Monday 31 December 2012

New Year wishes to all readers of this blog

May I wish all visitors to the Deighton Dossier blog - and the main website - a Happy New Year for 2013 and to thank you for visiting the site and for sharing your comments on a great number of the posts I've put up over the past twelve months.

Espionage fiction has been in rude health in 2012 - not least with James Bond's Skyfall proving to be box office catnip - and there's every reason to think that in 2013 we'll continue to see varied output from established authors and from writers new on the scene. If I can cover just a fraction of that good news on here, then I'll be happy.

We ended 2012 of course with Len publishing his first substantial book for many a year (see post below), giving for the first time in explicit detail his take on the origins of Bond. I know from previous conversations with Len that there are other written works on the stocks so to speak - a history of the fountain pen, and a history of the aero-engine - and it would be nice if these came to print in 2013.

As for more fiction? Well, who knows! Len's enjoying retirement and, with his 84th birthday in February and having produced over 100 books in a career that's delivered multiple international top sellers, he's perfectly entitled to have hung up his word processor for good when it comes to fiction. And after all, where does one go after the triple trilogy of the Samson series, the historical meisterwerk of Bomber or the tremendous historical re-appraising of Blood, Tears and Folly?

But ..... in the words of the title of the re-make of Thunderball to which Len contributed an early screenplay .... Never Say Never Again?

Thursday 20 December 2012

Deighton e-book published: a new take on James Bond

'Harry Palmer's creator & the father of James Bond
It's been seventeen years since Len Deighton last published a complete book: Charity, the last of the Samson triple trilogy. Readers interested in Len's writing style and knack for storytelling have had to make do with numerous forewords, a short story and a number of magazine articles.

Now, at the tail-end of 2012, he's back, back, back. To a degree.

Len returns to the world of the published author with a new electronic book, produced as a 'Kindle Single'. Sadly, it's not a new Samson novel or historical narrative (fingers remain crossed in that regard.) But it is a fascinating tale of how one of cinema's iconic figures came to be.

In a year that has seen the 50th anniversary of Ian Fleming's James Bond and the release of Skyfall to universal acclaim, Len has chosen to give his perspective - at some length, for the first time - on the origins of this most famous of screen characters and make a further contribution to the Bond mythos.

James Bond: my long and eventful search for his father, reads like a long article that one might read in The Sunday Times Magazine or an essay in The Literary Review. Published solely online - a first for Len - this 10,000-word book is available on Amazon priced £1.53.

You can find the book here.

As someone who was acquainted with Ian Fleming and Kevin McClory, the film producer who is one of the important figures in the development of the Bond mythos through his work on early drafts of From Russia With Love and subsequently on Never Say Never Again (the Thunderball remake), Len provides an unrivalled insider's view of the development of Bond as the character moved from page to screen.

Len was an insider and witness to much of what went on as the character made this transition to cinema. It is his attention to detail, and his capacity to recall in detail many of the meetings and anecdotes which, story by story, gives this book a ring of authenticity. It is also interesting to read again about the connections between the development of James Bond and the simultaneous development of Len's 'unnamed spy' character, subsequently of course Harry Palmer.

We read in the book about Len's first encounter with Ian Fleiming in said White Tower restaurant in Soho, a restaurant that "catered to soft-spoken, dark-suited tycoons, film people, politicians and advertising executives with fat expense accounts. It said a lot about Ian that he preferred such formality." It was over this lunch conversation that Fleming revealed his admiration for the agents he controlled from behind his desk in Naval Intelligence during the war; men like Merlin Minshall who were at the sharp end of the intelligence fight against the Nazis and had the colourful tales to relate.

Bond was, Deighton writes, "[Fleming's] screwball alter ego. Writing provided a chance to depict the forbidden dreams of this outwardly cool, but morose and moody Royal Naval officer."

The book goes on to recount the efforts to get Bond onto the big screen, and it is here that the story becomes interesting as it looks at the myriad elements behind Bond's creation - on screen and on the page - which have kept writers, fans and fiction historians entertained and intrigued.

The book provides an extensive re-telling of the whole story which has been document elsewhere by other authors and Bond fans in great detail, and also been the subject of extensive legal arguments over the decades. While some of the stories are familiar from previous articles, much of it seems new and refreshingly honest.

In a year in which Bond has shown himself to be the 'King Of All Cinema', Deighton maps out in compelling detail - such as his hint at the origin of the 007 moniker, and fascinating perspectives from Bond ground-zero, the bumpy road by which Bond moved from page to screen.

The last paragraph, in particular, is a real peach!

Let's hope too that, if this e-book proves a success, Len may be prompted to write more and take advantage of the world of e-publishing to reach out to his global fanbase.

Wednesday 19 December 2012

Gun. Jumped.

This Friday, there may be something interesting to talk about here on this blog.

However, for various reasons, I'm not in a position to share it right now.

