The Pigeon Tunnel (2023) Movie Script

[dramatic music]
[Errol Morris] Usually, I have absolutely
no idea of where to begin,
but you gave me an idea of
where to begin.
And what was that?
[Errol] You asked me about
the nature of our relationship.
It went further than that, I think.
It said, "Who are you?"
Because, I've looked at much of your work.
Sometimes, you're a spectral figure,
sometimes you're God.
And sometimes you're present.
I needed to know who I was talking to.
Were you my friend across the fire?
Were you a stranger on a bus?
Who are you?
This is a performance art.
You need to know whether you're performing
to a trade union, an elite audience.
You need to know something about the
ambitions of the people you're talking to.
[Errol] And if I can't answer
that question?
Not that I won't, but maybe I can't.
Then we'll struggle on and find out
who you are.
[wings flapping]
[David] When I was first
in Army Intelligence,
I'd conducted a lot of interviews,
which were also interrogations.
Immediately, in the relationship, there is
a dependence upon me, the interrogator.
"Is your mother okay? Do you want me
to make a call to your home?"
It's the bonding, real or artificial,
that opens the discussion.
First of all, a statement that
I'm the only person you've got.
[Errol] Establishing a dependence?
Establishing their dependence
on the interrogator, yes.
When you want something to be expressed
that may not be true,
and you know it's not true,
that's a beginning.
[David] "There's scarcely a book of mine
that didn't have The Pigeon Tunnel
at some time or another
as its working title."
[muffled thud]
[David] "Its origin is easily explained.
I was in my mid-teens
when my father decided to take me
on one of his gambling sprees
to Monte Carlo.
Close by the old casino
stood the sporting club."
[wings flapping]
[David] "At its base lay a stretch of lawn
and a shooting range looking out to sea."
[David] "Under the lawn,
ran small, parallel tunnels
that emerged in a row
at the sea's edge.
- Into them were inserted live pigeons..."
- [pigeon coos]
"...that had been hatched and trapped
on the casino roof.
Their job was to flutter their way
along the pitch-dark tunnel
until they emerged
in the Mediterranean sky
as targets for the well-lunched
sporting gentlemen..."
[Russian soldiers] "Halt! Halt!"
"...who were standing in wait
with their shotguns."
"Pigeons who were missed or merely winged
returned to the place of their birth
on the casino roof,
where the same traps awaited them.
Quite why this image has haunted me
for so long
is something the listener..."
" perhaps better able
to judge than I am."
[Errol] The name David Cornwell is
probably unfamiliar to most of you.
He's an expert on secrets,
a former spy himself,
and the author of two dozen books,
virtually all of them best sellers,
written under the pen name
of John le Carr.
[Errol] Cornwell has been living this
double life for more than 50 years now
and rarely gives interviews.
- [intriguing music]
- [David] Betrayal fascinates me.
I've lived through a period
of endless betrayal.
When I went into the secret world,
I served in two successive services,
both of which were betrayed to the hilt.
I felt betrayed as a child, if you like.
I felt that I had betrayed people myself.
Like many artistic people,
I have lived from early childhood
inside an imaginative bubble.
When I was in the secret world,
it wasn't enough for me.
I did very little of it.
I was very junior, I wasn't told much.
So, what I did was reinvent the secret
world and fill my own people with it.
[Errol] In many of the stories,
there are dupes and string pullers.
Those in control
and those controlled by others.
[camera shutter clicks]
[David] Well, now we're talking
about my childhood.
[projector slide changes]
My father was a confidence trickster.
Life was a stage.
Where pretense was everything.
Being off stage was boring.
And risk was attractive.
But above all, what was attractive
was the imprint of personality.
Of truth, we didn't speak.
Of conviction, we didn't speak.
[Errol] So, you felt like a dupe?
No, I joined. I joined.
You polish your act,
learn to tell funny stories. Show off.
You discover early that there is no center
to a human being.
I wasn't a dupe.
I was invited to dupe other people.
If we moved from one place to another,
didn't pay the bills.
If we had to put the lights out
on the house
because somebody
was after my father, Ronnie,
that seemed at the time,
the way people lived.
Now, these are not hard luck stories.
Graham Greene said, and I quote him often,
"Childhood is the credit balance
of the writer."
It's not a lament,
it's just a self-examination.
[intriguing music]
[David] "I have seen the house
where I was born,
but the house of my birth that I prefer
is a different one
built in my imagination.
It's red brick and clattery
and due for demolition,
with broken windows, a 'For Sale' sign
and an old bath in the garden.
A place for kids to hide in
rather than be born.
But born there I was,
or so my imagination insists."
- [woman cries and pants]
- "I was born in the attic
among a stack of brown boxes
that my father always carted round
with him when he was on the run."
[birds tweet]
"My mother lies on a camp bed,
pitifully doing her best,
whatever her best may entail."
[David's mother pants]
[David's mother wails]
- "So, I am born..."
- [baby cries]
"...and packed up with my mother's
few possessions,
for we have recently suffered
another bailiffs' visitation
and are travelling light."
[baby gurgles]
"The lid of the boot is locked
from the outside."
[engine starts]
"I'm already on the run.
I've been on the run ever since."
[distorted flapping wings]
[pigeons coo]
[David] My mother disappeared
when I was five.
I had no relationship with her at all.
There were many substitute mothers
who passed through my father's hands.
One particular stepmother,
who in her own way was heroic,
steadied the ship for a while.
[dramatic music]
[David] My mother was a mystery.
Because it was never properly revealed
what had happened to her.
Was she dead, was she alive?
Ronnie didn't like hard truths.
I met her again at 21.
I wrote to her brother,
he wrote back, saying,
"Here's her address.
Never tell her that I told you."
So, I wrote to my mother, said,
"Your brother tells me..."
So, I felt completely unbound
by this injunction.
[Errol] Did you imagine her having regrets
about leaving you and your brother?
