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:

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Lunch with Len .... and the Beatles, Bertrand Russell and Gene Kelly

Location for our lunch meeting
This Thursday I was able to catch up with Len and his wife Ysabele at the Gilbert Scott restaurant at St Pancras, during one of their infrequent trips to the UK. Changes in their schedule meant that our conversation was shorter than I'd envisaged, but nevertheless the chat confirmed Len's on good form in his eighty-fifth year and never short of an anecdote or two!

The title refers to some of the anecdotes in question. Len has such fascinating stories to fall back on over lunch, each of which demonstrates what a tremendously interesting life an internationally successful author and film-maker can have!

First up, we talked generally about upcoming projects which have been mentioned on this blog before. The proposed Bomber film, which has been on the cards for nearly a decade since a rights agreement was made, is evidently no further forward than the last time I posted about it on this blog, which is disappointing as it is a novel which deserves to be made to provide a counterpoint to some of the other recent depictions of the bombing war in the Second World War. Similarly, nothing new as far as Len knew from Clerkenwell films in terms of the development of the 18-hour version of all nine Bernard Samson books, but then this was only agreed earlier on this year. No script yet or casting decisions have yet been made.

Our conversation covered a myriad of other stories from the 'sixties. The philosopher, Bertrand Russell, Len says, got in touch with him not for reasons philosophical but because someone had recommended Len as a person who knew the law (from his time working as a producer dealing with lawyers on film issues). Russell wanted to do a licensing deal for all his papers - Len set him up with his accountant to do the deal. Cue Len saying that when he met with Russell in Wales, Vietnamese Communist leader Ho Chi Minh rang up for the great philosopher and socialist. Cue Russell telling Minh that he'd call him back later, rather than interrupt his conversation.

From that came a story about the Beatles and their plans in the sixties for an anti-war film, which he discussed with Paul McCartney at around the time he was planning Oh! What a Lovely War. Len indicated that he had imagined giving the Beatles parts in the film, with Gene Kelly directing, but in the end he wanted to put on film contemporary songs from 1914 rather than have a modern interpretation. It never came to fruition, sadly, but can you imagine ... Gene Kelly directing the Beatles!!

We also talked about Only When I Larf, the adaptation of Len's film which was his first foray into film producing, and the the character actors up for the film who didn't make it: James Mason and David Niven were both up for the Silas character, for example, but Richard Attenborough had ways of making sure he and not others go the part!

In retirement Len's still a man of words, spoken if not written, and a thoroughly nice lunch companion who's appreciative of the continued interest in his work shown by readers around the world. As a result, Len's agreed to answer some other readers questions in a further Q&A, similar in format to others on the Deighton Dossier blog above, so keep visiting this site to keep an eye out for this.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Questions, questions .....


I may be catching up again with Len soon.

He's indicated he might be up for doing another Deighton Dossier Q&A (no promises, mind).

So..... questions you might like answered?

Post them below!

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Almost a century ago....

Sir John Mills as Marshall Haig
[Corrected post due to updated information from Len's biographer Edward Milward-Oliver]

... the First World War broke out. There's been plenty of coverage in the news over the last week and more about the 11 November armistice commemorations and the fact that next year will be the hundredth anniversary of the Great Conflict.

In the context of Len Deighton's historical and fictional work, one normally associates him with the Second World War and also, of course, the 'Cold' War. In communication with him this week we discussed briefly his main artistic contribution relating to the Great War, the 1969 film Oh! What a Lovely War, directed by Richard Attenborough.

Len's in London in December filming a short interview with Edward Milward-Oliver at the Imperial War Museum about his decision as a first-time film producer to make a film version of the original stage version by Joan Littlewood, the famous impresario and director. This video of Len - who's own father was in the Machine Gun corps and severely wounded - will touch briefly on his recollections of the film and motivations for doing so: "I felt it a sacred duty to get it right". The short interview will be shown next year as part of a feature by BBC South East.

For those who haven't seen the film, it is worth watching (you can catch a clip here on YouTube) because the play - and Len's film - seek to give the Tommy's eye view of the conflict - the initial enthusiasm, the patriotism, but then the deflation and the anger with the futility of the conflict and the loss of friends in many cases. It was certainly, Len has reminded me, controversial at the time, coming only 50 years after the end of the conflict when many veterans were still alive, and his determination to present his truth of the conflict apparently created high dudgeon with the establishment at the time.

The film, starring an unrivalled cast list of British greats, is entertaining but also deeply maudlin, as it makes the viewer - through song and drama - ponder the lives of the chaps on the front line and contrast their behaviour with that of the politicians.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

There's a lot of good books to choose from ….

An interesting article here in The Guardian online, posting what the author DJ Taylor posts as his top-ten counter-factual novels of all time.

With only ten, you've got to make choices, and some of them I agree with - Robert Harris' Fatherland is excellent, read it years ago; CJ Sansom's Dominion is pretty good, and I read it earlier this year. Both, of course, about an alternative fictional world in which the Nazis in Germany are triumphant, or near enough, in World War Two.

There are, shall we say, obvious omissions in my opinion!

Monday, 14 October 2013

Archive round-up (2) - back when magazines were king....

In lieu of any significant news at the moment (that I can report at least) on Len's body of work, I've been looking through my collection of ephemera and magazine articles to bring to readers some items that add a little colour and background context to Len's work as both an author and, pre-1962, as an illustrator and artist.

I've collected over the years many magazines with articles about Len and pieces by him. It's always fun to flick through these magazines because you get a real sense of how people lived in that era, and the almost benign nature of the marketing and consumer world from the adverts:

  • Men's fashions were more about "knitted outerwear" than David Beckham in his underwear
  • The word "gay" was used in a Midland Bank advert to describe a "gay and cheerful girl" for whom a gift cheque is the most marvellous gift
  • Car adverts that were selling British car marques still made in Britain - the Triumph Spitfire, anyone
  • Rothman's King Size could still be advertised as "king size flavour that really satisfies"
  • Radio Rental Hi-Vantage Colour TVs could be rented for just 25 shillings a week
Also what's clear is the quality of the journalism and the investment editors and writers made in serious, extensive articles the likes of which are now rarely seen outside of specialist titles. Lilliput, a "man's magazine' from the 1950 (sans nudity and pull-outs - this was the 'fifties), contains wonderfully erudite and expansive articles on the likes of 'The Russians on Holiday' and 'A Psychiatrist on Psychiatrists'. Lilliput went out of business in the 'sixties, a victim perhaps of a changing trend in magazine readership as the youth audience was targeted more?

In August 1958, Len Deighton was still operating as a much in-demand freelance illustrator, and below is reproduced his illustration from an advertisement (more like advertorial) entitled 'The Secret of the Cellar', selling the wares of B. Seppelt & Sons, Cannon Street:

What went for "men's magazines" in the 'fifties
Moyston Claret at 8 shillings? Bargain!

