Monday, 22 October 2018

Ein Spaziergang durch Berlin - SamsonFest 2018 podcast now out


Deighton Dossier readers, after nearly three months of hard editing, stitching together, curating and adding of music, the Spybrary SamsonFest 2018 podcast is now available here on Spybrary.

Over one hour and eight minutes of conversation from six spybrarians wandering around freely across East and West Berlin - this time, with no Wall in theway - in the footsteps of Bernard Samson, and using Berlin Game as a jumping off point for convesations about Len Deighton's other works, and thenceforth into spy fiction and spy fiction culture in general.

All helped by lots of lovely German libations, freely poured and drunk.

While it talks more widely than Berlin Game, we were careful to keep it spoiler free, so if you haven't read beyond this book - and why not? - it's safe for you to listen.

Hope you enjoy it.




Tuesday, 18 September 2018

A short, shorts story ...


Interesting little media snipped from the Irish Independent newspaper today.

Readers my know that during the seventies, Len Deighton and his family lived for part of the time in rural Ireland, in Blackrock.

A long-time resident of the village has written his memoirs, and reveals a short - but cheery - anecdote about the author's time in the village. Read here.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Up for discussion ... Berlin Game

Start of something good - Book Club Edition podcasts on Spybrary
The first Spybrary Book Club podcast edition is now out!

Check it out here.

Shane Whaley, Peter Newington and I spend an hour discussing Berlin Game, the first in the Samson series of nine spy novels.

A great story in and of itself, in the discussion we also explore the context in which the novel sets, the nine-book meta narrative for which Berlin Game is the explosive launchpad.

Peter's contribution - he's a Deighton newcomer - is essential to this podcast as he brings fresh perspectives which sometimes chime, sometimes differ with those of Shane and I.

And Peter now has the exciting opportunity to read the whole ennealogy without knowing what happens next!

Enjoy the listen, and share your thoughts below.


Saturday, 1 September 2018

Game, Set and Match - Spybrary book club first edition

We're discussing Berlin Game, but Mexico Set and London Match will likely come up too

Readers, next Wednesday I'll be recording - with Spybrary's Shane Whaley and Peter Newman, the inaugural Spybrary monthly book club. It should appear on the website fairly soon after that.

The subject matter - Len Deighton's Berlin Game, the first in the nine novels looking at the experiences of his Bernard Samson character, the cynical, care-worn and desk bound former agent bought out of 'retirement' to deal with issues in the Brahms network. It's - arguably - Deighton's finest novel (when considered as a trio with Mexico Set and London Match I think) so there'll be plenty to talk about and plenty of different perspectives on the novel.

Shane is keen that the book club garners as many views as possible from Spybrary listeners on this classic of spy fiction, which will - he hopes - be the first of many book club sessions which will give readers a chance to contribute on all manner of spy fiction books. If you have views on this novel you want to share - whether you like it, hate it, or haven't finished it even - then check out the discussion on the Spybrary Facebook page.

By the way, Shane has still to edit the audio content from the recent 'SamsonFest' trip to Berlin, but be assured - this should be up on spybrary.com soon!

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Going "drüben"

Drüben, which in German means "over there", is frequently used by Werner Volkmann and Bernard Samson in the Game, Set and Match books as a cover for going behind the Iron Curtain into East Berlin, bailiwick of one Erich Stinnes, KGB Colonel.

This last weekend, the Deighton Dossier - with Shane Whaley from Spybrary and some other spybrarians - went "drüben", even though the Wall is now, to most Berliners, a hazy memory. Our objective was to visit a few of the places that feature in Berlin Game, the opening novel of the Game, Set and Match ennealogy, to help listeners gain insight into why these books are landmarks in spy fiction, why Bernard Samson is the most unconventional and conflicted of spies, and why Berlin makes such a great location for spy fiction (and for podcasts).

So, we went to Checkpoint Charlie (venue for the marvellous opening scene in Chapter One which tells us so much about Bernard and Werner's relationship), Friedrichstrasse S-Bahn (Bernard's frequent route "drüben", Tante Lisl's house in Charlottenburg (at least, the one portrayed in the mini-series from 1988), and Normannenstrasse. Along the way we read passages from the books, talked about the characterisations, mixed in some general spy fiction chatter, all of which should lead to a great edition of the Spybrary podcast.


Saturday, 14 July 2018

Let's go clubbing ...


Shane Whaley over at Spybrary - as if he hasn't got enough on his hands already, what with running the best spy fiction podcast out there - has a new initiative.

He's started a regular monthly book club for listeners to discuss different spy fiction novels each month, not only by recorded their comments up on the website but by recording and broadcasting their comments on a new show, which will feature a number of guests discussing the work and drawing out why the book in question deserves to feature on every spybrarian's bookshelf.

The first novel under discussion? I'm pleased that Shane's asked the Dossier to help with that, and we're going to be discussing Len Deighton's Berlin Game next month.

If you want more information about the book club and this first book - and how you can contribute your views, whether it's the first time you've read the novel or, like me, it's a perennial favourite - click here.

What with the upcoming 4 August Spybrary 'Samsonfest' meetup in Berlin, it's a great opportunity for readers old and new of Deighton's magnum opus to share their views, argue, and agree and disagree about this book (and the nine that follow in the series).

Monday, 2 July 2018

Wir treffen uns an der Mauer ...


So, it's on.

The joint Spybrary - Deighton Dossier Berlin 'tref' or 'Samson-Fest' will take place in Berlin on 4 August, when we record an 'outside broadcast' edition of the podcast devoted to the Samson ennealogy.

Join us, if you can.

More information on Spybrary's website.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Berlin Pension plan ...





These images were sent to the Dossier by a German visitor, Peter Hegenbarth, a resident of Kissinger Strasse in Berlin, who wrote me the email from an office just above where Checkpoint Charlie used to be. They are of the grand nineteenth century house on Bleibtreustrasse, number 49, in the Charlottenberg district.

Eagle-eye readers who've seen the bootleg copies of the never-repeated Granada TV Game, Set and Match series from 1988 may recognise it as the location of Pension Hennig, the German family hotel in which Bernard Samson grew up, and in which he stayed when on a mission "drüben" ("over there") in East Berlin.

Peter writes:
"I came from the Palmer movies to read the books behind them. So then, I took a great interest in the other of Deighton’s books which were made into movies. Hence, to the 'Game Set & Match' TVseries that I found on YouTube. And after that, I found my way to Dossier dossier and its page on the series."
The hotel featured in the opening titles of the TV series and in the books, it is to his old childhood room, underneath the roof - with no bathroom - that Bernard Samson often retreated after a mission. A great example of a Prussian family townhouse that was converted into a pension.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Not soft, but hard boiled

Some eggs, yesterday.
Last year, on this blog, I posted up link to an article by Dr Robert Lance Snyder, a retired US academic, in an English literature periodical looking at the literary context and impact of Len Deighton's first book, The Ipcress File.

Well, over the winter, Dr Snyder's clearly been busy. He's recently produced another lengthy academic textual analysis of Len Deighton's fiction more broadly, which is published in last month's edition of Papers on Language & Literature, 54.2 (Spring 2018): 155-86.

Titled "Arabesques of the Final Pattern", his paper draws links back to Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe and the 'hard-boiled' detective story, and uses this genre as a jumping off point to explore how Deighton uses elements of this literary style in his Cold War fiction.

Dr Snyder's shared with me a .pdf copy of the article, which Dossier readers can access via this Dropbox link





Monday, 7 May 2018

Site refresh ...


This morning I've updated the main Deighton Dossier website, giving it a 'spring clean', so to speak.

Most of the main photographs have been updated and watermarked, and a few extra elements have been added where I've had new information of images to add that haven't previously been on the website.

Do go an explore it again if you haven't done so for a while. If you have any feedback about new elements on the site that you'd find helpful, drop me an email.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

False Dawns and Development Hell - the fate of 'non-movies'

It is the fate of perhaps the majority of books which are 'optioned' to be made into films of TV series never to reach the small or silver screen. While there are some lucky writers, like Ian Fleming, whose entire canon pretty much has been adapted in some, even for established spy and thriller writers like Len Deighton - whose books memorably delivered the 'Harry Palmer' trilogy of movies - getting optioned is no guarantee of seeing a film or TV series being produced.

There are, in the Deighton canon - as is the case with other writers too - many stories which had hopes of being made into films or TV series, but have instead languished as 'non films', ethereal 'might have beens' which are destined to roam the corridors of Hollywood or Soho as film spirits, seeking a corporeal existence.

I was prompted to think about these might-have-been films after some Twitter communications with a Dossier reader George White of Ireland, who got in touch asking if I knew anything about the filmed version of SS-GB made in the 1970s in Canada?

What might the Canadians have done with this?

I admitted I didn't, but it piqued my curiosity. Especially so as the novel SS-GB had - finally - made it to the BBC as a mini-series in the spring of 2017. The seventies version was, George informed me, evidently a Canadian tax dodging exercise in Canada by the film mogul Harry Alan Towers.

This producer, who had a varied career in the UK with the BBC and then internationally, frequently churning out what might be called product targeted at the lower quality end of the market, or producing films linked to Liechtenstein-based companies - tax write-offs, in other words - has a couple of interesting Deighton connections.

In 1995, he was responsible largely for persuading Michael Caine to return as spy anti-hero Harry Palmer in two straight-to-DVD movies, the (infamous) sequels to the sixties classics: Bullet to Beijing, directed by George Mihalka, and Midnight in St Petersburg, directed by Douglas Jackson, both filmed in a Russia adjusting to the post-Gorbachev economic realities of gangster capitalism.

So we have Towers to thank - if that's the word - for these two movies reaching the screen and reminding viewers, in a perverse way, of just how good the original Harry Palmer movies were. That Deighton had very little say in the matter is a reflection on Towers' approach to quality film-making and, more importantly, deal making!

As Len Deighton told the Deighton Dossier in November 2011:
"When I was asked to give the OK for the Harry Palmer character to be used on these original screenplays my feelings were negative. I said, ‘If you can persuade Michael to play the lead I will let you have the necessary screen rights.’ I was quite confident that I would hear no more about it. But I did. They were not stories I had written. In fact I was not involved in any way other than my agreement to the character rights. When I eventually saw the films I thought they were both well above average. Michael was inspired as always and the locations were great."
Len here may be being overly generous as while fun curios, they're not a patch on the originals.

So, I knew of Towers' involvement in these two films - and his connection to Linsday Shonteff, maverick director of the equally questionable adaptation of Deighton's Spy Story; Shonteff directoed Towers' sixties exotic drama Sumuru (no, I've never heard of it either!) - but not of his SS-GB attempt.

Anyway, checking the BFI film register online, it turns out that indeed Harry Alan Towers did get some way with filming SS-GB. It was to have starred James Mason (presumably as Douglas Archer?), Rod Steiger, Ralph Richardson and Kate Nelligan andbeen directed by Peter Carter. It sounds like a potential quality film - judging by the line-up of actors - but, like many films, never reached the cinema or the TV screen, ending up as an 'unfinished project' which, like so many, never got off the ground. Towers died in 2009.

There are other Deighton books that have similarly sat frustratedly on the movie tarmac, waiting to get off the ground and fly. Stuck, in other words, in 'development hell' where movie options are ten-a-penny and successfully completed projects are as rare as hen's teeth.

Bomber, for example, is one of Deighton's greatest works - one of the 99 novels of the 20th Century according to Anthony Burgess - but has never made it to the silver screen. In the early nineties, there were plans to bring it to cinemas but the production was switched by producer Michael Caton-Jones to the US and became instead Memphis Belle (the story is no dissimilar), primarily on account that there were more sky-worthy US Flying Fortresses at the time for filming than Lancasters, which feature heavily in Deighton's novel.

Destined to be stuck on the runway?

As I reported back in 2010 on this blog, it was 'in development' by a London-based financier called Bob Wigley. Eight years on, the legal option for this movie clearly still weighs down Wigley's bookshelf (and he has never responded to email enquiries about the status of the film). And while the option is still owned by him, it's not open to others to try and make what could be one of the great British wartime movie stories. 

Options are simply that: an opportunity to make a film agreed with the author, which can remain valid for many years before lapsing. It proffers no obligation on the rights owner to make a film. An option is simply a potential film, an idea which requires financing, timing, and the right cinema market to be made.

So even those SS-GB got through the options stage in the 'seventies, it never made it through production, which could have been due to a number of factors - the state of the market; changing consumer tastes; lack of available financing; lack of distribution options. Bomber, by all accounts, is balked by similar considerations.

The great second 'Harry Palmer' novel, Horse Under Water, has I've been reliably informed also been held under option for a number of years, with the intention of eventually filming an 'updated' version of the story that will likely depart from the Caine-influenced Palmer tradition. But again, in terms of actual work on the film or any financing efforts, I've heard nothing since. Another 'non-film' that makes the viewer wonder just what might have been, or could still be. Another book which has been optioned at some point, I understand, is Goodbye Mickey Mouse. But that's all it really is, a rumour, an idea.

