Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Review - New edition - "Fighter" by Len Deighton

While readers may not have the opportunity to read new books from Len, Harper Collins is doing its best to give readers the next best thing: new editions of old favourites.

Following the successful relaunch of all of Len's fiction works by Harper Collins' fiction team, the process of updating and reissuing his non-fiction historical works has been completed. The publisher's non-fiction team has recently published three new editions of Fighter, Blood, Tears & Folly and Blitzkrieg.

For each book, the content stays the same; however, each has a new introduction by Len and his son, Antoni, who has taken over the role from Arnold Schwartzman of designing the new covers for these three books. In reviewing these new books, that is what I'll focus on mainly.

Fighter: the true story of the Battle of Britain
The shortest of the three new books, this was originally published in hardback in 1977 by Jonathan Cape. It is a book in which Len draws on heavily his interested in the technology of war to give a new and, arguably, balanced perspective on the most famous air battle in history.

Back in 1977, this book touched many raw nerves, coming only 37 years after the battle at a time when many of the pilots who fought in it were still alive. Deighton seeks to explore the information and records from both sides, crucially, to puncture some of the stories and mythologies about the Battle that have grown up, and comes to the conclusion that the RAF survived as a fighting force largely because they made fewer mistakes than did the German Luftwaffe did!

Naturally, perhaps, this conclusion raised eyebrows with the aces who protected the memory o fthe pilots who fought in the battle. His allegations in the book that during the bombing of RAF Manston tmany RAF ground crew remained in their air raid shelters and refused to come out to carry out their duties, drew criticism. Surprisingly, as Len's normally a stickler for details, he did not provide any evidence for this.

What he does provide is page after page of technical information - none of it lacking in interest - which gives the background to the scale of the achievement by the RAF in keeping air superiority over the south coast. It makes one wish that at some point soon a publisher will push ahead with publishing his book on the history of the aero engine, written but still not picked up.

The new preface by Len Deighton
The book has a new six sided introduction by Len. He was a witness to air battles over London in 1940 and vividly describes how the battle stopped traffic in the streets as people watched. Equally moving is his description of the impact of the later bombing raids on the people and friends around him in London.

Deighton writes how this was a personal project for him, with his objective of writing an account that was as accurate as he could make it. A former RAF flyer in Mosquitos, he writes about his experiences in flying in the crew of a Heinkel bomber from the UK to Germany and paying for the fuel with his American Express card! From this trip he made contact with German and British flyers who gave him their perspectives on the battles: the book is shot through with Len's efforts to make sure that men and machine of both sides, and their bravery, is at the heart of the story told.

The new cover design by Antoni Deighton
There is a stylistic link with the designs used by Schwartzman for the reissued novels: Antoni Deighton adopting a montage of images to bring a human element to the fore alongside the aeroplane technology. As he writes in the cover designer's note, he sought to reflect how the war combined "tremendous technological changes combined with great human emotion".

He has made a deliberate point in all three designs of reflecting the women's angle to the Battle and the war in general. Drawing on personal experiences of his grandmother, who became a welder who made night flaps for fighters, the design seeks to reflect the female contribution behind the scenes without which machines like the Spitfire would not have been possible. The colouring, too, also reflects a military outlook for this book.

What do you think? Here are the front and back covers:

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Deighton on TV redux - "The Lively Arts"

Len Deighton, The Lively Arts
If readers haven't discovered it yet on the BBC's archives, I'd encourage you to watch the 1977 interview of Len Deighton by broadcaster Melvyn Bragg, as part of the BBC's Lively Arts programme.

I've been doing a little web surfing this afternoon and came across it and watched it again. You can find the video on the BBC's website here.

Very interesting interview - one of the few Len's given at length to the BBC, the other being five years ago for BBC 4, marking his 80th birthday.

Filmed around the publication of Bomber, it's interesting to hear Len explain how he came to writing and how his lack of being a professional writer in his thirties shaped his approach to his first books. So, when he talks about writing The Ipcress File as a story, he had no idea what it would become and treated it just as a bit of fun. It was left in a draw, indicating to him that he had no ambition to be a writer until a chance meeting with an agent.

Fascinating to hear Len talking about the English class system, which "everyone seems to enjoy!", and how he got into cooking through his mother, who indulged her son in the kitchen.

If you've not watched it, certainly worth checking out.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Not yet a writer ....

I found a little curiosity in a 1963 edition of House & Garden (not a regular read of mine!).

In an article on what makes a great dinner party, the party organiser Luke Prior was asked by the magazine to approach some of London's great and the good - the main party-givers - to find out what makes an evening go with a swing.

One of those interviewed is Len Deighton's first wife Shirley, an artist. In the brief comments under her picture, it's clear that in 1963 Len was not yet widely referred to as a 'famous writer'; rather, his fame, such as it was, was as a food writer and creator of the cook strip. With the launch of The Ipcress File and Horse Under Water on the slipway, this was probably the last time that Len was referred to as anything but a top author.

