"If there is one eternal truth of politics, it is that there are always a dozen good reasons for doing nothing." -- John le Carre
David John Moore Cornwell (born 19 October 1931), who writes under the name John le Carré, is an author of espionage novels. During the 1950s and the 1960s, Cornwell worked for MI5 and MI6, and began writing novels under the pseudonym "John le Carré". His third novel The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) became an international best-seller and remains one of his best known works to date. Following the novel's success, he left MI6 to become a full-time author.
Le Carré has since written several novels that have established him as one of the finest writers of espionage fiction in 20th century literature. In 2008, The Times ranked le Carré 22nd on its list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945".
"A committee is an animal with four back legs.""A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.""Fools, most linguists. Damn all to say in one language, so they learn another and say damn all in that.""Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon cubes.""History keeps her secrets longer than most of us. But she has one secret that I will reveal to you tonight in the greatest confidence. Sometimes there are no winners at all. And sometimes nobody needs to lose.""Love is whatever you can still betray. Betrayal can only happen if you love.""The monsters of our childhood do not fade away, neither are they ever wholly monstrous. But neither, in my experience, do we ever reach a plane of detachment regarding our parents, however wise and old we may become. To pretend otherwise is to cheat.""Writing is like walking in a deserted street. Out of the dust in the street you make a mud pie.""You should have died when I killed you."
On 19 October 1931, David John Moore Cornwell was born to Richard Thomas Archibald (Ronnie) Cornwell (1906—75) and Olive (Gassy) Cornwell, in Poole, Dorset, England, UK. He was the second son to the marriage, the first being Tony, two years his elder, now a retired advertising executive; his younger half-sister is the actress Charlotte Cornwell; and Rupert Cornwell, a former Independent newspaper Washington bureau chief, is a younger half-brother. John le Carré said he did not know his mother, who abandoned him when he was five years old, until their re-acquaintance when he was twenty-one years old. His relationship with his father was difficult, given the man had been jailed for insurance fraud, and was continually in debt; a biographer reports:
His father, Ronnie, made and lost his fortune a number of times due to elaborate confidence tricks and schemes which landed him in prison on at least one occasion. This was one of the factors that led to his fascination with secrets.
Later, in the novel A Perfect Spy (1986), father Ronnie featured as 'Rick Pym' the scheming con-man father of protagonist 'Magnus Pym'.
Cornwell's formal schooling began at St. Andrew's preparatory school, at Pangbourne, Berkshire, then continued at Sherborne School; he proved unhappy with the typically harsh English public school régime of the time, and disliked his disciplinarian housemaster, Thomas, and so withdrew. From 1948 to 1949, he studied foreign languages at the University of Bern. In 1950 he 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. In 1952, he returned to England to study at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he worked for MI5, spying upon far-left groups for information about possible Soviet agents.
When Ronnie declared bankruptcy in 1954, Cornwell quit Oxford to teach at a boy's preparatory school; however, a year later, he returned to Oxford and graduated with a First Class Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in 1956. He then taught French and German at Eton College for two years, afterwards becoming an MI5 officer in 1958; he ran agents, conducted interrogations, tapped telephone lines, and effected break-ins. Encouraged by Lord Clanmorris (who pseudonymously wrote crime novels as 'John Bingham'), and whilst an active MI5 officer, Cornwell began writing Call for the Dead (1961), his first novel. Moreover, Lord Clanmorris was one of two inspirations — Vivian H. H. Green being the other-for — George Smiley, the master spy of the Circus. As a schoolboy, Cornwell first met Green when he was the Chaplain and Assistant Master at Sherborne School (1942—51), and then later as Rector at Lincoln College.
In 1960, Cornwell transferred to MI6, the foreign-intelligence service, and worked under 'Second Secretary' cover in the British Embassy at Bonn; he later was transferred to Hamburg as a political consul. There, he wrote the detective story A Murder of Quality (1962) and The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (1963), as John le Carré, a pseudonym required because Foreign Office officers were forbidden to publish in their own names; in the event, Cornwell left the service in 1964 to work full-time as the novelist 'John le Carré' - 'John the Square', in French. His intelligence officer career was ended by the betrayal of the covers of British agents to the KGB by Kim Philby, a British double agent (of the Cambridge Five). Le Carré depicts and analyses Philby as 'Bill Haydon', the upper-class traitor, code-named Gerald by the KGB, the mole George Smiley hunts in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974); after publication, the novelist revealed that spymaster Smiley's model was Vivian H. H. Green.
In 1964 Le Carré won the Somerset Maugham Award, established to enable British writers younger than thirty-five to enrich their writing by spending time abroad.
In 1954, Cornwell married Alison Ann Veronica Sharp; they had three sons, Simon, Stephen, and Timothy; they divorced in 1971. In 1972, Cornwell married Valérie Jane Eustace, a book editor with Hodder & Stoughton; they had one son, Nicholas, who writes as Nick Harkaway. Le Carré has resided in St Buryan, Cornwall, UK, for more than forty years where he owns a mile of cliff close to Land's End.
Stylistically, the first two novels — Call for the Dead (1961) and A Murder of Quality (1962) — are mystery fiction wherein the hero George Smiley (of the SIS, the Circus) resolves the riddles of the deaths investigated; the motives are more personal than political.
The spy novel ?uvre of John le Carré is a dispassionate response to the high adventure of the James Bond thriller genre established by Ian Fleming (1906—64) in the mid nineteen-fifties; the le Carré Cold War features unheroic men, spies aware of the amorality of their work, for being mere political functionaries. They experience few action thriller occasions, have few gadgets, and practise only the violence necessary to propel the plot-the dramatic conflict being among the characters' motives.
