Spy entertainment in memoriam

In the space of 12 months — Dec. 18, 2019 to Dec. 18, 2020 — a number of spy entertainment figures passed away. The blog just wanted to take note. This is not a comprehensive list.

Dec. 18, 2019: Claudine Auger, who played Domino in Thunderball (1965), dies.

Jan. 8, 2020: Buck Henry, acclaimed screenwriter and co-creator of Get Smart (with Mel Brooks), dies.

Feb. 8, 2020: Anthony Spinner, veteran writer-producer, dies. His credits include producing the final season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and a 1970s version of The Saint.

Feb. 8, 2020: Robert Conrad, star of The Wild Wild West and A Man Called Sloane, dies.

March 8, 2020: Actor Max von Sydow dies. His many credits playing a villain in Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Blofeld in Never Say Never Again (1983).

April 5, 2020: Honor Blackman, who played Cathy Gale in The Avengers and Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (1964), dies.

Sept. 1, 2020: Arthur Wooster, second unit director of photography on multiple James Bond movies, dies.

Sept. 10, 2020: Diana Rigg, who played Emma Peel in The Avengers and Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), dies.

Sept. 21, 2020: Michael Lonsdale, veteran French actor whose credits included playing the villain Hugo Drax in Moonraker (1979), dies.

Oct. 5, 2020: Margaret Nolan, who was the model for the main titles of Goldfinger and appeared in the film as Dink, dies.

Oct. 31, 2020: Sean Connery, the first film James Bond, dies. He starred in six Bond films made by Eon productions and a seventh (Never Say Never Again) made outside Eon.

Dec. 12, 2020: David Cornwell, who wrote under the pen name John le Carre, dies. Many of his novels were adapted as movies and mini-series.

Dec. 18, 2020: Peter Lamont, who worked in the art department of many James Bond films, including production designer from 1981-2006 (excluding 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies), dies.

John le Carre, an appreciation

David Cornwell, aka John le Carre

The 1960s spy craze, started by James Bond films, unleashed many escapist spies. But one of the most enduring espionage universe not escapist. It was the one penned by David Cornwell, writing under the name John le Carre.

Le Carre novels involved flawed humans dealing with grays, rather than black and white.

Cornwell wrote his novels independently of James Bond. Cornwell, like Ian Fleming, had worked in intelligence. Cornwell/le Carre had something to say in a more grounded espionage setting.

Le Carre would have written novels regardless of the spy craze. But the escapist thrust of much of the 1960s spy craze helped create a market for something else. James Bond helped create a market for George Smiley, le Carre’s best remembered (but from his only) protagonist.

Many le Carre novels were set during the Cold War. In 1989, as the cold war was winding down, the author was undaunted that the world was changing.

“It gives me wonderful breaks, a wonderful new deck of cards,” le Carre said in an interview with PBS. “I mean, the spy story was not invented by the cold war, it’ll continue after the cold war.”

Indeed, in the following years, le Carre wrote novels including The Night Manager, The Tailor of Panama and A Most Wanted Man. Le Carre never lacked for anything to say.

“I think this is a time when we’re going to have to turn around our thinking to a great extent,” le Carre said in the 1989 interview.

“There does come a point here too, as Smiley, himself, is saying, the when is the question about when could it happen that institutional guidance, patriotism, if you will, in this case, institutional commitment, actually outlives its purpose and imposes on me and upon my conscience individual strains which I cannot support.”

Le Carre lives on through numerous adaptations of his work, both as feature films and as television miniseries.

Amusingly, two writers who adapted Fleming to the screen also worked on le Carre projects: Paul Dehn (The Spy Who Came in From the Cold) and John Hopkins (Smiley’s People). The latter also had le Carre working on the adaptation.

Today, le Carre fans are in mourning after the author’s death this past weekend. That’s understandable. Reading le Carre works usually leaves a lasting impression on the reader.

John le Carre dies at 89

David Cornell, aka John Le Carre, circa 1964

John le Carre, a prolific author of spy novels with characters coping with ambiguously moral situations, has died at 89, The Guardian reported, citing a family statement.

Le Carre, real name David Cornwell, reached fame in 1963 with the novel The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Other popular novels followed, including Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy, Smiley’s People, The Russia House and The Night Manager.

Cornwell had worked in intelligence, which is why he adopted the le Carre pen name. In a 1989 interview with PBS, he said espionage involved doing “dishonorable things for honorable purposes.”

The author discussed the many types of spies.

