Friday 19 April 2013

The Deighton File - friend and biographer Edward Milward-Oliver on Len ...

Due for an update
Edward Milward-Oliver, author of the very useful and fact-filled Deighton Companion and the Annotated Bibliography, has been speaking to Jeremy Duns, spy novelist, on his friendship with Len Deighton and his work on a new biography of the writer, whom he's know for many years.

Edward shares some interesting new stories and there's a fun picture of Len in France from the 1960s on the site, from the time when he was writing The Ipcress File. Edward also makes some interesting observations about the author and his impact on book titles (the use of "The...." becoming a fashionable way to title a book in the sixties and beyond).

Worth a read.

Saturday 13 April 2013

Harry Styles or Harry's Styles? .....

No, this website has not suddenly gone all 'One Direction'. This is a short post about an interesting contemporary cultural reference to Len Deighton's 'Harry Palmer' character (the unnamed spy in his first five books).

Shortlist magazine - the free sheet in London and other major cities which looks at style, consumer goods, entertainment and music - last week rand an interesting feature on the influence of 'mod' culture on the UK, forty years after its hey-day in the late sixties. Cue obvious reference to the 'Modfather' Paul Weller, parkas, Vespas and Mary Quant.

Tucked away on the third page is a reference to 'Harry's style' - Michael Caine's characterisation of Len's spy character is regarded as an icon of Mod-style. Take a look at the article below:

Spot the spelling mistake.

Friday 12 April 2013

Bernard Samson back on TV - immediate questions this raises .....

Is this the face of Bernard Samson?
The good news of Clerkenwell Films' plans for an 18-part TV mini-series of the nine-volume Bernard Samson story means that, 25 years or more after Granada TV's excellent (but never repeated) Game, Set and Match, this greatest of Len's characters will be back in action.

In 1988, the 13-part Game, Set and Match was broadcast only once on ITV and removed from our screens, Len having withdrawn his rights to commercial distribution due to his dissatisfaction with the casting. It's never been on commercial DVD (only bootlegs available) and as a result, Bernard Samson has not had the same exposure as a character in British spy fiction as perhaps the depth of his story deserved. The planned TV series may change that.

The news yesterday is exciting if you're a fan of the original stories (and the TV series), but it also brings to mind a number of challenges and questions, the answers to which will shape the end result. Such as:

  • Who will play Bernard Samson? It was the (mis)casting of Ian Holm as Bernard Samson in the 1988 series which contributed to Len Deighton's decision to withdraw broadcast rights. The story pivots around Bernard, so the casting has to be right. Which British actor has the capacity to bring to life the character of a spy who discovers that all those he trusts have lied and betrayed him in some way?
  • How much more significant does Fiona's story become with all volumes being covered? Spy Sinker, the sixth book, replayed the story of the first five novels from Fiona Samson's perspective and reveals a number of truths about her decision to take on the task of deep-lying agent in Berlin, her relationship with her husband and her family relationships which arguably prepared her for the loneliness of being alone in the heart of the enemy.
  • Can the producers successfully recapture the grimy reality of Cold War Berlin? Most of the iconic sites one associates with Cold War Berlin - not least, the anti-fascist protection barrier or Berlin Wall as its was better known, are gone. CGI is clearly the way forward, but a good production designer will be needed to imagine what Leuschner's was like, the cells in the Normannenstrasse or the Kosinski estate in Poland, which has an important function in the latter part of the triple trilogy.
  • Dicky Cruyer's character is a crucial counterfoil and need to be done right. As the reader works through the nine books, the initial perception of Cruyer's character changes and one understands just how crucial his role in on Bernard's career and subsequent downfall and re-emergence, and just how much Bernard's critical opinion of his skills is off target.
  • The story is told largely from Samson's perspective. How will the screen writer and director address that point. We know, when the novels are read (particularly Spy Sinker), that Bernard is not always a reliable witness and analysis of what is going on around him - one of the factors in deciding to build a plot around his naiveté - so how much of the narrative will be driven by his perspective, and how much will the other characters be centre stage. Is this really the story of Fiona Samson, rather than Bernard?
  • How much of the back story will be foregrounded? In the last novel, Charity, the reader is exposed through Silas Gaunt to the full picture of the Machiavellian scheme dreamt up by Gaunt and the DG for which Fiona was the key and Samson the patsy she duped. How much of this plot developed will be revealed in sequence? Or, how much of the story which explains why field agent Bernard is stuck in a desk role (which the 1988 TV series covered extensively at the start of the story)
  • What gets left out? Even with 18 one-hour (45 mins effectively) episodes, there's still not enough time to cover all nine novels. The ITV adaptation took 13 episodes to cover just Berlin Game, Mexico Set, London Match! So, how does the screenwriter compress this multi-layered story? Will he downplay much of the Kosinski narrative in Poland? Will they pass over Spy Sinker and the hidden realities revealed in that book? Will the Prettymans be relegated to brief walk-on parts?
  • What is the core theme which the screenwriter will hook the story upon? Is it personal or matrimonial betrayal? The ruthlessness of London Central? The deceit at the heart of London Central? The love between Bernard and Fiona which shapes both character's responses to the actions played upon them? The ending of the Cold War?
  • Does the Cold War (which ended nearly 24 years ago) still have resonance for the general reader? Is the spy novel now all about the Internet, shadow cells, al Qaeda and North Korea? Will the average TV viewer remember the Cold War and its impact on the western world? Or does it really matter - is it actually the stories and the characters that will grab people's attention?
Any blog readers with their own responses to these questions, or their own ideas about how the new series could do the books justice, are welcome - encouraged, even - to share their views in the comments page.

Thursday 11 April 2013

Bernard Samson to reach the TV screen (again) ...

Soon, in celluloid (or rather, MP4)
Confirmed in today's Bookseller the news I mentioned below but had to keep stumm about: the Deighton Dossier can confirm that over 25 years after the first portrayal of Len Deighton's spy creation Bernard Samson on ITV, he is making it back onto TV ... this time, however, across all nine books in the trip trilogy.

Here is the news release from Clerkenwell Films, reproduced in full:

Oscar-winner Simon Beaufoy to bring Deighton to the screen.

Clerkenwell Films today announced that they are developing an 18 part series based on Len Deighton's classic Cold War novels featuring the iconic spy Bernard Samson. With over 40 million book sales, Len Deighton's Bernard Samson novels are regarded as his masterwork and one of the greatest spy stories of all time. Covering a vast array of international locations from London to Berlin to Mexico City and California, the series follows the exploits of Bernard Samson, an ex MI6 field agent who is drawn back into active duty in a quest to uncover the truth about his wife's defection to the KGB.

Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, The Full Monty, 127 Hours) says:

'Deighton's masterful series of novels draws the hidden political map of the late twentieth century. It is all here: murders, honey-traps and spy swaps, the double-dealing and manoeuvring of nations jousting for position at the height of the Cold War, with Bernard Samson, the Bond with brains, giving it an almost Chandleresque sense of cool. The novels have at their heart a love story of Shakespearian proportions, taking in passion, betrayal, loyalty and the lengths we will go for the love of country and the love of one another.'

Len Deighton says:

'Writing it took well over ten years of my life, and it was my hope and firm belief that some day a film company would want to bring the entire series of books to the screen. Now it has happened. The impressive resources of Clerkenwell Films - and notably the talents of Simon Beaufoy - have embarked on this exciting project. I thank everyone concerned for this happy outcome, and I am confident that Bernard, and his associates, will make many new friends'.

Murray Ferguson, Chief Executive of Clerkenwell Films says:

' With the increasing international appetite for compelling and intelligent long form serial drama, the time is ripe to bring these wonderful novels to the screen, and television is absolutely the best place to do it. With Len Deighton and Simon Beaufoy we are working with two giants in their field. Set in London, Berlin, America and around the world we will be casting from the premier league of international talent.'

Notes to Editors:

Len Deighton

The best-selling author achieved worldwide fame with his spy novels Funeral in Berlin and The Ipcress File, made into an iconic movie starring Michael Caine. Deighton's first Bernard Samson novels, Berlin Game, Mexico Set and London Match, cemented his position as one of the world's leading spy and thriller writers, and has been described by the Sunday Times as 'the poet of the spy story'.

Simon Beaufoy

Simon Beaufoy is one of the world's leading screenwriters, best known for writing the film Slumdog Millionaire which won him an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA award. Also Oscar nominated for The Full Monty, Simon's other credits include 127 Hours and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.