The Sunday Times magazine is still going. It was a pioneering magazine in the 'sixties - the first sold with the Sunday Papers, providing a source for more in-depth journalism and - literally - colour. In the November 1969 edition of the magazine, writer Bernard Shaw (and photo journalist Davis Steen) - as part of a special feature on careers and work - talks to a range of famous Britons about the influence their teachers had on their lives. Alongside author Margaret Drabble, journalist Angus McGill and actor/director Bryan Forbes giving their experiences of influential teachers, Len shares his thoughts about being a student at St Martin's School of Art and the influence of lecturer Henry Collins:
"His method was to talk about a design problem in such a way that you realised there were a dozen or more ways of solving it"
Len talks about his time at St Martin's School of Art
Len Deighton and Henry Collins

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Tom Clancy ... mission sadly over

The late Tom Clancy
Lots of media reaction in the last couple of days to the death of novelist Tom Clancy, often presented as the world's most popular thriller writer and the creator of the techno-thriller genre. The New Statesman has a nice profile of the author, who died this week aged 66. The BBC also has a nice summary of his career, highlighting the Jack Ryan character who, like Bond and other agents, made a seamless transition to the silver screen in films such as Hunt for Red October and The Sum of All Fears.

There's a good Guardian piece today evaluating his five most important stories.

His books are well-written and popular - a term that's often used by critics to denigrate the worth of an author, but in Clancy's case, it was true - his books were tremendously popular as they offered readers a rip-roaring story, presented fantastic detail about the mechanics of spying and military strategy, and had great characters to boot.

Be interested to hear readers' views of the the author.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Round-up - Smiley culture, X-rays and books within books....

Picked-up across the Inter-web some interesting things I thought I'd bring to the attention of the readers of the Deighton Dossier.

First up, The Guardian marked the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of John Le Carré's classic novel The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and challenged its readers to a quiz about how well they know the novel. I took it; shamefully, I only scored 5 out of 10. Far too long since I read the book!

Second, London's Evening Standard newspaper reported this week that Whiteley's, the West London department store, is to close and, inevitably, become luxury flats. The story by the paper's property correspondent looks back at the historical links with the store, which includes:
"In the film version of Billion Dollar Brain, the hero uses an X-ray machine in Whiteley's shoe department to examine the contents of a sealed package"
Why on earth does a shoe department need an X-ray machine?

Finally, I've just finished an excellent book at the moment which I'd go so far as to describe as 'the spy fiction fan's spy fiction. It's The Double Game by Dan Fesperman, a winner of the Crime Writers' Association of Britain's John Creasey Memorial Dagger award for The Small Boat of Great Sorrows.

The Double Game is set in 2012 and follows a journalist Bill Cage who inadvertently reveals a startling secret about a best-selling spy novelist, Edwin Lemaster, a friend of his father's and writer of the 'Folly' spy novels. He's drawn into a web of intrigue involved encoded messages, and the nub of the story rests on Cage's encyclopaedic knowledge of spy fiction, and the fact that he knows someone mysterious is testing his knowledge of spycraft. There are plenty of knowing references to blog readers' favourite writers, including Len, of course:
"In le Carré's Call for the Dead, George Smiley is summoned from sleep by a ringing telephone. In The Miernik Dossier, Charles McCarry's Paul Christopher is yanked from bed in Geneva by the doorbell. In Berlin Game, Len Deighton's Bernard Samson waits in the midnight cold of Checkpoint Charlie for a contact who never shows. And in Knee Knockers, Lemaster's Richard Folly is lured into the murk of predawn Prague. Such a lonely procession of nocturnal seekers. Literally and figuratively they were all in the dark. Now, so was I, an unlikely initiate to the midnight brethren."
Definitely one that's worth checking out.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Dabbling around the internet ....

I found this interesting article on a website and culture blog The Dabbler, which looks at how Len Deighton, through his 'Harry Palmer' character from the first four novels and two films, made an association between food and style which up to that point had rarely existed for male culture. It has some nice photographs and quotes from his early Action Cook Book, making the point that Len - along with other writers and cooks - helped drag the United Kingdom out of something of a culinary desert in the early sixties.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Archive round-up - some lesser known discoveries ....

Posting on the blog has as readers will see been a bit slower than normal over the last couple of months with the summer, holidays and other things getting in the way.

Having had some contact with Len I'm hoping to catch up with him in the UK in October and this might well create another opportunity for a fourth Deighton Dossier interview, so welcome ideas now of questions and themes which readers might want me to explore this time with Len.

Until that, I've been going through some of the recent rarer items I've come across in recent months that have been added to my collection of ephemera related to Len's life and works, which I thought I'd share with blog readers through a series of photographs.

First up, a 1967 edition of what might be called a 1960's "lifestyle" magazine called Nova, which is a mix of fashion advice, serious articles - such as the cover story about sexual mores, featuring BBC TV character Alf Garnett on the cover - shopping advice and stories. In this edition, Len Deighton's fifth novel, An Expensive Place to Die, is serialised (which all four of his previous novels had been in various media). With an illustration by contemporary Roger Law (later of Spitting Image fame), showing the character of Kuang from the story, this is the second part of the serialisation in which the narrator seeks to understand the relationship between Inspector Loiseau's ex-wife Maria and the mysterious Datt, who own the mysterious clinic researching sexual behaviour.

Nova 1967

The illustration by Roger Law

Part two of the adaptation
Another serialisation of Len's books - this time, Catch a Falling Spy (the US name of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Spy) occurs in the US edition of Cosmopolitan from December 1976, whose female audience doesn't strike me as an obvious core market for spy thrillers. In the same style as the earlier adaptation, this feature provides a short introduction before giving readers seventeen pages of close-typed text, which is a significant amount of the magazine to give up to part of a novel. But, clearly serialisation is another way to reach a readership who might not normally have gone out and bought the novel. The most interesting thing about this serialisation is the illustration by Don Daily, which have a very clear seventies design ethic.

Not an obvious place for spy fiction

The design shrieks the 1970s
Having become one of the sixties' big literary names since the publication of The Ipcress File in 1962, Deighton was in big demand for interviews and features from a range of media. But it wasn't just Len whom media wished to speak with. In this September 1964 issue of Vogue magazine, such was Len's celebrity that the magazine saw interest for its readers in talking to Len's first wife, Shirley (as part of a feature called "Classified material: spy writers' wives", which also runs a profile of John Le Carré's wife, who's only referred to as "Mrs Le Carré").

This profile of Shirley Deighton, who was an artist in her own right, is cleverly written through interspersing the details of the first-person profile with relevant text from her husband's book Funeral in Berlin, published the same year. Here's an example as Shirley wrote about how Len was when writing a new book:
'If his book isn't going well, he's difficult to cope with. He tends to niggle about why there isn't any milk in the fridge. He'll fuss about things, get suspicious. ("I hope you haven't been giving him access to our records," I said ... "No,"said Jean, "I got it." "What do you mean you got it?" I said. "You climbed through the window of the Sureté Nationale at dead of night, do you mean?") I know when he comes through the door what mood he's going to be in, and I know how I should respond to get him in a good mood. But I won't pander to him. I never know what he's thinking. He's quite unpredictable, but I could never live with a man who did the same thing every day. In September, he's going to learn to fly.'
The magazine remains all about style

Shirley Deighton

The article has the same 'style' as her husband's book

On a different track, this summer I finally managed to source something I've been looking for for years: below is a picture of an 'original' Deighton, one of Len's well-received designs for the Andre Deutsch publishing house catalogue from Summer 1967, which is an excellent example of Len's design, developed at art school, as an illustrator, featuring his typical heavy outline and slightly unrealistic perspective. It's extremely rare, so it's a pleasing find.

One of six catalogues illustrated by Deighton

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

If they weren't so notorious, this would be funny - Stasi disguises....

Really? The cardigan is not a good look
An interesting story cropped up this week when browsing through the Daily Mail's website. An article based on a feature on the Foreign Policy website looks at the attempts made by the Stasi to disguise its agents operating overseas. Looking at some of the images, you wonder how on earth the Stasi was able to maintain a network of agents, given the appallingly bad 'disguises' given to operatives.

Of course, this was the seventies and eighties, generally regarded as a time period when style took a vacation. So, perhaps their choices were inspired. I mean, four button crimson cardigans and TV-cop style glasses. That's right for the seventies, surely? Some of these photos are hilarious, until you think about the objectives of the men and women who were sent to blend in to different Cold War cultures.

The reality of the Stasi is much more serious than comical wigs and woolies. They were, along with the KGB, one of the most ruthlessly successful of espionage bodies during the Cold War. The guys at the top, such as chief Markus Wolf, were cunning and experienced practitioners and professionalised the Stasi and its overseas agents to an extent that allowed for some significant infiltrations.

As Wolf's biography reveals, they were not averse to using some pretty serious tactics to get the intelligence this most paranoid of Cold War states needed to keep its economy moving and its citizens in check.

Still, looking back, you have to laugh a bit!

Sunday, 28 July 2013

A design on food - French author evidently draws inspiration from Deighton's cook strip's - FT

The book that started it all
I came across an interesting Deighton reference on Friday in that week's FT - not in the business section but in the life pages (no subscription apparently required to access).

This article by Rowley Leigh uses cartoons to illustrate a recipe for country paté, and draws its inspiration from Len's well-known cook strips from the early sixties, produced and serialised in The Observer. As Leigh observes, of course, "his cookery-book career was small beer compared with his success as the author of thrillers such as The Ipcress File and Funeral in Berlin."

Len's cook strips were, and until now have always been, one of the few attempts at using design to put across consistently and succinctly the key processes of cooking. This article points to efforts by French designer Chrisophe Blain to graphically recount the story of the French chef's experience using a similar approach, but this time in more cartoon format (and in French).

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Michael Caine: 1960s by Graham Marsh - book review

The coffee table Caine
Who was the male face of film in the 'sixties?

Sean Connery? Tom Courtenay? Dustin Hoffmann?

All have a case to make, but in the opinion of Graham Marsh in this new book - an opinion shared by this blog's editor - you can't look much further than Michael Caine as the quintessential face and 'look' of the nineteen sixties that has defined that decade for movie goers then and since.

The erstwhile Maurice Micklewhite, south London born and raised, became an icon of sixties film-making through a little luck, talent and, undoubtedly, a single pair of black-framed glass. Through a series of wonderful, black & white and colour images in large format, Marsh charts Caine's progress from hopeful actor to global star.

And what progress it was! Caine's movies in the sixties is a roll-call of some of the most recognisable, enjoyable, iconic and profoundly British films that still resonate with audiences today.

Each chapter of photographs looks in detail at each of these films: Zulu (1964), The Ipcress File (1965), Alfie (1966), Funeral in Berlin (1966), Billion Dollar Brain (1967) and .... of course ... The Italian Job (1969), frequently cited in film polls as one of the the great films of the sixties.

With his well-cut suits, side parting, glasses and Crombie jack Michael Caine epitomises the look and feel of London in the sixties: stylish, confident, modern and a little bit risky. The selection of photographs by Marsh is impressive: many are recognisable media images, but others are candid on-set shots or off-set snaps from Caine's life in London as one of the UK's most bankable stars.

Of interest to this blog is the inclusion of images from Caine's contribution to the three films of Len Deighton's 'unnamed spy' novels, when he became, without question, 'Harry Palmer' and brought that character fully to life in a way not even the novel captured. Len and Michael became good friends through the films - and through being part of the same London dinner party set along with other London stars of the time - and there are some great images of the two of them on set, bringing Len's characters to life.

The analysis Marsh provides isn't particularly interesting for each chapter, but that's not really an issue as it's the quality of the images that make this book a winner for any film.

In the interests of the book review, I share below some images from the book. This book is very much a coffee table book - it's something you can pick up, flick through and smile as you see image after image of this great British star doing what he does best: being Michael Caine!

It's definitely worth checking out. RRP is £20, it's hardback and published by Reel Art Press.

The glasses, the overcoat, the introduction ....

Sunday, 23 June 2013

A note for any collectors out there ....

A conversation this afternoon with friend and book dealer extraordinaire James Pickard of J P Rarebooks. He advises that he's just got hold of a number of extremely rare Deighton books and ephemera items (such as the marketing ephemera sent out with first editions of Billion-Dollar Brain to book sellers) which should be of interest to any collector of Len's works.

These haven't yet been catalogued on his website, so he advises to give him an email on jparebook [at] aol [dot] com

As well as these hard to find items (which I can advise, are hard to find) he tells me he has also got in his collection many first editions from Len's catalogue. So if blog readers are looking to fill in a missing part of your collection, it might be worth giving him a call.

James is also one of the foremost collectors of Ian Fleming's books and has many interesting tales to tell in that regard, too.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

He's back! Alternative history with a twist ....

The genre of alternative history remains a popular staple in literature. One of the most recent examples published which I read - but found only moderately interesting - is Dominion by C J Sansom. Another recent example - which by contrast, I still enjoy - is of course Robert Harris' Fatherland. Both feature alternative histories involving an undefeated Nazi Germany.

