I ran out of things to say, says British writer and former spy, now 78 (plus his wife says he’s too old to travel to adventurous places now), and declares 2015 memoir The Outsider his ‘swan song’


After a dozen novels and 70 million book sales under his belt, British writer Frederick Forsyth says he is giving up on thrillers because his wife told him he can no longer travel to adventurous places.

“I’m tired of it and I can’t just sit at home and do a nice little romance from my study,” says the 78-year-old, who revealed in a memoir last year that he had worked extensively for the MI6 spy service.

“I ran out of things to say,” says the soft-spoken Forsyth, who trained as a Royal Air Force pilot before joining Reuters news agency in 1961 and beginning his career as a novelist in the 1970s.

After his last trip to Somalia as research for The Kill List, Forsyth says his wife told him: “You’re far too old, these places are bloody dangerous and you don’t run as avidly, as nimbly as you used to.”ff2

Forsyth, who has only ever written on a typewriter, says he had tried an online search for Somalia but had been “very dissatisfied” with the results. “There was some statistical information on Somalia but not what I wanted, which was atmosphere,” he says. His memoir The Outsider is his “swan song”, he says.

“How many bakers go on baking after 78?” he quips.

E-book review: Frederick Forsyth’s The Outsider

Forsyth also spoke about his work for MI6 in Africa and the former Soviet bloc during the cold war.

The writer says he would submit draft pages from his novels to MI6 to check that he was not divulging sensitive details and they would sometimes come back with annotations and paragraphs underlined.

In The Fourth Protocol, he says he avoided telling readers how exactly to trigger a nuclear weapon, after a bit of editing of the draft from MI6. “You don’t want anyone actually to do it!” says Forsyth.

Forsyth worked for Reuters and the BBC in the 1960s in France, Nigeria and East Germany.

While working as a journalist in 1968 in Nigeria, he was approached by an MI6 man named “Ronnie” who wanted “an asset deep inside the Biafran enclave” where there was a civil war between 1967 and 1970.

Then, in 1973, Forsyth says he was asked to conduct a mission for MI6 in communist East Germany. “There was an asset, a Russian colonel, working for us deep inside East Germany and he had a package that we needed brought out,” he wrote in his memoir.

Forsyth said he drove his Triumph convertible to Dresden and received the package from the Russian colonel in the toilets of the Albertinum museum. He calls the secret services “our protectors” and says he was not paid for his work, adding: “I was only trying to help out the old country.”

Thrills kills: Frederick Forsyth turns to modern-day terrorism

Talking about his work with MI6 could be formally a breach of the lifelong commitment to discretion undertaken when he signed the Official Secrets Act, but Forsyth says decades have passed and many secrets from that time had already been divulged.

ff1His first novel, published in 1971, The Day of the Jackal, was about a fictional assassination attempt on French president Charles de Gaulle by right-wing extremists angry at his granting independence to Algeria. It was turned into a classic film starring Edward Fox.

Other bestsellers quickly followed, including The Odessa File (1972) and The Dogs of War (1974).

After the end of the cold war, he wrote thrillers about al-Qaeda, drone warfare and rendition.

Forsyth also has a weekly column in British tabloid newspaper the Daily Express, in which he often writes about counterterrorism issues, military affairs and foreign policy.

As a longtime advocate of Brexit, Forsyth said he was pleased with the result of the referendum on British membership of the European Union in June but found the campaign was “vituperative” and “unnecessarily insulting”.

He says political correctness has become “a new religion” in Britain and is deeply critical of a justice system he sees as skewed towards the rich.

After his retirement from fiction, he says he will focus now on a campaign for Alexander Blackman, a Royal Marine sentenced to life imprisonment for shooting an injured Afghan fighter in 2011.



