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.

Thursday, 30 September 2021

More Penguin classics roll off the production line...

Today I've received in the post a further five books from the Penguin Modern Classics editions, which have been dropping onto booksellers shelves throughout 2021.

The latest editions are:

  • Close-Up
  • Yesterday's Spy
  • Spy Story
  • Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Spy 
  • An Expensive Place to Die.

The bold cover designs by Richard Green continue to be visually interesting - each book features the Ray Hawkey-inspired chevron motif linking back to his original Penguin covers from the 1960s, with some bold colour choices, each too with the 'dot matrix' B&W photo pointing to the themes explored in the novels.

The cover of Yesterday's Spy bold, with its bold white cover, hints at a nod to the original Hawkey first edition covers for the unnamed spy stories in the 'sixties, which for the time were groundbreaking in their use of white on the dustcovers, which was traditionally avoided by book designers due to its propensity to show the dirt, where customers for example picked them up to browse. 

There are a few more still to come out later in the autumn, including Goodbye Mickey Mouse and City of Gold.

I've been very impressed with Penguin's approach and its readiness to go all-in on the design motif that connects each and every book being republished and honours the company's long standing connection to the author. They've evidently taken a lot of time and care over each edition, which no doubt will help with attracting new readers to the novels.

Saturday, 7 August 2021

Eastern Europe in England

I recently did some searching of various newspaper archives and found this interesting article from the Daily Mirror newspaper from late in 1987, during the filming of the Granada TV mini-series Game, Set and Match, based on the three Len Deighton novels of the same name (which was broadcast in Autumn 1988).

Famously, it recounts how - given that the Berlin Wall still existed at the time, and filming behind the Wall was, unsurprisingly, not allowed - the producers had to improvise when filming the many scenes requiring actor Ian Holm (as Bernard) and others to be in Eastern Europe.

Gdansk, Lancashire.

For the scenes in Gdansk Railway Station, Manchester's Victoria Station (now majorly different in layout) stood in, thanks to the addition of some Polish signage and Eastern Bloc cars.

For example, Bolton Town Hall stood in for Gdansk, in the scene where Bernard goes behind the Iron Curtain to meet with Yuri Rostov to seek his defection, the failure of which leads Bernard to flee Eastern Europe via an escape across the wall (a scene which is told in flashback in the books, but which provides the opening scenes in the TV mini series that provide a context for explaining Bernard Samson's position back in London Central, desk-bound.

Other filming was done in and around the North West (the series was produced by Granada TV, the regional commercial TV station in England which formed part of the ITV network). For instance, the village of Great Budworth near Northwich stood in for Cosham (which is actually on the south coast of England in the books), for the scene where Bernard and Werner discover the body of McKenzie in the departmental safe house, left there by Erich Stinnes, who is seeking to undermine Samson's position within London Central by pinning the murder on him.

The two-page article from the Daily Mirror, which explores other aspects of the production (including the filming in West Berlin and Mexico), was part of the pre-launch publicity around the series which, despite Granada TV's largest drama budget up to that point, ultimately failed to prove the smash hit that was expected. Famously, due to disagreements with the producers during the making of the film, the commercial rights for the series were withdrawn by Len Deighton, meaning the series - and its many North West locations - haven't ever been broadcast again on British TV, or released on DVD.

Sunday, 16 May 2021

Couple of recent Deighton-related articles readers may be interested in

Things are relatively quiet with respect to news about Deighton's books - now that the Penguin editions are starting to roll out - but there are still the odd article relating to the author and his works for readers to be aware of.

In The New Statesman (a UK-based, broadly left-of-centre magazine), journalist John Gray has written a profile style piece called Len Deighton and the mundanity of spies. If you can look past the odd spelling error (sub-editors failed to correct a reference to 'Leighton'), then it's worthwhile giving it a read, as the writer compares Deighton's spy thrillers with other classic characters and stories from Maugham and Fleming and others.

Earlier in the month, in The Observer, Deighton's son Alex - who has been co-authoriting the most recent cookstrips in the magazine with his father (now, sadly, at an end), discusses with the interviewer the recent launch of the new Penguin Modern Classics editions, and his father's continued legacy of books being enjoyed by new generations of readers.

Saturday, 13 March 2021

New Disney editions looking very stylish

Last year, it was announced that Penguin had secured the paperback writes to Len Deighton's fiction and non-fiction output, and would publish them under its Penguin Modern Classics imprint. 

The first cover images for the initial releases in the series have been released, and they look mightily impressive, based on those available so far (all the books are available for pre-order, but not all covers have been shared yet).

The overall look and feel has been created by Penguin's Art Director Tony Stoddart, and what is immediately apparently is how his overall feel seems to make passing references to previous Penguin film tie-in editions from the sixties, with the famous covers featuring Michael Caine as Harry Palmer, which were designed by Len Deighton's long-time collaborator, Raymond Hawkey.

Take a look, and see what you think.

Funeral in Berlin 2021, designed by Tony Stoddart

Funeral in Berlin 1966, designed by Ramond Hawkey

The orange chevron in the new edition is a wonderful homage to the famous - and famously successful - three editions of the 'Harry Palmer' novels which were published by Penguin in the 'sixties; they did not, however, have the rights to The Ipcress File.

These new editions will include all Deighton's fiction output, plus many of his historical works too.

Friday, 26 February 2021

Another serendipitous find

As a collector of Len Deighton's output (along with a couple of other authors) for a number of decades, through talking to dealers, scouring second-hand book shops and trawling online sites like ABEBooks, I've got a pretty good idea of what the market is:

  • Which books are rare
  • How often the crop up in the market
  • What represents good value
That allows me, as a collector, to be more focused and targeted and ensure that any spare cash I use on adding to my collection, is well-used and helps me get a more complete collection.

Every so often, something comes along that I've never heard of or seen before for sale; one recent example explored here on this blog was the SS-GB Whitehall postcard - super rare - which I found after years of searching. Surprisingly, within a couple of months, I found another (which I purchased) that included some of the original publicity content sent out to booksellers.

Feast and famine, and serendipity. Such is the experience of the serious book collector.

This week, I found another item that was totally off my radar. It's a limited edition book of illustrations, called An Alphabet in praise of Frogs and Toads by John Norris Wood. And, it has a foreword by Len Deighton (as a serious collector, I don't collect just Deighton's books, but his forewords and book jacket illustrations too). 

Why? Well, it turns out Wood and Deighton were fellow students at London's Royal College of Art, where both were graphic designers and illustrators. Deighton's forward recalls his time at the college and his friendship with Wood. The book itself is simply page after page of - admittedly well done - pictures of frogs and toads. But, as a limited private printing of just 320 copies, it's rare.

I checked with other collectors and online and found that the market price was in the £2-300 mark.

Me? I paid £50 online for it. I'd consider that a bargain for something so rare. 

It just goes to show that for those of us who enjoy collecting books - of whatever kind - there's always something new to find, and that's why we do what we do; that's why collectors are rarely satisfied or say to themselves, "You know, I'm done."

Happy collecting.

Friday, 1 January 2021

A new Harry Palmer on the horizon

The new Harry Palmer. What, no glasses?

 Before Christmas, ITV delivered a Christmas present for Deighton fans, of sorts.

A new six-part TV series based on The Ipcress File novel is planned for broadcast this year, with a new younger cast recreating Len Deighton's first novel - reimagining, perhaps, given the fabled original movie starring Michael Caine is so well known.

The part made famous by Michael Caine will be played by young British actor Joe Cole, who's most famous for his role in BBC 1's Peaky Blinders historical drama. He'll be joined by actress Lucy Boynton - who one imagines will play Jean - and also Tom Hollander. Further details are awaited about the series but the signs in the ITV press release are relatively positive.

With six parts, presumably an hour long, the producers should have more time for character development and to visit more parts of the books - including those in the Pacific - which were excised from the original cinema version. 

Potentially, too, they have the option to explore more of Harry Palmer's back story - the producers are sticking with the name created for the film, given the brand value of doing so - particularly his criminal acts within the army in Berlin which originally landed him with Colonel Ross in W.O.O.C.(P).

Of course, any series based on a book from the 'sixties will inevitably be 'updated' and made 'relevant', but as long as it's not egregious or doesn't get in the way of telling the story, such things are forgiveable.

Still, it should be fun, and I wait to see with interest whether it can hold its ground with the original.

Now, some better 2021 New Year news would be to hear that Clerkenwell Films - holders of the TV rights for all nine Bernard Samson books - has, having held the rights for over five years - announced plans to start filming the series.

But, maybe we have to wait for April Fool's Day for that announcement.

What do other readers think - good idea or not, the Ipcress update?

Monday, 14 December 2020

On the passing of a great ...

Sad news in the world of spy fiction with the passing of David Cornwell, aka John Le Carré, aged 89 after a short illness.

What is there to say about him that hasn't already been said, not just in the last 24-hours in the numerous obituaries published around the globe, but over his sixty-year career.

The spy's spy fiction writer.

A literary giant

A writer who transcended the spy genre.

A chronicler of our age.

He was clearly all these things and much, much more. It is rare to find anyone who enjoys reading spy fiction who has not read some - all - of Le Carré's books, from the most famous ones like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, to lesser-known works such as The Mission Song.

His contribution to the genre is without doubt. 

He was also a contemporary of Len Deighton (who is the older of the two, at 91 years old) as a spy fiction writer, and he, Deighton and Ian Fleming were, certainly in the 'sixties, often regarded as the big triumvirate of spy fiction authors who put the genre on the map and paved the way for many other authors in their wake.

While Len has been in effective retirement for two decades, Le Carré was writing new fiction well into his late eighties.

While readers around the world - and his books were popular in many markets beyond the UK and US - will mourn today, we shouldn't be too sad, because in a full and well-lived life he created unforgettable characters and stories which will remain with us for a long time to come.

Thursday, 17 September 2020

It's not quite a new novel, but hey ....

The rather natty cover of Howdunit

Len Deighton is long into a well-deserved retirement - his last full novel was well over 25 years ago - but he still writes regularly and this week his first piece of published writing, at least that I'm aware of, since his 2012 James Bond e-book, has appeared.

It's a chapter in Howdunit, a new compendium by the members of the Detection Club. A masterclass of crime and thriller fiction from masters of the genre.

And the book as a whole is dedicated to Len, who, the reader is reminded, was first elected to membership of the Detection Club in 1969.

So, it's his fiftieth year of membership. He's their longest serving member.

How many of ever can say we've been a member of anything for fifty years or more?

So, what will you find in this book, which is sure to be catnip for spy fiction and thriller readers alike as well as hardened crime fines? 

Well, how about:

...Val McDermid, on letting the story be the driver...

...Ngaio Marsh on the value of great research to a story...

...John Le Carre on the joy of writing...

...and Ian Rankin on why crime fiction is good for you.

That's just a taste of what's available in this tome (and it's a book that feels weighty, hefty, and deserving of that title.

There are over 500 pages of content for a relatively modest £25 for the hardback limited edition.

So what of Len's contribution?

His chapter, fourteen pages long, is entitled: Different Books; Different Problems; Different Solutions.

Essentially, it is Len recounting his experiences as a writer of nearly sixty years. Sharing anecdotes (many familiar, some new) and passing on tips.

 For instance, The value of research in ensuring you get things right:

"I have abandoned three books halfway through and it is a miserable experience."

Ah. What might have been! He gives infomation about what they were:

  • The well-known Vietnam-based story around fighter pilots
  • An espionage story about an orchestra travelling behind the Iron Curtain
  • A book about worldwide revolutionary movements, from the Bolsheviks and onwards.
The benefits of leaving paper behind and writing Bomber on his new IBM word processor in 1969, famously the first novel fully written on a Word Processor:
"Revisions, corrections and edits are always part of my writing process; and scribbling between the lines on typewritten pages, as well as cutting them up and rearranging paragraphs, kept me on my knee brandishing the glue pot."

The benefits of not wasting anything already started, and recycling it:

"Like most writers I begrudge wasted experience (even my abandoned revolution research was used in a South American locale for MAMista)."

