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The Honourable Schoolboy

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Title: The Honourable Schoolboy  
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Subject: Karla (character), Foreign Correspondents' Club, Hong Kong, Control (fictional character), John le Carré, A Perfect Spy (TV series)
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The Honourable Schoolboy

The Honourable Schoolboy
First edition
Author John le Carré
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series The Quest for Karla
Genre Spy novel
Publisher Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
ISBN ISBN 1-135-43056-X (first edition, hardback)
Preceded by Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Followed by Smiley's People

The Honourable Schoolboy (1977) is a "war hawks" in government. The "Honourable Schoolboy" of the title is Gerald Westerby, a British spy sent to Hong Kong.

The Honourable Schoolboy is the second novel of the informal "Karla Trilogy" and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for 1977. It was later anthologised in The Quest for Karla (1982), an omnibus edition of the Smiley books.


In 1974, Karla, the Moscow Centre spymaster. To protect the politically weakened spy service from war hawks, Smiley must launch an offensive against the Soviets. To that end, he and analysts Connie Sachs and Doc di Salis look into investigations unreasonably suppressed by Bill Haydon, the outed mole. They discover Sam Collins' investigation of a money laundering operation in Laos which points to involvement by Karla.

Collins' investigations prompt Smiley to recall The Honourable Gerald "Jerry" Westerby, a former newspaper reporter and occasional Circus operative – and dispatch him to Hong Kong. Westerby blackmails a banker into allowing him to photograph the documentation of a trust account in which the Soviet money has ended up. The papers reveal only the name of the holder, Drake Ko. Parallel investigations in Hong Kong and London identify a woman named Elizabeth "Lizzie" Worthington as Ko's blonde girlfriend, Liese Worth. Lizzie was previously the girlfriend of a bush pilot, Tony Ricardo, and thinks herself a British intelligence agent.

U.S. Intelligence reports that Ricardo has approached them with information about an opium cargo he was to fly to China. The Americans want to arrest Ko, but first allow Smiley up to twelve weeks to pursue Circus interests. Smiley quickly realises that Tiu, Ko's second-in-command, travelled to Shanghai six weeks before Ricardo's flight to meet with Ko's brother, Nelson, a high-ranking Chinese official and Soviet mole; Tiu was to arrange their rendezvous, through which Nelson would escape China. Westerby manœuvres Lizzie to dinner and interviews her about the connection between Ricardo's flight and the Soviet embassy. Westerby surmises she knows nothing of Nelson or the Soviet connection.

On Circus' orders, Westerby finds an opium smuggler named Charlie Marshall in Cambodia and manages to board a flight he is piloting to Phnom Penh. Ricardo is also aboard, but Westerby doesn't grasp who he is until arriving; in evading him, Ricardo shoots at Westerby. That night, Westerby interrogates Marshall, learning that Worthington was a heroin courier for Collins; that she intervened with Ko on Ricardo's behalf; that Marshall rejected Tiu's offer of $5,000 for a flight; and where Ricardo hides between flights. Westerby tracks down Ricardo in Thailand; Ricardo tells Westerby that Tiu, on Ko's behalf, hired him to pick up a package after arriving in China; instead of completing the job, Ricardo stole the opium and went into hiding. After Westerby tells him Nelson was the package, Ricardo again tries to kill him.

On 30 April 1975, Westerby arrives at a U.S. Air Force base and reports to the Circus. In turn, the Circus orders his direct return to London. Disobeying, on his return to Hong Kong, Westerby finds the corpse of his journalist roommate Luke, who has been shot. Meanwhile, Smiley, Peter Guillam, and a party including CIA agents Martello and Murphy travel to Hong Kong to capture Nelson. Smiley knows that he will escape China on a fishing junk heading to the southernmost island of Po Toi.

On the run, Westerby's schoolboy romanticism keeps him in Hong Kong – to rescue Lizzie and to protect Nelson, while the CIA spies on Drake. They go to her apartment; Smiley enters unannounced, and Westerby, expecting either Drake or Tiu, assaults him, before realising his identity. Smiley orders Westerby sent to London but Westerby escapes, gets Lizzie, and takes a boat to Po Toi. There, she shows him the places special to Drake, helping Westerby to determine where Nelson will land from China. After arranging a rendezvous the following night, Lizzie returns to Hong Kong.

That night on Po Toi island, Westerby finds Drake and Tiu at the beach, awaiting Nelson. After disarming and disabling Tiu, Westerby tells Drake that he wants Lizzie for himself, in exchange for saving Nelson from the Westerners. Drake is sceptical and hesitates. Just as Nelson lands, American helicopters appear and capture him. As they pull away, Fawn kills Westerby.

The CIA detains and interrogates Nelson; his interrogators do not include di Salis and Sachs. The operation yields top Circus jobs for Enderby and Collins. Enderby becomes Chief of the Circus, and Collins his Director of Operations. Smiley and Connie Sachs are forcibly retired with pensions, and Peter Guillam is demoted to head the scalphunters in Brixton - the position he held at the beginning of the Karla trilogy.