  1. In the summer of 1983 the then Chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service
    sanctioned the formation, against a certain internal opposition, of a new desk.
    The opposition came mainly from the established desks, almost all of which had
    territorial fiefdoms spread across the world, for the new desk was designed to have a
    wide-ranging jurisdiction that would span traditional frontiers.
    The impetus behind the formation came from two sources. One was an ebullient mood
    in Westminster and Whitehall, and notably within the ruling Conservative government,
    following Britain’s success in the Falklands war of the previous year. Despite the military
    success, the episode had left behind one of those messy and occasionally vituperative
    arguments over the issue: Why were we so taken by surprise when General Galtieri’s
    Argentine forces landed at Port Stanley?
    Between departments, the argument festered for over a year, reduced inevitably to
    charges and countercharges on the level of we-were-not-warned-yes-you-were. The
    Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, had felt obliged to resign. Several years later, the
    United States would be seized by a similar row following the destruction of the Pan
    American flight over Lockerbie, with one agency claiming it had issued a warning and
    another claiming it had never received it.
    The second impetus was the recent arrival at the seat of power, the General
    Secretaryship of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, of Yuri V. Andropov, who
    had for fifteen years been Chairman of the KGB. Favoring his old agency, Andropov’s
    reign instituted an upsurge of increasingly aggressive espionage and “active measures”
    by the KGB against the West. It was known that Andropov highly favored, among active
    measures, the use of disinformation—the spreading of despondency and demoralization
    by the use of lies, agents of influence, and character assassination, and by the sowing of
    discord among the Allies with planted untruths.
    Mrs. Thatcher, then earning her Soviet-awarded title of the Iron Lady, took the view
    that two can play at that game and indicated she would not blanch at the notion of
    Britain’s own intelligence agency offering the Soviets a little return match.
    The new desk was given a ponderous title: Deception, Disinformation, and
    Psychological Operations. Of course, the title was at once reduced to Dee-Dee and Psy
    Ops, and thence simply to Dee-Dee.
    A new desk head was appointed in November. Just as the man in charge of Equipment
    was known as the Quartermaster and the man in charge of the Legal Branch as the
    Lawyer, the new head of Dee-Dee was tagged by some wit in the canteen the Deceiver.
    With hindsight—that precious gift so much more prevalent than its counterpart,
    foresight—the Chief, Sir Arthur, might have been criticized (and later was) for his
    choice: not a Head Office careerist accustomed to the prudence required of a true civil
    servant, but a former field agent, plucked from the East German desk.
    The man was Sam McCready, and he ran the desk for seven years. But all good things
    come to an end. In the late spring of 1991 a conversation took place in the heart of
    Frederick Forsyth – The Deceiver
    Whitehall. …
    The young aide rose from behind his desk in the outer office with a practiced smile.
    “Good morning, Sir Mark. The Permanent Under-Secretary asked that you be shown
    straight in.”
    He opened the door to the private office of the Permanent Under-Secretary of the
    Foreign and Commonwealth Office—the FCO—and ushered the visitor through it,
    closing the door behind him. The Permanent Under-Secretary, Sir Robert Inglis, rose
    with a welcoming smile.
    “Mark, my dear chap, how good of you to come.”
    You do not become, however recently, Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, or SIS,
    without developing a certain wariness when confronted by such warmth from a relative
    stranger who is clearly about to treat you as if you were blood brothers. Sir Mark steeled
    himself for a difficult meeting.
    When he was seated, the country’s senior Foreign Office civil servant opened the
    scarred red dispatch box lying on his desk and withdrew a buff file distinguished by the
    red diagonal cross running from corner to corner.
    “You have done the rounds of your stations and will doubtless let me have your
    impressions?” he asked.
    “Certainly, Robert—in due course.”
    Sir Robert Inglis followed the top-secret file with a red, paper-covered book secured at
    its spine by black plastic spiral binding.
    “I have,” he began, “read your proposals, ‘SIS in the Nineties,’ in conjunction with the
    Intelligence Co-Ordinator’s latest shopping list. You seem to have met his requirements
    most thoroughly.”
    “Thank you, Robert,” said the Chief. “Then may I count upon the Foreign Office’s
    The diplomat’s smile could have won prizes on an American game show.
    “My dear Mark, we have no difficulties with the pitch of your proposals. But there are
