Sunday 26 December 2010

Weird internet video #54...

Doing a bit of Boxing Day surfing of the Internet, as you do, I came across this video posted on YouTube:

What to make of it? It's a pretty accurate synopsis of the novel Bomber, as the title of the video implies, but .... well, I can't work out if it's a parody, a skit or some sort of public service video for people who can't be bothered to read a whole book. Great headgear though!

Anyway, take a look, and you decide....

Saturday 27 November 2010

Do a lot of people know this? Caine on Palmer....

(c) Hodder & Stoughton 2010
I've recently purchased a copy of Michael Caine's new biography, The Elephant to Hollywood (the Elephant in question being a tough suburb of south London called Elephant & Castle). It's a celebrity memoir, so I wasn't expecting anything on a par with say The Moon's a Balloon by David Niven - the yardstick for great actor biographies. But Caine is a good storyteller and his natural south London charm comes across well.

Also, of course, he's the man who brought Len Deighton's spy-with-no-name character - later dubbed Harry Palmer - to life in the 'sixties and - like Sean Connery - changed the depiction of the modern spy on celluloid forever. There are a number of stories in his biography about this pivotal role; some, sure, we've read before, but others which offer new insight into the production and Caine's approach to this role.

Below are some choice cuts from the book.

On The Ipcress File and the naming of the Palmer character:
"The whole point about Len Deighton's anti-hero was that he was deeply ordinary - so ordinary he could always be underestimated. Deighton had never given him a name and that was our first challenge. 'We need something dull,' said Harry [Salzman - the producer of the film]. There was a long silence while we all pondered. 'Harry's a dull name,' I ventured brightly. The silence became very chilly indeed. Harry Salzman gave me a level glance. The room held its collective breath. Harry started to laugh. We all laughed with him. 'You're right,' he said. 'My real name,' he said, turning to me, 'is Herschel. Now for the surname .... Nothing seemed to be right. Harry, as always, had the last word. 'I met a dull man once called Palmer,' he said. And Harry Palmer I became."
Though I'm sure thoroughly burnished over the years by re-telling, it goes to demonstrate that while Harry Palmer so obviously 'works' for the character, the name itself seems to have been a fluke!

On the famous 'cooking scene' in Ipcress File, which was almost nixed by the studio in the US
"After the first rushes, we got a cable from Hollywood. 'Dump Caine's spectacles and make the girl cook the meal - he is coming across as a homosexual.' This is not the exact message - I've cleaned it up a bit - but the implication is clear enough. We had deliberately gone anti-Bond and as well as the glasses, we'd decided that Harry Palmer should be a cook, which was admittedly risky stuff in Britain in 1964, but we made it work. So when Harry goes to a supermarket and pushes his shopping trolley around, it turns into a fight with the trollies as weapons. And when Harry seduces the girl, he doesn't wine and dine her in a fancy restaurant, he takes her home and cooks her dinner - making an omelette by breaking two eggs at once in one hand. (I could see how seductive this could be, but I never mastered it and so in the movie it is writer - and fantastic cook - Len Deighton's hand you see doing the trick."
On filming at the epicentre of Cold War tensions in Funeral in Berlin
"The last time I had occupied the city was in my National Service days in 1951 and it had been a very different place. Now, the wall dividing East and West was an ever present reminder of the Cold War. The East German soldiers watched us through binoculars the whole time we were filming there. At one point they were obviously not happy with the way things were going and shone a mirror at our camera lenses until we had to give up and find another spot."
On being a pioneer as the star of Billion Dollar Brain
"I was very pleased to be playing Harry Palmer again, and I thought - and still think - that Billion Dollar Brain is a really atmospheric movie. It was way ahead of its time, too. I recently discovered that in Billion Dollar Brain I was the first person to use the Internet on screen. At the time I just assumed it was one more piece of technological spy wizardry and back then I certainly couldn't get the hang of it, so I did what all actors do, which is to ask the experts for some emergency coaching, to make me look as if I knew what I was doing."
On the disastrous filming of Bullet to Beijing and Midnight in St. Petersburg
"What I was about to do almost finished me off. The thing is, it sounded really attractive. I was going to work with an old friend. It turned out to be my worst experience ever ..... The filming itself was a joke. The final blow came when we were filming in the LenFilm studio itself. I wanted to go for a pee and they directed me to the toilet. I could smell it fifty yards away and when I got there I found the filthiest toilet I had ever seen in my life. I went outside and pee'd up against the soundstage. So this is where my career had ended, I thought to myself: in the toilet. I'm done."
Having watched both those movies, the image of a rank toilet does seem very appropriate!

The Elephant to Hollywood is published by Hodder and Stoughton and is priced at £20 in the UK.

Sunday 14 November 2010

The reissues (11) - Spy Hook

Spy Hook - photo (c) Harper Collins
After a blogging hiatus of a few weeks, I'm pleased to get back to blogging about the world of Len Deighton and bring you some news about the latest reissues from Harper Collins. Having brought out new editions of Berlin Game, Mexico Set and London Match, Bomber, Winter, and Len's two most famous cook books, the next off the conveyer belt are Spy Hook, Spy Line and Spy Sinker. All three were reissued this autumn (along with Close-Up).

Spy Hook is the next novel in the nine-volume Bernard Samson series, and follows the tumultuous ending to London Match, which saw Bernard's wife Fiona - now a KGB colonel - outwit him on the streets of Berlin to get rid of a rival and plant further seeds of doubt in the minds of London Central about her husband's position.

Crucially, the action takes place three years on from Fiona's defection. It is evident in this story that those three years have taken their toll on Bernard: though now romantically involved with Gloria Kent from the office, his work has suffered and the hurt of being having been under suspicion by his colleague still eats away at him. Old friend shun him, and he's somewhat 'out of the loop', which for an agent is not a great place to be.

Questions still remain about his wife's defection and, like any good agent, in this novel Bernard starts to pick up the threads of what happened in Berlin and - through a fortuitous meeting with an old colleague in the US - he starts to weave together the strands of what happened to his wife ..... and comes up with a disturbing picture.

We meet a lot of new characters at the start of this trilogy, many of whom the reader will have met in the prequel, Winter, which was published shortly before the second trilogy. Crucially, Bernard stumbles across his old boss, Bret Rensselaer, who was - he thought - mortally wounded in the shoot out that was the denouement of London Match. What Bret has to say makes Bernard question everything that's happened since Fiona defected, and it sets up the next two novels nicely.

The new design
Designer Arnold Schwartzman - long-time friend of the author - has created a tour de force of book design with a design narrative that stretches across all nine books but which gives scope, in each volume, for cover designs that tell a story straight away and hint at the machinations and twists in the novel.

Again, he has used an image of 'Bernard Samson' - for me, it's not how I imagine Bernard to look from reading the texts, but it does provide a strong visual hook and emphasises that Bernard is at the centre of everything (but not always knowingly and often without being in control).

Once again, the Berlin Wall is themed in the front cover and on the images used on the back cover. The reader sees immediately how Schwartzman has "hooked" Samson's image on the sharp end of the hammer & sickle, suggesting - appropriately - the extent to which the character's arc in this story is controlled by malevolent forces on the other side of the wall. Schwartzman writes that the wall image on the front cover was taken at the time when the wall came down, adding a poignant touch.

With the fourth book, Schwartzman's clever touch of using air travel baggage tags to spell out Bernard Samson's name is beginning to take shape. On a bookshelf, with the six books lined up, it creates a visual unity which looks great and emphasises the  scope of these books.

The new introduction
This book stands alone as a story, but also propels along the meta narrative of Bernard and Fiona's relationship and its interlinking to shifts in the operation of the Cold War, in which both are inextricably caught up.

