Sunday, 9 May 2010

Jason King + Harry Palmer - the mash-up

When spy fiction icons interact! On the Deighton Dossier's message board someone called Chiops has posted a link to a fascinating YouTube clip. It shows a connection between Peter Wyngarde's fictional Jason King character - novelist and spy - and Len Deighton, novelist and spy fiction writer.

This video shows a clip from an episode called 'A Page Before Dying'. A capsule plot summary (courtesy of the Jason King episode guide):
King has written a novel which describes an ingenious way of smuggling a man from East to West Berlin by hiding him in a safe. The British want to get a man named Gorini out of West Berlin. Sir Brian decides to make use of Jason's book ... and of Jason himself. He is lured to West Berlin on the pretext of a fabulous offer for the film rights in the book. 
Unfortunately for Jason the C.I.A. also wants Gorini. And the Stasi know what's happening. The British have started an export business in safes with East Germany, and in charge of this is an attractive espionage agent named Ingrid. Jason is tricked into entering a safe and is unable to get out. The next thing he knows is that he is in East Berlin!
The authorities are waiting for him and he is trapped. Both Jason and the East Germans believe Gorini to be hidden in a safe, but when it is forced open, he isn't there. Gorini has been smuggled out of the country by an entirely different method. Maybe the East Germans knew what Whitehall had in mind; but Whitehall, in turn, knew that the East Germans knew! Jason realises that he has been used as a decoy. He also realises that he is in grim danger.
You'll see in the clip that right at the end, after King escapes from East Berlin, he is handed by Sir Brian a copy of Funeral in Berlin, Deighton's third novel, in which a man is smuggled out of Berlin in a coffin .... but isn't. Sir Brian says, knowingly:
"You might read this novel and draw your own conclusions.
Clearly, the fictional Whitehall Mandarin's had the good taste to read Deighton's novel and base their own exploits on 'Harry Palmer's' efforts to extract Colonel Stok from Berlin He - like King - was merely a pawn in a bigger game between the different side in the Cold War. King contemptuously throws the novel into the fireplace, accusing his bosses of being inspired by Deighton's novel, and not his!

So, a tribute and a salute by the writers to the previous decade's best-selling spy novels (the series was filmed in the early 'seventies').

This video is an intriguing little vignette that I hadn't seen before, and indicates that in the early seventies - as compared to now - Funeral in Berlin and Deighton's other novels were still fresh in the collective cultural minds that they could provide an obvious reference point to a story which the public would recognise.

Can readers of this blog think of any other instances in spy fiction, or elsewhere in popular culture, where disparate fictional worlds have been bought together in such a way?


  1. Chiops here. :)

    Nice to see that an article has been posted here as a result of my thread in the forums. I feel really chuffed! Thanks.

    Regarding your question at the end (and if you are not specifically referring to Len's works) I have another instance of "when spy fiction collide".

    I'll see if a clip of it is on Youtube, but if not I'll upload one from my Persuaders DVD boxset.

    Stay tuned. :>)

  2. Question: why is this the most frequently visited page on this blog???

  3. I suspect it is due to Jason King viewers wanting to know what that business with the book was about !