John le Carré: The author's official website

The Spy Who Liked Me

Memories of Richard Burton and Martin Ritt from the set of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.

‘Whenever I allow myself to remember my first encounter with the American director Martin Ritt, who made the film version of my novel “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold,” I blush to think of the idiotic clothes I was wearing.

‘It was 1963. The book had not yet been published. Ritt had bought the film rights to it on the strength of a rogue typescript slipped to him by my literary agent or my publisher, or maybe by some bright soul in a duplicating office who had a pal in the studio, which was Paramount. Ritt later boasted that he stole the rights. I later agreed with him. At the time, I saw him as a man of unlimited generosity who had taken the trouble to fly all the way from Los Angeles, with some like-minded friends, in order to give me lunch at that altar to Edwardian luxury the Connaught hotel and talk flatteringly about my book.

‘And I had flown all the way from Bonn, the capital of West Germany, at the expense of Her Majesty the Queen. I was a serving diplomat of thirty-two and had never met movie people before. In childhood, like all boys of my time, I had fallen in love with Deanna Durbin, and rolled in the aisles over the Three Stooges. In wartime cinemas, I had shot down German airplanes piloted by Eric Portman and triumphed over the Gestapo with Leslie Howard. (My father was convinced that Portman was a Nazi, and said that he should be interned.) But, what with early marriage, small children, and very little money, not a lot of films since. I had a charming London-based literary agent whose life’s ambition, had he allowed himself to pursue it, was to play the drums in a jazz band. His knowledge of the film world must have been greater than mine, but not, I suspect, by much. Nevertheless, it was he who had arranged the film deal, and I who, after a convivial lunch with him, had signed the contract. . . .

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