Wednesday, 31 December 2014

New interview with Len Deighton on the web ... and Happy New Year!

I've just been emailed by Remy Dean, co-editor of Scrawl, the literary website, who's advised that he has just put up a short interview with Len Deighton up on their website, which covers a range of themes about the authors career.

You can catch the interview here.

To anyone's who's read the Deighton Dossier blog and website in 2014, a Happy New Year!

Friday, 26 December 2014

Suited and booted ...

On my wanderings across the Internet I found this very interesting - and specific - site relating to James Bond and the different suits he has worn in the cinema since the sixties.

As well as fulsome identification of the styles, cut and cloth associated with each different James Bond, the site - run by US designer Matt Speiser - has a fun blog post about the suits that Michael Caine wore as Harry Palmer. If you want to know the cuff style, suit fabric and pocket designs that make up the Harry Palmer look, this is the page to check out.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Wonderful images: the Berlin Wall Then & Now, courtesy of The Guardian

The way things were
I've just discovered on The Guardian's website this lovely photographic essay of the Berlin Wall, looking at classic images and then superimposing on them the exact same view as it exists today. Very interesting and well-designed piece, with commentaries, which shows just how utterly transformed the city is from its days as the fulcrum of the Cold War.

Really worth investigating.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Winding back the clock - cookstrips are back in The Observer

Readers who enjoy the feel and simplicity of Len Deighton's cookstrips - which first emerged as serialised items in The Observer between 1962 and 1966 are to appear in this Sunday's edition of The Observer magazine, and thereafter monthly in the magazine. The cookstrips of course subsequently morphed into the Action Cook Book, and famously appear in the coffee making scene in The Ipcress File!

The interview can be found here (hat-tip to Terry).

It features a great reproduction of the famous photo of Len showing Michael Caine as Harry Palmer how to make an omelette in a production still from The Ipcress File. Many of the anecdotes are familiar but there's plenty new in the article of interest to readers, such as the fact Len kept terrapins in his airing cupboard (!).

Here's an extract from the article by Robin Stummer:
'In the film, as Harry nonchalantly cracks eggs into a bowl with one hand while the woman pours out two large whiskies, you can see a cluster of newspaper cuttings pinned up near the copper pans and string of garlic. They are from the Observer’s food section. Not words, but drawings – like prison-cell treasure maps dotted with arrows, numbers and scraps of staccato text veering, slightly insanely, into bold and italic. Those cuttings are some of Deighton’s famous “cookstrips”'.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Immortalised in fabric ....

Discovered this on the Internet recently. Len Deighton is available as a collectible figure. As are a host of other literary personalities.

Very odd. But compellingly so!

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Guest post: reader Terry Kidd on SS-GB

I re-read SS-GB when I heard the news of a possible TV version. Over the years I’ve read long passages from SS-GB out to friends as I’ve tried to share with them my love for this tense and moving book. It was no chore to pick it up again.

Len Deighton, in his memoir relating to James Bond and film making (James Bond, my long and eventful search for his father) remarks on how the film director can build the tension by revealing things that the hero cannot know. In historical fiction the reader can have superior knowledge to the protagonists. In SS-GB Len exploites the reader’s knowledge of the atomic bomb and how it will fundamentally change warfare. At times Kellerman and Mayhew seem to be negotiating over the atomic secrets as though the atomic bomb were just some new type of hand grenade. The reader knows, as they cannot know, what an atomic bomb means.

The tension thus generated keeps the reader engaged throughout. In fiction there are three legs, world, character and plot. In a sense the plot and characters are only there to keep you turning the pages while you visit the world the writer has created. And so we stick with Douglas avidly as he makes his way through the horrific world of a German occupied London.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

EXCLUSIVE - Len Deighton on the true story of the production of Oh! What a Lovely War

Invite to the original premiere
In a coup for the Deighton Dossier, Len Deighton has written a personal and detailed account of his production of the award-winning UK film Oh! What a Lovely War. In this century anniversary of the start of the First World War a lot of focus has been placed on this film with its portrayal, through the music hall style of the original play, of the realities of war for many on the front.

Len has indicated to me that in response to some 'extravagant fictions' that have grown up around the film since its release, he would like to set the record straight and explain the reasons why he chose to make the film and tell the story of the men and the war.


(c) Pluriform 2014

Producing 'Oh What A Lovely War' - how it happened

by Len Deighton

"The radio play

When Charles Chilton created 'The Long Long Trail,’ his musical play for BBC radio, he used only the words that were spoken or written by the participants of World War One. The programme was entertaining but it was an important record too. In a typically British light-hearted way, it brought the facts, figures and first-hand opinions of the war to a wide audience.

The stage production

On 19 March 1963, Joan Littlewood and her Theatre Workshop opened their production. Joan had transformed the radio programme into a musical entertainment for the stage. Her Theatre Royal was a lovely old music hall and Joan's instinct told her to adapt a line from one of the songs - 'Oh, its a lovely war' - to make her more exclamatory title ‘Oh What A Lovely War'. Joan's production adopted the variety theatre format, and even used the illuminated numbers at each side of the stage to distinguish each act. The Theatre Royal was small and the audience was mostly local people, but the heavy irony of Joan's new title attracted wide attention. Theatre critics, always curious about Joan's startling and unpredictable talent, came to Stratford in London to see what it was all about. Kenneth Tynan, the theatre critic of The Observer, gave the show a rave review. I read his verdict a day or two later, in Portugal. The production was obviously an important historical record and I made plans to go to London and see it. I went to London, saw the show and bought the LP recording of the songs and music.

The screenplay

After seeing Joan's Theatre Workshop production at Stratford East the show remained in my mind, and I had played the songs over and over again. I bought a published copy of the stage play to see if I could make it into a screenplay. Harry Saltzman warned me that other admirers of the show had bought movie options previously, but failed to get deals; but I persevered. My determination was driven more by the wish to make a permanent record of the show than by a wish to become a film producer...."

Read the rest of this story on the newly upgraded Deighton Dossier website.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Deighton Dossier main site refresh completed


over the last few days I've been busy re-building the main Deighton Dossier website from scratch, including all the original content but adding in more content too and updating some imperfections in the site.

