“Spies on British Screens” Day 3: Of Whicker, reassuring hawks and burning Londons

Sunday 19th June 2016

Plymouth

Following an enjoyable, inevitably seafood-including meal near Plymouth Harbour and drinks til late, I must admit to being very tired open entering Day 3 of the conference, but just about made it through…

Filipa Moreira (I. U. de Lisboa, Portugal) placed Bond in the context of Portuguese cultural history. She mentioned how Fleming had stayed at the Palacio Estoril Hotel – to the west of Lisbon on the coast – in 1941, also using its casino, which yielded some of his later writing. During WW2, Portugal was officially neutral, which reminded me of Rui Lopes’ paper from Spying on Spies last year. Moreira explained some further influence of Portugal on Bond, with Guincho Beach proving a setting in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969).

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Moreira located Bond as ‘the most popular figure in entertainment’ with repetitive narrative structures important to how Fleming established his archetypal hero. She identified product placement as a significant part of the series’ persistent appeal. Using Galician and Bordeau’s four category model (2004) of how product placement is used in films (1. Verbal/hand placement, 2. Implied endorsement, 3. Signage, 4. Clutter), she argued it allowed the series to develop throughout time and adapt to changing tastes.

We were then treated to some revealing cultural history in the shape of the Whicker’s World ‘James Bond Special’ (TX: BBC-1, 25th March 1967). This documentary was of Pinewood Studios in the time of You Only Live Twice’s making. Whicker’s phrases – such as “a modern fairy tale”, “space age gubbins”, “the Bondwagon”, “Bondiana”, “no message to sell” and “like Kleenex!” – amounted to a smugly indulgent, supercilious reveling in the trivial nature of pop culture and Bond’s amorality.

This documentary didn’t just reveal that Cubby Broccoli’s grandfather introduced broccoli the vegetable, but indirectly showed a stark difference to 2016 in sexual mores – pre-1970s ‘women’s lib’ – with women marginalised or patronised in the show’s preferred reading. A particularly telling section saw YOLT screenwriter Roald Dahl drily responding to Whicker’s eager ‘wink-wink’ question about how Bond “gets through women”.

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Connery’s appearance showed how comparatively low-key the nature of celebrity was in 1967, compared with 2016; he comes across as down to earth and mildly embarrassed by the absurd level of media attention he was experiencing. He also focused on how the books ‘lack humour’ and how he liked how the films increased it.

There wasn’t time to watch the whole programme; then, a Q&A pertaining to Moreira’s paper and the Whicker programme. Alan ‘Gus’ Burton referred back to his own paper – the lineage of 1964-73 British spy films – and how Hammerhead included location usage of Lisbon to signify the exotic.

Mention was made of the democratising impact of brands on culture, from the 1960s onwards. This appearance of luxury could be compared to the supposed ‘privileging’ of audiences’ being able to vote for ‘talent’ on Hughie Green’s TV shows in the same era, as Joe Moran has detailed in his excellent article for History Workshop, ”Stand Up and Be Counted’: Hughie Green, the 1970s and Popular Memory’.

A delegate highlighted that items like Vesper Lynd (played by Eva Green in the 2006 Casino Royale)’s necklace will set you back £2000, showing money’s lack of democracy. There was discussion, linking back to Felix Thompson’s Day 1 paper, of how the programme showed a pre-mass tourism age – with Whicker’s formulaic parade of wealthy people and foregrounding of luxury. The almost parodic silliness of Whicker’s persona perhaps chimed with the fact that YOLT was more negatively received, with many film critics discussing the formula as growing ‘stale’. Cultural change was commented on: casinos are now seen as tacky. There was juxtaposition of the worldly, urbane Roger Moore with Daniel Craig in CR – ‘the first Bond to be drunk on screen’. This was seen as influenced by the Bourne films, with Jason Bourne’s ‘grim and gritty lifestyle’ – at least in the early films – being anti-Bondian. Some anticipation was evident in the room for the new Jason Bourne (2016).

The next panel included myself and was all a little rushed, with lunch on the way! Both papers made use of video matter. Toby Manning began by showing clips from Smiley’s People (1982) and US drama series Homeland (2011 – date). His clips proved that dialogue in the latter was practically lifted from the former, eliciting belly laughs from conference goers… He contrasted the former’s advocating of détente with the latter’s anti-Iranian ‘terrorist’ hawkishness. Manning argued that the JLC TV adaptations provide a ‘source book, a template’ used by what he described as the ‘trashier’ Homeland. The adaptations reflected the ‘posh end of heritage’. He commented on the oddity of a ‘hate-fuelling’ Homeland using as its template the humanist hero Smiley and also considering that JLC was very critical of the ‘War on Terror’.

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Manning described Saul Berenson as the best thing about it: possessing probity and Smiley-like moral scruples. By season 3, JLC was being channeled ever more explicitly, as an attempt by the show to lend itself ‘legitimacy’. Enhanced by his opposition to the Iraq War, JLC is often seen as the great liberal conscience; Manning commented that Homeland gets to seem liberal while being hawkish. Saul increasingly gets given Smiley’s lines. Carrie is said to enact all of the mad and bad stuff, with Saul being scrupulous initially but ultimately endorsing her actions. Season 3 channels The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and also quoted several other plagiaristic lines. He unfavourably contrasted Berenson’s ultimate concern being with his own career with Smiley’s wider sense of duty.

Manning began to conclude by criticising the Manichean idea that ‘the enemy’ is peculiarly inhuman and brutal. He said that it was one thing to portray Communists as barbaric – “You can argue with that and I do” – but that it was quite another to argue that Muslims are inherently barbaric and stated that there was a racist element at work in Homeland… He closed by saying that Smiley was a liberal hawk as early as in The Honourable Schoolboy; he executes Dieter Frei in Call from the Dead, is implicated in Liz and Leamas’ setting-up in TSWCIFTC and allows Bill Haydon’s death in TTSS. His ruthless pursuit of Karla is due to his loss of faith in détente. Manning’s excellent long conclusion ended with how the spy genre works to reassure us that the threat is real and to give us avatars like Berenson and Smiley, doing the job ‘as decently as possible in the circumstances’. These ‘reassuring hawks’ wring their hands on our behalf but ultimately enact the dominant ideological impulses.

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Does my hawkishness look reassuring in this?

Next was my own paper, available here. I argued, akin to Manning about Homeland, that the Christopher Hampton-scripted film version of The Honorary Consul ultimately endorses hegemonic politics, ignoring much of the notable counter-hegemonic discourse of Greene’s original 1973 novel. Unfortunately, the timings in the schedule were slightly off so there was no specific Q&A just for this panel. Though there was another good cold buffet lunch to go straight into! Wherein I discussed Greene with Felix Thompson, who mentioned how comparatively forgotten oppositional representations to the NATO hegemony now are…

Then, it was onto the very final panel of the day; this was delivered by three gents from King’s College London, with complementary papers on recent James Bond texts. Edward Lamberti began with analysis of the ‘shortest’ Bond film, Quantum of Solace (2008), using Judith Butler’s performativity theory and – as more of a curve-ball – J.L. Austin’s Speech-Act Theory (1955). This was the only mention in the conference of this theory that language brings things into being: “It’s a girl!” “We find the defendant guilty”. Some use was made of Sandy Petry’s Speech Acts and Literary Theory (1990) as a framework.

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He developed an analysis of Bond in QOS as conveying a sense of loss and melancholy, mentioning how Cinema Paradiso (1988) reflecting a sense of the past as better. “A newly Bourne secret agent” elicited a groan or two! This grittier Bond’s isolation and alienation was argued to contain insight into the structures of society. Lamberti asserted that a ‘productive melancholy’ on Bond’s part reflected a rebelliousness seen as a threat by M.

