John le Carré: Tributes paid to 'a writer of immense quality'

Published
image copyrightReuters
image captionJohn le Carré (centre) at the 2011 UK premiere of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Authors, actors and admirers have paid tribute to the late John le Carré, the best-selling British spy writer who has died from pneumonia at the age of 89.

Ian Rankin praised his fellow writer for taking his chosen genre of spy fiction "into the realm of literature".

Author Robert Harris agreed, describing le Carré as "a writer of immense quality" who "transcended his genre".

Le Carré's best-known works included The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

Fatherland author Harris told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "You only have to read a page and you know it's le Carré". His books would "still be read in a hundred years", Harris added.

Susanne Bier, who directed the 2016 TV adaptation of le Carré's 1993 thriller The Night Manager, told Today he had been an "incredibly contemporary" author.

"Even his old novels have totally current resonance," she said, describing his prose as "exciting, thrilling and deeply romantic".

Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, historian Ben Macintyre praised le Carré for his insights into "the knotted timbre of human personality".

"He was often described as spy writer, but he was far more than that," he said. "He was really a student and expert in the human condition."

Macintyre described the late author's novels as "neatly plotted, beautifully written examinations of the human character".

"The world of espionage was a perfect backdrop for profound psychological examinations on why people behave how they do," he added.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionJohn le Carré with Susanne Bier (second from right) and the cast of The Night Manager in 2016

Scottish writer Rankin told BBC Breakfast le Carré had lived "an extraordinary life" and that authors like himself "lived in his shadow".

Rankin also revealed he had once "used a bit of spycraft" himself to obtain le Carré's autograph at an event at the House of Lords.

"It was 1988 and he had no idea who I was," he recalled. "I went up to him, said I was collecting everyone's signatures as a memento. Really, though, his was the only signature I wanted."

'A literary giant'

Actress Florence Pugh, meanwhile, revealed she had once jokingly called the author "an old fart".

The pair met during the shooting of the 2018 TV adaptation of le Carré's 1983 novel The Little Drummer Girl, in which Pugh starred.

"I watched his eyes light up with glee and we both cackled until we cried," the British Oscar nominee recalled on Instagram.

"He peered at me over his glass and giggled, 'I think we're going to get along just fine.' We knew a magical friendship had arrived."

Gary Oldman, who played spymaster George Smiley in the 2011 film adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, said he was "generous with his creativity and always a true gentleman".

Other famous fans have used social media to pay tribute to the author, who died on Saturday.

"If there is a contemporary writer who's given me richer pleasure I can't for the moment name them," tweeted Stephen Fry.

Stephen King calling him "a literary giant and a humanitarian spirit".

'Antidote to James Bond'

Margaret Atwood tweeted that his novels featuring Smiley - described by le Carré as an "antidote" to James Bond - were the "key to understanding the mid-20th Century".

Historian and novelist Simon Sebag Montefiore described le Carré as "the titan of English literature" and said he was "heartbroken".

Pointless star and author Richard Osman said he had been "the finest, wisest storyteller we had" and thanked him "for a lifetime of tales".

Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, meanwhile, said le Carré - real name David Cornwell - had not only been "a great writer but a visionary".

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Born in Poole, Dorset, in 1931, le Carré worked in undercover intelligence before publishing his his first novel, Call For The Dead, in 1961.

His third novel, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, brought him worldwide acclaim and allowed him to take up writing full time.

He is best known for creating spymaster Smiley, who appeared in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and several other novels.

"We will not see his like again," sad his agent Jonny Geller in a statement confirming the author's death.

Why I chose le Carré for Mastermind

By Lizo Mzimba, entertainment correspondent

I only met John le Carré once. A brief chat on the red carpet at the premiere of the film of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy in 2011. A three-minute experience I'd been looking forward to for months.

I discovered his novels relatively late in life. My first was Tinker, Tailor, which I found so enthralling that at one point I was buying a new le Carré every week. I loved his style of storytelling - his ability to create vivid and believable characters in situations that may have been far from our own more mundane experiences, but which still felt utterly relatable.

So when a few years ago I was asked if I was interested in taking part in Celebrity Mastermind, I suggested as my specialist subject the author's George Smiley novels. Le Carré's complete body of work would have been a mammoth task. But the novels featuring his most famous and enduring creation seemed more manageable.

His Smiley books had always been my favourites.

So it was also a great and welcome reason to spend a few weeks revisiting some of the stories I'd enjoyed so much over the previous decade, from early work like A Murder of Quality (not a spy story at all - Smiley is asked to investigate a death at an exclusive public school) to later books like Smiley's People (where the spymaster goes into final battle against his Soviet nemesis Karla).

I luckily didn't embarrass myself on the show, only fluffing one question. And at the end of the programme I came a creditable second to the formidable crime writer Val McDermid.

On the red carpet, I do remember discussing with le Carré whether his best-known piece of work was Tinker, Tailor or The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. The rest is a bit of a blur.

In my job I'm lucky enough to meet a lot of famous, well-known figures, it's a routine part of the work we do. But unusually for weeks afterwards I remember being unable to stop myself endlessly telling friends and colleagues, with a huge smile and sense of pride, that I'd finally met the great John le Carré.

Follow us on Facebook, or on Twitter @BBCNewsEnts. If you have a story suggestion email entertainment.news@bbc.co.uk.

Related Topics

More on this story