The biggest fabrication, according to John Le Carré, was claiming that his con man father was a spy.
John le Carré may have been Britain’s best storyteller in a century, but in his personal life, he struggled to tell the difference between fact and fiction.
The espionage novelist, whose picture of the Cold War is still vivid 60 years after his anti-hero George Smiley first appeared, is deserving of his own spy novel. Le Carré was a mysterious, distant, and talented writer who sometimes revealed the truth and often didn’t. But he’d been lying since boyhood, pretending his father was a spy when in reality he was just an upper-class con guy. Le Carré – born David John Moore Cornwell – was meant to write from an early age, but he had no idea his works would become international best-sellers or that he would build a writing genre that is as strong and thrilling today as it was when he created it.
Hundreds of millions of people were drawn into the world he created, which was populated with dark, sleazy beings whose lives were worthless and whose chances of salvation were nil. Yet, from Call for the Dead to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, his stories all had a strong moral tone, as if he sought to shelter readers from the sins of murder and betrayal.
Former colleagues took his spy language as their own: surveillance personnel were called “lamplighters,” “pavement artists” followed targets, and “scalphunters” were a department specializing in burglary, blackmail, and murder.
The Circus was the name given to the entire MI6 operation.
Fellow writers paid tribute to his unrivaled work after his death at the age of 89. Ian Rankin, author of Inspector Rebus, complimented him for bringing spy fiction “into the realms of literature,” while Robert Harris, author of Fatherland, remarked, “He was a writer of tremendous brilliance who transcended his genre.” Alec Guinness as the world-weary Smiley in the BBC’s 1979 portrayal of Tinker, Tailor… or Gary Oldman in the equally enthralling 2011 picture will be remembered by TV audiences.
Richard Burton’s frightening portrayal of anti-hero Alec Leamas in 1965’s The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and, more recently, Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Debicki’s The Night Manager mini-series in 2016 are two notable cinematic adaptations.
But it’s true. “Brinkwire News in Condensed Form.”