THE DEIGHTON DOSSIER

The online resource about writer Len Deighton

THE AUTHOR

Over his lifetime, Len Deighton has fulfilled many roles: author, journalist, husband and father, travel writer, graphic designer, air steward and philatelic expert.

He's met some fascinatingly interesting people - John Lennon, Bertrand Russell, General Nehring of the Wehrmacht and Sir Laurance Olivier, to name but a few - and had an incredible life journey from his London working-class childhood to his status as one of the grand knights of British writing.

In this section you'll find some basic biographical information and supporting information about Deighton. You'll also find some quotes by the author, quotes by reviewers and readers about the author, who is still going strong in his late eighties and enjoying a well-earned retirement, some examples of his journalism, and some interesting and little-known facts.

Plus, you can read five exclusive interviews with the Deighton Dossier and its readers on the dedicated interviews page.

Read more about the author below.

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BIOGRAPHY

Len Deighton is now in well-earned retirement in his late eighties, having enjoyed a fifty-year career as a writer. He is still writing and continues to impact on popular culture, for example through the upcoming BBC TV adaption of SS-GB.

He has led an interesting and varied life which has informed much of his writing: his working class childhood in London shaped the theme of hypocrisy which permeates much of his fiction; his time in the RAF just after the Second World War flying photographic intelligence missions fuelled his interest in aero technology; his time as an art student in Soho led to him listening to fascinating tales from London's demi monde, some of which made their way into his early fiction.

He has experienced a life full of great stories which has influenced his own storytelling.

Read more about his life below in this brief biography.

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    Early Life
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    The Up & Coming Writer
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    The Cold War Years
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    Up To The Present Day

IN HIS OWN WORDS

Although Deighton's predilection is not to talk extensively to the media if he can help it, in the course of numerous PR tours, interviews and marketing campaigns for the dozens of books and films he's written he has come up with some pithy and eminently repeatable quotes about his own works, the worlds in which his novels are set and the whole process of writing.

Below is a selection of quotes by the author which provide an insight into the author's outlook on the world.

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Len Deighton - in quotes
  • In the spring of 1960 I was working on my first book - The Ipcress File. I was earning enough money as an artist to write anything I chose. I chose a spy novel. I liked to have a problem or enigma that could follow the action of the book, but I wanted the book to be ragged and untidy, as life is. I wanted the characterizations and the dialogue to control the enigma, rather than the other way round as had been the case with the detective novels of the 'thirties, which had become puzzles rather than stories. Playboy (May 1966)
  • When you make a book, it’s like making a hand grenade. It’s a dull process but when you throw it the person at the other end gets the effect. Interview, The Daily Telegraph (18 February 2009)
  • My own writing is characterised by an agonising reappraisal of everything I write so that I have to work seven days a week and usually do an hour on Christmas day, simply to keep all the problems fresh in my mind. The most difficult lesson to learn is that thousands and thousands of words must go into the waste paper basket. To soften the blow I place scrapped chapters on a high shelf for a month before tossing them away. Extract from Whodunit? (1982)
  • I’m still an art student really. I’m not a writer. Anything that is good in my books tends to be descriptions that an art student would provide. Interview, The Times (7 January 2006)
  • The final irony of the scramble for screen credits on Oh! What a Lovely War was that each and every one of those who wanted them had to come to me. I was the only one with the power to decide who got which credits, because I was the one and only producer!. Deighton on film production, Interview with the Deighton Dossier
  • I realised after having that multimillion-dollar Hollywood singing-and-dancing film on my hands [Oh! What a Lovely War] that a solitary life behind a typewriter wasn't quite as bad as I had been thinking.. Interview, The Independent (4 January 2006)
  • I didnʼt have any idea how many words there were in a book; I didnʼt know how long; for all I knew, you just sat down and wrote a book and by the weekend it was ready. You see, I had absolutely no idea, so when I say to you that I started out to write The Ipcress File as a story, I think I had no idea whether it would be a short story or a long story or a book - I donʼt think I embarked on it with the idea that this would be a book - and when I was halfway through it I put it aside. It was just a fun thing: I did it. The Lively Arts, BBC1 (2 December 1977)
  • There was a time, it’s difficult to believe now, but before The Ipcress File came out Michael Caine was still a struggling actor and I was a famous writer. Of course, he overtook me like a skyrocket but there was a brief period when I was more famous than Michael! Interview, The Times (7 January 2006)
  • To allow someone to give you a knighthood is to admit that there is someone who is allowed to appraise you on a scale which you are going to agree with. The audacity of it! Interview, The Times (7 January 2006)

ACCORDING TO OTHERS

Pretty much all of Len Deighton's books, and the films and TV series based on them, have attracted comment - largely positive - from reviewers, other writers, celebrities and the wider, book-reading public. For many book reviewers, Deighton's fiction - certainly in the 'sixties and 'seventies - provided a breath of fresh air to the spy fiction and thriller genre and many of their review quotes aptly reflect how readers reacted to the books and films.

