On 21 March 1960, South African police opened fire on a mass anti-apartheid protest in Sharpeville, South Africa, killing 69 people.
Until the Immigration Act of 1962, Commonwealth citizens had the automatic right to unrestricted immigration to the UK. During the early 1960s there was growing concern about the number of people from Africa and South Asia arriving to settle in the UK. This would lead to Enoch Powell's infamous "Rivers of Blood" speech in 1968:
An imposing block of apartments in Pimlico, built between 1935 and 1937, complete with tennis courts, swimming pool and shopping arcade. Anne, the Princess Royal, and Harold Wilson both lived there.
A Soviet spy, John Vassall, who was arrested in 1962 (the year before this novel was published) had an apartment in Dolphin Square. Both the Free French of Charles de Gaulle and MI5 used apartments here.
Dulles (1888-1959) was US Secretary of State under President Eisenhower. He was considered a hawk in his stance against Communism, supporting the French war effort in Indochina and working with his brother Allen, Director of the CIA, to overthow the democratically elected government of Guatemala.
In October 1962, American spy planes acquired photographic evidence of a Soviet missile installation in Cuba. After Kennedy's threat to impose a naval blockade, the Soviet Union's Premier Nikita Krushchev agreed to remove the weapons, averting nuclear war between the two superpowers. The Cuban Missile Crisis, as this event became known, shaped Kennedy's entire approach to the Soviet Union.
In June 1963, the President visited Berlin and gave his famous Ich bin ein Berliner speech calling for communism to be replaced with representative democracy and capitalism.
One of the Circus's chief spymasters, George Smiley, makes an appearance from time to time, shadowing Alec Leamas as he carries out his mission. He would later become the main focus of John le Carré's writing.
Alec Guiness made the role his own in the television adaptations of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Smiley's People.