Tributes have flooded in to John le Carré after the legendary spy author died following a short battle with pneumonia.
Sharing news of Le Carré’s death on Sunday night, literary agent Jonny Geller said: ‘His like will never be seen again.’
Confirming the death was not
‘For six decades, John le Carré dominated the bestseller lists and review pages with his monumental body of work.’
The former British spy, born David Cornwell, transitioned from espionage to become one of Britain’s most critically acclaimed authors.
He had written 25 books under the pen name John le Carré, including Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Constant Gardener and The Night Manager.
His body of work dates back to 1961 – with his third novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, catapulting him into global acclaim in 1963.
Actor Gary Oldman, who starred in the 2011 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy film, posted a tribute saying Cornwell was ‘a very great author, the true ‘owner’ of the serious, adult, complicated, spy novel – he actually owned the genre… He was generous with his creativity and always a true gentleman’.
John le Carré, 89, died in Cornwall on Saturday following a short battle with pneumonia
David Cornwell worked as a British spy until his name was passed on to Soviet Russia by a member of the Cambridge Five – a spy ring that was outed for passing information to the USSR in 1963
Margaret Atwood tweeted that Cornwell’s Smiley novels were the ‘key to understanding the mid-20th century’, historian Simon Sebag Montefiore called him ‘the titan of English literature up there with the greats … in person, captivating and so kind and generous to me and many others’, while Brazilian author Paulo Coelho said: ‘John Le Carre, you were not only a great writer, but a visionary. Enjoy your new home.’
Stephen Fry tweeted that ‘if there is a contemporary writer who’s given me richer pleasure I can’t for the moment name them’, while quiz show host Richard Osman called Cornwell ‘the finest, wisest storyteller we had’.
US comedian and talk show host Seth Meyers posted a tribute calling Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy the ‘gold standard for espionage fiction’.
Stephen King tweeted: ‘John le Carre has passed at the age of 89. This terrible year has claimed a literary giant and a humanitarian spirit. Little Drummer Girl was one of the best novels I’ve ever read.’
Le Carre, who was born in Poole and educated at Sherborne School, worked for both MI5 and MI6 in the 1950s and 1960s.
After joining the Intelligence Corps of the British Army in 1950, he later worked covertly for MI5, spying on left-wing groups at Lincoln College, Oxford, to detect any potential Soviet agents.
Le Carre’s third novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, was made into an acclaimed film starring Richard Burton. The actor and author are pictured together on set above
The 89-year-old penned hugely successful novels including The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which was made into a film starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Colin Firth (pictured at the premier together in 2011)
Novelist Robert Harris called le Carre ‘one of those writers who really was not only a brilliant writer but he also penetrated popular culture – and that’s a great rarity’
He graduated from Oxford in 1956 with a first class degree in modern languages and began teaching at Eton College.
In 1958 he became an officer at MI5 where he conducted interrogations and carried out more covert activities like tapping phone lines and effecting break-ins.
Le Carre was drawn to espionage by an upbringing that was superficially conventional but secretly tumultuous.
His father, Ronnie Cornwell, was a con man who was an associate of gangsters and spent time in jail for insurance fraud. His mother left the family when David was 5; he didn’t meet her again until he was 21.
It was a childhood of uncertainty and extremes: one minute limousines and champagne, the next eviction from the family’s latest accommodation.
‘These were very early experiences, actually, of clandestine survival,’ le Carre said in 1996.
‘The whole world was enemy territory.’
As a British spy, David Cornwell worked for both MI5 and MI6, even carrying out interrogations and tapping phone lines as a means of surveillance
David Cornwell (pictured receiving the Olof Palme Prize in January 2020), who gained critical acclaim under the pen name Le Carré, started writin novels while working as a British spy
The pseudonym John Le Carre was created upon publishing his first book, Call for the Dead, as a means of getting round a ban on Foreign Officers publishing works under their own name.
His career as a spy came to an end when it was revealed Kim Philby, one of the infamous Cambridge Five, had shared his true identity with Soviet Russia.
The works of Le Carre were often praised for stripping away the glamorous life of a spy often depicted in James Bond novel and instead focusing on the grittier, darker aspects of the job.
Mr Geller said: ‘His like will never be seen again, and his loss will be felt by every book lover, everyone interested in the human condition.We have lost a great figure of English literature, a man of great wit, kindness, humour and intelligence.