Interesting little curio...

Shirley Deighton on the fun of dinner parties

Monday, 24 March 2014

Oh! What a Lovely War - history as entertainment and entertainment as history

That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.” - Aldous Huxley

History is made up of two things: facts, and everything else. 2014 will mark the one hundredth anniversary of the First World War, the ‘Great War’ as it came to be known, and there are thousands of new facts emerging about the war every year still. Always a source of fascination for historian and layman alike, the destructive nature of the conflict, the inconclusive nature of its origins and the tectonic impact it had on later twentieth century Europe has always pushed people to seek to answer the question: why?

If only things were that simple to answer. The huge numbers of books on WWI now appearing in the shops, the myriad of BBC programmes looking at different aspects of the conflict - including the excellent 37 Days looking at the origins of the conflict - and the multi-million pound government plan to commemorate the outbreak of war across the country all have at their heart a desire to understand and make sense of a senseless conflict.

Because of the savagery of this first global conflict, and its impact on the British psyche and British historiography thereafter, the anniversary provides another opportunities for long-established opinions to be be resurrected and picked over by politicians, historians and media alike. Was it worth going to war in 1914? Were the Germans solely to blame? Was General Haig the buffoon so often portrayed by his critics?

Since the start of the year there has been a noted upswing in the media’s propensity to chew over long-established WWI memes and seek, in this anniversary year, to come up with the answer to the unanswerable question of why the war happened. In doing so, it has also become a hot political and media potato, the war’s origins being a useful prism through which to view the world and defend your own and attack your opponent’s political point of view. This article by Frank Furedi hints at the reasons why WWI has such modern resonance.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

A place on the Great British Bake-Off .... redux

In January I posted a link to an article that appeared in the Mail on Sunday about GBBO's Mary Berry and her contemporary food writers and chefs who revolutionised Britain's palates in that decade, Len among them.

I've now got hold of a copy of the original article, which I've scanned below:

Len's cooking is, inevitably, often associated with this single scene
The magazine's editor, in choosing to illustrate Len's contribution, has hardly tried to walk the full length of the counter, choosing the famous press image from The Ipcress File in which Len demonstrated to Michael Caine how to crack an egg with one hand, in order to make an omelette (with Len's hands, famously, appearing in the final cut).

As Len once remarked, he fully expects when his obituary is published in the media, to see Michael Caine's picture accompany most every one!

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Happy 85th Birthday to Len ....

... I'm sure readers of this blog and around the world will want to join me in wishing Cyril Len Deighton, author, historian, designer and film-maker, congratulations on his 85th birthday!

Quite a milestone,and I'm pleased that having caught up with Len last December, after he'd been for his 'MOT' in Harley Street, I can report both he and his wife Ysabele are in good health and enjoying retirement and their family.

His friend and fellow author, Mike Ripley, has written a little encomium on Len's 85th birthday in his regular online treatise, Getting away with murder. In it, he looks in detail at Len's famous London Dossier.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Fourth question & answer interview with Len Deighton – exclusive to the Deighton Dossier

The author kindly answers reader Q's
© Pluriform 2014 and © The Deighton Dossier 2014 - not for reproduction without permission

One of the nice bonuses of creating the Deighton Dossier website and blog a few years ago was that eventually it came to the attention of Len that it existed as the only major online presence for his work. Happily, Len’s always been very supportive of the blog and the site, as in the way of modern social media both have provided a way for fans to read more about Len and his work, and to share views and ideas about his work and connected genres.

With Len celebrating his 85th birthday next month and enjoying retirement, it’s doubly positive that over the last three years he’s given up his time to answer some of my questions about his work and life, and indeed questions from other fans across the globe connected through the blog or the Facebook page. With interviews with Len in the media of a limited number, it’s great that he’s willing to give up time to write for this site exclusively. 

For the first Q&A interview of 2014, the questions are split between questions submitted by readers, and some of my own (an indulgence, as the blog editor!). My questions specifically focus on the Samson Series of novels, my favourites which I’m reading again. A number of blog readers submitted a variety of different questions which Len’s been kind enough to answer. I hope you find the responses stimulating and continue your discussions as readers in the comments section below.

There are some familiar stories retold, some fascinating insights into the writing process for the thriller writer, his thoughts on Bond's reading matter and, intriguingly, a hint of ‘what might have been’ (or even, perhaps, what ‘might still be’) regarding the ‘missing’ story of Bernard, Fiona, Dicky et all once the Wall had fallen. 

Now, what reader wouldn’t want to read that novel. It would definitely put the cherry on the spy fiction parfait!

Read on.

Monday, 20 January 2014

A place on the Great British Bake-Off next?....

Saturday's Daily Mail newspaper on Saturday carried an article in the magazine looking at some of the pioneers of cooking in the UK in the 'sixties, prompted by a new book by Italian cook Anna del Conte with a foreword by Nigella Lawson, lately of the courtroom and TV chef du jour.

