British author John le Carré dies at 89

Author John le Carré, the pen name of David Cornwell, died on Saturday night from pneumonia at the age of 89. Photo Courtesy: Penguin Books

CORNWALL, England, Dec. 13, 2020 (Gephardt Daily) — Author John le Carré, the pen name of David Cornwell, died on Saturday night from pneumonia at the age of 89.

A news release from Penguin Books said the author is survived by his wife of more than 45 years, Jane; four sons, Simon, Stephen, Timothy and Nick; 14 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

The family released the following statement: “It is with great sadness that we must confirm that David Cornwell — John le Carré — passed away from pneumonia on Saturday night after a short battle with the illness. David is survived by his beloved wife of almost 50 years, Jane, and his sons Nicholas, Timothy, Stephen and Simon. We all grieve deeply his passing. Our thanks go to the wonderful NHS team at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro for the care and compassion that he was shown throughout his stay. We know they share our sadness.”

The author’s celebrated career as an author spanned 58 years, and his works topped global bestseller lists in each decade from the 1960s onwards.

“Although he began as an espionage writer, his works transcended the genre and he won widespread international acclaim as a humanitarian, as well as a literary giant,” the news release said. “Most recently, in 2020, he won the Olof Palme Prize for ‘his engaging and humanistic opinion-making in the literary form regarding the freedom of the individual and the fundamental issues of mankind.’ Many of his works were adapted into memorable films and TV series, from ‘The Spy Who Came in from the Cold’ to ‘The Night Manager.'”

Born David John Moore Cornwell in Poole, Dorset, le Carré’s relationship with his father  would be the inspiration behind his most autobiographical novel, “A Perfect Spy.”

Cornwell’s education began at St. Andrew’s Prep School in Berkshire, then continued at Sherborne School, from which he ‘bolted’ in 1948 to study foreign languages at the University of Bern in Switzerland, the news release said.

In 1950, Cornwell 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 on far-left groups for information about possible Soviet agents.

He graduated in 1956 with a first class honors Bachelor of Arts degree. He then taught French and German at Eton College for two years, becoming an MI5 officer in 1958.

Encouraged by Lord Clanmorris, who wrote crime novels as ‘John Bingham,’ and while being an active MI5 officer, Cornwell began writing his first novel, “Call for the Dead,” published in 1961.

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 moved to Hamburg as a political consul. There, he wrote the detective story “A Murder of Quality,” published in 1962, and “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold,” published 1963, as ‘John le Carré’ — a pseudonym required because Foreign Office officers were forbidden to publish under their own names.

“Publication of ‘The Spy Who Came in from the Cold’ would change the course of le Carré’s writing life forever — not only enabling him to live as a writer full-time but also providing an incredibly rich fictional seam to mine,” the news release said. “He would go on to write the greatest novels of the Cold War, including ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ and ‘Smiley’s People,’ both of which were adapted by the BBC with Alec Guinness inhabiting the role of George Smiley.”

After the Cold War, the author would go on to explore, among many other worlds, the role of big pharmaceutical companies in “The Constant Gardener,” published in 2001, the War on Terror in “A Most Wanted Man,” published in 2008, and “A Delicate Truth,” published in 2013, and the drugs and arms trade in “The Night Manager,” published in 1993, which was adapted for television in 2016 by the BBC.

Many of le Carré’s books would be adapted for film or television; in many of the more recent adaptations the sharp-eyed viewer can catch a glimpse of a le Carré cameo appearance.

In 2016, le Carré published a non-fiction book for the first time; his memoir, “The Pigeon Tunnel,” which, he said, could have been the title for many of his novels and offered a rare glimpse into the inspiration behind his writing life. In 2017, he published the novel, “A Legacy of Spies,” a work that returned to some of the most captivating characters from his Cold War novels but also reflects on the wisdom and pain of hindsight, the news release said. It saw le Carré at the top of the bestseller charts in both the US and the UK at the same time.

His last novel, “Agent Running in the Field,” was written “in a fever” as le Carré described it, after the Referendum of 2016 and “reflects on a generation of young men and women horrified by the current state of the country but with no movement to which they can attach themselves,” the news release said. “Published to worldwide acclaim in October 2019, le Carré’s last novel was as prescient about our contemporary divided world as his early novels had been about the Cold War.”

In 2020, le Carré was awarded the Olof Palme Prize. The judges awarded him the prize in recognition of a body of work that engaged with ‘the freedom of the individual and the fundamental issues of mankind.’

Mary Mount, John le Carré’s editor at Penguin Random House for the last 10 years of his life, said: “The death of John le Carré is a huge loss to all of us who loved and admired him at Penguin Random House and to the cultural and political landscape of this country. John le Carré was a writer who cared almost as deeply about his country as he did about his work. It was a huge thrill and privilege to work with him over the last 10 years. The quality of his writing never waned across a truly enviable collection of novels and his capacity for hard work was extraordinary. He also made me laugh, a lot.”

Tom Weldon, CEO of Penguin Random House UK, said: “It has been a great honor for all of us at Penguin Random House to be John le Carré’s publishers. His contribution to this country cannot be overstated and we owe him a huge debt of gratitude. His work will be read and loved for many generations to come.”

For more information about the author, click here.


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