Wednesday 30 October 2019


“From 1976 to 1989, I lived in a flat on Frith Street in Soho, above Ronnie Scott’s jazz club. I went to sleep every night listening to jazz, which is alright if you like jazz, and I did. Ronnie was from east London, like me, and there were a lot of East End boys running the club. So I’d go down for a cup of tea or a glass of wine, and have a rabbit – it was like being at home.
Chet Baker came in one night in 1986, and I asked him if I could do a couple of shots before he went on. I said: “I’ve got to tell you, when I was 13, I bought the Chet Baker Quartet record with Winter Wonderland on it. Russ Freeman was the pianist … ” And Chet said, “Yeah, he was, in 1953.” He just stopped and stared, going back through his memory. And that’s when I took the picture. Then he went downstairs and did his set. He played beautifully, considering he’d lost a lot of his teeth in the gutter – the emotion and passion still came through.”

A late career surge, aided by Elvis Costello and Bruce Weber’s 1989 documentary film Let’s Get Lost, put the ill-fated Chet Baker back on the musical map for new generations

JANUARY 16, 2018

Chet Baker (1929-1988) once said, “I don’t know whether I’m a trumpet player who sings, or a singer who plays the trumpet.”

Either way, Baker’s unmistakably intimate playing style and smooth, seductive vocals captivated listeners from the time he burst onto the jazz scene in 1953. He quickly became the epitome of West Coast “cool jazz” and proved to be one of the (if not THE) most popular jazz trumpeters of the 1950s. He also greatly influenced bossa nova pioneers like João Gilberto who strived to emulate Baker’s low, whispery vocal delivery. In addition to playing with his own quartet, Baker shared the stage with legendary jazz greats Charlie “Bird” Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Gerry Mulligan, and Stan Getz, to name a few. With his Brylcreemed hair and childlike features, Baker was cast in small acting roles in America and Italy. Indeed, the film All The Fine Young Cannibals, starring Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood, was deemed a (somewhat) biographical interpretation of Baker’s life.

Unfortunately, during the late 1950s, Baker became addicted to heroin, which greatly affected his career, as he was frequently being jailed or deported back to the United States. His drug-infused lifestyle prevented him from committing to recording contracts and often led him to make ill-advised business transactions with recording studios and managers. Despite his immense talent, he lived the next thirty years as a functioning junkie, fearlessly facing each obstacle that set back his career. Baker is often described as ‘an American dream being dragged through the mud’, and in a sense, this is true. For many, he was a man who embodied the 1950’s and sang tender love songs. But, as Baker himself once said, “Having to live up to the fantasies of others is a big drag.”

“My old addiction changed the wiring in my brain. So that when it turns the switches, then I am not the same.” – Chet Baker “Unsung Swan Song”

Chet Baker was born Chesney “Chet” Baker Jr. on December 23, 1929 in Yale, Oklahoma. Baker’s parents were musically inclined, and in later years were supportive of his career as a musician. His father, Chesney Henry Baker Sr., was a professional guitarist who was forced to obtain a ‘regular’ job during the Great Depression, and his mother Vera was a gifted pianist who worked in a perfumery. As a child, Baker sang in amateur competitions, and in the choir at his local church. By the time he was eleven, the Bakers moved from Oklahoma to Glendale, California, where he received formal musical training at Glendale Junior High School. At the age of thirteen, Baker’s father bought him a trombone, as he wanted to encourage his son to play a musical instrument. The trombone proved to be too large an instrument for the adolescent Baker, and he soon switched to the trumpet. According to his peers, he adapted to the new instrument within a few weeks and seemed to play almost effortlessly. It was clear that Chet Baker had found his calling in life.

In 1946, at the age of sixteen, Baker dropped out of high school and his parents signed him up for the Army. While stationed in Berlin, Germany, he played in the 298th U.S. Army Band. Two years later, he was discharged and he enrolled at El Camino College in Los Angeles where he studied music theory. After two years of college, Baker re-enlisted in the Army and became a member of the Sixth Army Band at the Presidio (which then served as an army post) in San Francisco. During this time, he was greatly influenced by the music of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, and he began to perform at local nightclubs in San Francisco. It wasn’t long before he was discharged from the Army, allowing him to live his dream of becoming a professional jazz musician.

“When he (Chet) went to El Camino College, he played in the band, but his bandmaster said that he would never make it as a musician because he kept putting in things. You know, he’d put in little riffs…and the first time that Chet played a concert he got a telegram from him saying ‘Congratulations! I never thought you’d make it’.” – Vera Baker (Chet Baker’s mother)

In 1952, Baker received a telegram from Dick Bock (then head of World Pacific Records) that Charlie “Bird” Parker was holding an audition for a trumpet player at the Tiffany Club in Los Angeles. Although Baker was still new on the scene, he had some experience performing with saxophonist Vic Musso and the now legendary Stan Getz, and he was determined to land the gig as Bird’s trumpeter. When he arrived to the audition, it is well documented that Bird requested that Baker approach the stage and asked him to perform a handful of tunes. Baker was halfway through his performance when Bird informed the audience that the audition was over. He was hired on the spot. It was then that Baker received his big break, accompanying Parker on gigs around the West Coast and Canada. That same year, Baker joined baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan in the piano-less ‘Mulligan Quartet’, which became an immediate success. Within a few months, the band (on the newly formed ‘Pacific Jazz Records’ label), released Gerry Mulligan Quartet, an album featuring Baker’s famous rendition of “My Funny Valentine”. Unfortunately, before the year was out, Mulligan was imprisoned on a drug charge and the Mulligan Quartet was no more.

“My phrasing as a singer has been influenced by a lot of my playing. If I hadn’t been a trumpet player, I don’t know if I would have arrived at singing that way. I probably wouldn’t have. I don’t know whether I’m a trumpet player who sings, or a singer who plays the trumpet. I love to do both.” – Chet Baker

The following year, Baker formed his own quartet with pianist and composer Russ Freeman, bassists Bob Whitlock, Carson Smith, Joe Mondragon, and Jimmy Bond and drummers Shelly Manne, Larry Bunker, and Bob Neel. Together they played live shows and received positive reviews in the local jazz magazines. In 1954, Baker began to contribute smooth delicate vocals to his songs, and released the album Chet Baker Sings on the Pacific Jazz label. While the album was hailed by a number of fans and critics, for many it neglected the trad jazz style of his previous performances, and disappointed fans who were partial to old school jazzers like Baker’s idol, Gene Krupa. Nonetheless, Baker would continue to sing for the remainder of his career.

With his movie star looks and rebellious nature, Baker was often compared to James Dean. In 1955, he made his acting debut as a jockey in Hell’s Horizon, a war film featuring actor John Ireland and Bill Williams. Upon the film’s completion, he was offered a studio contract, which he declined because he was planning a tour of Europe. During his time there, Baker recorded the album Chet Baker in Europe.