‘I have lost a friend, a mentor and an inspiration.’
Benedict Cumberbatch and Gary Oldman starred in a 2011 adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, with Oldman playing George Smiley
Richard Burton starred in the 1965 adaptation of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, which was praised for its darker portrayal of spying, as opposed to Ian Fleming’s Bond novels
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was Le Carre’s first major success and the first to be adapted into a film, which starred Richard Burton, in 1965
The author felt a particular connection to the character of George Smiley, who was first introduced in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.
He would later re-emerge in his trilogy Tinker Tailor, Soldier, Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley’s People.
According to the
The late author’s family said tonight: ‘David is survived by his beloved wife of almost fifty 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 novelist Robert Harris called le Carre ‘one of those writers who really was not only a brilliant writer but he also penetrated popular culture – and that’s a great rarity’.
Harris told Sky News television le Carre was a ‘brilliant novelist’ and said ‘The Spy Who Came In From The Cold’ was a ‘masterpiece’.
‘It’s an incredibly engrossing tale and very deep, and it transformed the writing of spy fiction. It was a brilliant, psychological portrait of spying and of betrayal and of the decline of British power.’
The 89-year-old had spent lockdown in Cornwall and had been highly critical of the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, describing Boris Johnson as ‘pig ignorant’
David Cornwell is survived by his wife of almost fifty years, Jane, and his sons Nicholas, Timothy, Stephen and Simon, his family said they ‘grieve deeply his passing’
Le Carre was a pseudonym created by Cornwell to get around a ban on Foreign Office staff publishing work in their own name. His books gained worldwide acclaim and were translated into different languages. Cornwel is pictured holding a French edition of his novel The Looking Glass War in 1965
The acclaimed author spent lockdown at his Cornish home and was outspoken about the Government’s handling of the pandemic.
Speaking in May, he said: ‘There are signs everywhere of a tragic national cock-up but it really has a history of at least 10 years of austerity behind it and running down of the National Health Service.’
Referring to prime minister Boris Johnson, he added: ‘A man can be pig ignorant and very well educated. There’s a line of that through politics.’
The father-of-four also stated he hoped the pandemic would lead to a ‘fairer society’ with a ‘more equal distribution of wealth’.
Le Carre, who turned down literary honours and a knighthood, said in a 2017 US interview he was ‘so suspicious of the literary world that I don’t want its accolades’, adding: ‘and least of all do I want to be called Commander of the British Empire or any other thing of the British Empire, I find it emetic.’
He told 60 Minutes: ‘I don’t want to posture as someone who’s been honoured by the state and must therefore somehow conform with the state, and I don’t want to wear the armour.’
Asked if he considered himself an Englishman, he added: ‘Yes of course I’m born and bred English, I’m English to the core.
‘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.’
He had a home in Hampstead, north London, and a cliff-top home in St Buryan, Cornwall, where he took up residence with wife Jane before the coronavirus lockdown.
Mr Geller said Le Carre defined the Cold War era: ‘With the help of his character, George Smiley, and through his complex plots and beautiful prose, beamed a harsh light at the injustices of our world.
The BBC adapted Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy into a series in 1979, which featured Alec Guinness
Le Carre was described as a ‘friend, mentor and inspiration,’ by those closest to him, following his passing on Saturday
‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy came in the 1970s and its accompanying landmark TV series with Alec Guinness.
‘The 1980s brought the novel that is often heralded as his masterpiece: A Perfect Spy.
‘With the fall of the Berlin Wall, David’s focus extended beyond the Soviet/UK/US relations to arms dealing with The Night Manager.
‘The first decade of the new millennium brought us The Constant Gardener, a passionate critique of Big Pharma and this current decade brought back his favourite creation, George Smiley, in A Legacy of Spies.
‘His last novel, Agent Running in the Field, was published in October 2019. David wrote twenty-five novels and one volume of memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel (2016), and has sold more than sixty million copies of his work worldwide.’
Some of Cornwell’s novels made into films included The Tailor Of Panama, filmed in 2001 starring Pierce Brosnan, Geoffrey Rush and Jamie Lee Curtis; The Constant Gardener, filmed in 2005 starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, filmed in 2011 starring Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and Tom Hardy.