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John le Carré

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Title: John le Carré  
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Subject: Spy film, List of films based on spy books, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Gold Dagger, The Honourable Schoolboy
Collection: 1931 Births, 20Th-Century British Novelists, 20Th-Century English Novelists, 21St-Century British Novelists, Alumni of Lincoln College, Oxford, Cartier Diamond Dagger Winners, Commandeurs of the Ordre Des Arts Et Des Lettres, Edgar Award Winners, English Novelists, English Spy Fiction Writers, English Thriller Writers, Intelligence Corps Officers, James Tait Black Memorial Prize Recipients, John Le Carré, Living People, Mi5 Personnel, People Educated at Sherborne School, People Educated at St Andrew's School, Pangbourne, People from Poole, Pseudonymous Writers, Secret Intelligence Service Personnel
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John le Carré

John le Carré
John le Carré in Hamburg (10 November 2008)
John le Carré in Hamburg, 2008
Born David John Moore Cornwell
(1931-10-19) 19 October 1931
Poole, Dorset, England
Occupation Novelist, former intelligence officer
Language English
Nationality British
Genre Spy fiction
Notable works The Spy Who Came in from the Cold,
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,
The Honourable Schoolboy,
Smiley's People,
The Constant Gardener
Spouse Alison Sharp (m. 1954–1971)
Valerie Eustace (m. 1972–present)
Children 4 sons

David John Moore Cornwell (born 19 October 1931), pen name John le Carré , is a British author of espionage novels. During the 1950s and the 1960s, Cornwell worked for the Security Service and the Secret Intelligence Service, and began writing novels under a pen name. His third novel The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) became an international best-seller, and it remains one of his best-known works. Following the success of this novel he left MI6 to become a full-time author.

Le Carré established himself as a writer of espionage fiction. In 2008, The Times ranked le Carré 22nd on its list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945".[1] In 2011, he won the Goethe Medal, a yearly prize given by the Goethe Institute.


  • Early life and career 1
  • Personal life 2
  • Writing style 3
  • Politics 4
  • Interviews 5
  • Adaptations 6
    • Film 6.1
    • Radio 6.2
    • Television 6.3
  • Bibliography 7
    • Novels 7.1
    • Non-fiction 7.2
    • Short stories 7.3
    • Omnibus 7.4
    • Screenplays 7.5
    • Executive producer 7.6
    • Actor 7.7
  • Archive 8
  • Awards and honours 9
  • References 10
  • Further reading 11
  • External links 12

Early life and career

On 19 October 1931, David John Moore Cornwell was born to Richard Thomas Archibald (Ronnie) Cornwell (1906–75) and Olive (Glassy) Cornwell, in Poole, Dorset, England. 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.[2][3] 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 21 years old.[4] His relationship with his father was difficult, given that the man had been jailed for insurance fraud, was an associate of the Kray twins[4] (among the foremost criminals in London) 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 le Carré's fascination with secrets."[5]

The character "Rick Pym", the scheming con-man father of protagonist 'Magnus Pym' in his later novel A Perfect Spy (1986), was based on Ronnie. When Ronnie died in 1975, le Carré paid for a memorial funeral service but did not attend.[4]

Cornwell's formal schooling began at St Andrew's Preparatory School, near 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 Switzerland. 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 covertly for the British Security Service, MI5, spying upon far-left groups for information about possible Soviet agents.[6]

When Ronnie declared bankruptcy in 1954, Cornwell quit Oxford to teach at a boys' preparatory school; however, a year later, he returned to Oxford and graduated, in 1956, with a First Class Honours Bachelor of Arts degree. He then taught French and German at Circus. As a schoolboy, Cornwell had 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 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974).[10][11] Credited by his pen name, Cornwell appears as an extra in the 2011 film version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, among the guests at the Christmas party seen in several flashback scenes.

In 1964, le Carré won the Somerset Maugham Award, established to enable British writers younger than 35 to enrich their writing by spending time abroad.