The article includes a look at other pioneers alongside del Conte, so naturally they've included a short piece by Len on his role as one of the pioneers of making cooking something in the 1960s which men - even spies like Harry Palmer - could do without feeling embarrassed. Len's rather scornful of the modern trend for TV cookery as education and provides a witty rejoinder.

Len writes:
"All TV programmes are designed as entertainment. Watching cookery shows to learn about cooking is like watching a Grand Prix to learn how to drive."
Thanks to Ron Vaughan for the hat-tip.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Normal service resuming ....

Just over 25 years ago, it started falling down
To all Deighton Dossier readers, an extremely belated Happy 2014! The frequency of posting on this blog was a victim of Christmas, the New Year, holidays and a host of other factors. I aim to get back in the swing of things shortly, posting about Len's works, the wider spy fiction genre and the Cold War period in more detail.

What might I write about? Well, there's still a hell of a load of things to write about Len's life and works, particularly covering some of the fiction books we haven't discussed much on this forum. I'd be interested in readers' suggestions of which books we might have a more in-depth discussion about on this forum. I've had a note from Len recently which indicates he's working on the Q&A I shared with him before Christmas, which had a mixture of my questions and questions from blog readers. As soon as he shares that, it'll get posted up here and on the main website.

Elsewhere, 2014 represents the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War period which, ironically, spawned such a creative flowering in fiction and movies. Though not on the same scale as 2014's century commemorations of WW1 - which, based on the first few weeks of the year, will include considerable debate about Oh! What a Lovely War and the debate over the value and causes of the war - the end of the Cold War will I'm sure see a lot of online and media debate about whether we're safer or not now, or if the rise of China represents a new form of Cold War?

Blog readers - do suggest please things you'd like to see covered or you yourselves would like to write about on this blog. I'm keen to take more contributions from Deighton readers and collectors around the world.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Who would you cast in the planned new Game, Set and Match triple trilogy?

Who will replace this man?
Something for you to think about over Christmas, everyone...

Earlier this year I revealed that Len had signed a development deal with Clerkenwell Films to create an 18-part TV series based on all nine books in the 'Samson series' of novels by Len Deighton, which follow the fortunes of desk-bound spy Bernard Samson and his search to uncover the deeper truth about his wife's staged defection to East Germany in the early 1980s.

I've started re-reading the last three novels again and over the Christmas break I thought I'd break out the (bootleg) DVD of the original Granada TV adaption from 1988 of the original Game, Set and Match, of which Len's admitted he wasn't satisfied about some of the casting, hence it's non-repeating on TV. This got me thinking - who are the contemporay actors and actresses who'd make the best choices for the main roles. And I'd like blog readers to share their views too. Who knows? Clerkenwell's producers might read the post....

Primary roles in all nine 'Game, Set & Match' novels
  • Bernard Samson
  • Fiona Samson
  • Bret Renselaer
  • Werner Volkmann
  • Zena Volkmann
  • Dicky Cruyer
  • Sir Henry Clevemore
  • Silas Gaunt
  • Erich Stinnes
  • Pavel Moskvin
  • George Kosinski
  • Tessa Kosinski
  • Lisl Hennig
My initial suggestions for actors to play these roles
  • Bernard Samson - Damian Lewis or David Morrisey
  • Fiona Samson - Gillian Anderson or Keeley Hawkes
  • Bret Renselaer - Ted Danson
  • Werner Volkmann - Sebastian Koch
  • Zena Volkman - Franka Potente
  • Dicky Cruyer - Dominic West
  • Sir Henry Clevemore - Tom Wilkinson
  • Silas Gaunt - Michael Gambon
  • Erich Stinnes - Daniel Bruhl
  • Pavel Moskvin - Philip Glenister or Jurgen Prochnow
  • George Kosinski - Ray Winstone or Mark Strong
  • Tessa Kosinski - Lena Headey or Sarah Alexander
  • Lisl Hennig - Marita Breur
Copy the top list of bullet points, and paste them in your comments below with your suggestion. Be creative!!

Seasons greetings to all blog readers

With a week to go until Christmas 2013, I thought it an appropriate time to simply wish all the readers of this little blog "Seasons Greetings" and to thank them for taking the time to read my blog and, in increasing numbers, adding comments on posts. I aim to keep blogging in 2014 and sharing news and information on Len, his works, the spy fiction genre and the Cold War era.

I'll leave you with the first line of London Match:
'Cheer up, Werner. It will soon be Christmas.'

Friday, 13 December 2013

Recalling the Great War .... Len Deighton at the Imperial War Museum

Len at the Imperial War Museum
Following my last post, I'm very pleased to say that Len's friend and biographer, Edward Milward-Oliver - author of the excellent Len Deighton Companion and the Annotated Bibliography - has kindly prepared a short piece for the Deighton Dossier website and blog on the recent interview he did with Len for BBC South East, to talk with Len about his experiences on producing Oh! What a Lovely War.

Read more below: