions as a cover for their base of operations.
Easterhase is motivated by a desire to be accepted by his peers as a true English gentleman, a weakness exploited by Percy Alleline to coax Toby into supporting him in a coup against Control, the head of the Circus. Smiley later uses the same desire for acceptance to convince Esterhase to switch alliances and support him in exposing Alleline as a fraud whose arrogance has blinded him to the presence of a mole in his inner circle. Esterhase also has a penchant for making extra money on the side through small-time criminal enterprises, nominally selling forged art. Those around him look the other way due to his competence and value as a spy.
George Smiley recruited Esterhase (Eszterházy — Hungarian spelling — or Esterházy — German spelling), a Hungarian, in Vienna sometime around World War II, when he was a starving student living in the ruins of a museum of which his late uncle had been curator.(Esterházy is the name of a historically prominent Hungarian noble family; evidently, Toby Esterhase either was or pretended to be a member of that family, though this is never explicitly mentioned). He was paired with Peter Guillam on overseas missions, which had varying degrees of success, including a posting in Bern, Switzerland in which they were suspected of seditious activities by local police and had to flee the country. He eventually rose to be head of the Lamplighter division sometime prior to 1973.
When the Circus became polarised between supporters of the ailing Chief, "Control", and his rival, Percy Alleline, Esterhase gravitated towards Alleline out of ambition, forgetting his past loyalty to Smiley, who was Control's supporter. During Smiley's attempt to salvage Control's career and maintain control of the Circus, Esterhase is one of the first people Smiley appeals to, citing their past friendship; Esterhase demurs, citing Control's habit of allowing younger personnel to mistreat him. After Control is ousted and Alleline installed as the new chief of the Circus, Esterhase, along with Bill Haydon and Roy Bland, forms part of the "magic circle," an elite group of spies with access to the Soviet intelligence operation code-named "Witchcraft," which receives Soviet intelligence from the mysterious spy "Merlin."
Esterhase is one of the five high-ranking Circus officers Control suspects of being a Soviet mole.After Control's death, Esterhase embraces the new Alleline regime and allows his Lamplighters to be almost entirely given over to serving Operation Witchcraft, which is in fact nothing but a disinformation campaign orchestrated by Soviet spymaster Karla. Esterhase's own role is to pretend to be a Soviet mole when meeting with the Soviets. They know he is not, but his pretense provides a cover story for Alleline, Bland, and Esterhase himself, justifying his role as a courier between the real mole, Haydon, and his Soviet controllers.
After patient investigation, Smiley decides to interview Esterhase in private, in a safe house meeting to which he has been lured on a pretext by Peter Guillam. After realizing that he's been taken advantage of, and that Smiley has the official backing of Whitehall, Esterhase helps Smiley entrap the real mole, Bill Haydon. In the aftermath of Haydon's exposure, Esterhase and the rest of the magic circle are disgraced.
In The Honourable Schoolboy, it is revealed that Esterhase, unlike Alleline and Bland, has managed to retain a position in the Circus, albeit in a diminished role as a simple surveillance agent, accompanying Smiley's higher-ranking lieutenants to record their conversations with witnesses and sources.
In Smiley's People, he has retired from the Circus and opened a second-rate art gallery in London, whose wares are of dubious provenance. An old Circus agent, Vladimir, approaches him, asking for help with a private operation, but Esterhase refuses. When Vladimir is later killed, Esterhase somewhat shamefacedly recounts their meeting to Smiley.
When Vladimir's death leads Smiley to a possible means of trapping Karla, he recruits Esterhase for an espionage operation in Berne, to capture and interrogate one of Karla's agents.Esterhase serves as Smiley's field commander, reactivating the Lamplighters to follow, investigate, and eventually trap the Soviet spy in question—to use Smiley's theatrical analogy, Smiley writes the show, and Esterhase produces it—a job he performs superbly. He is also with Smiley in Berlin when Karla defects to the West and surrenders himself to Circus custody.
Esterhase is a minor character in the short-story collection The Secret Pilgrim, occasionally referenced by the book's narrator, Ned. The book reveals that, between the time of The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley's People, he became the head of the Circus' Vienna office. Esterhase is one of the central characters in a farcical vignette in which he gets rid of a charlatan—an exiled Hungarian professor based in Munich,who provides the British with virtually worthless information—by successfully convincing the CIA that he is a dauntless anti-Communist hero. Although Ned is infuriated by the incident, Smiley dismisses it as amusing. Esterhase reappears at the end of the novel to attend a speech given by Smiley, standing out from the crowd in an ostentatious tuxedo.