In this mobile age, the site is (I hope) now fully responsive meaning it can be accessed on a phone, table or PC. Also, the design is such that it will now be easier for me to include more galleries, potentially some video and other interesting stuff that I've not been able to put up now.

Here's the new front page:

At some point soon I will also be upgrading the blogger template on so it more closely resembles this upgraded site.

Anyway, hope readers like it. If there are errors or things not on there that should be, please send me an email and I'll correct them. If readers have any interesting books or other pieces from their collections which they think should be feature on here (appropriately referenced), do get in touch.

The content itself has been edited slightly, but with this new content structure in place I hope to do a further refresh on all the written content and add some new commentary and analysis, re-using some of the information readers have provided on the blog.


Wednesday, 19 November 2014

SS-GB closer to the screen?

According to this report in Variety magazine, the BBC has signed an agreement with Sid Gentle films to adapt SS-GB into a five-part, BBC One thriller.

Reportedly at the helm are two writers from the recent Bond adaptations, which is a sign of the probable quality of any screenplay and of the likelihood of the reasonably advanced progress already made on this adaptation. With what can be achieved through CGI in re-creating long-lost London, this should be worth watching.

Indeed, there remains no further substantive news of the other major Deighton story adaptation, that of the Game, Set and Match triple trilogy by Clerkenwell Films, announced just under a year ago.

Of interest, check out author Mike Ripley's review of SS-GB in his Shotsmag Confidential blog, highlighting the classic thriller genre.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Site design updated

Users will see that I've changed the blogger template for this blog so that it now resembles more in character the main Deighton Dossier website/archive.

Otherwise, the content is still the same.

It was twenty-five years ago today, Gunther Schabowski allowed exit visas without delay ....

[Forgive the laboured Beatles pun!]

Today is the twenty-fifth anniversary of die Wende - the fall of the Berlin Wall and the ending (until this year, maybe) of the Cold War between communist Russia and its satellites and the West. SED central committee spokesman Gunther Schabowski, announced changes that would allow GDR citizens to apply for visas to travel aboard, "immediate, without delay". The latter sentence was the key - there were no plans in place by the SED for immediate travel, but Berliners weren't worried and streamed across the border after demanding gates were opened

Europe has changed so much since then that it's easy to forget the continent was utterly divided by an barbed wire and concrete barrier, separating German from German.

It is the leitmotif running through much of the best Cold War fiction and continues to fascinate as history and fiction.

In Berlin Game, Len described it I thought very well:
"Spiked through both sectors, like a skewer through a shish kebab, ... the East-West Axis"

Friday, 7 November 2014

Another list for which there's no definitive answer ....

Wall remnant
Up on the Telegraph's website today, timed to coincide with the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall over the weekend, is an interesting little feature: the top ten Cold War novels.

Like all these lists - not really the most imaginative approach from the journalist, Jake Kerridge - there's no definitive answer and that creates often some great postings in the comments section where fans of different authors argue over which deserve their place and which not.

Len's work Billion Dollar Brain is Kerridge's surprise choice (surprise for me in that, most journalists will often pick Funeral in Berlin or The Ipcress File from this series). There are some other well-deserved choices but, as some commentators remark, where is Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy?

It's all very subjective, and I guess that's part of the fun. So ..... what would you change?

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Selling secrets .... the invention of The Ipcress File

Eggs were harmed in the making of this film
I recently picked up on eBay an interesting piece of ephemera: a publicity pack from the Rank Films organisation about The Ipcress File.

This is an authentic package of material targeting promoters, cinema owners and journalist, containing information about the film and its stars and ideas for creating public awareness. It's evident from the file that part of the success of The Ipcress File as a film is - along with the story, of course - the success with which it was marketed as a new type of spy film.

In reading through the pack, you can get an idea of the angles that producer Harry Saltzman and his marketing team were looking to push in the advance publicity around the film. In the background information - the first page - there are choice phrases used to describe the film, which give an idea of how they were marketing it at a time when the Bond films were already becoming successful:

  • "THE IPCRESS FILE - a tense thriller of espionage and counter-espionage"
  • "a happy-go-luck British ex-army officer who is pitchforked into espionage"
  • "a tangled web of treachery as fantastic and exciting as can only be found in the complicated and highly professional game of world espionage"
The pack includes background information on the two "stars" picked out - Michael Caine, obviously, but also Sue Lloyd, who plays Jean Courtenay. Tellingly, she is given greater prominence in this pack than either of the other two main characters, Major Ross (Guy Doleman) and Major Dalby (Nigel Green). Clearly, in the sixties, sex appeal was a strong component of any successful film, and a number of the promotional ideas suggested in this pack centre around this. For example:
'Conjure up the fascination of a tie-in with a lovely perfume bearing the intriguing name of 'Contraband', plus copy that reads MADAME LIVE DANGEROUSLY - CHOOSE CONTRABAND ... AND GET YOUR MAN. Add a sizzling full colour picture of glamorous Sue Lloyd and you have the ingredients of a first rate promotion with the distributors of this exotic perfume.'
It's fascinating to read how in the 'sixties, just as now, the marketing men were identifying the themes and angles which would grab the public's attention and steer them towards the film. Promoters are given ideas for a whole range of competitions to raise awareness of the film:

  • A quiz in which readers are asked to link the film star with the film they first starred in
  • An 'interrogation survey' to test how much readers actually know about real-life and fictional spies, such as Edith Cavell, Richard Hannay and Greville Wynne
  • 'Operation  "Enemy Agent"' - local newspapers are invited to challenge readers to find "The Man with The Ipcress File", requiring a man from the newspaper to walk around the vicinity of the cinema carrying a file clearly marked with the film's name. Members of the public were asked to challenge him and say"YOU ARE THE MAN WITH THE IPCRESS FILE AND I CLAIM MY REWARD". Really!
  • Cinemas were encouraged to have a display front of house written in Morse Code, to get people wondering about the film
There are plenty more whizzy and strange ideas in this pack. For every would-be promoter the studio's publicity department really made an effort to get what we would nowadays call "brand awareness" in advance of the film's release. Judging by its popularity when premiered in 1965, they were pretty successful.