“The field man is the figure who interests me because I feel he’s a metaphor for other walks of life,” Cornwell told PBS. “He’s a person I can explore, some kind of alienated character perhaps who rather like a writer is dependent on the society he’s deceiving, or penetrating, and who rather like a writer makes his perceptions secretly and reports them in due course to the consumer.”

Le Carre works were made into films and television miniseries. By 2016, a group called Intelligence Squared, held a debate which spy author — le Carre or Ian Fleming — was better.

David Farr, who adapted The Night Manager for the BBC, advocated for le Carre. Anthony Horwitz, a popular novelist whose works include two James Bond continuation novels, spoke on Fleming’s behalf.

 Below is a video from 1964 as le Carre’s career was taking off. He appeared on the U.S. television show To Tell The Truth. By this point, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold was going to be made into a movie and le Carre was a hot property. The le Carre segment begins at the 8:22 mark.

The remarkable Paul Dehn

Paul Dehn (1912-1976)

While doing some research, it occurred to me how remarkable Paul Dehn’s career as a screenwriter was.

In the space of one year Dehn adapted film versions of Ian Fleming (Goldfinger) and John Le Carre (The Spy Who Came in From the Cold).

In the space of 10 years, Dehn added adaptations of William Shakespeare (The Taming of the Shrew, with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton) and Agatha Christie (the 1974 version of Murder on the Orient Express).

On top of that, he worked on four sequels for The Planet of the Apes.

Dehn (1912-1976) engaged in intelligence activities during World War II, according to his WIKIPEDIA ENTRY. In the post-war years, Fleming, Dehn and former intelligence operatives such as Alan Caillou (1914-2006) drew upon their experiences in spinning stories for film and TV shows.

Still, Dehn had quite a ride. He was the second writer brought in for Goldfinger, brought in by Harry Saltzman after Richard Maibaum had begun the process.

“Dehn solved the final problems of the adoption and added some Britishness,” film historian Adrian Turner wrote in the 1998 book Adrian Turner on Goldfinger.

“Although Maibaum had disapproved of much of Dehn’s work, Dehn sent him a cable on the day of the film’s premiere — “Congratulations on Goldfinger am proud to have collaborated with you” — which was a nice gesture,” Turner wrote.

Turner added that had “a strong sense of British tradition” and “wrote poetry, lyrics for popular songs, plays and libretti for short operas.”

Dehn died on Sept. 30, 1976, at the age of 63.

Le Carre to discuss new George Smiley novel

David Cornell, aka John Le Carre, circa 1964

John Le Carre is scheduled to make an appearance in London on Sept. 7 to discuss his new George Smiley novel, A Legacy of Spies, The Telegraph reported.

Le Carre will be at the Royal Festival Hall, according to the newspaper. He “will read from the book, reveal Smiley’s deepest secrets, and discuss the way his career has reflected world events,” The Telegraph said. “There will also be a rare question and answer session.”

The novel’s summary on Amazon.com reads in part:

Peter Guillam, staunch colleague and disciple of George Smiley of the British Secret Service, otherwise known as the Circus, is living out his old age on the family farmstead on the south coast of Brittany when a letter from his old Service summons him to London. The reason? His Cold War past has come back to claim him. Intelligence operations that were once the toast of secret London, and involved such characters as Alec Leamas, Jim Prideaux, George Smiley and Peter Guillam himself, are to be scrutinized by a generation with no memory of the Cold War and no patience with its justifications.

A Legacy of Spies is scheduled to be published Sept. 5, according to Amazon.

George Smiley returns in new Le Carre novel

David Cornell, aka John Le Carre, circa 1964

George Smiley is returning in a new novel by John Le Carre, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS REPORTED.

The news service quoted Viking, Le Carre’s publisher, as saying the author’s new novel, A Legacy of Spies, will debut Sept. 5.

“According to the publisher, the novel tells of how Smiley and such peers as Peter Guillam receive new scrutiny about their Cold War years with British intelligence and face a younger generation that knows little about their history,” AP reported.

Smiley appeared in a number of Le Carre novels, including Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Smiley’s People and, most recently, 1990’s The Secret Pilgrim. In some novels, he’s a primary character, in others a secondary one.

Smiley has been portrayed by several actors, including Alec Guiness and, most recently, Gary Oldman in a 2011 film adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Video of the Fleming-LeCarre debate

On Nov. 29, Intelligence Squared, staged a debate in London whether Ian Fleming or John Le Carre was the better espionage novelist.