Esterhase is briefly mentioned in a cameo role in A Legacy of Spies where he, together with Percy Alleline and Roy Bland, meet Peter Guillam at the field dispatch office at Heathrow Airport during a flashback; whether Toby is still alive in the present day is not revealed.
According to Adam Sisman, the character of Esterhase was partly inspired by the Hungarian emigre and book publisher André Deutsch:
When David [i.e. Le Carre] came to write his novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, he would draw on Deutsch for his character Toby Esterhase, who like his original would speak his own form of English.
Bernard Hepton played Esterhase in the BBC television dramatisations of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Smiley's People. In the former, Hepton played Esterhase as speaking with a received pronunciation accent, but in Smiley's People, Hepton reverted to an Eastern European accent for the role.
Charles Kay played Esterhase in the BBC radio dramatisations of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Smiley's People.
David Dencik played Esterhase in the 2011 film version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy . Dencik's Esterhase spoke with a subtle but difficult-to-place Eastern European accent. The details of Esterhase's past are altered slightly in the film. In the film, it was Control, rather than Smiley, who first recruited Esterhase in Vienna. When Smiley confronts Esterhase about Operation Witchcraft, he states that Esterhase was a "wanted man" at the time of his recruitment and implies that Esterhase is still a fugitive. Although it is not specified why or by whom Esterhase is wanted, it is suggested that his fugitive status may have to do with his "war experience," which Smiley cryptically states Esterhase "survived [...] because of [his] ability to change sides, serve any master."
David John Moore Cornwell, better known by his pen name John le Carré, was a British and Irish author, best known for his espionage novels, many of which were successfully adapted for film or television. "[One] of the greatest novelists of the postwar era", during the 1950s and 1960s he worked for both the Security Service (MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). He is considered to have been a "sophisticated, morally ambiguous writer".
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a 1974 spy novel by British author John le Carré. It follows the endeavours of taciturn, aging spymaster George Smiley to uncover a Soviet mole in the British Secret Intelligence Service. The novel has received critical acclaim for its complex social commentary—and, at the time, relevance, following the defection of Kim Philby. The novel has been adapted into both a television series and a film, and remains a staple of the spy fiction genre.
George Smiley OBE is a fictional character created by John le Carré. Smiley is a career intelligence officer with "The Circus", the British overseas intelligence agency. He is a central character in the novels Call for the Dead, A Murder of Quality, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy, and Smiley's People, and a supporting character in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, The Looking Glass War, The Secret Pilgrim and A Legacy of Spies. The character has also appeared in a number of film, television, and radio adaptations of le Carré's books.
Smiley's People is a spy novel by British writer John le Carré, published in 1979. Featuring British master-spy George Smiley, it is the third and final novel of the "Karla Trilogy", following Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Honourable Schoolboy. George Smiley is called out of retirement to investigate the death of one of his old agents: a former Soviet general, the head of an Estonian émigré organisation based in London. Smiley learns the general had discovered information that will lead to a final confrontation with Smiley's nemesis, the Soviet spymaster Karla.
The Honourable Schoolboy (1977) is a spy novel by British writer John le Carré. George Smiley must reconstruct an intelligence service in order to run a successful offensive espionage operation to save the service from being dismantled by the government. In 1977, the book won the Gold Dagger award for the best crime novel of the year and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. The Honourable Schoolboy is the second novel in the omnibus titled either Smiley Versus Karla or The Quest for Karla.
Smiley Versus Karla (1982), by John le Carré, originally published as The Quest for Karla, is an omnibus edition of three novels concerning George Smiley's fight against Karla, his counterpart in Moscow Centre. The "Karla Trilogy" includes:
Francis Bernard Heptonstall better known by the stage name Bernard Hepton, was an English theatre director and actor. Best known for his stage work and television roles in teleplays and series, he also appeared briefly on radio and in film.
Bill Haydon is a fictional character created by John le Carré who features in le Carré's 1974 novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. He is a senior officer in the British Secret Intelligence Service who serves as a Soviet mole. The novel follows aging spymaster George Smiley's endeavours to uncover the mole. The character is partly modelled after the real-life double agent Kim Philby, part of the notorious Cambridge Five spy ring in Britain, who defected to the USSR in 1963.