Deighton makes the point in his introduction that, having completed Game, Set and Match, he didn't want to go straight into writing another three books. In fact, he took himself away to write somewhere new, and put aside the existing plans he had for the next books in the novel. It had an effect - he wrote Winter, which I and many other readers regard as essential to understanding the wider Samson trilogy. Deighton explains why that needed to come first:

"I drafted a completely different book that would take a lot of time and energy. I decided that I must complete it before starting the second trilogy. A prequel seemed a valuable addition and almost a necessity. There were so many things I wanted to say about the characters that surrounded Bernard, especially the elderly ones. My story would have to cover a long period .... I decided to call it Winter. Much of Winter was already in my mind as noted extensions of existing characters. Winter [would be] a chronological story but it had to conform to my chart and the overall plan  - and all the biographical characterisations - for nine Samson books."
Deighton makes clear in his notes in this introduction that Spy Hook is about Bernard's shifting relationships with the women in his life - the abandonment (apparently) by his wife and the comfort offered to him by Gloria, who as the story unfolds is demonstrably the one certainty in his life; at least, that is what Bernard thinks.

But this relationship lies heavy on Bernard. This is a story about the impact of guilt, Deighton says, about Samson's domestic situation. It leads him to question everything and to try to get to the root of what really happened in Berlin. As Deighton writes:
"It becomes essential for Bernard to believe his wife is not only a defector but personally dishonest and disloyal and thief too. Only by proving this to his master and to himself will Bernard be able to shed, or at least be able to soften, the deep feelings of guilt he has about being in love with the much younger, and sometimes childlike, Gloria. It is the depth of his love for Gloria that makes his quest so important to him."
Spy Hook is where the Samson series goes to another level and becomes more than just a spy story. It is a multi-level, multi-character examination of human weakness and frailty, set against the last years of the Cold War.

Monday 1 November 2010

Caution: Slow blogging

Readers to the blog will notice that posting's been a little slow of late. This is mostly due to my purchasing a new home and dealing with all that goes with it.

Normal service will be resumed shortly, where I'll have reviews of the three latest reissues from Harper Collins and a fascinating archive magazine feature by Deighton.

Friday 15 October 2010

New competition - win a first edition of Mike Ripley's Angels Unaware

Author Mike Ripley - creator of the award-winning crime series starring detective Ray Angel - is known to this blog through his books and his column on crime, spy and thriller writing which he writes on the Shotsmag website, called 'Getting Away with Murder'. As readers will see from the previous blog post, his friend Len Deighton has provided a guest blog on this month's edition of the column.

Someone once described Ripley as a writer who writes 'like a young Len Deighton, wierd and wonderful information and very, very funny'. He's also been described as 'England's funniest crime writer' by The Times and he is also a respected critic of crime fiction, writing for the Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Times and the Birmingham Post among others.

Ever generous, Mike has donated a signed first edition hardback copy of his latest novel, Angels Unaware. This book follows the adventures of his celebrated character Fitzroy Maclean Angel, who is not your ordinary private detective. In this new comedy crime thriller, the world he inhabits is strange and it is about to get stranger. A new born baby means no more cases, no more fingerprinting and no more espionage and, with the arrival of his aging, hippy mother, he has swapped bloodstains for paint stains. Domesticity, or the lack of it, has replaced his high-paced, crime-solving lifestyle. That is, of course, apart from the AWOL screenwriter whose mother's funeral he must attend.

I've just started reading another copy of this book and it's already proving a great page turner on the train into work each morning, following in the tradition of the Angel series of stories.

For a chance to win this signed copy of the book, answer this (ridiculously easy) question:

On the front cover of this book there is a supportive review quote from author Colin Dexter. For creating which fictional detective is Colin most noted?

Please email your answers through the blog or to me directly by the 4th November 2010. A winner will be picked at random from all the correct answers. This competition is open to international readers of the Deighton Dossier Blog, the numbers of which, judging by the little map on the side of blog, are increasing every week. No correspondence will be entered into concerning this competition

Update: we have a winner: Bill Creed of the USA. The correct answer was, of course, Inspector Morse. Thanks to all of the readers of this blog who took part.

Saturday 2 October 2010

Len's Shots Mag appreciation of Ray Hawkey

Well done to author Mike Ripley who's arranged for his friend Len Deighton to pen a short blog post on the late Ray Hawkey in the latest edition of Getting Away With Murder, on the Shots website.

Deighton, who seems in fine fettle judging by the recent photo included, talks about the wonderful designs and innovations Ray brought not only to his works, but also to other novels. The extent of that detail is bought home in the story about the miniature champagne bottles used to market Close-Up to book sellers. I thought I knew pretty much everything about all the ephemera associated with Deighton's books, but this was a new one for me.

Saturday 25 September 2010

Monday - CBC documentary on Len Deighton

Earlier this year I spent a day with radio producer Philip Coulter from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Ideas programme, a long-running radio documentary programme. He was interviewing Len Deighton for a profile which looks at his career and in particular at the themes of human loves and fears, and office politics too, which drive the world of espionage in Len's novels.

Philip approached me, as the creator of the Deighton Dossier website, to contribute my thoughts to this programme which I was glad to do. We spent a morning walking around London chatting about Deighton's books and characters in the locations where some of the great scenes in the book take place.


The profile was very interesting. Philip interspersed selections from his interview with Deighton with readings from Game, Set and Match and contributions from me from our day-long walk around London. I think it came across quite well, and there were some interesting new insights from Deighton about his approach to writing the book and his motivations behind the creation of the iconic Bernie Samson character. Also touched on was his views on the English class system, on the motivation of spies and his approach to writing.

Blog readers should check out the Ideas website. The show was broadcast on Monday evening, 1930h Canadian time, on a number of digital channels; it can also be found on listen again on the CBC website. The programme also has a podcast, so it should be possible for readers to listen to the programme in one way or the other.

If you listened to it and enjoyed it, share some of your thoughts on the Deighton Dossier forum or in the comments section of this page.

Saturday 18 September 2010

Four eyes better than two

Interesting little article in the Daily Telegraph yesterday. The journalist - with the delightfully exotic name of Henry de Quetteville - opines on the possible demise of spectacles not just as a solution to myopia but as a part of everyday life, and popular culture too. In it, he picks up on the image of Michael Caine as Harry Palmer in the three films from the sixties and the iconic status of his tortoiseshell glasses. Though not explicitly referenced in the books, Caine's decision to wear these glasses (he was short-sighted) in the film turned a character into an icon, such that's it's difficult to disassociate the books, the character and the films from the glasses, to a large degree.

What did it signify, back then? This was a spy with imperfections. A man who, after making love to a flighty young dolly bird had to reach across to his bedside table to grab his specs before he could make a cup of coffee (recall the use by director Sidney Furie of shots of the main character shot through his own glasses). Someone who gave the appearance of an upper working class clerical officer who was able to bump off Eastern Bloc's finest. He was an everyman spy to the like the cinema-going public in the sixties; they could be him. Bond, in contrast, was the escapist fantasy, the public school educated hero and action man.

All through what was effectively a simple choice of costume!

Saturday 11 September 2010

Michael Caine on the erroneous return of Harry Palmer

(c) Ian Derry
Interesting article in the Daily Mail this weekend - a long career retrospective interview with 78-year-old Michael Caine, film star and English hero.

The piece, written by Caine, talks about some of his struggles in the middle part of his career when great characters started to dry up and his career was at a crossroads ... which his decision to film On Deadly Ground with martial arts champion Steven Seagal in 1994 did little to address.

The year after, during this career slump, he talks about revisiting an old friend - his character of Harry Palmer, which he'd made internationally famous in the sixties with The Ipcress File, Funeral in Berlin and Billion-Dollar Brain.

Interestingly, Caine says his decision to go back over old ground "almost finished me off". Some interesting experiences with the local Russian Mafia and the Russian security forces had Caine questioning quite what he was doing:
"The filming itself was a joke. The final blow came when we were shooting in the Lenfilm studio itself. I wanted to go to the toilet and they directed me to it. I could smell it 50 yards away and it was the filthiest lavatory I have ever seen."
That seems an appropriate reference. Both Bullet to Beijing and Midnight in St. Petersburg are pretty poor films, and not a great legacy in light of the earlier masterpieces which put Deighton's unnamed spy on a cinematic par with Bond.