[David] Well, when I met her, [laughs]
I asked how she felt about it.
And she replied,
and it was always her reply,
that my father had been intolerable
to live with,
that she got sick of the trail of
mistresses he was bringing to the house.
That there was never any money
passing through.
And she didn't like all these crooks
coming through his life.
She said, if, if she had attempted
any other measure,
he knew so many wonderful lawyers,
which indeed he did,
that she would never have had a chance
in the marital court.
So, she gave up all that stuff
and thought she'd just push off.
[pigeons coo]
[Errol] Do you remember the day she left?
[David] No.
If you are going to leave your children,
that night,
with your white suitcase packed,
do you kiss them goodbye?
[door creaks]
Did she come into the room where we slept?
Take a last look at us?
[she sighs gently]
[David] So, I imagine it.
I imagine that she did.
[she exhales]
[door closes firmly]
[footsteps echo]
[Errol] You came into possession
of this suitcase.
[David] When she died,
I spotted this beautiful white hide
suitcase from Harrods
lined with silk inside.
With her initials on the outside,
"O.M.C.," Olive Moore Cornwell.
That must have been the suitcase
into which she packed her clothes.
I imagined the amazing flimsies
that it would have contained.
And the most exquisite clothes.
She took it into a kind of poverty.
She ran away with a chap who had no money.
I imagined the suitcase being unpacked
and the last of the luxury
gradually fading away.
I kept the suitcase.
It's the only relic I have of her.
Physical evidence that
that thing happened.
[Errol] What did the suitcase mean to you?
Why keep it?
I accused it in my mind of being,
as it were, a conspirator
in her secret departure
from the house one night.
[vehicle passes faintly]
To me, it's historic.
She was impenetrable emotionally.
I never heard her
express a serious feeling.
But when she went to nursing home
for her last year or so,
then she created a fantasy
with the nurses.
She had painted to the nurses
a picture of maternal loyalty to us.
The long lives we had shared,
all the fun we'd had.
So, she'd filled in the gap years,
if you like.
And when I attended her dying,
the irony of the moment was
she mistook me for my father.
[foreboding music]
[David] She said,
"You never brought me orchids."
I think it was a reference
to some other amour he had.
I will never know.
And I said, "What color do you like?"
She said, "I don't care. I've never
seen them. Bring me an orchid."
[mysterious music]
[David] People loved Ronnie to the end
of his days, even people he'd robbed.
[David] When he was on stage
beguiling people,
he absolutely believed
in what he was doing and saying.
These spasms of immense charm
and persuasiveness
were his moments of feeling real.
"Son? When I'm judged,
as judged I shall surely be,
I shall be judged on how I treated you
and your brother Tony.
That will be God's will."
God was a big pal of his. [laughs]
Whether he believed in God is mysterious,
but he was certain God believed in him.
[pigeons coo]
These extraordinary, ingenious,
confidence tricks
were part of a conversation
he was having with God.
"If I do this, can I get away with it?
If I do that, can I get away with it?"
[Errol] Bargaining with God.
Yeah, I think more betting with God.
"If I put this much on the table,
how about that?"
Ronnie always, whether he had to steal
or borrow or bribe the headmaster,
wanted me to have the posh education.
I learned the manners and the attitudes
of a class to which I did not belong.
I studied and I frequently felt slighted.
There were times when I hated the class
to which I had been assigned.
I was on enemy territory.
But I learned to dress properly.
I learned to speak properly.
I turned myself into one of them,
but I never felt like one of them.
[David] From a very early age
I was a little spy.
Whenever Ronnie left the house,
I investigated.
I did not know what the world held.
When the debt collectors came in,
my toys disappeared.
The furniture disappeared.
Women disappeared.
Mothers disappeared.
When Ronnie was really frightened,
and it was, "Black the house out,
put the lights out,
put the cars in the back garden."
He wasn't afraid of the law,
he was afraid of the mob.
["Jealous Heart" by Al Morgan]
Jealous heart
Oh, jealous heart
Stop beating
Can't you see the damage
You have done...
[David] When he died,
he had offices in Jermyn Street.
On the top floor lived
ladies of the night.
Who, as he put it, were always ready
to cook some sausages for him.
[woman laughs]
He had two Ford Zephyr cars,
a house in Henley,
a house in Tite Street, Chelsea.
For what purpose, I know not.
And he had these offices.
We could not find on his person,
in the drawers of his desk,
enough money to pay the staff
until the end of the week.
There was no money.
[horse neighs]
There was a horse in France
at Maisons-Laffitte,
a couple of horses in Ireland.
[hooves pound]
[Errol] You called them,
"the never-was-ers."
[David] The never-was-ers.
He had a world champion jockey,
Gordon Richards.
When Gordon retired, he agreed
to select horses at auction for Ronnie,
and, at some point,
he must have paid for them.
His great joy was to appear at Ascot
and have a horse in a race.
[indistinct race track announcements]
[bell rings]
[indistinct race commentary]
[David] Ronnie clearly reached a point
where the fraternity of bookmakers
would not have him on the course anymore,
and they had enforcers
that made that clear.
[crowd cheers]
[David] And you better look out
if you show up at a race course,
and you haven't paid your debts.
I was dispatched with a suitcase
full of money
to distribute among the bookmakers.
[commentator] Wow! It's Rupert.
He's pulling away now!
[David] He had a horse named
after my half-brother,
and it ran in the Cesarewitch.
[indistinct commentary]
[crowd chatter]
[David] All of a sudden,
we had a real harvest of cash.
Thank you, boys.
[David] I sat on the train with it.
[David] A big man came up to me.
You're Ronnie Cornwell's son, aren't you?
Don't do that again, sonny.
[David] And he just touched my nose.
And when I got back, Ronnie was waiting.
And he counted and counted,
and he couldn't believe
I hadn't kept some.
[Ronnie] Come on, boy.
Show me your pockets.
Come on, show me what you've done.