Unlike the manichean moral certainty of Fleming's British Secret Service adventures, le Carré's Circus spy stories are morally complex, and apprise the reader of the fallibility of Western democracy and of the secret services protecting it, often implying East-West moral equivalence.
A Perfect Spy (1986), chronicling the boyhood moral education of Magnus Pym, as it leads to his becoming a spy, is the author's most autobiographic espionage novel - especially the boy's very close relationship with his con man father. Biographer Lynndianne Beene describes the novelist's own father, Richard Cornwell, as 'an epic con man of little education, immense charm, extravagant tastes, but no social values'; le Carré reflected that 'writing A Perfect Spy is probably what a very wise shrink would have advised'.
Most of le Carré's novels are spy stories usually occurring during the Cold War (1945—91); the notable exception is The Naďve and Sentimental Lover (1971), an autobiographic, stylistically uneven, mainstream novel of a man's post-marital existential crisis. As a journalist, he wrote The Unbearable Peace (1991), a non-fiction account of Brigadier Jean-Louis Jeanmaire (1911—92), the Swiss Army officer who spied for the USSR from 1962 until 1975. In 2009, he donated the short story 'The King Who Never Spoke' to the Oxfam 'Ox-Tales' project, which included it in the project's Fire volume.
In January 2003 The Times published le Carré's article ' The United States Has Gone Mad', which powerfully condemned the approaching Iraq War. He observed within this essay, "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."
He is the author of a testimonial in The Future of the NHS (2006) (ISBN 1858113695) edited by Dr. Michelle Tempest.
On Monday 13 September 2010 he was interviewed on Channel 4 News by journalist Jon Snow at his remote, secluded, cliff-top home in Cornwall.Conversation involved a few topics: his writing career generally and processes adopted for writing — specifically about his current book, Our Kind of Traitor, involving Russia and its current global influences, financially and politically; his SIS career, reasoning why, both personally and more generally, one did such a job then, as compared to now; and how the fight against communism then has now conversely moved to the hugely negative effects of certain aspects of excessive capitalism.
During the interview he made it clear that it would be his last television interview ever. Whilst reticent as to his exact reasons, those he was willing to cite were, firstly that of slight self-loathing, which he felt most people feel, and so is perfectly understandable. More specifically, he believed the writing process involved much showing-off as it was, and for him he felt that the writing process was a singular occupation. Additionally he added that he was terrified of losing any talent he had for writing by wasting time being highly successful socially, as he had seen many talented writers get into such a situation, which greatly contributed to their turning out much diminished later novels.
A week after this appearance, however, le Carré was interviewed on television in the United States, on the program Democracy Now!. Cornwell's explanation aired on Democracy Now! on Monday 11 October 2010
AMY GOODMAN: Now, we were interested because Channel 4 just said "the last interview" with John le Carré, and yet here we are. Why did you change your mind?
JOHN LE CARRÉ: I didn’t change my mind. The full text with Channel 4 was that that was my last interview in the UK. And this is the last book about which I intend to give interviews. That isn’t because I’m in any sense retiring. I’ve found that, actually, I’ve said everything I really want to say, outside my books. I would just like...I’m in wonderful shape. I’m entering my eightieth year. I just want to devote myself entirely to writing and not to this particular art form of conversation.
In 1965, Martin Ritt directed the first film adaptation of a John le Carré novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, with Richard Burton as protagonist Alec Leamas.
In 1966, Sidney Lumet directed The Deadly Affair, an adaptation of Call for the Dead, with James Mason as Charles Dobbs (George Smiley in the novel).
In 1969, Frank Pierson directed The Looking Glass War, with Anthony Hopkins as Avery, and Christopher Jones as Leiser.
In 1984, George Roy Hill directed The Little Drummer Girl, with Diane Keaton as Charlie.
In 1990, Fred Schepisi directed The Russia House, with Sean Connery as Barley Blair.
In 2001, John Boorman directed The Tailor of Panama, with Pierce Brosnan as Andy Osnard, a disgraced spy.
In 2005, Fernando Meirelles directed The Constant Gardener, with Ralph Fiennes as Justin Quayle, set in the slums in Kibera and Loiyangalani, Kenya. The poverty so affected the film crew that they established the Constant Gardener Trust to provide basic education to those villages. John le Carré is a patron of the charity.
In June 2008, The Guardian newspaper reported that Peter Morgan and John le Carré were writing a cinematic adaptation of the novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974), for Working Title Films and to be directed by Tomas Alfredson, director of Let the Right One In (2008). Daily Mail film columnist Baz Bamigboye reported in June 2010 that Gary Oldman is in negotiations with Working Title to play George Smiley. Colin Firth, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Fassbender and Benedict Cumberbatch have also signed up for the film. As of the 3rd of September, 2010, Tom Hardy has replaced Michael Fassbender, who is unable to do the project as he has just started filming X-Men: First Class.
In 1979, the BBC adapted Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy to television, with Alec Guinness as George Smiley. Two years later, in 1981, he reprised the role in Smiley's People. The BBC did not adapt The Honourable Schoolboy, featuring Jerry Westerby (Joss Ackland in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), because production in East Asia was prohibitively expensive.
In 1987, Peter Smith directed the television adaptation of A Perfect Spy (BBC), with Peter Egan as Magnus Pym, and Ray McAnally as Rick.
In 1991, Gavin Millar directed A Murder of Quality (Thames Television), with Denholm Elliott as George Smiley, and Joss Ackland as Terence Fielding.
The 1994 BBC radio adaptation of The Russia House, features Tom Baker as Barley Blair.
The Complete Smiley is an eight radio-play series, based upon the novels featuring George Smiley, that commenced broadcast on 23 May 2009 on BBC Radio 4, beginning with Call for the Dead, with Simon Russell Beale as "George Smiley", and concluding with The Secret Pilgrim, in June 2010 .