In the rest of the post you'll find picture of this 'Top Secret' file, as well as a short contribution from Len himself about the brain-washing element that is central to the film's story.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Hors d'ouevre, Orders

Thanks to David, son of regular contributor Nick Flindall, who spotted this article in yesterday's Telegraph magazine online.

Journalist Bee Wilson, writing in the cooking/life section of the newspaper, looks at the concept of the hors d'ouevre in cooking.  It's a useful article for nothing else that it explains what the word means, something I've never known - outside of the main work. So, in a cooking sense, sort of maverick, rejecting convention and current trends perhaps?

In this context she refers to Len Deighton's Action Cook Book, of which she writes:
'[the book] looks like a joke, but many of Deighton's thoughts on food remain fresh and witty. He puts cardamom in rice and tarragon in scrambled eggs. He counsels us to avoid "dodgy" pineapples and to invest in a good omelette pan. Of fennel, he writes, "looks like pot-bellied celery, tastes like liquorice".'

Nice little article.

Coming up soon - a blog post on the Ipcress File, with a small contribution from Len based on recent emails.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Ipcress File now out on Blu-ray

The ever popular film of Len Deighton's novel - with the fantastic John Barry score - is now out on the Blu-ray format. Whatever my views on the difference in quality over standard DVDs and online HD access, it was still worth me buying a copy to see what new there was on it. The film remains as watchable as ever and even though the original film can show its age in HD, it does seem to have reproduced well

Like a lot of Blu-rays, it comes with a lot of 'extras', some of which are familiar but some of which seem new (or at least, new to a disc release). These are:

  • Michael Caine is Harry Palmer - exclusive Sir Michael Caine interview
  • The Design File - an interview with production designer, Sir Ken Adam
  • Commentary with Sidney Furie and editor Peter Hunt
  • Michael Caine goes Stella Street - comedy short with Phil Cornwell (pretty funny!)
  • 1969 documentary - Candid Caine
  • Original theatre trailer

What is rather enjoyable is the programme notes from the publisher, Network Films. It's a rather nice 22-page document with some great black and white and colour films from the film, along with two very readable commentary pieces, which - from memory - have been included in a previous DVD special edition, as they're written in 2005:
  • A different class - Michael Cain and The Ipcress File by Christopher Bray, which seems pretty accurate in telling the story of how the film came to be and Caine's use of the principle of "less is more" in acting to portray Palmer; and
  • A study in insolence - the making of The Ipcress File by Steve Rogers

So while not necessarily new or ground-breaking in its content, it is a nice disc set and on a nice TV with great sound, adds something to the experience.

You can find the disc on Amazon and other stores.

Billion-Dollar Brain will be out later in the autumn on Blu-ray from the same publishers.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Guest post 3 - The beginning of the end?

With the vote on Scotland's independence looming it seems appropriate to recall Len Deighton’s short story, 12 good men and true (from Declarations of War) which describes an event associated with the time when Ireland left the Union.

Deighton’s short story, of course, is about the British Empire and the men who maintained it, the soldiers of the British Army. This tale recalls the execution of a soldier of the Connaught Rangers, an Irish Regiment that had served the British Empire with distinction since 1793. This is a beautifully crafted story about a remarkable event. It hardly needs to be said that killing is the business of soldiers but the duty that has fallen to these men, to be part of a firing squad executing a political prisoner, is a very cruel one but these are the men who kept the Empire going and this was how that was done.

In 1920, the period of the story, some members of the Connaught Rangers mutinied as a protest against the introduction of martial law in Ireland. This was the time of the Irish struggle for independence and , by way of reprisals,Irish civilians were being punished (beaten up and terrorised), in Ireland, by the Black and Tans. These men were a force of mainly English and Scots ex-soldiers, supposedly in place to keep order. One soldier of the Connaught Rangers, now serving in India was James Daley, he was the leader of a group of mutineers who protested against this treatment of their friends and relatives back home. Daley, as the leader, was executed by firing squad. According to the new introduction it is from an eye witness account of Daley’s execution that Len’s short story is based.

Prior to the founding of the Irish Free State in 1922 the British Army had had many Irish units. In fact, the Connaught Rangers are closely associated with one of the best known of the British Army’s marching songs, "It's a Long Way to Tipperary". And, in the First World War, 2500 Connaught Rangers had died fighting for Britain.

But things, including national borders, can change very quickly, as the Germans discovered in 1990. And if the Scots leave what next? Northern Ireland and Wales? Never mind the British Empire, what will be left of Britain? Will we still be British? We might have to start referring to ourselves as the English, and that has a rather unpleasant ring too it!

Terry Kidd

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Deighton on Radio 4 .... Redux

For those who may have missed it, the BBC Radio 4 archive has available - for a limited time - a 30 minute interview Len did with the channel for his 80th birthday, looking back at his life and career.

You can find it here. Check it out before it's gone.

Goodbye Erich Stinnes ....

The late Gottfried John
Sad news from the world of acting that German actor Gottfried John has died at the age of 72. Most, if not all of the references have as far as I can see referred to his role as the archetypal Bond 'villain' General Ourumov in Goldeneye. And very good he was in that too, his slavic features fitting the character very well even though John himself was born in Berlin.

Few of the references I've seen online - including, for example, his Wikipedia entry - reflect the fact that he was one of the main characters in the TV adaptation of Game, Set and Match. This, of course, is a consequence largely of the fact that after one showing on UK TV in 1988 (and presumably, similarly so in international markets), the series was never repeated or released on DVD, due largely to Len's dissatisfaction with some of the casting.

I can see little to be dissatisfied with in Gottfried John's performance. His identifiable German/Slavic features - redolent of a German from the eastern provinces, perhaps - served the actor well in his portrayal of Nikolai Sadoff - KGB General - who when stationed in East Berlin chose to adopt the German pseudonym Erich Stinnes. In the 1988 ITV adaptation of Len Deighton's Game, Set and Match, John portrayed I thought extremely well the calm power of this KGB veteran in whom Bernard Samson saw something of himself, the passed-over field specialist at the mercy of the desk officers.

