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How did Smiley know that Jim Prideaux wasn't killed by the Soviets, but has gone back to England and is hiding as a teacher at a school?

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    this could use more context as to what the asker doesn't understand
    – DForck42
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 22:03
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    I don't think there is any suggestion that Prideux is 'hiding'. We see him captured and interrogated by the Soviets after the operation that goes wrong, leading to Control and Smiley's firing from the Circus. We later see him working as a teacher in a private school. I presume he either escaped or was exchanged for Soviet spies, but that in the present day of the story he's retired from working at the Circus. It seems unlikely that his presence in the UK at the school is unknown to the Circus, who were probably instrumental in bringing him home.
    – iandotkelly
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 22:15
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    I disagree that these are separate questions - the question is perfectly clear to me. They could be phrased differently - but they all relate to how Smiley knows Prideaux's fate. I've attempted to edit it to make it clear it is one question.
    – iandotkelly
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 22:16
  • I may upgrade my comment to an answer at some point - I may try to watch this again tonight to make sure I haven't missed anything.
    – iandotkelly
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 22:19

1 Answer 1

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Smiley believes Prideaux is dead until he discovers a mysterious payment to "a Mr. Ellis" from The Reptile Fund. He acquires those records by having Peter Guillam steal them from the Circus on his first secret assignment.

He shows that payment record to his other helper, Mendel. He notes that "Ellis" was one of the fake names Prideaux liked to use (aka "trade names"), and then he asks Mendel something like: why would the Circus give Prideaux 1000 pounds several months after he was killed? Thus, Mendel's assignment is to locate Prideaux.

The movie does not show us how Mendel does this, but we can speculate. Some points to consider:

  • Mendel is a very capable man ("special branch," Smiley says), or Smiley would not have asked Minister Lacon for express permission to hire him out of retirement
  • The Circus gave Prideaux a big object that creates a paper trail: a car (allegedly the best car in England, an Alvis)
  • Smiley knows Prideaux well, both in terms of personality and also skill set
  • Prideaux is still operating under his "Ellis" alias (this is the name he uses in front of his students)
  • Locating people who do not want to be found is a common task in this business

Given all of that, it's not hard to imagine that Mendel found Prideaux by some combination of tracking the Alvis' route from London, inquiring at businesses along that route for any new hires that fit Prideaux's name or description, and making some educated guesses about the locations and types of employment that Prideaux would be likely to seek out given his past and uncertain future.

Also, it's possible Prideaux wants to be found, since he's only in hiding because Alleline ordered him to "become a lotus-eater" (i.e. forget everything). Since he later assassinates Haydon, and since we know that he figured out Haydon was the mole before going to Hungary and being captured, it is reasonable to suspect that Prideaux felt he had unfinished business and was hoping for a chance to get back into the game and settle the score. We also know he has questions, like whether the Circus successfully evacuated his networks before Karla finally broke him.

Finally, it's possible the Circus is actively keeping tabs on him, and that Mendel found him by digging through more records taken by Guillam.

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