Tuesday 29 September 2009

MI:6 website covers Funeral in Berlin

Our friends over at Bond fansite MI:6 have updated their review of the Harry Palmer film Funeral in Berlin. The website finds a number of connections with the Bond films, which were developing an international following concurrently with the Palmer stories:

"The crew behind the 1966 production also included a number of past or would-be Bond family. Directed by four-time Bond helmsman, Guy Hamilton (who to date had directed "Goldfinger") and produced by 007's own co-producer, Harry Saltzman, this on-screen adaptation of Deighton's novel is very much in the style of the early James Bond adventures, but with a bleaker, darker edge."

MI:6 is a great website, worth checking out if you're a fan of Ian Fleming's super spy.

Swinging sixties on film - London's decade

London really was swinging in the sixties - fashion, music, design, the arts, everything was expanding in technicolour contrast to the slightly drab sixties. Soho was at the epicentre of much of this cultural expansion; Len Deighton, Raymond Hawkey, Peter Blake and others at Central St Martin's College and then the Royal Academy led the way in design and modern art. It was also the period when photography was at the cutting edge of art.

One of Len Deighton's friends from that period and into the seventies, Brian Duffy, is to have a retrospective of his iconic photographs on show at the Chris Beetles Gallery in London, according to this article in The Guardian. Duffy was, along with fellow Londoners Terence Donovan and David Bailey, considered one of the famous three of photographers - the so-called "black Trinity" - who shaped the modern media's image of London in this time of tumult, photographing stars like Jean Shrimpton and Michael Caine (see above), as well as capturing 'old' London, such as the Krays. The zeitgeist of this exciting time was captured well by Deighton in his book London Dossier which gave a nod and a wink to the seamier - but more exciting - side of London that was emerging steadily throughout the sixties.

Duffy subsequently became a film producer and set up a company with Deighton to produce Oh! What a Lovely War. He was also responsible for the cover of David Bowie's seminal Aladdin Sane album.

Certainly - like Deighton - he was a renaissance man and London working class boy-done-good for whom the sixties was one huge cultural grow-bag in which his artistic talents could flourish. Info about the exhibition can be found here; visit Brian Duffy's website for some iconic shots from the sixties.

(Image reproduced here copyright of Brian Duffy)

Saturday 26 September 2009

Ambiguity overcome - new additions to the Deighton Dossier main website

Today's been an afternoon of autumn spring cleaning of the Deighton Dossier site, adding more information, cleaning up a few menu anomalies and altogether making the site even better and more comprehensive than before. So what's changed?

Yesterday's Spy and Spy Story have now moved into the novels category in the book section. They'd previously been in the 'unnamed spy novels' category, linked to the original five 'Harry Palmer' novels running from The Ipcress File through to An Expensive Place to Die. I consulted the Jubilee editions of Spy Story and Yesterday's Spy - Grafton had issued paperbacks in1987 of all of Deighton's 19 books up to that point, each with a new introduction by Deighton, and I've just got hold of a pristine collection of all 19. In the introductions to these two books, he confirms that - despite textual references to the contrary, which have tripped up a number of reviewers and readers in the past (include me until recently) the character of Patrick Armstrong in Spy Story is not the 'unnamed spy' of Deighton's first novels, despite working for W.O.O.C.P. and possessing similar character links, not least a close working relationship with Dawlish.

Similarly, the unnamed narrator in Yesterday's Spy is not Patrick Armstrong, even though he maintains the same close working relationship with the US Colonel Schlegel character who appeared first in Spy Story. To some extent, I think this ambiguity was deliberate by Deighton, as it suits the murky, uncertain world of espionage and also from a marketing perspective allowed readers to maintain links with earlier stories. For example, on the US first edition of Spy Story, there is an explicit link in the blurb to the fact that the spy character from the first five novels 'returns'. I suspect this was a little over-enthusiasm on the part of the marketing department.

I've also added three new books to the book section. The Special Branch is an interesting, not widely available critical and literary analysis of 17 British spy novelists (with one chapter on Deighton) by a US english professor. Writers covered include John Le Carré, Eric Ambler, Graham Greene and of course Ian Fleming. The author is rather dismissive of Fleming's work as a writer, calling him "a minor writer who did little to advance the form." I'm sure many Fleming fans would disagree. Secondly, in the 'forewords' section of the site I've added information about The French Foreign Legion, a history written by Deighton's friend the photojournalist John Robert Young to which he provided an introduction. Finally, you may remember the writer Peter Mayle, famous for A Year in Provence. Back in 1979, he wrote a self-help book for soon-to-be-fathers, called How to be a pregnant father. Len Deighton provided 12 pages on cooking for such men, with comically simple recipes including how to make a sandwich, all illustrated in the strip style made famous in Action Cook Book. An interesting diversion.

