Happy Birthday Len Deighton!

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Len Deighton is one of the best writers in the English language. If you don’t believe me, read The IPCRESS File, a book so smart, so fresh, clipped, stylish and expressive you’ll think it was published yesterday – and not 1962. His unnamed hero (Harry Palmer in the films) became immortalised in Michael Caine’s brilliant performances in the series of adaptations.  Deighton is acclaimed as a spy novelist and his work also came to the screen with the little-seen Spy Story (1976). The Bernard Samson series (Game, Set and Match) appeared on TV in 1988  – I never saw it because I lived in mainland Europe at the time and a dispute between Deighton and the producers means it has never seen the light of day since its original broadcast. Deighton also produced cookery books which are legendary to people of a certain vintage; and he is the military historian many World War 2 buffs seek out particularly in reference to the Battle of Britain. Lemmy and Motorhead named and dedicated Bomber to him after his titular novel. But how appropriate that a day after his 88th birthday (which was last Saturday) the BBC adaptation (by James Bond screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade) of counterfactual/alternative history SS-GB (which commences 18th February 1941, when the author celebrated his 12th birthday!) should start its five-week run. So far, and aside from any quibble I might have with the casting of Sam Riley as Archer, it’s practically word for word, scene for scene pure. Which is just as well because for this fan Deighton can do no wrong. Fingers crossed that this fidelity remains throughout the series. Happy Birthday to one of the greats! What an extraordinary man.

Funeral in Berlin (1966)

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Girls always make passes at spies who wear glasses. Horn rims. Cockney wit. Iron fists. That’s how this was trailed and why not? Harry Palmer is a legend and not just of film. Len Deighton is one of the best writers in the English language, Michael Caine is one of my favourite actors so this combo with its lo-fi take on the antics of MI6 and their ilk was always high on my radar of go-to movies. The first in the series, The Ipcress File, was a masterpiece. A year or so later this appeared under the direction of Guy Hamilton who had a little form in the area – he made the great James Bond film Goldfinger (1964). He would go on to do Diamonds are Forever, The Man With the Golden Gun and Live and Let Die. He would also film one of Deighton’s pet subjects, The Battle of Britain.  Deighton’s writing is effortless (to read) – sleight of hand manoeuvering of plot mechanics with a vocabulary that seems to glide from chapter to chapter: he may be the most stylish of modern writers with an enviable grasp of history and a Renaissance man’s culture. Evan Jones’ screenplay brilliantly captures its essence and we are transported to a rebuilt Berlin with its tower blocks and modernist hotels and interiors, production designed by Ken Adam. It’s spy versus spy and the beautiful woman is played by Eva Renzi. Bliss.