George Mikes

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George Mikes
Born Mikes György
(1912-02-15)15 February 1912
Siklós, Kingdom of Hungary, Austria-Hungary
Died 30 August 1987(1987-08-30) (aged 75)
London, England
Language English
Nationality Hungarian
Citizenship British (from 1946)
Genre Humour, journalism
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.[1] 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. 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.

His friends included Arthur Koestler, J. B. Priestley and André Deutsch, who was also his publisher.

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.[2]

Serious writing included a book about the Hungarian secret police and he narrated a BBC television report of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.[1]


  1. How to be poor – about the author. London: Andres Deush and Penguin books. p. 4. Retrieved 24 June 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Mikes, George (1 January 1982). How to be Seventy: An Autobiography. London: A. Deutsch. ISBN 0233974539. Retrieved 24 June 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Selected bibliography

  • How to be an Alien: a handbook for beginners and more advanced pupils (1946)
  • How to Scrape Skies: the United States explored, rediscovered and explained (1948)
  • Wisdom for Others (1950)
  • Milk and Honey: Israel explored (1950)
  • Down with everybody (1951)
  • Shakespeare and Myself (1952)
  • Uber Alles: Germany explored (1953)
  • Little Cabagges (1955)
  • Italy for Beginners (1956)
  • How to Be Inimitable: coming of age in England (1960)
  • How to Tango: a solo across South America (1961)
  • Switzerland for Beginners (1962)
  • How to Unite Nations (1963)
  • Mortal Passion (1963), a novel
  • Germany Laughs at Herself: German cartoons since 1848 (1965)
  • Eureka!: Rummaging in Greece (1965)
  • How to Be Affluent (1966)
  • Boomerang: Australia Rediscovered (1968)
  • The Prophet Motive: Israel today and tomorrow (1969)
  • The Land of the Rising Yen: Japan (1970)
  • Humour in Memoriam (1970)
  • Any Souvenirs?: Central Europe revisited (1971)
  • The Spy who Died of Boredom (1973)
  • How to Be Decadent (1977)
  • Tsi-Tsa: the biography of a cat (1978)
  • English Humour for Beginners (1980)
  • How to Be Seventy: an autobiography (1982)
  • How to Be Poor (1983)
  • How to Be a Guru (1984)
  • How to Be God (1986)
  • The Riches of the Poor: who's WHO (1987)


  • 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)