Sunday, 15 May 2022

It's all in the detail

Recently I purchased three original marketing photographs produced by Jonathan Cape's marketing team for the 1970 launch of the first edition of Bomber, Len Deighton's magnum opus about the experiences of the wartime bombing raids over German which is often regarded as on of his best novels (certainly, of his non-spy fiction books).

The novel is also, famously, the first modern novel written on a true IBM PC, which at the time took up much of the room in Deighton's office in his ground floor flat in London, as I wrote about a number of years ago

Although it missed out on being shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1970, Bomber was lauded by writer Anthony Burgess as one of the 99 best novels of the twentieth century in the English language. 

Part of the reason for the particular success of Bomber (which was also turned into a Radio 4 play) is Deighton's attention to detail. As a writer it has often been acknowledged by readers and critics that Len Deighton's books are full of exquisitely research details, particularly when it comes to military materiel and historical occurrences. Some readers have found this propensity for technical minutiae off-putting, but many others - myself included - feel it adds a level of realism that grounds the story and reassures the reader that they story they're reading is as true to life as it can be.

Saturday, 19 March 2022

The Ipcress File tv series - the verdict

 

Dalby, Harry and Jean ready for action

Well, after months - and I mean months - of hype and pre-publicity, the new tv adaptation of Len Deighton's The Ipcress File has broadcast its first two episodes on commercial channel ITV in the UK (and all six episodes made available on ITVhub streaming). 

And the verdict from this viewer is ... it's pretty good. Indeed, very good. An adaptation worthy of the book.

Sure, it's not the original Michael Caine film of the same name, and that's probably a good thing, so strong is the cultural imprinting of that performance on the British viewing public. If you remember that, then this new series - and the new Harry Palmer portrayed by Joe Cole - provides six hours of very entertaining, stylish, engrossing and believable drama.

Thursday, 3 March 2022

The Ipcress File TV series premiering 6 March

This Sunday in the UK - and in many of the international TV markets to which the rights have been sold - the new adaptation of The Ipcress File by ITV will be seen for the first time.

This week has seen a lot of the weekly TV listings guides in the UK publish feature articles about the series, focusing on the lead actors - Joe Cole as Harry Palmer, and Lucy Boynton as Jean Courtenay (Jean Tonneson in the book) - as well as providing some background on the book.

Much of the advanced publicity around the book has, not unsurprisingly, focused on comparisons between the new series and the original 1965 movie starring Michael Caine. Interestingly, all the signs are from the producers and the actors that while there are the odd 'tributes' to the original movie, this TV series will be different.

One advantage for the TV series of course is a bigger budget, allowing the producers to film more of the overseas scenes in the book (such as in the Pacific Atoll where a nuclear bomb test is due to take place) which the original film budget didn't stretch to.

Saturday, 19 February 2022

Happy 93rd Birthday, Len

 ... for yesterday (I forgot to post this up yesterday!).

On 18 February, Len Deighton celebrated his 93rd birthday, having been born in London - Marylebone to be exact - on that day in 1929.

Readers of his novels, his histories, and his cookbooks from around the world will I'm sure join the Dossier in sending good wishes to the author.

2022 is something of a marquee year for the author - next month, ITV broadcasts its lavish remake of The Ipcress File - and the year also marks the sixtieth anniversary of that novel's first publication in London - the first edition sold out almost on the first day, and has sold consistently well ever since, right up to last year's Penguin reissues.

Len Deighton in a 1983 publicity photo


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.