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Wednesday, 19 November 2014

SS-GB closer to the screen?

According to this report in Variety magazine, the BBC has signed an agreement with Sid Gentle films to adapt SS-GB into a five-part, BBC One thriller.

Reportedly at the helm are two writers from the recent Bond adaptations, which is a sign of the probable quality of any screenplay and of the likelihood of the reasonably advanced progress already made on this adaptation. With what can be achieved through CGI in re-creating long-lost London, this should be worth watching.

Indeed, there remains no further substantive news of the other major Deighton story adaptation, that of the Game, Set and Match triple trilogy by Clerkenwell Films, announced just under a year ago.

Of interest, check out author Mike Ripley's review of SS-GB in his Shotsmag Confidential blog, highlighting the classic thriller genre.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Site design updated

Users will see that I've changed the blogger template for this blog so that it now resembles more in character the main Deighton Dossier website/archive.

Otherwise, the content is still the same.

It was twenty-five years ago today, Gunther Schabowski allowed exit visas without delay ....

[Forgive the laboured Beatles pun!]

Today is the twenty-fifth anniversary of die Wende - the fall of the Berlin Wall and the ending (until this year, maybe) of the Cold War between communist Russia and its satellites and the West. SED central committee spokesman Gunther Schabowski, announced changes that would allow GDR citizens to apply for visas to travel aboard, "immediate, without delay". The latter sentence was the key - there were no plans in place by the SED for immediate travel, but Berliners weren't worried and streamed across the border after demanding gates were opened

Europe has changed so much since then that it's easy to forget the continent was utterly divided by an barbed wire and concrete barrier, separating German from German.

It is the leitmotif running through much of the best Cold War fiction and continues to fascinate as history and fiction.

In Berlin Game, Len described it I thought very well:
"Spiked through both sectors, like a skewer through a shish kebab, ... the East-West Axis"

Friday, 7 November 2014

Another list for which there's no definitive answer ....

Wall remnant
Up on the Telegraph's website today, timed to coincide with the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall over the weekend, is an interesting little feature: the top ten Cold War novels.

Like all these lists - not really the most imaginative approach from the journalist, Jake Kerridge - there's no definitive answer and that creates often some great postings in the comments section where fans of different authors argue over which deserve their place and which not.

Len's work Billion Dollar Brain is Kerridge's surprise choice (surprise for me in that, most journalists will often pick Funeral in Berlin or The Ipcress File from this series). There are some other well-deserved choices but, as some commentators remark, where is Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy?

It's all very subjective, and I guess that's part of the fun. So ..... what would you change?

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Selling secrets .... the invention of The Ipcress File

Eggs were harmed in the making of this film
I recently picked up on eBay an interesting piece of ephemera: a publicity pack from the Rank Films organisation about The Ipcress File.

This is an authentic package of material targeting promoters, cinema owners and journalist, containing information about the film and its stars and ideas for creating public awareness. It's evident from the file that part of the success of The Ipcress File as a film is - along with the story, of course - the success with which it was marketed as a new type of spy film.

In reading through the pack, you can get an idea of the angles that producer Harry Saltzman and his marketing team were looking to push in the advance publicity around the film. In the background information - the first page - there are choice phrases used to describe the film, which give an idea of how they were marketing it at a time when the Bond films were already becoming successful:

  • "THE IPCRESS FILE - a tense thriller of espionage and counter-espionage"
  • "a happy-go-luck British ex-army officer who is pitchforked into espionage"
  • "a tangled web of treachery as fantastic and exciting as can only be found in the complicated and highly professional game of world espionage"
The pack includes background information on the two "stars" picked out - Michael Caine, obviously, but also Sue Lloyd, who plays Jean Courtenay. Tellingly, she is given greater prominence in this pack than either of the other two main characters, Major Ross (Guy Doleman) and Major Dalby (Nigel Green). Clearly, in the sixties, sex appeal was a strong component of any successful film, and a number of the promotional ideas suggested in this pack centre around this. For example:
'Conjure up the fascination of a tie-in with a lovely perfume bearing the intriguing name of 'Contraband', plus copy that reads MADAME LIVE DANGEROUSLY - CHOOSE CONTRABAND ... AND GET YOUR MAN. Add a sizzling full colour picture of glamorous Sue Lloyd and you have the ingredients of a first rate promotion with the distributors of this exotic perfume.'
It's fascinating to read how in the 'sixties, just as now, the marketing men were identifying the themes and angles which would grab the public's attention and steer them towards the film. Promoters are given ideas for a whole range of competitions to raise awareness of the film:

  • A quiz in which readers are asked to link the film star with the film they first starred in
  • An 'interrogation survey' to test how much readers actually know about real-life and fictional spies, such as Edith Cavell, Richard Hannay and Greville Wynne
  • 'Operation  "Enemy Agent"' - local newspapers are invited to challenge readers to find "The Man with The Ipcress File", requiring a man from the newspaper to walk around the vicinity of the cinema carrying a file clearly marked with the film's name. Members of the public were asked to challenge him and say"YOU ARE THE MAN WITH THE IPCRESS FILE AND I CLAIM MY REWARD". Really!
  • Cinemas were encouraged to have a display front of house written in Morse Code, to get people wondering about the film
There are plenty more whizzy and strange ideas in this pack. For every would-be promoter the studio's publicity department really made an effort to get what we would nowadays call "brand awareness" in advance of the film's release. Judging by its popularity when premiered in 1965, they were pretty successful.

In the rest of the post you'll find picture of this 'Top Secret' file, as well as a short contribution from Len himself about the brain-washing element that is central to the film's story.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Hors d'ouevre, Orders

Thanks to David, son of regular contributor Nick Flindall, who spotted this article in yesterday's Telegraph magazine online.

Journalist Bee Wilson, writing in the cooking/life section of the newspaper, looks at the concept of the hors d'ouevre in cooking.  It's a useful article for nothing else that it explains what the word means, something I've never known - outside of the main work. So, in a cooking sense, sort of maverick, rejecting convention and current trends perhaps?

In this context she refers to Len Deighton's Action Cook Book, of which she writes:
'[the book] looks like a joke, but many of Deighton's thoughts on food remain fresh and witty. He puts cardamom in rice and tarragon in scrambled eggs. He counsels us to avoid "dodgy" pineapples and to invest in a good omelette pan. Of fennel, he writes, "looks like pot-bellied celery, tastes like liquorice".'

Nice little article.

Coming up soon - a blog post on the Ipcress File, with a small contribution from Len based on recent emails.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Ipcress File now out on Blu-ray

The ever popular film of Len Deighton's novel - with the fantastic John Barry score - is now out on the Blu-ray format. Whatever my views on the difference in quality over standard DVDs and online HD access, it was still worth me buying a copy to see what new there was on it. The film remains as watchable as ever and even though the original film can show its age in HD, it does seem to have reproduced well

Like a lot of Blu-rays, it comes with a lot of 'extras', some of which are familiar but some of which seem new (or at least, new to a disc release). These are:

  • Michael Caine is Harry Palmer - exclusive Sir Michael Caine interview
  • The Design File - an interview with production designer, Sir Ken Adam
  • Commentary with Sidney Furie and editor Peter Hunt
  • Michael Caine goes Stella Street - comedy short with Phil Cornwell (pretty funny!)
  • 1969 documentary - Candid Caine
  • Original theatre trailer

What is rather enjoyable is the programme notes from the publisher, Network Films. It's a rather nice 22-page document with some great black and white and colour films from the film, along with two very readable commentary pieces, which - from memory - have been included in a previous DVD special edition, as they're written in 2005:
  • A different class - Michael Cain and The Ipcress File by Christopher Bray, which seems pretty accurate in telling the story of how the film came to be and Caine's use of the principle of "less is more" in acting to portray Palmer; and
  • A study in insolence - the making of The Ipcress File by Steve Rogers

So while not necessarily new or ground-breaking in its content, it is a nice disc set and on a nice TV with great sound, adds something to the experience.

You can find the disc on Amazon and other stores.

Billion-Dollar Brain will be out later in the autumn on Blu-ray from the same publishers.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Guest post 3 - The beginning of the end?

With the vote on Scotland's independence looming it seems appropriate to recall Len Deighton’s short story, 12 good men and true (from Declarations of War) which describes an event associated with the time when Ireland left the Union.

Deighton’s short story, of course, is about the British Empire and the men who maintained it, the soldiers of the British Army. This tale recalls the execution of a soldier of the Connaught Rangers, an Irish Regiment that had served the British Empire with distinction since 1793. This is a beautifully crafted story about a remarkable event. It hardly needs to be said that killing is the business of soldiers but the duty that has fallen to these men, to be part of a firing squad executing a political prisoner, is a very cruel one but these are the men who kept the Empire going and this was how that was done.