Though billed as Len Deighton's Bullet to Beijing, the film script was written by Peter Wellbeck and, of the two movies, this is the better, though both are dragged down by Jason Connery's wooden acting (his performance giving the lie to the idea that star quality passes down in the genes).

Len Deighton is involved as a co-writer of the script for Midnight in St. Petersburg, though the idea is not based on any existing Len Deighton novel. There is ample evidence to suggest that much of Midnight in St. Petersburg is cobbled together with edited-together out-takes from the earlier Bullet to Beijing filming, and the storyline is definitely threadbare.
Midnight in St. Petersburg, is actually a made-for-TV movie was produced for a pay-TV channel in the states, Showtime, part of the deal with Caine being that he would only make it if the big-budget movie - Bullet to Beijing - was made alongside it. It shows - it has the feel of a straight-to-cable movie.

The nature of this deal gives an idea of where Caine's career was at the time. Not in a great place. Possibly at an end. But as the rest of the article recounts, thereafter Caine saw an upswing in his career with meatier roles leading up to his Oscar winning performance in The Cider House Rules in 1998.

Very interesting article.

Friday 10 September 2010

Bits and pieces for your delectation

Every once in a while browsing the Interweb I stumble upon articles referencing Len Deighton and the related world of spy espionage. Sometimes, too, readers send me links to interesting some if the farthest reaches of the World Wide Web.

I found two articles from The Guardian newspaper in the UK.  The first is a short piece from the lifestyle section on blenders. Yes, blenders - the electric kitchen utensil. The Deighton connection? Well, his dismissive reaction to these new gadgets in the 'sixties - recorded in his Action Cook Book - opens the piece. Of more direct Deighton interest is this review from last year, when that self-same book was republished - with much success - by Harper Collins. Cooking columnist Rachel Cooke - one of the journalists who last month put Action Cook Book at #44 in the all-time best cookbook list in The Observer - reviews this pioneering gastronomic guide for guys.

As well as being insightful, beautifully designed and promising the best meal of her life, the book "contains a very reassuring, no faffing, recipe for Béarnaise sauce".

Thursday 2 September 2010

Le Carre on Philby

(c) Paul Calver for Sunday Telegraph
I've read online today an interesting interview with David Cornwall - better known by his literary alter ego John Le Carré - in which he recalls his decision not to meet Kim Philby, the Soviet spy of Cambridge spy ring fame who, the article recalls, no doubt played a part in ending Cornwall's career in MI:6 and MI:6.

The Sunday Telegraph magazine article reveals the depth of contempt the writer feels for Philby. Offered the opportunity in the late eighties to meet with the famous double agent, Cornwall recalls his disgust at the prospect of meeting a man responsible for the demise of British agents:
'"I couldn’t possibly have shook his hand,’ he shudders. ‘It was drenched in blood. It would have been repulsive. Lord knows how many agents Philby betrayed. They were tortured in terrible ways.'"
This is a very long and detailed interview with the author - timed as part of the PR push around his new novel 'Our Kind of Traitor' - and it reveals a number of interesting anecdotes about as well as some familiar and unfamiliar tales about his childhood. His new novel is based in Russia and draws on the world of the Oligarch, inspired by a meeting Le Carre had with a big-time crook Dima just at the end of the Cold War:
‘After a long wait, Dima, flanked by a bevy of heavies and a posse of pretty, pouty, scantily clad young women, deigned to arrive. He was a big monster of a man who looked like Telly Savalas.’
Fascinating portrait of one of the collossi of British espionage writing.

Tuesday 31 August 2010

Raymond Hawkey obituaries

Two obituaries for the late Raymond Hawkey - whose death was covered last week on this blog and referenced elsewhere across the blogosphere - have appeared in today's papers, in both The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph. Both obituaries use the same photograph - reproduced here - of Hawkey in what I guess is the late sixties or early seventies, sitting aside some modernist designer furniture and demonstrating his impeccable dress sense which is remarked upon in both obituaries.

Both obituaries are well written and respectful portraits of a contemporary and lifelong pal of Len Deighton who in his own way made as much an impact on the 'sixties through his pioneering design work in publishing - particularly through The Ipcress File cover and later on the Pan Bond editions - and in newspapers and magazines, shaking up the media establishment with his introduction of photo realism and a new graphical approach to typography and illustration. His influence is still seen in the papers we read every day.

Len Deighton himself penned his own tribute in Sunday's Observer newspaper to a man who had been his friend since the fifties. "It was a great privilege to be Ray's friend", he writes. As there is no url link currently available on The Observer website, a copy of said article is reproduced below as an image.

(c) Guardian Media Group

A touching, personal note on an enduring friendship.

Thursday 26 August 2010

More twists than a bag of pretzels - Jeremy Duns' Free Country

Part two of the Paul Dark trilogy
Paul Dark - double agent and cold-hearted killer - is most definitely back. Jeremy Duns' sixties spy, fresh from dealing with the terrifying and life-threatening demands of satisfying two Cold War masters on two continents, reappears in Free Country (Simon and Schuster, £19.99 hb). And this time, the web of intrigue, deception and downright plot complexity is double what it was in the first of the trilogy, Free Agent.

This first book established the central conceit - Dark is an MI:6 officer who was recruited by the NKVD just after the war but, in 1969, is on the verge of being outed as a 'double'. He had managed to save himself from being uncovered, but only after some high-energy derring do in Nigeria and facing almost certain death from a deadly jungle virus and a battle with Soviet agent with a tale to tell.

In this second book, the awkwardness of his situation becomes apparent and exposure seems imminent. We find our hero operating in London and Rome. (Question - can the reader emphasise with a "hero" character who kills his own boss? Of course ... who hasn't thought about murdering their boss during a particularly dull team meeting! More seriously, he has enough redeeming character traits and his unique situation creates an element of sympathy for someone who seems permanently trapped and on the run).

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Kiss me, then Kill me! New exhibition on the art of Cold War espionage fiction

Poster for the new exhibition

A new exhibition is opening in Hertfordshire this week looking at the aesthetics of design in the Cold War era, celebrating the the unique graphic art and forgotten spy films of Cold War Europe.

Kiss Kiss, Kill Kill opens at the University of Hertfordshire Art and Design Gallery, Hatfield. The University is jointly curating the exhibition with the Hertfordshire Film Consortium.

Centred on the kitsch designs produced across Europe during the Cold War, Kiss Kiss Kill Kill is the first exhibition of a collection of newly restored posters from Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Italy, Poland, Romania, Spain, the U.S.S.R, East and West Germany and the UK. The different graphic styles in the East and West provide an expansive portrait of European taste, national identity and politics of the period, with the brash super kitsch of Italian cinema posters juxtaposed compellingly with the lo-tech golden age of non commercial Czech film poster design.

Oh! What a Lovely Start to a Film

Raymond Hawkey designed the opening titles to the 1969 Bryan Duffy and Richard Attenborough produced film (Deighton took his name off the production credits) of the stage play Oh! What a Lovely War. A great opening sequence with the Hawkey touch, some of the images suggest an antecedence from the approach taken on the The Ipcress File cover.

Raymond Hawkey - a personal note from Edward Milward-Oliver

Following yesterday's announcement of the death of Raymond Hawkey, Deighton's biographer Edward Milward-Oliver - also a friend of Hawkey - offered to share some reflections on the noted designer’s legacy. I'm happy to print them below:

Ray Hawkey - a reflection by Edward Milward-Oliver
"Shit. No day that starts with me finding out that Raymond Hawkey died has half a chance of turning out well. RIP"
 – A posting on Twitter 

Raymond Hawkey's graphic design work across newspapers, magazines and publishing, had a significant influence on the visual culture of Britain in the second half of the Twentieth Century. His early interest in American graphics while a student at the Royal College of Art subsequently helped change the look of British newspapers and magazines. He was Design Director at the Daily Express in its heyday from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s, where he introduced illustrated graphic panels into the news pages (a concept quickly adopted by other newspapers), and then served as Presentation Director of the Observer and Observer Magazine for eleven years until 1975. He advised The Independent and IPC Magazines through the following decade, while establishing himself as a best-selling author.

