Authors: Len Deighton

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

The Ipcress File, 1962

Horse Under Water, 1963

Funeral in Berlin, 1964

The Billion Dollar Brain, 1966

An Expensive Place to Die, 1967

Only When I Larf, 1968 (pb. in U.S. as Only When I Laugh)

Bomber: Events Relating to the Last Flight of an R.A.F. Bomber over Germany on the Night of June 31, 1943, 1970

Close-Up, 1972

Spy Story, 1974

Yesterday’s Spy, 1975

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Spy, 1976 (pb. in U.S. as Catch a Falling Spy)

SS-GB: Nazi-Occupied Britain, 1941, 1978

XPD, 1981

Goodbye, Mickey Mouse, 1982

Berlin Game, 1983

Mexico Set, 1984

London Match, 1985

Winter: A Berlin Family, 1899-1945, 1987

Spy Hook, 1988

Spy Line, 1989

Spy Sinker, 1990

MAMista, 1991

City of Gold, 1992

Violent Ward, 1993

Faith, 1995

Hope, 1995

Charity, 1996

Short Fiction:

Declarations of War, 1971 (pb. in U.S. as Eleven Declarations of War)

Drama:

Pests: A Play in Three Acts, pb. 1994

Screenplay:

Oh! What a Lovely War, 1969

Teleplays:

Long Past Glory, 1963

It Must Have Been Two Other Fellows, 1977

Nonfiction:

Action Cookbook: Len Deighton’s Guide to Eating, 1965 (pb. in U.S. as Cookstrip Cook Book)

Où est le garlic: Or, Len Deighton’s French Cook Book, 1965, revised 1977, revised 1979 (as Basic French Cooking), revised 1990 (as Basic French Cookery)

Fighter: The True Story of the Battle of Britain, 1977

Airshipwreck, 1978 (with Arnold Schwartzman)

Tactical Genius in Battle, 1979 (with Simon Goodenough)

Blitzkrieg: From the Rise of Hitler to the Fall of Dunkirk, 1979

Battle of Britain, 1980

The Orient Flight: L Z. 127-Graf Zeppelin, 1980 (as Cyril Deighton; with Fred F. Blau)

The Egypt Flight: L Z. 127-Graf Zeppelin, 1981 (as Cyril Deighton; with Blau)

ABC of French Food, 1989

Blood, Tears, and Folly: An Objective Look at World War II, 1993

Edited Texts:

Drinks-man-ship: Town’s Album of Fine Wines and High Spirits, 1964

The Assassination of President Kennedy, 1967 (with Michael Rand and Howard Loxton)

London Dossier, 1967

Biography

Leonard Cyril Deighton (DAY-tuhn) is regarded as one of the most accomplished spy novelists of his generation, although his talents and varied interests have frequently led him beyond the genre and beyond fiction as well. The son of a cook and a chauffeur, he was born and grew up in the London district of Marylebone. During World War II he served in the Royal Air Force, developing skills in photography, weaponry, aviation, and diving–exacting fields, the details of which he would later draw upon in his writings. After the war, Deighton attended St. Martin’s School of Art and the Royal College of Art, both in London, and began a successful career as a commercial artist in London and New York. He has also been employed in a number of other fields, traveling widely, for instance, as an airline steward and even working briefly as an assistant pastry chef. He and fellow illustrator Shirley Thompson were married in 1960.{$I[A]Deighton, Len}{$S[A]Deighton, Cyril;Deighton, Len}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Deighton, Len}{$I[tim]1929;Deighton, Len}

Aside from an unpublished description of life as he found it in the United States, The Ipcress File was Deighton’s first piece of writing and marked an auspicious beginning to a prolific career. Deighton had begun the novel as a lark on vacation in France in 1960, finishing it the following year on another vacation. A chance conversation with a literary agent led to the manuscript’s being submitted to several publishers, with publication following in 1962. The novel features an irreverent espionage agent of working-class background caught up in a series of dangerous and dauntingly complex events. It proved highly popular with the public and with most critics, although one of the latter complained that the story read as if every other chapter had been deleted.

