Sunday 9 June 2024

To the collector, the spoils

Last month I explored the Firsts Rare Book Fare in London's Saatchi Gallery. I went with a good friend of mine who - as well as being a fellow Deighton collector - is one of the world's top Ian Fleming collectors, with a collection that is the envy of many. 

Funeral in Berlin ... at a price

Tbere were plenty of Ian Flemings on show - a complete collection of first editions would set you back £145,000! But there were also a good number of Deighton first editions on show, the nicest of which was the Funeral in Berlin with the Michael Caine wraparound, at nearly £,2000 (above).

There were, naturally, books from every possible author you could think of, classic and modern, and covering both fiction and non-fiction alike. 

The size of the show - and the prices of the Flemings and other 'star' books (£11,000 for a first edition Harry Potter) - point to two things. One, even in this digital age, there remains a market for both books, and rare books; and two: prices, while they may seem outrageous, continue to reflect the old economic adage of supply and demand.

Some books are clearly more in demand than others. Why does an Ian Fleming first edition of Casino Royale cost anywhere up to £25,000, whereas a first edition of SS-GB by Len Deighton, or The Fourth Protocol by Frederik Forsyth cost maybe £50 to £110?

Lots of factors, I suppose, with Fleming. Timing: the publication of Casino Royale in the 'fifties as the UK emerged from the privation of rationing, but with the heroism of the war still fresh in people's minds, is one thing; the desire of readers for escapism and adventure, too, of course; Fleming's connections in the publishing and media world helped launch the series, of course. Plus, they're clearly very readable books, still.

The films, of course, also boosted popularity of anything associated with James Bond, not least the rare book market. My Fleming-collecting pal regaled me of stories of first editions passed on decades ago when on offer at a tiny fraction of the current market price, with regret in his voice. Fleming collecting requires deep pockets.

John Le Carre was perhaps the author whose rarities at the show were starting to aspire to Fleming prices and collectability, with some first editions of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold demanding £4,000 to £5,000 or more, and many other of his books heading north of £2,000 a short.

Like most other forms of collecting, as decades go by, scarcity increases, and prices necessarily do too. Despite the best efforts of the dealers at the show and book dealers around the world to find, preserve and bring to market lost treasures and ephemera, inevitably editions will disappear from circulation, be destroyed, get defaced, or simply mislaid.

In my experience as a collector of Deightons, it is the very scarcity of some books and items that makes them attractive as collectable items; that, and the obvious factors of great story telling and interesting cover designs, of course. But the scarcer something is, the more a collector will want it.

A relative bargain, based on the median prices evident elsewhere at Firsts

On this blog, over the years, I've made posts about a number of super rare items that I've been lucky enough to find - sometimes after an intense search, sometimes just through dumb luck - and there is a frisson of excitement whether at a rare book far, a second half bookshop, or online, whenever something rare comes up. The dealers at the show understand this, and create value for themselves and collectors by scouring the globe for rare items and bringing them together at shows like Firsts, where some will dig into their pockets, while other visitors will just look on and admire (as I did on that day).

Rarity in the case of Ian Fleming books means eye-wateringly high prices, because the world of Fleming collecting is for the upper echelons of the collecting world. The heavy hitters. The big guns. The top collectors know the top dealers personally; they all know their clients 'want lists', and know the value of repeat business to both parties, and of discretion. It's a fascinating relationship to understand at this rarified end of the book collecting world.

With Len Deighton's books, prices are more reasonable on the whole. Of course, first editions of The Ipcress File, Billion-Dollar Brain, Funeral in Berlin and Horse Under Water do attract quite high prices, being now so limited in number (for example, The Ipcress File pictured below was going for £2,450). But then, other editions, like the SS-GB shown above, were more reasonable, at £70, as supplies remain good, given the large print runs these books got compared to earlier stories.

Rarity, of any author's books, means higher prices

I started collecting Deighton's because I enjoyed the books and found them an affordable and relatively straightforward option to collect. So, while I've spent good money on the odd rare item, I've never had to break the bank and go beyond my means.