John was perfectly believable as the KGB colonel and, having watched the DVD series again last month, I was struck by how he fitted the role like a glove and was a great foil to Ian Holm's Bernard Samson, particularly in the scene on the motor boat in the ocean off Mexico, where Samson has to convince himself that Stinnes' defection is the real deal.

An established German actor, I enjoyed John's performance as Franz Bieberkopf's pimp friend in Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz, long regarded as a milestone in German TV film-making.

Readers interested in seeing his portrayal of Erich Stinnes can frequently find episodes of the 1988 Game, Set and Match adaptation on YouTube. What do you think of his portrayal - is he the Stinnes of the books, do you think?

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Spectator on Fleming

If you haven't seen this article on The Spectator website, worth checking out (no subscription required). Interesting perspectives on the author of the Bond novels from the magazine, in which he and his books featured regularly and many of the staff of which he also new well. There's so much been written about Fleming it's always interesting to read slightly different perspectives.

Readers may then want to check out Len Deighton's recent e-book on Fleming and his (albeit minor) role in the character's on-screen development.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Ohhhhh ....... Viennaaaaaaa!

Need a spy? Try here
If you've missed this on The Telegraph website this week, neat little article reporting that, one century on from the first world war, Vienna - the capital of Austria - remains a centre for world spying. The recent upsurge in violence in Russia has thrown a light again on the strategic tensions in eastern Europe and the Russian capacity to spread its influence beyond its borders.

In the ever useful The Len Deighton Companion by Edward Milward-Oliver in 1987, he writes this about the entry 'Vienna':
"Vienna. Although no longer the capital of an empire, Vienna is unchanging. Sachers is still serving the Sacher Torte cake it served at the turn of the century - an era notably depicted in the beginning of Winter, in which we find Veronica Winter in the first stages of labour as her husband is summoned to a meeting with the secret police chief, Count Kupka. Thirty-eight years later, Paul Winter returns to the city of his birth, to find the restaurants and shops filled with German tourists who've arrived within hours of the German Army crossing the front to enforce the Nazi Anschluss."

Right throughout espionage literature, Vienna's always had a central spot as a location for intrigue, threats, exchanges and murder. Worth a read.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Book recommendation - Sea of Gold by Nick Elliott

Nick Elliott
I've just read through a new book I've been sent by author Nick Elliott, entitled Sea of Gold. He's a self-professed admirer of Len Deighton - "I’m a fan of Len Deighton and relish the complexities of his tales," he's written in a blog post - and there's certainly a lot of twists and complex plot advances and location descriptions to suggest he's making a good stab at matching that complexity.

Nick is a new writer. He comes not from an intelligence background but from commercial shipping, and he's written a story based in a world he knows which, like any line of international business, can be complex, at risk of fraud, and open to corruption. You don't see any of this on 'Mighty Ships' on the TV, I'll tell you. Who knew international shipping was a nest of criminal vipers?

The book is relatively short - just under three hundred pages - and is definitely the sort of easy read that one can complete in a weekend or over a week on the train to work.

The main protagonist - a maritime claims investigator, unsurprisingly - is called Angus McKinnon. He makes connections between a number of fraudulent deals he uncovers in doing his job - the twist is that in doing so he plunges into a violent and ruthless world of he uncovers a ruthless conspiracy born of greed and the lust for power, with the background of the global oceans to support his efforts to uncover the truth. There's a classic story arc here of one man uncovering something big and taking the direct route to uncover the truth and, in a way, get redemption.

The plot - I won't give it away - does move quickly and every chapter seems to add something to the story and the narrative, well, there's not any fat here to be trimmed. In the book there are all the ingredients one looks for in a modern espionage thriller:

  • Secretive government agencies
  • Exotic locations like Thailand and India
  • Love tangles
  • Explosions
  • Sleeper agents, and other things.

It's about intrigue and there's a lot of work the reader is asked to do to make connections and fill out the bigger picture.

The dialogue at times I felt needed a little polishing, some vim and verve to take it out of the ordinary, as there were a couple of dialogues that felt a little clunky. There's a lot of shipping references, perhaps naturally, but the reader doesn't need to be a naval nut to enjoy the story.

As a main character, McKinnon has some credibility and signs of depth and he proves a stubborn and tough companion through the pages. There's potential here, one suspects, for Elliott to develop the character a little more and build him up into an agent/investigator to join the pantheon of some of the great characters of international thrillers.

A worthy first effort by Nick. It can be found on Amazon on both Kindle and paperback, where it's already got a five star rating. If you read it, do share your comments below.

Two quick snippets - cars and food

Blog readers, a short post picking up on two things relating to Len and his work & life which I've picked up. First is a short article on the Eye magazine blog. It's a very interesting design perspective on Len Deighton's Action Cook Book, the book which, in a sense, taught men to cook in the 'sixties. The piece by Patrick Bogle has some interesting perspectives on Len's creative relationship with his friend Ray Hawkey. He describes very well the "beautifully calm drama" of the cook strips.

Worth a look.

Second, courtesy of Len's son, is a fun web page concerning the provenance of one of Len's previous motor cars. In the spirit, perhaps, of Ian Fleming and James Bond, Len once owned an Aston Martin DB6 Mark II Volante - some car! Here's a little picture of it on the Aston Martin heritage website.

If you write about spies, you've gotta drive like one, surely!

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Guest post part 2 - The 'new' Horse Under Water

A horse, indeed, under water
I’ve always been very fond of Deighton’s novel, Horse Under Water. This despite the fact that I could never quite bring myself to believe that a submersible weather buoy from 1945 would still be working when Harry Palmer and Petty Officer Edwards scoop it out of the sea at the end of the novel.

It seems that no modern energy storage system, never mind a 1945 system, could allow such a device to surface every 12 hours. Len doesn’t go into details but I assumed that such a machine would be like a small submarine with a floodable chamber to make it sink and a compressed air cylinder to clear that chamber of water to make it surface again. The air cylinder would then have to be replenished, on the surface, ready for the next dive/surface cycle 12 hours later. So the system would need either a diesel engine or a large electric motor in order to recharge the compressed air tank. Either way the required supply of diesel, and/or battery power stretched my credibility.

