Saturday, 14 July 2018

Let's go clubbing ...


Shane Whaley over at Spybrary - as if he hasn't got enough on his hands already, what with running the best spy fiction podcast out there - has a new initiative.

He's started a regular monthly book club for listeners to discuss different spy fiction novels each month, not only by recorded their comments up on the website but by recording and broadcasting their comments on a new show, which will feature a number of guests discussing the work and drawing out why the book in question deserves to feature on every spybrarian's bookshelf.

The first novel under discussion? I'm pleased that Shane's asked the Dossier to help with that, and we're going to be discussing Len Deighton's Berlin Game next month.

If you want more information about the book club and this first book - and how you can contribute your views, whether it's the first time you've read the novel or, like me, it's a perennial favourite - click here.

What with the upcoming 4 August Spybrary 'Samsonfest' meetup in Berlin, it's a great opportunity for readers old and new of Deighton's magnum opus to share their views, argue, and agree and disagree about this book (and the nine that follow in the series).

Monday, 2 July 2018

Wir treffen uns an der Mauer ...


So, it's on.

The joint Spybrary - Deighton Dossier Berlin 'tref' or 'Samson-Fest' will take place in Berlin on 4 August, when we record an 'outside broadcast' edition of the podcast devoted to the Samson ennealogy.

Join us, if you can.

More information on Spybrary's website.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Berlin Pension plan ...





These images were sent to the Dossier by a German visitor, Peter Hegenbarth, a resident of Kissinger Strasse in Berlin, who wrote me the email from an office just above where Checkpoint Charlie used to be. They are of the grand nineteenth century house on Bleibtreustrasse, number 49, in the Charlottenberg district.

Eagle-eye readers who've seen the bootleg copies of the never-repeated Granada TV Game, Set and Match series from 1988 may recognise it as the location of Pension Hennig, the German family hotel in which Bernard Samson grew up, and in which he stayed when on a mission "drüben" ("over there") in East Berlin.

Peter writes:
"I came from the Palmer movies to read the books behind them. So then, I took a great interest in the other of Deighton’s books which were made into movies. Hence, to the 'Game Set & Match' TVseries that I found on YouTube. And after that, I found my way to Dossier dossier and its page on the series."
The hotel featured in the opening titles of the TV series and in the books, it is to his old childhood room, underneath the roof - with no bathroom - that Bernard Samson often retreated after a mission. A great example of a Prussian family townhouse that was converted into a pension.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Not soft, but hard boiled

Some eggs, yesterday.
Last year, on this blog, I posted up link to an article by Dr Robert Lance Snyder, a retired US academic, in an English literature periodical looking at the literary context and impact of Len Deighton's first book, The Ipcress File.

Well, over the winter, Dr Snyder's clearly been busy. He's recently produced another lengthy academic textual analysis of Len Deighton's fiction more broadly, which is published in last month's edition of Papers on Language & Literature, 54.2 (Spring 2018): 155-86.

Titled "Arabesques of the Final Pattern", his paper draws links back to Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe and the 'hard-boiled' detective story, and uses this genre as a jumping off point to explore how Deighton uses elements of this literary style in his Cold War fiction.

Dr Snyder's shared with me a .pdf copy of the article, which Dossier readers can access via this Dropbox link





Monday, 7 May 2018

Site refresh ...


This morning I've updated the main Deighton Dossier website, giving it a 'spring clean', so to speak.

Most of the main photographs have been updated and watermarked, and a few extra elements have been added where I've had new information of images to add that haven't previously been on the website.

Do go an explore it again if you haven't done so for a while. If you have any feedback about new elements on the site that you'd find helpful, drop me an email.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

False Dawns and Development Hell - the fate of 'non-movies'

It is the fate of perhaps the majority of books which are 'optioned' to be made into films of TV series never to reach the small or silver screen. While there are some lucky writers, like Ian Fleming, whose entire canon pretty much has been adapted in some, even for established spy and thriller writers like Len Deighton - whose books memorably delivered the 'Harry Palmer' trilogy of movies - getting optioned is no guarantee of seeing a film or TV series being produced.

There are, in the Deighton canon - as is the case with other writers too - many stories which had hopes of being made into films or TV series, but have instead languished as 'non films', ethereal 'might have beens' which are destined to roam the corridors of Hollywood or Soho as film spirits, seeking a corporeal existence.

I was prompted to think about these might-have-been films after some Twitter communications with a Dossier reader George White of Ireland, who got in touch asking if I knew anything about the filmed version of SS-GB made in the 1970s in Canada?

