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15 February 1912
Siklós, Kingdom of Hungary, Austria-Hungary
|Died||30 August 1987
|Citizenship||British (from 1946)|
|Notable works||How to be an Alien|
|Children||Martin (first marriage)
Judith (second marriage)
George Mikes (15 February 1912 – 30 August 1987) was a Hungarian-born British author best known for his humorous commentaries on various countries.
George Mikes was born in 1912, in Siklos, Hungary. His father, Alfréd Mikes, was a successful lawyer, a profession in which he wanted George to follow. Mikes graduated in Budapest in 1933 and started work as a journalist on Reggel ("Morning"), a Budapest newspaper. For a short while he wrote a column called Intim Pista for Színházi Élet ("Theatre Life").
In 1938 Mikes became the London correspondent for Reggel and 8 Órai Ujság ("8 O'Clock Paper"). He worked for Reggel until 1940. Having been sent to London to cover the Munich Crisis and expecting to stay for only a couple of weeks, he remained for the rest of his life. In 1946 he became a British citizen. It is reported that being a Jew from Hungary was a factor in his decision. Mikes wrote in both Hungarian and English: The Observer, The Times Literary Supplement, Encounter, Irodalmi Újság, Népszava, the Viennese Hungarian-language Magyar Híradó, and Világ.
From 1939 Mikes worked for the BBC Hungarian section making documentaries, at first as a freelance correspondent and, from 1950, as an employee. From 1975 until his death on 30 August 1987 he worked for the Hungarian section of Szabad Európa Rádió. He was president of the London branch of PEN, and a member of the Garrick Club.
He married twice, and had a son called Martin by his first marriage, and a daughter called Judith by his second. He died in London on 30 August 1987. On 15 September 1991 a memorial plaque was unveiled at his childhood home.
His first book (1945) was We Were There To Escape – the true story of a Jugoslav officer about life in prisoner-of-war camps. The Times Literary Supplement praised the book for the humour it showed in parts, which led him to write his most famous book How to be an Alien which in 1946 proved a great success in post-war Britain.
How to be an Alien (1946) poked gentle fun at the English, including a one-line chapter on sex: "Continental people have sex lives; the English have hot-water bottles."
Subsequent books dealt with (among others) Japan (The Land of the Rising Yen), Israel (Milk and Honey, The Prophet Motive), the US (How to Scrape Skies), and the United Nations (How to Unite Nations), Australia (Boomerang), the British again (How to be Inimitable, How to be Decadent), and South America (How to Tango). Other subjects include God (How to be God), his cat (Tsi-Tsa), wealth (How to be Poor) or philosophy (How to be a Guru).
Apart from his commentaries, he wrote humorous fiction (Mortal Passion; The Spy Who Died of Boredom) and contributed to the satirical television series That Was The Week That Was.
His autobiography was called How to be Seventy.
- Penguin Readers Factsheet on How to be an Alien for teachers
- Thomas Kabdebo (1996). "Mikes, George". In Steven H. Gale. Encyclopedia of British humorists: Geoffrey Chaucer to John Cleese 1. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9780824059903. Retrieved 30 January 2010.
- Hungarian Biographical Encyclopedia (in Hungarian)
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- Eight humorists (1954)
- We Were There to Escape: the true story of a Jugoslav officer (1945)
- The Hungarian Revolution (1957)
- A Study in Infamy: the operations of the Hungarian Secret Police (AVO) (1959)
- Arthur Koestler; the story of a friendship (1983)