Hawkey is more widely known for his 30-year association with Len Deighton, and his black and white photographic jacket for The Ipcress File, published in 1962, had a major influence on the evolution of British book jacket design.

He produced only one drawing, which Deighton approved immediately. Robin Denniston, Deighton's editor at Hodder & Stoughton, was equally taken with the concept but had to overcome the fierce opposition of the sales force who felt it was too unorthodox. After the publisher declined to pay more than its usual 15 guinea design fee, Deighton topped it up to £50, which Hawkey split with Daily Express news photographer Ken Denyer.

What Hawkey did was to apply magazine and advertising techniques to the execution of what would later be recognised as a groundbreaking design. The jacket was shot on a half-plate camera in the Daily Express photographic studio using high-key lighting, which at the time was very much in vogue for taking upmarket fashion photographs. Although the content of the photograph was both menacing (the Smith & Wesson revolver and bullets) and dirty (the chipped cup of cold tea and the stubbed out cigarette), Hawkey thought it important that the overall look should be cool and sophisticated. In order to achieve this, Hawkey and Ken Denyer built a tent of white tissue over the set, through which it was lit, with a hole for the camera lens. The result was what Mike Dempsey, a former President of DAD, has described as ‘one of the key moments in design history’ when considered within the context of the period.

In addition to working with Len Deighton, Raymond Hawkey designed jackets and promotional material for many authors including Kingsley Amis, Frederick Forsyth, John Grisham, Ruth Rendell and Ian Fleming. His cover for the 1963 Pan paperback edition of Thunderball is possibly the most important jacket in the whole of the Ian Fleming/James Bond publishing history. His prescient design signalled that a new cinematic phenomenon had been born. Hawkey proposed that for the first time ‘James Bond’ should be elevated above the title – where it remained for nearly four decades. Not only that, he decided ‘James Bond’ should be twice the size of the title and author’s name, thus anticipating that the films would become the critical element in the marketing and success of the books.
His cover design was then replicated on Pan’s other Fleming paperback titles. The inspired choice of Hawkey was that of Bond co-producer Harry Saltzman, who convinced the chairman of Pan Books that the paperback editions – with their passé narrative illustrations - should be redesigned. And with the Pan Thunderball cover Hawkey also broke new ground in having bullet holes die-cut into the Brian Duffy photograph of the girl's back. He repeated the effect with the keyhole cut-out cover revealing Twiggy for the Penguin edition of Len Deighton's London Dossier in 1967.

A modest, generous man, always immaculately dressed, Raymond Hawkey was once talent-spotted by MI6 . . . but that story is for another day.
Edward Milward-Oliver is currently writing a biography of Len Deighton. For anyone interested in Hawkey's career, he offers a number of suggested sources of further reading:
  • Raymond Hawkey. ‘Advertising: no skeleton in anybody’s cupboard’ in ARK, The Journal of the Royal College of Art. Issue 5. RCA, 1952. 
  • Raymond Hawkey. The Penrose Annual: Graphic Arts International. Volume 66. Lund Humphries, 1973. 
  • Alex Seago. Burning the Box of Beautiful Things. Oxford University Press, 1995. 
  • Stephen Kent. ‘James Bond Gets a Facelift’ in One-off: A Collection of Essays by Postgraduate Students on the Victoria & Albert Museum/Royal College of Art Course in the History of Design. V&A/RCA, 1997. 
  • Alan Powers. Front Cover: Great Book Jackets and Cover Design. Mitchell Beazley, 2001. 
  • Rick Poynor (Editor). Independent British Graphic Design since the Sixties. Laurence King Publishing, 2004.

Monday 23 August 2010

Raymond Hawkey - designer of iconic Ipcress File front cover - passes away

I've been advised by Deighton's biographer and friend Edward Milward-Oliver of the sad passing of graphic artist and author Raymond Hawkey. A friend and fellow art school graduate of Len Deighton, Hawkey was one of the pioneers of graphic illustration in the UK in the sixties - particularly in book cover design - and will be best remembered for his iconic front covers for Deighton's first four novels - The Ipcress File, Horse Under Water, Funeral in Berlin and Billion-Dollar Brain. All four of these were landmarks in the development of dust cover design, particularly because of Hawkey's use of large amounts of white space and black and white photography at a time when book covers were still largely in colour and illustrated. Hawkey had a long working relationship with Deighton and provided the covers and associated marketing material for many other of his works.

Wednesday 18 August 2010

From the BBC archives - Deighton and Bragg

Thanks to eagle-eyed blog reader Nick Elliott I've come across a little gem hidden away in the dark recesses of the BBC's website, in the 'archive' section.

It's an episode of The Lively Arts from BBC 1, broadcast on 18 December 1977 and is one of the very few lengthy to-camera interviews Deighton has given in his life, the other being the The Truth about Len Deighton documentary from BBC4 in 2006. As such, it's an insight into the author's life and work at a time when he was pre-eminent among fiction authors in the UK, following the success of Bomber, and he was becoming equally well-known as a historian with the publication of Fighter: the true story of the Battle of Britain.

The programme is filmed partly in London and party on the Algarve coast in Portugal, where Deighton lived for much of the year (partly for tax purposes in the 'seventies, no doubt). It starts off in biographical mode, referring to Deighton's early 'Dickensian' life from the workhouse to the kitchen to the designer's desk. The first interesting  anecdote concerns the genesis of his first book, The Ipcress File. Deighton emphasises that he came to writing completely ignorant of the process and the expectations associated with being a writer. He wasn't, he says, intimidated by the knowledge of how much work was associated with: "you just sat down and started writing a book and by the weekend it would be finished." He wrote it for amusement and put it aside for a year, finishing the rest of it on his next holiday in France. At the time, he says, he didn't have a strong ambition to be a writer. The nature of the book is, he says, "the most self indulgent book ever written"; it was not written with a view to getting published ... but it subsequently sold over 2 million copies. Deighton seems genuinely surprised in the interview about its success.

What comes across in the discussions is Deighton's unique approach to bringing research to his novels and drawing on the fascinating people he had already met during his life. For example, he talks of the many people he'd met at the time who "had experience of spying" or who covered espionage in the media, and from them he got some fascinating stories. People offered up to him freely with increasing regularity after the publication of his first book. "I attract people who like to talk", he says.

A fascinating interview which has some new insights I've not heard or read in previous media interviews.

Tuesday 17 August 2010

Them communists was quite handy with the ball, you know.

Dukla Prague away-kit
Interesting little snippet  from this weekend's Observer newspaper, reviewing a new biography of former Spurs manager Bill Nicholson, who took the club to the league and cup double in 1960/61 and then to the semi-finals of the European Cup. Back in the day .... when it was a proper cup ... played by the proper champions of each league.

Rob Bagchi writes how the author of the biography Brian Scovell paints a vivid picture of European football behind the iron curtain:
"the tales of trips behind the Iron Curtain to play Poland's Gornik Zabrze and Czechoslovakia's Dukla Prague have a distinctly Len Deighton-ish air with their misty train platforms, journalists taken into custody and bug-ridden beds"
'Len Deighton-ish'. Pretty self-explanatory adjective, which fits nicely into the lexicon of 20th century shared cultural references. Demonstrates the extent to which Funeral in Berlin and The Ipcress File have become literary and historic short-hand for conjuring up popular images of the Cold War.

The book sounds very interesting. Back in the sixties and seventies Eastern Europe was another world for most people. The footballers, like the Eastern bloc military and spy networks, were regarded as ruthlessly efficient, lacking in art but dedicated to the inevitable (!) victory of international socialism on the playing field as well as the battle field. 

