The Man Who Was George Smiley: The Life of John Bingham by Michael Jago

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The Man Who Was George Smiley: The Life of John Bingham by Michael Jago

Category: Autobiography
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Peter Magee
Reviewed by Peter Magee
Summary: An interesting look at the life and career of the man who was the inspiratin for George Smiley.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: February 2013
Publisher: Biteback Publishing
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1849545136

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John Bingham, 7th Baron Clanmorris, volunteered to serve in the army at the outbreak of the Second World War, but his sight prevented front-line service and he joined MI5. Prior to this he’d been a journalist, working on the Hull Daily Mail before moving to Fleet Street. He found a natural home in MI5 and a considerable talent for interrogation. At a time when spies are thought of as being flamboyant, he was the opposite - a small, bespectacled man who could easily blend into the background. His greatest skill was that he was a patient listener. John Le Carre has said that nobody who knew John and the work he was doing could have missed the description of Smiley in his first novel. Le Carre was a junior colleague in MI5.

He was involved in many of the major wartime operations, such as Operation Double Cross which ensured the success of the D-Day landings. In the post-war period tracking Soviet spies took precedence, but there was unease in MI5 when Harold Wilson became Prime Minister as they suspected him of being dangerously close to the Soviet Union and there were plans for right-wing coups in the late sixties and early seventies. Bingham was involved in monitoring Lord Lucan and others at the time. Bingham (a distant relative and namesake of Lucan) was involved in penetrating the group.

In the nineteen fifties Bingham began the career for which he is probably best known with the publication of his first novel, My Name is Michael Sibley. In total he wrote seventeen books which drew on his career in MI5 in the way that they explored the emotions behind the worst of human behaviour. It would though, be the success of John Le Carre - and particularly of Smiley - which created most problems in the Bingham household. Bingham’s wife, Madeleine - acknowledged to be not an easy woman in any sense of the word - bore a grudge that the family received no financial benefit from the success of the Smiley novels.

No one who has read this book can be under any illusions that MI5 put national security before strict adherence to the law.. The family openly spoke of their father being routinely involved in burglary and it became something of a joke. The history of the family and Bingham’s time with MI5 were the highlights of the book - perhaps because this is what the title led me to expect. Unfortunately the details of his subsequent career could only seem a little tame by comparison.

I’d like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

For a look at the American Secret Services we can recommend Legacy of Ashes by Tim Weiner.

Buy The Man Who Was George Smiley: The Life of John Bingham by Michael Jago at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Man Who Was George Smiley: The Life of John Bingham by Michael Jago at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Man Who Was George Smiley: The Life of John Bingham by Michael Jago at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Man Who Was George Smiley: The Life of John Bingham by Michael Jago at Amazon.com.


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