Thursday 23 December 2021

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to Deighton Dossier readers

'"Cheer up, Werner. It will soon be Christmas," I said.'

Bernard Samson to Werner Volkmann, first line, Chapter 1, Mexico Set

Like Bernie and Werner in Werner's Audi in freezing West Berlin, we're all waiting for Christmas.

So it's an appropriate time to wish all readers of this blog - plus visitors to the main Deighton Dossier website or the Facebook group - Yuletide wishes. While blog posting this year has been rather light, on the Facebook group particularly there's still been plenty of good discussions among collectors and readers of Deighton's books.

And early in 2022 for viewers in the UK - and certainly later on in the US and likely other TV markets - we'll get to see another of Deighton's spy creations - 'Harry Palmer' (as he became) - who will be seen played by Joe Cole in the new ITV drama series The Ipcress File, broadcast 33 years after the last TV series (also on ITV) featuring Bernard Samson, Game, Set & Match.

Hopefully, the new series will bring renewed interest in the books, the character and, of course, the author.

Thursday 7 October 2021

Deighton up for Southwark Blue Plaque

View over Southwark

As an author, Len Deighton has often eschewed literary prizes and honours, believing his work speaks for itself.

But as someone born in London, who lived there during much of his early life until his career as an author really took off, he might appreciate a blue plaque there in his name.

The Southwark Blue Plaque scheme is currently seeking support for nominees for recipients to honour those who've lived in and contributed to the London Borough.

One of the nominees is Len Deighton, who lived in a flat in Southwark during the sixties and wrote many of his books while resident in the borough.

Dossier readers are welcome to add their support for the nomination.

Thursday 30 September 2021

More Penguin classics roll off the production line...

Today I've received in the post a further five books from the Penguin Modern Classics editions, which have been dropping onto booksellers shelves throughout 2021.

The latest editions are:

  • Close-Up
  • Yesterday's Spy
  • Spy Story
  • Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Spy 
  • An Expensive Place to Die.

The bold cover designs by Richard Green continue to be visually interesting - each book features the Ray Hawkey-inspired chevron motif linking back to his original Penguin covers from the 1960s, with some bold colour choices, each too with the 'dot matrix' B&W photo pointing to the themes explored in the novels.

The cover of Yesterday's Spy bold, with its bold white cover, hints at a nod to the original Hawkey first edition covers for the unnamed spy stories in the 'sixties, which for the time were groundbreaking in their use of white on the dustcovers, which was traditionally avoided by book designers due to its propensity to show the dirt, where customers for example picked them up to browse. 

There are a few more still to come out later in the autumn, including Goodbye Mickey Mouse and City of Gold.

I've been very impressed with Penguin's approach and its readiness to go all-in on the design motif that connects each and every book being republished and honours the company's long standing connection to the author. They've evidently taken a lot of time and care over each edition, which no doubt will help with attracting new readers to the novels.

Saturday 7 August 2021

Eastern Europe in England

I recently did some searching of various newspaper archives and found this interesting article from the Daily Mirror newspaper from late in 1987, during the filming of the Granada TV mini-series Game, Set and Match, based on the three Len Deighton novels of the same name (which was broadcast in Autumn 1988).

Famously, it recounts how - given that the Berlin Wall still existed at the time, and filming behind the Wall was, unsurprisingly, not allowed - the producers had to improvise when filming the many scenes requiring actor Ian Holm (as Bernard) and others to be in Eastern Europe.

Gdansk, Lancashire.

For the scenes in Gdansk Railway Station, Manchester's Victoria Station (now majorly different in layout) stood in, thanks to the addition of some Polish signage and Eastern Bloc cars.

For example, Bolton Town Hall stood in for Gdansk, in the scene where Bernard goes behind the Iron Curtain to meet with Yuri Rostov to seek his defection, the failure of which leads Bernard to flee Eastern Europe via an escape across the wall (a scene which is told in flashback in the books, but which provides the opening scenes in the TV mini series that provide a context for explaining Bernard Samson's position back in London Central, desk-bound.

Other filming was done in and around the North West (the series was produced by Granada TV, the regional commercial TV station in England which formed part of the ITV network). For instance, the village of Great Budworth near Northwich stood in for Cosham (which is actually on the south coast of England in the books), for the scene where Bernard and Werner discover the body of McKenzie in the departmental safe house, left there by Erich Stinnes, who is seeking to undermine Samson's position within London Central by pinning the murder on him.

The two-page article from the Daily Mirror, which explores other aspects of the production (including the filming in West Berlin and Mexico), was part of the pre-launch publicity around the series which, despite Granada TV's largest drama budget up to that point, ultimately failed to prove the smash hit that was expected. Famously, due to disagreements with the producers during the making of the film, the commercial rights for the series were withdrawn by Len Deighton, meaning the series - and its many North West locations - haven't ever been broadcast again on British TV, or released on DVD.

Sunday 16 May 2021

Couple of recent Deighton-related articles readers may be interested in

Things are relatively quiet with respect to news about Deighton's books - now that the Penguin editions are starting to roll out - but there are still the odd article relating to the author and his works for readers to be aware of.

