Thursday 19 January 2012

A cover story - tracking down Deighton's designs: can you help?

'The cover should bring a subtle and intimate promise of what the writer has contrived:
not a display of incoherent pyrotechnics' - Len Deighton

Len's cover for Free Love and Heavenly Sinners, 1956
As readers of this blog will know, before he became an internationally-renowned thriller writer and historian Len Deighton was a designer and illustrator during one of the purple patches of 20th Century British design during the fifties and early sixties.

Many of his designs are well known, but even Len himself isn't sure exactly how many book cover designs he produced. I've been in communication with Edward Milward-Oliver - author of The Len Deighton Companion - on the subject of Len's cover designs, which he's currently researching. While we think we have the definitive list of cover illustrations, there just might be more out there that neither of us is aware of. Indeed, I've received emails from blog readers on this very subject, so the definitive answer is, perhaps, still to be had.

Therefore, I thought I'd use the Deighton Dossier to both share a great collection of the known covers Len has produced, and crowd source the question:

Do you know of any 'missing' Len Deighton covers out there?

Find out more below...

Much of the work Len undertook at the time after leaving St Martin's School of Art and the Royal Academy was in book cover design. As a freelance designer working for publishing houses and magazines, Len must have produced hundreds of design commissions, from the large to the small. But most will have had the distinctive trademark of Len's design work during this period - the black outlining, the minimal use of conventional shading, strong matte colouring and lettering that made use of all sorts of new and modern fonts, all of which made Len's covers stand out as exciting and eye-catching. He certainly took advantage - as other illustrators did during this period - of the possibilities from new printing and production techniques, and the freer expression being developed in London's art schools, that allowed book covers to tell stories in themselves.

Len's most famous commission is the cover for the UK first edition of Jack Kerouac's beat generation novel On the road, which as well as being one of the most sought-after of Len's cover designs (good copies go for £800+) is now available in poster, t-shirt, greeting card, postcard and tea towel, such is the popularity of the design and its compelling pen portrait of the story of Sal Paradise and his travel's across 'fifties American heartlands.

Equally as important at this time are the numerous penguin covers Len produced, recognisable by the iconic orange and white covers and the strong black line designs. In the book Penguin by Illustrators from 2009, Len gave some insight to the life of a freelancer in the fifties, working to deadlines and always needing to be creative:
Long, long ago I lived in Central London. I was easy to reach. I delivered on time, and have never been known to turn away a paid job. I became an artist of last resort and often faced ferocious deadlines: 'I know it's Friday afternoon, Len, but we need it Monday morning, so I'll get the proof round to you tonight ... or maybe first thing in the morning.' At Penguin, my drawings were seldom modified by orders from above - maybe they should have been. Not enough time I suppose.
The result was a mixed bunch of covers; from them I recall John Wain's Hurry on Down, my Budd Schulberg cover for The Disenchanted and Iris Murdoch's Under the Net as being reasonably successful. The colour bands went from horizontal to vertical to make more room for cover drawings, many of which  were hurriedly produced and not good enough. While money and time were lavished upon typographic perfection the artist was the last in line when it came to fees.
Len believes he did around 22 book covers during his time as an illustrator, but he - and we - think there may be other examples of his cover or endpaper illustrations out there in the world of books which might have been overlooked with the passage of time. My personal favourite - as a baseball fan - is the cover for George Plimpton's Out of My League, the story of a journalist who convinces himself he's got what it takes to step up to the plate of his local baseball team and face an innings from the star pitcher. Len's illustration perfectly captures the fear and anticipation of the baseball hitter as he waits in the dugout to face the curve ball and the sinker.

Below are the details for the covers which are known about by collectors and which are illustrated in the image below. If any readers, design and illustration historians or collectors know of any other Deighton covers that should be added to this list, do please get in touch!

Deighton's cover illustrations

Fred Bason’s Third Diary

Fred Bason - Andre Deutsch - London 1955 - Jacket

Sales on a Shoe String

Sydney Hyde - Andre Deutsch - London 1956 - Jacket

My Husband Cartwright

Olivia Manning - Heinemann - London 1956 - Jacket and illustrations

House of Secrets

Sterling Noel - Andre Deutsch - London 1956 - Jacket

Free Love and Heavenly Sinners

Robert Shaplen - Andre Deutsch - London 1956 - Jacket


The Revelations of Dr Modesto

Alan Harrington - Andre Deutsch - London 1957 - Jacket

The Other Paris

Mavis Gallant - Andre Deutsch - London 1957 - Jacket


On the Road

Jack Kerouac - Andrew Deutsch - London 1958 - Jacket

Advocate for the Dead

Alex Weissberg - Andre Deutsch - London1958 - Jacket


Weldon Hill - Andre Deutsch - London 1958 - Jacket

The Idle Demon: a Collection of Verses

R. P. Lister - Andre Deutsch - London 1958 - Jacket

The Key Above the Door

Maurice Walsh - Penguin (1282) - London 1958 - Cover illustration

The Small Dark Man

Maurice Walsh - Penguin (1283) - London 1958 - Cover illustration

The Southerner

Douglas Kiker - Andre Deutsch - London 1958 - Jacket

Tender is the Night

Scott Fitzgerald - Penguin reprint (906) - London 1958 - Cover illustration


Under the Net 

Iris Murdoch - Penguin (1445) - London 1960 - Cover illustration

The Disenchanted

Budd Schulberg - Penguin (1498) - London 1960 - Cover illustration


The Little Perisher

Dighton Morel - Secker & Warburg - London 1961 - Jacket

Anatomy of Britain

Anthony Sampson - Hodder & Stoughton - London 1962 - Endpapers

Out of My League

George Plimpton - Andre Deutsch - London 1962 - Jacket


The Incomparable Atuk

Mordecai Richler - Andre Deutsch - London 1963 - Jacket

Hurry on Down

John Wain - Penguin (1442) - London 1963 - Cover illustration

The full collection of Len Deighton covers is below, kindly provided by Edward Milward-Oliver.


  1. Don't know about covers, but Deighton did some great interior illustrations for Ark, the in-house magazine of the Royal College of Art, in the early 50s. One issue contains a beautiful 4-page piece on the cafes and jazz clubs of Soho. I last saw these in the art library of Brighton art college (I used to know it as the polytechnic) in the late 1980s. It would be lovely if someone could dig them out and post them.

  2. Caspar - I have copies of all the editions of Ark for which Len did those illustrations. In response to your post, I'll make sure I feature them on the blog in the near future.