Wednesday, 21 September 2022

A different kind of Dossier: the Jackdaw 'JFK Assassination' special


An email conversation with a fellow collector recent alighted upon the topic of "The Assassination of President Kennedy", the folder (not book) of essays and pictures about the assasination of the US president compiled and designed by Michael Rand, Howard Loxton and Len Deighton.

The conversation was prompted by seeing an eBay listing for a pristine, signed copy of the Jackdaw Folder, valued at over £1,000! The price perhaps reflects that it's signed by the author, but even so, it's pretty steep. As a collector I've been tempted many times to pay over the odds for a rare Deighton, but that took my breath away. I fear the seller may have to temper their outlook.

Nevertheless, it prompted me to take my copy off the shelf, and look at it again, something I haven't done for a number of years in point of fact. And, to consider its value as a 'book', a collectable item, and its place within the wider canon of Deighton books.

It's one of the favourite items I own with a Deighton collection, for many reasons. It's format is unusual, and well designed. It's an interesting subject matter. It's rare, which is always a draw for a collector. And, perhaps, given the subject material, it's an even-handed attempt to address the most controversial of topics for which there are a thousands of books all telling a different angle on the story.

If you've only read Deighton's novels, you may not be aware of this unusual entry in his catalogue. Let's explore it further.

What is it?

This item is certainly an outlier in Deighton's catalogue. For a start, it's not a book. It's a folder, containing a number of loose-leaf items pertaining to the 1963 assassination, thematically presented to provide the reader with the basic information about the case and an insight into the discussion around it. These are:

  1. A scale model in card paper of Deeley Plaza, which the reader can build to better understand the mise en scene of the assassination
  2. A facsimile of an anti-Kennedy poster circulated in Dallas
  3. A photograph of the assassination
  4. A summary of the autopsy report included in the Warren Commission
  5. Illustrations of the President's wounds
  6. The FBI report on the autopsy
  7. A descriptive sheet of the autopsy
  8. A photo of the President's bloodied shirt
  9. Jackie Kennedy's official testimony to the Warren Commission
  10. Warren Commission document 767
  11. An advertisement for the rifle used by the assassin
  12. A reproduced of the alleged weapon
  13. A list of questions raised by the evidence
  14. Five broadsheet essays covering the different aspects of the case.



However, it's not by any means a source of information for conspiracy nuts. It's a reasoned, well put-together and interesting alternative to a dense book, for someone coming to the subject first time, such as school children.

Friday, 24 June 2022

The art of Shirley Deighton

A recent comment on this blog asked for some examples of the work of Shirley Deighton (nee Thompson), the artist and illustrator (Deighton was also an illustrator and graphic designer), who was Len Deighton's wife until they divorced in the late 'sixties. He the writer, she the artist, they were very much the creative pair in sixties swinging London.

Here are some of the paintings and images I have on file, some of which are taken from an episode of The Antiques Roadshow, in which a number of her illustrations were bought along for valuing:





















Sunday, 12 June 2022

Never a cross word

The crossword competition laid in the first edition

Earlier this month, the Guardian's crossword blog writer wrote a nice little piece about, well, crosswords, and their contribution to developing the reader's understanding of Len Deighton's famous 'unnamed spy' - later, of course, Harry Palmer.

The article looked in particular at Horse Under Water, the second book in the series but the only one of the four main books not turned into a film starring Michael Caine (the producer Harry Saltzman chose to film Funeral in Berlin first, because in the mid-60s the city had become the hot-spot of the Cold War, so to speak, and he thought it would make a better movie. While there were some early plans for a Horse Under Water film, nothing - sadly - ever materialised)

The piece recalls that, famously, the chapter headings in Horse Under Water are in the form of crossword puzzle clues, and that the crosswords on the endpapers of the original first edition drew on clues which in effect, when solved, created a sort of table of contents for the book.

I'm pleased - after getting in touch - that they used a couple of my images and provided a link to the page I have on the main Deighton Dossier website specifically to do with the crosswords in this book. In the Bernard Samson series, in London Game, Bernard Samson too is found toying with a crossword, using it to elicit a false answer from Giles Trent's sister to get to the bottom of the former's attempted suicide and his potential guilt as a London Central spy.