Personal life

In 1954, Cornwell married Alison Ann Veronica Sharp; they had three sons—Simon, Stephen and Timothy—and divorced in 1971.[12] In 1972, Cornwell married Valérie Jane Eustace, a book editor with Hodder & Stoughton;[13] they have one son, Nicholas, who writes as Nick Harkaway.[14]

Le Carré has resided in St Buryan, Cornwall, UK, for more than 40 years, where he owns a mile of cliff close to Land's End.[15]

In 1998, he was awarded an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Letters) from the University of Bath.[16] In 2012, he was awarded the Degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa by the University of Oxford.[17]

Writing style

Le Carré's first two novels – SIS (the Circus), resolves the riddles of the deaths investigated. In these first novels his motives are rather more personal than political.[18]

Most of le Carré's novels are spy stories set in the Cold War (1945–91) and feature Circus agents—unheroic political functionaries aware of the moral ambiguity of their work and engaged in psychological more than physical drama.[19] Le Carré's books emphasize the fallibility of Western democracy and of the secret services protecting it, often implying the possibility of East-West moral equivalence.[19] Moreover, they experience little of the violence typically encountered in action thrillers and have very little recourse to gadgets. Much of the conflict is internal, rather than external and visible.[19]

A departure from the use of East–West conflict as a backdrop in this era is the spy novel The Little Drummer Girl (1983), which is set against the Israel–Palestine conflict.

A Perfect Spy (1986), which chronicles the boyhood moral education of Magnus Pym and how it leads to his becoming a spy, is the author's most autobiographical espionage novel, reflecting 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".

Another autobiographical book is le Carré's only non-genre novel, The Naïve and Sentimental Lover (1971), a stylistically uneven, mainstream story of a man's post-marital existential crisis.

With the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, le Carré's writing shifted to portrayal of the new multilateral world. For example, The Night Manager (1993), his first completely post-Cold-War novel, deals with drug and arms smuggling in the murky world of Latin America drug lords, shady Caribbean banking entities, and western officials who look the other way.

As a journalist, le Carré 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.[20]

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.[21]

In a TV interview with Jon Snow of Channel 4 News, Le Carré remarked on his own writing style that, since the facts that inform his work were widely known, he felt it was his job to put them into a context that made them believable to the reader.[22]


In January 2003, The Times published le Carré's essay "The United States Has Gone Mad".[23] Le Carré contributed it to a volume of political essays titled Not One More Death (2006). Other contributors include Richard Dawkins, Brian Eno, Michel Faber, Harold Pinter, and Haifa Zangana.[24]

Le Carré wrote a testimonial in The Future of the NHS.[25]


John le Carré appeared in an episode of BBC Radio 4's Book Club broadcast in February 1999, with presenter James Naughtie and an audience in Penzance.[26]

In an interview with John le Carré, broadcast in October 2008 on BBC Four, Mark Lawson asked him to name a Best of le Carré list of books; the novelist answered: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Tailor of Panama and The Constant Gardener.[27]

In September 2010, le Carré was interviewed on Channel 4 News by journalist Jon Snow at his house in Cornwall. The 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 said that it would be his last UK television interview. While reticent as to his exact reasons, those he was willing to cite were that of slight self-loathing (which he considered most people feel), along with a distaste for showing off (he felt that writing necessarily involved a lot of this anyway) and to breaching what he felt was the necessarily solitary nature of the writer's work. He was also wary of wasting writing time and dissipating his talent in social success, having seen this happen to many talented writers, to the detriment of their later work.[28]

A week after this appearance, le Carré was interviewed for the TV show Democracy Now! in the US. He told interviewer Amy Goodman "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."[29][30] In December 2010 Channel 4 broadcast John Le Carre: A Life Unmasked, described as " his most candid television interview".[31]

Le Carré was interviewed in the February 2011 edition of Sunday Morning, stating that it would be the last interview he would grant.[32] Le Carré was interviewed at the Hay on Wye festival 2013.[33]








  • The Good Soldier (1991) collected in Granta 35: The Unbearable Peace
  • The United States Has Gone Mad (2003) collected in Not One More Death (2006) ISBN 1-844-67116-X
  • Afterword (2014) - an essay on Kim Philby, published in A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre[36]

Short stories

  • Dare I Weep, Dare I Mourn? (1967) published in the Saturday Evening Post 28 January 1967.
  • What Ritual is Being Observed Tonight? (1968) published in the Saturday Evening Post 2 November 1968.
  • The Writer and The Horse (1968) published in The Savile Club Centenary Magazine and later The Argosy (& The Saturday Review under the title A Writer and A Gentleman.)
  • The King Who Never Spoke (2009) published in Ox-Tales: Fire 2 July 2009.