"Circus" jargon

The characters' jargon-heavy dialogue establishes the fictional authenticity of the espionage portrayed in The Honourable Schoolboy; examples of John le Carré's tradecraft language are:

Tradecraft term Definition
Agent An external, freelance person recruited to provide information and services; Circus staff are referred to as intelligence officers.
Burrowers Circus researchers, usually academics recruited from universities.
Circus The in-house name for MI6, the SIS (Secret Intelligence Service) which collects foreign intelligence. "Circus" refers to the SIS's London locale at Cambridge Circus.
The Competition MI5, the internal UK counter-espionage and counter-terrorism security service, whom the Circus often calls "The Security Mob".
The Cousins The CIA in particular, and US intelligences services in general.
Ferrets Technicians responsible for finding and removing hidden microphones, cameras and other surveillance devices.
Housekeepers Internal auditors and disciplinary staff of the Circus.
Janitors Operations staff
Lamplighters Control surveillance and couriers.
Mothers Secretaries and trusted typists serving the head of the Circus.
Nuts and Bolts Engineers who develop and manufacture espionage devices.
Pavement Artists Circus officers responsible for covert street surveillance.
Scalphunters Section responsible for assassinations, counter-espionage, burglaries, kidnappings and other aggressive measures, that was sidelined after Control's dismissal.
Shoemakers Circus forgers
Babysitters Bodyguards
Wranglers Radio signal analysts and cryptographers; the name derives from Wrangler maths students.


The Circus

  • The Hon. Jerry Westerby — a reporter, and occasional SIS secret agent,
  • Circus.
  • Peter Guillam — Circus "cupbearer" to Smiley.
  • Fawn – Smiley's factotum
  • Connie Sachs — chief Moscow-gazer.
  • Doc di Salis — head China-watcher.
  • Molly Meakin — skillful, junior staff; a pretty Circus girl who catches Peter Guillam's eye.
  • Sam Collins — an "old Circus" field officer, formerly based in Vientiane, Laos. Codename: "Mellon."
  • Stubbs — Westerby's managing editor at the newspaper.

The Steering Committee (authorising further operations after the Ko bank account papers are obtained)

  • Oliver Lacon — Circus watchdog from the Cabinet Office
  • Roddy Martindale — of the Foreign Office, the scourge of the Circus.
  • Saul Enderby — of the Foreign Office, was ambassador to Indonesia; the chief pundit on South East Asia; future chief of the Circus.
  • Wilbraham — of the Colonial Office.
  • Pretorius — of the Security Service.
  • The Welsh Hammer — a Treasury banker.

Other characters

  • Ann — Smiley's unfaithful wife.
  • Peter Worthington — the husband Elizabeth Worthington abandoned.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Pelling – Elizabeth Worthington's parents
  • Mrs. Matthews – unofficial widow of Control
  • Mr. Hibbert – as a missionary in Shanghai, knew Drake Ko and his brother Nelson
  • Martello – CIA chief of London station (COS London)
  • Murphy – Martello's assistant
  • Tiny Ricardo – Mexican frontman for Indocharter Vientiane S.A.
  • Elizabeth Worthington, alias Lizzie, alias Lizzie Ricardo, alias Liese Worth – first, common-law wife of Tiny Ricardo; then, mistress of Drake Ko
  • Charlie Marshall – sometime business partner of Tiny Ricardo
  • Luke – Californian journalist in Hong Kong
  • Big Moo – local journalistic jargon for the governor of Hong Kong
  • Rockhurst ("The Rocker") – Superintendent of Police in Hong Kong
  • William Craw – an ageing journalist, working for British Intelligence, character based on Richard Hughes[1]
  • Jake Chiu – Luke's landlord, a real-estate entrepreneur
  • Major Tufty Thesinger – Erstwhile SIS Head of Station, Hong Kong
  • Frost – works at a Hong Kong bank, is used by Westerby
  • Drake Ko – Hong Kong Fat Cat, receiving US$25K a month from the Soviets
  • Nelson Ko – Drake's brother; also the name of Drake's deceased son
  • Tiu – Ko's assistant
  • Arpego – wealthy Filipino, friend of Ko
  • Phoebe Wayfarer – half-English, half-Chinese agent for Brit Intel
  • Sally Cale – art faker, illicit bullion dealer, occasional heroin trafficker, business partner or employee of Ko, introduced Liese to him
  • Keller – veteran journalist whom Westerby meets in Phnom Penh
  • Lorraine – American journalist in Phnom Penh


Jonathan Powell, producer of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979), said the BBC considered producing The Honourable Schoolboy but a production in South East Asia was considered prohibitively expensive and therefore the BBC instead adapted the third novel of the Karla Trilogy Smiley's People (1979) which was transmitted in 1982. In Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, casting Joss Ackland in the minor role of Jerry Westerby was logical, if the original intent was retaining him as the protagonist of a television adaptation of The Honourable Schoolboy novel.

In 1983 the BBC adapted The Honourable Schoolboy to radio. Hugh Bonneville as Jerry Westerby, as part of Radio 4's year-long project to adapt all eight Smiley novels.[3]


  1. ^ 'There is the great Dick Hughes, whose outward character and mannerisms I have shamelessly exaggerated for the part of old Craw' (Author's Foreword)
  2. ^ "radio plays,DIVERSITY WEBSITE,bbc,radio drama,saturday night theatre – Lost, 1988–1970". Retrieved 21 January 2013. 
  3. ^ – 05:20. "Radio 4 – Drama – The Complete Smiley". BBC. Retrieved 21 January 2013. 
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