As anyone who's read the book Behind the Iron Curtain by Jonathan Wilson will know, the links between the Communist parties and the secret police in most Eastern European countries were frequent, pernicious and sometimes pretty transparent, as was the case with Dynamo Berlin, which was the Stasi's pet club. 

Saturday 14 August 2010

Another list ....

Sometimes, if you're an editor stuck for content, there's nothing easier than slipping in a 'top twenty', a 'best of'. The Observer Food Monthly magazine has put a panel of its best cookery and food experts on the case to find the 50 best cookbooks ever published.

Len Deighton's Action Cook Book makes it into the top 50 at 44, sandwiched in between The Art of Mexican Cooking and Indian Vegetable Cookery. There's a culinary joke in there somewhere ... can't think for the life of me what it is!

Wednesday 11 August 2010

Notching up the thrill rating

More good new from Mike Ripley, author and contributor of the 'Shot in the Dark' section of the excellent online Shots Magazine, who is also now running Ostara Publishing’s Top Notch Thrillers imprint. This aims to revive Great British thrillers ‘which do not deserve to be forgotten'. Mike's got a knack for picking out long-forgotten titles, giving them a spit and a polish and putting them back on display for a reading public who otherwise would be none the wiser.

The new titles coming include: a 50th anniversary reissue of a classic manhunt, the story of a World War II conspiracy from one of the biggest selling authors of the 1970s, an award-winning against-the-clock thriller and a Gothic chiller from an author described as the literary link between Dennis Wheatley and James Herbert.

Watcher in the Shadows by Geoffrey Household is the tense, spare story of a manhunt across England’s green and pleasant countryside in 1955 which has been described by one critic “As if Gunfight at the OK Corral had been transposed to St Mary Mead.”

Geoffrey Household, the writer widely considered to be the natural successor to John Buchan, had an unrivalled feel for the English countryside and the primitive bond between hunter and prey. First published fifty years ago in 1960, Watcher in the Shadows is a masterly description of a deadly game of cat-and-mouse which ranks comfortably alongside Household’s legendary Rogue Male.

Black Camelot, first published in 1978, combines a superbly researched wartime conspiracy plot with blistering action and rightly led to the author, Duncan Kyle, being favourably compared to Alistair Maclean and Desmond Bagley.

Under his real name, John Broxholme was a distinguished journalist and Chairman of the Crime Writers’ Association, but it was as Duncan Kyle that he achieved international fame from the moment his first thriller, A Cage of Ice, became an instant bestseller on publication in 1970.

Francis Clifford was one of Britain’s most respected thriller writers from his first well-crafted mysteries in the late 1950s to his untimely death in 1975. His 1974 novel The Grosvenor Square Goodbye was a sensation on publication, won the Crime Writers’ Silver Dagger and was serialised in national newspapers.

The action of the book takes place in less than 24 hours and begins with a crazed lone gunman bringing the West End of London – and the American Embassy – to a violent halt. But nothing, absolutely nothing, in this ingenious ticking-clock thriller can be taken for granted.

The Young Man From Lima, first published in 1968, shows all the trademark touches which made author John Blackburn “today’s master of horror” (Times Literary Supplement).

Blackburn held a unique place among British thriller writers of the 1960s, adding his own taste for the Gothic and the macabre to the conventions of the thriller, the spy story and the detective novel, and always at a ferocious pace. As a writer he is seen as the literary link between the work of Dennis Wheatley and James Herbert and many of his plots were based on scientific or medical phenomenon presaging the work of writers such as Michael Crichton.

Monday 9 August 2010

The Defector by Daniel Silva - review

The good folks of Penguin recently sent me the two latest books from US author Daniel Silva telling the story of Gabriel Allon: Israeli secret service agent, professional  assassin, art restorer.

The Defector - published in 2009 and now out in paperback - is the ninth in the Gabriel Allon series and has recently been followed by the US No. 1 bestseller The Rembrandt Affair. I hadn't read any of Silva's works before so I wasn't sure if, coming into this series of novels without having read the others, I might miss something in the development of the main character, Gabriel Allon. It wasn't a problem: Silva provides enough frequent references to Silva's past to allow a reader to gain satisfaction from the story without having read the other novels.

Who is Gabriel Allon? He's a former assassin for the Israeli secret service, responsible for killing six of the 12 members of Black September in Munich in '72. kidnapping and killing the Israeli athletes. Allon is the bright star of the Israeli secret service, an assassin of impeccable skills who operates under deep cover as an art restorer trained under Umberto Conti in Venice. His first wife is maimed by terrorists, who took his son's life. With such a back story, Allon is a character driven by revenge on his - and his country's enemies - but righteous revenge. As a main character an assassin isn't the obvious choice for a believable lead character with which one might emphathise or will to succeed. He kills for a living. Period.

And believe me, there's an awful lot of killing in this book. It's generally handled with taste and sensitivity but - given the main character's job - is also unavoidable and a steady body count is wracked up chapter-by-chapter and sometimes you feel it's all too easy. Allon sometimes is shown to question his job and these killings, but at no point is the idea of state-sponsored assassination questioned; it is just accepted that that is what Israel does. Silva writes well in the sections where Allon is wracked with guilt - an assassin with a conscience - and needs the constant support of the ageing boss of the agency to remember the moral code by which the Israeli secret service operates: the maxim from Exodus - "an eye for an eye". But sometimes the dialogue between the main characters was a little by-numbers and lacked panache and wit. Yet it flows along well and while the dialogue may not grab you, the pace of the story telling takes you by the scruff of the neck and delivers a good pace. Silva's very efficient at spinning the yarn, adding in twists and taking the reader on a believable story arc that has a gruesome but not altogether predictable ending.

The plot to The Defector isn't hugely original - it's a classic Bourne-style global chase after a cunning and ruthless enemy, in this case billionaire oligarch Ivan Kharkov who, in the traditions of such thrillers, is a thoroughly nasty piece of work whose networks of businesses, associates and criminal connections stretches across the globe, right up into the Kremlin. That said, it works pretty well. The technical aspects of modern espionage are given a good airing but don't at any point become overly technical in a way that may interrupt the story telling.

Kharkov is close the Kremlin, and that gives him leeway. A ruthless crime boss who trusts no one and who seemingly lacks any moral compass, he is out for revenge against Russians like Grigori Bulganov - the defector of the title - whom he believes betrayed him. Allon was involved in Bulganov's defection and the subsequent separation of Kharkov from his wife Elena and their children, who now live in the US under CIA protection. Understandably perhaps, Kharkov wants revenge on them both and uses a classic bait and switch to kidnap Bulganov and - subsequently - Allon's partner Chiara. So, we're then faced with a classic kidnap plot and raise against time to free the captives from a certain death and bring down the criminal overlord operating with Kremlin connivance. So far, so Bourne, perhaps?

Tbe plot lacks a little originality and the characterisation was at points a little too cardboard cut-out for me; representatives of the US and UK secret services drop into the action at required points, but they add little and serve merely as plot devices it felt to me; one is not given the time to understand for example more of the relationship between the US, UK and Israelis. Plus, it is reasonably difficult to sympathise and empathise with an assassin as lead character.

But, that said, it's an easy read and Silva's interesting take on the classic spy story trope - by seeing the moral centre of the story through Israeli eyes - gives it a contemporary feel in light of all that has gone on - and continues to happen - in the only real democracy in the Middle East which constantly fights for its survival in a game with few rules and plenty of moral ambiguities. The art restoring cover story is a nice touch which gives the author a USP for the character and a plot framework, but it doesn't I feel explain much about the character - Allon could easily be an assassin under cover as a plumber or tax accountant, it is his day job which shapes the story and provides the colour.

