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The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré

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The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was published just before the assassination of JFK. However, it is the first novel to expose the way that the intelligence services really behaved. In fact, it was written by a former MI6 agent, David Cornwell (John le Carré). I highly recommend this article by William Boyd that explains why this book is so important in understanding the world we were living in during this period.


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Google's cache of http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/lecarre.htm. [html]
John Le Carré (1931-) - pseudonym of David John Moore Cornwell

English writer known for disillusioned, suspenseful spy novels based on a wide knowledge of international espionage. Le Carré's famous hero is George Smiley, a Chekhovian character and shadowlike member of the British Foreign Service. In his works the author has explored the moral problems of patriotism, espionage, and ends versus means. Le Carré's style is precise and elegant, and his novels are noted for skillful plotting and witty dialogue. Familiarity with intelligence agents connects le Carré to the long tradition of spy/writers from Christopher Marlowe, Ben Johnson and Daniel Defoe to the modern day writers, such as Graham Greene, John Dickson Carr, Somerset Maugham, Alec Waugh, and Ted Allbeury.

"Beyond the trees, Smiley thought, cars are passing. Beyond the trees lies a whole world, but Lacon has this red castle and a sense of Christian ethic that promises him no reward except a knighthood, the respect of his peers, a fat pension, and a couple of charitable directorships in the City." ( Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, 1974)

John Le Carré is the pen name of David Cornwell. He was born in Poole, Dorset, as the son of Ronnie Cornwell, who engaged in swindles and was imprisoned for fraud. According to the author, this has been one of the factors of his fascination with secrets. Ronnie Cornwell also participated in politics. His father's chameleonic character inspired the novel A PERFECT SPY (1986). Le Carré's mother left the family when he was five. "I have no memory of mourning my mother at all," le Carré has confessed, but her absence was another secret, which shaped his early years. Le Carré did not meet his mother until he was 21.

Dissatisfied with Sherborne School, le Carré persuaded his father to send him to school in Switzerland. At Sherbone his relationship with the rigid housemaster was not good and le Carré started to view institutions with growing suspicion. He studied at Berne University (1948-49), and after military service, which he did in Austria, le Carré returned to England. In Switzerland le Carré met an English diplomat, who possibly was attached to intelligence work, and he become fascinated by espionage - it was the call for le Carré. He studied modern languages at Lincoln College, Oxford, graduating in 1956. At Oxford he kept a very low profile. Later it has been claimed, that le Carré was already a spy. He was two years as a tutor at Eton, teaching French and German, and then joined the Foreign Service.

In 1959 le Carré became a member of the British Foreign Service in West Germany, where he made friends of German politicians. Later he was consul in Hamburg. The most famous double agent of the Cold War, "Kim" Philby (1912-1988), betrayed le Carré, and gave his name among others to the Russians. During his years at the operational section of MI5 le Carré met John Bingham, who encouraged him to write and read the manuscript of his first novel. Bingham, the pen-name and family name of Lord Clanmorris, was one of the two men who inspired le Carré's famous character, George Smiley: "Short, fat and of a quiet disposition, he appeared to spend a lot of money on really bad clothes..." Bingham, who had published crime novels, never accepted the picture of the Intelligence Services that le Carré gave in his books. "As far as John was concerned - and many others too - claims of good intent were guff. I was a xxxx, consigned to the ranks of other xxxxs like Compton McKenzie, Malcolm Muggeridge and J.C. Masterman, all of whom had betrayed the Service by writing about it." (Le Carré in his introduction to Bingham's Five Roundabouts to Heaven, Pan Classic Crime, 2001)

For decades le Carré denied that his work in Germany had any element of espionage. Gradually he has gradually broken his silence and talked about this and other sides of his life in the BBC documentary The Secret Service (prod. 2000). However, le Carré has insisted that he was never James Bond or anything like that. "I sat behind a desk"

At Lincoln College he apparently kept his eyes open for possible agents recruited by the Soviet Union. Later le Carré moved from MI5 to MI6, and he was in Berlin when the wall was erected - "the fun had started". His own experiences inspired him to compose a novel which became CALL FOR THE DEAD (1961), le Carré's first spy thriller, which introduced George Smiley. Later the author himself considered it only a so-so book. It was followed by a completely different kind of work, A MURDER OF QUALITY (1962), a detective novel set in a boys' school.

After the success of his third novel, THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD (1963), le Carré began to devote himself full-time to writing. His aim was to portray the intelligence world from a new standpoint - "When I first began writing, Ian Fleming was riding high and the picture of the spy was that of a character who could have affairs with women, drive a fast car, who used gadgetry and gimmickry to escape." With his breakthrough novel le Carré established an alternative form to the James Bond cult and a new type of hero. Graham Greene considered it the best spy story he had ever read and J.B. Priestley wrote that the book was "superbly constructed with an atmosphere of chilly hell." The novel won le Carré the Somerset Maugham Award.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is the story of a frustrated British agent, Alec Leamas, whose life is far from the glamour of James Bond's world: he has a love affair with a lonely, unpaid librarian, not with a fashion model. After his sub-agents in East Germany have been killed, Leamas travels behind the Iron Curtain to destroy the head of the East German Intelligence, who has directed the killings. Soon he finds out that his own people had framed him in order to frame Fiedler, an East German. In the world of double-crossing, Leamas has no way out - he is used and destroyed by his superiors. "We have to live without sympathy, don't we? That's impossible of course. We act it to one another, all this hardness; but we aren't like that really, I mean... one can't be out in the cold all the time; one has to come in from the cold... d'you see what I mean?" (from The Spy Who Came in from the Cold) The novel was filmed in 1966. The harshly photographed black and white film was directed by Martin Ritt, starring Richard Burton, Claire Bloom, and Oskar Werner.