Finally, I managed to get hold through eBay of a copy of the rare Commodore 64 computer game Len Deighton's Blitzkrieg. There's no other obvious from the design that there's a connection to the book of the same name from 1979. So, I contacted one of the designers of the game - John Lambshead - who confirmed that the publication of the deal was part of a deal with Deighton's publisher. John was a pioneer in the early period of computer gaming, and designed the first icon-driven game The Fourth Protocol, which I remember playing on my Commodore 64 in the 80s!

Saturday 19 September 2009

Well, it's definitely a biography

The Penguin edition of Horse Under Water (Penguin book 2322) from 1965 contains a great idiosyncratic author biography of Len Deighton on its first page. All of it's true...I think(!) Either way, it's a fantastic overview of Len's varied life before becoming an author. I've reproduced it in full below:

Len Deighton. Born central London 18.2.29. Mother's name Fitzgerald.

Description - Dark complexion, 14 stone, 6 feet tall. Cruel, sardonic sense of humour. Large hands, stubby fingers used to punctuate rapid, neurotic speech. Bayonet scar palm right hand. Drinks warily, seldom smokes.

Skills - Extensive knowledge military history, modern control systems, aircraft (especially helicopters), vehicles, weapons, tactics. Marksman; never hunts animals. Good cook.

Experience - Railway lengthman, Piccadilly waiter, Madison Avenue adman, Vogue fashion artist, photographer R.A.F. Mosquitoes, manager Aldgate gown factory. Seen Vista-Vision blue films in pre-Castro Cuba, typhoon in Tokyo, hurricane passing New York. Given talk over Soviet radio. Once fell into Hong Kong harbour, fatty tissue saved him.

Saturday 12 September 2009

Design news

I've had some correspondence with noted British designer Arnold Schwartzman, friend of Len Deighton and co-author with him of Airshipwreck. Arnold has been commissioned by Len and Harper Collins to design the front covers of the new Len Deighton book reissues (see postings below).

His new designs for the forthcoming reissues of the first four "Harry Palmer" novels feature on the back inside cover of the first four reissued books and they look great - montages of sixties ephemera laid out on different chess boards, each pointing towards different themes in the complex plots developed by Deighton for his classic agent character. The library at the University of the Creative Arts in Maidstone, Kent is to hold an exhibition of some of the props from these new cover designs.

Arnold tells me that his wife had a lot of fun searching across eBay for the items for each book front cover, which will be out in October (I'm anticipating my copies with great interest). He writes that he already has a concept in mind for the "Game, Set and Match" series (due out for Father's Day next year); Ray Hawkey's original designs for these books - based around knives thrust into apples - is iconic, so I can't wait to see how Arnold chooses to interpret these classic stories.

Tuesday 8 September 2009

Great quotes from Deighton's sixties zenith

I've just got hold of two pristine copies of the Penguin first editions of Billion Dollar Brain and Funeral in Berlin. These are the famous editions with Michael Caine as Harry Palmer on the front, brandishing a Sten Gun (Deighton brandishes on the back of Billion Dollar Brain too), with a colour chevron design by Deighton's great friend Raymond Hawkey.

As well as these books being design classics, they contain on the back and on the inside covers some fantastically florid quotes which sum up the sixties era of cultural and economic optimism at a time when the Cold War was paradoxically getting rather hot! Here are some great examples:

Funeral in Berlin
"A ferociously cool fable even better than The Spy Who Came in from the Cold". New York Times

"Next, big soft girls will read Len Deighton aloud in jazz workshops". Life (this one is definitely from the sixties!)

"The Raymond Chandler of the cloak-and-dagger set". San Francisco Chronicle

"The best yet... It would be an interesting exercise to itemise all the information (true and false) that Deighton manages to pack so effortlessly into his books. It will be a long time before one tires of this cynical hero who can unravel more varying situations and sew them up into an acceptable solution than anyone in the overcrowded spy writing profession." Books and Bookmen

"Absolutely perfect - suspenseful, intricate and coldly logical." Ogden Nash (US poet known for his light verse, for UK readers!)

Billion Dollar Brain
"Mr Deighton is really a poet of the spy story, fascinated by the way things work - not just poison needles and fountain pen signals, but the details of communication systems, the origins of virus growths. This book puts him with John Le Carré, so far in front of other writers in the field of the pure spy fiction thriller that they are not even in sight." Julian Symons, The Sunday Times (Symons was a British crime writer and former president of the Detection Club. He died in 1994)

"Why does a thriller writer like Len Deighton achieve such credibility, such accurate line-by-line beaming of a sheer sense of the actual, with his preposterous spy-yarn? Confidence is revealed not least by the tone of voice: a random example from his new glittering wintry entertainment is where he writes about "the sort of snow that a sharp PR man would make available to journalists", which seems a brilliant contemporary way of saying deep and crisp and even." Norman Shrapnel (!), The Guardian

"[the novel] Moves like a jetliner and hits the mood of the Sixties with deadly accuracy." Alan Forrest, Sunday Citizen