If you're a fan of Ian Fleming, or John Le Carre, starting a collection now - as opposed to thirty years ago - is now pretty much out of the question for many people.

Who knows what the next Ian Fleming will be? Will there ever be another popular fiction writer that dominates the new and rare book markets as he did? Of modern authors, I think right now J K Rowling is starting to show signs of being the modern standard setter for rare and collectable book prices, judging by what I saw at the show. 

But then, there's no rhyme or reason sometimes to why some authors are popular - and pricey - while some can be purchased for virtually nothing. Something can always change - a film often help - and propel an author into the collecting stratosphere. 

I think one such author who could become as collectable as Len Deighton or John Le Carre is Mick Herron, whose Slow Horses series of books is now, judging by what I saw at First, eminently collectable and rising up the charts. The popular TV series may also drive interest in the original books, too.

I remember discussing with my pal in the pub afterwards that book collecting - like records or stamp collecting - could be seen as a form of addiction in a way: the desire for 'just one more' book for the collection is powerful. It's not for nothing, perhaps, that the stands at the show were peopled by book 'dealers'.

But, as addictions go, it's fairly benign. No one really gets harmed by it. Both sides - sellers and buyers - benefit from the transaction. And both help preserve our literary history, one book at a time which, in this electronic, on-demand, screen driven world, can't be a bad thing.

Friday 8 December 2023

Harry Palmer on the Town

Recently I found online - after searching for it for over ten years - a copy of Town Magazine from July 1966, with a great feature written at the time that the Funeral in Berlin film was being made in the West German capital.

Town Magazine was in the 'sixties one of the first true 'men's magazines' - in its broadest sense; obviously, being the sixties, there are features on pretty girls - including girls featuring in Bond films - but there are, like Playboy had at the time in the States, plenty of articles on deep topics around politics, science, culture etc. Town is a far cry from the 'nineties 'lads mags' in the UK, like Zoo and Loaded.

What comes across strongly in this feature is that one film in, Michael Caine was still not yet a global superstar; more, he was an up and comer. But you already get from reading this article a sense that he was on a trajectory to stardom.

What's fascinating about finding and reading through decades-old magazines is seeing just how different the adverts are and what consumer sensibilities advertisers appealed to: the back cover is for cigarettes, and there are adverts for sports cars, tailored suits, after shave and Terylene trousers

Anyway, take a look at the article 'Son of IPCRESS':

Monday 21 August 2023

"Sprechen Sie Deutsch, English?"

I have recently picked up a very rare and interesting book - the German first hardback edition of The IPCRESS File.

I've never seen a copy before. Sure, there are plenty of German paperback ('taschenbuch') editions out there from the sixties, from this and the other 'Harry Palmer' novels. But until now, I'd never seen this particular edition.

It's around 1cm shorter and 1.5cm narrower than the UK first edition. I've noticed for many years that with other German editions, the range of standard sizes differs ever so slightly to English and US publishing standards, which you can see when they're aligned on the bookshelf. Plus, on the spine - and I've always preferred this - Germans present the title from the bottom up, whereas English publishers present it top down. 

Perhaps because I'm left-handed, somehow it seems to make more sense.

The cover image is very spy-fiction: the disembodied eye. What's more interesting is that the back cover of the book (published three years after the UK first edition), has the famous photo of Len Deighton lunching with Ian Fleming, and the inside dust jacket flap has more information about other James Bond books the publisher - Scherz - has produced.

I speak reasonable German (though I wouldn't say I'm fluent), so it's interesting to dip into the book and read a familiar story, with familiar characters, in an unfamiliar (for them) language. It gives you a keen understanding of the role of the translator: his or her job is never to simply offer direct translations of each word or sentence, or just to parse one syntax into another. 

Saturday 29 July 2023

The radical act of having a book on your shelf

The inevitable snowflake!

Any collector of first edition or out-of-print books might think their hobby is immune to the ravages of the "culture wars" which are infecting the body politics on both sides of the Atlantic.

