This 12-part mini series was follows the plots of the three books pretty much to the letter: the discovery of the mole; Fiona's flight from London to Moscow; the turning of Erich Stinnes and then the dramatic end-game in Berlin, when Bernard inadvertantly plays the pawn in a Kremlin powergame.
There is one significant difference in the screenplay which does nevertheless work dramatically on-screen in helping move along the initial storyline. The first 40 minutes of the series goes back to 1978 and Bernard's escape from Poland with the help of members of the Brahms network. In the book, this back story is introduced intermittently. In the TV series, it frames the story right from the start, making more of Bernard's status as an ex-field guy and his reluctance to move from his safe desk in London to the dangerous streets of East Berlin.
Notes on the adaptation
This was at the time the highest-priced TV mini-series, with a budget of £8 million, much of it spent on location filming. It also employed a good range of quality British and German actors, so the omens appeared to be right that this would be a hit. It was received well, critically - Ian Holm, who plays Bernard Samson, went on to receive a BAFTA nomination for best actor (and the series also received a nomination for best film editing) and was promoted heavily by Granada TV and ITC as one of their hit autumn series.
The creation of thirteen cohesive and self-contained episodes did require significant parts of the dialogue in the original books to be trimmed or cut and new material added in where it was required to give Samson some instand background characteristics - for example, the mission to Poland in 1978 with Yuri Rostov which is the reason Samson is deskbound, a story which is referred to in the narration in snippets. Neverthless, the adaptation is pretty faithful, but perhaps a weakness is that in covering all three of the books, it ended up at nearly fifteen hours of broadcast programming. That required a lot of the pre-Christmas TV audience on ITV (not, one would have thought, its natural station) and clearly, many didn't last the pace.
The £8m budget allowed for significant location filming in Mexico and West Berlin; Granada TV was interestingly the first company allowed to stage dramatic action in and around Checkpoint Charlie and the Oberbaumbrücke, although a studio set of the checkpoint - which used to be in situ next to the Coronation Street set on the Granada Lot - was built. The company was not allowed to film in the East itself, so different sets in Manchester and Bolton, England doubled convincingly as Eastern block settings. Not a great endorsement of the architecture in those two areas at the time!
It has always disappointed fans that this show, though transmitted, has never been re-transmitted or put onto DVD, as Len Deighton bought all the rights to the series to prevent re-transmission. Casting issues were, Deighton has revealed, behind much of this decision. As he advised the Deighton Dossier recently:
"It was not the case that I gave Patrick Armstrong or anyone else a free hand with the TV adaption. The exact contrary is the case. The producers offered me the veto on casting and some other aspects of the production, which I accepted. But they totally reneged on the agreement. I was never consulted, invited along to the filming or even informed about the progress of the production. It was a typical case of the writer being despised and dumped as soon as the contract is signed."
Perhaps he knew something; it was in the end a bit of a ratings disaster for ITV (the main commercial channel in the UK at the time). Copies were available for hire in some UK video shops but this series has never been shown again, which is a shame. Granada TV no longer holds the copyright, which has reverted to Deighton, who has confirmed that he will not release a commercial version as he was ultimately unhappy with the casting, though he recognises the quality of the production. Bootleg copies are available from time to time online.
Of particular note are the extent to which the director plays up the close relationship between Bernard and Werner - how they both look out for each other against enemies from both sides of the wall - and the lengths to which Bernard will go to wind up and annoy his boss Dicky Cruyer, who despite being portrayed as a bit of a twit is shown to be clearly the master of the dark arts of office politics which Deighton portrays him as in the books.