[David] Then I think I got a fiver
at the end of it for being a good boy.
[Errol] Was this a disappointment
to your father, this lack of larceny?
It was puzzlement that... [laughs]
"You can't be that good," he thought.
"No one is. This isn't human nature."
[Errol] But this is such
a romantic childhood, is it not?
Well that... yes.
I-I really need to get that across,
that whatever revelations
came to me later,
and whatever deprivals I seem
to have suffered, mothers and things,
it was terribly exciting.
[suspenseful music]
[projector slide changes]
[David] We haven't mentioned the fact
that I was destined to become a barrister.
And my elder brother was destined
to become a solicitor.
I was determined to go to Oxford,
and they offered me a place.
Ronnie demanded to know
what he was paying for.
In cowardice,
I said that I would be studying Law.
And when he heard on the grapevine
that I was reading Modern Languages,
he descended on my tutor and demanded
to know how the hell this had happened.
Was it their fault or mine?
My mentor, Vivian Green,
showed him the door.
So, I went on reading
Modern Languages.
And in the middle of the second year,
he made a really dramatic bankruptcy.
It was massive,
for a million and a quarter pounds.
The Westminster Bank in Oxford,
then, for reasons of its own,
refused to keep my account and closed it.
I had been very close to my girlfriend
at the time, so we decided to marry.
I went and taught at a low life
private prep school.
And that was the same preparatory school
which, in my mind,
I put at the beginning
of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
We lived in real poverty
with an outside loo and that stuff,
and a tin bath.
And then, to my mind, heroically,
Vivian Green inspired the college
to call me back.
And they would somehow
find the money for me.
So, we went back and they found us
a grand flat to live in.
Life had changed completely.
The institutional allure returned
when Eton invited me
to come and teach the top class.
I thought I'd be an Eton schoolmaster
for the rest of my life.
Then, after two years,
I was fed up with it.
And the spies lured me, and I thought
I would be a spy for the rest of my life.
[mysterious music]
[David] It's terribly difficult
to recruit for a secret service.
In the end, you're looking for somebody
who's a bit bad,
but at the same time, loyal.
There's a type they were looking for
in my day, and I fit it perfectly.
Separated early from the nest.
Boarding school.
Early independence of spirit.
But looking for institutional embrace.
I can see my own life still
as a succession of embraces and escapes.
[wings flutter]
[David] I joined one intelligence
service, went sour on it.
Moved to a second, went sour on it.
I was disenchanted by the Cold War itself,
which was easy to be
when you saw all those Nazis
wandering around in West Germany.
And indeed in East Germany.
What had we really fought for?
[Errol] As if the war had never happened?
It felt like that.
The power of enforced forgetting
was extraordinary.
I was posted under diplomatic cover
to West Germany.
And it was one of the great good fortunes
of my life,
because I was there
for the erection of the Berlin Wall.
The standoff between East and West
was exemplified in Berlin.
Tension was constant.
It affected everybody.
[jet engine whines]
[male announcer] The attention
of an anxious world is focused on Berlin.
The last great exodus of refugees
from the East is processed
as the Communist German regime
moves to close their border.
The flow of those seeking asylum here
on the fringe of freedom
has reached 1,500 a day.
[David] I went to Berlin
and saw for myself what was going on.
The big dramas occurred
before the wall was built.
West German firemen were spreading
their trampolines below the building.
People were jumping into these things.
Sights which were heart-breaking.
[muffled explosion]
[Errol] What was your emotional response
to seeing this thing?
A mixture of anger, disgust and empathy.
It was for me a milestone.
It was the impetus that produced
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.
[Errol] A crucible
for your understanding of the world?
[David] More like confirmation
of my understanding of the world.
[David] This was the most obscene symbol
of the insanity of the human struggle.
I felt that on both sides, East and West,
were inventing the enemy that they needed.
The seamless transition from anti-Nazism
to anti-Communism.
[David] I came back from Berlin.
I knew that I wanted to write
a strong novel about the thing.
It was summer.
I think I worked mainly in the garden.
The kids were around.
I would maybe start
at four or five in the morning.
And I had this rush of blood and anger.
Found, as it were,
a fable that served my purposes
and that was,
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.
[Richard Burton]
What the hell do you think spies are?
Moral philosophers
measuring everything they do
against the word of God or Karl Marx?
They're not. They're just a bunch
of seedy, squalid bastards like me.
Little men, drunkards, queers,
henpecked husbands,
civil servants playing Cowboys and Indians
to brighten their rotten little lives.
Do you think they sit like monks in a cell
balancing right against wrong?
The author who is
the biggest sensation right now,
his real name is David Cornwell,
but he's much better known to us
as John le Carr.
How many did
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold sell?
I think in all editions, book club,
paperback, all over the world,
they say somewhere around
twelve, fifteen million.
[audience laughs]
[Errol] I take it that the success
of Spy was a surprise.
[David] I think it was no surprise to me
in the sense that I felt
that when I'd finished it,
I'd written something
that was profoundly expressive
of my own feelings,
and that it might have legs.
The early rumbles from agent and publisher
suggested it really did have legs.
You have to remember the context
in which it was published.
We were sated with James Bond
at that time.
I admire your luck, Mister...
Bond. James Bond.
The reality that had been
offered by the news
and by all the events
that were happening around us
was spies as a shabby army
of lonely deciders.
I happened to deliver the antidote.
What was wrong about it, and I lived
with that problem still to this day,
was that it painted the secret services
as so bloody brilliant.
Whereas, by that time,
we were a crippled organization
that could very well have been scrapped
to begin again.
[David] "If your mission in life
is to obtain traitors,
to win them over to your cause,
you can hardly complain
when one of your own
turns out to have been obtained
by somebody else.
When I came to write
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,
it was Kim Philby's murky lamp
that lit my path."
[camera shutter clicks]
"MI6's brilliant former head
of counterintelligence.
