The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue by Frederick Forsyth – digested read

‘By the age of 18, I was a flying ace in the RAF. Then I personally thwarted several attempts on De Gaulle’s life. But I was bored. I needed more’

The name is Forsyth. Frederick Forsyth. Licensed to write in clipped prose. As a chap should. I’m not one for making a fuss. I once nearly started the third world war. But it was no big deal. That’s a story for another time.

The spring of 1940 was not a relaxing time to grow up in Kent. Some madman called Hitler was trying to invade. Hadn’t bargained with the British spirit. I once flew in Spits. Damned fine aircraft. Possibly even got a couple of kills, but don’t want to make a fuss. I was only two at the time.

After the war, my parents sent me to Tonbridge. Hated the place with all its petty rules. I’ve always been an outsider. I was beaten 77 times but I never contrived to develop those strange deviances attributed to the English. Though I did learn to tolerate pain.

I’m not in any way homophobic, but I do have an aversion to sodomy. In France when I was 15, an Algerian tried to insert his penis into my anus. I wasn’t having that. Took out my knife, slashed his biceps, made a run for it. The rest of the holiday in the Luberon was rather more relaxing as La Comtesse introduced me to the pleasures of soixante-neuf.

It goes without saying that the hun weren’t terribly popular amongst the Brits during the 1950s. But my father thought it would be good for me to learn German, so he sent me to stay with a distinguished Bavarian archduchess. She sang the Horst Wessel song every time I pleasured her. I suspected she might be an ex-Nazi. Kept quiet, though, choosing to smoke a long, cool Rothmans instead. Gave me an idea for a book. The Odessa File.

By the age of 18, I was fluent in 12 different languages and a top flying ace in the RAF. But I was bored. I needed adventure. Here I had a piece of luck when an old friend, Binky Binks, introduced me to Harry Harris and I was offered a job at Reuters. My first job was to be assigned to President de Gaulle. After personally thwarting several assassination attempts, I needed more excitement.

East Berlin was the only place to be. Some writers have often said how clever the Stasi were. Personally, I found them slow-witted and bureaucratic. Many was the time I was able to outfox them by pretending to be more stupid than I was. Did I help HM government make contact with its spies in the east? Modesty forbids me from saying, but the simple answer is yes. When the Queen personally asks for help, it is the duty of every loyal subject to assent. I only left the country when I realised I had the same mistress as the East German minister for the interior. That could have got sticky. In more ways than one.

After several years in and out of war zones, I found myself at the centre of the war between Nigeria and Biafra. Depressing times being the only journalist in the entire world who really understood the situation. I smoked a long, cool Rothmans and decided to get out. I arrived home broke. There was only one solution. Become a best-selling novelist.

People said it couldn’t be done. I proved them wrong. Within a year I had written The Day of the Jackal, The Odessa File and The Dogs of War. There’s a reason these books sold well. They were damned good. I’ve always believed a novelist needs to do his research. So if I needed to talk to an assassin, an ex-Nazi and a corrupt African dictator, I did. Contacts help in this game. As does a long, cool Rothmans.

Things were looking good. I had married a willowy blonde with legs that went on for ever and was earning a lot of money. Too much as far as the Labour government was concerned as they tried to bleed me for every last penny in tax. So I went to go and live with Bono in Ireland. Nice guy, bad sunglasses. Once Margaret Thatcher came to power, I moved back to England as she was happy for me to pay next to no tax. I like to think I repaid her generosity by teaching her son a thing or two about Africa.

Disaster struck. A crook called Roger Levitt made off with all my money. All that I had been left after my divorce. There was only one thing to do. Dust myself down, smoke a long, cool Rothmans, marry an even more sinuous blonde with even impossibly longer legs and start again. Writing even more improbably right-wing thrillers. Talent will always out. If you’ve got the contacts, use them. I’m now in my 70s. I’ve dodged bullets around the globe but I wouldn’t change a thing. And if the hun ever thinks of trying any funny tricks again – after a long, cool Rothmans, I will be straight into my Spit.

Digested read, digested: A legend in his own lunchtime


John Crace

The GuardianTramp

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