SS-GB was Len's contribution to the genre and that time period. It's still regarded as one of the premiers examples of the genre. The grim fascination with the period and the willingness to contemplate the awfulness of the 'what if' scenarios of a Nazi victory from the comfort of an armchair also explains why the Second World War, and the Nazis in particular, is one of the main themes of the alternative history genre.

Er is Wieder Da (He's back! in English) has a twist on this - it's not so much an alternative history of Nazi Germany as much as an alternative contemporary history of this decade, contemplating what would happen if the Nazis - more strictly, Hitler - returned to modern Germany.

It's a fascinating premise, one I was keen to explore. It's currently only published in the original German (but such has been its popularity in Germany that English-language rights have already been sold to MacLehose). Timur Vernes is the author; he's one of a new generation of German writers starting to explore their wartime history in a more open and arguably post-modern way, to the extent where the Nazizeit is now the potential source for a humorous novel.

The premise is simple, but clever. Hitler is discovered having somehow reawakened in Berlin of 2011 and, after finding his way in modern society, becomes a TV demagogue on a comedy show hosted by a Turkish immigrant having been mistaken for a never-out-of-character comic act, having had his potential as an act recognised by TV producers. Hitler - still convinced of his messianic role to save the German people - again uses all his rhetorical power and charm to begin to sway the Germans through his own website - the Fuhrer Headquarters - after a video of him leaks onto YouTube. His bigoted rants are interpreted as a satirical exposure of prejudice, leading him to decide to start his own political party.

It's as much a story about the contemporary Internet-soaked, celebrity-obsessed culture in the West, which allows someone as obviously evil as Hitler to, somehow, become an overnight celebrity and be courted because he's controversial, opinionated, charming and, clearly, dead! The book, which has already sold hundreds of thousands of copies has unsurprisingly sparked debate in a country that has grappled for decades with Hitler’s legacy.

But as fewer and fewer citizens from that time are alive in German society, it has created a real debate in the country. Some, unsurprisingly, are critical of what it represents: Stern wrote that the book was an “outgrowth of a Hitler commercialisation machine that breaks all taboos to make money. ” The author sees it differently, and contributing to a debate: “[Hitler] is always the monster, and we can be comforted by the fact that we’re different from him. He continues to spark real fascination in people, just as he did back then when people liked him enough to help him commit crimes.”

The Nazis will always make tremendous fodder for fiction writers and especially thriller writers, because of the nature of the crimes committed under the regime and because it was the war to end all wars. This book is the first to take this subject matter a wryly humorous twist. Worth investigating when it comes out in English.

Monday, 10 June 2013

The Americans are still coming .... show 2 quick review

Does ITV's The Americans have a chance of becoming one of the next 'must see' serials on TV? A new Homeland, perhaps? Might it do as well as BBC's The Fall.

Judging by Saturday's second episode, I think it does .... and can.

The actors - leads Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys - are excellently chosen as the Russian couple whose life is based on falsehood and fantasy as undercover Soviet spooks in suburban America, into whose lives the truth is seeping in and threatening to undermine everything they've devoted their lives too.

This weekend's show was a race-against-time story. Asked at short notice to bug Casper Weinberger's house - there's a name for the teenagers, one of the eminences grise of US diplomacy in the eighties - the Jennings choose to kidnap and poison the son of Weinberger's cleaner in order to get her to plant a device in his office.

It was fascinating to remember how much more challenging espionage was back in the 'eighties when, sans Internet and sans iPods and steady-state technology, secret recordings required a real to real tape recorder and transmitter the size of a small suitcase! Technology has made a spook's life a lot easier, surely!

Many reviews have pointed to the real-life discovery of Russian sleeper agents in the US in 2010 - one of the prompts for creation of the show was the discovery of the gorgeous Anna Chapman, Russian femme fatale and apparent embedded operative. Recent knowledge of this sort of real-life example does aid the viewers belief in the story and the question at the heart of it: do we really know the people we live across the street from, and spend our daily lives with? The premise, therefore, has currency (particularly in modern times when for Soviets one could read al Qaeda lone wolves or Chinese cyber agents). The scripts and the dynamic, tense relationship between the main characters I think creates real believability. The situations, the fears, the anxiety when they lie in bed, the show captures well the emotions anyone would feel when they fear the game is up and their life-long game of charades may be under threat.

At the heart of the show is a simple device to create tension - will they get caught by next door neighbour, a FBI lead agent ? It's a great way for the writers each episode to ratchet up the tension, tighter and tighter, with discovery coming closer and then - twang - like an elastic band snapping back, the Jennings can go back to living an apparently domestically happy life, until the next threat to their existence.

In terms of spy craft, it seems plausible enough, and clearly the show's creator being an ex-CIA operative ensures that what we see procedurally and out in the fields is likely to be pretty authentic.

There are obvious parallels between this story and Len's Game, Set and Match triple trilogy. At the heart of both stories is a marriage, a relationship between two people which is threatened and also driven by the global strategic power struggle between nations of millions, implacably opposed to each other and dedicated to defeating their ideology. Betrayal, loyalty, trust, denial - all are crucial human emotions that are essential to any good espionage story. This series seems to have it in spades, so far.

Do share views on show 2 below.

Friday, 31 May 2013

The Americans are coming .....!

How about a bit of Cold War nostalgia on TV? Forgotten what things were like when two superpowers ruled the world? Then maybe new drama The Americans (co-produced by Fox TV) will bring back some memories.

This is debuting in the UK on the ITV network tomorrow evening. The story centres on an pair of Soviet spies living as a loving American family in Suburbia at the time of the Reagan election, whose cover is potentially blown by the arrival of an FBI agent in the area. Sounds fascinating, and I'm loving the ident for the drama (see picture) drawing on the classical design of sixties and seventies era Soviet propaganda posters.

Given the recent announcement of plans to film all nine of the Game, Set & Match books, is this the start of a period of Cold War nostalgia from programme planners? I'll be interested to see the results!

If any readers in the States have already seen it, what's the assessment?

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Competition - win a copy of a spy thriller classic - Tightrope

Fancy a chance to win a copy of a somewhat forgotten but now revived espionage thriller? If so, read on.

Resurrecting out-of-print classics of British thriller and espionage fiction is the job of Mike Ripley, author and series editor behind Ostara Publishing's "Top Notch Thrillers" series of paperbacks. Each title is selected not just for its plot or sense of adventure but the for distinctiveness and sheer quality of its writing. Mike's kindly donated some books to the Deighton Dossier and it's my pleasure to give away a brand new copy free.

Supporting the dissemination of good thriller and espionage writing should be one of the goals of any member of the C.O.B.R.A.S. community, and I'm pleased to do so again, having last year held a similar competition where the prize was The Pass Beyond Kashmir by Berkley Mather.

This time, the competition gives Deighton Dossier readers a chance to win a copy of Tightrope, by Anthony Melville-Ross.