That explains recent changes on this blog.

Sunday 9 December 2012

Snippets from a conversation ....

I use an iPhone these days to record interviews
I was fortunate enough to catch up with Len over lunch at his club in South West London, the outcome of which was the third exclusive interview for the Deighton Dossier, which you can access by clicking the button above (along with the two other interviews exclusive to this site).

Over seven hours we talked about many more subjects than those which Len kindly responded to in the Q&A interview. Some of the things we discussed I'm not I'm afraid at liberty to repeat here - interesting though they undoubtedly are - but during our conversation there were a number of stories, anecdotes and facts which came up which I want to share with you here. I'm sure Len wouldn't mind me sharing a few of his interesting stories and asides from a life at the top of his profession as writer, producer and designer.

Try these for size:

Free gifts
Having discussed the new Bond film Skyfall, Len related to me the story of author John Gardner, who wrote one of the Bond sequel books after Fleming's death with permission from the latter's estate. One day, apparently, Gardner called up Len to tell him with glee:
"I've given Bond a SAAB!"
This was a crucial change in the Bond mythology of course, the move away from the Aston Martin.  Gardner told Len he had received a car from the makers for this act of product placement. Product placement was of course crucial to Bonds production value. Len told me that in contrast, the only time he'd received something resulting from product placement was a Sunbeam food mixer which was given to him following publication of one of his cook strips!

This wasn't the only example of a mention in a book leading to a tremendous offer of a free car. Len retold a similar tale: Ian Fleming once wrote to the head of Ferrari asking if he was happy with the use of a Ferrari in one of the recent Bond films (Len wasn’t specific about which film he was referring to). In return, the chief of Ferrari wrote back saying thank you and advising Fleming that he had gone to the top of the list for the new Ferrari; this was a valuable offer, as there were hundreds of stars and rich people on the list already. However, Fleming had to write back indicating that he did not have sufficient funds to purchase one and reluctantly had to decline the offer!

Ian Fleming
Len also told me a story about Ian Fleming in Jamaica, just after he had completed the selling of the film rights for Doctor No. He apparently sent a telegram to his neighbour in Jamaica at the time, actor, director and theatre impresario Noel Coward, asking if he would take the lead part. He sent a telegram back which said, simply, “Dr No, No, No, No”. Classic retort!

Harry Saltzman ... canny
Film producer Harry Saltzman is one of the most fascinating people that Len has known, I think. As well as being the co-producer of the first Bond films he of course got off the ground the films of Len's first three books, christening the unnamed spy character 'Harry Palmer'. Len recounted a story of how when he was working with Saltzman on The Ipcress File in London, a young producer got in touch with him indicating he’d love to get hold of an autograph from Harry, as he was one of the people he was studying to learn about the business of film-making.

The young producer had sent Len a book in the post for Harry to sign; Len gave Harry the book and asked him to sign it. He discussed with Harry what he thought he should write. Harry said he should put “please remit 3’ and 6”!

Not getting the point of promotional gifts
During the marketing push for Billion-Dollar Brain, Len's fourth book in the unnamed spy series, his designer friend Ray Hawkey - who had created the iconic cover for Ipcress File - took some of Len's original notes from his trips to Helsinki when writing the book, and turned them into a facsimile of Len's notebook.

This note book - along with a letter from the author, tickets for the opera and left luggage tags, all of which had relevance to the story - was sent out to reviewers and dealers. It looked like a personaI letter from the authors to the booksellers, and the notebook and other items looked like the real thing. So convincing was it that some booksellers sent it back saying it was very kind of the publishers to let them look at Len’s note book, but they couldn’t see what they had to do with it!

Is that a successful marketing campaign or not? Maybe.

Dove, Ark, Noah ..... do you get it?
As a designer at the Royal College of Art in the nineteen fifties, Len was a contributing editor to Ark magazine, the in-house journal which became a showcase for modern young designers to show off their ideas. I have copies of the editions which Len contributed to and I discussed them with him, asking him in particular about the special edition he produced called, simply, 'Dove'. Why was it called Dove and what was it for?

The Dove supplement, Len told me, was his attempt to give readers of Ark something free that would fall out of the magazine, increasing the perceived value; something for nothing, a bonus, he said. This was why it was so-named: it was the ‘Dove’ that came out of the ‘Ark’. This was the first time it had occurred to me to make that connection. So simple really.

He explained that the article on page three was his attempt to create the most perfectly legible newspaper article, with proper spacing and use of three fonts. Mr Buckett, who featured on the front page, was in fact the husband of the lady who made the tea at the Art School

The area at the school where he had tea with fellow students was, he said, a location used by the SOE during the war as a starting off point for agents heading off to France. The SOE arrange with United Dairies to have one pint of milk to be delivered to each mews door, to disguise the fact that the whole building was in use!

Fascinating little anecdotes. Look forward, in future, to more interviews (I hope!)