Deighton followed The Ipcress File with seven other novels featuring essentially the same protagonist, though he is usually unnamed, and his characteristics undergo changes from time to time. (When several of the novels were adapted for a popular series of films starring Michael Caine, the character was given the name “Harry Palmer.”) Funeral in Berlin and Yesterday’s Spy are usually named as being the most successful of this series. All illustrate Deighton’s attention to the technical details of surveillance, information gathering, and so on–an emphasis that Deighton contrasts ironically with his characters’ inability to determine the “truth” about any particular situation or even communicate clearly with one another. Appendices and footnotes buttress their seeming factuality. All display a cynical attitude toward the British class system and politics in general, an attitude born of revelations in the 1950’s and 1960’s that well-placed members of the British espionage system, such as Harold “Kim” Philby, were actually Soviet agents. So successful were Deighton’s books that he was eventually forced for tax purposes to spend much of the year outside Britain, establishing residences in California and Ireland as well as in London.

Deighton has also published nonfiction throughout his career. From 1962 through 1966 he prepared illustrated “cookstrips” for the British weekly The Observer, eventually incorporating them into his first two cookbooks. Deighton has also written extensively about World War II, on which he is a recognized authority. His books Fighter and Blood, Tears, and Folly are notable (and in some quarters moderately controversial) for their evenhanded treatment of German and British viewpoints, and the former drew the praise of prominent historian A. J. P. Taylor.

Deighton’s interest in World War II and Germany is also reflected in his fiction, beginning with Funeral in Berlin and continuing with Bomber, which tells the story of an allied bombing mission gone terribly wrong. In SS-GB he imagined in somber, convincing detail a Great Britain vanquished by Nazi Germany. Berlin Game heralded the beginning of a new series of novels–eventually encompassing three trilogies–about British spy Bernard Samson, a more sophisticated, realistic version of Deighton’s earlier nameless protagonist. Deighton’s interest in Germany culminated in Winter, a lengthy historical novel about the contemporary German experience that also explores the backgrounds of several characters in the Samson series.

Although Len Deighton clearly values technical accuracy, he has repeatedly asserted that his only goal is to entertain. At their best his works display a terse, cinematic style reminiscent of the novels of Graham Greene. Drawing upon a tradition of realistic spy fiction pioneered by writers W. Somerset Maugham, Eric Ambler, and Greene, Deighton and his contemporary John le Carré have revolutionized the genre, distancing it from the lightweight James Bond thrillers of Ian Fleming. Although frequently compared to his disadvantage with le Carré, Deighton has produced at least two novels–Funeral in Berlin and Berlin Game–that rank among the very best of the genre. Among critics of speculative fiction, the grimly realistic SS-GB is regarded as a landmark work of “alternate history.”

BibliographyAtkins, John. “Len Deighton: An Enigma.” In The British Spy Novel: Styles in Treachery. New York: Riverrun Press, 1984. Atkins identifies Deighton’s strengths–his mastery of detail, his gift for imagery, his verbal facility–but finds that in every case he overplays his hand. Atkins declares that Bomber is better than any of Deighton’s spy novels.Bloom, Harold, ed. “Len Deighton.” In Modern Crime and Suspense Writers. New York: Chelsea House, 1995. Scholarly study of Deighton, emphasizing both his place in relation to crime fiction and the genre’s place in relation to cultural studies.Jones, Dudley. “The Great Game? The Spy Fiction of Len Deighton.” In Spy Thrillers: From Buchan to Le Carré, edited by Clive Bloom. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990. Places Deighton within the lineage of the most significant and influential authors of the espionage thriller.Kamm, Jürgen. “Berlin Wall and Cold-War Espionage: Visions of a Divided Germany in the Novels of Len Deighton.” In The Berlin Wall. New York: P. Lang, 1996. This entry on Deighton’s Cold War fiction is part of a larger study of the cultural significance of the Cold War. Places him in a larger context than studies focused merely on spy stories.Merry, Bruce. The Special Branch: The British Spy Novel, 1890-1980. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1981.Milward-Oliver, Edward. The Len Deighton Companion. London: Grafton, 1987. A substantial reference work containing annotated entries for titles, characters, places, institutions, and themes as well as detailed bibliographies of British and American editions. Written with the novelist’s cooperation and incorporating a rare interview, the volume is essential to anyone studying Deighton.Panek, LeRoy L. “Len Deighton.” In The Special Branch: The British Spy Novel, 1890-1980. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1981. Panek praises Deighton as a representative of the golden age of spy fiction, finding that he deals with serious issues, that he has an abiding interest in his craft, and that his central character has grown and developed. Nevertheless, Panek concludes that Deighton has not transcended the genre.Powers, Alan. Front Cover: Great Book Jackets and Cover Design. London: Mitchell Beazley, 2001. Looks at the cover design of Deighton’s novels and what goes into the effective marketing of espionage thrillers, among many other types of book. Bibliographic references and index.
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