However, the image of this tireless machine traveling twice a day from the sea bed up to the surface is really too striking to abandon. So it’s fun to speculate what the Horse in the ‘lost‘ Harry Palmer film would be like. So when was the book set? Having retrieved the thing they have to chisel a couple of bolts off, ‘but that’s only to be expected after more than a decade under water’. So, is there a way to keep a submersible weather buoy going until 1963, when the book was published?

Friday, 13 June 2014

Guest post: 'Divine mysteries' by Terry Kidd

The Deighton Dossier is pleased to share a perspective on Len Deighton's fiction from reader and correspondent Terry Kidd.

"There was a time when much of British fiction was about the upper classes. Working class people, when they appeared at all, were part of the furniture: servants, drivers, uniformed policemen. Even children’s comics, widely read by working class kids according to George Orwell, were filled with stories set in imagined public schools such as Billy Bunter’s Grayfriars and filled with the children of the aristocracy. British fiction eventually did change, but how did this happen?

The answer is alluded to in the opening section of Len Deighton’s novel, Bomber. In this section, the RAF characters are introduced. They are visiting the home of the parents of ‘Kosher’ Cohen. Sam Lambert is talking with Cohen’s father. The older man, referring to Britain’s new found martial vigor, suggests that, for the sake of victory, the British ‘will almost forgo their class system.’

By the time of the novels setting, mid-1943, the British public school system, which had long provided all the men needed to run both the British military and the empire, could no longer satisfy the enormously thirst for manpower required to sustain the war effort. To be selected as an officer it had been enough to have been a member of the cadet force of a public school. But, in the early war years, the British military had performed abysmally. Finally scientific selection testing was introduced and by the 1943 the services were recruited talented middle class kids as officers. In some exceptional cases even working class men attained commissioned rank following battlefield promotions. The changes that expediency forced on the British military eventually found a similar expression in wider British society, some twenty years later.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Lunch with Len .....

A very pleasant - unexpected - lunch yesterday with Len and his friend and fellow writer Mike Ripley in central London, at a very nice, tucked away Japanese restaurant.

Len was in town doing various bits and pieces, so we had a general chit chat about all manner of things regarding his books, the film industry, the new edition of Blitzkrieg and many other subjects over two hours. What I learned:

  • Len's not aware of any new developments regarding the outstanding TV/film options where rights have been agreed. Bomber is still held by the same company which bought the rights, but nothing's happened there.
  • Similarly, Game, Set and Match, the rights to which is held by Clerkenwell Films, no news. And the planned Horse Under Water, to be filmed in Spain, is similarly becalmed. So, frustrating, as it would be great to see these on screen. Having sold the rights, the ball's very much in the producers' courts
  • Len's the only englishman to have flown in a Dornier bomber marked up with Swastika, which he flew in to Siegen airbase in the seventies. Had to get special permission from the German Air Force
  • He had to battle with the 'creatives' at Harper Collins' non-fiction imprint to use the images of women in war for the new recent reissues of Fighter, Blitzkrieg and Blood, Sweat and Tears. They weren't sure it was the right approach for the genre.
  • In his research for Blitzkrieg, he established that the later generation of German tanks were too wide for many parts of the German and French rail network, meaning that the Germans had to run single trains on stretches of track avoiding passing traffic, slowing down their capacity to move materiel
Conversation covered a whole range of bases - the Holy Roman Empire, Stanley Kubrick, UKIP, Michael Caine's accent and the Japanese language. Readers can be reassured that Len remains in good health and pleased that there remains a lot of reader interest in his work.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Take note .... why authors never really stop writing

The rare - but fascinating - Billion Dollar Brain notebook
I was intrigued last week by this article on the BBC News website, about the habit of authors using notebooks to, well, make notes at any time of the day in a notebook, annotating their daily lives and noticing - and remembering - the detritus of everyday conversation and passing glances which, eventually, at some point, may end up in a book.

The context is the British Library putting up on its website a new collection of authors' notebooks - from such luminaries as Jane Austen and Jane Dickens - describing their roles as "junkyards of the mind". It is fascinating how authors will often speak of squirrelling away a snippet of conversation, an unusual name, a location, a street name or something insignificant in a notebook. Over time, it sits in the note pad, germinating, waiting, until its time is come and it serves its purpose in providing the genesis for a scene or perhaps a whole story.

I was prompted to post about this fascinating article as it reminded me that Len Deighton, the subject of this blog, is one of the great note-takers of modern writing. Indeed, I've seen it myself. The last couple of times I've met with Len in London for lunch, there it is, on the table - a little A6 note pad - something like a Moleskine or similar, bound at the top of the page, flip-over style - into which Len periodically wrote little notes with his ink pen with patented purple ink.

I remember once in a restaurant near Hyde Park, when we were joined by Len and his biographer/friend Edward Milward-Oliver, at certain points during the conversation Len would pause and make a short note in the notebook, in the same way as the author Laurence Norfolk describes in this BBC piece. Things that came up in conversation - I think we talked about the Cold War, satellites, French medieval history at times - every so often, Len would note something down. Indeed, a couple of times I've seen Len do some little sketches or drawings to annotate these notes (not surprising, given his training). It's clearly for an author an important discipline - to remember the little details of everyday life which, when reproduced in a descriptive passage or in some dialogue, add the authenticity and piquancy of real life which separates out the good writers from the great.

There's a great example of how Len has used notes for one of his previous books, Billion Dollar Brain, for which I've a page on the main Deighton Dossier website. This facsimile of his notebook, used when researching the book during trips to the Baltic states - then, part of the Soviet Union, of course - shows the sorts of details which Len noted which ended up in the book to help compel the reader to imagine "Harry Palmer's" investigations in the Baltic which end up with the final denouement with General Midwinter and his forces. It has drawings of machine guns, notes about Finnish policemen, street names, shop names, descriptions of various buildings. This was reproduced as part of a pack of ephemera which his publishers came up with to send out to booksellers to raise awareness of the book.

In some of the forewords to his new editions, too, Len talks about the process of gathering in information and researching his books, for which he's long been regarded as one of the most assiduous authors of his day for so doing. I know from discussions with him about the Samson novels that his writing office was filled with posters and wall-charts covered in notes and post-its and small cards - annotated with details and bits of information, such as above a particular hotel, say - which form part of his reference library of data which ends up in his books.