The next speaker Christopher Holiday (KCL) focused on recent portrayals of London on screen seem fixated on showing it battered into oblivion. Use was made of Charlotte Brunsdon’s London in Cinema (2007) to develop his thoughts on a ‘London has fallen’ cycle of films, which included some recent Bonds. The US-made The Day the Earth Was Stopped (2008) was derided. A clip was used from G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013). These films were more broadly contextualised in a lineage of British science fiction cinema: The Giant Behemoth (1959), Konga (1961) and Gorgo (1961) – the titular monster of whom was to some the ‘English Godzilla’ – and I.Q. Hunter was quoted on this tradition.

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G.I. Joe: Retaliation or Konga? I know which I’d prefer to sit down and watch!

The true ‘London sequence’ was argued to have started with the relatively politicised V for Vendetta (2005) and Children of Men (2006), though key scenes in this latter film are in the UKIP-terrain of ‘Bexhill’*, East Sussex, though the detention camp scenes were actually filmed in Aldershot. PD James-adaptation COM is a very notable film, with satirising of nihilistic post-modernist neo-liberalism and an against-type casting of Michael Caine as a romantic hippie.

London was being used more, not just for British films, but by others – as British crews were experienced, now generally non-unionised and there was greater studio space.  Mention was made of a 2013 Telegraph article by John Hiscock, who seems to have written about the subject since at least the late-90s.

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The SIS Building (1994) was used in GoldenEye (1995). Holiday discussed Craig’s Bond as being strongly aligned with London through his unveiling as Bond on a Royal Marine speedboat on the Thames on 14th October 2005. He showed this clip and it was undoubtedly powerful iconography, no doubt intended to counterbalance Craig’s more working-class, northern origins with patriotic ballast.

Ethical issues were discussed, with relation to the criticism London Has Fallen (2016) itself had received from 7/7 victims’ families for its ‘insensitivity’. Holiday referred to the most recent JB film SPECTRE (2015) as ‘haunted cinema’, a sort of prelude to the next paper.

Speaker 26, the last of the Conference, was Alexander Sergeant (again KCL) who discussed the function of the “Bond girl” as a Structuring Archetype in SPECTRE, according to Jungian spectator theory. He said he wanted to steer away from the common – in the 1970s-90s, anyway – field of Lacan/Metz/Freud psychoanalytical approaches to film. Can’t say I blamed him, really!

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His paper focused on individuation and how archetypes have roots in the collective unconscious. Dr Madeleine Swann – a psychologist working in the Austrian Alps – in SPECTRE is referred to as a contradiction to the ‘Bond Girl’ archetype, who along with Bond will have to return. Proust was referred to.

The Q&A incorporated all three KCL speakers, Toby Manning and I. Sadly, I can remember little of it but that I made a point about social class and the poacher character in Went the Day Well? It only remained for me to make my way to the station with some other delegates and go through a grueling nigh on nine-hour journey back to the north east!

Four days after the end of the conference came the Brexit vote.

*Bexhill and Battle UK parliamentary constituency is a rock-solid Tory seat, which even had a Tory majority of 11,100 in 1997, and is now over 20,000 with UKIP in second place. Both Stuart Wheeler and Nigel Farage – two of the most reprehensible influences in our body politic in the last 20 years – stood here and got in excess of 2,500 votes.

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“Spies on British Screens” Day 2: Of female agents, Gizmos, Holmes and Eminent Dragons

Friday 18th June 2016

Plymouth

This day proved to be perhaps the most enlightening conference day I have yet attended in my fledgling academic ‘career’, if it can be called that. I would particularly highlight Chris Smith and Joseph Oldham’s papers for their forensic detail and historical reach. I look forward to books by Nick Barnett and Oldham respectively on ‘First Cold War’ culture in Britain and the history of the spy and conspiracy genres on British television.