The most egregious example of 'development hell' - where development is a euphemism for doing nothing - is the Game, Set and Match ennealogy, whose rights were purchased by Clerkenwell Films. As I reported five years ago on this blog, the company made a big song and dance at the time of bringing in Oscar-winning producer/director Simon Beaufoy on board and talking of 'big names' in the frame.

Will this ever get re-made?

Five years on, the tumbleweed continues to drift aimlessly across this particular development desert. Indeed, the original announcement can no longer be found on their website, which gives a hint perhaps as to where it is in the company's priorities. Is this book destined to be another 'ghost' mini-series, never to see the light of day?

If it is, then Clerkenwell are missing the boat. In these days of Amazon Prime and Netflix when box-set mini-series are produced with production line frequency and are gorged on by viewers, and at a time when with the success of films like Homeland the public's appetite for spy thrillers with complicated tapestries and convoluted story arcs remains unsatiated, Game, Set and Match - all nine stories, mind, not just the first three filmed by Granada TV in 1988 but never re-broadcast - offers a potentially thrilling and deeply satisfying mini-series.

But it can't do that while the options remain sitting in Clerkenwell Film's to-do pile. Come on, Clerkenwell Films, and do us all a favour - if you're not going to make Game, Set and Match, give someone else a go. Let's not have another film end up as just another missed opportunity.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Happy 89th Birthday

89 today
On behalf of readers and fans of his work, the Deighton Dossier - set up to bring those people together online to celebrate and discuss Len Deighton's books - would like to wish the author a happy 89th birthday.

While long in retirement, and enjoying retirement with his family, children and numerous grandchildren, Deighton's influence on fiction and spy fiction in particular, still resonates. Every so often, one reads about one author or another being dubbed 'the new Deighton'. That's a great testament to the quality of the author's impact.

Readers of the Deighton Dossier raise a glass today and say: 'Happy Birthday'!

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Brush pass this interesting podcast


As readers of this blog may know, the Spybrary podcast by fellow Deighton fan and friend of the Deighton Dossier Shane Waley is pulling up trees in the world of podcasting and is now, arguably, the best podcast for all things spy fiction.

This week, he's added the thirty-third podcast, a 10-minute 'brush pass' episode looking at Deighton's Yesterday's Spy novel from 1975. His fellow spybrarian on the podcast is the author of the 'Agent Palmer' blog, the pseudonymous Agent Palmer himself.

If you've not yet read this book, one of his 'non-Palmer' novels from the seventies, this is a good introduction.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

What's so special?

A woman, scorned

The first edition is the ultimata ratio of any book collector, the Holy Grail of the bibliophile. But there is also gold in the unusual and lesser known.

This blog post was prompted by an email from a Dutch Deighton fan and collector, Henk Konings, who sent me the image of his Companion Club Edition An Expensive Place to Die, above. It got me thinking - are they, and other unusual imprints or later editions, as important as the first editions to a collector? Or are they just sprinkles on an otherwise delicious cake?

As a long-standing collector of Len Deighton's works (alongside the works of Spike Milligan), I've always had uppermost in my mind the need, the challenge of completism, to be able to track down and secure (for as little money as possible) a copy of every book in its UK first edition format (and often, too, the US and German first editions).

Over years of collecting it's generally been relatively easy to do as, maybe until the last five to ten years, Len Deighton's first editions - with a couple of exceptions - have been both competitively priced - as against, say, John Le Carré or Ian Fleming first editions - and relatively available on the market and in second-hand bookshops.

Sure, one or two editions - and I'm thinking of when I finally picked up my pristine Billion Dollar Brain first - have required some tracking down and financial outlay. But it's been an achievable challenge such that relatively early in my collecting career, I had got most of the first editions lined up on my shelves.

As a fan first - but also a collector - my thought was then: what next? That's when I started on the next phase of my collecting, when I started to actively track down special editions, book club reproductions and other oddities which the purist, perhaps, might overlook.

Why? Well, based on my collection - and, judging from Henk's email, others' too - these special editions can be just as fulfilling to track down and interesting to consider as the first editions in terms of book design, style and illustration than the first editions, if not more so in some cases. First editions are ultimately about rarity and first impressions. When you don't have rarity, an alternative edition has to offer something else.

Book of the month

From my own collecting, online hunting and correspondence with other collectors, there are plenty of readers who like to focus on book club editions, such as the ubiquitous Book of the Month Club or the slightly more urbane Franklin Book Club special editions, as a collecting goal in themselves.