December 23, 2007


Smiley's model: John Bingham not only wrote fascinating spy novels -- he also inspired one of John Le Carre's singular characters (Sarah Weinman, December 23, 2007, LA Times)

Without Le Carré, current spymasters such as Robert Littell, Charles McCarry, Stella Rimington and Daniel Silva might not have careers. But Le Carré himself owes his career to a colleague of his own. When the author still toiled in intelligence circles under his real name, David Cornwell, his career overlapped for a time with that of John Bingham, Lord Clanmorris (1908-88).

During a 30-year career of undercover agenting and high-ranking bureaucracy, Bingham wrote 17 novels and a work of nonfiction, sometimes using the pen name Michael Ward. He may be best known, though, as an unwitting inspiration for the fictional composite that would become Smiley, the character who eventually made Le Carré a literary star.

As a result, perhaps, the relationship between Le Carré and Bingham soured. "As far as he was concerned, I was a literary defector who had dragged the good name of the Service through the mud," Le Carré wrote in a 2000 essay that accompanied last summer's reissue of three of Bingham's novels.

It may be tempting to view Bingham's first two novels -- "My Name Is Michael Sibley" (Simon & Schuster: 258 pp., $13 paper) and "Five Roundabouts of Heaven" (Simon & Schuster: 208 pp., $13 paper) -- as grotesque foreshadowings of the bitter end of his friendship with Le Carré, since both books mine the dark undercurrents of long-standing male relationships.

Who doesn't recognize that LeCarre defected to the enemy?

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 23, 2007 9:59 AM
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