Thursday, 19 February 2009

Checkpoints & Gauloises


Len Deighton, (blogs passim) is eighty this week. Read an interview here. I discovered his books in 1965, three years after The Ipcress File was published, and I immediately went in search of Horse Under Water and Funeral in Berlin. First I just ogled the brilliant dust jackets by Deighton's RCA mate Raymond Hawkey (two of his best shown here, look closely inside the bag) but soon I was absorbed in Deighton's terse text and the seedy world of War Office canteen crockery, rubber-stamped manila files, Smith & Wesson revolvers and stubbed-out Gauloises. Two of my earliest and greatest influences: Hawkey design, Deighton copy. Still with teenage spots I started to make covert trips down to London, lurking suspiciously in train corridors and sitting smoking Disque Bleu in Soho cafes, staring out at black cabs in the rain with narrowed eyes whilst mini-skirted girls sniggered at me from adjacent tables. Later we cooked from his Action Cookbook (the compilation of the unique Observer Cookstrips that you can see pinned to Michael Caine's kitchen wall in The Ipcress File), gazing in wonder at his drawings of cook's knives and Bialetti coffee makers and learning to always light a cigar with a match held away from the end. I had the immense pleasure (can you imagine it) of meeting him in 1993, foregoing the opening hours of a Test Match at Lords. Merv Hughes or Len Deighton? Tough call. Thank God he was as friendly and pleasant as I'd hoped. We talked for two hours about design and on joining my pals for the Test I don't think I spoke until the champagne and samosas came out. Happy Birthday Mr. Deighton.

21 comments:

ageing hipster said...

Excellent piece. Mr Deighton was deeply cool before the idea of being deeply cool was prevalent. That unbeatable ear for a story combined with a direct, unadorned, functional prose style seems very rare today. He had interesting things to say and he just damn well said them. His books seem to me somewhat like well-cut suits, where the tailoring is so sharp that any frills and folderols would be wholly superfluous.

You've made me want to reread some of his stuff - some thing I haven't done for years. The 60s spy stuff or the 70s war books? Which way to go?

The Action Cookbook is a great read and part of my collection too - I haven't read that for a while either... perhaps later I'll pour myself a stiff one, light up a cheroot and glance through it, seeking inspiration for dinner.

Jon Dudley said...

Try getting that little bagful through Heathrow. A trusty old pack of noddies I see in addition to the athlete's foot powder. They don't make spies like that anymore!

Peter Ashley said...

My recommended Deighton Reading List would be to read the first four with the anonymous hero (only named in the three films), but I have just gone back to the Game, Set & Match Trilogy and thoroughly enjoyed them more than the first time round. Of course Bomber and SS-GB are musts.

Jon Dudley said...

I'm there with my book tokens...

North Bucks Retronaut said...

I can recommend Mr Deighton`s "London Dossier" a copy of which I bought in I think the late 60s or very early 70s. I left it lying around only for it to be confiscated by my father,who I suspect,referred to it often for his furtive and slightly suspicious twice monthly trips up west.
I nicked it back, and after using it myself,was pleased to hand it on to my son,the trainee retronaut,who reckons it still works.
3 generations use out of one paperback...Good value,I reckon.

Peter Ashley said...

The Penguin paperback London Dossier has a cut-out keyhole on the front cover through which a colour photograph of Twiggy's eye peeps through. Hawkey had already frightened Pan Books by having the cover for Ian Fleming's Thunderball drilled out with a bullet holes.

Philip Wilkinson said...

That bag: I like the rubber johnnies, I like the book on Russian, I like the camera (is it a Minox?). Like Mr Dudley, I'll be gathering up my book tokens.

Paul Williams said...

I see Mr Ageing Hipster beat me to it; I thought you'd enjoy this post, Bob.
Good work Mr Ashley. I would like raise a glass too to Mr Deighton, the popular historian.. Happy Birthday Mr D.

Peter Ashley said...

Yes, that's a Minox Phil. I believe you can still buy this model, it uses 16mm film. What I've also always liked about the contents of the bag is that the hairbrush has hairs on it.

ageing hipster said...

You can also buy a rather lovely digital replica (http://tinyurl.com/da7gn7).

I also like the hairs on the brush, and the Milk of Magnesia tablets - it all says that this was a very human kind of spy. 'Hairbrushed' rather than airbrushed, you might say.

Toby Savage said...

Minox it is. I had one about 27 years ago. It must be still here somewhere, bust. There's a superb picure of a good one here.
http://www.pimall.com/NAIS/pivintage/minox.html

Clarkey said...

No Gauloises Peter.
I do have some Galoshes however.
Size 9 i believe.
They were my Grandfathers, he smoked a pipe, pigtail twist. (rubbed by himself of course).

Sorry to dissappoint, but I cannot recall ever reading any Deighton. I am sure i have got a couple of his somewhere.

Very remiss of me.....

Robert said...

There's also an interesting piece in the Guardian by Jeremy Duns, which looks back at Deighton's career - there's a link here:

http://www.deightondossier.net

Diplomat said...

Right then - my project to re-make the cover shot has had to be abandoned. I got as far as the little doctor's/gladstone bag, and had a pretty complete picture using a box of Federal 9mm hollow points for the 38 special shells - I got resally stuck because I don't have a hand gun ! none of the rifles looked right and the machine gun looked out of place so I've given up. Come to think of it I've never owned a good sturdy hand gun and propose to put that right.

Peter Ashley said...

Good on you for trying Diplo. I too am working on a Hawkeyesque photograph as an homage to Len & Ray, but am having difficulty with finding a skull and a tattered Third Reich medal.

Bucks Retronaut said...

Could possibly help you out in your search for a skull,Peter,as there are loads of them just over my garden wall.
The medal might be a bit more difficult....!

Peter Ashley said...

Thankyou Bucks. Anything we should know?

Bucks Retronaut said...

Not really.....
With a mission like this , secrecy must be paramount.
All I will need is a moonless night,and to find my spade....!

Rob Mallows said...

The best 'lost' Deighton book is not one he wrote - rather he edited and contributed to it. It's a 1965 book called Drinks-man-ship, a chap's guide to drink.

On the front cover is Deighton, glass in hand, embracing a 'dolly bird'. it's so utterly London in the sixties. A forgotten portrait of Soho at the time.

You can see pictures on the Deighton Dossier website.

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