Monday 18 February 2019

Happy 90th Birthday, Len Deighton, from your readers

[Card courtesy of reader Peter Ashley]
Anyone born in 1929 - as Len Deighton was, 90 years ago today (18 February) - has experienced a world of unprecedented cultural, social and technological change: the war to end all wars; the end of colonlialism and the subsequent turbulence of numerous civil wars; the Cold War that followed the dropping of the most powerful weapon ever created; the rise of China and the ending of the Communist experiment; pax Americana; unprecedented global economic growth; consumerism; the dawn of the information age and the global connectivity of the Internet.

Through over five decades of writing, give or take, Len Deighton has documented many of these changes.

It seemed appropriate, as Deighton’s success ultimately has been determined by his readability and capacity to generate fantastic characters and stories, to ask other readers to share their thoughts on the question: What do Len Deighton’s books mean to you as a reader?

Read their thoughts, below:

Karl Gunnar Oen, Norway

"It would have been nice to say that this book sent me on a lifelong readership adventure. But no; in 1968 I was only nine years old and The Hardy Boys and Detective Nancy Drew were my favorites. At fourteen I came across a Norwegian edition of Bomber and I was hooked, and it proved to be for life.

Even in rural Norway, Deighton paperbacks were possible to acquire, and through struggling with his books I learned to appreciate the English language much more than the school system had taught me. I fondly remember reading Fighter while doing my military service, and devouring SS-GB as a student. Curiously, I held back on the Game, Set & Match trilogy, not taking it on until I was firmly established with a steady job and a wife. Then, I read the books in next trilogies as soon as they were published. I’m now on my third round of the Samson-novels, the first time I read it for the plot; the second time for the complexity of the relationships; this time around, the humour stands out. The books are so rich that I will certainly read them yet another time, as I have with most of the others.

The Nameless Spy, Colonel Stok, Pat Armstrong, Douglas Archer, Dicky Cruyer, Bernard and Fiona - and Werner: my reading life has been enriched through meeting them. The hours spent in their company, I would not have missed for the world.

Funeral in Berlin is my absolute favourite. Thank you, Mr Deighton!"

Jim Adams, Utah

"My late mother was an avid reader of fiction and, fortunately for me, owned all 10 books in the American first editions and passed them to me as she finished them. For that I’ll be forever grateful to her.

In one way I can especially identify with Bernard Samson. It’s an aspect of the series no one has mentioned yet, and I’ll try to explain with some background, if you’ll please indulge me. I served as a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in northern Germany from 1968 to 1970, and after my mission I married a Berlinerin. My first mission assignment was in Spandau. 

When I was transferred to Hamburg six months later, I was shocked to hear how different the language sounded. I soon learned that what I’d picked up in Berlin was the distinctive dialect spoken in informal conversation all day, every day.

Like Bernard, I’ve been proud of my mastery of Berlinerisch lo these past 50 years, and I’ve been told by Berliners, including my wife, that my pronunciation is almost native. It somehow hurt my feelings too when Werner told his friend in Charity that his dialect wasn’t as good as he’d thought all along!

Bernard’s intimacy with Berlin, its language, its Stadtplan, its weather, the feeling of unease but also of adventure living in the divided city - an island of freedom in a sea of oppression - still resonates in my soul half a century later.
So for me, the magic of the books - beyond the wonderful characters, the intrigue, the almost prescient way the author weaves in a supposed MI-6 involvement in the eventual fall of the Wall - the thing that keeps me coming back to the series again and again is Bernard’s affection for Berlin and its brash, stubborn but deeply lovable people. I share with him a rich nostalgia for pre-Wende, post-war West Berlin.

It makes me rank the final page of Charity right up there with the last sentence of The Great Gatsby as one of noveldom’s supreme closings: that “perfect day long ago” when “the sky was blue and Berlin was heaven.”

