Vale John le Carre’

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

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

john le Carre’ (David Cornwall)

Jonny Geller described him as an “undisputed giant of English literature” who “defined the Cold War era and fearlessly spoke truth to power”.

“We will not see his like again,” he said in a statement.

Mr Geller said he represented the novelist 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.”

A statement shared on behalf of the author’s family said: “It is with great sadness that we must confirm that David Cornwell – John le Carré – passed away from pneumonia last 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 statement said his death was not Covid-19 related.

Several of Le Carré’s 25 works were turned into films including The Constant Gardener, The Tailor of Panama and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, while the Night Manager became a successful BBC television series.

His most famous character, George Smiley, who first appeared in Call for the Dead, has been played by actors including Rupert Davies, Alec Guinness and Gary Oldman.

‘An unforgettable, unique character’

Paying tribute to le Carré, author Stephen King said in a tweet: “This terrible year has claimed a literary giant and a humanitarian spirit.”

And historian and novelist Simon Sebag Montefiore described le Carré as “the titan of English literature” and said he was “heartbroken”.

Historical fiction writer Robert Harris said he was “one of the great postwar British novelists” and “an unforgettable, unique character”.

John le Carré
image captionLe Carré’s novels drew on his experience working for the British intelligence services

Born as David Cornwell in Poole, Dorset, in 1931, he wrote under the pseudonym of John le Carré.

He was educated at the universities of Bern, in Switzerland, and Oxford, before entering a career in undercover intelligence.

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

In 1963, his third novel, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, brought him worldwide acclaim and allowed him to take up writing full time.


First published at The BBC – Monday 14 December 2020. See;


CCO Editor’s comment:

Vale John le Carre – (David Cornwall). One of my all time favourite authors.

I have 22 of his books in my book cases many read and re-read voraciously since I was 18 years old.

A titan of the spy novel genre and an extremely astute chronicler of real life events and trends. In so many ways he was big part of my life.

A truly unique writer in every way.

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