What might the Canadians have done with this?

I admitted I didn't, but it piqued my curiosity. Especially so as the novel SS-GB had - finally - made it to the BBC as a mini-series in the spring of 2017. The seventies version was, George informed me, evidently a Canadian tax dodging exercise in Canada by the film mogul Harry Alan Towers.

This producer, who had a varied career in the UK with the BBC and then internationally, frequently churning out what might be called product targeted at the lower quality end of the market, or producing films linked to Liechtenstein-based companies - tax write-offs, in other words - has a couple of interesting Deighton connections.

In 1995, he was responsible largely for persuading Michael Caine to return as spy anti-hero Harry Palmer in two straight-to-DVD movies, the (infamous) sequels to the sixties classics: Bullet to Beijing, directed by George Mihalka, and Midnight in St Petersburg, directed by Douglas Jackson, both filmed in a Russia adjusting to the post-Gorbachev economic realities of gangster capitalism.

So we have Towers to thank - if that's the word - for these two movies reaching the screen and reminding viewers, in a perverse way, of just how good the original Harry Palmer movies were. That Deighton had very little say in the matter is a reflection on Towers' approach to quality film-making and, more importantly, deal making!

As Len Deighton told the Deighton Dossier in November 2011:
"When I was asked to give the OK for the Harry Palmer character to be used on these original screenplays my feelings were negative. I said, ‘If you can persuade Michael to play the lead I will let you have the necessary screen rights.’ I was quite confident that I would hear no more about it. But I did. They were not stories I had written. In fact I was not involved in any way other than my agreement to the character rights. When I eventually saw the films I thought they were both well above average. Michael was inspired as always and the locations were great."
Len here may be being overly generous as while fun curios, they're not a patch on the originals.

So, I knew of Towers' involvement in these two films - and his connection to Linsday Shonteff, maverick director of the equally questionable adaptation of Deighton's Spy Story; Shonteff directoed Towers' sixties exotic drama Sumuru (no, I've never heard of it either!) - but not of his SS-GB attempt.

Anyway, checking the BFI film register online, it turns out that indeed Harry Alan Towers did get some way with filming SS-GB. It was to have starred James Mason (presumably as Douglas Archer?), Rod Steiger, Ralph Richardson and Kate Nelligan andbeen directed by Peter Carter. It sounds like a potential quality film - judging by the line-up of actors - but, like many films, never reached the cinema or the TV screen, ending up as an 'unfinished project' which, like so many, never got off the ground. Towers died in 2009.

There are other Deighton books that have similarly sat frustratedly on the movie tarmac, waiting to get off the ground and fly. Stuck, in other words, in 'development hell' where movie options are ten-a-penny and successfully completed projects are as rare as hen's teeth.

Bomber, for example, is one of Deighton's greatest works - one of the 99 novels of the 20th Century according to Anthony Burgess - but has never made it to the silver screen. In the early nineties, there were plans to bring it to cinemas but the production was switched by producer Michael Caton-Jones to the US and became instead Memphis Belle (the story is no dissimilar), primarily on account that there were more sky-worthy US Flying Fortresses at the time for filming than Lancasters, which feature heavily in Deighton's novel.

Destined to be stuck on the runway?

As I reported back in 2010 on this blog, it was 'in development' by a London-based financier called Bob Wigley. Eight years on, the legal option for this movie clearly still weighs down Wigley's bookshelf (and he has never responded to email enquiries about the status of the film). And while the option is still owned by him, it's not open to others to try and make what could be one of the great British wartime movie stories. 

Options are simply that: an opportunity to make a film agreed with the author, which can remain valid for many years before lapsing. It proffers no obligation on the rights owner to make a film. An option is simply a potential film, an idea which requires financing, timing, and the right cinema market to be made.

So even those SS-GB got through the options stage in the 'seventies, it never made it through production, which could have been due to a number of factors - the state of the market; changing consumer tastes; lack of available financing; lack of distribution options. Bomber, by all accounts, is balked by similar considerations.

The great second 'Harry Palmer' novel, Horse Under Water, has I've been reliably informed also been held under option for a number of years, with the intention of eventually filming an 'updated' version of the story that will likely depart from the Caine-influenced Palmer tradition. But again, in terms of actual work on the film or any financing efforts, I've heard nothing since. Another 'non-film' that makes the viewer wonder just what might have been, or could still be. Another book which has been optioned at some point, I understand, is Goodbye Mickey Mouse. But that's all it really is, a rumour, an idea.