Far from it.

As this interesting article in the UK"s Spiked magazine shows, the simple act of collecting an old or out of print edition of a book is now a radical political act, on a par with the publication of samizdat editions of books in the old Soviet Union.

Sure, the author exaggerates a little to make a point. But it does highlight concerns I and other collectors have about the growing readiness of publishers to revise new editions of established works - often using the services of the delightfully termed 'sensitivity reader' - and excise from them any sort of "problematic" wording.

Problematic to whom? Who declares it a problem? Is this agreed by everybody? Is it a genuine assessment, or the opinion of some fruitcake with a Twitter handle?

I hate the word "problematic". 

It's so mealy-mouthed, and redolent of much of the official corporate jargon that's now a feature of publishing, as well as other industries, for which the risk of offending somebody or some online group now takes precedence over, well, the integrity of the novel, of art, of history.

This is a new phenomenon - the whole sensitivity industry (for that's what it is) has grown up maybe in just the last decade. But it is affecting many authors that readers of this blog will be familiar with.

Roald Dahl's children's books are a famous victim of this seemingly benign, but in truth dangerous trend to - literally - rewrite the past.

In the world of spy fiction, Ian Fleming's novels are now undergoing the same treatment, to remove some of the so-called 'problematic' references which the publisher is worried about.

In both those (and other) instances, the novelist has passed away and their estates - charged with looking after the interests of the author's works - are, seemingly, happy to go along with this.

The judgement must be that today's readers, growing up in a society where everything offends someone, should be pandered to; and you can perhaps see a commercial case for doing so. Why risk a Twitter 'pile-on' and put sales under threat.

But, it's such a cowardly act, I think, not least because it changes the author's words, often without their permission.

Should we repaint the Last Supper because it is insufficiently diverse? Should Wagner's operas be expunged of any notes that might hint at German nationalism? Do we change the lyrics of 'Dear God' by XTC because the religiously minded don't like it?

Where does it stop? And who decides?

The author, I think, must be the arbiter. 

To my knowledge, in the most recent Penguin reissues of Len Deighton's novels, there have been no edits or excisions prompted by sensitivity readers.

That may be because, although they are written in the sixties, seventies and eighties and nineties, they are not replete with egregious examples of racism, sexism or any other -ism you can think of.

Sure, there are a few words and characters which a sensitivity reader might baulk at; but, having read most of the novels at least a couple of times, to me these words - auxiliary though they may be - are just as important as any of the key passages or bits of dialogue.

They were chosen by the author. 

And as a reader, I want to read what the author wrote. I don't want to read what someone thinks I should read.

The question here is one of integrity.

Any book, by its very nature, is of its time, and so will also reflect the sensibilities and language of its time. And to that extent, I can see perhaps the sense of adding a publishers' note in the end papers advising readers of that fact. It's merely a guide, a sop to the more sensitive reader, that leaves the book unsullied

But change the language?

That feels like a step too far. Any novel represents the author's vision and story, and language and description and dialogue is integral to that. Changing one word, one sentence, one paragraph, or a character's name or description, undermines that cohesive vision.

There's often a reason an author may have used a racial slur in a book, or gave a character a certain character trait, or presented a character with a physical difficulty. We don't know that reason - and nor should we - so it's not for us to second guess why it's there.

But it is there, and it should remain there. We can acknowledge it; comment on it; wince at it. But, change it?

If you're offended by it, well, don't read the book; or, just put the book to one side.

To push for having the book altered to suit your own sensibilities or that of a certain group in society seems utterly selfish and self-important.

So, going back to the original article's point, I am, evidently, now a radical. 

I don't feel like one. But I understand the (incredibly minor) role I play as a collector in keeping reality, and truth, and artistic integrity alive.

Indeed, I also have a full collection of Spike Milligan's works - loved by children and adults alike but, in their subversiveness and (in the case of his war memoirs) unexpurgated frankness, they are ripe for the sensitivity readers chopping block. 

Same with my Tintin first editions.

