Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Journalist, Novelist, Patriot, Spy: The Life of John Bingham, Role Model For John Le Carre's George Smiley

Stella Rimington, the former director of the British security service MI5, reviewed Michael Jago's biography of John Bingham for the Spectator.

John Bingham joined MI5 before the war from Fleet Street, recruited by Maxwell Knight, a maverick but brilliant agent runner. Bingham worked on the Double X operations then, when the Service cut its staff after the war, took a post in the Allied Control Council in Hanover, trying to detect Soviet infiltrators among the flood of refugees seeking asylum in the Western zone. It was an experience which convinced him of the fragility of the security of Western Europe.

In 1950, at a time of increased focus on communism and Soviet espionage, following some sensational spy cases, the Service was recruiting again and Bingham rejoined. It was then that he began his parallel career as a crime writer, with the publication in 1952 of his first, partly autobiographical, novel, My Name is Michael Sibley.

When the much younger David Cornwell joined MI5 in 1958, Bingham became his professional mentor and also helped start him on his writing career by introducing him to his literary agent. Bingham’s son Simon records that Cornwell’s pen name, Le Carré, came from the office nickname for his father, ‘The Square’. In a radio interview in 1999 Cornwell revealed that Bingham was a model for Smiley, though in the following year, in an introduction for the re-publication of some of Bingham’s early novels, he says that Bingham was one of two men who went into the making of George Smiley.

But the John Bingham who emerges from the pages of Michael Jago’s book seems, in everything but appearance, to be about as far from Smiley as you could get. Certainly F4, with its nurturing relationship with its agents, many of whom worked for the Service for years and ended with a pension, was a very different place from the nuanced, ethically ambiguous world of Smiley and his colleagues. Le Carré wrote that Bingham felt betrayed by his cynical portrayal of the intelligence services. Bingham himself went on to write a considerable number of successful crime stories, but though he carried on writing until his old age, he never achieved his ambition of producing a spy story to rival the success of Le Carré’s books.

You can read the rest of the review via the below link:


1 comment:

  1. To imagine that an, obviously, many layered man like John Bingham would look the same to a biographer as he would to a gifted novelist is sheer naivety. And to consider a portrait painted by one of them as more authentic than that painted by the other would be absolutely outrageous.