In 1957, having released his latest album Chet Baker & Crew, Baker toured the States with the Birdland All-Stars before embarking on a tour of Europe with his own group. By 1960, he began to tire of his nomadic lifestyle, and settled in Italy. During his stay in Italy, Baker would occupy room 15 at the Hotel Universo where he would often sit on the windowsill and play his trumpet. To this day, his hotel room is highly sought out by his fans. It was here that he would appear in the film Uriatori Alla Sbarra (or Howlers of the Dock), a comedy in which he is credited as ‘l’americano’. Baker was embraced by his Italian fans who dubbed him ‘l’angelo’ (the angel) and tromba d’oro (the golden trumpet).

Be it the hectic touring schedule or personal conflicts, it was around this time that he would become addicted to heroin, and that’s when things began to fall apart. Although Baker had been imprisoned for brief periods of time, he was eventually jailed on narcotics-related charges during his stay in Italy. The trumpeter would remain in jail for a year and a half before his release.

In 1962, Baker celebrated his release from jail by recording the album Chet is Back!. The album featured the tunes “Pent-Up House” and “Well, You Needn’t,” which critics referred to as “Bop-oriented.” It has also been noted that Baker began playing the flugelhorn on various recordings throughout this decade. As the 1960’s progressed, Baker’s heroin habit worsened, and he was repeatedly thrown in jail. After being tossed from country to country, he was eventually deported back to the United States.

“I’m running out of everything now. Out of veins, out of money.” – William S. Burroughs

By the mid-1960s, Baker’s drug addiction was spiraling out of control. In July 1966, he suffered a severe beating in San Francisco after an attempt to buy heroin off a local dealer. In the documentary film Let’s Get Lost, directed by Bruce Weber, Baker stated that he was at a hotel in Sausalito when a man began following him as he was ascending the stairs. Fearing the man would rob him, he put his hand in his pocket as if he had a gun, and the man eventually left. The following day, five young black men were waiting for him outside. Desperate to leave the scene and to escape a beating, he jumped into a nearby car, but was thrown out by the vehicle’s occupants. Baker had no choice but to fight the men, who knocked him out, leaving him with a bloody mouth and several broken teeth. Contrary to popular belief, Baker did not lose all of his teeth during his encounter with the hustlers. His teeth were already in poor shape due to years of drug use. Unfortunately, due to the poor state of his teeth, his embouchure had been ruined, and he had no choice but to be fitted for dentures.

The ensuing years proved hard for Baker, who was unable to play the trumpet. In a 1980 interview (featured in the film Let’s Get Lost), he recounts that he was completely broke, taking odd jobs and pumping gas from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., which he described as the hardest job. After several years of working at local stores and gas stations (where surprisingly, he was never recognized), Baker came to the realization that he must return to his music. It took him six months to try and find a way to play with dentures, which was no simple feat, as he had to develop a new embouchure. After three years, Baker regained his skills. In 1973, his pal, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, helped arrange a few comeback shows for him. His first show since the incident in Sausalito was played at the ‘Half Note Club’ in New York City, and the following year, Baker played a reunion show with Gerry Mulligan at Carnegie Hall. While years of hard living had altered his voice, critics praised his performances, describing them as the best of his career.

Throughout the seventies, Baker remained an addict, though he would take methadone in order to control his addiction, and manage his life. In 1975, he returned to Europe where he would give the majority of his performances, traveling to the United States for the occasional show. Baker, despite his heroin addiction, was embraced by his European audiences, who viewed him as a fragile and delicate soul, rather than a junkie. Unfortunately, a large number of his European recordings were released without his permission, and he never received royalties.

Concerning his personal life, Baker was notorious for abusing and conning women. According to various sources in James Gavin’s book, Deep in a Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker, Baker’s feelings toward women had always been “violently ambivalent”. He was dependent on them, yet at the same time, mistreated them. Needless to say, the heroin only contributed to his mood swings and violent outbursts. Oddly enough, despite his abusive behavior, women would continue to flock to him. It was apparent that they had fallen for an illusion, in hopes that someday he would become the angelic trumpeter who sang songs of love and romance. According to jazz singer Ruth Young, “None of these songs had any meaning for him, truly. He could have been singing Charmin commercials. He was coming from a musical place, and the words were mere notes to him.”

“It seems to me that most people are impressed with just three things: how fast you can play, how high you can play, and how loud you can play. I find this a little exasperating, but I’m a lot more experienced now, and realize that probably less than 2 percent of the public can really hear. When I say ‘hear’ I mean following a horn player through his ideas and be able to understand those ideas in relation to change.” – Chet Baker

By the 1980s, Baker was revered by many rock musicians. In 1983, he would play the trumpet on Elvis Costello’s song “Shipbuilding” for his 1983 album Punch the Clock. Three years later, he would rejoin Costello and Van Morrison at the legendary Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London where he would perform a number of his classic songs, including “Just Friends”, “My Ideal” and “Shifting Down”. Baker was well received by critics and fans, although it was evident that his health was poor.

In 1986, director Bruce Weber met Baker at a club in New York City and persuaded him to do a photo shoot. The photo shoot was originally going to be a three-minute film, but it eventually turned into a series of interviews that were incorporated into the 1989 film Let’s Get Lost. The film is a biographical account of Baker’s life, and features a series of interviews with Baker, his family, and close friends. In addition to having a soundtrack consisting of Baker’s early recordings, he also recorded several performances that are included in the film, and the soundtrack album Chet Baker Sings and Plays from the Film “Let’s Get Lost”.  The recordings feature an impressive lineup of Baker on trumpet, Frank Stazzeri on piano, Nicola Stilo on guitar, John Leftwich on bass, and Ralph Penland on drums. While Baker was a good sport during these interviews and photo sessions, it was evident that he suffered from severe withdrawal toward the end of filming. As the film comes to a close, Weber tells him how hard it is to see him looking so ill, to which Baker replies “Well Bruce, you want me to level with you and tell you the truth, but in doing that, it only creates pain on your part. Having to live up to the fantasies of others is a big drag.”

“People said I’d never make 35, then I’d never make 40, 45. Now I’m almost 50, so I’m beginning to think they might be wrong.”

On May 13, 1988, after weeks of performing with the NDR Big Band and Hannover Radio Orchestra, Baker was found dead on the street below his second-floor hotel room in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The autopsy would reveal that heroin and cocaine were found in his bloodstream, though the death was ruled an accident. This conclusion did not sit well with Baker’s wife and a number of his friends who assumed he had been a victim of foul play, but the Dutch police investigated no further.

Despite announcements made in newspapers around the world, only 35 people attended Baker’s funeral. To most Americans, he was a former heartthrob turned junkie, and they felt no sympathy towards the ill-fated jazz man. “It was sad. It was not a celebration,” recalled Baker’s high school chum Bernie Fleischer “But nobody expected him to last this long anyway.”
Following his death, the film Let’s Get Lost was released on April 21, 1989, and would go on to receive an Academy Award nomination for best documentary feature. In 1997, Baker’s unfinished autobiography was published under the title As Though I Had Wings: The Lost Memoir. In recent years, the world continues to celebrate Baker’s legacy. In 2015, the Chet Baker Jazz Festival was held in his hometown of Yale, Oklahoma. The following year the Chet Baker biopic Born to Be Blue was released, starring Ethan Hawke as Baker. As of 1987, Baker has been an inductee in the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame.

