Four things you may not know about Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy author John le Carre

Famed espionage novelist dies from pneumonia at age of 89

John Le Carre attends a sreeening of Berlinale Special Series The Night Manager
(Image credit: John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images)

John le Carre fans have been paying tribute to the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy novelist following his death at the age of 89.

The writer, real name David Cornwell, passed away on Saturday at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro following a short battle with pneumonia.

Confirming that his death was not Covid-related, le Carre’s literary agent, Jonny Geller, said: “His like will never be seen again. Our hearts go out to his four sons, their families and to his dear wife, Jane.”

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Leading the online tributes to the world-famous espionage author, US writer Stephen King tweeted: “This terrible year has claimed a literary giant and a humanitarian spirit.” Historian Simon Sebag Montefiore wrote: “Heartbroken #JohnleCarre has gone: the titan of English literature up there with the greats, creator of his own world of masterpieces, studies of betrayal, honour, character, idealism and power that were also spy thrillers.”

While le Carre is renowned for his best-selling books, however, other aspects of his life are less well known. Here are four things about him that may come as a surprise:

Real-life sleuth

Before settling into a career as one of the country’s best-loved writers, le Carre put in stints “teaching at Eton and working for the secret services while studying German in Switzerland”, The Times reports.

The “knowledge of the workings of intelligence agencies” that later informed his writing “stemmed from his role at the British Foreign Service as an intelligence officer in postwar Europe”, the paper adds.

Struggle with success

Le Carre was “bewildered and conflicted” by the success of his breakthrough novel The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, says The Times.

Throughout his career, he “believed that literary London, with its longstanding apartheid separating literary fiction from its commercial ugly sister, genre fiction, never quite accepted his success”, The Guardian adds.

Less than an hour after le Carre was nominated for the Booker Prize in 2011, his agent released a statement from the author that said: “I do not compete for literary prizes and have therefore asked for my name to be withdrawn.”

He also turned down a knighthood, saying that being “called Commander of the British Empire or any other thing of the British Empire” was “emetic” - that is, vomit-inducing.

Multiple identities

The then-budding author was working for the Foreign Office in the British Embassy in the west German city of Bonn when his first published work, Call For The Dead, was released in 1961. But “Foreign Office officials were not allowed to publish books under their own name”, the BBC reports - a rule that led Cornwell to become le Carre.

Deplored Brexit

Asked his opinion in 2014 on the state of British politics, le Carre described himself as “English to the core”. Yet he “deplored what he saw as the aggressive nationalistic sentiment behind Brexit”, says the BBC. Le Carre insisted: “My England would be the one that recognises its place in the EU. The jingoistic England that is trying to march us out of the EU, that is an England I don’t want to know.”

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