Just when you thought it was safe to go back to spying… Charles Cumming’s A Colder War

It hardly needs saying, but spying did not stop with the collapse of Communism. But if spying continued, it naturally follows that so did betrayal. The haunting question provoked by every betrayal is, “Why?” Perhaps it was easier to understand during the Cold War. The globe’s ideological map was drawn all too clearly. However flawed the enemy might be, believing in their ideological stance always made it forgiving those flaws much easier. But what about today? (more…)

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Giving voice to the whistleblower: Le Carré on cracking form in A Delicate Truth

There’s a key moment when the oleaginous Foreign Office chameleon, Giles Oakley, goads his protegé and A Delicate Truth‘s protagonist, Toby Bell, about what he should do with his qualms about government policy in the run up to Iraq War.

You’re exactly what the Guardian needs: another lost voice bleating in the wilderness. If you don’t agree with government policy, don’t hang around trying to change it. Jump ship. Write the great novel you’re always dreaming about. (p51) (more…)

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Q’s Espionage Festival: 2. A review of Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

I was in fear and trembling before watching this movie. Not because of any potential hide-behind-the-sofa moments – but because I so wanted the film to succeed, but feared it would fail spectacularly. For the BBC series with Alec Guinness as George Smiley is one that i’ve watched countless times. And it never ceases to surprise and thrill. Even though cinematically the look and feel seems very dated, the production doesn’t age. So when I heard about the new film, my heart groaned slightly. But fortunately, I really shouldn’t have worried. This film is a triumph. (more…)

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Q’s Espionage Festival: 1. Gordon Corera’s The Art of Betrayal

BBC Security Correspondent, Gordon Corera‘s new book, The Art of Betrayal – Life and Death in the British Secret Service covers ground that will be familiar to all students of the Cold War and spy fiction fans. But he does so in a very readable, engaging but authoritative way. The British Secret Service was in some ways one of the last relics of British imperial glory, with an ability to strut across the world stage despite other aspects of British influence declining. (more…)

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A nursery for crime: John Le Carré on teaching at Eton!

As part of my ongoing trawl into the literature and culture of the Cold War, I came across this classic description from John Le Carré (nom de plume of David Cornwell) of his 2 years’ teaching at Eton. It is from a collection of transcribed interviews spanning 40 years – which is itself fascinating, because of the sense of development it reveals. You can see how often answers to different interviewers don’t tally, which seems part of a deliberately cultivated air of mystery. Everything he says (no doubt with a perfectly straight face, and undetectable to any unsuspecting interviewer) needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.

So it is significant to see both the many years of constant denial and then, at last, his admission in 1983 to having been a spy (to Melvin Bragg no less). When he gave this interview, though, he was still insisting that he was merely working in Germany for the Foreign Office. But his description of the school (if he can be believed!) suggests that he was even better prepared for the work he actually ended up doing. (more…)

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