LOOKING GLASS WAR (1965) continued the exploration of the intrigues of the Intelligence Service. It began with the death of a courier, who had been sent to Finland, one of the spy centers of Europe, to collect films taken by a commercial pilot, who had flown off course while over East Germany. Orders are given for the planting of an agent in this territory where, it is suspected, a new type of rocket site is being set up.

A SMALL TOWN IN GERMANY (1968) was set in the same town, Bonn, where le Carré had worked. In this novel Second Secretary in Chancery, Leo Harting, has disappeared. The story deals with topical issues, student riots and rising neo-Fascism, with an ambiguous message about what might happen in the near future in Federal Germany. In TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY (1974) le Carré re-introduced George Smiley. His character was based more or less on two true life persons: Lord Clanmorris, who wrote novels under the name John Bingham and who worked for MI5, and Vivian Green, who was Le Carre's teacher at Oxford. In this story a Soviet double agent has revealed some of the best agents in the English spy network. The mole is one of them - but which one? It was followed by The Honourable Schoolboy and SMILEY'S PEOPLE (1979), sometimes known as the 'Search for Karla trilogy', because the central theme is the struggle between Smiley and the Soviet spymaster Karla. The first two were made into hugely successful television dramatizations.

THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL (1983) was narrated in the second person, and was about the cause of Palestinian liberation. The central character is an actress, who is persuaded by an Israeli agent to lose her Arab sympathies and spy for them. The book was made into a film in 1984, losing in the process le Carré's intricate plotting. "Nothing went right", said the author later. Before the last or latest Smiley novel, THE SECRET PILGRIM (1991), le Carré published A PERFECT SPY (1986), drawing on his own relations with his domineering father, and THE RUSSIA HOUSE (1989), a response to the end of the Cold War, where a British publisher becomes involved in espionage by a Soviet woman, who acts as emissary for a volatile friend. The novel was adapted for screen, starring Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer.

"This gun is not a gun. This apple is not an apple. Winser was recalling the wise words of his law tutor of forty years ago as the great man spirited a green apple from the depths of his frayed sports coat and brandished it aloft for the inspection of his mostly female audience: 'It may look like an apple, ladies, it may smell like an apple, feel like an apple' - innuendo - 'but does it rattle like an apple? - shakes it - 'cut like an apple?' - hauls an antique breadknife from a drawer of his desk, strikes. Apple translates into a shower of plaster." (Single&Single, 1999)

In 1954 le Carré married Ann Martin. He lived in the 1960s on various Greek islands, but then returned to England. After divorce he married again in 1972. He has four children, three from his first marriage. The fall of the Soviet Union and reunification of Germany left spy fiction adrift and le Carre turned his attention to the new roles of cloak and dagger people. THE NIGHT MANAGER (1993) was about drug smuggling and in OUR GAME (1995) two former spies and a woman find the end of their road in the mountains of the Caucasus, reflecting the new situation and the end of the Cold War. THE TAILOR OF PANAMA (1996) has as its background the future of the Panama Canal. SINGLE&SINGLE (1999) was a father-and-son story which also dealt with a Russian mafia family. THE CONSTANT GARDENER (2000), le Carré's 18th novel, was set in Africa. Justin Quayle, the middle-aged gardener of the title, is married to a much younger wife, Tessa, a lawyer and activist. "She was doing a bloody good job out there in the slums, whatever anybody said about her up at the Muthaiga Club. She may have got up the noses of Moi's Boys but Africans who mattered loved her to a man," one of the characters says after she is found brutally killed. Justin is a disillusioned humanist, who doesn't know much of Tessa's attempts to reveal an international pharmaceutical intrigue. Justin's passivity ends after her death but he eventually shares Tessa's fate. ABSOLUTE FRIENDS (2004), accused of anti-American bias, follows the lives of two man, friends from the radical 1960s, who still try to keep their anti-establishment idealism in the new millennium. Eventually they are crushed by international political intrigues. THE MISSION SONG (2006) takes the reader into the complex relationships between business and politics in Congo.

In January 2003 le Carré published in The Times an essay entitled 'The United States has gone mad,' joining a number of European and American writers protesting about war on Iraq. "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," said le Carré. Richard Cohen answered in the Washington Post, saying that the essay was "the intellectual collapse of what is called the anti-war movement." More radical than Mick Jagger, le Carré has declined all honors offered to him, stating that he will never be Sir David. In 2005 Britain's crime writers' club awarded him its Dagger of Daggers for The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

So who were these "two true life persons: Lord Clanmorris, who wrote novels under the name John Bingham and who worked for MI5, and Vivian Green, who was Le Carre's teacher at Oxford"?

