Born on 19 October 1931 in Poole, Dorset, David John Moore Cornwell – known worldwide as John le Carré – was educated at Sherborne School, the University of Berne, and Lincoln College, Oxford, where he gained a 1st class Honours Degree in Modern Languages. After a short stint as a teacher at Eton (1956-58), he joined the British Foreign Service, working in Intelligence. He was Second Secretary at the British Embassy in Bonn, then Political Consul in Hamburg. He plays down his career as a spy: "I was nothing of the kind. I am a writer who, when I was very young, spent a few ineffectual but extremely formative years in British Intelligence."
He published his first novel in 1961 and now has 21 titles to his credit. It wasn’t until the publication and success of his third book, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963), that he left the Foreign Service to become a full time writer. As he explains in the foreword to the Sceptre edition (1991), the acclaim the novel received transformed his life. He went from writing in anonymity to publishing in the full glare of publicity.
In 1954 John le Carré married Ann Sharp. They were divorced in 1971, and he married Valerie Eustace in 1972, with whom he lives in Cornwall. He has four sons and twelve grandchildren.
His early home life was far from secure or happy: his mother left the family when he was five years old; his father was a con-man and sometime prison inmate. Some of that story is told in the semi-autobiographical masterpiece, A Perfect Spy. It was not until le Carré was 21 that he finally met his mother again.
Over the years he has won several awards, including the Somerset Maugham Award in 1964, the Crime Writers' Association Dagger of Daggers Award for The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and the British Book Awards TV and Film Book of the Year for The Constant Gardener in 2006.
Many of his novels have been adapted for screen, including The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, The Little Drummer Girl, The Russia House, The Tailor Of Panama and The Constant Gardener. Two of the 'Karla' novels, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley’s People, have been televised.
He writes of himself: "I am flattered that my fabulations are taken so seriously. Yet I also despise myself in the fake role of guru, since it bears no relation to who I am or what I do. Artists, in my experience, have very little centre. They fake. They are not the real thing. They are spies. I am no exception."