“I came home one day and there was a telegram from Dick Bock saying that there was an audition for an engagement with Charlie Parker at the Tiffany Club at 3:00. So I raced up there. It’s very dark inside and it’s very bright outside, so I couldn’t see anything for about five minutes. As my eyes got accustomed to the darkness, I looked around the room and every trumpet player in Los Angeles was in there. Evidently someone had spoken to him about me, probably Dick Bock again, and he asked over the microphone if I had arrived yet, and I said yes I was in the room, and he invited me up to the stand. We played two tunes together and he made an announcement over the microphone that the audition was at an end.” – Chet Baker (From his 1986 interview with Elvis Costello)

Chet Baker - My Funny Valentine

Tuesday 29 October 2019

Thomas Farthing, 40 Museum Street, Londen WC1A 1LU, Engeland / VIDEO: The BLAKE trio visit Thomas Farthing

“I have actually been to the Thomas Farthing several times, and have bought items from the shop. The aesthetic is emphatically tweedy, the price points not terribly high, the quality of the goods - very nice, but not Savile Row. They have a lot of hats, some suits and overcoats, some ties and scarves, a limited number of shirts (the high-collared one shown is not available at the shop, at least not when last I was there, last February). “
The store itself is tucked away in Museum St., just south of the main entrance to the British Museum.
By Flanderian

40 Museum Street, Londen WC1A 1LU, Engeland

Sunday 20 October 2019

Jeeves ... will be away for one week ...

The War of the Worlds | Trailer - BBC

The War of the Worlds is a 2019 three-part British drama miniseries produced by Mammoth Screen for the BBC and co-produced with Creasun Media and Red Square. The series is an Edwardian period adaptation of the H.G. Wells' 1898 novel of the same name, and is the first British television adaptation of the Wells' Martian invasion novel. The War of the Worlds first premiered on T+E in Canada on 6 October 2019, and is expected to premiere on the BBC in late 2019.
Set in Edwardian England, the series follows George (Rafe Spall) and his partner Amy (Eleanor Tomlinson) as they attempt to defy society and start a life together, facing the escalating terror of an invasion from Mars, while fighting for their lives against an enemy beyond their comprehension.

Friday 18 October 2019

Savile Row in firing line as US tariffs hit the UK

Savile Row in firing line as US tariffs hit the UK
By Dearbail Jordan

Sean Dixon, co-founder of Richard James, says the Savile Row tailor feels "a bit like collateral damage".

He and the other bespoke tailoring firms who line the world-famous London street feel bruised because, from Friday, every suit they sell to the US faces a new export tax of 25%.

They are on a list of products the US is targeting with tariffs in retaliation for the EU giving illegal subsidies to plane-maker Airbus.

And it has left Savile Row reeling.

"I don't think anybody on the street was aware of [the tariff]," says James Sleater, founder and director of Savile Row's newest tailor, Cad & the Dandy, whose clients include British rapper Stormzy and rugby player Mike Tindall.

"Conversations about Airbus and [US President Donald] Trump and Savile Row are not normally three words that go hand in hand," he says.

The street has had little time to prepare for the tariff, which almost doubles the tax on an exported suit from roughly 13% to 25%.

On 2 October, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) gave the US permission to impose taxes on $7.5bn (£5.8bn) of goods it imports from the EU.

It was the latest chapter in a long-running battle between Washington and Brussels over illegal subsidies given to planemakers Airbus and rival Boeing.

That same day, the US published the list of EU products that would face the new taxes, including men's woollen suits made in the UK, as well as cashmere knitwear and Scotch whisky - and told businesses the tariffs would come into force on 18 October.

The tariffs come at a crucial time for the UK, which is preparing to leave the EU and strike trade deals with other nations, including the US.

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss says: "Resorting to tit-for-tat tariffs is not in any country's best interests and we are in regular contact with the Trump administration, urging them to refrain from resorting to such measures.

"As well as causing temporary disruption to UK businesses, it would also hit American consumers in the pocket."

Important market
Kathryn Sargent, Savile Row's first female master tailor, is concerned that her clients in the US, who make up a third of her business, may not be aware of the new tax.

She travels to cities such as New York, Chicago and Washington DC three times a year to visit customers, show them fabrics and do fittings for her suits, which start at about £5,500.

"It is a conversation that I'll be having with my clients when I'm over there, to sense what their reaction is and to see if it puts them off placing future orders," she says.

North America is an important market for Savile Row, as well as the wider British luxury industry.

Mr Sleater reckons that total sales of the street's goods into the US total some £40m.

The US is also the second largest export market, behind Europe, for UK luxury products, according to Walpole, the trade body for the British luxury sector, and Frontier Economics.

But it is not just the business connection between the two countries that is important to Savile Row's tailors.

"All the past US presidents have had garments made in Savile Row," says Ms Sargent. "When you think of all the Hollywood greats like Fred Astaire and Cary Grant, there is a beautiful relationship between Savile Row and America, so this tariff really hits us hard."

She hopes that her US clients' "love of British quality craftsmanship" will overcome any concerns about the added cost of buying a Savile Row suit.

Small bespoke tailoring firms like Ms Sargent's will not be able to absorb the cost of the tax.

Mr Dixon says that Richard James, one of the few Savile Row tailors with a store in the US, says it will do its best to absorb the cost: "But we think there will be a price… we will have to pass some of this on to our customers."

Arguably, the type of people who have a bespoke suit made by a Savile Row tailor are not short of a pound or two.

"The customer base is fairly affluent," admits Mr Dixon, whose clients include actor Benedict Cumberbatch, footballer David Beckham and rapper P Diddy. "Nevertheless, an increase is an increase and we pride ourselves on people getting value for money, especially for a Savile Row suit.

"The amount of man-hours that go into it, the incredible fabrics used and a suit that can last 20 years or 30 years and then to have a big part of that being paid in tax. I don't know how people are going to feel about that."

While Savile Row's tailors were shocked by the tariffs, Walpole was not.

"We're disappointed, of course," says Charlotte Keesing, Walpole's director of public policy and international. "But we're not surprised that suiting and textiles and fine fabrics came so heavily top of the list."

She says that UK luxury goods such as cashmere sweaters have often been targeted by the US in trade tussles.

In 1999, when Bill Clinton was in the White House, Scottish cashmere sweaters faced sanctions following a WTO ruling in a row between the US and the UK about bananas.

But Ms Keesing does not think this latest round of tariffs will have a major impact on sales of UK luxury goods.

"You have quite a weak pound at the moment and the number of US visitors coming to the UK to shop for these kinds of goods is at an all-time high, so I don't think that the impact is going to be enormous," she says.

Big win?
President Trump, who reportedly favours suits made by Italy's Brioni, described the WTO ruling at the beginning of October as a "big win" for the US.

But his jubilation - and any pain felt by UK businesses - may be short-lived.

Ms Keesing points out that next spring, the WTO will rule on Boeing, the US planemaker, which it found had benefited from tax breaks.

The EU could then be given the green light to enforce its own tariffs on US goods.

Mr Sleater says that while Cad & the Dandy was caught unaware by the new taxes, Savile Row should use the opportunity to elevate its brand, which has historically always been about understatement.

He says that while Italy's suitmakers - who are not facing US tariffs - have actively promoted their industry, Savile Row has not.

"The key thing about this is to stomach the tariffs being placed on us and - I'm talking about the street here - we somehow need to find a way to make our clothes even more appealing.

"Never before has there been such a time when branding is really, really important."

Thursday 17 October 2019

Catherine the Great (2019) Video: Official Trailer | HBO

Catherine the Great review – Mirren's labour of love lacks the magic touch
3 / 5 stars3 out of 5 stars.   
The perfect actor gives a magnificent performance ... and yet the show around her falls flat

Lucy Mangan
Thu 3 Oct 2019 22.00 BSTLast modified on Fri 4 Oct 2019 15.10 BST

The great handicap of HBO’s new four-part costume drama Catherine the Great (Sky Atlantic) is that she’s not Henry VIII. Little common knowledge can be assumed and an awful lot of time and effort has to be spent explaining quite where we are and who has done what to whom to get us there. An opening caption sets the scene, which you can choose to read in your A-Team or Star Wars voice: “Catherine’s turbulent reign began in 1762 with a military coup. She seized power from her husband Emperor Peter III who died soon after – in mysterious circumstances. Surrounded by enemies and fighting off rival challenges to her throne, Catherine’s rule is far from secure.” If you have a problem, if no one else can help you, maybe you can hire … Count Orlov and Grigor Potemkin. No, wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Catherine the Great is played, magnificently, by Helen Mirren. If she were not, questions would surely be asked in the House. Her formidable talent and long career has made her into acting royalty herself and in recent years she has become a specialist in monarchs proper, leaning into her innate regality to produce award-winning turns as Elizabeths I and II. Even more pertinently for her latest venture, she was also born Helen Mironoff, daughter of Vasily Petrovich and granddaughter of Pyotr Vasilievich Mironov, a colonel in the Imperial Russian army. It feels as much a labour of love as the glad seizing of a part that would be catnip to any actor.

So this series has the perfect actor and comes, in many ways, at the perfect time – ripe for the story of a woman resented on all sides for refusing to shape herself or her desires to the traditional feminine mould and becoming instead the embodiment of the writer Florence King’s note: “When a woman steps out of her place, she always steps up.” Not all of them arrange a coup d’etat removing their husbands from power and having them assassinated (she maintained plausible deniability over the latter), of course.

Her now-lover Orlov and his brother are angling for a slice of power. The army reckons it put the Empress on the throne and can knock her off it any time. There are those who consider her regent only until her son Paul reaches his majority and can take over. There are others who have met Paul and would rather a large fur hat governed Russia than that 18-year-old milksop. And then there’s Prisoner Number One, poor Ivan VI, a claimant to the throne confined in Shlisselburg prison for all of his 24 years and sent mad in the process, but who still acts as a rallying point for Catherine’s opponents.

Before long we are all in a welter of intrigue, treachery and general skulduggery – and once Potemkin heaves into view, you can add sexual rivalry too. It really is, one hopes, so unlike the home life of our own dear queen.

In the opening episode, the liberal-minded empress must lose some of her ideals and find her cojones instead. Ivanites move against the empress, so her orders to have him killed are carried out. The army’s Lieutenant Merovitch tries to stir up trouble and finds himself decapitated, despite her insinuation of a pardon on the scaffold. Only Potemkin offers her a safe space, and he is soon defenestrated by the Orlovs for his pains. He survives, though only to have to attend a fancy dress palace ball (which hardly seems fair on the man).

The parts are all good – the scenery, the performances, the script – but they add up to slightly less than their sum. Perhaps it is the extra exposition that makes it feel too ponderous and prevents it from taking flight. Or perhaps it is the fact that when it comes to creating anything, you can do all you can to maximise your chances of success but the final ingredient is always elusive. Call it magic, call it luck, but you need it to alchemise your efforts. If it’s not there what you have is a sturdy workhorse, full of fine actors, good moments and impeccable intentions, but not the elegant thoroughbred or racing steed of your dreams.

• This article was amended on 4 October 2019 because an earlier version referred to Prisoner Number One as Ivan IV when Ivan VI was meant.

Wednesday 16 October 2019

Family found at Dutch farm 'could have been held against their will' / VIDEO:Drenthe residents react after police discover family locked away for years...

Family found at Dutch farm 'could have been held against their will'

Police say family was in space that could be locked and may have been there nine years

Jon Henley Europe correspondent

Wed 16 Oct 2019 13.15 BSTLast modified on Wed 16 Oct 2019 15.54 BST

Dutch police are questioning an Austrian man after a family of six were found in a secret room at a remote farmhouse in the Netherlands where they are believed to have been living for nearly a decade.

The five adult siblings, said to be aged between 18 and 25, and an ailing older man they said was their father, were receiving medical treatment after police discovered them at the farm near the village of Ruinerwold, in the north-eastern province of Drenthe.

It was unclear whether the family was, as Dutch media reported, “waiting for the end of time”. Recent posts on social media by one of the children suggested they may instead have been held in the farmhouse against their will.

“We found six people in a small space in the house which could be locked, not a cellar. It is unclear if they were there voluntarily,” police said in a statement. “They may have been there for nine years. They say they are a family, a father and five children.”

The statement said none of the six people were registered with the local authorities. Their mother had apparently died before the family moved to the farm, said the local mayor, Roger de Groot, adding that he had “never seen anything like this”.

Officials would not confirm local media reports that the family was waiting for the end of days. “We understand everyone has lots of questions,” the police statement added. “So do we. We will investigate properly and carefully.”

A 58-year-old man who was renting the farm but was not the father of the children has been arrested, police confirmed, but they would not reveal his identity. Dutch media identified him as Joseph B, an Austrian odd-job man who had a small workshop on an industrial estate in the nearby town of Meppel.

The Austrian foreign ministry has confirmed an Austrian citizen from Vienna was being held in relation to the case, but said he did not want contact with officials. The ministry did not know the grounds for his arrest, it said.

One neighbour told the Telegraaf newspaper that the man, who was seen daily driving an old Volvo car, was “very sharp … You only needed to go near the place and he’d send you packing. He watched everything through binoculars”.

Dutch media said the oldest of the children, a 25-year-old named only as Jan, had a Facebook account and began posting updates in June for the first time in nine years. “Started a new job at Creconat,” De Telegraaf newspaper quoted it as saying.

The firm, affiliated to another company in Meppel, was raided by police on Monday and belonged to the Austrian man, the paper said. According to the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper, the son also wrote on LinkedIn that his parents had run a successful business until his mother died in 2004.