Clerkenwell Films

Clerkenwell Films is a multi-award winning production company. Formed in 1998 the company has gone on to establish itself as one of the leading producers in the UK, creating high quality, popular drama for both UK and international audiences. Among its credits are award-winning, critically acclaimed shows such as MISFITS, AFTERLIFE and PERSUASION.

Lot's to discuss. Starting gun fired ..... now!

Friday 5 April 2013

News on the horizon ....

The horizon, earlier today
Can't say much yet, but there's a likelihood (I hope) of some interesting news at some point very soon.

That is all.

Keep checking back.

Monday 1 April 2013

New shots of Samson's Berlin ....

Up on the main Deighton Dossier website I've added a new gallery page showing more of the locations in Berlin which feature heavily in the books and in the Thames TV adaptation.

I've reproduced three of the shots below. Berlin really is one of the key characters in the nine-volume series; though the city has changed dramatically from the time the books were written, the key locations which anchor the narrative are still visible:

The Soviet Army HQ at Karlshorst, source of the leaked intercept which is at the heart of the deception in the Game, Set and Match series of novels

The Müggelheimerdamm, where Werner exfiltrates agent Dr Walter von Munte
Location of the hostage transfer of Werner Volkmann and Erich Stinnes at the end of London Match

An Icelandic curiosity ....

Thanks to regular correspondent 'Pilgrim', I've come across a very unusual item: a profile of Len Deighton from one of Iceland's news magazines. It doesn't add much new in terms of telling's Len's story or understanding his stories; it's interesting simply from the point of view of emphasising how much impact Len's work had, particularly in the sixties, and the extent of that impact which went as far as this small island in the north Atlantic.

The article is from Alþýðublaðið [Icelandic readers might like to advise of the phonetic spelling!] of 5 March 1996, and seems to have been prompted by the release of The Ipcress File in Icelandic cinemas and the imminent publication of further books from the popular 'Harry Palmer' series:
Test your Icelandic language skills!
It's interesting too for the publicity picture, which I've not seen before - clearly, Len's PR team were aiming to project a clear image of him as spywriter and commentator on the Cold War, as he's dressed rather like a Stasi agent!

Pilgrim's helpfully provided a [rough] translation of the article below. Any Icelandic readers who wish to provide further comment to improve on this are welcome to do so!


On the way to fame - rich writer of spy stories, and cookbook writer in leisure

John Le Carré came "in from the cold", and we had the tenacious life of James Bond, but this whimsical Englishman, who drinks little, likes to create food and gets dizzy if he goes up high buildings, is Len Deighton, 38 years old. He has followed his famous counterpart John Le Carré's "in from the cold" with four spy stories, which are more entertaining that the stories from Le Carré and Ian Fleming.

Secret dossier

Secret Dossier (The Ipcress File) has already been filmed and many will have probably seen it: it was shown at the University Cinema recently. The film was the first book in this series, and was the first book by Len Deighton. The latest of these books is "Billion Dollar Brain". And there will be more. Len Deighton has said that he has no interest in writing serious novels: "I feel that spy stories are quite hard enough to deal with", he says. It takes him a year to write each book and six to eight months for each draft. The books have made him a multi-millionaire. He has a house in Portugal, where he cooks a lot (…. “if I get hungry”, he says), but he goes there very rarely.


Len Deighton has worked as a railroad clerk in Chiswick, a chef at the Royal Festival Hall; he has been a factory manager in Aldgate and a waiter in Piccadilly. His books are not just popular because they are about a spy, but because the spies are very normal people. This new English writer has a regular article in the English sunday newspaper The Observer. He has published two cookbooks and the main character in The Ipcress File is as equally as impressed by food as the author himself.

James Bond

Len Deighton is interested in military history and has travelled throughout most of the world, but admits that he has a tendency to exaggerate his accomplishments. He has a difficult temperament, often difficult to control, but has a good sense of humour, which is evident in his stories - "Do you think I'm a James Bond?" Deighton's anonymous spy says in one of his books.

In one of his later books he cites the phrase, which Khruschev said to Dulles, "We ought to get together and only have to pay our spies once". The spy who receives payment from both parties and never trusts anyone, can often be found in Deighton’s books. The author has gained knowledge from his time with the RAF and is knowledgeable about aircraft, weapons and food. He occasionally smokes French Gauloise cigarettes, likes music and a good lunch.

So he isn't the one we know in the "secret dossier", under the name Harry Palmer. But one thing is for sure: he is the author of books on their way to fame.