Sunday, 9 December 2012

Snippets from a conversation ....

I use an iPhone these days to record interviews
I was fortunate enough to catch up with Len over lunch at his club in South West London, the outcome of which was the third exclusive interview for the Deighton Dossier, which you can access by clicking the button above (along with the two other interviews exclusive to this site).

Over seven hours we talked about many more subjects than those which Len kindly responded to in the Q&A interview. Some of the things we discussed I'm not I'm afraid at liberty to repeat here - interesting though they undoubtedly are - but during our conversation there were a number of stories, anecdotes and facts which came up which I want to share with you here. I'm sure Len wouldn't mind me sharing a few of his interesting stories and asides from a life at the top of his profession as writer, producer and designer.

Try these for size:

Free gifts
Having discussed the new Bond film Skyfall, Len related to me the story of author John Gardner, who wrote one of the Bond sequel books after Fleming's death with permission from the latter's estate. One day, apparently, Gardner called up Len to tell him with glee:
"I've given Bond a SAAB!"
This was a crucial change in the Bond mythology of course, the move away from the Aston Martin.  Gardner told Len he had received a car from the makers for this act of product placement. Product placement was of course crucial to Bonds production value. Len told me that in contrast, the only time he'd received something resulting from product placement was a Sunbeam food mixer which was given to him following publication of one of his cook strips!

This wasn't the only example of a mention in a book leading to a tremendous offer of a free car. Len retold a similar tale: Ian Fleming once wrote to the head of Ferrari asking if he was happy with the use of a Ferrari in one of the recent Bond films (Len wasn’t specific about which film he was referring to). In return, the chief of Ferrari wrote back saying thank you and advising Fleming that he had gone to the top of the list for the new Ferrari; this was a valuable offer, as there were hundreds of stars and rich people on the list already. However, Fleming had to write back indicating that he did not have sufficient funds to purchase one and reluctantly had to decline the offer!

Ian Fleming
Len also told me a story about Ian Fleming in Jamaica, just after he had completed the selling of the film rights for Doctor No. He apparently sent a telegram to his neighbour in Jamaica at the time, actor, director and theatre impresario Noel Coward, asking if he would take the lead part. He sent a telegram back which said, simply, “Dr No, No, No, No”. Classic retort!

Harry Saltzman ... canny
Film producer Harry Saltzman is one of the most fascinating people that Len has known, I think. As well as being the co-producer of the first Bond films he of course got off the ground the films of Len's first three books, christening the unnamed spy character 'Harry Palmer'. Len recounted a story of how when he was working with Saltzman on The Ipcress File in London, a young producer got in touch with him indicating he’d love to get hold of an autograph from Harry, as he was one of the people he was studying to learn about the business of film-making.

The young producer had sent Len a book in the post for Harry to sign; Len gave Harry the book and asked him to sign it. He discussed with Harry what he thought he should write. Harry said he should put “please remit 3’ and 6”!

Not getting the point of promotional gifts
During the marketing push for Billion-Dollar Brain, Len's fourth book in the unnamed spy series, his designer friend Ray Hawkey - who had created the iconic cover for Ipcress File - took some of Len's original notes from his trips to Helsinki when writing the book, and turned them into a facsimile of Len's notebook.

This note book - along with a letter from the author, tickets for the opera and left luggage tags, all of which had relevance to the story - was sent out to reviewers and dealers. It looked like a personaI letter from the authors to the booksellers, and the notebook and other items looked like the real thing. So convincing was it that some booksellers sent it back saying it was very kind of the publishers to let them look at Len’s note book, but they couldn’t see what they had to do with it!

Is that a successful marketing campaign or not? Maybe.

Dove, Ark, Noah ..... do you get it?
As a designer at the Royal College of Art in the nineteen fifties, Len was a contributing editor to Ark magazine, the in-house journal which became a showcase for modern young designers to show off their ideas. I have copies of the editions which Len contributed to and I discussed them with him, asking him in particular about the special edition he produced called, simply, 'Dove'. Why was it called Dove and what was it for?

The Dove supplement, Len told me, was his attempt to give readers of Ark something free that would fall out of the magazine, increasing the perceived value; something for nothing, a bonus, he said. This was why it was so-named: it was the ‘Dove’ that came out of the ‘Ark’. This was the first time it had occurred to me to make that connection. So simple really.

He explained that the article on page three was his attempt to create the most perfectly legible newspaper article, with proper spacing and use of three fonts. Mr Buckett, who featured on the front page, was in fact the husband of the lady who made the tea at the Art School

The area at the school where he had tea with fellow students was, he said, a location used by the SOE during the war as a starting off point for agents heading off to France. The SOE arrange with United Dairies to have one pint of milk to be delivered to each mews door, to disguise the fact that the whole building was in use!

Fascinating little anecdotes. Look forward, in future, to more interviews (I hope!)


  1. My favorite story about Harry Saltzman was told by George Martin (famous for being the Beatles' record producer), who did the musical score for the film of "Live and Let Die" and arranged for Paul McCartney to provide the title song (perhaps the most famous of all Bond songs). Martin says he brought a tape of the completed song to Saltzman, who, it turned out, somehow had no idea who McCartney was. Saltzman seemed to think that McCartney was just another singer whose career would get a much-needed boost by being in a Bond film, and ended the conversation with the words, "Tell McCarthy we'll take it."

  2. I read the version reported was: Martin was asked who will be singing it!