The mise en scene is primarily Russia and the capital of the diaspora, London. As a former CNN journalist, Silva is in his depiction of modern Russia drawing a vivid picture that many international watchers will recognise: capitalism gone awry, widespread corruption, the Kremlin's enemies scattered across the globe and the SRV, the Russian secret service, still running plays from the KGB's playbook. He does present well the ruthlessness that haunts modern Russia and the inextricable ties between Putin's Russian and Stalin's Soviet Union (the denouement of the story plays out in a dacha linked to the purges of the late 'thirties). So, the settings and the descriptions of Russia work well for me.

An assassin with a conscience - it works well enough and there's plenty here in this novel to inspire and engage the fan of modern spy fiction who's looking for a different take on the modern spy thriller. I got enough reading pleasure from this book to make me look forward to The Rembrandt Affair. It's out now in Penguin books priced £7.99.

But next on my reading list - the second Paul Dark story, Jeremy Duns' Free Country, which will be reviewed here.

Saturday 7 August 2010

Party time, 'sixties-style

Good Housekeeping, June 1963
Good Housekeeping isn't the natural home of the novelist. But when you're Len Deighton, and it's the 'sixties, and you're as known as much for being a cookery writer, artist/illustrator and all-round bon viveur and party host as you are for being the hottest new spy fiction writer on the scene, it makes sense.

I've just obtained a copy of said magazine from June 1963 (cover price 2s 6d) which contains a 22-page "Hostess Guide". There are some great tips for the modern party-giver which haven't survived to the present day - judging by any of the parties I've been to in the last decade - and some great food tips on offer: jellied veal and ham anyone?

On page 77 we find an article 'My Kind of Party' by Len Deighton (which includes a vignette of one of his own illustrations).

I've reproduced the text below. It's a fascinating social history of middle-class London life and a time when Deighton, as a literary new-kid-on-the-block after the publication of The Ipcress File, was hosting dinner parties with Rolling Stones, film stars, politicians and the top journalists and writers of the day:
Too much over-rich food, booze, politics, religion and sex - that's my kind of party. Sitting between other men's wives, judging the claret with pompous inexpertise and reluctantly having "just one more helping" of the duckling while arguing about free love, free church and free trade - can you think of anything better?
 At the parties I enjoy most there are one or two people that I know and like, half-a-dozen that I have never seen before and at least one that someone there loathes. The plates must be hot and the tablecloth pretty, but not so pretty that wine spilt on it is a major catastrophe. There should be an open fire on any but the hottest nights because it is something to hurl empty cigarette packets into and for someone to say there is nothing like.
Aperitifs should be limited or guests making their choice will impair the service. Tio Pepe, gin and dry vermouth are enough (although there are people who like whisky or beer, I am told). The bottles should be near the guests and there must by plenty of ice. I don't mean eight Oxo-sized cubes that come out of the freezing tray. I mean plenty. Enough to crunch bottles into or drop tumblers in mad abandon.
Host and hostess should be in the kitchen: no one wants them fussing around about ash on the sofa covers. Dinner should always be a little late because this has everyone hungry and in the right mood to appreciate the cooking. Let's start with lots of small dishes, however simple: avocado, shrimps served plain, roll-mops, anchovy or just hard-boiled egg served with home-made mayonnaise.
Somewhere about here there should be a soup that has earned its name: tomato soup made from tomato, or chicken soup made from chicken. As for a jellied consommé based on a good beef stock - the cook will still be wallowing in the compliments when all else is forgot.
A fish course? It makes a meal into a banquet. Steam some fillets or poach something really big and set light to it on a bed of fennel twigs. Make a salmon mousse or avoid any work at all by serving with thin brown bread-and-butter.
If there are lots of guests, I prefer not to wait while the host carves a bit joint; by the time he has been to get the Elastoplast it is cold. After the meat course the simplest of salads must appear before the ladies whip out their fags. Shredded white cabbage with yoghurt as dressing is simple. Serve it on dinner plates; it will save the washing up. 
Ah, the cheese. For me some Bresse Bleu and a piece of Capricet des Dieux. O.K., then perhaps just a sliver of Wensleydale. A different sort of bread would be good with the cheese. How about a really dark one?
Why are the host and hostess sitting there eating cheese? They should be in the kitchen warming the Chinese ginger sauce for the home-made ice-cream or standing by the soufflé with a stop watch. Don't be too long with the coffee. What about a continental roast for a change? With the dessert? Yes, as soon as it's ready, thank you.
What was that awful man saying about ... well, since it's Remy Martin and since I'm not driving. The women all look much prettier now - it must be the time of day or the thin gauze of tobacco smoke behind which they are sitting. I'm glad someone is taking that terrible man down a peg. You made them yourself? Oh I do - Petits Fours and a fresh peach - dare I take one of each? Well, I'm fourteen stone now. Oh, I'm sure I do, but I'll have another, anyway.
No, I've got a brandy, thank you. To compare? What a splendid idea. And a cigar? Well since it's such a pleasant evening. The pretty girl on my left just adores the aroma.
Mints, a nice touch. If there is some more, just black for me - no sugar. I'm on a diet.
Thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it; too bad you two were in the kitchen all the time. You must visit us some time. Of course it won't be like this - we serve the simplest food possible: we like to spend as much time as possible with our guests.
Charming little piece. Ah, the sixties sound good, don't they? There's something to be said for a little bit of political incorrectness from time-to-time!

Sunday 1 August 2010

Hundred Dollar Brain ... or maybe less?

Clicking through YouTube recently I did a search under "Len Deighton" to see what might come up ... and there was plenty there. One item I found was this: a well-crafted little homage to Billion Dollar Brain by Peter Glynn.

It's good fun, shot on the cheap, but pretty faithful to the original and the stirring theme tune makes you realise what a good opening to a film the original had. I'll continue to post up here some highlights from YouTube which I think might interest readers.

Friday 23 July 2010

The reissues (10) - Berlin Game

Inspired by the recent newspaper headlines about the activities of (rather poor) Russian sleeper agents in the US, I have started to read again Deighton's trilogy of trilogies telling the story of the ultimate British sleeper agent operating secretly at the heart of the KGB.

Note - if you've not read the novels yet, don't read any further. Plot spoiler clues ahead!

The premise of Berlin Game is simple. Fiona Samson, high flyer in London Central (read MI:6), is married to one-time agent Bernard Samson. Charged with reassuring an unsettled group of agents operating deep in East Germany, he starts to uncover a trail of threads which suggest a mole operating at the heart of British overseas intelligence. And the trails lead eventually to Fiona, who had been operating for six years under the perfect cover: wife of one of the department's most effective and loyal agents.

Fiona Samson was arguably the first and most impactful female spy lead character - though the books are narrated by Bernard Samson, in her intricate eventual involvement in all aspects of the plot Fiona is very much a pivotal character (as revealed in the sixth novel of the series). Giving the lie to the adage that male writers don't generally write good female characters, Deighton's skills at dialogue and creating liveable, believable characters with a well-developed hinterland mean Fiona Samson is utterly compelling as the partner and, at the denouement of this first novel in the series, evident puppet master of her husband's mis-firing career as the extent of her treachery is revealed. All of the supporting characters seem tailor-made for their roles: Tessa, Fiona's sister, the tart with a heart who's innocence is her undoing; Dicky Cruyer, Bernard's manager whose office politics smarts ensure he's promoted beyond his skills, if not his cunning; Bret Rensselaer, the suave American anglophile who Bernard suspects of having an affair with Fiona but who - we learn later - is connected to her in a far more dramatic - and unimaginable - way.

In coming back to this book after a couple of years, what shines through is the rich dialogue, which is the key to driving along the character development and maintaining a pacey plot which does not however read as over-hurried. With Bernard Samson as narrator, the reader gets a perspective on the operation of British overseas intelligence which - as he or she discovers by book six in the series - is definitely shot through the filter of Samson's own prejudices and failings. But I prefer it that way: Samson is an everyman character doing a job for which few are suited. For anyone used to working in an office environment, as I am, his healthy cynicism and distrust of colleague's and management's motives is understandable, particularly when these colleagues and managers are responsible for Bernard's security.

