Monday 1 April 2013

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.

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