"...a decent society..."

There’s been a little flurry of le Carré activity in the British press this week , following on from release of MI5 archive files that indicate that an MI5 agent, known as Jack King ran a network of UK nazi collaborators during WWII. Highly fortunate timing for the British spooking establishment to garner some positive press, some might say. The last couple of months the news reports about them have mostly been about illegal mass surveillance techniques attempting to record and analyze all internet traffic at source , and creepy write ups of mass automated collation of private video chats . Some of them intended to be particularly private , no doubt.

Journalists had a bit of fun trying to retrospectively finger the real Jack King . The Telegraph decided King was probably John Bingham, Lord Clanmorris , whose name is usually mentioned in passing in press stories about ‘le Carré’, itself a pen-name for David Cornwell , who often mentions that Bingham is one of the component inspirations behind his super-famous fictional master spycatcher, George Smiley. The Telegraph also span off an article about Bingham’s sense of disapproval of his protégé's literary exploits . Mr Cornwell, writing under his given name, sent in a marvellously succinct letter by way of reply.

Bingham was of one generation, and I of another. Where Bingham believed that uncritical love of the Secret Services was synonymous with love of country, I came to believe that such love should be examined. And that, without such vigilance, our Secret Services could in certain circumstances become as much of a peril to our democracy as their supposed enemies.John Bingham may indeed have detested this notion. I equally detest the notion that our spies are uniformly immaculate, omniscient and beyond the vulgar criticism of those who not only pay for their existence, but on occasion are taken to war on the strength of concocted intelligence

Navigating around the little flurry of reportage about this little back and forth, I found this engrossing older Q&A with le Carré , from the Paris Review , held at the time of the US publication of “ The Tailor Of Panama ”, back in the late 1990s. It is a marvellous read, concerning the mechanics, circumstances and techniques of his fictional writing, and touches into politics. This quote leapt off the page at me.

My definition of a decent society is one that first of all takes care of its losers, and protects its weak.

Quite. He’s quite a writer, that Mr. le Carré. If all you know of his work are the mostly excellent TV and motion picture adaptations of his more famous works, you might do yourself a favour, and read a few of the source novels . They work best tackled in publication order.

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