The Downhill Only Club

Registered Address
The Director’s Office, Imperial Hotel,
London WC1H 0DG

David Cornwell RIP

David Cornwell/John Le Carré


David Cornwell, a longstanding member of the DHO arguably best known as novelist John Le Carré, has passed away in Cornwall, aged 89, on the evening of December 12 after a short illness (not Covid-19 related, but pneumonia).


“Our hearts go out to his four sons, their families and to his dear wife, Jane,” reads the obituary published promptly by his literary agency, Curtis Brown. “Our thanks go to the wonderful NHS team at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro for the care and compassion that he was shown throughout his stay.”


The membership list in the 2020 DHO Journal shows that David Cornwell joined in 1980 but he was a member as a young man, almost forcibly recruited by the then club secretary, the formidable Ros Hepworth.


He represented the club in races in St Moritz and Klosters in January 1952, as recounted in Adam Sisman’s 2015 biography: John Le Carré The Biography, in which the DHO and Wengen receive a number of citations.


“For six decades, John le Carré dominated the bestseller lists and review pages with his monumental body of work,” Curtis Brown’s tribute resumes.


“His dramatic launch onto the global scene began with the publication of his third novel in 1963, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and the public revelation of his secret life working with the British Intelligence Services.


“Devoting his life to writing, he went on to define the Cold War era with the help of his character, George Smiley, and through his complex plots and beautiful prose, beamed a harsh light at the injustices of our world.”


“David wrote 25 novels and one volume of memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel (published in 2016).”


Norman Freund, editor of the DHO Journal 1967-1975, adds: “Apart from his writing, he was also a fine cartoonist and I used some of his cartoons in the Journal when I was editing it.”


One book that doesn’t regularly feature on John Le Carré’s official bibliography is ‘Sarratt and the Draper of Watford’, which was commissioned by Dick Edmonds (formally R E H Edmonds, and a former President of the DHO and Hon Editor of the DHO Journal) and published in 1999.


“Dick Edmonds commissioned the book to raise funds for his village hall and church in Sarratt,” recalls David Price, another former Hon Editor. “I had several long conversations with Dick between early 1999 and 2000 when I had taken on the role of Hon Editor and he gave me a copy of the book in July 2000.   


“One story of his is worth repeating. One spring in the early 1950s he and Cornwell were deputed by Ros Hepworth to be club reps. Finding ‘no takers’ (i.e DHO members wishing to ski with them) on the steps of the Eiger Hotel at 9am, they entrained to Eigergletscher and proceeded to sunbathe on a secluded rock above the run which leads down to the top of ‘Oh God’.


“Later, they saw a diminutive figure in a black cape arrive below them. This was Ros. She loudly demanded “Come out you two  – I know you are here somewhere”. The ‘gimlet-eyed’ lady had struck again!”