    just a few points I would like to take up with you.”
    Here it comes, thought the Chief of the SIS.
    “May I take it, for example, that these additional stations abroad that you propose have
    been agreed upon with the Treasury, and the necessary monies squirreled away in somebody’s
    Both men well knew that the budget for the running of the Secret Intelligence Service
    does not come wholly from the Foreign Office. Indeed, only a small part comes out of the
    FCO budget. The real cost of the almost-invisible SIS, which unlike the American CIA
    keeps an extremely low profile, is shared among all the spending ministries in the
    government. The spread is right across the board, including even the unlikely Ministry of
    Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food—perhaps on the grounds that they might one day wish
    to know how many cod the Icelanders are taking out of the North Atlantic.
    Because its budget is spread so widely and hidden so well, the SIS cannot be “leaned
    upon” by the FCO with a threat of withholding funds if the FCO’s wishes are not met.
    Sir Mark nodded. “There’s no problem there. The Co-Ordinator and I have seen the
    Treasury, explained the position (which we had cleared with the Cabinet Office), and
    Treasury has allocated the necessary cash, all tucked away in the research and
    Frederick Forsyth – The Deceiver
    development budgets of the least likely ministries.”
    “Excellent,” beamed the Permanent Under-Secretary, whether he felt it was or not.
    “Then let us turn to something that does fall within my purview. I don’t know what your
    staffing position is, but we are facing some difficulties with regard to staffing the
    expanded Service that will result from the end of the Cold War and the liberation of
    Central and Eastern Europe. You know what I mean?”
    Sir Mark knew exactly what he meant. The virtual collapse of Communism over the
    previous two years was changing the diplomatic map of the globe, and rapidly. The
    Diplomatic Corps was looking to expanded opportunities right across Central Europe and
    the Balkans, possibly even miniembassies in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia if they
    secured independence from Moscow. By inference, he was suggesting that with the Cold
    War now laid out in the morgue, the position for his colleague in Secret Intelligence
    would be just the reverse: reduction of staff. Sir Mark was having none of it.
    “Like you, we have no alternative but to recruit. Leaving recruitment to one side, the
    training alone is six months before we can bring a new man into Century House and
    release an experienced man for service abroad.”
    The diplomat dropped his smile and leaned forward earnestly. “My dear Mark, this is
    precisely the meat of the discussion I wished to have with you. Allocations of space in
    our embassies, and to whom.”
    Sir Mark groaned inwardly. The bastard was going for the groin. While the FCO
    cannot “get at” the SIS on budgetary grounds, it has one ace card always ready to play.
    The great majority of intelligence officers serving abroad do so under the cover of the
    embassy. That makes the embassy their host. No allocation of a “cover” job—no posting.
    “And what is your general view for the future, Robert?” he asked.
    “In future, I fear, we will simply not be able to offer positions to some of your more …
    colorful staffers. Officers whose cover is clearly blown. Brass-plate operators. In the
    Cold War it was acceptable; in the new Europe they would stick out like sore thumbs.
    Cause offense. I’m sure you can see that.”
    Both men knew that agents abroad fell into three categories. “Illegal” agents were not
    within the cover of the embassy and were not the concern of Sir Robert Inglis. Officers
    serving inside the embassy were either “declared” or “undeclared.”
    A declared officer, or brass-plate operator, was one whose real function was widely
    known. In the past, having such an intelligence officer in an embassy had worked like a
    dream. Throughout the Communist and Third Worlds, dissidents, malcontents, and
    anyone else who wished knew just whom to come to and pour out their woes as to a
    father confessor. It had led to rich harvests of information and some spectacular
    What the senior diplomat was saying was that he wanted no more such officers any
    longer and would not offer them space. His dedication was to the maintenance of his
    department’s fine tradition of appeasement of anyone not born British.
    “I hear what you are saying, Robert, but I cannot and will not start my term as Chief of
    the SIS with a purge of senior officers who have served long, loyally, and well.”
    “Find other postings for them,” suggested Sir Robert. “Central and South America,
    Africa …”
    “And I cannot pack them off to Burundi until they come up for retirement.”
    “Desk jobs, then. Here at home.”
    Aluta Continua

    Goth Mohamed Goth

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