The group has now posted the video of the debate to YouTube. You can view the debate here.

Anthony Horowitz, who has written one 007 continuation novel (Trigger Mortis) and is committed to another, represented the Fleming side. David Farr, who adapted Le Carre’s The Night Manager, represented Le Carre.

You can view the debate for yourself here:

 

Writers to debate whether Fleming, Le Carre is better

Intelligence Squared's poster for its Fleming-LeCarre debate.

Intelligence Squared’s poster for its Fleming-LeCarre debate.

Intelligence Squared, which stages debates and presentations on various topics, will hold a debate this month whether Ian Fleming or John Le Carre is the better spy novelist.

Representing Fleming (1908-64) will be Anthony Horowitz, author of the James Bond continuation novel Trigger Mortis, according to the group’s website.

Advocating for LeCarre (real name David Cornwell, b. 1931) will be David Farr, who adapted LeCarre’s The Night Manager for the BBC. The debate is scheduled for Nov. 29 at Emmanuel Centre in London.

Here’s an excerpt from the website:

To illustrate their arguments, Horowitz and Farr will be calling on a cast of actors to bring the novels to life. So far we are delighted to have confirmed Harry Potter star Matthew Lewis and Peaky Blinders star Alex Macqueen.

The tone of the debate may be interesting. Le Carre and some of his fans over the years have been critical of Bond.

Le Carre, in a 2012 interview with CBS, said, “We had the image of James Bond. He had this extraordinary life: the license to kill, all the girls he could eat and so on, and wonderful cars. He was the Superman with some kind of mysterious patriotic purpose.

“But people knew while they were watching that stuff, people knew then about this gray army of spooks that was around.”

Thanks to 007 Magazine publisher Graham Rye for the heads up via posts on Facebook.

 

Christopher Jones dies at 72

Christopher Jones, center, one of Thrush's "test tube" killers in a fourth-season Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode

Christopher Jones, one of Thrush’s “test tube” killers in a fourth-season Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode

Former actor Christopher Jones has died at 72 from complications of cancer, ACCORDING TO AN OBITUARY IN THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER.

The obituary focuses on credits such as Wild in The Streets and Ryan’s Daughter that were part of a “brief but dazzling career.” But given he mostly worked in the 1960s, Jones was drawn into the world of spy entertainment.

On television, he was the title character of The Test Tube Killer Affair, the second episode of the final season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The story centers on efforts by Thrush, the villainous organization of the show, to develop so-called perfect killers, bred for the task from a young age. Such killers have been conditioned to turn their emotions on and off as necessary.

Jones’s character, Greg Martin, kills a number of people, including three U.N.C.L.E. agents and one of his fellow “test tube killers” who has been judged to be “defective.” Martin is to blow up a dam in Greece to demonstrate the effectiveness of the Thrush project. The episode is a prime example of a much darker tone U.N.C.L.E. had in its final season.

Jones also starred in The Looking Glass War, a 1969 film directed and scripted by Frank Pierson, based on a 1965 John Le Carre novel.

UPDATE: After re-watching The Test Tube Killer, Greg Martin’s death toll was five: U.N.C.L.E. agent Miguel (pre-credits sequence), fellow “test tube” student No. 7 (Act I), an employee of the Athens airport (Act II) and two U.N.C.L.E. agents in a helicopter (Act IV). He also unsuccessfully tries to kill U.N.C.L.E. agents Solo and Kuryakin in Act I and Act III.

1964: John Le Carre appears on To Tell the Truth

David Cornell, aka John Le Carre

David Cornwell, aka John Le Carre

There was a time that game shows sometimes featured major literary or even historical figures. So it was in 1964 on the Mark Goodson-Bill Todman program To Tell The Truth when author David Cornwell, aka John Le Carre, was a contestant.

At the time of the broadcast on CBS, the author’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold was a best seller. Cornwell had sold the film rights and it would be made into A 1965 MOVIE STARRING RICHARD BURTON. One of the screenwriters would be Paul Dehn, who had penned the later drafts of 1964’s Goldfinger.

The regular panel of Tom Poston, Peggy Cass, Orson Bean and Kitty Carlisle faced the daunting task of determining which of three contestents had once worked in British intelligence. The outcome? Well, let’s just say it didn’t turn out well for the panel.

Here’s the broadcast, featuring host Bud Collyer. Our usual caveat: these things are often yanked off YouTube, so it’s possible the embedded video may be gone by the time you see see this. Cornwell/Le Carre appears in the second of the three games: