Frederick McCarthy Forsyth CBE (born 25 August 1938) is an English author, former journalist and spy, and occasional political commentator. He is best known for thrillers such as The Day of the Jackal, The Odessa File, The Fourth Protocol, The Dogs of War, The Devil's Alternative, The Fist of God, Icon, The Veteran, Avenger, The Afghan, The Cobra and The Kill List.
Forsyth's works frequently appear on best-sellers lists and more than a dozen of his titles have been adapted to film. He has sold more than 70 million books in total.
The son of a furrier, Forsyth was born in Ashford, Kent. He was educated at Tonbridge School and later attended the University of Granada in Spain.
Military and journalism
Before becoming a journalist, Forsyth completed his National Service in the Royal Air Force as a pilot where he flew the de Havilland Vampire. He joined Reuters in 1961 and later the BBC in 1965, where he served as an assistant diplomatic correspondent.
Forsyth reported on his early activities as a journalist. His early career was spent covering French affairs and the attempted assassination of Charles de Gaulle. He had never been to what he termed "black Africa" until reporting on the Nigerian Civil War between Biafra and Nigeria as a BBC correspondent. He was there for the first six months of 1967, but few expected the war to last very long considering the poor weaponry and preparation of the Biafrans when compared to the British-armed Nigerians. After his six months were over, however, Forsyth – eager to carry on reporting – approached the BBC to ask if he could have more time there. He noted their response:
I was told quite bluntly, then, 'it is not our policy to cover this war.' This was a period when the Vietnam War was front-page headlines almost every day, regarded broadly as an American cock-up, and this particularly British cock-up in Nigeria was not going to be covered. I smelt news management. I don't like news management. So I made a private vow to myself: 'you may, gentlemen, not be covering it, but I'm going to cover it.' So I quit and flew out there, and stayed there for most of the next two years.
He thus returned to Biafra as a freelance reporter, writing his first book, The Biafra Story, in 1969.
In August 2015 Forsyth revealed that in Biafra he began work as a spy for MI6, a relationship that continued for 20 years. He claimed he wasn't paid.
He is an occasional radio broadcaster on political issues, and has also written for newspapers throughout his career, including a weekly page in the Daily Express. In 2003, he criticised "gay-bashers in the churches" in The Guardian newspaper. He has narrated several documentaries, including Jesus Christ Airlines, Soldiers: A History of Men in Battle and I Have Never Forgotten You: The Life & Legacy of Simon Wiesenthal.
Forsyth decided to write a novel using similar research techniques to those used in journalism. His first full-length novel, The Day of the Jackal, was published in 1971. It became an international bestseller and gained its author the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel. In this book, the Organisation Armée Secrète hires an assassin to kill then-French President Charles de Gaulle. It was made into a film of the same name.
In Forsyth's second full-length novel, The Odessa File (1972), a reporter attempts to track down an ex-Nazi SS officer in modern Germany. The reporter discovers him via the diary of a Jewish Holocaust survivor who committed suicide earlier, but he is being shielded by an organization that protects ex-Nazis, called ODESSA. This book was later made into a movie with the same name, starring Jon Voight, but there were substantial alterations. Many of the novel's readers assumed that ODESSA really existed, but historians disagree.
In The Dogs of War (1974) a British mining executive hires a group of mercenaries to overthrow the government of an African country so that he can install a puppet regime that will allow him cheap access to a colossal platinum-ore reserve. This book was also adapted into the 1980 film starring Christopher Walken and Tom Berenger.
The Shepherd was an illustrated novella published in 1975. It tells of a nightmare journey by an RAF pilot while flying home for Christmas in the late 1950s. His attempts to find a rational explanation for his eventual rescue prove as troublesome as his experience.
Following this came The Devil's Alternative in 1979, which was set in 1982. In this book, the Soviet Union faces a disastrous grain harvest. The US is ready to help for some political and military concessions. A Politburo faction fight ensues. War is proposed as solution. Ukrainian freedom fighters complicate the situation later. In the end, a Swedish oil tanker built in Japan, a Russian airliner hijacked to West Berlin and various governments find themselves involved.
In 1982, No Comebacks, a collection of ten short stories, was published. Some of these stories had been written earlier. Many were set in the Republic of Ireland where Forsyth was living at the time. One of them, There Are No Snakes in Ireland, won him a second Edgar Allan Poe Award, this time for best short story.
The Fourth Protocol was published in 1984 and involves renegade elements within the Soviet Union attempting to plant a nuclear bomb near an American airbase in the UK, intending to influence the upcoming British elections and lead to the election of an anti-NATO, anti-American, anti-nuclear, pro-soviet Labour government. The 1987 adaptation starred Pierce Brosnan and Michael Caine. Almost all of the political content was removed from the film.
Forsyth's tenth book came in 1989 with The Negotiator, in which the American President's son is kidnapped and one man's job is to negotiate his release.
Two years later, in 1991, The Deceiver was published. It includes four short stories reviewing the career of British secret agent Sam McCready. At the start of the novel, the Permanent Under-Secretary of State (PUSS) of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office requires the Chief of the SIS to push Sam into early retirement. The four stories are presented to a grievance committee in an attempt to allow Sam to stay on active duty with the SIS.
In 1994, Forsyth published The Fist of God, a novel which concerns the first Gulf War. Next, in 1996, he published Icon, about the rise of fascists to power in post-Soviet Russia.
In 1999, Forsyth published The Phantom of Manhattan, a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera. It was intended as a departure from his usual genre; Forsyth's explanation was that "I had done mercenaries, assassins, Nazis, murderers, terrorists, special forces soldiers, fighter pilots, you name it, and I got to think, could I actually write about the human heart?" However, it did not achieve the same success as his other novels, and he subsequently returned to modern-day thrillers.
