The Slowness of Smiley

Subject A passing antique shop on Pimlico RoadI’m reading Le Carré’s The Honourable Schoolboy. This post contains spoilers but since the book was first published in 1977 I’m going to blunder in anyway.

I’m about 150 pages in.  The last 50 pages or so have been a description of a mission that it turns out is all about getting details of a bank account from a Hong Kong bank.  It’s the sort of thing that now would be dealt with by black t-shirted hacker types breaking into a system.  But in the 1970s it involves pulling a kind of sleeper agent out of cover in Italy, bringing him back to the UK and brushing up his spy-skills, sending him off to Hong Kong where he can blackmail a manager in the bank into giving him access to a paper file which he then photographs on a sub-miniature camera, the film from which has to be processed before even the name of the account holder is signalled through to London let alone the actual photographs giving the full details of the account. Phew!

It reminds me also that the whole of Smiley’s People basically revolves around the existence and whereabouts of a photographic negative.  People have to cross the channel (by ferry) and meet up and exchange bits of paper and celluloid and avoid getting shot.

Film photography, No Eurostar, No Internet.  It’s all so slow!  And all the more dangerous for the time it takes to get things done.  It really is another world, but it doesn’t feel that long ago to me.

And people still ask: “What difference has technology really made in our lives?”

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