Sunday, 15 May 2022

It's all in the detail

Recently I purchased three original marketing photographs produced by Jonathan Cape's marketing team for the 1970 launch of the first edition of Bomber, Len Deighton's magnum opus about the experiences of the wartime bombing raids over German which is often regarded as on of his best novels (certainly, of his non-spy fiction books).

The novel is also, famously, the first modern novel written on a true IBM PC, which at the time took up much of the room in Deighton's office in his ground floor flat in London, as I wrote about a number of years ago

Although it missed out on being shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1970, Bomber was lauded by writer Anthony Burgess as one of the 99 best novels of the twentieth century in the English language. 

Part of the reason for the particular success of Bomber (which was also turned into a Radio 4 play) is Deighton's attention to detail. As a writer it has often been acknowledged by readers and critics that Len Deighton's books are full of exquisitely research details, particularly when it comes to military materiel and historical occurrences. Some readers have found this propensity for technical minutiae off-putting, but many others - myself included - feel it adds a level of realism that grounds the story and reassures the reader that they story they're reading is as true to life as it can be.

Saturday, 19 March 2022

The Ipcress File tv series - the verdict

 

Dalby, Harry and Jean ready for action

Well, after months - and I mean months - of hype and pre-publicity, the new tv adaptation of Len Deighton's The Ipcress File has broadcast its first two episodes on commercial channel ITV in the UK (and all six episodes made available on ITVhub streaming). 

And the verdict from this viewer is ... it's pretty good. Indeed, very good. An adaptation worthy of the book.

Sure, it's not the original Michael Caine film of the same name, and that's probably a good thing, so strong is the cultural imprinting of that performance on the British viewing public. If you remember that, then this new series - and the new Harry Palmer portrayed by Joe Cole - provides six hours of very entertaining, stylish, engrossing and believable drama.

Thursday, 3 March 2022

The Ipcress File TV series premiering 6 March

This Sunday in the UK - and in many of the international TV markets to which the rights have been sold - the new adaptation of The Ipcress File by ITV will be seen for the first time.

This week has seen a lot of the weekly TV listings guides in the UK publish feature articles about the series, focusing on the lead actors - Joe Cole as Harry Palmer, and Lucy Boynton as Jean Courtenay (Jean Tonneson in the book) - as well as providing some background on the book.

Much of the advanced publicity around the book has, not unsurprisingly, focused on comparisons between the new series and the original 1965 movie starring Michael Caine. Interestingly, all the signs are from the producers and the actors that while there are the odd 'tributes' to the original movie, this TV series will be different.

One advantage for the TV series of course is a bigger budget, allowing the producers to film more of the overseas scenes in the book (such as in the Pacific Atoll where a nuclear bomb test is due to take place) which the original film budget didn't stretch to.

Saturday, 19 February 2022

Happy 93rd Birthday, Len

 ... for yesterday (I forgot to post this up yesterday!).

On 18 February, Len Deighton celebrated his 93rd birthday, having been born in London - Marylebone to be exact - on that day in 1929.

Readers of his novels, his histories, and his cookbooks from around the world will I'm sure join the Dossier in sending good wishes to the author.

2022 is something of a marquee year for the author - next month, ITV broadcasts its lavish remake of The Ipcress File - and the year also marks the sixtieth anniversary of that novel's first publication in London - the first edition sold out almost on the first day, and has sold consistently well ever since, right up to last year's Penguin reissues.

Len Deighton in a 1983 publicity photo


Monday, 24 January 2022

ITV releases teaser trailer for new Ipcress File series

 UK commercial broadcaster ITV has released the first teaser trailer for the new TV series of The Ipcress File, which will be broadcast in the UK in March (details for other locations to be confirmed).


While little of the plot is given away, it's clear that the series will make some significant departures from both the book and the 1964 original film starring Michael Caine, such as the more active agent role for Jean, played by Lucy Boynton, evidence of the backstory of the 'unnamed spy' - Harry Palmer - and his role in the Berlin black market which led to military prison and ultimately, the job with W.O.O.C.(P)., plus the sidebar story involving the nuclear test in the Pacific, which is a big part of the book but which was of course not featured in the original film.

The music, too, is very different to John Barry's original film score, which may be no bad thing; it certainly hints at a more obvious thriller tone to the TV series, and there are obvious hints at more visceral action scenes than was the case in the original film.

So, early encouraging signs perhaps that this isn't just a pastiche, by-the-numbers remake, but a serious attempt to retell this classic spy story.

But the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, or in this case, the viewing. Set your TV calendars for March.

Thursday, 23 December 2021

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to Deighton Dossier readers


'"Cheer up, Werner. It will soon be Christmas," I said.'

Bernard Samson to Werner Volkmann, first line, Chapter 1, Mexico Set

Like Bernie and Werner in Werner's Audi in freezing West Berlin, we're all waiting for Christmas.

So it's an appropriate time to wish all readers of this blog - plus visitors to the main Deighton Dossier website or the Facebook group - Yuletide wishes. While blog posting this year has been rather light, on the Facebook group particularly there's still been plenty of good discussions among collectors and readers of Deighton's books.

And early in 2022 for viewers in the UK - and certainly later on in the US and likely other TV markets - we'll get to see another of Deighton's spy creations - 'Harry Palmer' (as he became) - who will be seen played by Joe Cole in the new ITV drama series The Ipcress File, broadcast 33 years after the last TV series (also on ITV) featuring Bernard Samson, Game, Set & Match.

Hopefully, the new series will bring renewed interest in the books, the character and, of course, the author.

Thursday, 7 October 2021

Deighton up for Southwark Blue Plaque

View over Southwark

As an author, Len Deighton has often eschewed literary prizes and honours, believing his work speaks for itself.

But as someone born in London, who lived there during much of his early life until his career as an author really took off, he might appreciate a blue plaque there in his name.

The Southwark Blue Plaque scheme is currently seeking support for nominees for recipients to honour those who've lived in and contributed to the London Borough.

One of the nominees is Len Deighton, who lived in a flat in Southwark during the sixties and wrote many of his books while resident in the borough.

Dossier readers are welcome to add their support for the nomination.

Thursday, 30 September 2021

More Penguin classics roll off the production line...

Today I've received in the post a further five books from the Penguin Modern Classics editions, which have been dropping onto booksellers shelves throughout 2021.

The latest editions are:

  • Close-Up
  • Yesterday's Spy
  • Spy Story
  • Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Spy 
  • An Expensive Place to Die.

The bold cover designs by Richard Green continue to be visually interesting - each book features the Ray Hawkey-inspired chevron motif linking back to his original Penguin covers from the 1960s, with some bold colour choices, each too with the 'dot matrix' B&W photo pointing to the themes explored in the novels.

The cover of Yesterday's Spy bold, with its bold white cover, hints at a nod to the original Hawkey first edition covers for the unnamed spy stories in the 'sixties, which for the time were groundbreaking in their use of white on the dustcovers, which was traditionally avoided by book designers due to its propensity to show the dirt, where customers for example picked them up to browse. 

There are a few more still to come out later in the autumn, including Goodbye Mickey Mouse and City of Gold.

I've been very impressed with Penguin's approach and its readiness to go all-in on the design motif that connects each and every book being republished and honours the company's long standing connection to the author. They've evidently taken a lot of time and care over each edition, which no doubt will help with attracting new readers to the novels.







Saturday, 7 August 2021

Eastern Europe in England

I recently did some searching of various newspaper archives and found this interesting article from the Daily Mirror newspaper from late in 1987, during the filming of the Granada TV mini-series Game, Set and Match, based on the three Len Deighton novels of the same name (which was broadcast in Autumn 1988).

Famously, it recounts how - given that the Berlin Wall still existed at the time, and filming behind the Wall was, unsurprisingly, not allowed - the producers had to improvise when filming the many scenes requiring actor Ian Holm (as Bernard) and others to be in Eastern Europe.

Gdansk, Lancashire.

For the scenes in Gdansk Railway Station, Manchester's Victoria Station (now majorly different in layout) stood in, thanks to the addition of some Polish signage and Eastern Bloc cars.

For example, Bolton Town Hall stood in for Gdansk, in the scene where Bernard goes behind the Iron Curtain to meet with Yuri Rostov to seek his defection, the failure of which leads Bernard to flee Eastern Europe via an escape across the wall (a scene which is told in flashback in the books, but which provides the opening scenes in the TV mini series that provide a context for explaining Bernard Samson's position back in London Central, desk-bound.

Other filming was done in and around the North West (the series was produced by Granada TV, the regional commercial TV station in England which formed part of the ITV network). For instance, the village of Great Budworth near Northwich stood in for Cosham (which is actually on the south coast of England in the books), for the scene where Bernard and Werner discover the body of McKenzie in the departmental safe house, left there by Erich Stinnes, who is seeking to undermine Samson's position within London Central by pinning the murder on him.