In The New Statesman (a UK-based, broadly left-of-centre magazine), journalist John Gray has written a profile style piece called Len Deighton and the mundanity of spies. If you can look past the odd spelling error (sub-editors failed to correct a reference to 'Leighton'), then it's worthwhile giving it a read, as the writer compares Deighton's spy thrillers with other classic characters and stories from Maugham and Fleming and others.

Earlier in the month, in The Observer, Deighton's son Alex - who has been co-authoriting the most recent cookstrips in the magazine with his father (now, sadly, at an end), discusses with the interviewer the recent launch of the new Penguin Modern Classics editions, and his father's continued legacy of books being enjoyed by new generations of readers.

Saturday 13 March 2021

New Disney editions looking very stylish

Last year, it was announced that Penguin had secured the paperback writes to Len Deighton's fiction and non-fiction output, and would publish them under its Penguin Modern Classics imprint. 

The first cover images for the initial releases in the series have been released, and they look mightily impressive, based on those available so far (all the books are available for pre-order, but not all covers have been shared yet).

The overall look and feel has been created by Penguin's Art Director Tony Stoddart, and what is immediately apparently is how his overall feel seems to make passing references to previous Penguin film tie-in editions from the sixties, with the famous covers featuring Michael Caine as Harry Palmer, which were designed by Len Deighton's long-time collaborator, Raymond Hawkey.

Take a look, and see what you think.

Funeral in Berlin 2021, designed by Tony Stoddart

Funeral in Berlin 1966, designed by Ramond Hawkey

The orange chevron in the new edition is a wonderful homage to the famous - and famously successful - three editions of the 'Harry Palmer' novels which were published by Penguin in the 'sixties; they did not, however, have the rights to The Ipcress File.

These new editions will include all Deighton's fiction output, plus many of his historical works too.

Friday 26 February 2021

Another serendipitous find

As a collector of Len Deighton's output (along with a couple of other authors) for a number of decades, through talking to dealers, scouring second-hand book shops and trawling online sites like ABEBooks, I've got a pretty good idea of what the market is:

  • Which books are rare
  • How often the crop up in the market
  • What represents good value
That allows me, as a collector, to be more focused and targeted and ensure that any spare cash I use on adding to my collection, is well-used and helps me get a more complete collection.

Every so often, something comes along that I've never heard of or seen before for sale; one recent example explored here on this blog was the SS-GB Whitehall postcard - super rare - which I found after years of searching. Surprisingly, within a couple of months, I found another (which I purchased) that included some of the original publicity content sent out to booksellers.

Feast and famine, and serendipity. Such is the experience of the serious book collector.

This week, I found another item that was totally off my radar. It's a limited edition book of illustrations, called An Alphabet in praise of Frogs and Toads by John Norris Wood. And, it has a foreword by Len Deighton (as a serious collector, I don't collect just Deighton's books, but his forewords and book jacket illustrations too). 

Why? Well, it turns out Wood and Deighton were fellow students at London's Royal College of Art, where both were graphic designers and illustrators. Deighton's forward recalls his time at the college and his friendship with Wood. The book itself is simply page after page of - admittedly well done - pictures of frogs and toads. But, as a limited private printing of just 320 copies, it's rare.

I checked with other collectors and online and found that the market price was in the £2-300 mark.

Me? I paid £50 online for it. I'd consider that a bargain for something so rare. 

It just goes to show that for those of us who enjoy collecting books - of whatever kind - there's always something new to find, and that's why we do what we do; that's why collectors are rarely satisfied or say to themselves, "You know, I'm done."

Happy collecting.

Friday 1 January 2021

A new Harry Palmer on the horizon

The new Harry Palmer. What, no glasses?

 Before Christmas, ITV delivered a Christmas present for Deighton fans, of sorts.

A new six-part TV series based on The Ipcress File novel is planned for broadcast this year, with a new younger cast recreating Len Deighton's first novel - reimagining, perhaps, given the fabled original movie starring Michael Caine is so well known.

The part made famous by Michael Caine will be played by young British actor Joe Cole, who's most famous for his role in BBC 1's Peaky Blinders historical drama. He'll be joined by actress Lucy Boynton - who one imagines will play Jean - and also Tom Hollander. Further details are awaited about the series but the signs in the ITV press release are relatively positive.

With six parts, presumably an hour long, the producers should have more time for character development and to visit more parts of the books - including those in the Pacific - which were excised from the original cinema version. 

Potentially, too, they have the option to explore more of Harry Palmer's back story - the producers are sticking with the name created for the film, given the brand value of doing so - particularly his criminal acts within the army in Berlin which originally landed him with Colonel Ross in W.O.O.C.(P).

Of course, any series based on a book from the 'sixties will inevitably be 'updated' and made 'relevant', but as long as it's not egregious or doesn't get in the way of telling the story, such things are forgiveable.

Still, it should be fun, and I wait to see with interest whether it can hold its ground with the original.

Now, some better 2021 New Year news would be to hear that Clerkenwell Films - holders of the TV rights for all nine Bernard Samson books - has, having held the rights for over five years - announced plans to start filming the series.

But, maybe we have to wait for April Fool's Day for that announcement.

What do other readers think - good idea or not, the Ipcress update?