Monday, 16 March 2020

London Reading List – Len Deighton

DC Editor Adam writes…

Welcome to The Daily Constitutional London Library – my London reading recommendations for these days of self-isolation and social distancing.

If you are unable to come & visit us in London for the next little while, or if you're stuck at home, I'm providing a few suggestions for great London-themed & London-based books

In the series I'll be drawing in literary fiction, popular fiction, graphic novels and non-fiction to create a reading list as disparate and inspiring as London itself. 

Each one features at least one London location – and I'll also share a map to some of the locations featured…

In this post I'm standing up for a great thriller and a great Londoner.

I'm also adding locations from the TV adaptation of this work, one of my very favourite London books of all

Len Deighton (1978)

This work combines two of my favourite things: London and alternative history fiction.

As a Londoner Len Deighton always gives the Big Smoke a leading role in his works. Whether it’s in his anti-Bond spy novels told by a nameless narrator (“Harry Palmer” in the movies, The Ipcress File, etc) or his highly personal and utterly fascinating work of non-fiction London Dossier (1967), the capital always features as a character in her own right.

In SS-GB, his “alternative history” novel set in 1941, London is seen as never before – or rather, as never was. And it is a chilling view.

The SS are in residence at Scotland Yard; King George is in the Tower; Churchill has been executed. London is in ruins. And the details in the bomb-blasted backdrop are vivid and startling to any Londoner.

In one scene, our hero, D.I Archer (now in the employ of the SS) takes a short cut into Soho through the wreckage of the Palace Theatre – meanwhile, the Metropole music hall on the Edgware Road is still standing.

These snapshots of an alternative London leap out of a characteristically compelling Deighton narrative, buttressed by his trademark meticulous period research. A great thriller and a most memorable London novel.

I notice that Ian Fleming's Bond novels are now published as Penguin Modern Classics. For all the fun of the Bond books, Fleming was, to my eye, rather a clodhopping writer and I can only assume that this "classic" status is a marketing ploy to exploit a devoted following of Bond fans.

Fleming isn't half the thriller writer that Deighton is, and has absolutely none of his wit. It's a mystery to me that his work doesn't get the same "classic edition" status. But he remains a living London treasure and, to this correspondent, one of the very best thriller writer these islands have yet produced.

Back in 2017 SS-GB was filmed for the BBC – to poor reviews, I'm sad to say. I for one, as a fan of the book, loved the look of the TV version.

Len Deighton's thriller gave London a starring role.

And so it was in the TV version.

It was a brilliant job from all concerned in the production department recreating and reimagining London.

The last remaining Spitfire swoops down over Whitehall…

Buckingham Palace laid waste…

Parliament conquered…

The SS in Scotland Yard…

At first I thought it was Freemasons' Hall in Covent Garden standing in for the interior of the old Scotland Yard, and at the time I blogged thus. I was then contacted by Edward Millward-Oliver, an authority on the works of Len Deighton, who informed me that the interior for Scotland Yard was actually the old Central St Martin's building on Southampton Row WC2. Thanks Edward! 

The flats, where Chief Superintendent Archer lives are, according to IMDB, at Blythe House, Blythe Road, West Kensington and also feature in TV series The Crown and Marvel movie Thor (!).

Kensington Gardens features in a scene where our lead character, Scotland Yard detective Douglas Archer, meets his Nazi boss Kellerman. Kellerman is out riding the imprisoned King George VI's horse…

The Jerusalem Tavern in Clerkenwell plays the role of the Two Brewers…

… and the old Hornsey Town Hall in Crouch End…


… is used as SS commander Huth's centre of operations.

I've added a few more locations from the book, too. Here's a map…

Keep In Touch…


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