Once tipped to become chief of the
service, who was also a Russian spy."
[David] Halfway through my tenure
in West Germany,
Philby's defection was announced.
His disappearance from Beirut
and his appearance on the Moscow stage.
That was shocking to the ethic
of the secret services at that time.
[suspenseful music]
[in Russian] Someone is following.
[David] The question is whether MI5,
MI6 wanted him to go.
Nobody wanted that exposure.
You have an extraordinary problem.
Very substantial former spy
coming up for trial.
It would do great national damage
and achieve very little.
In sober reflection,
the powers that be said, "Thank God."
[Errol] "Thank God"?
So, they let him escape?
[David] Yeah.
[muffled ship's horn]
[in Russian] Thank you, comrade.
[David] Philby's defection
went straight to the heart
of the establishment of the day.
He was a Westminster boy.
Part of the inner circle
of English society.
[David] People kind of overlooked,
on those grounds,
the rather evident past that Philby had.
It would not have been difficult
to establish
that he had early associations
with Communist people.
He'd married a Communist woman in Vienna.
Those things could be swept aside
because he's... he's one of us.
He's one of us.
So, if you'd really gone
into Philby's background,
you would have said this chap is...
He's a bit sniffy. We don't want that.
But quite the contrary,
he was Mister Charm,
and he loved to deceive.
[camera shutter clicks]
[David] "Enter now, Nicholas Elliott,
Philby's most loyal friend, confidant,
devoted brother-in-arms in war and peace.
Child of Eton.
Son of its former headmaster,
adventurer, alpinist and dupe."
[elevator squeaks]
"Among the many extraordinary things
that Elliott had done in his life,
and undoubtedly the most painful,
was to sit face to face in Beirut
with his close friend, colleague
and mentor, Kim Philby,
and hear him admit that
he had been a Soviet spy
for all the years
that they had known each other."
Nick Elliott told me that when he went out
to interview Philby in Beirut
and to obtain from Philby the confession.
He said that really,
when he wasn't playing a double game,
that he was extremely lonely.
He found life had gone flat for him,
so the addiction to betrayal
was essential to him.
And he betrayed everybody, really,
from childhood onward.
[Nicholas Elliott] There's an awful lot
of misuse of the word "double agent."
Philby is often described in the press
as a double agent.
In point of fact,
Philby was a straightforward,
high-level, disreputable traitor.
What's the difference, exactly?
Well, I mean, he was a straightforward spy
for the Russians.
If he'd been a double agent,
he'd have been a spy for the Russians.
But we'd have been playing back
against the Russians.
[David] I knew Elliott pretty well.
And he was this tall figure.
The hollowed-out body, waistcoats, spectacles.
An Etonian voice,
the son of an Etonian headmaster,
long line of Etonians behind him,
very aristocratic.
[Errol] Can you do his voice?
Yes. I said to him, "Nick,
when you went to see Kim,
what kind of sanctions did you have?"
[as Elliott] "Sanctions, old boy?
What do you mean by that?"
[normal] "How could you threaten him?
Could you have him sandbagged
and brought back to London?"
[as Elliott] "Oh," he said, "my dear chap,
nobody wanted him in London."
[normal] I said, "Well, what could you
threaten him with?
Nick, come on, come clean." He said,
[as Elliott] "I told him,
if he didn't come clean,
there wouldn't be a legation,
an embassy,
a business, or a club
in the whole of the Middle East
who'd have a first damn thing
to do with him."
[normal] So, I said,
"Well, that must have frightened him."
[as Elliott] "It did." [laughs]
He played the English bloody fool,
whether he was one,
as many maintain, I don't know.
[Errol] You do have that line
in what you wrote.
"Philby was adept at deceiving others.
Elliott was equally adept
at deceiving himself."
[David] I'm glad I said that.
It was always my argument
that it was instinct rather than reason
that drove Philby to do what he did.
That thrill of stepping into the street
knowing what you know and they don't.
It's the joy of self-imposed schizophrenia
that the secret agent loves.
[Errol] "Self-imposed schizophrenia."
[chuckles gently]
The duality all the time.
Of being the opposite
of your outward self.
[Errol] But isn't there some joy
that you are actually making policy?
Yes, I think the joy is voluptuous.
A sensual journey
of constantly challenging your luck
and surviving.
Making a real difference too, absolutely.
To feel you're the hub of the universe
is wonderful for the vanity.
To be passing that, that pure gold,
to the Soviet Union, to your masters.
"Now, do you love me?
If I give you this, will you love me?"
I can imagine that voluptuous instinct
very well.
Not in myself, but in him.
Mister le Carr, you've described
Kim Philby as,
"The avenger who destroyed the citadel
from within."
Well, I think he's one of those strange
people who was born into privilege
and, in some way, resented the advantages
with which he was born.
A person who, on the one hand,
felt that he was better than society
and, on the other hand, couldn't forgive
society for putting him in that position.
He was very much at war with himself,
I think.
[suspenseful music]
When I finally went to Moscow in 1988,
I was at a party given
by the Union of Soviet Writers.
There was a big man
called Genrikh Borovik.
Borovik came up to me and said,
[as Borovik] "David, I would like you
to meet a very good friend of mine.
Keen admirer from your books.
Kim Philby."
[normal] I replied,
sick to the heart as I felt,
that I'm soon to have dinner
with our ambassador,
and I can't see myself having dinner
with the Queen's representative one night,
and dinner with the Queen's traitor
the next.
I just thought
there is such a thing as evil.
Somebody who had blindly served Stalin
for so long.
How he could go on serving
such a person, such a cause,
as Soviet communism, was beyond me.
He knew better than anyone
what he was doing.
It was the addiction, it was the fun
of betrayal that got to him.
It was the feeling that he was playing
both ends against the middle.
He was the center of the earth.
He was playing the world's game.
It had precious little to do,
in the end, with ideology.
It may have begun as ideology.
After that, it became an addiction,
the betrayal.
If you'd given him your cat
to look after for a couple of weeks,
he'd have betrayed the cat somehow.
I had some inner relationship with Philby.
The temptation, somehow,
to turn your back on everything
you've been taught and picked up
and go your own route.
I can understand
how that happened to Philby.
And I've felt that thank God
I never went in that direction.
But there came a point in my life where
I seemed to be offered the crossroads.
I could have become a really bad guy.
And mercifully, I found a home
for my larceny.
[David archive] A writer is slightly
out of tune. He is different.
His methods of creation
are the methods of a lonely person
who is borrowing, abstracting
experiences here and there,
and putting them together
and trying to make a parcel, if you like,
which you can then offer to the public.
In that sense, he's an illusionist.
And if people are constantly trying
to look up his sleeve,
then he's going to spoil his trick.
[camera shutter clicks]
For me, writing is a journey
of self-discovery every time.
How characters behave,
how they emerge, who they are,
what appetites they have,
they deliver themselves on the blank page
and they tell me a little bit
about who I am.
In writing about George Smiley, of course,
I'm writing about the ideal father
I never had.
These are attempts at self-knowledge.
Little glimpses along
the way of who one really is.
I have never submitted to analysis.
I feel if I knew any secrets about myself,
I'd deprive myself of writing.
[chuckles gently]
[Errol] What did you learn about yourself
from Bill Haydon?
[David] Well, that was something
I guess I already knew.
It was something I knew of Philby, too.
And obviously Haydon is
to some extent modelled on Philby.
An instinct that is latent in me,
which I have never to my knowledge
deployed, used, fallen for,
it's to be king of the world,
as Haydon thought he was.
There was a time when the very pleasure
of being in the secret world
close to what was going on,
what was really going on,
filled me with a sense of exultation.
This is, in the Faustian sense, what
the world contains at its inmost point.
[mysterious music]
"Was die Welt im Innersten zusammenhlt",
is the line.
[Errol] Then there's that despairing line
in The Secret Pilgrim,
"Knowing that the inmost room..."
"...doesn't contain anything." Yes.
Somehow, we believe
that there is an inmost room
where policy is being conceived.
I think it's being played
completely ad hoc,
from day to day, from hour to hour.
[Errol] History is chaos!
History is chaos, and therefore
to imagine, as I might have done
in my perpetual innocence,
that there was some great secret
to the nature of human behavior.
There is none.
[David] "'Spying is eternal, '
Smiley announced simply.
'There's no career on Earth more cockeyed
than the one you've picked.
You'll be at your most postable
while you're least experienced.
And by the time you've learned the ropes,
no one will be able to send you anywhere
without a trade description
round your necks.
Old athletes know they've played their
best games when they're in their prime.
Spies in their prime are on the shelf.'"
[slow, echoing footsteps]
"'And then, at a certain age,
you want the answer.'
'You want the rolled-up parchment
in the inmost room
that tells you who runs your lives
and why.
The trouble is, that by then,
you're the very people who know best...
...that the inmost room is bare.'"
[Errol] When I read it,
I took it as more deeply existential.
Is the inmost room ourselves?
Maybe there's nothing there?
In my case that is true, yes.
I can't speak for everybody else.
[suspenseful music]
[David] I think we, all of us,
live partly in a clandestine situation
in relation to our bosses, in relation
to our families, our wives, our children.
We frequently affect attitudes
to which we subscribe,
perhaps intellectually,
but not emotionally.
We hardly know ourselves.
The figure of the spy does seem to me
to be almost infinitely capable
of exploitation,
for purposes of articulating all sorts
of submerged things in our society.
[Errol] The experience
that I have reading le Carr is,
"Am I in a world of fiction?
Am I in a world of fact?
Am I in some strange blend
of the two?"
[David] I really don't think any artist,
whether he's a writer,
a painter, or anybody else,
I don't think he has to explain his work
beyond a certain point.
If it's raised those questions in you,
you're already having a good time.
I have tried, over these conversations,
to talk about the process of abstraction
from real life.
Now, I very consciously wrote a book,
A Perfect Spy...
...which gave a parallel version, if you
like, of much that had happened to me.
For Ronnie, read Rick,
for me, read Magnus.
I cannot define for you
where reality goes through
the secret door into fiction.
I would much rather go back to the notion
that I painted of,
"I live in that bubble,
and I import stuff."
It is a kind of solitude in the sense that
you're not sharing your thoughts
with anyone.
[page turns]
You're composing in secret
from the elements you see around you.
A fictional entity which is rational,
which makes order out of chaos.
I think that's such a normal process.
If I were a painter,
I'd be feeling the same way.
I'd be taking the light, the window
and I would try to make an image
of how I feel now.
[Errol] I was going to ask you how
you do feel now, but that seems silly.
Errol, I feel very comfortable.
I enjoy very much talking about things
I haven't talked about before.
I saw this prospect, at my great age,
as something definitive.
I knew that I was not going to lie.
I wasn't going to fabricate.
I'm not even interested in self-defense,
because I really don't know
what the accusation is in the air.
[David] "Sir Magnus, you have in the past
betrayed me,
but more important,
you have betrayed yourself.
Even when you are telling the truth,
you lie.
You have loyalty and you have affection.
- But to what? To whom?"
- [Axel echoing] To what? To whom?
I don't know.
One day, maybe you will tell me.
What I am saying, Sir Magnus,
you are a perfect spy.
[faint chatter]
[David] Characters don't actually work
until they've got a bit of you in them.
They're just paper men.
I voice my characters.
I read them to myself.
That's terribly important, how they speak.
After that, they kind of tell you who they
are, how they dress, how they move.
[David] That's the emergence of character
as you write, page after page.
Gradually, this fellow emerges
and is yours.
My natural instinct
when I meet people
is to consider the possibilities
of their characters.
I begin to invest them with things
they probably don't possess.
Curiously, in the end product, those
features may not be there anymore.
But that's the beginning of the story.
And then I discuss,
what do these people want?
And out of discerning contrary appetites,
you get the essence of conflict.
[Errol] You've written, "The cat sat
on the mat is not a story,
but the cat sat on the dog's mat is."
That's right.
[Errol] And then I have
my le Carr version.
[they laugh]
[Errol] "The cat betrayed the dog
by sitting on his mat."
I think the cat was a double. [laughs]
[Errol] Why is betrayal
an important concept to you?
[David] Well, it has
a long family background.
Reality did not exist in my childhood,
performance did.
I felt, observing life,
that much of what people said overtly
was not what they thought inwardly.
You have to remember that in each
of the secret services
where I was ineffective but employed.
[David] They were the decades of betrayal.
You just wondered
who was gonna pop out next.
We received, at MI5, very strong
representations from the Americans
to clean up our act and get rid
of the communists in our midst.
A man appeared
and he had some kind of authority,
which he made clear to you,
and he would say,
"Come around, have a drink."
[birds tweet]
And he had a most extraordinary wall
with live birds behind it.
They silently flitted about.
I think he was a fool, I may add.
Must have been some kind of analyst, psychologist.
He would question you in a sort of
fatuous schoolmasterly...
"Getting on all right with your wife,
are you?"
We were all being examined
as potential communist spies.
The comedy in my case was
that I had, for MI5,
entered the communist community
at my university at Oxford.
I was picked up and wooed,
sat in the Soviet embassy,
watched the Battleship Potemkin
about six times,
was fed with vodka and then dropped.
[Errol] It's a good movie.
It's a good movie, except
that it has no happy ending. [laughs]
[Errol] Wait a second. Is the desire to
be a double agent from the very beginning?
It was an extremely exciting thought
at the time.
[Errol] It's not just an agent,
it's a double a...
It happens all the time
with every security service
and every offensive intelligence service.
That you put people up
alongside the recruiter,
hope he will recruit, and then
you own the person he has recruited.
That's, as the Germans would say, normal.
Out of that came
the very painful relationship
with the secret head of
the communist group at Oxford at the time,
a most innocent man, Stanley Mitchell.
We were in the same college,
he was reading Russian and German.
He was of Russian-Jewish extraction.
And we went on a walking holiday together
in Dorset.
He had all the names of students
who were members
of the Communist Party at that time.
My job for MI5 was to identify
these people.
And of course, it's horrific.
I was betraying Stanley.
[Axel shouts in distance]
Although, I squirm and I'm horrified
by my behavior now,
I still think it had to be done.
Stanley, in later years,
made the very simple deduction
that I was that person in his life.
It upset him terribly.
"It was you, Judas. You swine.
How could anybody do it?
How could anybody be as foul as you?"
[Errol] And your defense?
Was, "Well, sorry, Stanley, but you
belong to a revolutionary movement
which was determined
to destabilize our country.
We were, at that time, technically at war
with the Soviet Union.
You were on the wrong side."
[Errol] Can you be so sure
that you're on the right side
- as opposed to the wrong side?
- Of course not. No. Of course not.
[Errol] In A Perfect Spy, why the need
to have the son kill himself?
[David] Firstly, because he knew that
as a double agent, he was rumbled.
He could have cut a deal, I suppose,
in the real world.
I think he also found life insupportable.
And he was ashamed
in the eyes of his child.
[Errol] Did Ronnie have a sense of shame?
I really don't believe so.
I've heard him do it,
kind of through the keyhole,
to the first of my stepmothers.
Howling he would never do something again.
I don't know that he did shame,
I don't know
how he could live with himself.
Living with his fantasies,
which didn't necessarily begin
as criminal plans
but it... it was like writing a novel,
in the sense that he would
hear the right line,
or spot in the crowd some clue.
And that would be the beginning of a scam.
[pensive music]
[David] "I am in the city of Exeter,
walking across a patch of wasteland.
I'm holding the hand of my mother, Olive.
As she was wearing gloves,
there is no fleshly contact
and indeed, so far as I recall,
there never was any.
At the far side of the wasteland is
a grim, flat-fronted building
with barred windows
and no light inside them."
[pigeon coos softly]
"And in one of these barred windows,
looking exactly like a Monopoly convict,
stands my father.
I wave at Ronnie high up in the wall
and Ronnie waves the way he always waved."
[young David] Daddy, Daddy!
[David] "On Olive's hand,
I march back to the car,
feeling thoroughly pleased with myself.
Not every small boy, after all,
has his mother to himself
and keeps his father in a cage."
[cell door slams]
"But according to my father,
none of this happened.
The notion that I might have seen him
in any of his prisons
offended him very much."
[Ronnie] Sheer invention
from start to finish, son.
Anyone who knows the inside of Exeter jail
knows perfectly well
you can't see the road from the cells.
[cell door clanks, slams]
[David] "And I believe him.
I'm wrong and he was right.
He was never at that window
and I never waved to him.
But what's the truth? What's memory?
We should find another name
for the way we see past events
that are still alive in us."
[Errol] I don't think confronting you
is the right way to put it.
But there was something
that you said that I found curious
and worth further examination.
Maybe this is an interrogation.
Maybe I am self-deceived.
I can't imagine that as an interrogator
or an interviewer,
you aren't also in part
looking for yourself.
I don't think that we really can
penetrate people very much,
but we can form imaginings about them
and then we relate to them.
[Errol] You hired private detectives
[laughing] to investigate your father.
[David] One fat, one thin.
I asked my solicitor,
"How can I get hold of these people?"
He said, "Well, don't tell them
I told you,
but these are about the most ruthless men
[laughing] I know."
I hired them,
at an absurdly large sum of money.
[David] Really, they came on very little.
A much more reliable source for Ronnie's
first criminal case and imprisonment
is the local press of the day.
He got, I think, a four-year sentence
for fraud at a very young age,
but then he was taken out in mid-sentence
and given a second sentence,
uh, with hard labor.
