Nicholas Shakespeare

Nicholas Shakespeare: The Complete Man

52 min listen

In this week’s Book Club podcast, my guest is Nicholas Shakespeare, author of Ian Fleming: The Complete Man. He tells me about the astonishing secret life of a writer whose adventures in espionage were more than the equal of his creation’s; and about the damaged childhood and serially broken heart of a man far kinder and

The making of a monster: Paul Kagame’s bloodstained past

In June, Commonwealth heads of government will meet in the Rwandan capital Kigali, a city advertised by their Tutsi host, the 63-year-old Paul Kagame, as ‘the Davos of Africa’. Kagame, Rwanda’s de facto leader since 1994 — and boasting more honorary degrees than Barack Obama, although he never finished high school — has become the

Nicholas Shakespeare: remembering John Le Carre

36 min listen

In this week’s Book Club podcast, we remember the great John Le Carre. I’m joined by one of the late writer’s longest standing friends, the novelist Nicholas Shakespeare. He tells me about Le Carre’s disdain for – and debt to – Ian Fleming, his intensely secretive and controlling personality, his magnetic charm, his thwarted hopes

Novel explosives of the Cold War

One autumn night in 1991, I stood on the rooftop terrace of a tacky villa in Saranda once owned by Albania’s Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha, beside three elderly former SOE officers who were returning to Albania for the first time since 1945. In an image that summed up the waste and the horror of the

The thoughts of Chairman Gonzalo

Few Peruvians today are interested in ‘the Shining Path years’, which left no traces besides 70,000 mutilated bodies and a wrecked country. Modern Lima, by and large, is a thriving city of five-star restaurants, shopping malls and newish Toyotas. Yet between 1980 and 1992 it was a vile and violent place, under siege from a

Sun, sea and spooks

Cuba meant a lot to Graham Greene. Behind his writing desk in his flat in Antibes he had a painting by the Cuban artist René Portocarrero, presented to him by Fidel Castro, who had signed his name on the back, so that Greene didn’t know which way to hang it. Another prize possession was a

The name’s Sorge, Richard Sorge

Interviewed on the Today programme on 7 March, a former executive of the gigantic Chinese tech firm Huawei admitted: ‘It is the nature of humanity to spy, to conduct espionage.’ A gold-plated incarnation of this impulse is the tall, craggy-faced German journalist who was arrested in his pyjamas in his Tokyo house in October 1941.

Voices from the recent past

Interviews, like watercolours, are very hard to get right, and yet look how steadily their art has become degraded and under-appreciated. Each and every Shumble, Whelper and Pigge in our media fancies that an interview can be tossed off: you need only switch on the microphone and let the person speak. Radio is the worst

The old man and the siren

One rainy evening in December 1948, a blue Buick emerged from the darkness of the Venetian lagoon near the village of Latisana and picked up an Italian girl — 18, jet black wet hair, slender legs — who had been waiting for hours at the crossroads. In the car, on his way to a duck

Outward bound

Paris, Venice, Montevideo, Cape Town, Hobart. There are cities, like fado, that pluck at the gut. In my personal half dozen, having also lived there, Lisbon ranks high. ‘What beauties doth Lisboa first unfold,’ gasped Byron’s Childe Harold. Two centuries on, Portugal’s capital remains Queen of the Sea. Yet beyond a sombrely sentimental gift to

Hooked for life

In Havana, one week before President Obama unthawed half a century of cold relations with Cuba, I talked to the last fisherman to have known Ernest Hemingway. Oswald Carnero came from Cojimar — where the writer kept his boat, the Pilar — and was one of the villagers to whom Hemingway dedicated his Nobel Prize

A huff to the music of time

You’re in the index, but not in the book. This ghostly sensation has been my experience since 1990 after commissioning Auberon Waugh to review Anthony Powell’s Miscellaneous Verdicts. Waugh’s verdict appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on 20 May that year. Next morning, Powell resigned in a celebrated huff from the sister paper, of which I

The greatest journeys ever made

Many believed in Australia for 1,000 years before its discovery. There had to be a commensurate weight — somewhere Down Under — to counter the northern land mass; an ‘unknown Southland’ which was crucial to maintaining the balance of the world. To confuse matters, this theoretical continent was dubbed for a while Austrialia del Espiritu

Love at first sight | 30 November 2017

The novelist Mary Wesley never forgot the night of 26 October 1944. She was then 32, locked in a loveless marriage to ‘a perfectly nice but remarkably boring’ barrister, Lord Swinfen, and was dining at the Ritz with a friend from MI6 — she had worked there in April 1940, decoding the positions of German

A sensual Greek goddess

Joan Leigh Fermor died in 2003, aged 91, after falling in her bathroom in the house on a rocky headland of the Peloponnese which she had financed by selling her jewellery. Afterwards, whenever Joan’s husband and companion of nearly six decades reclined in her place on the sofa to read, eight of her 73 cats

A tidal wave of grief

Most victims of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake — which convinced Voltaire there could be no God — perished not in the six-minute tremor, but in the tsunamis which foamed up the Tagus soon after, causing devastation as far away as Brazil. These towering sheets of water can have an impact greater than that of a

Gilded prostitution

‘An English peer of very old title is desirous of marrying at once a very wealthy lady, her age and looks are immaterial…’ This desperate advertisement in the Daily Telegraph in 1901 was a barometer of the impoverishment of many British aristocrats following the Long Depression of 1873–80; dependent on agriculture, the landed gentry continued

Two small boys in the sea

An estimated 400,000 people drown annually worldwide, 50 per cent of them children. Roughly 150 drownings occur in the UK. In the 1970s, the RNLI station at Port Isaac on the north Cornish coast responded to ‘about 30 shouts a year’, reckons the novelist Richard Beard. On 18 August 1978 at 2.30 p.m. a maroon