The book-reading public in the UK, USA and the rest of the English-speaking world has over the decades bought millions of copies of Deighton's books. They've also been translated into over twenty languages around the world. As well as garnering positive comments from his peers in the world of writing, Deighton has also had a number of famous readers over the years who've referenced their enjoyment of his writing. Some of them are quoted below.

This selection of quotes provides an insight into the level of impact that Deighton's ideas and texts have had down the decades on a wide variety of audiences.

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Len Deighton - the reader's perspective
  • I was educated between 1977 and 1994. During that time, we were taught the following about the USSR. 1) They couldn't afford Levi's. 2) They had a lot of great art, but they didn't look after it properly. 3) They all had to share flats with their parents. Not one person, not even the teacher-lefties, ever mentioned the fact that some people celebrated the revolution of their own accord. Never. It was as if the history syllabus for the nation's every age group had been set by Len Deighton. Doesn't that seem weird?. Zoe Williams, The Guardian (11 January 2003)
  • Deighton believes that writers have much in common with spies; he has deliberately adopted a mask of ordinariness so that he can watch without drawing attention to himself, and listen to conversations without people turning round to look at him. He lives with his fictitious spies all the time, plotting every detail of their lives.. Author Anthony Masters, Literary Agents (1987)
  • Books help me to detach from real life, too. I'm a Len Deighton fan. Spy novels are a great way to escape. Keith Chegwin, TV Presenter, My Cultural Life, The Guardian (27 August 1999)
  • I never travel without a luxury: books, especially non-fiction and Len Deighton. The late Lemmy Kilmister, lead singer of Mötörhead, Lemmy Never Travels Without (22 January 2002)
  • In Britain, it is OK to order for a companion, male or female, but only if you are American and it is the 1930s (cf Rex in Brideshead Revisited). It is OK - you are still a man, remember - to order for an underling, provided you are both field agents for HM government (cf Frank and Bernard's lunch in Len Deighton's Spy Line). Zoe Williams, The Guardian (26 February 2008)
  • "Len Deighton was once my guest for lunch at The Mirabelle in the days when it was a creaking, old-fashioned French restaurant staffed by waiters as old as the revolution. Anti-hero Harry Palmer's interest in cooking, as described in The Ipcress File, the first of Deighton's riveting spy thrillers, reflects one of the author's passions. The title of Deighton's first cookery book - Ou Est le Garlic? - is still one of the best. 'What shall I order here?' said Len. 'I don't so much need to be told where to go as what to eat when I get there.' Since The Mirabelle had been his choice of venue, I was flummoxed, but he had a sound point.. Fay Maschler, Food Writer, The Evening Standard (1 November 2006)
  • Maybe women have a thinner membrane between their two active brain cortices, which facilitates the big-picture analyses known as multitasking but leaves them unable to concentrate on the novels of Len Deighton enough that they would know what Bernard Samson's best friend is called (although I'm a woman, and I know that) Zoe Williams, The Guardian (2 January 2006)
  • Luckily, Lemmy is happy enough in his own company. When he's not touring he collects Nazi memorabilia (his prized possession is a Luftwaffe sword worth $12,000), watches the Discovery Channel and reads copiously. At the moment he's re-reading a Len Deighton trilogy. "There are a lot of good books around. People don't read any more. It's a sad state of affairs. Reading's the only thing that allows you to use your imagination. When you watch films it's someone else's vision, isn't it? Lemmy Kilmster, Motormouth, The Independent (15 October 2005)
  • If your béarnaise is separating, he's your man. The Top 50 Cookbooks, The Observer Food Magazine (15 August 2010)
  • Here is the spy story (how earned that title) at its best. H. R. F. Keating, review, Spy Story, The Times (2 May 1974)
  • Len Deighton has written a ferociously cool fable of the current struggle between East and West, Funeral in Berlin. It is even better than The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, which was set in the same locale. Charles Poore, The Spies Who Stay Out of the Heat, New York Times (12 January 1965)
  • Fleming made spy fiction globally popular, but it took [Len] Deighton in the sixties with such novels as The Ipcress File and Funeral in Berlin to make it hip. The Top 20 Spy Novels, The Daily Telegraph (February 2016)
  • Bomber [the album] was based on the book of the same name by Len Deighton. I got it out the library a few weeks before writing the song. Lemmy Kilmister, Classic Albums: The Ace of Spades, DVD (200?)

DEIGHTON'S JOURNALISM

Over a number of decades Len Deighton has frequently written for the media, both newspaper articles, features on military history and often travelogues, most notably when employed as the travel editor-at-large for Playboy magazine. A selection of his original journalism is accessible below.

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    Playboy
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    Sunday Times
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    The Sunday Times
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    Good Housekeeping
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    Queen Magazine
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    Daily Express
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    Sight & Sound
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    Sight & Sound

DID YOU KNOW?

Below is a collection of little known, odd and amusing facts relating to the life and works of Len Deighton.

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In his own words
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