The most egregious example of 'development hell' - where development is a euphemism for doing nothing - is the Game, Set and Match ennealogy, whose rights were purchased by Clerkenwell Films. As I reported five years ago on this blog, the company made a big song and dance at the time of bringing in Oscar-winning producer/director Simon Beaufoy on board and talking of 'big names' in the frame.

Will this ever get re-made?

Five years on, the tumbleweed continues to drift aimlessly across this particular development desert. Indeed, the original announcement can no longer be found on their website, which gives a hint perhaps as to where it is in the company's priorities. Is this book destined to be another 'ghost' mini-series, never to see the light of day?

If it is, then Clerkenwell are missing the boat. In these days of Amazon Prime and Netflix when box-set mini-series are produced with production line frequency and are gorged on by viewers, and at a time when with the success of films like Homeland the public's appetite for spy thrillers with complicated tapestries and convoluted story arcs remains unsatiated, Game, Set and Match - all nine stories, mind, not just the first three filmed by Granada TV in 1988 but never re-broadcast - offers a potentially thrilling and deeply satisfying mini-series.

But it can't do that while the options remain sitting in Clerkenwell Film's to-do pile. Come on, Clerkenwell Films, and do us all a favour - if you're not going to make Game, Set and Match, give someone else a go. Let's not have another film end up as just another missed opportunity.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Happy 89th Birthday

89 today
On behalf of readers and fans of his work, the Deighton Dossier - set up to bring those people together online to celebrate and discuss Len Deighton's books - would like to wish the author a happy 89th birthday.

While long in retirement, and enjoying retirement with his family, children and numerous grandchildren, Deighton's influence on fiction and spy fiction in particular, still resonates. Every so often, one reads about one author or another being dubbed 'the new Deighton'. That's a great testament to the quality of the author's impact.

Readers of the Deighton Dossier raise a glass today and say: 'Happy Birthday'!

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Brush pass this interesting podcast


As readers of this blog may know, the Spybrary podcast by fellow Deighton fan and friend of the Deighton Dossier Shane Waley is pulling up trees in the world of podcasting and is now, arguably, the best podcast for all things spy fiction.

This week, he's added the thirty-third podcast, a 10-minute 'brush pass' episode looking at Deighton's Yesterday's Spy novel from 1975. His fellow spybrarian on the podcast is the author of the 'Agent Palmer' blog, the pseudonymous Agent Palmer himself.

If you've not yet read this book, one of his 'non-Palmer' novels from the seventies, this is a good introduction.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

What's so special?

A woman, scorned

The first edition is the ultimata ratio of any book collector, the Holy Grail of the bibliophile. But there is also gold in the unusual and lesser known.

This blog post was prompted by an email from a Dutch Deighton fan and collector, Henk Konings, who sent me the image of his Companion Club Edition An Expensive Place to Die, above. It got me thinking - are they, and other unusual imprints or later editions, as important as the first editions to a collector? Or are they just sprinkles on an otherwise delicious cake?

As a long-standing collector of Len Deighton's works (alongside the works of Spike Milligan), I've always had uppermost in my mind the need, the challenge of completism, to be able to track down and secure (for as little money as possible) a copy of every book in its UK first edition format (and often, too, the US and German first editions).

Over years of collecting it's generally been relatively easy to do as, maybe until the last five to ten years, Len Deighton's first editions - with a couple of exceptions - have been both competitively priced - as against, say, John Le Carré or Ian Fleming first editions - and relatively available on the market and in second-hand bookshops.

Sure, one or two editions - and I'm thinking of when I finally picked up my pristine Billion Dollar Brain first - have required some tracking down and financial outlay. But it's been an achievable challenge such that relatively early in my collecting career, I had got most of the first editions lined up on my shelves.

As a fan first - but also a collector - my thought was then: what next? That's when I started on the next phase of my collecting, when I started to actively track down special editions, book club reproductions and other oddities which the purist, perhaps, might overlook.

Why? Well, based on my collection - and, judging from Henk's email, others' too - these special editions can be just as fulfilling to track down and interesting to consider as the first editions in terms of book design, style and illustration than the first editions, if not more so in some cases. First editions are ultimately about rarity and first impressions. When you don't have rarity, an alternative edition has to offer something else.