Much of their contents would make the average Gen-Z aploplectic. But, I enjoy them, nonetheless.

By keeping them on my shelves, and perhaps in future passing them on to someone else or selling them through a dealer, I feel some solace that I am undertaking an entirely passive, but revolutionary act, in the name of truth and reality, during this current period of cultural perturbation.

As if I needed another reason to keep my collection safe, and growing!

What do you think?

Friday 3 March 2023

Reading versus listening

Berlin Game audiobook on cassette, read by Paul Daneman

I was recently contacted by email from a reader asking if I knew anything about the actor who read the audiobook of Spy Story, whose performance he particularly enjoyed. I didn't, as it happens, but it made me think about the audiobook phenomenon.

To that end, there were also postings on Deighton Dossier facebook group asking why readers could no longer get many of Deighton's stories on audiobook format in the US (according to the author's agent, this is a temporary phenomenon, as the rights to said audiobooks is currently being renegotiated).

Judging by a number of posts indicating people prefer to read/listen to Deighton's book in audio form, there's clearly demand for this author's books - and, indeed, many authors' books - in listenable format.

As a collector of Len Deighton books I have - alongside my first editions, special editions, paperbacks and other phenomena - many of his books as audiobooks. Yet, I've never listened to an audiobook from start to finish.

Why is that?

I have nothing against audiobooks per se. They are a perfectly legitimate form of media alongside the printed page, and their popularity has grown massively over the past thirty years or so, particularly with the rise of comapnies like

I can see how they can provide a different experience to a reader, akin to listening to the radio.

Thinking about them prompted me to take another look at (or should that be, listen to) some of the audiobooks of Len Deighton's novels and see if my feelings were still the same.

Wednesday 21 September 2022

A different kind of Dossier: the Jackdaw 'JFK Assassination' special

An email conversation with a fellow collector recent alighted upon the topic of "The Assassination of President Kennedy", the folder (not book) of essays and pictures about the assasination of the US president compiled and designed by Michael Rand, Howard Loxton and Len Deighton.

The conversation was prompted by seeing an eBay listing for a pristine, signed copy of the Jackdaw Folder, valued at over £1,000! The price perhaps reflects that it's signed by the author, but even so, it's pretty steep. As a collector I've been tempted many times to pay over the odds for a rare Deighton, but that took my breath away. I fear the seller may have to temper their outlook.

Nevertheless, it prompted me to take my copy off the shelf, and look at it again, something I haven't done for a number of years in point of fact. And, to consider its value as a 'book', a collectable item, and its place within the wider canon of Deighton books.

It's one of the favourite items I own with a Deighton collection, for many reasons. It's format is unusual, and well designed. It's an interesting subject matter. It's rare, which is always a draw for a collector. And, perhaps, given the subject material, it's an even-handed attempt to address the most controversial of topics for which there are a thousands of books all telling a different angle on the story.

If you've only read Deighton's novels, you may not be aware of this unusual entry in his catalogue. Let's explore it further.

What is it?

This item is certainly an outlier in Deighton's catalogue. For a start, it's not a book. It's a folder, containing a number of loose-leaf items pertaining to the 1963 assassination, thematically presented to provide the reader with the basic information about the case and an insight into the discussion around it. These are:

  1. A scale model in card paper of Deeley Plaza, which the reader can build to better understand the mise en scene of the assassination
  2. A facsimile of an anti-Kennedy poster circulated in Dallas
  3. A photograph of the assassination
  4. A summary of the autopsy report included in the Warren Commission
  5. Illustrations of the President's wounds
  6. The FBI report on the autopsy
  7. A descriptive sheet of the autopsy
  8. A photo of the President's bloodied shirt
  9. Jackie Kennedy's official testimony to the Warren Commission
  10. Warren Commission document 767
  11. An advertisement for the rifle used by the assassin
  12. A reproduced of the alleged weapon
  13. A list of questions raised by the evidence
  14. Five broadsheet essays covering the different aspects of the case.

However, it's not by any means a source of information for conspiracy nuts. It's a reasoned, well put-together and interesting alternative to a dense book, for someone coming to the subject first time, such as school children.

Friday 24 June 2022

The art of Shirley Deighton

A recent comment on this blog asked for some examples of the work of Shirley Deighton (nee Thompson), the artist and illustrator (Deighton was also an illustrator and graphic designer), who was Len Deighton's wife until they divorced in the late 'sixties. He the writer, she the artist, they were very much the creative pair in sixties swinging London.

Here are some of the paintings and images I have on file, some of which are taken from an episode of The Antiques Roadshow, in which a number of her illustrations were bought along for valuing:

Sunday 12 June 2022

Never a cross word

The crossword competition laid in the first edition

Earlier this month, the Guardian's crossword blog writer wrote a nice little piece about, well, crosswords, and their contribution to developing the reader's understanding of Len Deighton's famous 'unnamed spy' - later, of course, Harry Palmer.

The article looked in particular at Horse Under Water, the second book in the series but the only one of the four main books not turned into a film starring Michael Caine (the producer Harry Saltzman chose to film Funeral in Berlin first, because in the mid-60s the city had become the hot-spot of the Cold War, so to speak, and he thought it would make a better movie. While there were some early plans for a Horse Under Water film, nothing - sadly - ever materialised)

The piece recalls that, famously, the chapter headings in Horse Under Water are in the form of crossword puzzle clues, and that the crosswords on the endpapers of the original first edition drew on clues which in effect, when solved, created a sort of table of contents for the book.

I'm pleased - after getting in touch - that they used a couple of my images and provided a link to the page I have on the main Deighton Dossier website specifically to do with the crosswords in this book. In the Bernard Samson series, in London Game, Bernard Samson too is found toying with a crossword, using it to elicit a false answer from Giles Trent's sister to get to the bottom of the former's attempted suicide and his potential guilt as a London Central spy.

Sunday 15 May 2022

It's all in the detail

Recently I purchased three original marketing photographs produced by Jonathan Cape's marketing team for the 1970 launch of the first edition of Bomber, Len Deighton's magnum opus about the experiences of the wartime bombing raids over German which is often regarded as on of his best novels (certainly, of his non-spy fiction books).

The novel is also, famously, the first modern novel written on a true IBM PC, which at the time took up much of the room in Deighton's office in his ground floor flat in London, as I wrote about a number of years ago

Although it missed out on being shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1970, Bomber was lauded by writer Anthony Burgess as one of the 99 best novels of the twentieth century in the English language. 

Part of the reason for the particular success of Bomber (which was also turned into a Radio 4 play) is Deighton's attention to detail. As a writer it has often been acknowledged by readers and critics that Len Deighton's books are full of exquisitely research details, particularly when it comes to military materiel and historical occurrences. Some readers have found this propensity for technical minutiae off-putting, but many others - myself included - feel it adds a level of realism that grounds the story and reassures the reader that they story they're reading is as true to life as it can be.

Saturday 19 March 2022

The Ipcress File tv series - the verdict


Dalby, Harry and Jean ready for action

Well, after months - and I mean months - of hype and pre-publicity, the new tv adaptation of Len Deighton's The Ipcress File has broadcast its first two episodes on commercial channel ITV in the UK (and all six episodes made available on ITVhub streaming). 

And the verdict from this viewer is ... it's pretty good. Indeed, very good. An adaptation worthy of the book.

Sure, it's not the original Michael Caine film of the same name, and that's probably a good thing, so strong is the cultural imprinting of that performance on the British viewing public. If you remember that, then this new series - and the new Harry Palmer portrayed by Joe Cole - provides six hours of very entertaining, stylish, engrossing and believable drama.

Thursday 3 March 2022

The Ipcress File TV series premiering 6 March

This Sunday in the UK - and in many of the international TV markets to which the rights have been sold - the new adaptation of The Ipcress File by ITV will be seen for the first time.

This week has seen a lot of the weekly TV listings guides in the UK publish feature articles about the series, focusing on the lead actors - Joe Cole as Harry Palmer, and Lucy Boynton as Jean Courtenay (Jean Tonneson in the book) - as well as providing some background on the book.

Much of the advanced publicity around the book has, not unsurprisingly, focused on comparisons between the new series and the original 1965 movie starring Michael Caine. Interestingly, all the signs are from the producers and the actors that while there are the odd 'tributes' to the original movie, this TV series will be different.

One advantage for the TV series of course is a bigger budget, allowing the producers to film more of the overseas scenes in the book (such as in the Pacific Atoll where a nuclear bomb test is due to take place) which the original film budget didn't stretch to.

Saturday 19 February 2022

Happy 93rd Birthday, Len

 ... for yesterday (I forgot to post this up yesterday!).

On 18 February, Len Deighton celebrated his 93rd birthday, having been born in London - Marylebone to be exact - on that day in 1929.

Readers of his novels, his histories, and his cookbooks from around the world will I'm sure join the Dossier in sending good wishes to the author.

2022 is something of a marquee year for the author - next month, ITV broadcasts its lavish remake of The Ipcress File - and the year also marks the sixtieth anniversary of that novel's first publication in London - the first edition sold out almost on the first day, and has sold consistently well ever since, right up to last year's Penguin reissues.

Len Deighton in a 1983 publicity photo

Monday 24 January 2022

ITV releases teaser trailer for new Ipcress File series

 UK commercial broadcaster ITV has released the first teaser trailer for the new TV series of The Ipcress File, which will be broadcast in the UK in March (details for other locations to be confirmed).

While little of the plot is given away, it's clear that the series will make some significant departures from both the book and the 1964 original film starring Michael Caine, such as the more active agent role for Jean, played by Lucy Boynton, evidence of the backstory of the 'unnamed spy' - Harry Palmer - and his role in the Berlin black market which led to military prison and ultimately, the job with W.O.O.C.(P)., plus the sidebar story involving the nuclear test in the Pacific, which is a big part of the book but which was of course not featured in the original film.

The music, too, is very different to John Barry's original film score, which may be no bad thing; it certainly hints at a more obvious thriller tone to the TV series, and there are obvious hints at more visceral action scenes than was the case in the original film.

So, early encouraging signs perhaps that this isn't just a pastiche, by-the-numbers remake, but a serious attempt to retell this classic spy story.

But the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, or in this case, the viewing. Set your TV calendars for March.

Thursday 23 December 2021

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to Deighton Dossier readers

'"Cheer up, Werner. It will soon be Christmas," I said.'

Bernard Samson to Werner Volkmann, first line, Chapter 1, Mexico Set

Like Bernie and Werner in Werner's Audi in freezing West Berlin, we're all waiting for Christmas.

So it's an appropriate time to wish all readers of this blog - plus visitors to the main Deighton Dossier website or the Facebook group - Yuletide wishes. While blog posting this year has been rather light, on the Facebook group particularly there's still been plenty of good discussions among collectors and readers of Deighton's books.

And early in 2022 for viewers in the UK - and certainly later on in the US and likely other TV markets - we'll get to see another of Deighton's spy creations - 'Harry Palmer' (as he became) - who will be seen played by Joe Cole in the new ITV drama series The Ipcress File, broadcast 33 years after the last TV series (also on ITV) featuring Bernard Samson, Game, Set & Match.

Hopefully, the new series will bring renewed interest in the books, the character and, of course, the author.

Thursday 7 October 2021

Deighton up for Southwark Blue Plaque

View over Southwark

As an author, Len Deighton has often eschewed literary prizes and honours, believing his work speaks for itself.

But as someone born in London, who lived there during much of his early life until his career as an author really took off, he might appreciate a blue plaque there in his name.

The Southwark Blue Plaque scheme is currently seeking support for nominees for recipients to honour those who've lived in and contributed to the London Borough.

One of the nominees is Len Deighton, who lived in a flat in Southwark during the sixties and wrote many of his books while resident in the borough.

Dossier readers are welcome to add their support for the nomination.