The value of coincidence and happenstance to a writer in being able to bump into the spy fraternity and, one imagines, draw on their stories:

"Visiting a friend in HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs on a sunny day [who was that?] when visitors and inmates were gathered in the grassy interior lawn, I found George Blake, one of Russia's most successful agents, seated at the next table. Maxwell Knight of MI5 and Sir Maurice Oldfield, the head of MI6, were friends of friends. They were everywhere. One didn't have to look beyond our writing fraternity to find men who had worked in the service."

Overall, it's a neat insight into the life of a writer. 

Like many of the other authors in this book I suspect, writing about himself, and the process of writing, is I imagine something Len would happily exchange for writing about a character or a scene.

But for a reader, it's a way to understand the process and thinking behind the characters and situations which you have enjoyed over the years are given another facet, as the process of their creation is given just a little bit more detail.

If you read any sort of thriller fiction, there is plenty beyond simply Len Deighton's chapter in this book to raise your eyebrows and thumb your bookshelves.


Sunday, 12 July 2020

Snippets from the Ripster

Lockdown's been an odd experience. Even as some restrictions ease, it's going to be an odd summer.

I recently received a nice message from author Mike Ripley - who's a long-standing friend of Len Deighton, and of the Dossier. Judging by the pic he shared, he's coping fine with lockdown!

Mike Ripley suffering through lockdown!

Mike - who writes the always excellent 'Getting Away with It' column in the online Shots magazine is a great source for all the latest news in crime and thriller fiction, pointed me in the direction of two recent homages, if you will, to Deighton's wok.

In his newspy story Hammer to Fall, John Lawton includes this scene:

The hero spy returning from a mission to Finland in 1966 goes to the home of his boss to find that the boss’ wife - a notoriously bad cook – has left ‘a nice little bourguignon on the hob’ for them. The spymaster boss tells our hero:

“Ever since she discovered Len Deighton’s Cookstrip she’s been unstoppable. Calls it cuisine à la spook … her shorthand for it is spy-fry.”

Nice pun!

And in Mike's own new book Mr Campion's Seance, a visiting Interpol agent is waiting for Campion at Scotland Yard. When Campion arrives he finds him surrounded by a pile of newspapers. The setting is November 1962:

‘Your English is as annoyingly good as it always was.’ Campion pointed to the pile of Evening Standard newspapers on the chair and leaned over to peruse the one open on the desk. ‘Is that your secret? A close reading of the juicy stories in London’s evening papers?’

‘Superintendent Luke kindly gave me yesterday’s issue to read whilst I was waiting and I discovered this wonderful serial, a new spy story called
The Ipcress File. I simply had to know what had gone before and one of the constables found me copies of last week’s papers. It is really very good; you should read it.’

‘Are you sure it’s fiction? Our newspapers seem to be uncovering spy stories every week these days.’

‘This story reads like it is true, but it is fiction. The paper says there will be a book soon.’

Mike tells me he sent Len a copy of my book which (he said) he enjoyed, and told him about the John Lawton reference. He emailed Mike back: ‘How nice to hear that I am not forgot.’


Thursday, 18 June 2020

The quest is over: the tale of the elusive SS-GB postcard

This is a post about collecting, and the thrill of tracking down big game.

In my case, the 'big game' was in fact small and rather insignificant - a postcard 4 inches by 6 inches. But bagging it bought to the end fifteen or more years of patient stalking.

This blog - and the Deighton Dossier main website - started as a means of documenting and sharing my collection of Len Deighton books and other items. It has since grown over a decade and more into a small but well-informed community of fellow collectors, readers and spy fiction fans, including over on the main Facebook group.

I'm still a keen book collector - not just of Deighton, but other authors too. Even though my collection is (according to a number of dealers) impressive, there are still odd gaps here and there. 

Most of these I would class as 'hyper rare' items of ephemera. This week, after keeping my eyes open online for fifteen years plus, I found what I'd been looking for.

It is this, a simple postcard, part of the marketing materials for the first UK edition of SS-GB:

Designed by Raymond Hawkey, it shows on the front the 'Siegesparade in London, 20 April 1941', divisions of Waffen SS marching confidently down Whitehall to mark the victory of the Nazis over the British which forms the central conceit of Deighton's famous 'alternative history' thriller, which was made into a series by the BBC.

