Call to remember John Le Carré during Hampstead Heath celebrations

Author John le Carré

Author John le Carré - Credit: PA/Matt Crossick

This year marks 150 years since the act of parliament protecting Hampstead Heath was passed and a call has been made to include John le Carré in the celebrations.

The spy novelist – real name David Cornwell – died of pneumonia aged 89 in December.

He split his time between Hampstead and Cornwall, and had a great affection for the Heath, which is protected as an open space by the Hampstead Heath Act in 1871.

The act has been widely referenced in recent years, with some claiming it is contravened by the introduction of charges for swimming in the Ponds.

Gregory Jones, alderman of the City of London, addressed the Heath management committee on February 24, drawing its attention to the role the Heath plays in le Carré's books and screen adaptations.

"Hampstead appears, if you Google it, with John le Carré on many, many tourist itineraries," he said. "I do think it will continue to be a tourist attraction. 

"I raise it, first off, to mark the death of a great Hampstead resident who has put the Heath in the icons of literature – and the regret at the passing of David Cornwell.

"In Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, both in the film and in the BBC series, the Ponds appear.

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"Also, I believe the interview between George Smiley and  Roy Bland, where he memorably quotes Scott Fitzgerald is also filmed on Hampstead Heath.

"I raise this that we should mark the loss of a great Hampstead resident and author, but also – and I have no suggestion – one way we should mark the celebrations of the Heath we can include some of its literary fame and allusions as well."

Chair of the committee Anne Fairweather said: "I think you're quite right. The Heath has provided so much inspiration in literature and film, and the like, and I'm keen to see some of that come out in the 150-years celebration of the Heath. Ideas around tourist trails, around the Heath and maps which bring out those featured that are featured in John le Carré books and in subsequent films is a very good idea."

In his autobiography The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life, Le Carré wrote: “When I am in Hampstead there is a bench I favour on the Heath, tucked under a spreading tree and set apart from its companions, and that’s where I like to scribble. I have only ever written by hand.”