It's got the lot. Bombs. Action. Agents. Conspiracies. Terrorists. The plot concerns a global plot holding the UK to ransom, with the "Department" of agent Al Trelawney under attack. The enemy turns out to be The Standard Bearer, a shadowy global organisation with bases all around the world. With the spies seemingly being spied on, smoking out the truth behind their agenda proves a tough ask for agent Trelawney. This being a rip-roaring thriller, the way he gets to grips with the threat and seeks its cause will keep the readers page-turning all evening. It's an easy read - the text flows well, the narrative is easy on the ear all the time and the plot is sufficient convoluted and twisted to keep the reader guessing throughout each chapter. Just over 200 pages, so definitely a weekend reader rather than a lifestyle choice.

Melville-Ross, who died in 1993, wrote only six novels. These he published between 1978 and 1985, drew on his experiences as a sub- mariner in the Second World War, in which he was awarded the DSC. He was, as many good espionage writers seem to be, also a Cold Warrior and former Secret Service officer. So, he wrote about what he knew! He's been compared Alastair Maclean and Desmond Bagley in style!

To win this copy - which I will make open to readers in Europe and North America only (to keep postage costs within reason), answer this question:

Name the famous French tightrope walker who crossed Niagara Falls many times in the 19th century

Closing date for entries: 15 June 2013
Entries via email: deightondossier [at] me [dot] com

Editor's decision is final. No correspondence will be entered into. Winner notified by email.



Competition winner: Lyndsay Williams, who has been notified.

The correct answer: Charles Blondin.

Thanks to all who entered. Do think about purchasing the book anyway; it's a good read, as are the others in the catalogue.

Monday, 20 May 2013

From the bookshelf to the newsstand - the serialisation of Billion Dollar Brain

The serialisation of blockbuster books in daily and Sunday newspapers is a long-standing phenomenon in the publishing world. When Len Deighton's Billion Dollar Brain was published in 1966, it followed in the footsteps of The Ipcress File in being serialised in the Evening Standard in compressed versions over a series of weeks post publication in 1962.

Thanks - again - to regular blog correspondent "Pilgrim" from Iceland, who's been busy scouting through the archives of the Daily Express - I've reproduced below the first two pages of the ten-part compressed serialisation of Billion Dollar Brain in that paper, which started on 28 March 1966. Seeing the text of the book laid out in the traditional newspaper eight column format is certainly unfamiliar; it did mean that the book could be serialised (in an edited form) over a fortnight. Edward Milward-Oliver informs me that preceding this serialisation, there was an interview with Len by Peter Grosvenor, as a sort of curtain-raiser!

There are two fascinating aspects to this archived story: the excellent line illustrations of artist Richard Rosser and designer Robb (clearly inspired by the original cover), and the quote from Len, referencing his focus on detail in his research in his notebook which, subsequently, was reproduced in miniature form for a publicity push at publishers by the author and which can be seen here on the main Deighton Dossier website.

"Pilgrim" has shared numerous fascinating articles from newspaper archives with me, and I'll reproduce them up here as an when I can. Enjoy.

[Corrected thanks to information from Edward Milward-Oliver].


Friday, 19 April 2013

The Deighton File - friend and biographer Edward Milward-Oliver on Len ...

Due for an update
Edward Milward-Oliver, author of the very useful and fact-filled Deighton Companion and the Annotated Bibliography, has been speaking to Jeremy Duns, spy novelist, on his friendship with Len Deighton and his work on a new biography of the writer, whom he's know for many years.

Edward shares some interesting new stories and there's a fun picture of Len in France from the 1960s on the site, from the time when he was writing The Ipcress File. Edward also makes some interesting observations about the author and his impact on book titles (the use of "The...." becoming a fashionable way to title a book in the sixties and beyond).

Worth a read.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Harry Styles or Harry's Styles? .....

No, this website has not suddenly gone all 'One Direction'. This is a short post about an interesting contemporary cultural reference to Len Deighton's 'Harry Palmer' character (the unnamed spy in his first five books).

Shortlist magazine - the free sheet in London and other major cities which looks at style, consumer goods, entertainment and music - last week rand an interesting feature on the influence of 'mod' culture on the UK, forty years after its hey-day in the late sixties. Cue obvious reference to the 'Modfather' Paul Weller, parkas, Vespas and Mary Quant.

Tucked away on the third page is a reference to 'Harry's style' - Michael Caine's characterisation of Len's spy character is regarded as an icon of Mod-style. Take a look at the article below:

Spot the spelling mistake.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Bernard Samson back on TV - immediate questions this raises .....

Is this the face of Bernard Samson?
The good news of Clerkenwell Films' plans for an 18-part TV mini-series of the nine-volume Bernard Samson story means that, 25 years or more after Granada TV's excellent (but never repeated) Game, Set and Match, this greatest of Len's characters will be back in action.

In 1988, the 13-part Game, Set and Match was broadcast only once on ITV and removed from our screens, Len having withdrawn his rights to commercial distribution due to his dissatisfaction with the casting. It's never been on commercial DVD (only bootlegs available) and as a result, Bernard Samson has not had the same exposure as a character in British spy fiction as perhaps the depth of his story deserved. The planned TV series may change that.

The news yesterday is exciting if you're a fan of the original stories (and the TV series), but it also brings to mind a number of challenges and questions, the answers to which will shape the end result. Such as:

  • Who will play Bernard Samson? It was the (mis)casting of Ian Holm as Bernard Samson in the 1988 series which contributed to Len Deighton's decision to withdraw broadcast rights. The story pivots around Bernard, so the casting has to be right. Which British actor has the capacity to bring to life the character of a spy who discovers that all those he trusts have lied and betrayed him in some way?
  • How much more significant does Fiona's story become with all volumes being covered? Spy Sinker, the sixth book, replayed the story of the first five novels from Fiona Samson's perspective and reveals a number of truths about her decision to take on the task of deep-lying agent in Berlin, her relationship with her husband and her family relationships which arguably prepared her for the loneliness of being alone in the heart of the enemy.
  • Can the producers successfully recapture the grimy reality of Cold War Berlin? Most of the iconic sites one associates with Cold War Berlin - not least, the anti-fascist protection barrier or Berlin Wall as its was better known, are gone. CGI is clearly the way forward, but a good production designer will be needed to imagine what Leuschner's was like, the cells in the Normannenstrasse or the Kosinski estate in Poland, which has an important function in the latter part of the triple trilogy.
  • Dicky Cruyer's character is a crucial counterfoil and need to be done right. As the reader works through the nine books, the initial perception of Cruyer's character changes and one understands just how crucial his role in on Bernard's career and subsequent downfall and re-emergence, and just how much Bernard's critical opinion of his skills is off target.
  • The story is told largely from Samson's perspective. How will the screen writer and director address that point. We know, when the novels are read (particularly Spy Sinker), that Bernard is not always a reliable witness and analysis of what is going on around him - one of the factors in deciding to build a plot around his naiveté - so how much of the narrative will be driven by his perspective, and how much will the other characters be centre stage. Is this really the story of Fiona Samson, rather than Bernard?
  • How much of the back story will be foregrounded? In the last novel, Charity, the reader is exposed through Silas Gaunt to the full picture of the Machiavellian scheme dreamt up by Gaunt and the DG for which Fiona was the key and Samson the patsy she duped. How much of this plot developed will be revealed in sequence? Or, how much of the story which explains why field agent Bernard is stuck in a desk role (which the 1988 TV series covered extensively at the start of the story)
  • What gets left out? Even with 18 one-hour (45 mins effectively) episodes, there's still not enough time to cover all nine novels. The ITV adaptation took 13 episodes to cover just Berlin Game, Mexico Set, London Match! So, how does the screenwriter compress this multi-layered story? Will he downplay much of the Kosinski narrative in Poland? Will they pass over Spy Sinker and the hidden realities revealed in that book? Will the Prettymans be relegated to brief walk-on parts?
  • What is the core theme which the screenwriter will hook the story upon? Is it personal or matrimonial betrayal? The ruthlessness of London Central? The deceit at the heart of London Central? The love between Bernard and Fiona which shapes both character's responses to the actions played upon them? The ending of the Cold War?
  • Does the Cold War (which ended nearly 24 years ago) still have resonance for the general reader? Is the spy novel now all about the Internet, shadow cells, al Qaeda and North Korea? Will the average TV viewer remember the Cold War and its impact on the western world? Or does it really matter - is it actually the stories and the characters that will grab people's attention?
Any blog readers with their own responses to these questions, or their own ideas about how the new series could do the books justice, are welcome - encouraged, even - to share their views in the comments page.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Bernard Samson to reach the TV screen (again) ...

Soon, in celluloid (or rather, MP4)
Confirmed in today's Bookseller the news I mentioned below but had to keep stumm about: the Deighton Dossier can confirm that over 25 years after the first portrayal of Len Deighton's spy creation Bernard Samson on ITV, he is making it back onto TV ... this time, however, across all nine books in the trip trilogy.

Here is the news release from Clerkenwell Films, reproduced in full:

Oscar-winner Simon Beaufoy to bring Deighton to the screen.

Clerkenwell Films today announced that they are developing an 18 part series based on Len Deighton's classic Cold War novels featuring the iconic spy Bernard Samson. With over 40 million book sales, Len Deighton's Bernard Samson novels are regarded as his masterwork and one of the greatest spy stories of all time. Covering a vast array of international locations from London to Berlin to Mexico City and California, the series follows the exploits of Bernard Samson, an ex MI6 field agent who is drawn back into active duty in a quest to uncover the truth about his wife's defection to the KGB.

Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, The Full Monty, 127 Hours) says:

'Deighton's masterful series of novels draws the hidden political map of the late twentieth century. It is all here: murders, honey-traps and spy swaps, the double-dealing and manoeuvring of nations jousting for position at the height of the Cold War, with Bernard Samson, the Bond with brains, giving it an almost Chandleresque sense of cool. The novels have at their heart a love story of Shakespearian proportions, taking in passion, betrayal, loyalty and the lengths we will go for the love of country and the love of one another.'

Len Deighton says:

'Writing it took well over ten years of my life, and it was my hope and firm belief that some day a film company would want to bring the entire series of books to the screen. Now it has happened. The impressive resources of Clerkenwell Films - and notably the talents of Simon Beaufoy - have embarked on this exciting project. I thank everyone concerned for this happy outcome, and I am confident that Bernard, and his associates, will make many new friends'.

Murray Ferguson, Chief Executive of Clerkenwell Films says:

' With the increasing international appetite for compelling and intelligent long form serial drama, the time is ripe to bring these wonderful novels to the screen, and television is absolutely the best place to do it. With Len Deighton and Simon Beaufoy we are working with two giants in their field. Set in London, Berlin, America and around the world we will be casting from the premier league of international talent.'

Notes to Editors:

Len Deighton

The best-selling author achieved worldwide fame with his spy novels Funeral in Berlin and The Ipcress File, made into an iconic movie starring Michael Caine. Deighton's first Bernard Samson novels, Berlin Game, Mexico Set and London Match, cemented his position as one of the world's leading spy and thriller writers, and has been described by the Sunday Times as 'the poet of the spy story'.

Simon Beaufoy

Simon Beaufoy is one of the world's leading screenwriters, best known for writing the film Slumdog Millionaire which won him an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA award. Also Oscar nominated for The Full Monty, Simon's other credits include 127 Hours and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.

Clerkenwell Films

Clerkenwell Films is a multi-award winning production company. Formed in 1998 the company has gone on to establish itself as one of the leading producers in the UK, creating high quality, popular drama for both UK and international audiences. Among its credits are award-winning, critically acclaimed shows such as MISFITS, AFTERLIFE and PERSUASION.

Lot's to discuss. Starting gun fired ..... now!

Friday, 5 April 2013

News on the horizon ....

The horizon, earlier today
Can't say much yet, but there's a likelihood (I hope) of some interesting news at some point very soon.

That is all.

Keep checking back.

Monday, 1 April 2013

New shots of Samson's Berlin ....

Up on the main Deighton Dossier website I've added a new gallery page showing more of the locations in Berlin which feature heavily in the books and in the Thames TV adaptation.

I've reproduced three of the shots below. Berlin really is one of the key characters in the nine-volume series; though the city has changed dramatically from the time the books were written, the key locations which anchor the narrative are still visible:

The Soviet Army HQ at Karlshorst, source of the leaked intercept which is at the heart of the deception in the Game, Set and Match series of novels

The Müggelheimerdamm, where Werner exfiltrates agent Dr Walter von Munte
Location of the hostage transfer of Werner Volkmann and Erich Stinnes at the end of London Match

An Icelandic curiosity ....

Thanks to regular correspondent 'Pilgrim', I've come across a very unusual item: a profile of Len Deighton from one of Iceland's news magazines. It doesn't add much new in terms of telling's Len's story or understanding his stories; it's interesting simply from the point of view of emphasising how much impact Len's work had, particularly in the sixties, and the extent of that impact which went as far as this small island in the north Atlantic.

The article is from Alþýðublaðið [Icelandic readers might like to advise of the phonetic spelling!] of 5 March 1996, and seems to have been prompted by the release of The Ipcress File in Icelandic cinemas and the imminent publication of further books from the popular 'Harry Palmer' series:
Test your Icelandic language skills!
It's interesting too for the publicity picture, which I've not seen before - clearly, Len's PR team were aiming to project a clear image of him as spywriter and commentator on the Cold War, as he's dressed rather like a Stasi agent!