Book of the month

From my own collecting, online hunting and correspondence with other collectors, there are plenty of readers who like to focus on book club editions, such as the ubiquitous Book of the Month Club or the slightly more urbane Franklin Book Club special editions, as a collecting goal in themselves.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Book review: 'Dark Ocean' by Nick Elliott


The cover gives a big clue to the themes explored in the book!

The spy and thriller genre is built on winning formulas. And winning characters.

Le Carré had George Smiley. Deighton had the unnamed spy (later Harry Palmer) and Bernard Samson. Robert Ludlum had Jason Bourne. More recently, Jeremy Duns had Paul Dark.

When a writer creates a character that hits a nerve with readers (and editors), he or she would have to be a brave author to choose to abandon a winning formula. Character-based book series provide a wonderful marketing short-cut for readers; if they like the character, and the situations he or she finds themselves in, and they can anticipate what that character's future adventures will be like, then half your job of selling the book is already done.

So, when a relatively new author creates a character that seems to work, it makes perfect sense to run with that. That's the case with British author Nick Elliott's character Angus McKinnon, star of this, his second thriller set in the world of international shipping.

Write what you know is an oft-repeated trope for writers, and Elliott has done just that. His background is in international shipping and his knowledge of that world comes through in this book (and his first book, Sea of Gold) where authenticity and detail play an important role in creating a convincing backdrop for the story and the characters.

A maritime setting for a thriller is unusual, but not unknown (and here I think immediately of Horse Under Water as a relevant Deighton example), and certainly gives the author the scope for placing the storyline and characters in locations perhaps outside of the standard thriller geography. So that does give it a certain curiosity factor for the newer reader.

A marine insurance claims investigator - the job of protagonist McKinnon - doesn't have the immediate cachet of an MI:6 agent, a spymaster or an ex Special Forces assassin, but the character does have a knack for questioning everything and everyone, and tracking down the truth. Important qualities in any thriller hero.

Building on the themes prevalent in his first book, Sea of Gold - attention to detail, a rapid plotting pace, a broad international stage peopled with believable, but also exagerrated characters - Dark Ocean starts off in Hong Kong with a request from a local shipowner (as I said earlier, write what you know is a safe course to take!) and a claim on a mysterious lost carge from World War Two (not unnoticed parallels with Horse Under Water). Like any good thriller, there is a murder, a betrayal or two, shock discoveries and the ever present threat - implied and actual - of danger.

So, this book is not going to be winning awards for originality: it's building on tropes in the thriller and spy genre that stand the test of time, work most of the time and are anticipated by readers. If they weren't part of the book, one of the selling points of Dark Ocean would be lost.

Across nearly 300 pages of text, the protagonist gets a lot done and visits a lot of locations; the narrative text is pretty punchy and pacy, and largely dialogue driven. Elliott, while introducing some terrific details, doesn't seem to be an author who wastes valuable page space on exaggerated exposition or unnecessary detail. Where there is detail offered about the minutiae of international shipping insurance, sunken treasure or the characteristsics of global ports, it can drag a little, but is relatively easy for the reader to work through. It doesn't bring things to a juddering halt.

I like, therefore, that the emphasis is on dialogue to push character and plot development along; the narrative voice is fine, but not too obtrusive, serving the purposes of the plot pretty well. 

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Merry Christmas to all Deighton Dossier readers around the globe

Even amidst barbarity, Christmas good will could still peek through in Berlin
Well, another year draws to an end and, as we approach the holiday season and New Year, I would like to say thank you, Merry Christmas and Yuletide felicitations to every Deighton reader and collector out there who visits this blog from time to time, and particularly those guests bloggers who've posted something on the site.

Posting up on the blog and the main website in 2017 has been down on previous years, for various reasons, but I hope that Deighton Dossier readers found interest in checking out some of our now ten years' worth of previous articles.

This year, as you sip your mulled wine or enjoy a mince pie, be thankful that you are not Bernard Samson, the hero of the Berlin Game ennealogy, having to be in frozen West Berlin on Christmas Eve, as described in London Match:
'And so it was that, on Christmas Eve, when Gloria was with my children, preparing them early for bed so that Santa Claus could operate undisturbed, I was standing watching the Berlin police trying to winch a wrecked car out of the water. It wasn't exactly the Hohenzollern Canal. Dicky had got that wrong; it was Hakenfelde, that industrialised section of the bank of the Havel River not far from where Hohenzollern joins it.
Here the Havel widens to become a lake. It was so cold that the doctor insisted the frogmen must has a couple of hours' rest to thaw out. The police inspector had argued about it, but in the end the doctor's opinion prevailed. Now the boat containing the frogmen had disappeared into the gloom and was left with only the police inspector for company. The two policemen left to guard the scene had gone behind the generator truck, the noise of which never ceased.
.....
The inspector was in his mid-fifties, a tall man with a large white moustache, its end curling in the style of the Kaiser's soldiers. It was the sort of moustache a man grew to make himself look older. 'To think,' said the inspector, 'that I transferred out of the Traffic Department beause I thought standing on point duty was too cold.' He stamped his feet. His heavy jackboots made a crunching sound where ice was forming in the cracks between the cobblestones.
'You should have kept to traffic,' I said, 'but transferred to the Nice or Cannes Police Department.'

