THE SPY WHO WENT INTO THE COLD
Author John le Carre has written his last spy novel at the age of 89. David Cornwell worked for the British secret service as a spy himself behind the Iron Curtain until Kim Philby broke his cover to the Russians. (Mysteriously he never forgave Philby for the whole nearly getting him killed thing.) Taking on the titular pseudonym due to MI6 rules, le Carre went onto write a series of best selling novels starting with The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. His most popular books followed the exploits of George Smiley, whom le Carre considered a more realistic counterpoint to James Bond. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy involves the hunt for a double agent at the heart of British security, and became an acclaimed TV series with the great Alec Guinness in the role of Smiley. (Gary Oldman took on the role for a 2011 film.).
Le Carre used his novels to poke at real world corruption. The Constant Gardner is set against the backdrop of Western pharmaceutical controls in Africa, Th Night Manager about the 90s arms trade and Our Kind of Traitor has the far fetched concept of a Russian oligarch laundering his money away from Putin in Carribbean tax havens… His last book Agent Running in the Field is a reaction against Brexit and “10th-rate” Tory ministers. No idea who he could mean there…
Le Carre was his own man. He attacked the Iraq War and he attacked The Satanic Verses with equal disdain. He was wary of British policy in Iran, and Trump and Putin too. In short, as seen through his books and life, he was a hardline British patriot who distrusted isolationists, nationalists and the weaponisation of nostalgia. And Kim Philby. He hated Kim Philby. Jeez, you put one guy on a KGB hitlist and they never forgive you…
In the last decade he donated his archives to the Bodleian Library. Earlier this year he won the Olo Palme Prize – dedicated to advocates of peace – and swiftly donated the six figure prize to Medecins Sans Frontieres. His younger brother, noted journalist Rupert Cornwell, died of cancer in 2017. John le Carre was a unique pick for theme team Tinker Tailor Soldier Die.
John Le Carre
19 October 1931 – 12 December 2020