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Join us for this special event which assesses John le Carré’s legacy and impact on intelligence and the study of international affairs.

About this event

While John le Carré’s importance in the literary landscape is no longer in doubt, his impact on the study and the practice of intelligence has yet to be assessed. To mark the release of the Intelligence and National Security special issue 'John le Carré, Spy fiction and Intelligence', KCSI is organizing a unique event, where Adam Sisman, le Carré’s biographer; Alan Judd, longtime friend and fellow writer; and intelligence scholars (Pauline Blistène, Ariel Sobel, Paul McGarr), will discuss le Carré’s legacy and impact on intelligence and the study of international affairs. The event will be followed by a drink reception.

Please note that you must register to attend the event.


Session 1: ‘John le Carré and/in intelligence studies’, with:

  • Pauline Blistène, King’s College London.
  • Ariel Sobel, Brunel University.
  • Paul McGarr, King’s College London.

Session 2: ‘The secret life of John le Carré’, a conversation moderated by Pauline Blistène, with:

  • Adam Sisman, biographer, author of John le Carré: the biography (Bloomsbury, 2015) and The Secret life of John le Carré (Profile, 2023).
  • Alan Judd, novelist and longtime friend of John le Carré/David Cornwall.

Speakers’ bios:

Adam Sisman is the author of Boswell’s Presumptuous Task, which won the US National Books Critics Circle prize for biography, and the biographer of A.J.P. Taylor, Hugh Trevor-Roper, and John le Carré. In 2019 he published a short book about a con man, The Professor and the Parson: A Story of Desire, Deceit and Defrocking. Among his other works are two volumes of letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and an Honorary Professor at the University of St Andrews.

Alan Judd knew John le Carré for nearly thirty years and is the author of sixteen novels and two biographies. His novels include the series of six Charles Thoroughgood spy novels. His first novel, A Breed of Heroes, won the Royal Society of Literature award and led to his being chosen as one of the Twenty Best of Young British Novelists. His novella, The Devil’s Own Work, won the Guardian fiction prize and his biography, Ford Madox Ford, the Heinemann award. The Quest for C, his authorised biography of the founder of MI6, was short-listed for the Westminster Prize. Two of his novels were filmed by the BBC while a third, The Kaiser’s Last Kiss, was made into a feature film (titled The Exception) starring Christopher Plummer and Lily James. Judd has written and reviewed for many publications, including regular comment pieces for the Daily Telegraph and motoring columns for the Spectator and the Oldie. Before becoming a full-time writer he served in the Army and the Foreign Office. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Ariel Whitfield Sobel has recently submitted her doctoral thesis at Brunel University London, which concentrates on the genealogies and histories of actor training methodologies within human intelligence practices during the 20th century. Alongside her academic work, she has worked as a professional actor and actor trainer both in the United States and the United Kingdom. She attained her bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and received two master’s degrees, one from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and the other from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. She has published two articles with the journal of Intelligence and National Security. Her first article, 'All the world's a stage: covert action as theatrical performance' (2022), explores the use of theatre and performance as tools for espionage. Her second article, part of the special edition on John le Carré, entitled, 'The theatre of the real: the actor/spy relationship in le Carré's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Little Drummer Girl' (2022), examines the author’s life and works in relation to ‘the actor’ and performance.

Paul McGarr is a lecturer in intelligence studies at King’s College London. He has published articles on British and American relations with South Asia, and the wider Global South, in Intelligence & National Security, Diplomatic History, The International History Review, The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, Modern Asian Studies, and Diplomacy and Statecraft. He is the author of The Cold War in South Asia: Britain, the United States and the Indian Subcontinent, 1945-1965 (Cambridge University Press, 2013). His next book, Spying in South Asia: Britain, the United States and India’s Secret Cold War, examines interventions made by the intelligence and security services of Britain and the United States in post-colonial India and their strategic, political, and socio-cultural impact in the subcontinent. It will be published by Cambridge University Press in April 2024.

Pauline Blistène is a Lecturer in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London and a research associate at the Norwegian Defence Intelligence School. Prior to this appointment, she was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow on the ERC-funded DEMOSERIES project at the Sorbonne in Paris, France. She graduated from her PhD at the Sorbonne in 2020, having previously worked for the French equivalent of BBC Radio 4 (France Culture). She has published numerous articles on spy fiction in a wide range of academic journals including Intelligence and National Security, The Cambridge Review of International Affairs, Open Philosophy, TV/Series, A Contrario, and has co-edited the Intelligence and National Security special issue on John le Carré with Damien Van Puyvelde. Pauline currently works on her first book entitled ‘Hidden in Plain Sight. Spy fiction, Secrecy and Democracy’. She is also the author and producer of the podcast Espion, une vie sous légende , which uses the French spy hit The Bureau as an entry point into the real world of spies.