The clever plot has gripped readers and film aficionados for half a century.
At the heart of Frederick Forsyth’s masterpiece, The Day Of The Jackal, is a notorious fraud that revealed how anyone could apply for a birth certificate and passport in the name of a dead child.
But on the 50th anniversary of the thriller, Frederick Forsyth has thrown one more incredible twist into the drama by revealing that he stole a dead boy’s name and details to prove to himself the storyline could work in real life.
Just as the fictional Jackal assumes the identity of a dead boy in his attempt to assassinate the President of France, so Frederick Forsyth scoured a graveyard for the names of suitable children.
Having found one, the author then obtained a birth certificate and applied for a passport in the name of a boy called Duggan, later used in his best-seller.
Frederick Forsyth admits that it was totally illegal and that he did precisely what the Jackal did. He said, he found the grave of this little boy, James Oliver Duggan, in a churchyard in the Home Counties.
Frederick Forsyth also gave a bogus witness to support his application. He said he just invented a church minister in North Wales, somewhere where he thought the Passport Office wouldn’t bother to check.
He said that all of it went into the package, along with the fee and the birth certificate for a person who no longer existed because he’d died as a child.
He said that he used a local news agent as a poste restante, asking him if he’d be so kind, for a modest fee, to take in his mail while he was away overseas. Then Forsyth, who wasn’t going anywhere, waited and around two weeks later, there it was. A large package with a passport in it in the name of James Oliver Duggan.
He said he never used it internationally, but he tested the system and it worked.
The writer got the idea from West Africa where he’d been reporting on the Biafran War. He was told about it by a white mercenary who was there on fake documents.
The Jackal Fraud has been a topic of huge debate, notably when it surfaced that members of the Metropolitan Police had used the identities of dead children to infiltrate protest groups.
Of course, there’s no reason that a dead child should be exploited for any reason, but of course, it happens all the time, and numerous writers go to places no sane person would. I guess it’s part of the undertaking of the job. For instance, J R Tolkien served in the army in the First World War, notable in the Battle of the Somme.
And many writers will go and interview Serial Killers. It’s that touch of darkness that makes them exceptional writers, the question is, does life imitate art, or does art imitate life?
Most of us like a bit of escapism from the trials and tribulations of real life, and of course, to write a superb thriller you have to have a slightly darker side to your personality.
Frederick Forsyth infused his written work with intensity and excitement. The quarry and the prey always suspenseful, and the assassin, well-bred but devoid of scruples, meeting a bloody end – it was the novel everyone dreamed about writing.