Call for the Dead is John le Carré's first novel, published in 1961. It introduces George Smiley, the most famous of le Carré's recurring characters, in a story about East German spies inside Great Britain. It also introduces a fictional version of British Intelligence, called "the Circus" because of its location in Cambridge Circus, that is apparently based on MI6 and that recurs throughout le Carré's spy novels. Call for the Dead was adapted for film as The Deadly Affair (1966).
The Secret Pilgrim is a 1990 episodic novel by British writer John le Carré, set within the frame narrative of an informal dinner talk given at the spy-training school in Sarratt by George Smiley. As Smiley talks, the first-person narrator, whom readers know only as "Ned", recalls his own experiences in a long career in the service. The various episodes are triggered by comments from Smiley, which send Ned into tangential memories. The individual stories together create a portrait of Ned himself, moving from the start of his career at the beginning of the novel to his retirement in the final chapter. Several of the episodes are recognisable anecdotes or urban legends from the British intelligence community.
Pierre Guillame, better known by the anglicised form Peter Guillam, is a fictional character in John le Carré's series of espionage novels. He first appears in Call for the Dead. He is the trusted right-hand-man of George Smiley, the protagonist of many of le Carre's novels, and is often the person Smiley turns to for assistance when he fears he cannot trust his peers or subordinates.
Karla is a recurring character in the works of John le Carré. A Soviet Intelligence officer, he is the head of the Thirteenth Directorate of Moscow Centre, le Carré's fictional version of the KGB, and the nemesis of le Carré's frequent protagonist George Smiley. Karla is nominally an unseen character who operates either through functionaries, hitmen, or by turning his enemies into double agents. Although other characters recount their past meetings with him, he only appears once during the events of the books. His real name is never revealed; instead, he takes his code name from that of the first spy network that he recruited.
Connie Sachs is a fictional character created by John le Carré. Sachs plays a key supporting role in the Karla Trilogy, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy, and Smiley's People.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a 2011 Cold War spy thriller film directed by Tomas Alfredson. The screenplay was written by Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan, based on John le Carré's 1974 novel of the same name. The film stars Gary Oldman as George Smiley, with Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciarán Hinds, David Dencik and Kathy Burke supporting. It is set in London in the early 1970s and follows the hunt for a Soviet double agent at the top of the British secret service.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a 1979 British seven-part spy drama by the BBC. John Irvin directed and Jonathan Powell produced this adaptation of John le Carré's novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974). The serial, which stars Alec Guinness, Alexander Knox, Ian Richardson, Michael Jayston, Bernard Hepton, Anthony Bate, Ian Bannen, George Sewell and Michael Aldridge, was shown in the United Kingdom from 10 September to 22 October 1979, and in the United States beginning on 29 September 1980. The US version was re-edited from the original seven episodes to fit into six episodes.
Smiley’s People is a 1982 British six-part spy drama by the BBC. Directed by Simon Langton and produced by Jonathan Powell, it is the television adaptation of the 1979 spy novel Smiley's People by John le Carré, and a sequel to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Starring Alec Guinness, Michael Byrne, Anthony Bate and Bernard Hepton, it was first shown in the United Kingdom from 20 September to 25 October 1982, and in the United States beginning on 25 October 1982.
Control is a fictional character created by John le Carré. Control is an intelligence officer who acts as the head of "The Circus", the British overseas intelligence agency. He is a character in the novels The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, The Looking Glass War and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and is referred to in several others, usually by association with le Carré's recurring protagonist George Smiley, who has served as Control's right-hand man.
Jim Prideaux is a fictional character created by John le Carré. He appears in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, with the book's events alternating between his point of view and that of George Smiley, and a minor character in A Legacy of Spies. He is the head of the "scalphunters," a division of MI6 dedicated to especially dangerous counterintelligence missions often involving violence or assassinations. Prideaux's betrayal, and subsequent capture, following a botched mission in Czechoslovakia is the jumping off point for the events of the book. The character has been featured in both cinematic adaptations of the book, with each presenting a markedly different portrayal of the character.
A Legacy of Spies is a 2017 spy novel by British writer John le Carré.
This is a list of works by or featuring David John Moore Cornwell, a British author better known by his pseudonym John le Carré. It also includes a list of film, television, and radio adaptations of le Carré's writing.