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

[Guest post update] SS-GB and its place in the alternate history landscape .... revisited


In April, we published an article by Deighton Dossier reader and tier-one level collector Robert 'Raki' Rakison on SS-GB and alternate histories. He's been kind enough to provide an update on his research and to suggest some further reading which blog readers may find of interest.

_____

Over the summer, there’s been a lot of activity in literary Spyland, leading up to the launch of John Le Carré’s Legacy of Spies on 7 July (no doubt you’ve all got your signed copies!!). In particular Waterstones Gower Street London had a “Summer of Spies” series of events, culminating with the Legacy launch. 

There were two events of particular Deighton interest: the first was a talk by Mike Ripley as part of the launch for his Kiss Kiss Bang Bang book on 22 August (KKBB is dedicated to Len) and the second, a talk on The IPCRESS File on 29 August attended by Ripley and Rob (editor of the Deighton Dossier). Around these two events there was a lot of wide-ranging Deighton discussion, including on SS-GB and alternate histories.
Mike Ripley mentioned that he’d already penned an article on SS-GB and alternate histories, and I reproduce his “Future Imperfect” below. It’s from a regular column he does for SHOTS Crime & Thriller e-zine, entitled “Mike Ripley’s Getting Away With Murder” and the article was from the August 2015 (No 105) issue: (Readers may want to subscribe, it's an excellent column)

Anyway, there are a few more books, again in order of publication, that I’d like to draw to your attention in the WW2 alternate history arena – a mix of some earlier material and more recent novels – which I hope you’ll find interesting. Len really did start a modern trend!!

1.   Dr Ewald Banse’s “Germany, Prepare for War!” (1934) (in German “Raum und Volk in Weltkriege” – literally “Space and People in the World War”). See 6 below.

2.   Katharine Burdekin’s (writing as “Murray Constantine”) “Swastika Night” (1937).

This takes place in a world where the Nazis and Japan defeated their enemies and conquered the world (from a modern perspective, the novel is an alternate history in which the Nazis won World War II, though at the time of its writing the war had not broken out and it was a work of speculative future fiction.)

It follows the protagonist, an Englishman in his 30s who works as a ground mechanic for the German Empire in Salisbury Aerodrome. He goes to Germany on a holy pilgrimage to see the holy sites of Hitlerism, the religion in this Nazi dominated world. These sites include the holy forest and the sacred aeroplane in Munich with which Hitler won the war by personally flying to Moscow, it is said. In this world Hitler is seen as a seven foot tall, long blonde haired, blue-eyed man who was “exploded” from the head of God the Thunderer and a god in his own right. He is preached about by "Knights" (a cross between the traditional, feudal knight and a priest) who pass this job down from father to son. Women are chattels, much as in Margaret Attwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”. It was reissued in 1985.


Saturday, 21 October 2017

The Ipcress File: a textual and critical analysis

Publicity photo from this iconic film of the book The Ipcress File

I'm pleased to share with you a long, detailed and thoroughly interestingly article by retired academic Dr Robert Lance Snyder, from the University of West Georgia in the USA. I was alerted to Dr Snyder's academic interest in The Ipcress File by Jeff Quest of the Spywrite website. A big thanks to Jeff for making the connection between the Dossier and Dr Snyder.

Dr Snyder's written a new contribution (downloadable in .pdf format, if you wish) for the website Connotations: A journal for critical debate. Titled "An Unparelled Plethora of Idiocy: Len Deighton's Political Skepticism [sic] in The Ipcress File", it's a lengthy, well researched and readable article which places the book (and subsequently, the film) in the context of the Cold War political era of the time, and identifies in Deighton's approach to the text the author's animus towards both "the inanity of Western capitalism" and "the vacuous rhetoric of communist socialism." It's serious analysis, highlighting how Len Deighton, like John Le Carré and Ian Fleming and a number of other spy fiction authors have earned their place as legitimate subjects of academic discourse, because of the impact on popular culture and the literary zeitgeist of their works.