The two-page article from the Daily Mirror, which explores other aspects of the production (including the filming in West Berlin and Mexico), was part of the pre-launch publicity around the series which, despite Granada TV's largest drama budget up to that point, ultimately failed to prove the smash hit that was expected. Famously, due to disagreements with the producers during the making of the film, the commercial rights for the series were withdrawn by Len Deighton, meaning the series - and its many North West locations - haven't ever been broadcast again on British TV, or released on DVD.




Sunday, 16 May 2021

Couple of recent Deighton-related articles readers may be interested in



Things are relatively quiet with respect to news about Deighton's books - now that the Penguin editions are starting to roll out - but there are still the odd article relating to the author and his works for readers to be aware of.

In The New Statesman (a UK-based, broadly left-of-centre magazine), journalist John Gray has written a profile style piece called Len Deighton and the mundanity of spies. If you can look past the odd spelling error (sub-editors failed to correct a reference to 'Leighton'), then it's worthwhile giving it a read, as the writer compares Deighton's spy thrillers with other classic characters and stories from Maugham and Fleming and others.

Earlier in the month, in The Observer, Deighton's son Alex - who has been co-authoriting the most recent cookstrips in the magazine with his father (now, sadly, at an end), discusses with the interviewer the recent launch of the new Penguin Modern Classics editions, and his father's continued legacy of books being enjoyed by new generations of readers.

Saturday, 13 March 2021

New Disney editions looking very stylish

Last year, it was announced that Penguin had secured the paperback writes to Len Deighton's fiction and non-fiction output, and would publish them under its Penguin Modern Classics imprint. 

The first cover images for the initial releases in the series have been released, and they look mightily impressive, based on those available so far (all the books are available for pre-order, but not all covers have been shared yet).

The overall look and feel has been created by Penguin's Art Director Tony Stoddart, and what is immediately apparently is how his overall feel seems to make passing references to previous Penguin film tie-in editions from the sixties, with the famous covers featuring Michael Caine as Harry Palmer, which were designed by Len Deighton's long-time collaborator, Raymond Hawkey.

Take a look, and see what you think.

Funeral in Berlin 2021, designed by Tony Stoddart

Funeral in Berlin 1966, designed by Ramond Hawkey

The orange chevron in the new edition is a wonderful homage to the famous - and famously successful - three editions of the 'Harry Palmer' novels which were published by Penguin in the 'sixties; they did not, however, have the rights to The Ipcress File.

These new editions will include all Deighton's fiction output, plus many of his historical works too.


Friday, 26 February 2021

Another serendipitous find

As a collector of Len Deighton's output (along with a couple of other authors) for a number of decades, through talking to dealers, scouring second-hand book shops and trawling online sites like ABEBooks, I've got a pretty good idea of what the market is:

  • Which books are rare
  • How often the crop up in the market
  • What represents good value
That allows me, as a collector, to be more focused and targeted and ensure that any spare cash I use on adding to my collection, is well-used and helps me get a more complete collection.

Every so often, something comes along that I've never heard of or seen before for sale; one recent example explored here on this blog was the SS-GB Whitehall postcard - super rare - which I found after years of searching. Surprisingly, within a couple of months, I found another (which I purchased) that included some of the original publicity content sent out to booksellers.

Feast and famine, and serendipity. Such is the experience of the serious book collector.

This week, I found another item that was totally off my radar. It's a limited edition book of illustrations, called An Alphabet in praise of Frogs and Toads by John Norris Wood. And, it has a foreword by Len Deighton (as a serious collector, I don't collect just Deighton's books, but his forewords and book jacket illustrations too). 







Why? Well, it turns out Wood and Deighton were fellow students at London's Royal College of Art, where both were graphic designers and illustrators. Deighton's forward recalls his time at the college and his friendship with Wood. The book itself is simply page after page of - admittedly well done - pictures of frogs and toads. But, as a limited private printing of just 320 copies, it's rare.

I checked with other collectors and online and found that the market price was in the £2-300 mark.

Me? I paid £50 online for it. I'd consider that a bargain for something so rare. 

It just goes to show that for those of us who enjoy collecting books - of whatever kind - there's always something new to find, and that's why we do what we do; that's why collectors are rarely satisfied or say to themselves, "You know, I'm done."

Happy collecting.