There are 5 codes used in the movie for Russian moles in British Intelligence: "Tinker" for Alleline, "Tailor" for Haydon, "Soldier" for Bland, "Poorman" for Esterhase, and "Beggarman" for Smiley. Why were the latter two not referenced in the title?

  • 2
    a) including all five makes for a long title, b) that was the title of the novel the movie was based on
    – dbugger
    Commented May 23, 2020 at 16:17

1 Answer 1


The title isn't a reference to the characters' codenames, but rather a play on words of an old rhyme (from which the codenames are also derived).
The most common adaptation of this rhyme comes from A. A. Milne [the chap most well-known for writing Winnie the Pooh] in "Now we are Six"

That version starts…

Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief

The original novel, by John le Carré, 1974, and the movie, simply make a play on words of the first four characters.

Sailor is replaced by spy, rich man and thief are also absent from the title.

  • I recall from the book that Control explains he's skipping "Sailor" because it's too easy to confuse with "Tailor", and also skipping "Rich Man" because it doesn't fit Esterhase's personality. If the title just skipped "Sailor" in the rhyme, it would sound like it was just garbled. But by replacing it with "Spy", you get the punch of the unexpectedly missing rhyme for "Tailor", as well as a clue that this book is a spy thriller and not a collection of children's poetry. Commented Dec 16, 2020 at 2:16

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .