Monday 27 August 2012

MR says LD's SS-GB OK

Author Mike Ripley, creator of the Angel series of comic crime series novels is a friend of this blog who also edits the 'Getting Away with Murder' column at the influential Shot's website. He's also a friend of Len Deighton himself and reader of his works.

Like the Deighton Dossier, Shots has a separate blog - Shotsmag Confidential. Up on the blog recently Mike has written an appreciation of one of Len's ventures into the crime and 'what if?' fiction genres: SS-GB. This is the story about a Great Britain which has lost the Second World War and is under Nazi occupation. Mike's review highlights that such is Len's attention to detail, the reader asks less 'what if?' and more 'did that really happen?'

Check out the post here.

Thursday 23 August 2012

Libel to frustrate .... the other Deighton Dossier and the High Court

Cab, anyone?
A writer of fiction is free to make observations about the characters and places he or she chooses to put in a book without fee of being libelled. When writing turns to real people and places, then there's a risk, especially in the UK courts which are notoriously open to the liberal use of the libel law by the rich and powerful who feel they've been defamed.

A blog reader, Patrick Kearney, recently got in touch to ask a question in relation to Len Deighton's last - I think - and only involvement in the law courts for libel, in a roundabout way and in the process shed some more light on an aspect of one of my favourite of Len's books - his London Dossier, after which this site's name is an homage. With a little detective work and an email to Len's friend Edward Milward-Oliver, here is a little of the background information.

Patrick explained that as part of an attempt to catalogue a collection of books, pamphlets,periodicals and other printed matter that is held by the British Library and withheld by them from access by their readers. This collection is referred to as the 'suppressed safe' -- abbreviated to 'SS' for convenience -- and the books that find their way into it do so usually at the request of their authors and/or publishers,
sometimes the courts, and, rarely, the Government. The titles and pressmarks of suppressed works are not included in the Library's catalogues.

One of these was, he told me Len Deighton's London Dossier from 1967. The British Library possesses copies of the original 1967 editions published simultaneously by Jonathan Cape and Penguin books  (hardback and paperback respectively) which, for some reason, had been given the same pressmark: SS.Cup.13.b.11.

He wanted to know: why should this books be withheld from the public?

I had read somewhere that there were issues associated with this book, partly due to the fact that while it is in Len's name - and he contributes chapters - there are many more individual contributors, mostly Len's friends and acquaintances, who contribute their thoughts on London boozing, eating, driving, walking, sport and the stories behind some of its more colourful characters.

But, I wasn't sure, so I got in touch with Edward who confirmed that Rowton Hotels had sued Cape and others for libel and won. Rowton Hotels? Not a familiar name but, as I later discovered after some further detective work by a friend of Patrick's, the owner and operator of a number of hotels in London in the sixties. It seems they had taken offence to a description - erroneous, it turns out - of one of their hotels in the chapter.

In the chapter 'All through the night' written by Len - his contributors provided alternate chapters - he had provided tips on where to stay if in London late of a night, and mentioned in particular two 'hostels' - Parkview House and the Mount Pleasant Hotel - with the suggestion according to the courts, that his descriptions associated the hotels with doss houses for vagrants when they were in fact just quality cheap acommodation.

To be honest, from reading my first edition of the book - signed, ironically, by Len - it all seems pretty innocuous. The issue seems to be perhaps that, by describing these hotels in between chapters discussing vagrants, cheap hotels and 'poor districts', the impression was given that these hotels were somehow just up-market doss houses. In UK libel law, it seems, the merest "suggestion" of doss houses and cheap prices is enough to build a case for libel.

The cuttings shown in this blog post give the details about the court case and the alleged damage done to the chairman of Rowton Hotels, a Mr William Barclay Harris QC. The judgement does say that the publishers agreed to make changes in future editions.

A year later, in 1968, Len and The Sunday Times would be sued for libel by former soldier David Stirling over an article Len wrote in the Sunday Times Magazine about Operation Snowdrop - an SAS attack on Benghazi during World War II.

Books can be an expensive business, given the rate libel lawyers charge!

Sunday 12 August 2012

Whodunnit? An unusual cover find ....

Browsing around second-hand book shops can lead to the discovery of real treasure once in a while. It can also throw up something more intriguing.

This edition of Billion Dollar Brain is a bit of a mystery. I've seen plenty of different editions of this book, which has rarely if ever - along with the other 'Harry Palmer' novels - been out of print, but never one like this.

First off, it's a reprint from 1979, which isn't in itself unusual. Most reprints are paperback versions, so a hardback reprint - such as this - would often be for a particular reason or market. An anniversary, for example. That's not the case here. There are simply no clues as to the reason for the reprinting by Jonathan Cape, the company which produced the original version of the book with the Ray Hawkey-designed cover. I can't see the marketing angle for producing this style of book, fifteen years or so after the original came out.

The design for the slip cover is intriguing. A woman with a syringe in silhouette, within whose image is  an inverted image of a circuit board. This is repeated on the back cover too. Clearly, this is intended to evoke the image of the character of Anya, who provides the link for 'Harry' into the mysterious organisation run by General Midwinter. 

There is no indication about who the designer is, which one often finds on hardback editions. It doesn't have the style of Ray Hawkey's work, nor any of the other designers which which Deighton's work is associated.

Does anyone have any idea who the designer is? And why was this edition produced in 1979? I'm curious more than anything about this find, which I've added to my already extensive collection and will file under 'not sure'.