The new introduction
The Game, Set and Match trilogy of trilogies is definitely an ensemble piece, despite eight of the nine books being narrated by the main character, Bernard Samson. With nine books to work with, Deighton had time and space to let characters grow, develop and evolve over a significant time period, sometimes shocking the reader in the unexpected turns their lives take or in the revelations of their past lives:
"The prospect of planning and writing  so many books using the same characters (each of them aging and changing) was both attractive and daunting. They would grow older; perhaps wiser, or perhaps more foolish, or bitter. They would suffer setbacks and ailments; delight, sudden death and despair. And in fiction, as in real life, there was no going back. An inconvenient death in book number three was not something I could rectify in book number four. For all those reasons the writing of Berlin Game, the first book, required more preparatory work than any of the subsequent ones. Here were the people - the foundation - upon which the Bernard Samson stories would be built and balanced."
The intriguing plot twist that Deighton selected for Berlin Game - after some long consideration and always envisaged as part of a trilogy - was to have a spy story in which the wife played a significant role alongside the husband, a combination of the domestic and espionage worlds. He points out in this new introduction that the idea of introducing a strong feminine lead character (not something he'd done up to this point) developed out of a nagging feeling of regret that in Goodbye Mickey Mouse he hadn't made more of the love affair between the main character and his British girlfriend.

In identifying the story arc largely with Berlin, was Deighton unusually prescient in understanding the internal dynamics of the East German economy and political system which would - ultimately - lead to its internal collapse at the first signs of Soviet withdrawal from the East? Certainly, Deighton's frequent visits to East Berlin had clearly revealed to him early signs of a regime built on unsustainable promises and a brutal lie at the heart of it:
"Anyone who spent much time in Berlin's Eastern sector - and the Zone too - could not fail to see that Germany's communist regime was shaky, although shaky regimes repressive enough sometimes continue for a long time. I certainly had no dates in mind but, as I have depicted in the books, there was a weakening of resolve and the regime was becoming more impoverished every day. Fundamentally agricultural, with no exports worth consideration, and a middle class with no income worth taxing, the DDR was a living corpse."
And death, decay and chaos always provides a skilful writer with a fascinating canvas on which to portay a literary vision! In these books, Berlin is the stand-out character. It was then a schizophrenic city, isolated, a magnet for the world's espionage agents and draft drop-outs, whose horizons were always darkened by the clouds of its Nazi past. But its character shone through in characters like Lisl Hennig and Rolf Mauser. Berlin Game takes the reader on a long but satisfying journey that reveals as much about the origins of an epoch of fundamental change in European history as it does the frailty of human and professional relationships.

The new design
There he is on the front cover: Bernard Samson. Or at least, Arnold Schwartzman's new interpretation of Samson. But is it him? Do readers, as I do, detect a throwback to Deighton's first great character [Harry Palmer, as was] in the tortoiseshell spectacles?

Samson's behind the Berlin Wall. It's an obvious starting point for any designer considering Berlin to draw upon the Wall, but the designer also had a personal reason for its inclusion. As Schwartzman writes:
"In November 1989, my wife Isolde and I had the pleasure of being in the German capital at the fall of the Berlin Wall, where I photographed many images of young and old citizens chipping away at the Wall. Along with these I photographed a number of versions of 'Berlin' that had been spray-painted on the wall's surface, as well as the signboard at 'Checkpoint Charlie'. There can have been no more potent symbol of division, or barrier, than the Berlin Wall and it would always be a perfect visual representation of the city of Berlin, where so much of this story takes place.
As Len Deighton's protagonist, Bernard Samson, penetrates beyond the Wall into the Eastern sector I thought I would cut a door into the Wall to symbolise his furtive activities."
This aspect of the design works well, as does Schwartzman's decision to spell out - across the spines of all nine planned reissued volumes in the series - Bernard Samson's name in torn stubs from old-style airline baggage tags. It will look intriguing on a bookcase.

However, I'm torn. I've read these books so many times that I've already built up a solid picture in my mind of what Bernard Samson is like and ... well ... he's not like the picture on the front cover! He's older, certainly; a little more rough-hewn around the edges. So, maybe this aspect doesn't work for me, rather in the way that the first edition covers of Faith, Hope and Charity - which featured photographic images representing key characters - sought to add a visual element to these much-loved characters.

Nevertheless, the design coherency across Berlin Game, Mexico Set and London Match (which I'll blog about at some point soon) is impressive and a worthwhile successor the famous Raymond Hawkey jacket illustrations on Deighton's first four books.

Wednesday 30 June 2010

Old habits die hard: Russia still following the KGB playbook?

Ironically enough, I had started reading again Len Deighton's Berlin Game, which is nothing if not full of example after example of the KGB's efforts during the Cold War to get under the skin of the Western intelligence services.

But sometimes, life trumps art. This week's revelations about the uncovering by the US of a major Russian spy ring in suburban New Jersey, London and Cyprus demonstrates that - even 20 years after the end of the Cold War - the successors to the KGB, like some reformed rock group on a global tour, can't help playing some of the old hits.

The story has everything you'd expect to find in a novel by Deighton or Le Carré. The glamorous female spy Anna Chapman who runs an international estate agency on the side; the Murphys from New Jersey, deep cover sleepers who took too literally the idea of "when in Rome..." and ended up arguing with Moscow Centre over their mortgage; spies using 'old school' techniques such as dead letter drops, invisible ink and brush pass exchanges which were once the stock in trade of the workaday spy. It all sounds too fantastic to be true.

Yet, evidence emerging from the FBI arrests suggests this was a serious attempt by the Russians to mount a 'deep cover' operation as extensive and serious as anything tried by the Russians during the height of the cold war. In a Russia anxious to be seen on the global stage as a modern, responsible global power, the old ways still have a lot of pull.

Officials of the SVR - the successor to the KGB's external operations - have clearly dusted down the tried and trusted techniques which made the Russians formidable opponents for the Western security services .... and which served as bread and butter for spy fiction writers right throughout the Cold War. But have they lost their touch? Some of the revelations coming out of the US suggest that the KGB's successors seem to have lost some of their 'spying smarts'.

This revelation has allowed journalists to dust off their cuttings books from the eighties and nineties and ride on what is becoming, surely, a wave of journalistic nostalgia for the 'good old days' when you knew exactly who the enemy were, and you knew they'd always provide good copy!

Con Coughlin in The Daily Telegraph asks, quite correctly, if the Russians know the Cold War is over? Espionage, he says, is alive and well. As he points out, we've already experienced in the UK with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko that Russia's capacity to reach far beyond Moscow in dealing with dissidents is still great. But Britain, of course, has remained active in Russia long after the fall of the Berlin Wall, as the arrest of MI:6 agents in Moscow - using a hollowed-out rock as a dead drop - testified. But this week's story draws the world back to a simpler time when spying was more art, then science.
"In a world where advanced satellite technology allows the world's spy masters to eavesdrop on the phone conversations of Taliban commanders, and where sophisticated computer hackers can infiltrate government databases at will, there's something rather quaint about these Russian spies' archaic methods. But the Russians have no one to blame but themselves for this embarrassing state of affairs. It is their agents, not the Americans, who have broken the cardinal law of espionage: don't get caught."
Anne McElvoy in The Evening Standard has an excellent take on this whole episode. As someone who wrote the memoirs of former Stasi chief Markus Wolf, McElvoy understands the thinking of the Eastern Bloc spies; she reminds readers that Russia - as a threat to our security - has never really gone away:
"At the height of the extremism threat in London there was a fashion for short termists [in the security services] to argue that ... what was needed was Arabic speakers and experts of the Islamic world. Of course, the more experts on that, the merrier. Foolish, though, to think Russia no longer mattered."
Spy writers around the globe will, no doubt, be firing up their PCs.  The espionage genre, just maybe, has gotten a second wind!

