As It Happens

Author Frederick Forsyth reveals he served as an agent for MI-6

Author Frederick Forsyth has penned several best-selling thrillers. But in his new memoir, he reveals he also served as an agent with British Intelligence.
British author Frederick Forsyth. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)

Novelist Frederick Forsyth drops a bombshell in his latest thriller. The author of novels The Day of The Jackal, The Dogs of War, or The Odessa File, reveals that he served as an agent for the British Secret Intelligence Service, formerly known as MI-6. 

The Outsider: My Life In Intrigue chronicles his adventures as one of the youngest pilots in the Royal Air Force, to working as a foreign correspondent behind the Iron Curtain, to becoming a novelist.
Frederick Forsyth's new memoir, The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue. (Penguin Random House)

"I was in the middle of the Nigeria-Biafra war," he explains to As It Happens host Carol Off, referring to the civil war between Nigeria and the breakaway Republic of Biafra, between 1967 and 1970. In the fall of 1968, Forsyth was working as a freelance journalist, reporting on the ongoing strife, and the resultant famine sweeping through Biafra. It was then he was approached by a fellow Englishman.

"[He] was very open with me, and said who he worked for." MI-6, or "The Firm", as it was known. And then, says Forsyth, the stranger explained the highest level of British government officials were denying that famine was widespread, and that children were starving to death in the region. Furthermore, "the British were sending massive shipments of arms to Nigeria and denying it," says Forsyth.

That's where Forsyth came in. The Firm, said the agent, required "a man, right in the heart of Biafra, watching it with his own eyes and reporting back to us." 

It was the first of several assignments Forsyth accepted from "The Firm." And in turn, he received assistance when he found himself in a tight spot in Hamburg.
British author Frederick Forsyth, 70, speaks to journalists on a hotel balcony overlooking central Bissau, Guinea-Bissau Wed. March 4, 2009. (Rebecca Blackwell/AP)

"I was delving deep into the black market arms business," he says. "The phone rang in my hotel room and a voice -- quite clearly a British voice -- calling me Freddie, said 'They know who you are, and they're coming for you." 

These days, the 77-year-old sticks mainly to writing. Still, if he ever finds himself heading into what he calls a "rough environment," he wears a lucky bullet that he dodged back in Biafra, on a chain around his neck.

"If they don't get me with this one, they'll never get me," he says.

As for his writing career, the author of those books "had not the slightest intention of becoming a novelist." In fact, says Forsyth, he never intended to become a writer at all.

That will also surprise you if you're a regular listener of As it Happens, especially around Christmas time. Because Frederick Forsyth is the author behind the short story that has become As it Happens most celebrated holiday tradition, The Shepherd

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