Edited by Linda Minor
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My Name is Michael Sibley by John Bingham

A Classic British Murder Noir

Dec 29, 2008 Sandy Mitchell

Read more at Suite101: My Name is Michael Sibley by John Bingham: A Classic British Murder Noir http://mysterycrimefiction.suite101.com/article.cfm/my_name_is_michael_sibley_by_john_bingham#ixzz0uiMfna8t

About John Bingham

Unlike his protege, John Le Carre, relatively little is written about John Bingham. A Google search will tell you about a runner and an Ohio politician of that name, but not this author. Presumably, that speaks well of a successful MI5 agent. According to the Simon & Schuster biography, Mr. Bingham (AKA Lord Clanmorris, AKA Michael Ward) was a British intelligence officer for over 30 years. In addition, he published more than 15 crime and mystery novels. Mr. Bingham died in 1988.

In his introduction to this novel, John Le Carre tells readers that it was Bingham, his boss during the early part of Le Carre's own MI5 career, that inspired the notable Le Carre character, George Smiley. For anyone that has read the extraordinary spy novels featuring that character, you will know that Smiley has a complex character, known for being unknowable and non-discript, yet able to match wits with the world's best and most deceptive minds.

Le Carre also shares that it was his writing about the service that caused an unrepairable rift between the two men, a rift that was never mended. According to Le Carre, Bingham disapproved strongly of Le Carre's even appearing to expose secrets of the agency. Even if you never read an introduction, read this one.

Related Articles

* Review of John Le Carre's The Mission Song

* Review of Five Roundabouts to Heaven by John Bingham

* Review of A Fragment of Fear by John Bingham

* Review of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

Read more at Suite101: My Name is Michael Sibley by John Bingham: A Classic British Murder Noir http://mysterycrimefiction.suite101.com/article.cfm/my_name_is_michael_sibley_by_john_bingham#ixzz0uiMrGhsl


The Clanmorris connection

Lady Clanmorris resumes: '... On 27 June 1878, ... [Matilda Catherine Maude] Ward only daughter and heiress of Robert Edward Ward ..., [married] John George Barry Bingham, 5th Baron Clanmorris, lately [a] lieutenant in 1st Rifle Brigade, [a] close friend of the Duke of Connaught, the regiment's Colonel, and ADC to the Duke of Marlborough, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. ... The Binghams came from the impoverished west, from Co. Mayo, ... [in contrast to] the more prosperous and more sternly protestant north [where the Wards came from] ... [the bridegroom] was the typical hunting-drinking man of his day ... . He had already dissipated most of his own fortune when he made his fortune at marriage ... . The marriage was not only difficult, but ... proved unexpectedly fruitful. ... Arthur Maurice Robert Bingham [later 6th Lord Clanmorris], the first child ..., was born at Bangor Castle on 22 June 1879 ... [and] named after ... Prince Arthur [Duke of Connaught] and Robert, his Ward grandfather ... . After Maurice, ... no less than nine other children were born ... . [The 5th Lord Clanmorris died in 1916, but his widow, the Ward heiress, did not die until 1941.

Meanwhile, her son, the 6th Lord Clanmorris's] ... debts were piling up, and his private income had remained static since the 1914 war. He was over fifty [in 1930], and his mother, Maude, remained as hale and hearty as ever. The 5th Baroness Clanmorris was still living in her castle, with ten indoor servants and ten outside staff, including her chauffeur, gardeners, and various odd-job men who had clung about the castle battlements for many years. ... She knew that he [the 6th Lord] had raised money on his expectations of her death, not perhaps the most endearing action of an heir. ... She managed to save her fortune from her husband, and she was not disposed to let her [son and] heir dissipate the rest. ...'

As a result, the Ward estate became the Clanmorris estate (as it is still generally known) in name more than in anything else. The estate papers have survived only because the last Clanmorris agent, the late Capt. H.H.K. Worsley, preserved them. Along with the papers of the Nugent estate at Portaferry, Co. Down, for which he was also agent, they were kept by him in the Portaferry Estate Office, whence they were transferred to PRONI in 1977. The other, smaller and choicer deposit of Clanmorris papers, comprising c.150 patents, title deeds and leases, 1605-1924, was acquired by PRONI in 1998.


Edited by Linda Minor
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The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was published just before the assassination of JFK. However, it is the first novel to expose the way that the intelligence services really behaved. In fact, it was written by a former MI6 agent, David Cornwell (John le Carré). I highly recommend this article by William Boyd that explains why this book is so important in understanding the world we were living in during this period.


John: I'm so glad you posted this. I just read Boyd's article, and it brought back old memories. I saw The Spy Who Came in from the Cold in the fall of 1966. I remember exiting the movie theater really stunned, and asking a friend who saw the movie with me, "Now, the question is: who's running Oswald?" Its a great movie, and opened my own eyes to the issue of the relationship between an agent and his handler. (And the matter of serious manipulation and betrayal, in such a relationship).


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