Thursday 30 June 2011

By George .... they've only gone and done it.

Different actor, same spy

Produce a re-make of a much-loved TV series that is, which, by the looks of it, doesn't make you want to throw away your Kia-Ora and hunker down in front of the small screen. 

Courtesy of the Guardian's website, I've been watching the trailer for the new re-imagining of Le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, starring Gary Oldman as George Smiley.

It's both instantly recognisable, and somewhat different, with the cream of the crop of English actors and a cinematic quality not evident from the excellent BBC mini series. The best bit? The music - monotonous, compelling, hinting at danger, providing the right tone for what looks like a faithful re-imagining.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Well, that's the holiday reading sorted ....

Thanks to the good folks of the Harper Collins publicity department, I have received in the post the latest paperback reissues of Len Deighton's books: Close-Up, and the last trilogy of the Samson triple trilogy: Faith, Hope and Charity.

The new introductions by Len are very, very interesting .......

Monday 20 June 2011

Quick news roundup: palmer, putin, pictures

When not watching Ipcress File, he shoots tigers
Having fifteen minutes to spare for a trawl through the alphabet soup that is the Internet brings up interesting snippets of Deighton and spy-related news from time to time. Today is no exception. Here's a disparate a bunch of items:

First up, according to Michael Caine, the KGB used to learn a thing or two from the silver screen. Across a number of news media is a report from his interview with entertainment newswire WENN (I can't find the original) in which he says a Russian friend tells him Vladimir Putin and colleagues in the KGB used to enjoy the Harry Palmer films! Wonder what tips they picked up? It would be fun to think of trainee spies in the Lubyanka learning how to make a two-egg omelette!

Secondly, a song featuring Harry Palmer and the Berlin Wall has been voted 2 in the top 10 list of Canadian Synth Pop tracks. My favourite was outside the top ten, sadly.

Finally, there's a new book out showing many of the once-though-lost pictures of Brian Duffy, London photographer and co-producer with Deighton of Oh! What a Lovely War. Duffy was an art school contemporary of Deighton's.

Update: a longer article on Caine, drawn from the same newswire source, can be found on the website of the Toronto Sun.

Tuesday 14 June 2011

All in the detail - Gordon Crabb's covers for Len Deighton

I recently received from Len Deighton a short email containing nine pictures of artwork. More precisely, original cover artworks by artist Gordon Crabb from the 1980s reissues of his works by the Arrow publishing house. And it raised an interesting question: does having an image of the key figures and locations before you start a book shape the way you approach a book and its characters. In other words: who creates the more impactful character - the artist, or the reader? Or does it matter?

First, the artwork. Gordon Crabb's work is of what one might call the 'realist' school: his covers pick out the two or three key characters, in poses and uniforms that suggest instantly their roles, and place them in front of a montage of locations and vehicles which let the reader do an instant join the dots and create a rough and dirty idea of what they're dealing with.

Len tells me of his decision to commission Crabb: "I did nothing other than go through every paperback in Harrods book dept and find that Gordon Crabb's covers were my favorite. After that it was entirely his work. His research was wonderful: he is even more fanatical that I am. He told me that he spent weeks, maybe months, and had to advertise, to get one garment (a riding mac) that was correct for the period. He did about nine covers." Len was supremely confident that Crabb would create covers that spoke to the reader and had a dramatic edge. Interestingly, Len confides: "I never met him." Crabb is nowadays exhibiting as a fine artist.

The covers below (a mixture of original art and the art in situ) are finely detailed and, having read the story, the characters and illustrations are instantly recognisable: with the assassins on the cover of Yesterday's Spy, for example, you can feel your face blasted with the dust blown up by the spinning rear tyre. But here's my question: having seen the front cover, does the image create a character, or rather augment the written word of the author and fix in the reader's mind an image of that character. Does it, in other words, dull the imagination, or inspire it?

I ask because when I first read Berlin Game, Mexico Set and London Match in their original covers, the apple jacket designs by the legendary Ray Hawking were abstract - they hinted at something, riddles you knew would unfold once you opened the covers. Intrigue. Betrayal. Corruption. All in one simple, apple-y metaphor.

There were no characters on display. No gruff Bernard Samson; no sexy, coquettish Tessa Kozinski; no roguish Silas Gaunt. The image I had of these characters was built up page by page, each adjective and adverb adding a layer to the understanding of who that character was. Every reader has his or her own image of the character. So when in 1988, for example, ITV bought to life Bernard, Tess, Silas and others in the TV adaptation, it challenged readers' perceptions of their favourite character. Was Ian Holm really the tall, well-built, bespectacled hero spelt out on the pages of the novel?

Friday 3 June 2011

Michael Caine and Len Deighton talk Harry Palmer

"At the time I wrote The Ipcress File, the English were even less interested in food than they are now. Any man who was able to cook was regarded as weird." Len Deighton
The 'Harry Palmer' character Len Deighton created - and Michael Caine embodied - was something new when he appeared: the anti-Bond, the tough, uncompromising working class spy who inhabited the shadier streets, someone with whom the cinema-goer could in some way connect. He was also ahead of his time, representative of the changing social behaviour of men in the 'sixties. He could not only cook but - as the scene in which he bumps into Colonel Ross in a new-fangled supermarket, and argued over the tinned champignons, demonstrates - talk knowledgeably about food without appearing to sound 'queer'.

The instant success of this new spy archetype is due in large part to Michael Caine's uncanny understanding of how the modern spy would live and work in swinging London, and portraying that on film. Seducing office colleague Jean with a glass of wine and a home-cooked omelette was something new in the courtship playbook for the average chap. Here was the sixties' 'new man', seducing top notch 'crumpet' and tracking down the spies kidnapping UK scientists.

I recently unearthed a rare copy of Eat Soup magazine from 1996 containing an extensive interview with Michael Caine in which he talks about the overlapping themes of film and food. Eat Soup was the short-lived food supplement for lads' mag Loaded, when it was still a magazine and not the boob-obsessed parody which it's become. As well as the feature interview with Caine, Len Deighton was commissioned to write an article explaining how he used gourmet food and changing cultural fads to help fashion this iconic character. This appears as the post-script to what proves a fascinating Caine interview.

A copy of the full article is now up on the Deighton Dossier main website.