Stuart Kelly’s excellent review of old friend John Calder’s new book, The Garden of Eros (Books, 4 May) mentions that old canard that I have been a CIA agent. I will try to explain once and for all how this came about.
I served my American military duty from 1956-1959 in the Air Force at Kirknewton in Balerno, just outside Edinburgh, where a listening base kept an ear open on the Russians.
I freely mentioned this fact to friends and somehow this was blown up to mean I was a CIA agent.
After my service was completed I arranged to be demobbed in Scotland to continue my studies at the University of Edinburgh. I owned a Volkswagen, purchased via teenage jobs in the oil fields of Venezuela. Selling this car produced capital to establish The Paperback Bookshop & Gallery.
Inspired by the Festival, the bookshop became a fringe theatre in 1960 and this led directly to the creation of the Traverse theatre. Jennie Lee invited me to direct a theatre in London and for a year I attempted to live a two-city life.
In 1969 I was invited to be a professor at the newly created University of Paris VIII where I continued to teach until I retired in 1999. Like Tom Paine, I have always claimed world citizenship. I have attended every Edinburgh Festival since my first in 1957 and have every intention of continuing. This August I will again be in Edinburgh and will be co-producing two shows on the Fringe: The Surrender by Toni Bentley and Broadway Enchanté.
My principal income continues to be my retirement cheque from the Ministry of Education in France. I sure could use further funds from the American government.
Maybe the CIA should pay me something for being “an agent” all these years.
Rue de la Tombe Issoire