In 1920, the period of the story, some members of the Connaught Rangers mutinied as a protest against the introduction of martial law in Ireland. This was the time of the Irish struggle for independence and , by way of reprisals,Irish civilians were being punished (beaten up and terrorised), in Ireland, by the Black and Tans. These men were a force of mainly English and Scots ex-soldiers, supposedly in place to keep order. One soldier of the Connaught Rangers, now serving in India was James Daley, he was the leader of a group of mutineers who protested against this treatment of their friends and relatives back home. Daley, as the leader, was executed by firing squad. According to the new introduction it is from an eye witness account of Daley’s execution that Len’s short story is based.

Prior to the founding of the Irish Free State in 1922 the British Army had had many Irish units. In fact, the Connaught Rangers are closely associated with one of the best known of the British Army’s marching songs, "It's a Long Way to Tipperary". And, in the First World War, 2500 Connaught Rangers had died fighting for Britain.

But things, including national borders, can change very quickly, as the Germans discovered in 1990. And if the Scots leave what next? Northern Ireland and Wales? Never mind the British Empire, what will be left of Britain? Will we still be British? We might have to start referring to ourselves as the English, and that has a rather unpleasant ring too it!

Terry Kidd

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Deighton on Radio 4 .... Redux

For those who may have missed it, the BBC Radio 4 archive has available - for a limited time - a 30 minute interview Len did with the channel for his 80th birthday, looking back at his life and career.

You can find it here. Check it out before it's gone.

Goodbye Erich Stinnes ....

The late Gottfried John
Sad news from the world of acting that German actor Gottfried John has died at the age of 72. Most, if not all of the references have as far as I can see referred to his role as the archetypal Bond 'villain' General Ourumov in Goldeneye. And very good he was in that too, his slavic features fitting the character very well even though John himself was born in Berlin.

Few of the references I've seen online - including, for example, his Wikipedia entry - reflect the fact that he was one of the main characters in the TV adaptation of Game, Set and Match. This, of course, is a consequence largely of the fact that after one showing on UK TV in 1988 (and presumably, similarly so in international markets), the series was never repeated or released on DVD, due largely to Len's dissatisfaction with some of the casting.

I can see little to be dissatisfied with in Gottfried John's performance. His identifiable German/Slavic features - redolent of a German from the eastern provinces, perhaps - served the actor well in his portrayal of Nikolai Sadoff - KGB General - who when stationed in East Berlin chose to adopt the German pseudonym Erich Stinnes. In the 1988 ITV adaptation of Len Deighton's Game, Set and Match, John portrayed I thought extremely well the calm power of this KGB veteran in whom Bernard Samson saw something of himself, the passed-over field specialist at the mercy of the desk officers.

John was perfectly believable as the KGB colonel and, having watched the DVD series again last month, I was struck by how he fitted the role like a glove and was a great foil to Ian Holm's Bernard Samson, particularly in the scene on the motor boat in the ocean off Mexico, where Samson has to convince himself that Stinnes' defection is the real deal.

An established German actor, I enjoyed John's performance as Franz Bieberkopf's pimp friend in Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz, long regarded as a milestone in German TV film-making.

Readers interested in seeing his portrayal of Erich Stinnes can frequently find episodes of the 1988 Game, Set and Match adaptation on YouTube. What do you think of his portrayal - is he the Stinnes of the books, do you think?

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Spectator on Fleming

If you haven't seen this article on The Spectator website, worth checking out (no subscription required). Interesting perspectives on the author of the Bond novels from the magazine, in which he and his books featured regularly and many of the staff of which he also new well. There's so much been written about Fleming it's always interesting to read slightly different perspectives.

Readers may then want to check out Len Deighton's recent e-book on Fleming and his (albeit minor) role in the character's on-screen development.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Ohhhhh ....... Viennaaaaaaa!

Need a spy? Try here
If you've missed this on The Telegraph website this week, neat little article reporting that, one century on from the first world war, Vienna - the capital of Austria - remains a centre for world spying. The recent upsurge in violence in Russia has thrown a light again on the strategic tensions in eastern Europe and the Russian capacity to spread its influence beyond its borders.

In the ever useful The Len Deighton Companion by Edward Milward-Oliver in 1987, he writes this about the entry 'Vienna':
"Vienna. Although no longer the capital of an empire, Vienna is unchanging. Sachers is still serving the Sacher Torte cake it served at the turn of the century - an era notably depicted in the beginning of Winter, in which we find Veronica Winter in the first stages of labour as her husband is summoned to a meeting with the secret police chief, Count Kupka. Thirty-eight years later, Paul Winter returns to the city of his birth, to find the restaurants and shops filled with German tourists who've arrived within hours of the German Army crossing the front to enforce the Nazi Anschluss."

