Monday, 7 May 2018

Site refresh ...


This morning I've updated the main Deighton Dossier website, giving it a 'spring clean', so to speak.

Most of the main photographs have been updated and watermarked, and a few extra elements have been added where I've had new information of images to add that haven't previously been on the website.

Do go an explore it again if you haven't done so for a while. If you have any feedback about new elements on the site that you'd find helpful, drop me an email.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

False Dawns and Development Hell - the fate of 'non-movies'

It is the fate of perhaps the majority of books which are 'optioned' to be made into films of TV series never to reach the small or silver screen. While there are some lucky writers, like Ian Fleming, whose entire canon pretty much has been adapted in some, even for established spy and thriller writers like Len Deighton - whose books memorably delivered the 'Harry Palmer' trilogy of movies - getting optioned is no guarantee of seeing a film or TV series being produced.

There are, in the Deighton canon - as is the case with other writers too - many stories which had hopes of being made into films or TV series, but have instead languished as 'non films', ethereal 'might have beens' which are destined to roam the corridors of Hollywood or Soho as film spirits, seeking a corporeal existence.

I was prompted to think about these might-have-been films after some Twitter communications with a Dossier reader George White of Ireland, who got in touch asking if I knew anything about the filmed version of SS-GB made in the 1970s in Canada?

What might the Canadians have done with this?

I admitted I didn't, but it piqued my curiosity. Especially so as the novel SS-GB had - finally - made it to the BBC as a mini-series in the spring of 2017. The seventies version was, George informed me, evidently a Canadian tax dodging exercise in Canada by the film mogul Harry Alan Towers.

This producer, who had a varied career in the UK with the BBC and then internationally, frequently churning out what might be called product targeted at the lower quality end of the market, or producing films linked to Liechtenstein-based companies - tax write-offs, in other words - has a couple of interesting Deighton connections.

In 1995, he was responsible largely for persuading Michael Caine to return as spy anti-hero Harry Palmer in two straight-to-DVD movies, the (infamous) sequels to the sixties classics: Bullet to Beijing, directed by George Mihalka, and Midnight in St Petersburg, directed by Douglas Jackson, both filmed in a Russia adjusting to the post-Gorbachev economic realities of gangster capitalism.

So we have Towers to thank - if that's the word - for these two movies reaching the screen and reminding viewers, in a perverse way, of just how good the original Harry Palmer movies were. That Deighton had very little say in the matter is a reflection on Towers' approach to quality film-making and, more importantly, deal making!

As Len Deighton told the Deighton Dossier in November 2011:
"When I was asked to give the OK for the Harry Palmer character to be used on these original screenplays my feelings were negative. I said, ‘If you can persuade Michael to play the lead I will let you have the necessary screen rights.’ I was quite confident that I would hear no more about it. But I did. They were not stories I had written. In fact I was not involved in any way other than my agreement to the character rights. When I eventually saw the films I thought they were both well above average. Michael was inspired as always and the locations were great."
Len here may be being overly generous as while fun curios, they're not a patch on the originals.

So, I knew of Towers' involvement in these two films - and his connection to Linsday Shonteff, maverick director of the equally questionable adaptation of Deighton's Spy Story; Shonteff directoed Towers' sixties exotic drama Sumuru (no, I've never heard of it either!) - but not of his SS-GB attempt.

Anyway, checking the BFI film register online, it turns out that indeed Harry Alan Towers did get some way with filming SS-GB. It was to have starred James Mason (presumably as Douglas Archer?), Rod Steiger, Ralph Richardson and Kate Nelligan andbeen directed by Peter Carter. It sounds like a potential quality film - judging by the line-up of actors - but, like many films, never reached the cinema or the TV screen, ending up as an 'unfinished project' which, like so many, never got off the ground. Towers died in 2009.

There are other Deighton books that have similarly sat frustratedly on the movie tarmac, waiting to get off the ground and fly. Stuck, in other words, in 'development hell' where movie options are ten-a-penny and successfully completed projects are as rare as hen's teeth.

Bomber, for example, is one of Deighton's greatest works - one of the 99 novels of the 20th Century according to Anthony Burgess - but has never made it to the silver screen. In the early nineties, there were plans to bring it to cinemas but the production was switched by producer Michael Caton-Jones to the US and became instead Memphis Belle (the story is no dissimilar), primarily on account that there were more sky-worthy US Flying Fortresses at the time for filming than Lancasters, which feature heavily in Deighton's novel.

Destined to be stuck on the runway?

As I reported back in 2010 on this blog, it was 'in development' by a London-based financier called Bob Wigley. Eight years on, the legal option for this movie clearly still weighs down Wigley's bookshelf (and he has never responded to email enquiries about the status of the film). And while the option is still owned by him, it's not open to others to try and make what could be one of the great British wartime movie stories. 

Options are simply that: an opportunity to make a film agreed with the author, which can remain valid for many years before lapsing. It proffers no obligation on the rights owner to make a film. An option is simply a potential film, an idea which requires financing, timing, and the right cinema market to be made.

So even those SS-GB got through the options stage in the 'seventies, it never made it through production, which could have been due to a number of factors - the state of the market; changing consumer tastes; lack of available financing; lack of distribution options. Bomber, by all accounts, is balked by similar considerations.

The great second 'Harry Palmer' novel, Horse Under Water, has I've been reliably informed also been held under option for a number of years, with the intention of eventually filming an 'updated' version of the story that will likely depart from the Caine-influenced Palmer tradition. But again, in terms of actual work on the film or any financing efforts, I've heard nothing since. Another 'non-film' that makes the viewer wonder just what might have been, or could still be. Another book which has been optioned at some point, I understand, is Goodbye Mickey Mouse. But that's all it really is, a rumour, an idea.

The most egregious example of 'development hell' - where development is a euphemism for doing nothing - is the Game, Set and Match ennealogy, whose rights were purchased by Clerkenwell Films. As I reported five years ago on this blog, the company made a big song and dance at the time of bringing in Oscar-winning producer/director Simon Beaufoy on board and talking of 'big names' in the frame.

Will this ever get re-made?

Five years on, the tumbleweed continues to drift aimlessly across this particular development desert. Indeed, the original announcement can no longer be found on their website, which gives a hint perhaps as to where it is in the company's priorities. Is this book destined to be another 'ghost' mini-series, never to see the light of day?

If it is, then Clerkenwell are missing the boat. In these days of Amazon Prime and Netflix when box-set mini-series are produced with production line frequency and are gorged on by viewers, and at a time when with the success of films like Homeland the public's appetite for spy thrillers with complicated tapestries and convoluted story arcs remains unsatiated, Game, Set and Match - all nine stories, mind, not just the first three filmed by Granada TV in 1988 but never re-broadcast - offers a potentially thrilling and deeply satisfying mini-series.

But it can't do that while the options remain sitting in Clerkenwell Film's to-do pile. Come on, Clerkenwell Films, and do us all a favour - if you're not going to make Game, Set and Match, give someone else a go. Let's not have another film end up as just another missed opportunity.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Happy 89th Birthday

89 today
On behalf of readers and fans of his work, the Deighton Dossier - set up to bring those people together online to celebrate and discuss Len Deighton's books - would like to wish the author a happy 89th birthday.

While long in retirement, and enjoying retirement with his family, children and numerous grandchildren, Deighton's influence on fiction and spy fiction in particular, still resonates. Every so often, one reads about one author or another being dubbed 'the new Deighton'. That's a great testament to the quality of the author's impact.

Readers of the Deighton Dossier raise a glass today and say: 'Happy Birthday'!

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Brush pass this interesting podcast


As readers of this blog may know, the Spybrary podcast by fellow Deighton fan and friend of the Deighton Dossier Shane Waley is pulling up trees in the world of podcasting and is now, arguably, the best podcast for all things spy fiction.

This week, he's added the thirty-third podcast, a 10-minute 'brush pass' episode looking at Deighton's Yesterday's Spy novel from 1975. His fellow spybrarian on the podcast is the author of the 'Agent Palmer' blog, the pseudonymous Agent Palmer himself.

If you've not yet read this book, one of his 'non-Palmer' novels from the seventies, this is a good introduction.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

What's so special?

A woman, scorned

The first edition is the ultimata ratio of any book collector, the Holy Grail of the bibliophile. But there is also gold in the unusual and lesser known.

This blog post was prompted by an email from a Dutch Deighton fan and collector, Henk Konings, who sent me the image of his Companion Club Edition An Expensive Place to Die, above. It got me thinking - are they, and other unusual imprints or later editions, as important as the first editions to a collector? Or are they just sprinkles on an otherwise delicious cake?

As a long-standing collector of Len Deighton's works (alongside the works of Spike Milligan), I've always had uppermost in my mind the need, the challenge of completism, to be able to track down and secure (for as little money as possible) a copy of every book in its UK first edition format (and often, too, the US and German first editions).

Over years of collecting it's generally been relatively easy to do as, maybe until the last five to ten years, Len Deighton's first editions - with a couple of exceptions - have been both competitively priced - as against, say, John Le Carré or Ian Fleming first editions - and relatively available on the market and in second-hand bookshops.

Sure, one or two editions - and I'm thinking of when I finally picked up my pristine Billion Dollar Brain first - have required some tracking down and financial outlay. But it's been an achievable challenge such that relatively early in my collecting career, I had got most of the first editions lined up on my shelves.

As a fan first - but also a collector - my thought was then: what next? That's when I started on the next phase of my collecting, when I started to actively track down special editions, book club reproductions and other oddities which the purist, perhaps, might overlook.

Why? Well, based on my collection - and, judging from Henk's email, others' too - these special editions can be just as fulfilling to track down and interesting to consider as the first editions in terms of book design, style and illustration than the first editions, if not more so in some cases. First editions are ultimately about rarity and first impressions. When you don't have rarity, an alternative edition has to offer something else.

Book of the month

From my own collecting, online hunting and correspondence with other collectors, there are plenty of readers who like to focus on book club editions, such as the ubiquitous Book of the Month Club or the slightly more urbane Franklin Book Club special editions, as a collecting goal in themselves.