Tinker, Tailor is a counting game (simple method of randomly selecting a person from a group like Eeny, meeny, miny, moe), nursery rhyme (late 18th/early 19th century poems or songs like the Mother Goose Rhymes) and fortune telling song (practice of predicting information about a persons life) traditionally played in England. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 802 (database of around 250,000 references to nearly 25,000 songs collected from oral tradition in the English language from all over the world).
It was commonly used by children of Britain and America to choose a person for who would be “It” in the game of “Tag”. The most common of many variations is
Rich Man, Poor Man,
Beggar Man, Thief.
The first record of the opening four professions being grouped together is in William Congreve’s “Love for Love” (1695), which has the lines:
A Soldier and a Sailor,
a Tinker and a Tailor,
Had once a doubtful strife, sir.
A. A. Milne’s (Writer of Winnie the Pooh, his father was Christopher Robin Milne) “Now We Are Six” (1927) had the following version of “Cherry stones”:
Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief,
Or what about a cowboy, policeman, jailer, engine driver, or a pirate chief?
Or what about a ploughman or a keeper at the zoo,
Or what about a circus man who lets the people through?
Or the man who takes the pennies on the roundabouts and swings,
Or the man who plays the organ or the other man who sings?
Or what about the rabbit man with rabbits in his pockets
And what about a rocket man who’s always making rockets?
Oh it’s such a lot of things there are and such a lot to be
That there’s always lots of cherries on my little cherry tree
John le Carré wrote a spy novel in 1974 called Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It follows spymaster George Smiley to uncover a Soviet mole in the British Secret Intelligence Service. The BBC came out with the television version in 1979. It was a 7-part serial directed by John Irvin (The Dogs of War 1980, Ghost Story 1981 and Hamburger Hill 1987) and starred Alec Guinness (Great Expectations, Bridge over the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, Scrooge, Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars Trilogy).
There were BBC Radio versions in 1988 and again in 2009. Tomas Alfredson directed the 2011 film of the same name. It starred Gary Oldman (Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Fifth Element, Air Force One, Lost in Space 1998, Hannibal, Harry Potter movies, The Dark Knight). There were versions of Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor in the rock era also.
Drummer Jim McCarty and guitarist Jimmy Page wrote “Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor” based right off the nursery rhyme and recorded it with the Yardbirds in 1967. Radiohead recorded “Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief” in 2016.