The group was discovered after Jan visited a local bar, the Kastelein cafe. On the first occasion, 10 days ago, he “ordered and drank five beers on his own”, the owner, Chris Westerbeek, told the local broadcaster RTV Drenthe.

When the man reappeared last Sunday, he “looked confused”, Westerbeek said. “He was unkempt, with long tangled hair. We got talking. He said he had run away and needed urgent help, and that he had never been to school. Then we called the police.”

RTV Drenthe said police had found a hidden staircase leading to the family’s hiding place behind a cupboard in the living room. The father was bedridden having suffered a stroke some years ago, it said.

Dutch media reported the family appeared to have had little or no contact with the outside world and lived a largely self-sufficient life, apparently growing their own vegetables and keeping a goat and geese.

The farmhouse’s owners, Klaas Rooze and Alida ten Oever, said the tenant had always paid his rent on time and they were flabbergasted by the news.

“We knew absolutely nothing of this,” Ten Oever said. “We rented the house for years to one man and now we learn someone was living there with children. We have no idea who it can be.”

Tuesday 15 October 2019

Gloverall Heritage

A story of craftsmanship, authenticity and service.
Gloverall has a rich history, now spanning well over half a century.

Five years after the end of World War II Gloves and Overall wholesalers H&F Morris, Harold and Freda, were offered a large quantity of surplus military Duffle Coats which quickly sold out in camping and leisure wear shops.
This success prompts Harold, son of a master tailor, and Freda to produce their own Duffle coats for their new company Gloverall.
Harold decides to refine the duffle coats; he replaces the thick jute rope, which is difficult to attached to the coats, with leather introduces an Italian check back fabric.

Photographed wearing Gloverall’s iconic Monty Duffle coat, Tony Brooks is captured alongside racing legends Sterling Moss and Mike Hawthorn while racing at the Monaco Grand Prix in 1957.

Government policy forbids the opening of a new factory in London. Gloverall moves to Wellingborough, Northamptonshire.
Gloverall Duffle coats are being exported all around the world and become a true British classic.
In 1962 to keep up with demand a new custom built casual outerwear clothing factory is opened in Northamptonshire. Gloverall’s design team innovate more fashionable duffle and casual outerwear making them even more popular. New markets are developed in the rest of Europe, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. By the end of the 1960s Gloverall has achieved significant sales in well over forty countries.

North America, USA and Scandinavia become major markets and by the mid-1970s Japan becomes Gloverall’s biggest export market.

1977- Gloverall export sales are recognised in the Silver Jubilee Honours list.

1979- Gloverall supply coats to the British Transglobe Expedition which includes its patron HRH Prince of Wales.

Men’s and Women’s Duffle jackets, Bomber jackets. Capes and classic British warmer overcoats are added to the Gloverall range.

Gloverall design and make Duffle coats for the British Olympic team competing in the Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, New York

1986- The Customer Awareness League of British Outerwear puts Gloverall in the top three.
1987- Gloverall become the first winners of the British Apparel Export Award.

 HRH Princess Anne visits Gloverall in her first year as President of the British Knitting and Clothing Export Council.
Gloverall supply part of the GB official team uniform for the Winter Olympics in Canada. Jayne Torvill and Chiprsopher Dean wearing Gloverall duffle coats at their first Winter Olympics.

1992 Gloverall wins the Queens Award for Export

Gloverall achieves a huge honour and wins the Queens Award for Export.

Now a much desired outerwear label, Gloverall increases its range by including super wax and heavy duty cottons, micro fibres, reversible woollen Duffle coats. Coats and jackets in cotton cambric padded out with Goose down, luxury fabrics, pure wool Elysian Herringbones, Harris Tweeds and Cashmere mixes. By the mid 1990s outerwear accessories include hats and scarves. South Korea market is developed.

Sunday 13 October 2019

John le Carré.

'My ties to England have loosened': John le Carré on Britain, Boris and Brexit
John Banville
John le Carré

At 87, le Carré is publishing his 25th novel. He talks to John Banville about our ‘dismal statesmanship’ and what he learned from his time as a spy

Fri 11 Oct 2019 08.00 BSTLast modified on Fri 11 Oct 2019 16.58 BST

Ihave always admired John le Carré. Not always without envy – so many bestsellers! – but in wonderment at the fact that the work of an artist of such high literary accomplishment should have achieved such wide appeal among readers. That le Carré, otherwise David Cornwell, has chosen to set his novels almost exclusively in the world of espionage has allowed certain critics to dismiss him as essentially unserious, a mere entertainer. But with at least two of his books, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) and A Perfect Spy (1986), he has written masterpieces that will endure.

Which other writer could have produced novels of such consistent quality over a career spanning almost 60 years, since Call for the Dead in 1961, to his latest, Agent Running in the Field, which he is about to publish at the age of 87. And while he has hinted that this is to be his final book, I am prepared to bet that he is not done yet. He is just as intellectually vigorous and as politically aware as he has been at any time throughout his long life.

In the new book there is a plotline that is predicated on covert collusion between Trump’s US and the British security services with the aim of undermining the democratic institutions of the European Union. “It’s horribly plausible,” he says, with some relish when we meet in his Hampstead home. His relish is for the fictional conceit, not its horrible plausibility, and at once his conman father pops up with his large-browed head and his all too plausible grin. Ronald “Ronnie” Cornwell was a confidence trickster of genius, of whom his son is still in awe, and to whose exploits and influence he returns again and again, to the point of bemused obsession. “I’ve had the good fortune in life,” says le Carré, “to be born with a subject” – no, not the cold war, which many foolishly imagined was his only topic – “the extraordinary, the insatiable criminality of my father and the people he had around him. I Googled him the other day and under ‘profession’ it said: ‘Associate of the Kray brothers’.” This gives us both a laugh, though a queasy one.

“A ceaseless procession of fascinating people” wound its felonious way through his childhood. In his earliest days he was “relieved of any real concept of truth. Truth was what you got away with.” All too familiar to him, then, are the frauds who have swaggered their way into the spotlight in today’s political pantomime.

It seems to le Carré now entirely natural that escape from the toxic background of his childhood should have been entry into “severe institutions”. He was sent to his first boarding school at the age of five – “and I did five years straight of stir”. He went on to Sherborne school in Dorset, which he hated – in later years the head of the Secret Intelligence Service, David Spedding, told him that what he most admired him for was the fact that “you ran away from Sherborne while I stayed the course”. Spedding’s rueful warmth is in marked contrast to the recent attack on le Carré by another former head of MI6, Richard Dearlove, who last month at a literary festival in Cliveden – of all places – said the writer was “obsessed” with his brief time as a spy, which he had used as a basis for novels that reveal him to be “so corrosive in his view of MI6 that most SIS officers are pretty angry with him”.

