Spy novel master John le Carré dies aged 89

Undisputed giant of English literature, the Le Carré canon of espionage stories defined the Cold War genre

John le Carré with actor Gary Oldman (left, background) at the premier of Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy
John le Carré with actor Gary Oldman (left, background) at the premier of Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy

British espionage writer John le Carré has died aged 89, following a short illness, his literary agent has said. 

The author of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, died from pneumonia on Saturday night. 

He has been described as an “undisputed giant of English literature”, whose spy novels defined the Cold War era. 

Geller said he represented the novelist, whose real name was David Cornwell, for almost 15 years 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.” 

Le Carré stripped away the glamour and romance that were a feature of the James Bond novels and instead examined the real dark and seedy life of the professional spy. 

David John Moore Cornwell was born on 19 Oct 1931 in Poole, Dorset. 

His father, known as Ronnie, was a fraudster, described by one biographer as “an epic con man of little education, immense charm, extravagant tastes, but no social values.” 

His mother walked out when he was five and the young David invented the fiction that his father was in the secret service to explain his many absences from home. 
After attending Sherborne School he went on to the University of Berne to study foreign languages. 

He did his military service in the Army Intelligence Corps, running low grade agents into the eastern bloc before going to Lincoln College, Oxford, where he gained a BA. 

After teaching at Eton for two years he joined the Foreign Office, initially as Second Secretary at the British Embassy in Bonn. 

During his time there he worked in the intelligence records department and began scribbling down ideas for spy stories on his trips between work and home. 

His first novel, Call For The Dead, appeared in 1961 while he was working for the intelligence service. 

He adopted the pen name, John le Carré, to get around a ban on Foreign Office employees publishing books under their own name. 

The story introduced characters who would reappear in subsequent novels including his most famous creation, George Smiley. 
Le Carré's career as a spy ended when he became one of many British agents whose names were given to the Russians by the traitor Kim Philby. 

Philby, who defected to Moscow, later became the inspiration for the mole "Gerald" in Tinker Tailor, Soldier, Spy. 

It was his third novel, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, which cemented his reputation and allowed him to take up writing full time.