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.


  1. Fascinating stuff. A Beatles Gene Kelly film would have been remarkable. IIRC the Beatles were also linked with a proposed Lord of the Rings movie about that time.

    It seems likely that McCartney was trying to 'reposition' the Beatles into the films. What remains is the Magical Mystery Tour (from 1967) which features, although I can't find a you tube clip, an army recruiting office scene. I wonder if that was inspired by discussions re.Oh what a lovely war?

  2. " Len indicated that he had imagined putting the Beatles together with Gene Kelly to direct such a movie.."
    Not sure Gene Kelly would have been involved as he was not known as a rabid Vietnam War protestor then, when the Americans thought then that the War was winnable including L B Johnson. General Maxwell Taylor, WWII 101st airborne commanding fame had just finished his recent stint as ambassador to South Vietnam (1964-1965)as JFK adviser he was bot known for pull out, and Robert Kennedy was still alive as the escalation of War in Vietnam reflected the commitment of his late brother. Kelly as a devoted Irish-American would not have done this to oppose the Vietnam commitments of an Irish-American president.