The lesson of this is clearly that nothing should ever go to waste as a writer, as you never know what snippet of conversation or glanced at figure might trigger your next novel.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Contributors welcome .....

No longer required in order to contribute an article
In the four years this blog has been running as the companion volume to the main Deighton Dossier website, it's become the main - only (?) - regularly updated presence for readers and fans of Len Deighton's work. Viewership is growing and I've noticed in recent months and increase in commentary on some of the blog posts.

In comparison to some of the main Ian Fleming/James Bond sites, of course, things are a little slower and smaller scale - but, nonetheless, important, given Len's contribution to the spy fiction genre and the continued enjoyment many thousands of blog readers get from them.

This post has a simple message: I'm happy to feature on this blog ideas and views about Len's work beyond just my own. If there are reviews, commentaries, questions which you as a blog reader want to contribute on here, and further the global discussion about all of Len's works, do please get in touch - I'd welcome new perspectives.

So, feel free to get in touch if you've got ideas about themes like:
  • The casting for the planned TV mini-series of Game, Set and Match
  • Which of Len's books you've meant to read, but never have
  • Tales from the bookstore .... stories of collecting
  • How would you make the missing Harry Palmer movie, Horse Under Water?
  • Was Len right to withdraw broadcast/DVD rights to the 1988 Granada adaptation of Game, Set and Match?
  • What would be in a prequel to Berlin Game?
  • Which writers would readers of Len Deighton's work also enjoy?
  • Do you agree with Len's take on the conduct of the Battle of Britain, in Fighter?
... and many other possible ideas.

This is, then, an open invitation to readers to share your views. Please get in touch if you've got something you'd like to put up (subject to editorial review to conform to the terms and conditions of the site, etc).

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Review - New edition - "Blitzkrieg" by Len Deighton

Technology & humanity
Blitzkrieg: from the rise of Hitler to the fall of Dunkirk is the third of the recent reissues by Harper Collins' non-fiction arm, William Collins, and a great looking edition it is too. It is one of the books that added to Len's reputation not just as a great storyteller but a top-rate historian, who drew on his fascination with detail and technology to look at the impact of armaments and new weaponry on the conduct of war.

This book, originally published in 1979, is clearly a labour of love by Len who, as a figure of some note in the post-war period, was able to use his status as a writer to get access to top research material and speak with some of the individuals who were involved in the conduct of the German Blitzkrieg technique. So, for instance, the book still retains the foreword by General Nehring, Guderian's Chief of Staff and someone who was closely involved in the development of 'lightning war'. It's fascinating to read in this foreword how the German's sought to develop the "art of surprise" in warfare, and Guderian comes across as a driven man who was keen to exploit the speed of the Blitzkrieg technique but was often frustrated by the decision of senior staff, not least Hitler.

General Nehring in 1979 seemed convinced in his foreword that Hitler, "the amateur", made a great mistake in calling a halt to the Blitzkrieg attacks in northern France that allowed the British to evacuate from Dunkirk and retain sufficient forces which could be used again in 1944. The Germans, he thinks, were "robbed of an easy victory.

What I've always enjoyed about this book, which looks at the attacks on the west in 1940 in great detail, is the illustrations that accompany the text. These were not done by Len himself - though I think his training would have permitted him to do so - but rather by another illustrator, Denis Bishop, who is referenced at the end of the book in the acknowledgements. The best illustration in the book is right at the start: a two-page illustration of a "typical Panzer division". The reader can see on the page each type of tank, the number in each regiment, how the regiments lined up as a division, and also all the accompanying forces which made any tank division run effectively: the engineers, the motorcycle divisions, the reconnaissance teams, and the signallers. All there on one page: the collective might of a Panzer division, which led by military geniuses like Guderian, were such an effective fighting force in the first half of the Second World War.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Len on BBC1 this morning - OWALW - redux

Sir John Mills as General Haig
[Updated content]

Watching BBC Breakfast at 0740h this morning while eating my cornflakes I was interested to see a short three minute segment on Oh! What a Lovely War and the wider controversy around the depiction of the First World War in the hundredth anniversary year.

The feature looked in particular on the 45th anniversary of the release of OWALW and its continued capacity to challenge exiting views of the experiences of the war. Len was one of the brief talking heads in the slot, and if I'm right they used part of the interview which Len gave to BBC South East last year when filmed at the Imperial War Museum. He references the fact that the key to the impact of the film and the play is that it draws upon what many of the troops at the front were saying and writing.

Also featured were short clips from interviews with Vanessa Redgrave - Sylvia Pankhurst in the film; Edward Fox - the aide de camp - who talked about the Englishman's capacity to mock tragedy and make light of it, hence the appropriateness of using song and dance to tell the story; and Sir Richard Attenborough, who talked about how the final scene, when Jack Smith walks along the cliff top and finally, realising he's back where he started at Mons, takes up his place in his grave, as a scene which still has the power to make tears well in his eyes.

More background

Information from Edward Milward-Oliver confirms that the piece was from one of series of short reports by BBC South East Today on the First World War, that were screened 22-25 April. South East Today is the regional programme for Kent and East Sussex, and Brighton - the location for much of OWALW filming - fits within that footprint.

The reports on the Tuesday and Friday were about the making of OWALW in Brighton, incorporating scenes from the film, interview clips with Len and with Vanessa Redgrave, Edward Fox, extras from Brighton who were in the film, and Max Hastings who provided some context.

According to Edward: "Recently, South East Today hosted a private screening of OWALW at Brighton's Duke of York's cinema – the oldest continuously operating cinema in the UK. The audience of about 200 comprised guests of the BBC, local people who had some involvement with the production in 1968 (eg. extras), and viewers of South East Today who applied for tickets. The evening kicked off with a live 20-minute broadcast from the cinema as part of South East Today's nightly 30-minute programme. For the screening they ran an original 35 mm widescreen print of OWALW, which was a rare treat.