For all his sufferings under the educational system of the day, boarding school was for le Carré “one route in the search for some sort of clarity about behaviour”. Then came “the glide into the secret world”: at Oxford he was approached by the security services and did some spying, and informing, on his fellow students of the left-leaning sort, something of which he does not repent. John le Carré, or better say David Cornwell, is at heart an old-fashioned, romantic English patriot. For all that, he is not deluded about the mores of the “secret world”. The security services fixed on their candidates “for being on the one hand larcenous” – a favourite word – “and on the other hand, however you call it, loyal”. This dichotomy raised “huge, many-faceted questions”, for instance what distinguishes patriotism, good, from nationalism, bad. That particular question “kicked around in me ever after. It remains unresolved.”

I mention a passage in Agent Running in the Field in which the protagonist Nat, short for Anatoly, a middle-aged, Russo-English secret agent, is watching on screen a surveillance operation being carried out in the streets of London, and is suddenly, and surprisingly, seized with admiration for his country and its people: “multi-ethnic kids playing improvised netball, girls in summer dresses basking in rays of the endless sun, old folk sauntering arm-in-arm ... ” The irony, as Nat cannot but be aware, is that about 100 of these innocent-seeming folk, including the friendly police officer who “strolls comfortably among them”, are in fact British agents busy about their clandestine work. Freedom is fragile, and must be protected by all available means, even the tainted ones.

Le Carré speaks of his grandchildren who are “all appalled by Brexit and the concept that freedom of movement is being taken from them, and so on. I say: ‘Look, actually, you have lived in many foreign cities, and you know that you will never get better conversation, a greater sophistication, more ease of social contact, than in London or in Britain altogether.’”

 Mob orators of Boris Johnson's sort do not speak reason – your task is to fire up the people with nos­talgia, with anger
I tell him that I lived in London for a year at the end of the 1960s and, coming from an Ireland that in those days was still firmly locked in the stranglehold of the Catholic church, I was endlessly surprised by the freedom of movement that was allowed to me, especially up and down the rungs of the infinitely graduated English class system. “Ah, yes,” he says, with a melancholy smile, “but you were not branded on the tongue.”

In Cornwall, where he and his wife, Jane, live for a good part of the year, “dealing with traders, and going to cafes and so on, I find that nobody knows, or cares, who I am”. This is, he feels, an example of “the absolute ease of association” there is in at least that part of England, where there is “a real sense of democracy”.

I agree with him, though perhaps not wholeheartedly – I am Irish, after all – on the British commitment to liberal values and the civilised life. But surely all that is now at risk, with the country so divided on Europe?

 “Yes it is, because in the first place reason has no natural voice. Mob orators of the sort we have, the Boris Johnson sort, do not speak reason. When you get into that category, your task is to fire up the people with nostalgia, with anger. It’s almost unbelievable that these people of the establishment – Farage, for instance – are speaking of betrayal: ‘I’m betrayed by parliament, betrayed by government – I’m speaking to you as a betrayed person, and I’m a man of the people like you.’”

He is profoundly worried by the present state of his country. Johnson and his svengali, Dominic Cummings, are running what le Carré recognises as a highly sophisticated propaganda campaign to convince the people that they are their true champions, arrayed with them against the power of parliament and the political elite. This, he says, is a breathtaking sleight of hand that could bring about serious civil disorder. “And absolutely the most terrifying thing that could happen is that the EU should cave in on some minor point regarding the backstop, Johnson blows the dust off May’s withdrawal agreement, adds his own spin, claims a great victory, gets it through a frightened parliament, and rules for eight years.”

Yet all is not bleakness and cause for ire. “I think everything is controllable if the social contract is restored. You cannot preach a level playing field in this country as long as you have such exclusive institutions as private education, private medicine, private everything.” There is also the pervasive and pernicious influence of what have come to be called social media – though how far they are truly “social” is moot. “People are shown so many treats, and urged as to what to buy and what to wear and where to travel to, all of which pumps up a spurious notion of the perfect life.”

How to combat these dangerous fantasies? “I believe we have to do the things that other countries do pretty painlessly. We have to have a wealth tax, we have to limit hugely the amount of inherited wealth anyone can receive. And none of these things has happened.”

But who would make them happen?

“Well, we have an extraordinary situation with our Labour party, if they do get in and they can shed Corbyn – I think Corbyn would quite like to go, actually – but they have this Leninist element and they have this huge appetite to level society. I’ve always believed, though ironically it’s not the way I’ve voted, that it’s compassionate conservatism that in the end could, for example, integrate the private schooling system. If you do it from the left you will seem to be acting out of resentment; do it from the right and it looks like good social organisation.”

I tentatively suggest that by this stage we might sound like two crusty old codgers being sentimental about an imaginary golden age. He ponders this for a while, then sets off on a tangential tack. “You could say that with the demise of the working class we saw also the demise of an established social order, based on the stability of ancient class structures. And then, the working class had the experience of war, but one can count the years when one by one people with war experience disappeared from politics and were replaced, in the main, by people with no idea of human conflict.” And he adds, with straight-faced understatement: “Human conflict has a sobering effect.”

To hear Brexiters claiming that Britain won the war single-handedly is, he says, “emetic”. “The wonderful rightwing military historian Max Hastings points out that we were bad fighters, that we were extremely badly organised, and our contribution in terms of blood and wealth and material was – I can’t say trivial, but tremendously small by comparison to the sacrifices of the other major powers. Russia lost, what, 30 million men? And in treasure, heaven knows what. We didn’t win the war in that sense. We were on the winning side by the end, but we were really quite minor players.”

His attitude to Brexit is pungently expressed in the new novel. “It is my considered opinion,” one of the characters declares to Nat, “that for Britain and Europe, and for liberal democracy across the entire world as a whole, Britain’s departure from the European Union in the time of Donald Trump, and Britain’s consequent unqualified dependence on the United States in an era when the US is heading straight down the road to institutional racism and neo-fascism, is an unmitigated clusterfuck bar none.”

You can’t say plainer than that, even if you have made yourself safe by putting the speech into the mouth of one of your invented creatures. Le Carré says squarely of Agent Running in the Field that “to me it’s quite an angry book”. But certainly it is more, and happily less, than a political rant.

“I didn’t want it to be a Brexit novel. I wanted it to be readable and comic. I wanted people to get a good laugh out of it. But if one has the impertinence to propose a message, then the book’s message is that our concept of patriotism and nationalism – our concept of where to place our loyalties, collectively and individually – is now utterly mysterious. I think Brexit is totally irrational, that it’s evidence of dismal statesmanship on our part, and lousy diplomatic performances. Things that were wrong with Europe could be changed from inside Europe.” He pauses, then goes on, less in anger than in sadness. “I think my own ties to England were hugely loosened over the last few years. And it’s a kind of liberation, if a sad kind.”

It was in this spirit that he and wife, Jane, paid a visit recently to Ireland, Jane to delve again among her own roots in Ulster, and David to visit the house in West Cork where his paternal grandmother was raised. He consulted a local archivist for information on the family. “After spending silent minutes at her computer, she looked up with a charming smile and said: ‘Welcome home.’”

I suggest that Agent Running in the Field is affirmative of the small pleasures of life, which makes the book very enjoyable. Well, he is careful to remind me again, the voice that speaks in it is not that of John le Carré, and certainly not of David Cornwell, but of Nat, the narrator. “When you’re challenged about the behaviour of characters in your own novels,” he asks me, “do you feel obliged to defend their behaviour?” My answer is that I am no more responsible for them than I am responsible for the people in my dreams. This gets a nod of assent.

Besides Nat, the two other leading characters in the book, the gangly Ed and the beautiful Florence – I notice that the women in le Carré’s books become lovelier, and younger, the older the author gets – are essentially decent people. As such, surely they are something of an anomaly? In his reply he seems to agree. “If you’re putting together a secret service you’re looking for people who can charm, who can persuade, and who are not burdened with too much moral sense. People are naturally larcenous and sufficiently hypocritical to appear virtuous and loyal, so actually you are looking for people who are almost by definition capable of betraying you.” Hence by the end of the book the decent people in it have to be put away in a place of safety.

 My dad for part of my childhood was in prison. So I arrived in the heartland of the establish­ment as a kind of spy
What of his own origins as a secret agent? “From the moment I went to boarding schools I was learning to be a gent” – nice little pun – “I had none of the attitudes of the ruling class to keep me going. I didn’t have a pony, that kind of thing. My dad for part of my childhood was in prison. So I arrived in the heartland of the establishment – private education – as a kind of spy, as somebody who had to put on the uniform, affect a voice and attitudes, and give myself a background I didn’t have. And so it was a forced assimilation and I became fascinated by the class I was pretending to be a member of. And it’s no surprise to me that although I loathed my public school I ended up teaching at Eton, and it’s no surprise to me now that I was so fascinated by the interior motor of British society, and that I was drawn to what I believe is the secret centre of our administration.”

Did being a spy give him a sense of belonging, of finally finding a workable identity for himself? “Looking really – in some Faustian sense, God help me – for what the world holds at its innermost point, was a way of asking, what are we? Who were we? Which is probably an extension of the question, who the hell am I? Where is virtue to be found? Where is the altar of Englishness? And I think that really was quite a severe internal journey, and a very interesting one, in retrospect: a lost boy in search of something or other.”

But when he was a member of the security services did he feel he was in touch with the real world, as distinct from the fantasised one in which the majority of us blithely live? “Please remember, I was a very junior figure in both MI5 and MI6. So much of what in my novels is assumed to be interior knowledge is really imagined stuff. But when I was allowed to attend operational meetings I heard what bigger animals than I were getting up to, and so by the time I got out of that world – with great relief – I had a really big treasure chest of imagined operations, which were based on glimpses of the reality. But I never did anything of the least value in that world.”

The aftermath of the secret life contained moments of rich comedy. Yevgeny Primakov – former head of the KGB, “who was within a hair’s breadth of getting Putin’s job” – came to Britain for an official visit, at the end of which his one request was to meet le Carré.

“And so Jane and I found ourselves in the Russian embassy surrounded by Russians, with Primakov in front of me. He was an extremely intelligent man, quite a humanist, though at the age of 18 he was already working with the NKVD, later to become the KGB. He was charming and we had a wonderful time together, but I was so in above my pay rate that it was ridiculous. He imagined somehow that the author of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was a colleague in sophistication. And that sometimes happens to me still. People insist that I know things that I have absolutely no knowledge of, and never did have.”

We speak about his later books, set among the super-rich, in nasty foreign wars, in battles with the international pharmaceutical industry. It is apparent that he is proud of this work, and of his support for the forces of decency, such as they are. This brings us back, inevitably, to the enigma that is his father. “I puzzle hugely about his motivation. You ask me what was fun for him. I think what was fun for him were the great confidence tricks he pulled off.”

Did this not make Ronnie an artist, of a kind?

“This is the thing that fascinates me, of course: am I simply the lucky version of him?”

If so, it is we, John le Carré’s readers, who are the lucky ones

• John le Carré’s Agent Running in the Field is published by Viking (£20). To order a copy go to Free UK p&p on all online orders over £15.

David John Moore Cornwell (born 19 October 1931), better known by the pen name John le Carré is a British author of espionage novels. During the 1950s and 1960s, he worked for both the Security Service (MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). His third novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963), became an international best-seller and remains one of his best-known works. Following the success of this novel, he left MI6 to become a full-time author. Several of his books have been adapted for film and television, including The Constant Gardener, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Night Manager. In 2011, he was awarded the Goethe Medal.

Cornwell was born on 19 October 1931 in Poole, Dorset, England. His father was Ronald Thomas Archibald (Ronnie) Cornwell (1906–75), and his mother was Olive Moore Cornwell (née Glassey, b. 1906). He has an older brother, Tony, two years his elder, now a retired advertising executive. His younger half-sister is the actress Charlotte Cornwell. His younger half-brother, Rupert Cornwell, is a former Washington bureau chief for the newspaper The Independent. Cornwell said he did not know his mother, who abandoned him when he was five years old, until their re-acquaintance when he was 21 years old. His father had been jailed for insurance fraud, was an associate of the Kray twins, and was continually in debt. Their father/son relationship was difficult. A biographer reports, "His father, Ronnie, made and lost his fortune a number of times due to elaborate confidence tricks and schemes which landed him in prison on at least one occasion. This was one of the factors that led to le Carré's fascination with secrets."

The scheming con-man character, Rick Pym, Magnus Pym's father in A Perfect Spy, was based on Ronnie. When his father died in 1975, Cornwell paid for a memorial funeral service but did not attend it.

Cornwell's schooling began at St Andrew's Preparatory School, near Pangbourne, Berkshire, and continued at Sherborne School. He proved to be unhappy with the typically harsh English public school régime of the time and disliked his disciplinarian housemaster, Thomas, and so withdrew.

From 1948 to 1949, he studied foreign languages at the University of Bern in Switzerland. In 1950, he joined the Intelligence Corps of the British Army garrisoned in Austria, working as a German language interrogator of people who crossed the Iron Curtain to the West. In 1952, he returned to England to study at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he worked covertly for the British Security Service, MI5, spying on far-left groups for information about possible Soviet agents.

When his father was declared bankrupt in 1954, Cornwell left Oxford to teach at Millfield Preparatory School;[8] however, a year later he returned to Oxford, and graduated in 1956 with a first class degree in modern languages. He then taught French and German at Eton College for two years, becoming an MI5 officer in 1958. He ran agents, conducted interrogations, tapped telephone lines and effected break-ins. Encouraged by Lord Clanmorris (who wrote crime novels as "John Bingham"), and whilst being an active MI5 officer, Cornwell began writing his first novel, Call for the Dead (1961). Cornwell has identified Lord Clanmorris as one of two models for George Smiley, the spymaster of the Circus, the other being Vivian H. H. Green. As a schoolboy, Cornwell first met the latter when Green was the Chaplain and Assistant Master at Sherborne School (1942–51). The friendship continued after Green's move to Lincoln College, where he tutored Cornwell.

In 1960, Cornwell transferred to MI6, the foreign-intelligence service, and worked under the cover of Second Secretary at the British Embassy at Bonn; he was later transferred to Hamburg as a political consul. There, he wrote the detective story A Murder of Quality (1962) and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963), as "John le Carré" (le Carré is French for "the square"—a pseudonym required because Foreign Office officers were forbidden to publish in their own names.