I once said, "How bad was it?"
He said, "Well, the Gypsies
were the worst."
And he's talking about handicuffs.
Ronnie had a big chest. I think he was
capable of being very physical himself.
[David] I was in Chicago promoting
a British week, riding on London buses,
pretending to make phone calls
from telephone kiosks.
The British consul-general
then handed me a telegram
he'd received from the embassy in Jakarta.
Saying Ronnie was in prison, it would
take so much money to get him out.
Would I agree to pay it?
It wasn't an enormous sum,
but it was quite painful all the same,
and that got him out.
And we never talked about it
until I did much later and he said,
"Oh, it was nothing, just currency stuff."
We now know that he was engaged
in arms dealing
at a time when Indonesia was
just recovering from a huge genocide.
But then the last time, to my knowledge,
that he was in prison,
he was in the Bezirksgefngnis,
the district prison in Zurich
for swindling hotels.
He was allowed a reverse charge call
to me.
He said, "I can't do any more jail, son.
Get me out."
And that was money again.
I mean, it wasn't big money,
but it was extremely painful to me.
[cell door slams]
I still have nightmare visions of this
hugely active physical man, caged.
In the aggregate,
I don't know how much prison he did.
Probably altogether no more
than six or seven years.
But what effect it had on him,
I can't imagine.
[unsettling music]
[indistinct prisoners chatter]
[Errol] By the way, Ronnie sued you!
[David] Yes, he did. I gave an interview
to London Weekend Television.
I omitted to say
that I owed everything to him.
I didn't want to give Ronnie the credit.
Why should I find a line
that said I owed it all to my father?
But the reality probably is,
in many ways, that I do.
[David archive] I've never felt
I belonged anywhere,
I've been very lucky in that respect.
I've had a very rich life.
And I've seen a lot of institutions
and a lot of things.
I've led a lot of lives, in an odd way.
I don't feel that I belong to any of them.
What I am left with is
a sense of being on my own.
[Errol] Was your father
tortured by the fact
that you became rich and successful
and he did not?
[David] I don't know.
The principal effect
of my success upon him
was to create in him
a sense of entitlement.
He bought huge quantities of my books,
usually on credit, signed them,
"From the author's father."
Gave them around like confetti.
I met the hard-edge, the real edge,
I suppose, when he summoned me to Vienna.
I've worked out
what your education cost me.
And I have some idea of the kind of money
you're making."
And then he went on to make a pitch.
"Son, all I've ever wanted in my life
is pigs and cattle,
and then a little piece of Dorset.
Pigs and cattle.
Somewhere nice to live, nice lady
to live with, and I'll be all right.
So, what I need is..."
And he named an enormous sum of money.
"Father, I can't do that.
It makes no sense to me.
What I will do, if that's really what
you want, with your pigs and cattle,
is I will buy a house and own it
and put you into it.
I will make an allowance to you
for running your farm.
I don't trust you for one second."
He actually had appointed me a mark.
He was going to con me.
And I'd join the club of people
on the roadside.
And I wasn't going to let that happen.
We were in Sachers, in Vienna,
the most refined, excellent restaurant
in those days.
He let out the most awful feral howl.
And shouted, "You're paying
your own father to sit on his arse!"
In a voice that could have been heard
across the street.
And then he emitted this howl, howl,
half rose to his feet,
and I put my arm
round his very ample back,
and we hobbled to the front door
of the... of the hotel,
down some steps, then there was a cab and
he looked up at me in supplicant's face,
"How am I going to pay for this cab?"
And I gave the driver some money.
And off he went.
I could've accepted his pitch,
at least given him some money.
But I was so angry that it was a pain
to pay for the cab.
[Errol] But it's a feeling
of being betrayed.
Yes, it is. There was quite a bit of that
in it. "How can you do this to me?"
[melancholy music]
[Guillam] Come on, old friend.
It's bedtime.
George? You won.
[Smiley] Did I?
Yes, I suppose I did.
[Errol] Did you love Ronnie?
I really don't know what love is.
I must have loved him as a child.
But then, the consequences of his life
became clear to me.
Later in life, when he wanted everything
I had, like my money.
I was able to pull out
the necessary stops.
I could do affection with him.
I could do indifference
and, secretly, I could do hatred.
Those things exist, actually,
in any father-son relationship
at different times.
They're like seasons. I had to muster
hatred in order to escape him.
[David] They had three funerals for him.
I went to the first one.
I was urged to make a speech
and declined.
And then there was another funeral
and then, God help us,
there was a memorial service.
But I didn't go to either of those.
I wanted to believe that
my feelings were dead.
And I've never seen his grave.
[birds sing]
[Errol] But you paid for the funerals.
I'm sure I did, yes.
I paid for everybody's funerals.
I paid for my mother's funeral.
I mean, I paid for them.
What... What the hell does that mean?
I'm well off, I paid.
The most loyal of his servants,
who had done jail for him,
was a man called Arthur Lowe.
All these people have monosyllables
as surnames.
There was a Mister Bent,
believe it or not.
I went to Jermyn Street
immediately upon hearing of his death
to see whether there was anything there
to be redeemed and to be present.
Arthur said, "Let's all go and have a bit
of a blowout. Do us good.
Let's go to Jules Bar across the road."
So, about eight of us went,
and Arthur presided.
We had champagne and oysters,
w-w-whatever the hell we wanted.
We thought we'd cheer ourselves up.
Or Arthur did.
Very graciously, he paid.
And it was his party, it was fine.
It's my party, George.
I'll get the bill when I'm ready.
Two days later, I got the receipt
in the post.
"Will I please [laughs] adjust
as soon as possible?"
Ronnie never had money.
He made killings, but as soon as he made
a killing, on the... the sound principle,
that expenditure always exceeds income...
it was gone again.
He was some kind of crisis addict.
I think he had to be living on the edge
all the time.