Right throughout espionage literature, Vienna's always had a central spot as a location for intrigue, threats, exchanges and murder. Worth a read.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Book recommendation - Sea of Gold by Nick Elliott

Nick Elliott
I've just read through a new book I've been sent by author Nick Elliott, entitled Sea of Gold. He's a self-professed admirer of Len Deighton - "I’m a fan of Len Deighton and relish the complexities of his tales," he's written in a blog post - and there's certainly a lot of twists and complex plot advances and location descriptions to suggest he's making a good stab at matching that complexity.

Nick is a new writer. He comes not from an intelligence background but from commercial shipping, and he's written a story based in a world he knows which, like any line of international business, can be complex, at risk of fraud, and open to corruption. You don't see any of this on 'Mighty Ships' on the TV, I'll tell you. Who knew international shipping was a nest of criminal vipers?

The book is relatively short - just under three hundred pages - and is definitely the sort of easy read that one can complete in a weekend or over a week on the train to work.

The main protagonist - a maritime claims investigator, unsurprisingly - is called Angus McKinnon. He makes connections between a number of fraudulent deals he uncovers in doing his job - the twist is that in doing so he plunges into a violent and ruthless world of he uncovers a ruthless conspiracy born of greed and the lust for power, with the background of the global oceans to support his efforts to uncover the truth. There's a classic story arc here of one man uncovering something big and taking the direct route to uncover the truth and, in a way, get redemption.

The plot - I won't give it away - does move quickly and every chapter seems to add something to the story and the narrative, well, there's not any fat here to be trimmed. In the book there are all the ingredients one looks for in a modern espionage thriller:

  • Secretive government agencies
  • Exotic locations like Thailand and India
  • Love tangles
  • Explosions
  • Sleeper agents, and other things.

It's about intrigue and there's a lot of work the reader is asked to do to make connections and fill out the bigger picture.

The dialogue at times I felt needed a little polishing, some vim and verve to take it out of the ordinary, as there were a couple of dialogues that felt a little clunky. There's a lot of shipping references, perhaps naturally, but the reader doesn't need to be a naval nut to enjoy the story.

As a main character, McKinnon has some credibility and signs of depth and he proves a stubborn and tough companion through the pages. There's potential here, one suspects, for Elliott to develop the character a little more and build him up into an agent/investigator to join the pantheon of some of the great characters of international thrillers.

A worthy first effort by Nick. It can be found on Amazon on both Kindle and paperback, where it's already got a five star rating. If you read it, do share your comments below.

Two quick snippets - cars and food

Blog readers, a short post picking up on two things relating to Len and his work & life which I've picked up. First is a short article on the Eye magazine blog. It's a very interesting design perspective on Len Deighton's Action Cook Book, the book which, in a sense, taught men to cook in the 'sixties. The piece by Patrick Bogle has some interesting perspectives on Len's creative relationship with his friend Ray Hawkey. He describes very well the "beautifully calm drama" of the cook strips.

Worth a look.

Second, courtesy of Len's son, is a fun web page concerning the provenance of one of Len's previous motor cars. In the spirit, perhaps, of Ian Fleming and James Bond, Len once owned an Aston Martin DB6 Mark II Volante - some car! Here's a little picture of it on the Aston Martin heritage website.

If you write about spies, you've gotta drive like one, surely!

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Guest post part 2 - The 'new' Horse Under Water

A horse, indeed, under water
I’ve always been very fond of Deighton’s novel, Horse Under Water. This despite the fact that I could never quite bring myself to believe that a submersible weather buoy from 1945 would still be working when Harry Palmer and Petty Officer Edwards scoop it out of the sea at the end of the novel.

It seems that no modern energy storage system, never mind a 1945 system, could allow such a device to surface every 12 hours. Len doesn’t go into details but I assumed that such a machine would be like a small submarine with a floodable chamber to make it sink and a compressed air cylinder to clear that chamber of water to make it surface again. The air cylinder would then have to be replenished, on the surface, ready for the next dive/surface cycle 12 hours later. So the system would need either a diesel engine or a large electric motor in order to recharge the compressed air tank. Either way the required supply of diesel, and/or battery power stretched my credibility.

However, the image of this tireless machine traveling twice a day from the sea bed up to the surface is really too striking to abandon. So it’s fun to speculate what the Horse in the ‘lost‘ Harry Palmer film would be like. So when was the book set? Having retrieved the thing they have to chisel a couple of bolts off, ‘but that’s only to be expected after more than a decade under water’. So, is there a way to keep a submersible weather buoy going until 1963, when the book was published?