The image was also used on the dust jacket of the UK first edition.

Friday, 27 March 2020

An organised shelf is a happy shelf

Like a large part of the world's population right now, I am in 'lockdown' mode as a result of the global Covid-19 pandemic, doing my part to help reduce the spread of the infection through the community where I live by working from home and staying indoors (unlike all those members of the community in vital jobs like medicine and food distribution who are the heroes of the moment).

It's tough at time, but as the aphorism goes, when you're given lemons ... . So, I've had much more time on my hands to spend with my books: not just my collection of Deighton books, but all the books on my shelves. And one way to use that excess spare time is to get round to dusting and, more importantly, re-arranging the books on my shelves.

Here's the result for bookshelf one, which was certainly an improvement on how it looked befor:

Taking all the books off the shelf, putting them into different category and size piles, then putting them back in a new way was a very satisfying thing to do. It didn't achieve anything or immeasurably improve my life, but I was glad I did it, so much so that I then proceeded to go through all my other shelves.


It got me thinking, why did I spend the time doing this, and not something else? Why did I choose one way of arranging my books, while other people choose alternative ways of arranging theirs.

As is the modern way, I went online and did an search on the internet for 'the psychology of tidy bookshelves'. And wouldn't you know it: page after page of blog posts, magazine articles, social media post, all about why people have, or don't have, tidy shelves (general, and book).

This article, for example, in House Beautiful magazine (not, I might add, a regular read, but just one of the search results I clicked on) suggests that the way you stack your books tells you something about who you are and how you think. While I don't give much credence to the psychological and intellectual underpinnings of House Beautiful, the broad idea is right. Indeed, how your or I perform any activity - tying our shoes, buying clothes, doodling on a blank page - is likely to offer some insight into how you think and approach life.

So, as a book collector, who enjoys reading, looking at, handling, admiring and searching for books - especially, given the nature of this site, the works of Len Deighton - it made me pause for thought over coffee about what my books shelf style says about me, and why - in this current global pandemic - spending quality time with your books can be helpful and fulfilling. (Though, of course, while fun, it's no replacement for the current lack of human contact many of us around the world face!)

Your books are an important part of your life
They're not as important as family, health, mental well-being, no, of course not. But books of whatever kind - spy novels, cook books, picture books, coffee table books - serve to nourish the soul and stimulate the mind. I know on each of the seven book shelves I own that, having curated every book on them, I know that in times like the present, when I have more time in the house, I'll find something I want to read and will feel comfortable losing myself in.

Tidying a bookshelf can throw up surprises.
By tidying up four bookshelves of various books, I discovered I had duplicate copies of three first editions of books (one a Deighton, but two from other collections). I wouldn't ordinarily buy two copies of a book if I didn't need to, so I wondered: why had I done that. A few thoughts: as one gets older, clearly, the mind doesn't remember as much as when you were 15. So, simple forgetfulness.
It might also point to the fact that, prior to this tidying up, my shelves were disordered, and these duplicates - which I might have spotted if the collection were logical and ordered - would have come to light earlier. I also pondered on another source: the modern ease with which buying books, especially collectable books, can create a degree of laziness in the collector and encourage purchases where you just 'might not be sure' you have the book, without first actually checking if you do. If nothing else, that's money I could be saving right there in those three books (value about £55).

The de-cluttering phenomenon can apply to books, too
2019 was the year the Marie Kondo effect became a world-wide revolution, apparently. "Tidying can transform your life." I wouldn't go that far, but certainly I can see how a concentration on a specific task, the creation or order and harmony (for example, having all the book spine titles reading the same way) can de-stress and generally bring a smile to your face. Ms Kondo has created ire among book collectors for her throwaway approach to books and generated a meme war. Like all things on social media, it's more heat and light but was certainly funny for the most part. I don't get the impression she is anti-book, perhaps more anti keeping books just for the sake of keeping them.

But is that what collectors do? I don't think so. There is purpose to their collecting (their certainly is to mine, which is personal to me, specific, not motivated by monetary value, and tied to specific, long-standing interests which I intend to continue pursuing). However, I have known collectors who - through having any strategic focus to their collecting - perhaps might benefit from a little of Ms Kondo's teaching. But, only a little.

I certainly found it satisfying to re-group all my Bernard Samson ennealogy books together - UK, US and German first editions - on a shelf at eye level, as these are my favourite books and, on reflection, it felt odd that they had been scattered on different shelves. Now, there is a nice degree of orderliness and finality to it: these books, and others in different collections, just should be together.

People like to show off
I admit: I like people to look at my bookshelves, and my different collections. Books, I guess, send positive signals to friends, partners, acquaintances that you have something about you, you have some heft, you're, as the phrase says, 'well read'.

With social media, this has become something of a phenomenon - and indeed, perhaps this post is ironically emblematic of the growth in 'humblebragging', using memes like #Showusyoushelves,where people post up images of their bookscases, as I have done, online. 

What does it mean? Is it bad? I don't think so. Is it showing off? Probably. Does it harm anyone? No. It could be all these things and many more. I'm sure I get a frisson of pleasure when someone makes positive comments about my shelves, my collections, my choices, my interests. Who wouldn't.

Tidying helps protect your books from damage
I spotted a number of my Deightons - especially one or two with the red ink on the spine, red being especially vulnerable - were showing signs of fading, so I moved them down to a shelf more out of the light. But it's not just spines; it's only when books are taken out and inspected that you can spot signs of partial fading, where the extent of the fade is determined by the books immediately contiguous to that particular book. This can lead to some unfortunate effects.

In some cases, I've simply turned the books spine inwards. It makes them hard to identify, but until I can come up with a long-term solution, that's my play.

It reminds you of long-forgotten gems
Just through the simple process of tidying, I've put aside two or three books I've not looked at in years, to reacquaint myself and be reminded why I purchased it in the first place. Rare is it that I will look upon a book and think, 'why am I keeping that?'

All in all, there is no science to a book shelf, It's an extension of a person's personality, so it will always be flawed, erratic, and incomplete.

Ms Kondo's tidyness extremism isn't for this collector, but the general lesson I took from this morning of tidying was that it's always good to spend time with your books!

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Samson, yes … but Delilah? [Guest post]

What are the parallels, if any, between Bernie Samson and his biblical namesake?

[This is a guest post by first-time contributor Seymour Maddison]

Caveat: While I’ve tried to avoid spoilers, a piece like this inevitably poses a risk for any of you still enjoying the Samson trilogies for the first time.

As much as I appreciate Len Deighton’s non-fiction and earlier novels, I experience an especial thrill every time I return to the Bernard Samson books, not least because of how they have influenced my own mystery writing. 

Not only do the three trilogies [Berlin Game, Mexico Set, London Match; Spy Hook, Spy Line, Spy Sinker; Faith, Hope, Charity] and Winter showcase a fiction writer at the peak of his craft: I’d suggest they conceal a heavy dose of intrigue. 

This post is therefore an invitation to join me in trying to make sense of what lies below the surface.

In particular, I’d like to propose that the series contains some rarely-if-ever-discussed theories, capable of challenging Deighton novices and aficionados alike. Inspired by an earlier post, the first of these I’ve come to christen ‘The Samson & Delilah Hypothesis’ – and anyone squeamish should be warned that we’re going to need a copy of the Old Testament!

Have you ever pondered: why ‘Samson’?

The only association with the name Samson that I have is through the Bible story. You remember :
Strong man loses his powers when his hair is shorn while he sleeps … his missus is betraying him because … something to do with him continually beating up the Philistines … and then there was this lion … and he goes blind (Samson, not the lion) yet still manages to shove over a temple, in the process killing heaps of baddies … and so on.

Hopefully you paid more attention as a kid than I did! Which is why I was motivated to revisit the Book of Judges recently, in the process discovering multiple versions of the tale. And naturally, that was just some of the English language interpretations.

So … about that Samson & Delilah Hypothesis.

And I mean, in particular, this one: vested interests work to neutralise the significant threat that is (Bernard) Samson.

Sounds pretty straightforward.

Yet apparently, it’s not something discussed elsewhere. But if the theory holds water – and I’m claiming that not only does the Samson tale go to the heart of Deighton’s choice of the name, but can be mapped across the entire plot – does this not suggest a new lens through which you can view the series?

Doubtless you as a reader can recall more of the original story than I could. 

But on reflection, then, to what extent do you agree that a clear parallel seems to exist between Bernie and his biblical counterpart? That is to say: 
  • Both stride around, effortlessly taking out their opponents [Eastern Bloc intelligence or the Philistines] 
  • Yet, simultaneously, both stumble around their emotional landscape, unable to experience normal relations with the women in their lives 
  • Meantime, covert forces work to remove them from the conflict. 

So where is there crossover between the Book of Judges and Deighton’s labyrinthine plot?

To get you thinking, can I propose the following matches for some of the main locations mentioned :

  • Israel = The West
  • The Philistines = the Warsaw Pact countries [see Judges 14:4 - ‘at that time the Philistines lorded it over Israel’]
  • The camp of Dan = the British
  • Zorah = West Berlin
And for some of the supporting characters :
  • Manoah = Brian Samson [Bernard’s dad]
  • Father-in-law = David Kimber-Hutchison [Fiona’s dad]
  • Younger sister = Tessa

I’m sure readers will easily be able to suggest more … however, I’d caution against assuming, as I did, that just because Delilah always gets paired with Samson, then ‘Delilah’ must be Fiona!

You see, it turns out that in the Old Testament story (and this was exactly the kind of detail I’d forgotten or never knew), Samson was married before he met Delilah.

To the clear disappointment of his parents, he’d set his heart on ‘a woman … of the daughters of the Philistines.’ Unfortunately, this union, like all of Samson’s relationships, didn’t end too well!

Even by the time of their wedding, his bride had succumbed to coercion and was favouring her own people over him. Perhaps tellingly, the wife seems to drop out of the story before Delilah appears on the scene (we’ll return to this later I’m sure, in the comments). The account is quite salacious and only explained in part; though clearly some of the marital disharmony at least was caused by Samson’s father-in-law.

Based on the above, I’m suggesting that Fiona is synonymous with Samson’s initial wife and that, because of the role she subsequently plays in Bernard’s life, ‘Delilah’ is in fact Gloria

Witness her [Gloria's] ongoing attempts to have him succumb to domestic bliss; and remembering the explanation that ‘Forces work to remove (Samson) from the conflict,’ what finer way to yoke a family (and man’s) man than by creating a home so inviting that it overrides all urges which would otherwise keep drawing him outdoors?

Did somebody order a haircut?

So far so good, although I’d also not rush to judgment about who ‘the lords of the Philistines’ are; they are regularly mentioned as pulling the strings which oppose Samson.

During his November 2012 interview with Len Deighton, you may have read Rob Mallows [Deighton Dossier editor] alluding to Silas Gaunt as ‘the mastermind behind everything.’

According to the transcript, however, the author didn’t confirm this assertion outright. Rather, as he went on to explain his planning process before beginning to write:

'I started off with a wall chart outlining a series of twelve [sic] books … In the chart Silas was the master-mind. At the end of writing Berlin Game I wasn't sure if it would all work out as planned.’

So if Uncle Silas isn’t necessarily the ultimate puppet master, who else can you think of who may be in the frame?

I myself have one idea to share, however, I would be very interested to hear other readers’ perspectives at this point: either something you’ve discerned from one or more of the books or, in the spirit of scientific endeavour, maybe you have evidence which blows out of the water my starting hypothesis, perhaps one of the identifications, etc?

But hang on, that’s right. You were promised more than one thought-provoking theory, weren’t you?

Well. What if Deighton’s plotting goes deeper still?

What if the enemy isn’t only running defensive operations ‘to neutralise the significant threat that is Samson’? What if the author has helped them penetrate London Central itself?

We can of course get into these and other mysteries in the comments section. But I would set out a challenge Deighton Dossier readers: what’s your reading of my Samson & Delilah Hypothesis?

What impacts would you say the biblical story has had on Deighton’s series?

The Deighton Dossier thanks Seymour for his contribution. So, what do you think, Dossier readers? Carry on the discussion either in the comments section, or on the Dossier Facebook page.