  • The Incongruous Spy (1964) (containing Call for the Dead and A Murder of Quality)
  • The Quest for Karla (1982) (containing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley's People) (republished in 1995 as Smiley Versus Karla in the UK; and John Le Carré: Three Complete Novels in the U.S.) ISBN 0-394-52848-4


Executive producer



In 2010, le Carré donated his literary archive to the Bodleian Library, Oxford. The initial 85 boxes of material deposited included handwritten drafts of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Constant Gardener. The library hosted a public display of these and other items to mark World Book Day in March 2011.[37][38]

Awards and honours


  1. ^ Staff writer (5 January 2008). "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945". The Times (London: Times Newspapers). Retrieved 24 July 2015. 
  2. ^ "Rupert Cornwell". The Independent (London: Independent News and Media). Retrieved 4 March 2010. 
  3. ^ Staff writer (25 September 1989). "Espionage: The Perfect Spy Story". Time Magazine (New York: Time Inc). Retrieved 4 March 2010. 
  4. ^ a b c Brennan, Zoe (2 April 2011). "What does le Carré have to hide?". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 5 April 2011. 
  5. ^ "John Le Carre biography, plus links to book reviews and excerpts". BookBrowse. Retrieved 4 March 2010. 
  6. ^ a b Anthony, Andrew (1 November 2009). "Observer Profile: John le Carré: A man of great intelligence". The Observer. London: Guardian News and Media. Retrieved 4 March 2010. 
  7. ^ a b Garton Ash, Timothy. – Life and Letters: "'The Real le Carre'". – The New Yorker. – 15 March 1999.
  8. ^ Staff (26 January 2005). "The Reverend Vivian Green – Telegraph". The Daily Telegraph (London:  
  9. ^ George Plimpton (Summer 1997). "John le Carré, The Art of Fiction No. 149". The Paris Review. 
  10. ^ Morrison, Blake (11 April 1986). "Then and Now: John le Carre".  
  11. ^ Brennan, Zoe (2 April 2011). "What does John Le Carre have to hide? – Telegraph". The Daily Telegraph (London:  
  12. ^ Debrett's People of Today, "Le Carre – John (pen name of David John Moore Cornwell)," 1 November 2000
  13. ^ Walker, Tim (5 June 2009). Eden, Richard, ed. "Le Carré pays tribute to his first love". The Daily Telegraph. 
  14. ^ Herbert, Ian (6 June 2007). "Written in his stars: son of Le Carré gets £300,000 for first novel". The Independent. 
  15. ^ Gibbs, Geoffrey (24 July 1999). "Spy writer fights for clifftop paradise". The Guardian. 
  16. ^ a b "Honorary Graduates 1989 to present".  
  17. ^ "Oxford announces honorary degrees for 2012". University of Oxford. 19 January 2012. Retrieved 2013-07-26. 
  18. ^ Tayler, Christopher (25 January 2007). "Belgravia Cockney". London Review of Books (London: LRB) 29 (2): 13–14.  
  19. ^ a b c Holcombe, Garan (2006). "Contemporary writers". British Council. Retrieved 4 March 2010. 
  20. ^  
  21. ^ "Ox-Tales". Oxfam. Retrieved 4 March 2010. 
  22. ^ Snow, Jon (journalist). "TV interview with le Carré". Channel 4 News (le Carré's house in Cornwall). 
  23. ^ le Carré, John (15 January 2003). "Opinion: The United States of America has gone mad".  
  24. ^ Not One More Death. The Library of Congress. 2006. 
  25. ^ Tempest, Michelle (2006). The Future of the NHS.  
  26. ^ [1], Book Club, Radio Four, February 1999
  27. ^ Mark Lawson Talks To... - John le Carre, BBC Four, October 2008
  28. ^ Le Carré betrayed by 'bad lot' spy Kim Philby, Channel 4 News. Retrieved 3 October 2010.
  29. ^ Goodman, Amy (20 September 2010). "Legendary British Author John le Carré on Why He Won't Be Reading Tony Blair's Iraq War-Defending Memoir". Democracy Now!. Retrieved 20 September 2010. 
  30. ^ Goodman, Amy (11 October 2010). "Our Kind of Traitor"Exclusive: British Novelist John le Carré on the Iraq War, Corporate Power, the Exploitation of Africa and His New Novel, . Democracy Now!. Retrieved 11 October 2010. 
  31. ^ December 2010, Channel 4, John Le Carre: A Life Unmasked
  32. ^ CBS Sunday Morning, 27 February 2011 Le Carré was interviewed on the CBC's Writers and Company on 26 May 2013, again saying to Eleanor Watchtel that this would be his last interview
  33. ^ Hay Festival interview with le Carré and Philippe Sands (1 hr 40 mins) 31 May 2013
  34. ^ "The Complete Smiley". BBC – Radio 4 – Drama. Retrieved 23 May 2009. 
  35. ^ BBC Staff (13 May 2013). "'"John le Carre:'My frustration with Britain. BBC News. Retrieved 13 May 2013. 
  36. ^ Robert McCrum (9 March 2014). "A Spy Among Friends review:Kim Philby's treacherous friendship with Nicholas Elliot".  
  37. ^ Katherine Sellgren (24 February 2011). "John le Carre donates archive to Bodleian Library". BBC News. Retrieved 13 May 2013. 
  38. ^ Charlotte Higgins (23 February 2011). "John le Carre gives his literary archive to Oxford's Bodleian Library". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 May 2013. 
  39. ^ a b "The CWA Gold Dagger". Crime Writers Association. 5 July 2012. Retrieved 8 January 2013. 
  40. ^ "The Somerset Maugham Award - Past Winners". The Society of Authors. Retrieved 6 March 2013. 
  41. ^ a b "The Edgar database". Mystery Writers of America. Retrieved 10 March 2013. 
  42. ^ a b c "John le Carre, Esq". Debretts. Retrieved 10 March 2013. 
  43. ^ "The Cartier Diamond Dagger". Crime Writers Association. 5 July 2012. Retrieved 7 January 2013. 
  44. ^ "Previous honorary graduates".  
  45. ^ "Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award". Tulsa Library Trust. 1990. 
  46. ^ "Honorary Graduates".  
  47. ^ "Honorary graduates of earlier years". The University of Southampton. Retrieved 6 March 2013. 
  48. ^ "John le Carrie wins the Dagger of Daggers". Crime Writers' Association. Retrieved 6 March 2013. 
  49. ^ "Bern University honours John le Carre". The Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. 6 December 2008. Retrieved 9 March 2013. 
  50. ^ "The Goethe Medal - Award Recipients 1955-2012". The Goethe Institute. Retrieved 5 March 2013. 
  51. ^ "Oxford announces honorary degrees for 2012".  

