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 wool ....

Discovered this on the Internet recently.

Len Deighton is available as an 'action' 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.