This was followed by a short discussion and Q&A with three of the cast: Angela Thorne, Maurice Roëves and Charlotte Attenborough. The team from South East Today, in particular Vicki Berry, Polly East and Robin Gibson, organised and presented a superb event marking a film that on the evidence of Monday evening continues to have a powerful impact on cinema audiences."

Edward has let the blog reference three images from that event:

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Review - New Edition - "Blood, Tears & Folly" by Len Deighton

This new UK edition of Len's 1993 history of the major military strategies of World War Two is big in concept, scope and physical size. At nearly 800 pages, this is perhaps one of Len's most personal books, reflecting his long-standing research as an amateur historian and enthusiast for all things military material.

This book is not a complete history of the conflict. Rather it focuses on the early years of the war and the set piece battles that set the stage for the latter half of the conflict. In the same vein as Fighter, Len seeks to offer a perspective on the war - "an objective look" is in the subtitles - but also to challenge established tropes about the conflict. So, in looking at the early years of the war, he is not averse to directing criticism at Churchill for his botched Norway invasion, or the relative debacle that was the BEF's experiences in facing defeat during the Blitzkrieg and being forced to evacuate via Dunkirk.

Len spends a lot of the book looking at the origins in the pre-war alliances and appeasement that allowed Hitler the space in which to re-arm and prepare the Blitzkrieg strategy which proved crucial in the first couple of years of the war in shaping Germany's multiple military victories. This is very much a view of the war through set-piece battles: there are chapters on 'The Battle of the Atlantic', 'The Mediterranean War' and 'Barbarossa: the attack on Russia', all of which are looked at by Len with his customary eye for detail and interesting twist.

The rather nice thing about this book has been the use of illustrations to accompany the text, perhaps reflecting Len's former career as an illustrator. They provide a visual commentary that helps the reader understand the complexities of strategy and the advances in technology propelled by the war.

The introduction by Len
As an internationally renowned writer and historian of some note, Len was advantaged in this book by having had access to some of the major protagonists in the war. His introduction references conversations with Montgomery's Chief of Staff, the Luftwaffe Chief Adolf Galland, and Walter Nehring, Chief of Staff to tank ace Erwin Rommel! Fascinatingly, Len recalls also meeting Albert Speer, Hitler's favourite architect and later Armaments Minister, a man who was less than open after the war with his views on his role in Nazi Germany. With resources like that to draw on, Len was always going to present a story that looked at things from all sides, in detail.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Review - New edition - "Fighter" by Len Deighton

While readers may not have the opportunity to read new books from Len, Harper Collins is doing its best to give readers the next best thing: new editions of old favourites.

Following the successful relaunch of all of Len's fiction works by Harper Collins' fiction team, the process of updating and reissuing his non-fiction historical works has been completed. The publisher's non-fiction team has recently published three new editions of Fighter, Blood, Tears & Folly and Blitzkrieg.

For each book, the content stays the same; however, each has a new introduction by Len and his son, Antoni, who has taken over the role from Arnold Schwartzman of designing the new covers for these three books. In reviewing these new books, that is what I'll focus on mainly.

Fighter: the true story of the Battle of Britain
The shortest of the three new books, this was originally published in hardback in 1977 by Jonathan Cape. It is a book in which Len draws on heavily his interested in the technology of war to give a new and, arguably, balanced perspective on the most famous air battle in history.

Back in 1977, this book touched many raw nerves, coming only 37 years after the battle at a time when many of the pilots who fought in it were still alive. Deighton seeks to explore the information and records from both sides, crucially, to puncture some of the stories and mythologies about the Battle that have grown up, and comes to the conclusion that the RAF survived as a fighting force largely because they made fewer mistakes than did the German Luftwaffe did!

Naturally, perhaps, this conclusion raised eyebrows with the aces who protected the memory o fthe pilots who fought in the battle. His allegations in the book that during the bombing of RAF Manston tmany RAF ground crew remained in their air raid shelters and refused to come out to carry out their duties, drew criticism. Surprisingly, as Len's normally a stickler for details, he did not provide any evidence for this.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Deighton on TV redux - "The Lively Arts"

Len Deighton, The Lively Arts
If readers haven't discovered it yet on the BBC's archives, I'd encourage you to watch the 1977 interview of Len Deighton by broadcaster Melvyn Bragg, as part of the BBC's Lively Arts programme.

I've been doing a little web surfing this afternoon and came across it and watched it again. You can find the video on the BBC's website here.

Very interesting interview - one of the few Len's given at length to the BBC, the other being five years ago for BBC 4, marking his 80th birthday.

Filmed around the publication of Bomber, it's interesting to hear Len explain how he came to writing and how his lack of being a professional writer in his thirties shaped his approach to his first books. So, when he talks about writing The Ipcress File as a story, he had no idea what it would become and treated it just as a bit of fun. It was left in a draw, indicating to him that he had no ambition to be a writer until a chance meeting with an agent.

Fascinating to hear Len talking about the English class system, which "everyone seems to enjoy!", and how he got into cooking through his mother, who indulged her son in the kitchen.

If you've not watched it, certainly worth checking out.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Not yet a writer ....

I found a little curiosity in a 1963 edition of House & Garden (not a regular read of mine!).

In an article on what makes a great dinner party, the party organiser Luke Prior was asked by the magazine to approach some of London's great and the good - the main party-givers - to find out what makes an evening go with a swing.

One of those interviewed is Len Deighton's first wife Shirley, an artist. In the brief comments under her picture, it's clear that in 1963 Len was not yet widely referred to as a 'famous writer'; rather, his fame, such as it was, was as a food writer and creator of the cook strip. With the launch of The Ipcress File and Horse Under Water on the slipway, this was probably the last time that Len was referred to as anything but a top author.

Interesting little curio...

Shirley Deighton on the fun of dinner parties

Monday, 24 March 2014

Oh! What a Lovely War - history as entertainment and entertainment as history

That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.” - Aldous Huxley

History is made up of two things: facts, and everything else. 2014 will mark the one hundredth anniversary of the First World War, the ‘Great War’ as it came to be known, and there are thousands of new facts emerging about the war every year still. Always a source of fascination for historian and layman alike, the destructive nature of the conflict, the inconclusive nature of its origins and the tectonic impact it had on later twentieth century Europe has always pushed people to seek to answer the question: why?

