Lowe Is Smiley! The Lively Arts - 25th September 1977

Arthur Lowe, George Smiley

Sir Alec Guinness was invited to play the part of George Smiley in correspondence he exchanged with John le Carré in early 1978. 

In his first letter to Guinness, le Carré told him that he, producer Jonathan Powell and scriptwriter Arthur Hopcraft 'would cry for Guinness as Smiley, and build everything else to fit'. He also mentioned that this would be Smiley's first significant appearance on screen, except for a small cameo by Rupert Davies in 'The Spy Who Came in from the Cold' and 'a little comedy piece recently by Arthur Lowe'. 

In his response on the 2nd March, Guinness picked up on the fact that Lowe had already appeared on screen as Smiley. He remarked 'I am rather anxious about the fact that Arthur Lowe, an actor I greatly admire, has already been seen in the part. Are you confident about the change over? I'm not.'

Le Carré reassured him in his reply that Lowe's performance was 'an eight-minute playlet in the middle of a long arts programme, so you mustn't fear that he is already there ahead of you'.

The programme in question was 'The Lively Arts' interview with John le Carré by Melvyn Bragg which was broadcast on the 25th September 1977. It is described on the BBC Genome site as follows: -

John le Carré is among the world's best-selling novelists. Ever since The Spy Who Came In from the Cold was published in 1963 a new le Carré novel has been a major event in the publishing world. His last book Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was an immediate best-seller and his new book just out, The Honourable Schoolboy, looks set to repeat the success. 

Melvyn Bragg talks to John le Carré at his home in Cornwall about his life and his novels. Also in the programme is le Carré's dramatisation of a section from one of his earlier novels Call for the Dead. 

Although it's wonderful that the programme is available to watch on Youtube, sadly this version doesn't include the dramatised section featuring Arthur Lowe as George Smiley in 'Call for the Dead'. 

Hopefully the playlet still exists in the BBC archive somewhere - it would be lovely one day to see this important piece of television history.