In 2001, The Veteran, another collection of short stories, was published, followed by Avenger, published in September 2003, about a Canadian billionaire who hires a Vietnam veteran to bring his grandson's killer to the US. Avenger was released as a film starring Sam Elliott and Timothy Hutton.
The Afghan, published in August 2006, is an indirect sequel to The Fist of God. Set in the very near future, the threat of a catastrophic assault on the West, discovered on a senior al-Qaeda member's computer, compels the leaders of the US and the UK to attempt a desperate gambit — to substitute a seasoned British operative, retired Col. Mike Martin (of The Fist of God), for an Afghan Taliban commander being held prisoner at Guantánamo Bay.
The Cobra, published in 2010, features some of the characters previously featured in Avenger, and has as its subject an attempt to destroy the world trade in cocaine.
On 20 August 2013, his novel, The Kill List was published. It was announced earlier in June that Rupert Sanders would be directing a film version of the story.
On 10 September 2015, Forsyth's autobiography, The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue was published.
On 16 February 2012 the Crime Writers Association announced that Forsyth had won its Cartier Diamond Dagger award in recognition of his body of work.
Forsyth was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1997 New Year Honours list for services to literature.
Forsyth eschews psychological complexity in favour of meticulous plotting around real-world institutions and laws, based on detailed factual research. His books are full of information about the technical details of such subjects as money laundering, gun running and identity theft. His novels read like investigative journalism in fictional guise. His moral vision is a harsh one: the world is made up of predators and prey, and only the strong survive.
Forsyth's novels typically show the ways in which spies, gangsters, assassins, mercenaries, diplomats, business leaders and politicians go about their business behind the scenes; the sort of things that the average reader would not suspect while reading a simple headline. For example, the Jackal (The Day of the Jackal) does not simply attempt to shoot Charles de Gaulle. He prepares meticulously by researching his quarry at the British Museum library; he obtains papers for his various false identities; he travels around Paris to find a good location for a sniper's nest; he buys and tests his weapons; and so on.
A subtle twist at the end of the novel can reveal that a lot more was going on than the reader initially suspected. For example, Cat Shannon, the central figure of The Dogs of War, turns out to have had his own agenda all the time. Adam Munro of The Devil's Alternative finds out that he was not a player but a pawn to people in high places. In The Odessa File, the reporter's true motivation is revealed at the end. A number of events in Icon turn out to have been committed by people other than those who the reader had been led to suppose. In Avenger, one of the events that allows the Avenger to escape is unexplained until the last few paragraphs of the book.
Forsyth's novels also feature famous personalities and political leaders as characters. The Day of the Jackal features French president Charles de Gaulle and his interior minister, Roger Frey, who heads the government search for the assassin—the opening chapter is based on an actual attempt by the OAS to kill de Gaulle. The Odessa File features the real-life Nazi Eduard Roschmann and Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal. The Fourth Protocol and Icon involve several chapters indirectly featuring former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and former US president George H. W. Bush. Although unnamed or of fictional identity, the leader of the Soviet Union is portrayed as the lead antagonist in several novels. Other real life characters are thinly disguised. For example, real life suspected Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout is portrayed as "Vladimir Bout" in Avenger.
In September 2005, Forsyth appeared on the ITV gameshow Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and raised £250,000 for charity. On 8 February 2007, Forsyth appeared on BBC's political panel show Question Time; on it, he expressed scepticism on the subject of anthropogenic climate change. On 26 March 2008, he also appeared on BBC's The One Show. On 17 June 2008, Forsyth was interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live Midday News in relation to the restoration of the Military Covenant. On 2 February 2015, he appeared on Eggheads as a member of Rewarding Talent.
Forsyth is a Eurosceptic Conservative. He has been Patron of The People's Book Prize since 2010. He is Patron of Better Off Out, an organisation calling for Britain's withdrawal from the European Union and supports Brexit. In 2003, he was awarded the One of Us Award from the Conservative Way Forward group for his services to the Conservative movement in Britain. He is also a patron of the Young Britons' Foundation.
In 2005, he came out in opposition to Kenneth Clarke's candidacy for the leadership of the Conservative Party, calling Clarke's record in government "unrivalled; a record of failure which at every level has never been matched". Instead, he endorsed and donated money to David Davis's campaign.
In 2016, he said that he is giving up on thrillers because his wife told him he can no longer travel to adventurous places.
As writer only (except for Soldiers, as presenter)
|1973||The Day of the Jackal||Adapted from The Day of the Jackal|
|1974||The Odessa File||Adapted from The Odessa File|
|1980||The Dogs of War||Adapted from The Dogs of War|
|1987||The Fourth Protocol||Adapted from The Fourth Protocol|
|1997||The Jackal||Based on the 1973 film|
|1973||Money with Menaces||TV play; one of 10 short stories in No Comebacks|
|1980||Cry of the Innocent||TV film|
|1984||Two by Forsyth||2 episodes: "Privilege" and "A Careful Man"|
|1985||Soldiers||13 episodes; as presenter|
|1989–90||Frederick Forsyth Presents||6 episodes|
|1996||Code Name: Wolverine||TV film|
|2005||Icon||TV film; adapted from Icon|
|2006||Avenger||TV film; adapted from Avenger|
|2010||Love Never Dies||West End; partially adapted from The Phantom of Manhattan|
|2012||Love Never Dies||Direct-to-video|
|1985||The Fourth Protocol||Adapted from The Fourth Protocol|
|2016||"Fallen Soldier"||Melissa Adler|
Forsyth wrote lyrics to a lament titled "Fallen Soldier", with music by Gareth Ellis Williams, which was released as a single by Royal Opera House soprano Melissa Adler in 2016.