Dr Snyder makes a very telling point in describing how The Ipcress File's success is down in large part to Deighton's readiness - planned or otherwise - to depart from the conventional certainties of the spy thriller genre and replace them with ambiguity and doubt about, frankly, who the bad guys are. Written in a modern academic textual analysis style, this article is worth reading as it does provide some new perspectives on a very familiar book.

Here's a short extract looking at the famous brainwashing set-piece in the novel:
"What exactly are we to make of this climactic scene and particularly Jay’s speech in light of his equivocal views regarding brainwashing? I. dismisses the declamation as mere rigmarole and equates it to the jazz vocalist’s “unparalleled plethora of idiocy” heard on the radio, but the peroration’s illocutionary effect, as already suggested, allows Deighton to acknowledge the “licensed selfishness” of Western capitalist culture. In terms of The Ipcress File’s plot, the antagonist’s monologue is meant to draw “the English patriot” out and convince him that they can transcend the ideological divide of their age by not choosing sides, thereby avoiding interpellation as subjects. Intuitively, however, the narrator appears to recognize how specious is this pitch by a practiced opportunist. 
He also understands that Jay’s readiness to extol brainwashing, or “thought reform” (302), as “the greatest step forward of the century” aligns him with the perpetrators of what prominent Cold War psychologist Joost A. M. Meerloo, no doubt influenced by the dystopian vision of Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), termed menticide."
Do share your reactions in the comments below.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Deighton & Le Carré .... spy fiction titans cut from different cloth

(c) Tom Jamieson, New York Times
This recent New York Times profile of John Le Carré is part of the growing pre-launch hubbub surrounding his new novel A Legacy of Spies, which is launched in September with a live interview of the author at the Royal Festival Hall.

The fever pitch reflects renewed interest in Le Carré's fifty years plus career as a novelist of note, arguably the greatest spy fiction thriller writer. The success of the TV adaptation of The Night Manager in 2016 and the film adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, brought Le Carré's writing to a whole new generation.

While Le Carré's career has continued without pause since the end of the Cold War, by contrast Len Deighton's career has - since his last published novel Charity in 1996 - in effect trasnmuted into a well-deserved retirement (which he enjoys and which he evidently has no desire to leave). As such, their public - and online - profiles has gone in dramatically different directions over the last decade and more.

A contemporary of Len Deighton - Deighton is 88, Le Carré will soon be 86 - John Le Carré's life and writing career in a number of interesting ways contrasts with Deighton's.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

In the days before flat whites and skinny moccachinos, there was .... chagga

'Oh really, Bernard ...!"

This post was inspired by an email from Deighton Dossier reader Morgan Davies, who sent a link to a shop in London which is referenced frequently by everyone's favourite buffoonish (or is he?) spy in the Samson series of books, Dicky Cruyer.

The shop in question is H R Higgins, purveyor of fine ground coffee in London to the great and the good. Morgan confirmed they are still selling the mysterious "chagga" coffee, which was part of Dicky's daily routine as Head of German Desk at London Central, where he (in theory at least) had full control over agents like Bernard Samson in East Berlin.

This minor detail in an otherwise massive nine-volume text I think illustrates how great writers like Deighton and others use details and moments to round out their characters and deliver subconscious signposting to help the reader understand each character's personality and outlook, and their relationships to others.

Here's some classic back-and-forth repartée between Dicky Samson and his employee, Bernard Samson, when we first meet them in Berlin Game:

'He [Cruyer] had his coffee served in a fine Spode china cup and saucer, and he stirred it with a silver spoon. On the mahogany tray, there was another Spode cup and saucer, a matching sugar bowl, and a silver creamer fashioned in the shape of a cow. 
......
He sipped his coffee and then tasted it carefully, moving his lips while staring at me as if I might have come to sell him the year's crop. 'It's just a shade bitter, don't you think, Bernard?' 
'Nescafé all tastes the same to me,' I said. 
'This is pure chagga, ground just before it was brewed.' He said it calmly but nodded to acknowledge my little attempt to annoy him. 
'Well, he didn't turn up,' I said. 'We can sit here drinking chagga all morning and it won't bring Brahms Four over the wire.

In the reader's first experience of Cruyer and Samson's relationship over 'chagga', key things are established.