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John Le Carré publishes A Perfect Spy, a novel about sigint


John Le Carré's novels do not indicate an affection for sigint operators. Where he mentions them at all they are usually referred to as the 'unreliable radio men'. The one exception is A Perfect Spy, published in early March 1986, which features sigint significantly in the plot. Le Carré had served in intelligence himself and this was the first of his novels not submitted for clearance by the UK goverment prior to publication. It appeared in the same year as the film, The Whistleblower, starring Michael Caine, the only major film featuring GCHQ. The Whistleblower was directed by Simon Langton, who had previously directed the acclaimed television dramatisation of Le Carré's novel, Smiley's People for the BBC in 1982.

Given that most of the writing for both The Perfect Spy and the film The Whistleblower had been undertaken in the preceeding two years (1984-5) we can perhaps see the cultural impact of the unprecedented publicity given to GCHQ during the industrial dispute that began in early January 1984. The Whistleblower was originally a novel written by the playwright John Hale and was published by Jonathan Cape on 13 September 1984.

Between 1985 and 1989, the established thriller writer John Gardner wrote a trilogy of novels about the Railton family, which dealt with MI5, MI6 and also GCHQ. Gardner was best known as the person who was commissioned to continue to the novels of the Bond franchise. He wrote thirteen Bond novels, including the novelisation of the screenplays for License to Kill (1985) and Goldeneye (1996).


James Burridge, 'Sigint in the Novels of John Le Carre', Studies in Intelligence, Vol.37, No.3 (1994) 125-33. (PDF Document)


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GCHQ: The Uncensored Story of Britain's Most Secret Intelligence Agency