Frederick McCarthy Forsyth (FOR-sith) is a well-known thriller writer. His father—also Frederick—was a furrier in the High Street of Ashford in the English county of Kent and had been a rubber tree planter in the Far East. Forsyth’s parents were lifelong friends of the novelist H. E. Bates, author of The Darling Buds of May (1958), and his wife, Madge. As an only child, Forsyth had a fairly solitary childhood during which he immersed himself in books. He devoured the works of such writers as G. A. Henty and John Buchan, as well as “The Saint” novels of Leslie Charteris. Forsyth was impressed with Ernest Hemingway’s nonfiction book on bullfighters, Death in the Afternoon (1932), to such an extent that at the age of seventeen he went to Spain and started practicing cape work, though he never actually fought a bull.
Forsyth attended Tonbridge, a minor public school in Kent, where he excelled at modern languages but little else. After five months at Granada University in Spain, he returned to England and joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) in May, 1956, as a National Serviceman. For a while, he was the youngest fighter pilot in the force. His love of aircraft shows clearly in his writing, such as the novella The Shepherd (a Christmastime ghost story), and his editing of the anthology Great Flying Stories.
In 1958 Forsyth joined the Eastern Daily Press, a newspaper in Norfolk, England, as a cub reporter. On the strength of his fluency in French, German, Spanish, and Russian, he joined Reuters news agency in autumn of 1961. He was posted to the Paris office as a foreign correspondent. This was a valuable time: In July, 1962, while Forsyth was in France, Algeria gained its independence, and a month later, the OAS (Organisation de l’Armée Secret) made an attempt on French president Charles de Gaulle’s life. These were the events that provided the springboard for Forsyth’s first novel, The Day of the Jackal.
Forsyth experienced the Cold War at first hand when Reuters transferred him behind the Iron Curtain to be their sole representative for East Germany, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. During this time, his room and telephone were bugged, and on one occasion he was picked up by the Russian army. He was caught up in a real-life spy drama when an American captain defected but had second thoughts and accosted Forsyth in an ice cream bar, hoping he could help him get back to the West.
In 1965, Forsyth joined the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) as a reporter. A major turning point in his life was in July, 1967, when Biafra declared its independence from Nigeria and the BBC sent...
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