Sunday 3 June 2012

Twin Town ....

Trends are ephemeral. So are the magazines and media that seek to define them.
The lost Deighton book cover

In the swinging sixties, it was Town magazine that was the magazine that recognised men were becoming increasingly interested in fashion, food, culture, cars and all the other offshoots of a consumer culture.

Recently, I found on eBay a very rare copy of Town magazine from 1965, the cover of which references the filming at the time of The Ipcress File. It contains a superb article about Len Deighton in which, among other things, we learn that he thought the James Bond stories were a little "childish"!

The magazine - published by Michael Heseltine, before he became an MP - lasted only a few years, but in that time it was a unique part of London's scene. The magazine was never a money-spinner. However, it failed to meet the challenge of the colour supplements that appeared in the Sunday papers from 1962 and as a result it closed in 1967, having rarely made any money.

Town's 2012 incarnation
Imagine my surprise when last week, in WHSmith I discovered that Town magazine has been reborn. It's much thicker than its predecessor, and more expensive (£5, sir!), but in its DNA is the history of its earlier form. That means, articles about London trend-setters, tips on great restaurants, interviews with celebrities (although, I'm not sure if Pixie Geldof counts). One imagines that this new version of the magazine will be interviewing today's up-and-coming writers and film-makers, as it did in 1965. 

The cover of April 1965's edition of Town is definitely 'Bond-esque' and could easily be a cover of one of Fleming's novel. It has all the right elements: the girl, the gun, the micro camera, the knuckle-duster. Only this time it's referencing the new kid in town, Len Deighton and his 'unnamed spy'. Reading the credits on page 3, I discover who designed the cover: of course, it's Ray Hawkey, Deighton's friend and designers of the iconic covers of his first four novels! This is the great un-used Deighton book cover.

Since the publication of The Ipcress File in 1962, Deighton was arguably as significant a spy writer as Fleming and his new character was the 'anti-Bond', a new spy character more in tune with the gritty reality of life in London in the 1960s. Three years on from publication, the big news was the creation of a film version of the book. The cover article is an interview by writer Jane Watson with Deighton titled 'How to succeed without really spying', and the lead paragraph is a wonderful pen-portrait of Deighton in the 'sixties':
"Len Deighton has an account at Dorfmann's of Park Lane - the only bank in London which is open at midnight. But he isn't sure how he wants to spend his money. He has a radio telephone in his car - but the only way to contact him is through his agent. He adopts Middle European disguise in public - leather hats and ankle-length overcoats. But at home he wears disintegrating chain-store sweaters and trousers with flannel fatigue. He spends a year of time and energy collecting facts for each book - and then turns them into fiction. He thinks fiction is a pleasant waste of time, and can't understand why people buy his books. In Deighton's world nothing is quite what it seems to be - but bafflement and the double-bluff of double-agents and the ace constituents of his spy thrillers."
The article itself is long: three pages of interview, plus another four pages of specially commissioned photographs of the actors and film crew on The Ipcress File. Take, for example, the pen picture of the famous (or infamous is more accurate, perhaps) producer Harry Saltzman:
"Harry Saltzman is an elegant man somewhere between Edward G. Robinson and Rod Steiger. He bewildered the egg-heads by making The Entertainer, Look Back in Anger and Saturday Nigh and Sunday Morning, and then as deftly as a man doing the find-the-lady trick, producing the phenomenal James Bond pictures. There's not a person in the film business who doesn't say at least once a day '...but in spite of that I love Harry'. Alternating ultra toughness with ultra consideration, Saltzmann is a formidable figure whose prime interest is the cut and thrust of business, finance and distribution, but that doesn't prevent him from taking a personal interest in the script and direction. I've had meetings with him at 7.30am and I've left him at Crockford's at 3 am still as agile and fresh as he began. He seems to manage on almost no sleep."
These mini biographies accompany the photos are by Len Deighton himself, and he talks glowingly also about Michael Caine, the director Sid Furie - "Sid is a fighter for the people who work with him" - cameraman Otto Heller and Ken Adam, the production designer, of whom Deighton writes:
"So The Ipcress File - for which he wanted a deliberately mundane and almost documentary quality was a new departure for him. Detail like the size and position of the windows in the interior was very important - you had to be able to see the buses and traffic going past outside."
The main article about Deighton is illuminating and Watson provides a really vivid picture of the life of the young(ish) writer who had shot to fame - and fortune - in the three years since the publication of the book. She tries to build an understanding of what makes Deighton spark as a writer; Watson picks for example on Deighton's penchant for detail and technical description, such as the detailed description of the training for Army frogmen in Horse Under Water. One also reads in detail about Deighton's home life: his flat near the Elephant & Castle in London, which contains "lots of jolly tax-deductible kitchen equipment".

In discussion with Deighton about the films being made of his books, there is an interesting reference to plans for future films of his book:
"Harry Saltzman has filmed his first book, The Ipcress File and the second, Horse Under Water, will be shot this June. If these two are cinema successes, further deals will be done with Saltzman."
The interesting thing here is the reference to Horse Under Water. This is the great 'lost' Harry Palmer film. The movie never did get made that year, and the reasons for that were never wholly clear, even when I raised the question with Len in an interview in 2011 in which I asked him about the decision not to make the film:
"There was no specific opposition to making Horse into a movie. On the contrary, films with underwater sequences usually do well at the box office. But the order in which the books were published in the US was different to their publication in Britain. Each book was complete as a story (a rule I have always kept to). If the books could stand alone, so could films.
Harry Saltzman was attracted to the Funeral in Berlin story because Berlin was in the newspaper headlines. So in America the publication of Horse (which didn’t have Berlin spy story content) came later. There is now talk of a movie and I think it could be very effective on the screen."
One can only hope that Len's hint in 2011, that a film of Horse Under Water is being considered, will come to fruition. It raises another question of course: who would play 'Harry Palmer'? 

Over three pages of interest - in small text, three columns - one learns a great deal about the life of a London writer in the sixties and the demands on Deighton's time from agents, friends, producers, academics and the challenge of writing best-selling fiction.

As the Bond films by1965 were proving a great success, Watson inevitably broaches the subject of Ian Fleming's spy with Deighton, and paints a fascinating analysis of the main difference between the two writers. Indeed, I think this is one of the most accurate and nuanced description of the two creations, James Bond and 'Harry Palmer', who stand poles apart in their outlook and approach to espionage:
"Deighton is understandably loth to talk about James Bond. But he did say, quietly, that he thought the books a little childish. Spy stories are one of the few strictly contemporary 'adventure' vehicles, war being of the past, preferably, and science fiction of the future. Like Westerns and most stories in which the goodies always win, they are susceptible to formulaic treatment. Ian Fleming's books are altogether contemporary in trappings, but there is something approaching ritual in Bond's conflicts with titanic evil. He is a giant-sized representative of good capitalism, a godlike consumer of expensive, esoteric and flamboyant consumer goods, moving confidently through a world in which everything, including the women, is much larger than life. Deighton's here has no name because Leonard would be a silly name for a spy and he is an ordinary, mortal struggler. He has taken the spy genre down a naturalistic branch line and the appearance of reality is everything."
Fascinating stuff. This contemporary article by Jane Watson is one of the most accurate portrayals of Deighton's life as a writer newly emerged onto the UK literary scene that I have read. What a find.


  1. Wow. Quite a discovery. Thanks for posting these fascinating excerpts.

  2. That's a really cool cover design & interesting look at the story behind it. Thanks! I'll have to look for that magazine issue now :)
    -Jason (Spy Vibe)

  3. Really interesting! i posted a link on Spy Vibe. looking at a 1st edition design of the Ipcress cover, i wonder if Ray Hawkey also designed the UK and German editions of For Bond Lovers Only?


  4. I believe he did, but I'll have to fish out my copy and check.

  5. Brilliant post. I've often wondered who could play Palmer now...and I hope if it ever does come to light, they'd keep it in The Cold War rather than update and reboot the character into the present day. One of my favourite what if notions was Horse being directed by Mike 'Get Carter' Hodges with a bespectacled Clive Owen as Palmer.

  6. I'm still confident Horse will get filmed at some point, to complete the set. Would require a completely new actor to take it in another direction than Caine. Clive Owen a good choice!

  7. Alternate headline: "Tale of Two Cities" !