Thursday, 20 October 2011

Britain said "Happy Birthday" to an old spy writer called John Le Carré

David Cornwell, better known John Le Carré, author of spy novels was 80 years old yesterday.

What you may not have known about John, that he was :

* born in Dorset and did not know his mother who abandoned him when he was 5 and had a difficult relationship with his father who was jailed for insurance fraud, an associate of the notorious criminal Kray twins, continually in debt and possibly gave him his fascination with secrets.

* educated at Sherborne School where he was unhappy with the typically harsh English public school régime and left the country at the age of 17 to study foreign languages at the University of Bern in Switzerland.

* in 1950, at the age of 19, joined the 'Intelligence Corps' of the British Army garrisoned in Austria, working as a German language interrogator of people who crossed the Iron Curtain to the West and in 1952 returned to England and studied at Oxford University, where he worked for MI5, spying upon far-left groups looking for student agents for Soviet Russia.

* graduated, taught French and German at Eton College for two years and then became an MI5 officer in 1958 : ran agents, conducted interrogations, tapped telephone lines and effected break-ins.

* in 1960, transferred to MI6, the foreign-intelligence service and working in Hamburg as a political consul, wrote 'The Spy Who Came In from the Cold' under the peudonym, 'John le Carré' because Foreign Office officers were forbidden to publish in their own names.
The magnificent Richard Burton talks about real spies :

* left the secret service in 1964 to work full-time as a novelist when his career was cut short by the betrayal of his cover to the Russian KGB by the British double agent, Kim Philby and depicted him as 'Bill Haydon', the upper-class traitor, code-named Gerald by the KGB and the mole George Smiley hunts in his 1974, 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy'

* wrote his autobiographical, 'A Perfect Spy' in 1986, chronicling the boyhood moral education of Magnus Pym, which led him becoming a spy and especially his very close relationship with his con man father who biographer Lynndianne Beene described as 'an epic con man of little education, immense charm, extravagant tastes, but no social values'.

* with the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, shifted to portrayal of the new multilateral world with 'The Night Manager' dealing with drug and arms smuggling in the murky world of Latin America drug lords, shady Caribbean banking entities and look-the-other-way western officials.

* in 2003 wrote an essay in 'The Times entitled 'The United States Has Gone Mad', codemning the approaching Iraq War and observing that, how 'Bush and his junta succeeded in deflecting America's anger, from Bin Laden to Saddam Hussein, is one of the great public relations conjuring tricks of history.'

* made a cameo appearance in Swedish director Tomas Alfredson's 2011 film version of 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy'.

John's last interview ? :

The end credits to 'Tinker,Tailor,Soldier,Spy' : to the 1979 tv version with its haunting 'nunc dimittis' written by Geoffrey Burgon :

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people.
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles,
And to be the glory of thy people Israel.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.

My posting marking the death of Geoffrey Burgon in September 2010 :

1 comment:

  1. Hello,

    bit of a weird post but I am trying to get in contact with Willis Pitts, you mention him as a friend in your blog 7.2.11.

    If you can help at all, please email me on
    mydogsis at

    Thanks for your time,