Sunday, July 10, 2011

New Le Carre Interview: MI6 In The 1960s

A new interview with John Le Carre has been published in the Daily Mail HERE, in which he discusses his own background as a real-life spy.  Le Carre was in the Secret Intelligence Service as a young man and only quit to write full time in the mid-1960s, after the worldwide success of his third novel, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.   Discussing his time in MI6 in this interview, and how it influenced the plot of his classic 1974 novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (about the search for a mole in MI6), Le Carre says in part:

"I worked for MI6 in the Sixties, during the great witch-hunts, when the shared paranoia of the Cold War gripped the services. Kim Philby and George Blake had already been unmasked... Everyone was looking over everybody else’s shoulder. Character defects that might make someone vulnerable to a blackmailer were scrutinised. Was he a homosexual? Did he keep a mistress? Was he financially reckless? Was there a whiff of communism about him? You had nobody to trust but your colleagues. You didn’t tell your wife what you were doing – or very few did. You didn’t tell your girlfriends, your boyfriends or whatever you had. So you were thrown upon one another and then you didn’t trust one another; a secret world within a secret world."

"In my day, MI6 – which I called the Circus in the books – stank of wartime nostalgia... We didn’t even show passes to go in and out of the building. Our faces were known and I don’t remember ever being stopped. The janitors at the entrance would merely say, ‘Good morning.’... I’d go out to shop at lunchtime, bring parcels back, shove them beside my desk and take them out in the evening. That was part of the comedy with Kim Philby, who was exposed in 1963. He came into the building on a Friday morning carrying a suitcase, as did half the people there. They were going off to the country for the weekend with their dinner jackets. But Philby had other plans. He piled bunches of documents into his suitcase and took them out, spending the weekend photographing the papers with his Soviet controller and coming back on the Monday looking as though he’d been away. It was a riot."

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