Further reading

  • Aronoff, Myron J. The Spy Novels of John le Carre: Balancing Ethics and Politics. HB. ISBN 0-312-23881-9 (PB)  
  • Beene, LynnDianne (1992). John le Carré. New York: Twayne Publishers. 
  • "British Mystery and Thriller Writers Since 1940, First Series". Dictionary of Literary Biography (Detroit: Gale) 87. 1989. 
  • Bruccoli, Matthew J.; Baughman, Judith S., eds. (2004). Conversations with John le Carré. University Press of Mississippi.  
  • Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, Vol. 33, pp. 94–99.
  • Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 3 (1975); Vol. 5 (1976); Vol. 9 (1978); Vol. 15 (1980); Vol. 28 (1984).
  • Hindersmann, Jost (2005). "The right side lost, but the wrong side won: John le Carré's Spy Novels before and after the End of the Cold War". Clues: A Journal of Detection 23 (4): 25–37.  
  • le Carré, John (April 15, 2013). "The Spy Who Liked Me; on the set with Richard Burton and Martin Ritt". The New Yorker. pp. 28–32.  (contains a 1965 photograph of actor Richard Burton and author John le Carré sitting together on the movie set of "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold")
  • Monaghan, David. Smiley's Circus: A guide to the Secret World of John le Carre. Orbis Book Publishing.  
  • Snyder, Robert Lance (2011). The Art of Indirection in British Espionage Fiction: A Critical Study of Six Novelists. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.  
  • Snyder, Robert Lance (Spring 2013). "Secrecy's Genesis: John le Carré's Our Kind of Traitor". South Carolina Review 45 (2). pp. 113–19. 

External links

  • John le Carré at the Internet Movie Database
  • John le Carré discography at Discogs
  • 1966 BBC TV interview with Malcolm Muggeridge
  • Transcript of interview with David Cornwell by Ramona Koval, The Book Show, ABC Radio National, on A Most Wanted Man, 19 November 2008
  • Interview, People Magazine, issue 13 September 1993
  • "John le Carré's allegiances": a review in the TLS by Michael Saler, September 2006
  • BBC George Smiley site
  • The Mission Song Reviews at
  • Petri Liukkonen. "John le Carré". Books and Writers ( Archived from the original on 4 July 2013.
  • 1989 NPR Interview of le Carré
  • "Traitor"Colorful Crime Boss Inspires Le Carre's , NPR story, 8 October 2010.
  • 1964 Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Interview of le Carré
  • John le Carré on the Iraq War, Corporate Power, and the Exploitation of Africa – video interview by Democracy Now!
  • Le Carré interviewed on CBC Radio's Writers and Company (2010): Part 1 Part 2
  • John le Carré interviewed on Charlie Rose
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