And I think he certainly persuaded himself
that this was an honorable and valuable
contribution to the community
and they would be happy
and he would be mountainously rich.
And mind you, he was within a whisker
of that happening.
I'm not making a case for him,
I'm just trying to tell you
how close he was
to being a successful man.
And how absolutely absurd
were his fantasies.
- [slamming]
- [pigeon coos]
[Errol] But the world runs on fantasy.
[David] I agree. The membrane between
what he does or failed to do,
and enormously wealthy and successful
and honored people
that membrane was very, very feeble.
[traffic hums]
[David] "Ronnie is dead
and I am revisiting Vienna
in order to breathe the city air
while I write him into
the semi-autobiographical novel
I am at last free to ponder.
Not the Sacher again.
I have a dread that the waiters
will remember
Ronnie crashing down onto the table
and me half carrying him out.
My plane into Schwechat is delayed
and the reception desk of the hotel
that I have chosen at random
is in the charge
of an elderly night porter.
He looks on silently
as I fill in the registration form.
Then he speaks in soft,
venerable Viennese German.
'Your father was a great man, ' he says.
'You treated him disgracefully.'"
[Errol] I keep hearing again
and again and again
that I have not pressed you
hard enough about betrayal.
I have failed in my interviewer's
or interrogator's job.
Well, I feel that you got the last drop
out of the sponge on that subject.
But I'll answer any question you wish me
to answer, as truthfully as I can.
[Errol] Do they want you
to break down and sob?
And weep? Yeah. I... I can do that.
Like I can do bird noises. [chuckles]
I'm not going to talk about my sex life,
any more, I trust, than you would.
It seems to be
an intensely private matter.
My love life has been a very difficult
passage, as you would imagine,
but it's resolved itself wonderfully,
and that's enough on that subject.
[Errol] So, what do people want?
They want to think that I am duplicitous,
that I use my charm as a wreckers' light
and probably that I torture my children.
They want to unmask me as something,
but I need to know
what is behind the mask first.
You have all I am, as far as I know.
[Errol] In your memoir, you say none
of it's true, it's as I imagined it.
[David] Inside the bubble,
I am abstracting from non-fiction
and fictionalizing it.
I want to take tidy stories
out of the perceived reality around me.
But I didn't do any of that derring-do
stuff that is reported in my books.
[Errol] But why tell people that a story
is false right at the very beginning?
[David] If you and I had witnessed
the same car accident,
each would have his version
of what had happened.
So, what is truth?
Objective truth is perceived
by some absent third party,
but otherwise, truth is subjective.
[Errol] Who is that third party? God?
There is some kind of factual record
which we'll never get our hands on.
[footsteps echo]
My business has been
to try to make credible fables
out of the worlds that I visited
or visited me.
The journey for me has been
one of the imagination.
The imaginative refuge from reality.
The recreation of chaos.
Not in an orderly way, but in
a comprehensible, individualized way
that makes people feel not la
James Bond,
"I wish this was me."
But more kind of,
"Jesus, I hope this isn't me."
[mysterious music]
[David] "When I was a young
and carefree spy,
it was only natural that I should believe
that the nation's hottest secrets
were housed in a chipped, green Chubbsafe
that was tucked away at the end
of a labyrinth of dingy corridors...
on the top floor of 54 Broadway... the private office occupied
by the Chief of the Secret Service.
I had heard that there existed
documents so secret
that they were only ever touched
by the Chief himself.
And now the sad day is upon us
when the final curtain
will be run down on Broadway Buildings.
Is the Chief's safe exempt?
Will cranes, crowbars, and silent men
convey it bodily
to the next stage
along its life's long journey?
It is reluctantly ruled
that the safe will be opened."
[keys jingle]
[shouts] So, who's got the bloody key?
[David] "Not the reigning chief,
[Chief] Ah!
[David] "He has made a point
of never venturing inside the safe.
What you don't know, you can't reveal."
[Chief] Useless!
Send for Burglar Bill.
[David] "The Service has picked
a few locks in its day,
so it looks like time to pick another."
[lock clunks]
[dial clicks]
[David] "The lock yields."
[lock clunks]
[David] "The safe is empty. Bare.
Innocent of even the most mundane secret."
Is it a decoy safe
to protect an inner sanctum?
[David] "The safe is gently prized
from the wall.
The Chief peers behind it."
[Chief grunts]
[David] "And extracts a very thick,
very old pair of trousers,
with a label attached to them.
The typed inscription declares that these
are the trousers worn by Rudolf Hess..."
"...Adolf Hitler's deputy
when he flew to Scotland
to negotiate a separate peace
with the Duke of Hamilton.
In the mistaken belief that
the Duke shared his fascist views."
[aircraft engine thrums]
[engine rattles]
[David] "Beneath the inscription
runs a handwritten scrawl."
[aircraft roars]
"Please analyze.
May give an idea of the state
of the German textile industry."
[Chief laughs]
[he continues to laugh]
[David] That was a story about
men from a diminished imperial power
looking into a false reflection
of themselves.
Still guarding a great nation,
still playing the world's game.
And in fact, they were
a tragically reduced crowd
driven by their own nostalgia.
[Errol] And when you look in the mirror?
Now? Today?
I'm much more at ease
with myself now, in age.
More reconciled to who I was.
And who I was not.
So, I'm not too unhappy
when I look in the mirror,
unless I've got a dreadful hangover.
[Errol] I look at you
as an exquisite poet of self-hatred.
Yeah, I would go with that. [laughs]
I think that it's only in the last few
years that I feel I've found my freedom,
and I love being what I am best at.
Not just being a writer,
that's incidental, but writing.
Without the creative life,
I have very little identity.
I'm like an actor without a part.
With the work, I am as near as I get
to being a happy man.
And I love, I love writing.
So, I am that animal.
And I dare hardly use the claim,
but I'll make it here, I'm an artist.
[somber music]
[pigeons coo]