In 1964, le Carré left the service to work full-time as a novelist, his intelligence-officer career at an end as the result of the betrayal of British agents' covers to the KGB by Kim Philby, the infamous British double agent (one of the Cambridge Five). Le Carré depicts and analyses Philby as the upper-class traitor, code-named "Gerald" by the KGB, the mole George Smiley hunts in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974).

John le Carré: The Biography by Adam Sisman review – a man who’s become his own best fiction

Adam Sisman’s life of the spy novelist is a fascinating truce between candour and guile

Robert McCrum
Sun 25 Oct 2015 07.00 GMTLast modified on Thu 22 Mar 2018 00.08 GMT

In literature, posterity is the name of the game. John le Carré (aka David Cornwell), who knows this only too well, has been flirting with the idea of his biography since 1989, with many second and third thoughts. Quite a few Le Carré watchers believed that his complicated alter ego would never surrender to the biographer’s torments. Surely, it was said, Britain’s greatest living storyteller is so addicted to mysteries and fabrications that he must always be at odds with the demands of any good Boswell. In the end, the writer’s approaching rendezvous with oblivion tipped the balance, and he struck a deal with Adam Sisman.

The upshot is a fascinating truce between candour and guile. Sisman, justly acclaimed for writing about the dead (AJP Taylor; Hugh Trevor- Roper), must have known what he was risking, but possibly underestimated the fathomless complexity of his subject. Besides, who could capture Le Carré? An addictive mixture of Hamlet and King Lear, with a dash of Mercutio, he has become his own best fiction.

Le Carré is a romantic “lost boy” whose appetite for telling his own story can only be satisfied by enthralling reinvention. His own website even boasts a Prospero-like indifference to the truth: “Nothing that I write is authentic. It is the stuff of dreams, not reality. Artists, in my experience, have very little centre. They fake. They are not the real thing.”

From the outset, Sisman has had to negotiate with a subject whose first instinct is to seduce those who come close to him within a wilderness of mirrors, in which vanity reflects insecurity reflects pride. On this analysis, Le Carré is like the Russian doll that introduced the TV version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: an enchanting hybrid of sphinx and tease.

Sisman’s Cornwell is a man who has projected himself as a writer of genius while fearing that he’s his silver-tongued, small-town conman of a father’s son. Other dualities abound. Le Carré has dined with presidents and prime ministers, but Cornwell prefers a private life at the edge of society. Le Carré shuns the literary world (during an interview in 2000 he told me: “I feel completely out of step with the English literary scene”), while Cornwell obsesses about his reputation, policing the smallest detail of his life and work.

In this pre-emptive strike against posterity, pride has finally trumped mystification. Somehow, after a last-minute delay for some inevitable second thoughts, what its publisher calls “the biography” has finally emerged, bearing the scorch marks of Cornwell’s fiery self-protectiveness. Long before Sisman proposed himself for mission impossible, at least one would-be biographer (a Sunday Express journalist) had been chased off with writs, while a second, the writer Robert Harris, was first encouraged, then disdained, then monstered.

Cornwell obviously retains a deep ambivalence towards this latest version of himself. Last week, he announced that he had just sold a “memoir”, The Pigeon Tunnel, to Penguin Random House, which is hardly the action of a man joyously saluting the imminent publication of a massive, long-awaited life story.

On his side, Sisman has also acquired some reservations about Cornwell, whom he awkwardly identifies as “David”. In a rather queasy introduction, he makes it clear that he’s had a testing time, and more or less concedes that he has occasionally been leaned on by his subject. Defiantly, he insists on hoping “to publish a revised and updated version”, presumably when Cornwell can no longer interfere.

With these caveats, however, this book fulfils almost every expectation. Sisman has immersed himself in an extraordinary life story and reported it with exemplary dedication, following Le Carré’s footsteps and, like a literary Jeeves, quietly correcting his master’s narrative with here a discreet cough, there a raised eyebrow, anon a sharp intake of breath. I counted about 10 discreet formulas for Le Carré’s lies, from “false memory” to “fictional recreation” to “entertaining mensonge”.

“David”, I suspect, will not relish what Sisman has done to “Le Carré”, which is to strip away a lot of the magic. At the same time, the biographer’s truths, painstakingly quarried from an airy mountain of fabrication, have their own engrossing authenticity. Beyond the sensational headlines of newspaper serialisation – notably a 60s menage a trois with the novelist James Kennaway and his wife Susan – Sisman has also re-examined crucial aspects of Cornwell’s life with cold precision.

Le Carré has already fictionalised Ronnie Cornwell in A Perfect Spy, but the MI5 man who asked: “Forgiven your father yet?” was on the money. Not until Ronnie’s death is the son released from his old man’s intolerable interventions. Described by Cornwell, referencing PG Wodehouse, one of his favourite writers, as a “Ukridge” character, Cornwell senior made and lost several fortunes and was twice imprisoned for fraud.

To this faded family portrait, Sisman adds some splashes of colour, but also darkens it. Ronnie emerges as more sinister: a wife beater, a sexual tyrant and, according to one crooked associate, “very, very bent”. About Cornwell’s mother, Olive, who fled the family home when her son was five years old, leaving a lifelong antagonism towards the opposite sex, Sisman has less to say, which is disappointing. Perhaps the biggest question in Cornwell’s life – was he more wounded by his father’s deceitfulness or his mother’s desertion? – remains unresolved. Nevertheless, being untruthful became a habit of being. For this, Le Carré’s own explanation is as good as any. “People who have had very unhappy childhoods are pretty good at inventing themselves.”

His best invention was The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, a zeitgeist book whose inspiration Cornwell attributes to the breakdown of his marriage. At this point in 1962, Sisman establishes that Cornwell’s “spying” consisted of informing on his Oxford contemporaries to MI5, plus a couple of years at a desk in Mayfair, and a tour of duty with MI6 in Bonn. Once the Berlin Wall went up, and Europe became divided, this was more than enough for Le Carré to do what he has called “a sort of Tolkien job” on his experience.

Sisman gives chapter and verse for a diminished portrait of Le Carré, the cold war spook, but Cornwell was always more interested in his predicament as an Englishman in the aftermath of empire. This was the subject of the great sequence of fiction by which he will be judged in the long term: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy, Smiley’s People and A Perfect Spy, described by Philip Roth as “the best English novel since the war”.

Here, the old argument about Le Carré’s achievement breaks out afresh. To Roth, Ian McEwan and many others, he is one of the greats. To Anthony Burgess, and Clive James, among the naysayers, he is a self-inflated thriller writer. Tactful but not ecstatic, Sisman seems to side with Le Carre’s distinguished fans, but his biography reports one inescapable verdict: that Le Carré has spent his career mythologising himself and his work. Rarely has there been a more passionate marriage between life and art.

John le Carré: The Biography is published by Bloomsbury (£25). Click here to buy it for £17.50