Perhaps Fiona and Bernard are right - that happiness does come more often from memories than from the experiences that create them.
Thank you, Mr. Deighton, for memorializing the Berlin of my late adolescence in a way that I can return to any time simply by taking a book down from a shelf. You have my gratitude forever. And Happy 90th!"

Georgie Montmorency-Marchbanks, UK

"I first read the 1960s spy novels when I was thirteen (my school had first editions of The IPCRESS File and Funeral in Berlin in the library. Then I scoured secondhand bookshops for his other works. I assumed he'd not written anything novels since the 1970s; but then I discovered the Bernard Samson books, quite late in the day. Thereafter, I haunted the bookstores for each new instalment. I can vividly remember reading the ‘sixties novels as an adolescent: they had an electrifying effect on me.

You could say they changed my personality somewhat!"

Isyew, UK

"Dear Mr Deighton - that iconic photo of Michael Caine, trying to crack eggs to your satisfaction; you, poised with a raised wood spoon in your right hand, your left - hidden - poking the star as you tease him for his efforts. Wonderful!

I've come to appreciate how much your Samson series of books, in particular, influences my own debut novel. This strange desire to write mystery novels for people who prefer to read with their brains engaged is strong.

Had you as an author aspired to influence society, I'm sure you would have instructed lads like me to rise up in the world, and not simply be content to serve the likes of Dalby, Dawlish and Dicky Cruyer all our lives.

You presented us with muscular, frequently hilarious entertainment in your books and I, for one, am glad you did.

I love your impeccable research which underpins the credible words you create for your fictional characters - sharply drawn and tragi-comic in equal measure (as exemplified in the relationship between Bernard and Werner). I also enjoy what at first sight appear to be straight-line plots, but which offer up so much 'off screen' ambiguity.

You will always be to me a literary giant. Thank you."

Sunday 17 February 2019

Now, that's a biography!

I thought, ahead of Len's 90th birthday tomorrow, that I'd reproduce his biography which was included in the Penguin editions of Horse Under Water and Billion Dollar Brain. It's certainly one of the more obtuse author biographies you'll find, and - as most of it's true - a testament to a remarkably varied early life before he became a full-time author.

"Description - dark complexion, fourteen stone, six feet tall. Cruel, sardonic sense of humour. Large hands, stubby fingers used to punctuate rapid, neurotic speech. Bayonet scar palm right hand. Drinks warily, seldom smokes. 
Skills - extensive knowledge of military history, modern control systems, aircraft (especially helicopters), vehicles, weapons, tactics. Marksman; never hunts animals. Good cook. 
Experience - railway lengthman [DD - he used to work at Nine Elms], Piccadilly waiter, Madison Avenue adman, Vogue fashion artist, photographer RAF Mosquitos, manager Aldgate gown factory. Seen Vista-Vision blue films in pre-Castro Cuba, typhoon in Tokyo, hurricane passing New York. Given talk over Soviet radio. Once fell into Hong Kong harbour, fatty tissue saved him."

Now, that's a biography and a half, huh?

Len Deighton book montage

Len Deighton's output from 1962 - 1996

Thanks to Len's friend Edward Milward-Oliver - author of the Len Deighton Companion - who created this composite image of all the UK first editions written by Len Deighton since his career started with The Ipcress File in 1962.

A great visual testimony to the author's output, ahead of his ninetieth birthday tomorrow.

Sunday 10 February 2019

Follow this Twitter moment marking Len's upcoming 90th birthday.

The author running back to read the latest on the Deighton Dossier twitter feed
To mark Len Deighton's birthday on 18 February, I will post here and on the website an article gathering together both my thoughts and views and comments from other Deighton Dossier readers on the topic: 'what do Len Deighton's books mean to you as a reader?'

In the interim, if you are on Twitter do follow this Twitter Moment, which captures the regular tweets that have been going up containing snippets from some of his best-known books and reader responses to them, in the lead-up to 18 February