Watch this space.

Monday 21 June 2010

Something from the picture archive - The IPCRESS File

I've recently acquired a nice original publicity photo from Universal Studio's production of The IPCRESS File in 1965. This black & white still is instantly recognisable: it's an on-location image of Len Deighton demonstrating to Michael Caine - playing the character who became 'Harry Palmer' - the technique for making an omelette.

The omelette in the film becomes part of 'Harry's' seduction technique on his gorgeous fellow agent Jean, played by Sue Lloyd.

The anecdote associated with this image is pretty well known. In the film, the character of Palmer is show preparing the omelette, and a close-up shot is used of him breaking eggs into a bowl using only one hand. In fact - as this picture indicates - Deighton was on set for this cooking scene and it is his hand which deftly cracks the eggs into the bowl. Caine, by all accounts, couldn't do this correctly!

As the blurb on the back of the publicity photos confirms, even this early in his career as a writer Deighton was equally as well known for being a food writer and cookery expert as he was a writer of espionage thrillers: his Action Cook Book came out in 1965 (and was subsequently re-issued in 2009 by Harper Collins).

What is of course fascinating is how archaic the dissemination of publicity information and images in advance of a film's release seems to our modern eyes. In many ways, however, film publicity is still the same - get the trailer out to build anticipation, set up interviews for the stars with key media, generate maximum publicity from the premiere. What was missing back in the sixties was any notion of social networking, word of mouth, viral marketing.

Monday 14 June 2010

New Deighton article in Daily Mail - on the fascination of airships

Interesting article in Saturday's Daily Mail newspaper. It's a feature article by Len on the history of powered airship flights, and in particular, the Zeppelins. The reason behind it seems to be that it's part of the PR push around the Harper Collins re-releases of various books: in this case, Len Deighton's French Cooking for Men. The article, however, makes no mention of cooking.

The article is subtitled "a heartfelt lament" because, as Deighton describes, the experience of going up in an airship such as the Graf Zeppelin is one he'll never experience, their Golden Age coming to an end before the last war. It's clear this is a source of much regret; airships are a lifelong fascination for Deighton, as is the history of powered flight generally, and one which has been reflected in his writings. Not only did he course write Airshipwreck - a history of the - frequent - disasters which affected the world of airships - the machines features in some of his books, notably Winter.

With his usual grasp of detail, Deighton explores not only the history of the airship's brief mastery of the skies but the complexity of their construction and the narrow margin between commercial success and - as seen with catastrophes such as the explosion of the Hindenburg - failure. He nonetheless writes about the ongoing fascination of these gargantuan machines:
"Despite this obvious truth, for me, the Zeppelin still has a magic that aeroplanes cannot replace. The size is awesome, the shape gothic, a pointed arch twirled into a tracery of aluminium. They have gone forever. But there was a time when a generation of Germans built their cathedrals in the sky."
An unexpected little article, apropos of nothing.

Sunday 30 May 2010

The reissues (9) - Winter

Courtesy of the kind folk at Harper Collins' publicity team, I've secured copies of the latest reissues from the Len Deighton catalogue. Berlin Game, Mexico Set and London Match will be reviewed subsequently on this blog; but first up, it's Winter: the tragic story of a Berlin family 1899-1945.

When this novel was first published in 1987, the world was a vastly different place. Berlin was split down the middle by the Berlin Wall and remained an island of liberty within a sea of Communism. Berlin in 1899 - when this novel begins - was vastly more different. The story Deighton developed in Winter used the experiences of the Winter family to explain the story of Berlin in the first half of the twentieth century. Nazism was a tragedy for the whole German nation; this book understands how that tragic inevitability played out in microcosm on one family. In this respect, it is a similar style of novel to Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks, which brilliantly portrayed nineteenth century bourgeois Germany by examining the downfall of a bourgeois Lübeck family over four generations.

Crucially, Winter acts as a prelude to the first three Bernard Samson trilogy Game, Set & Match. Minor characters which are revealed in these novels as part of Bernard Samson's hinterland in the German capital - hotel owner Lisl Hennig, Bernard's boss Brett Rensselaer, and Bernard's father Brian Samson, whose decision to bring his family up in Berlin shaped forever his son's relationship with the city on the Spree - are given fulsome back-stories as part of this epic narrative. The quality of Deighton's writing and research is one of the reasons why in my opinion Winter explains as well as any history book why Nazism developed in response to Germany's experiences in World War One.

The new introduction
What comes across in Deighton's new introduction is the evident dedication with which he approached each new novel. In this case, the introduction recounts how he moved to Germany and Austria for over a year to ensure the authenticity of what he was writing. Fascinating stuff, too. Recounting an unexpected stop at a Bavarian Inn The Kramerhof during a snowstorm - which turned into a three-month stay researching life in small-town Germany - Deighton recounts how Winter was his attempt to write a novel about the 'real' Germany he'd known to love, one not corrupted by the popular culture clichés generated by recent historical experience:
"Winter was a biography of the Germany I had come to know over the years. We had lived in Vienna and in an Austrian village near Salzburg, which was now not all that far away, and my sons spoke strongly accented German. For many Germans, and many historians too, Germany and Austria do not have a separate existence. AJP Taylor, [Ed - noted British left-wing historian] who taught me so much about German history, persuaded me to consider both in unison and for that reason the story of Winter begins in Vienna. One of our neighbours in Riederau village had a son writing for a newspaper in Vienna. At my request, he rummaged through the archives to find out what the weather was like in Vienna 'on the final evening of the 1800s'. Now I had no excuse for delay."
To capture a sweep of German history from 1899 to 1945 on such a scale, Deighton decided early on to move from his favoured first-person narrative to the third person. The objective for what was to become essentially a family saga was to use each chapter to illuminate the key interactions between the characters in the novel to advance the narrative; as Deighton describes, in the same way that lightning briefly illuminates a long night of darkness.

Though starting his story in Vienna, Deighton chose not to write there, instead choosing Munich as his basis. It would become the third key city in the novel along with Berlin:
"The inhabitants of these three great German cities view each other with dispassionate superiority. While the mighty Austria-Hungary Empire dominated Europe, Vienna ruled. It was Bismarck, and the mighty Prussian armies that in 1870 marched into Paris, that displaced Vienna and established Berlin's ascendancy. At the turn of the century, Berlin's music hall got guaranteed laughs from jokes that depicted Bavarians and the Viennese as hopeless bumpkins. But Hitler changed all that. Hitler was an Austrian and his Nazi Party was born in Munich and when Hitler named that town as Haupstadt der Bewegung - 'capital of the movement' - all jokes about its citizens were hushed."
In following the fortunes of the Winter brothers Pauli and Peter across nearly half a century, these three cities shape their lives for good and ill. Deighton deftly uses historical events to advance the story lines for the two brothers, demonstrating how  individuals can be carried along by the consequences of major epochal shifts in history which change forever whole societies. The length of the novel, and the details in the dialogue and the narrative descriptions of each city, makes for a wonderfully absorbing tour through a nation imperceptibly taking small steps towards the cliff edge of historical oblivion.

The detailed research Deighton points to in this new introduction - such as lengthy interviews with a relative of Gehlen, 'one of the very few spies who influenced history' - marks out his worth as a writer who easily straddled fiction and history, and married them both to fantastic effect.

The new design
Designer Arnold Schwartzman cleverly portrays the essential storyline - of how the Winter family is split by the rise of the Nazi Party - through the image of a turn of the century photo of a father and son, torn in half. It also of course symbolises the subsequent division of the city after the War. Again, Schwartzman points to key elements in the narrative through ephemeral objects on the cover: early phonograph needles, a stamp with Hitler's image and postcards from the early flights of the Zeppelins.

Set against the clear white cover of the book, this visual language I think works really well in giving a compelling insight into what is an immense book. The title uses an interesting font, that draws to mind the sort of font used in early underground networks in Berlin and Paris. Works well, and is a departure from the other books.