Pilgrim's helpfully provided a [rough] translation of the article below. Any Icelandic readers who wish to provide further comment to improve on this are welcome to do so!


On the way to fame - rich writer of spy stories, and cookbook writer in leisure

John Le Carré came "in from the cold", and we had the tenacious life of James Bond, but this whimsical Englishman, who drinks little, likes to create food and gets dizzy if he goes up high buildings, is Len Deighton, 38 years old. He has followed his famous counterpart John Le Carré's "in from the cold" with four spy stories, which are more entertaining that the stories from Le Carré and Ian Fleming.

Secret dossier

Secret Dossier (The Ipcress File) has already been filmed and many will have probably seen it: it was shown at the University Cinema recently. The film was the first book in this series, and was the first book by Len Deighton. The latest of these books is "Billion Dollar Brain". And there will be more. Len Deighton has said that he has no interest in writing serious novels: "I feel that spy stories are quite hard enough to deal with", he says. It takes him a year to write each book and six to eight months for each draft. The books have made him a multi-millionaire. He has a house in Portugal, where he cooks a lot (…. “if I get hungry”, he says), but he goes there very rarely.


Len Deighton has worked as a railroad clerk in Chiswick, a chef at the Royal Festival Hall; he has been a factory manager in Aldgate and a waiter in Piccadilly. His books are not just popular because they are about a spy, but because the spies are very normal people. This new English writer has a regular article in the English sunday newspaper The Observer. He has published two cookbooks and the main character in The Ipcress File is as equally as impressed by food as the author himself.

James Bond

Len Deighton is interested in military history and has travelled throughout most of the world, but admits that he has a tendency to exaggerate his accomplishments. He has a difficult temperament, often difficult to control, but has a good sense of humour, which is evident in his stories - "Do you think I'm a James Bond?" Deighton's anonymous spy says in one of his books.

In one of his later books he cites the phrase, which Khruschev said to Dulles, "We ought to get together and only have to pay our spies once". The spy who receives payment from both parties and never trusts anyone, can often be found in Deighton’s books. The author has gained knowledge from his time with the RAF and is knowledgeable about aircraft, weapons and food. He occasionally smokes French Gauloise cigarettes, likes music and a good lunch.

So he isn't the one we know in the "secret dossier", under the name Harry Palmer. But one thing is for sure: he is the author of books on their way to fame.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

More on the Deighton Word Processor story ...

Obsolete technology?
Friend and Deighton biographer Edward Milward-Oliver points readers in the direction of another article in today's Observer newspaper, by James Bridle, entitled 'The Power of the Pen'. It picks up on the interested generated by the Slate article on Len Deighton's pioneering use of the word processor, and includes a quote from science fiction writer William Gibson on the power a computer gives the author to develop his or her story.

Clearly, this subject's generated a lot of interest from writers and readers alike. If I see more pick up of it in the media and online I'll post the links for readers here.

Further update: the curator of e-manuscripts at the British Library has also referenced this earlier article, and added his own spin, including some interesting new photographs.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Harry Palmer turns 80 ....

UK screen giant Michael Caine has just turned eighty years old, and there has been a significant amount of coverage in the UK's - in the world's media - recognising his contribution to film over the last five decades.

I enjoyed particularly this article in the Daily Telegraph, which looks at his successful roles - and those which didn't work so well! Reading it you realise quite what a back catalogue of roles the man has, in some really iconic films spreading from the sixties right up through the present decade, with his role in Batman.

The Ipcress File is properly acknowledged as one of his successes, and his capability to embody a character perfectly is reflected by the journalist:
"Caine’s laconic spy Harry Palmer spends the opening two minutes of The Ipcress File (1965) brewing a hot cup of Java from espresso beans freshly ground on camera? Either way, after the film was released, the popularity of real coffee in Britain went through the roof, roughly in line with Caine’s career."
Happy Birthday, Sir Harry .... sorry, Sir Michael!

Monday, 4 March 2013

When the home computer took up most of your home: Deighton and the Word Processor ...

This is just one part of it ...
Len Deighton's book Bomber, as well as being cited as one of the best 100 books of the 20th Century by Anthony Burgess, was also, interestingly, the first book to be written on a word processor. We're so used nowadays to the Internet, and writing blogs, and printing out documents on Word and editing them on our mobile phones that we forget that things, for writers, were a whole lot different back in the late sixties and early seventies.

Correspondence with Deighton biographer and friend Edward Milward-Oliver this week pointed me in the direction of an excellent - specialised - article in Slate, the online magazine. This piece, by Matthew Kirschenbaum, is entitled 'The Book Writing Machine', and explains the little-known - and much contested - story of the first book to be written fully on a word processor.

Edward informs me that Kirschenbaum, an English professor writing a literary history of word processing, has been contributing to a debate within literary circles over the last few years about who did write the first book on a word processor. Early candidates included Stephen King and crime writer Stuart Woods. Thanks to a note from Edward, Kirschenbaum was put onto the fact of Len's lead in this area from the late sixties, and the result is his article (and presumably, forthcoming book!)

Len has always been a technophile and was writing in the sixties at a time when the computer was entering the office workplace and government, and creating new opportunities - and challenges - for organisations, including the security services. Computers would become an integral part of the Cold War challenge of outwitting the enemy and cracking codes in minutes that might previously have taken a code-breaker hours or even days. Len, of course, introduced the computer theme into his first series of novels. Billion-Dollar Brain features a mainframe computer that manages a series of free agents under cover in the Baltic states, working to bring down the communist state. The front cover design by Raymond Hawkey also feature one of the first Honeywell computers in the UK.

His interest in using technology to develop his writing efficiency is well establish in Kirschbaum's article, which relays - through a new interview with Len - some fascinating anecdotes about the physical reality of owning a word processor in the late sixties. Today, one is not required to remove the front window from one's flat to get an iPhone home!

Kirschbaum tells how Len was what one would nowadays call an 'early adopter'. The new IBM MTST word processor he leased in 1968 - the first owned by a private individual in the UK, arguably played a big part in helping him write his most critically-acclaimed book. The author writes:

'In the States, the MTST retailed for $10,000; Deighton leased his as a hedge against its eventual obsolescence. Because he had opted for the most expensive of the four models, it had an additional tape storage reel (much like the dual floppy disk drives that would begin accompanying personal computers a decade or so later). The operator could retain two different bodies of text at the ready “on-line,” and even blend them with one another in the course of producing finished pages—what we would today call a mail merge. For a project such as Bomber, which involved continuous cross-referencing between the different narrative episodes, this was to prove a particular advantage. Ms. Handley [Ed.- Deighton's personal assistant] was also able to take advantage of a feature that allowed special magnetic marker codes to be recorded on the tape, thus enabling near-instant access to any passage so flagged; this was crucial to ensuring consistency in the technical portions of the manuscript.
“One might almost think the word processor (as it was eventually named) was built to my requirements,” Deighton told me.'

