John le Carré: The author's official website

The relationship between an agent and a novelist

John le Carré describes his ‘unqualified admiration’ for his friend John Bingham, the MI5 agent, but tells of their differing views on the intelligence services in his letter to The Telegraph.

SIR – John Bingham and I were indeed close friends and colleagues. I had, and shall always have, unqualified admiration for his intelligence skills and achievements. He was a most honourable, patriotic and gifted man, and we had wonderful times together.

And surely there can be few better tributes to a friend and colleague than to create – if only from some of his parts – a fictional character, George Smiley, who has given pleasure and food for thought to an admiring public.

But 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.

David Cornwell (John le Carré)
London NW3