If only things were that simple to answer. The huge numbers of books on WWI now appearing in the shops, the myriad of BBC programmes looking at different aspects of the conflict - including the excellent 37 Days looking at the origins of the conflict - and the multi-million pound government plan to commemorate the outbreak of war across the country all have at their heart a desire to understand and make sense of a senseless conflict.

Because of the savagery of this first global conflict, and its impact on the British psyche and British historiography thereafter, the anniversary provides another opportunities for long-established opinions to be be resurrected and picked over by politicians, historians and media alike. Was it worth going to war in 1914? Were the Germans solely to blame? Was General Haig the buffoon so often portrayed by his critics?

Since the start of the year there has been a noted upswing in the media’s propensity to chew over long-established WWI memes and seek, in this anniversary year, to come up with the answer to the unanswerable question of why the war happened. In doing so, it has also become a hot political and media potato, the war’s origins being a useful prism through which to view the world and defend your own and attack your opponent’s political point of view. This article by Frank Furedi hints at the reasons why WWI has such modern resonance.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

A place on the Great British Bake-Off .... redux

In January I posted a link to an article that appeared in the Mail on Sunday about GBBO's Mary Berry and her contemporary food writers and chefs who revolutionised Britain's palates in that decade, Len among them.

I've now got hold of a copy of the original article, which I've scanned below:

Len's cooking is, inevitably, often associated with this single scene
The magazine's editor, in choosing to illustrate Len's contribution, has hardly tried to walk the full length of the counter, choosing the famous press image from The Ipcress File in which Len demonstrated to Michael Caine how to crack an egg with one hand, in order to make an omelette (with Len's hands, famously, appearing in the final cut).

As Len once remarked, he fully expects when his obituary is published in the media, to see Michael Caine's picture accompany most every one!

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Happy 85th Birthday to Len ....

... I'm sure readers of this blog and around the world will want to join me in wishing Cyril Len Deighton, author, historian, designer and film-maker, congratulations on his 85th birthday!

Quite a milestone,and I'm pleased that having caught up with Len last December, after he'd been for his 'MOT' in Harley Street, I can report both he and his wife Ysabele are in good health and enjoying retirement and their family.

His friend and fellow author, Mike Ripley, has written a little encomium on Len's 85th birthday in his regular online treatise, Getting away with murder. In it, he looks in detail at Len's famous London Dossier.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Fourth question & answer interview with Len Deighton – exclusive to the Deighton Dossier

The author kindly answers reader Q's
© Pluriform 2014 and © The Deighton Dossier 2014 - not for reproduction without permission

One of the nice bonuses of creating the Deighton Dossier website and blog a few years ago was that eventually it came to the attention of Len that it existed as the only major online presence for his work. Happily, Len’s always been very supportive of the blog and the site, as in the way of modern social media both have provided a way for fans to read more about Len and his work, and to share views and ideas about his work and connected genres.

With Len celebrating his 85th birthday next month and enjoying retirement, it’s doubly positive that over the last three years he’s given up his time to answer some of my questions about his work and life, and indeed questions from other fans across the globe connected through the blog or the Facebook page. With interviews with Len in the media of a limited number, it’s great that he’s willing to give up time to write for this site exclusively. 

For the first Q&A interview of 2014, the questions are split between questions submitted by readers, and some of my own (an indulgence, as the blog editor!). My questions specifically focus on the Samson Series of novels, my favourites which I’m reading again. A number of blog readers submitted a variety of different questions which Len’s been kind enough to answer. I hope you find the responses stimulating and continue your discussions as readers in the comments section below.

There are some familiar stories retold, some fascinating insights into the writing process for the thriller writer, his thoughts on Bond's reading matter and, intriguingly, a hint of ‘what might have been’ (or even, perhaps, what ‘might still be’) regarding the ‘missing’ story of Bernard, Fiona, Dicky et all once the Wall had fallen. 

Now, what reader wouldn’t want to read that novel. It would definitely put the cherry on the spy fiction parfait!

Read on.

Monday, 20 January 2014

A place on the Great British Bake-Off next?....

Saturday's Daily Mail newspaper on Saturday carried an article in the magazine looking at some of the pioneers of cooking in the UK in the 'sixties, prompted by a new book by Italian cook Anna del Conte with a foreword by Nigella Lawson, lately of the courtroom and TV chef du jour.

The article includes a look at other pioneers alongside del Conte, so naturally they've included a short piece by Len on his role as one of the pioneers of making cooking something in the 1960s which men - even spies like Harry Palmer - could do without feeling embarrassed. Len's rather scornful of the modern trend for TV cookery as education and provides a witty rejoinder.

Len writes:
"All TV programmes are designed as entertainment. Watching cookery shows to learn about cooking is like watching a Grand Prix to learn how to drive."
Thanks to Ron Vaughan for the hat-tip.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Normal service resuming ....

Just over 25 years ago, it started falling down
To all Deighton Dossier readers, an extremely belated Happy 2014! The frequency of posting on this blog was a victim of Christmas, the New Year, holidays and a host of other factors. I aim to get back in the swing of things shortly, posting about Len's works, the wider spy fiction genre and the Cold War period in more detail.

What might I write about? Well, there's still a hell of a load of things to write about Len's life and works, particularly covering some of the fiction books we haven't discussed much on this forum. I'd be interested in readers' suggestions of which books we might have a more in-depth discussion about on this forum. I've had a note from Len recently which indicates he's working on the Q&A I shared with him before Christmas, which had a mixture of my questions and questions from blog readers. As soon as he shares that, it'll get posted up here and on the main website.

Elsewhere, 2014 represents the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War period which, ironically, spawned such a creative flowering in fiction and movies. Though not on the same scale as 2014's century commemorations of WW1 - which, based on the first few weeks of the year, will include considerable debate about Oh! What a Lovely War and the debate over the value and causes of the war - the end of the Cold War will I'm sure see a lot of online and media debate about whether we're safer or not now, or if the rise of China represents a new form of Cold War?

Blog readers - do suggest please things you'd like to see covered or you yourselves would like to write about on this blog. I'm keen to take more contributions from Deighton readers and collectors around the world.