This is not the first time that Len has shared his experiences with the early word processors, which helped to automate and speed up his already legendary approach to note taking and research. In the 1980s he wrote the forward to The Writer and the Word Processor, an instructional guide from 1984 designed for the home user, at a time when home PCs were starting to enter the living room. In his foreword, Len quoted a lunch comment from his friend, author and critic Harry Keating:

"It used to be that when writers go together, they talked about money; now they talk only about word processors"
It's a world away from how things are now, when any author has at their hand instantly the tools not only to write but the publish and broadcast their work to the whole word. And not a plug or a 5 inch floppy disk in sight.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Len Deighton turns 84 ...

Today is Len Deighton's 84th birthday; he was born in London on 18 February 1929

On behalf of the Deighton Dossier blog and website and its readers, as well as his many thousands of admirers and readers around the globe, a hearty 'Happy Birthday' goes out to Len.

It's thanks to his writing and second-to-none research that readers can enjoy so many cracking stories over the decades in which he introduced to the world of spy fiction such time-honoured characters as the 'unnamed spy' who later became Harry Palmer and my particular favourite, Bernard Samson.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Which are the 'great' British films?.....

What's the best film of all time? Everyone will have a different perspective, but any list of top films is always a good excuse for a debate on which is the best and when the golden period of movies was.

Barry Norman, film critic, has identified his top 50 British films of all time in today's Telegraph, and I'm pleased that The Ipcress File has made it into his list (which isn't ordered, but just a collection of the best 50 in his opinion). It, along with the Saltzman-produced Bond films of the mid-sixties, helped generate a great wave of classic home-spun cinema for a decade or more.

The Ipcress File it is not the only spy film in his list (he includes Skyfall, which is one of the few modern films Norman has listed, along with The Third Man). But the recent Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - which I thought was excellent - didn't make it, nor did The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Interestingly, Norman's left the last place, number 50, up to his readers to determine.

Any film list is always going to be contentious. What do you think has been missed out from the list? What espionage greats aren't in the list but should be? What doesn't justify it's place on the list?


Thursday, 24 January 2013

Bomber goes techno ....

Len Deighton's 1971 war thriller Bomber is emerging as one of the reguarly discussed 'unfilmed books'. This blog covered the news that there is a legitimate effort to put into production a film of the book, although this trail has gone rather cold. In addition, various web wanderings have turned up treatments of the book by individuals who are inspired by the film and want to interpret it creatively.

One such is Simon Heartfield. He has written an album of ambient/techno music inspired by the film, "Schrage Musik"is the result - it is the name given to the weapon used by German night fighters to attack RAF bombers, and is featured in the book. Simon takes up the story on his own blog:
"The album has a bit of a back story. The first piece of music I wrote called Schrage Musik; it was the opening track on his Venom and Eternity album in 2010. It was inspired by the 1994 BBC Radio production of the legendary Len Deighton's novel Bomber published in 1970, which told the story in real-time of an RAF Lancaster bomber crew and the inhabitants of the fictional German village of Altgarten, which is accidentally mistaken for the real target.
Shortly after it was released I was contacted by the author of the Len Deighton Companion, Edward Milward-Oliver who was writing a piece about the novel as it was being considered for the Lost Man Booker prize.
More intriguing than this was the news that finance was being sought for a film version of Bomber and Edward kindly passed on my details and my track to the producers with the hope that I might possibly be involved in some way. Interestingly, according to Edward, Len Deighton had said that he envisaged that a big screen version might have an electronic based soundtrack as the novel deals with the technology that is used by both the RAF and the Luftwaffe air defence system. Although the plans for a film version have not come to fruition I felt that I would still like to do something so I produced a soundtrack comprised of nine pieces inspired by the novel and radio version (which has not music of its own) which was released in 2011."
Also produced was an imagined film title sequence complete with cast and credits which can be seen online. Indeed, I had already stumbled upon Simon's soundtrack and opening titles sequence before.

The full album is available as a free download via Bandcamp from Monday 21st January.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Another side of Len Deighton ...

"Another Campari, darling?"
His backside, that is.

Not backside, but his back ... side!

What am I talking about? I’ve recently got hold of an extremely rate copy of Town magazine from Christmas 1965 – forty-eight years old but in fantastic condition. The front cover is a photo by James Mortimer that straightaway makes a serious statement about the style and verve of the swinging sixties.

The stunningly beautiful, winking woman is model Patti Boyd, later to become the wife of ex-Beatle George Harrison and blue guitarist Eric Clapton.

She is the woman who was subsequently purported to be the the inspiration for George Harrison's 'Something', 'I need you' and 'Isn't it a pity', plus Clapton's 'Layla' and 'Wonderful Tonight'. She was clearly in the sixties the ultimate hip 'It Girl' and lucky was the man who go to spend a morning in her arms.

The lucky man? Well, that’s Len Deighton of course, hence why it's on this blog. The image it conjures up gives a clue to the way in which men's expectations were changing: a pretty ‘bird’, sexually liberated, up front, enjoying drink-fuelled partying fun, with a handsome man on her arm, who clearly thinks he's struck lucky.

It's perhaps the ultimate fantasy for Town’s male readers of the to subscribe to, as the staid, buttoned-up 'fifties gave way to the 'sixties and men had to learn how to deal with greater personal independence and wealth.

Why is this picture interesting? Well, for a start, it’s the reverse image of the cover of Drinks-man-ship, edited by Len and produced by the same team working on Town magazine, which came out at the same time (in time for Christmas).
"Absolutely - make mind a double!"
An early example of integrated product marketing and advertising. Indeed, at the back of the magazine is an advert (right) in the form of an invitation to join the fun and purchase a copy of the book.

The book, now reasonably collectable, is a bawdy, alcohol-soaked paean to every manifestation of booze in all its forms, with contributions from some of London’s finest writers and reconteurs of the time.

However, it’s also interesting because it demonstrates Len’s status – three years after publication of The Ipcress File – as a writer and … well, nowadays one would refer to him as a “celebrity”.

One would think that a clinch with one of the most beautiful women in London would stay long in the memory.

But Len Deighton today has little recollection of this shoot: he was at the time, he recalls, very busy (with what he doesn't recall) and he remembers a car coming to collect him, going to a studio somewhere where some pictures were taken with the "delightful" Patti Boyd before he was whisked away.

Not a bad way to spend a morning!

[Thanks to blog reader Nick Flindall for his detective work on identifying Patti Boyd]