Saturday, 22 April 2017

[Guest contributor] SS-GB and its place in the alternative history landscape

Fritz Kellerman, from BBC1's SS-GB

[Friend of the Deighton Dossier and noted Deighton collector Robert "Raki" Rakison provides his thoughts on Len Deighton's classic of alternative history - recently shown on BBC1 in a five-part series - and considers other speculative fiction novels and books from the same period which readers may wish to consider.]

The recent TV series for SS-GB and The Man In The High Castle have sparked a lot of interest about what would have happened if the Nazis had won World War Two. This interest in alternate histories is not new, even on film or TV.

Len Deighton wrote SS-GB (published in 1978) when he’d just finished researching, writing and publishing his military history book Fighter: The True Story of the Battle of Britain and was about to do the same for Blitzkrieg: From the Rise of Hitler to the Fall of Dunkirk (1979) – both very readable, really excellent military histories. (In 1993 Len also wrote Blood, Tears and Folly: The Darkest Hour of the Second World War (to misquote Winston Churchill), a highly critical review of the period, up to the US coming into World War Two, with a reminder of how close to defeat the Allies were.

According to Len's "What if...?" article in the 18-24 February 2017 edition of the Radio Times, published to coincide with the recent SS-GB TV mini-series, in the mid-1970s, discussing the research for Fighter and Blitzkrieg, his editor made a comment to the effect that nobody knew what would have happened if Hitler had won the war. Len said that we did “to some extent” and Ray Hawkey (a close friend of Len’s, famously the dust jacket designer for SS-GB and most of Len’s books and producer of the British Hitler-head postage stamps, developed as a promotion for SS-GB) asked if it would make a book, an “alternative world story.”

Monday, 20 March 2017

So ... what did you think? SS-GB has ended

The gravelly voiced Douglas Archer
Well, blog readers: Whaddya think?

Yesterday's episode certainly introduced the action and tension which some viewers seem to have felt was missing earlier on.

After "mumble-gate" and a drop-off in viewing figures after episode one, the five-part adaption of Len Deighton's SS-GB finished with the final episode last night introducing some radical departures from the source novel ... opening up a second series, potentially.

[The Radio Times has a useful guide on the differences between the TV series and the book, here.]

I would give the series four out of five stars, mostly because I found pacing issues in the middle, perhaps as a result of it being stretched out over five weeks (it may not feel different, for example, if binge-watched on DVD).

Critical response has been mixed. Seems to have been a marmite series: Those who want to bash the BBC hate it; it also became a meme linked to Brexit, with some drawing parallels between the Nazis in the 'thirties and the modern EU (face-palm!). Other critics have lauded the quality of the acting, the quality of the direction and the 'noir' element.

The world of Twitter has been its usual, crazy, bubble, with little or anything approaching effective commentary being possible!

What did Deighton Dossier readers think of the series - do share your thoughts.

Friday, 24 February 2017

New profile of Len Deighton in Mail, part of SS-GB hullaboo

Amidst all the online Twitter hubbub over alleged mumbling in SS-GB on BBC1, there's been a significant upsurge in coverage of both the series and the author of the book on which it is based, Len Deighton.

The Deighton Dossier spoke briefly a while back to Nicole Lampert who writes for the Daily Mail, and her short profile article on Len Deighton was in the paper yesterday and is up on the newspaper's website, here. She has alighted on the 'mysterious, reclusive' author angle which, while cliched, isn't all that inaccurate - the author does value his privacy highly.

I'm pleased she used some of the information on the website I pointed her to as part of her research, and the Mail's picture library has clearly dug deep to find some new pictures of Len to illustrate the article.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Would you collaborate, or not? SS-GB preview

That's core to the gripping story at the centre of this five-piece BBC drama out late February, according to co-writer Robert Wade, he of Spectre fame. The producers have drawn out this key characteristic in Len Deighton's book SS-GB and made it central to understanding the tension and uncertainty at the heart of this new drama.

This evening's screening of episode one of SS-GB by Sid Gentle Films shows that the BBC has on its hand a real audience winner and a production that has done justice to Len Deighton's original book and, according to his agent, satisfied the author too.

I won't give away any plot clues or spoil the story. Rather, I'll pick out a few highlights from the episode and the Q&A afterward with Sam Riley, Kate Bosworth, Neil Purvis, Robert Wade and producer Sally Woodward-Gentle.

But get ready for Buckingham Palace in ruins!!

Authenticity - the production quality on this series is up to cinema standards, as TV is now very much on a par with Hollywood in securing the best financing and TV. No expense has been spared on costumes, vehicles, tanks, Spitfires, but also little details like accurate train tickets, advertising, graffiti on the walls, London vernacular. Nothing jars.

London the star - the producers made the series entirely in central London with various locations, as they felt no other city could stand in for London. The director Phillip Kadelbach's secret was to use handheld cameras frequently, focus in tight on the main characters rather than rely on lots of wide shots (requiring CGI and thousands of extras) and keep the camera at Archer's eye level and follow him around, to give the impression of following him on a search for clues. It looks visually stunning, certainly.

Great performances - one of the standouts of the first episode was actor James Cosmo as Harry Woods, Archer's gritty, older detective pal. Wonderfully gritty.

Real Germans - with a German director the producers were able to bring in the cream of German stage and screen actors. Particularly menacing and already one of the standout performances is Lars Eidiger as Standartenfuhrer Dr Huth of the SS. For the first five minutes on screen, all we hear is his voice and silhouette as an autopsy is being carried out. This is an SS man with a mission, and huge charisma too.

Follows classic police procedural memes - the discovery of the murder above an antique shop is classic detective procedural - the long glances around the room, the fishing around in cupboards, the item tucked behind a draw, the hidden hiding place, the vital clue left behind, the disinterested 'seen it all before' police doctor. Great stuff.

Central St Martin's College - really stands in well for Scotland yard. The interiors and the classic wooden doors are perfectly wartime in tone. The sets have a real stability to them, literally and figuratively.

Fantastic title sequence - makes the viewer tingle with anticipation before the TV series starts. They are wonderfully done a mix of the modern and the old, as indicated by the modern typeface introducing the actors under which their names are written in German Gothic fonts. The colours are strongly the black, white and red of the Swastika flag and this ties together into the reveal scene of Douglas Archer at the end (below). Images dissolving into each other, colours bleeding into new images, it has the pace and feel of a classic Bond dramatic opening in which you pick up the main threads of the story before the programme's even started, but without revealing too much.

Beautiful colour and sound editing - the colour palette and feel are just right - lots of browns, smudgy dirty streets, under-lit pubs and kitchen parlours, all just right for a country struggling under the yoke of the Nazis. Most of the action takes place inside, but the sound editor brings to life offices, pubs, restaurants, whorehouses and other locations beautifully with some marvellous extraneous sound designs.

The writers are fans - clear from the Q&A that Purvis and Wade are fans of Deighton's book. They revealed they wanted to write it as a five-hour film, rather than a five episode drama series, as it has a complete story which lended itself to film making. The moral ambiguity at the heart of Deighton's story is something which they saw as central to the appeal of this film to TV viewers, sitting at home, who are asked to imagine - if this was happening outside your front door, what would you do?

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Full site update complete: The New Deighton Dossier is up and running

One of my Christmas/New Year projects was to complete the upgrade to the Deighton Dossier website and archive, which has been online seven years now!

The site now includes lots more interactive galleries, embedded video and new information not on the previous version. Importantly, it has plenty of scope for expansion.

I'm particularly keen to feature more third party content - if you have any images/commentary/ideas for features you'd like to see the DD address, I'd be happy to feature it on the website if it's suitable.

Check out the screen shots below of the new site:

I've now used more lightbox reveal boxes to ensure long content such as interviews is more self-contained and accessible, and dedicated sub-pages have been added where appropriate to make it easier to navigate. One thing I haven't been able to do successfully is integrate the existing hosted Blog; what I may do eventually is add in a built-in blog, and simply transfer the existing information across.

If you spot any errors, do please add some comments below and I'll address them.

Thanks for continuing to visit the blog and the website, which is now the top result on any Google search on Len Deighton!

Monday, 19 December 2016

Christmas wishes to all the website readers ....

Hours of endless waiting ahead on a cold Christmas night ....
"'Cheer up, Werner. It will soon be Christmas,' I said.
I shook the bottle, dividing the last drips of whisky between the two white plastic cups that were balanced on the car radio. I pushed the empty bottle under the seat. The smell of the whisky was strong. I must have spilled some on the heater or on the warm leather that encased the radio. I thought Werner would decline it. He wasn't a drinker and he'd had far too much already, but Berlin winter nights are cold and Werner swallowed his whisky in one gulp and coughed. Then he crushed the cup in his big muscular hands and sorted through the bent and broken pieces so that he could fit them all into the ashtray. Werner's wife Zena was obsessionally tidy and this was her car."
Whether you're on a stake-out or, more likely, drinking (or not!) at home with your kith and kin, the Deighton Dossier wishes its readers and contributors good wishes for this Yuletide and good hope for a book-filled, interesting 2017.
Thanks for visiting this blog, the main website, the Twitter and Facebook pages and contributing to lively discussion.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

New trial website now up ....

After much shenanigans and failed uploads, I'm now in a position to upload the new design for the Deighton Dossier website.

The new design supports:

  • Easier access from mobiles and tablets, alongside desktop PCs, as it's relational to the screen size now
  • Makes it easier to support galleries and video embedding
  • Has a cleaner overall look and feel to make working through the site easier
  • Makes it easier to link to other related social media through the site
I hope readers like it.

It's still a work in progress. For example, although there is a menu item for blog, I cannot get that to work right now so that will come out temporarily soon.

However, I'd welcome your feedback.

Well, have you ....?

Spotted this week in Waterstone's at London Wall in the City:

I'm sure that next Spring, when the TV series begins on BBC TV, then a lot of people who've been 'meaning to' read this Deighton classic will spot the paperback edition and think, why not now?

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Bag a Bit of Bagley ...

Sorry for the slow posting recently on this blog ... usual reasons of work etc.

However, I thought I should do a quick shout out to the sterling work of fellow Blogger and spy thriller fan Phil Eastwood who runs the Desmond Bagley Running Blind website.

Checking on it recently I also took the opportunity to read his new(ish) blog covering the works of UK-thriller writer Bagley more extensively, beyond the single book covered in his main website.

It's definitely worth checking out that he's added a series of podcasts by his friend and fellow Bagley-ite Nigel Alefounder, who runs a Bagley fansite. They're pretty interesting - I finished a couple of months ago my copy of Running Blind, having not read it before, and it's a great story.

The podcasts look in some detail at all aspects of Bagley's life; others look at the research techniques employed (like Deighton famously did) by Bagley to provide real verisimilitude to his stories; and a look at the silver screen adaptations of Bagley's works. Worth checking them out; they're on iTunes on or the site linked to above.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

New video surfaces - Thames TV interview Deighton ...

Thanks to Deighton Dossier Facebook reader Jack Les Camela, a new video has surfaced on YouTube, showing an interview by Thames TV's Trevor Hyatt on the Afternoon Plus show.

Watch it here:

It's a good 25 minute long. As it's from 1983, it was part of the publicity drive for Berlin Game.

What we learn from it:

  • Len Deighton doesn't read his books again once they're published
  • The low budget of The Ipcress File made it a good film
  • He's not at all resentful of the fact he's never won the Booker Prize!

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Deighton near the top of the charts, again

Some good news for readers of quality spy and thriller fiction.

Len Deighton's SS-GB has climbed to the top 10 of paperback sales in the UK, according to The Times.

My theory is that much of this is down to the Waterstone's push (see stories below) to its customers, making the book thriller of the month for September. Perhaps some of it's down to people curious about the upcoming BBC series?

Whatever it was, for fans of Deighton and this book in particular, it just goes to show that quality is persistent and rarely fades totally from view.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Worth a read - who is the ... 'anti-Bond'

A new article up this week on the Literary 007 blog looking at the literary legacy of James Bond writer Ian Fleming.

This two-page article by writer David Craggs asks the question: what was the impact of James Bond? Much like matter has anti-matter, his contention is that the creation of Bond enabled the creation of a number of 'anti-Bonds', including - famously - the unnamed spy created by Len Deighton.

Share your views in the comments below.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

SS-GB - Waterstone's 'crime' thriller of the month for September

As this image shows, Waterstone's is making a big push for the new paperback edition of SS-GB as their 'thriller' of the month (although this store got the location wrong, and put it in crime).

I was asked to write a short introductory piece about the book, and its link to Len's other 'historical' novels, for the Waterstone's customer e-update, which went out recently. They only used a short quote from it, so I'm sharing the full text below.

The book is likely to sell well again next year, when the BBC series is launched, in the early spring season on BBC 1. Front cover looks stunning on this new edition.

Read the full article below.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

New Q&A .... the Cold War


Len's kindly agreed to do a Q&A interview via email with the Deighton Dossier, as he's done with us a number of times before.

I've suggested we do questions around a broad theme, and that theme is THE COLD WAR.

So, suggest questions either on the Facebook page or here on the blog; I'll collate the best and liaise with Len.

What do you want to ask one of the UK's premier spy thriller authors about the Cold War, and his writing?

I've now had a number of suggestions from readers for questions, and a Q - to which he'll provide the As - has gone to Mr Deighton. Let's see what his replies tell us.

Website back up

The main Deighton Dossier website is back up online.

I have experienced some issues with the site building software, which is no longer supported (Freeway 7), which has meant some of the existing galleries which were integrated into the site aren't available for now - not sure why.

I am working on a completely new website design over coming weeks which will replace this existing site.