The Liverpudlian Cat Mahoney (Northumbria University) began proceedings with an analysis of the TV version of Marvel’s Agent Carter – is/was Peggy a new popular feminist hero?  This ‘physically and mentally tough’ character was seen as becoming much more than just the love interest of Captain America; figuring in 1946 NYC in a Vera Lynn-like role, with an English accent. The focus given to Bletchley Park was mentioned, and Mahoney argued that Peggy was much more feminist than post-feminist, being very practical in nature. She has a John Steed equivalent in Edwin Jarvis. Mahoney mentioned the series’ ‘cautionary tale’ as regards the character Whitney Frost, pointing to a ‘Women in Refrigerator’ trope.

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This paper was a closely argued case that Peggy ‘leans towards being feminist’, without any of the internalising of the male gaze that you see with post-feminism. Yet, Mahoney acknowledged Sarah Miles’ criticism that this was a Marvel ‘version of feminism’, with Peggy as the only truly significant female character with agency and who is also white.

Next was a connected paper: Laura Crossley (Edge Hill University, Liverpool), dissecting differing manifestations of Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise character, from her origins in a London Evening Standard cartoon strip in 1963 (running thirty-nine years) to novels and film and radio adaptations. Pulp Fiction (1994) was later to allude to it, with Travolta’s character seen reading Peter O’Donnell’s 1965 MB novel.

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Joseph Losey’s 1966 film was referred to as strongly ‘camp’ ‘oddity’ which has its pleasures. Crossley quoted Losey’s intent to make a film that would end all of the James Bond films – not a notably successful outcome there, Joe! She showed a few clips from the film, which looked unusual, proto-postmodernist and with some anti-imperialist political charge to it.

Crossley seemed to value the novel most highly; praising how Modesty is represented as displaying physical prowess and being better than a man: Kingsley Amis and his wife were fans of the Blaise books, and KA wrote a fan’s letter to O’Donnell – which Crossley showed. It seemed to me this was part of the cultural climate which had enabled Cathy Gale and Emma Peel to become ground-breaking televisual characters.

Crossley linked Willie Garvin – Modesty’s companion – with the previous day’s Bond – Palmer – Callan educational formulation, saying that Garvin was ‘lower’ even than Callan, having gone to a reform school. She explained how O’Donnell satirises the old-boy network, with colonialism open to some question in the strips and novel. Strip #3678 was said to include the interrogative: ‘We could appeal to the unions, maybe?’ It seems, unsurprisingly, that this was a strip from circa May 1975…

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The Q&A revealed some interesting discussion of the film Spy (dir. Paul Feig, 2015) with Melissa McCarthy, which was argued as going beyond mere jokes about MM’s unusual physicality. Yet, there was a questioning of how so many of these sort of texts depict violence and killing people as the main focus of what these female characters do and are about. Are they then that different from the Bonds, or mere female ‘versions’ of an ethically questionable normative hero?

Crossley argued that Blaise is the dominant one in the pairing with Garvin, but that it is heteronormative, though no less progressive in the context of the 1960s. Mahoney referred to Dotty in Agent Carter, who has signs of some deviancy, possibly linked to Soviet training. This may just seem to us to be part of the constraining binary of Cold War ideological thinking. The discussion included Philip’s non-heteronormative activities as Soviet deep cover agent in The Americans and Norman Pett’s significant comic-strip Jane, which ran in the Daily Mirror from 1932-59. There was an attempt to update for the early-60s with Daughter of Jane by Roger Woddis running from 1961-63. Woddis (1917-93) is an interesting figure, a writer of one of my favourite episodes of The Prisoner, ‘Hammer into Anvil’ and Communist Party member who in the 1970s-90s wrote poems for the New Statesman and Punch. Also, curiously enough, Jane was adapted for TV with Blakes 7’s Glynis Barber as Jane for two series in 1982 and 1984 respectively.

The Q&A ended with some righteous focus on how Rosa Klebb represented the ‘monstrous feminine’ and also how the recent case of Star Wars reflected a lack of progress: none of the action figures were female.

Speaker 12 of the conference was via Skype, Claudia Sternberg (University of Leeds). This paper analysed whether WW1 screen espionage reflected female empowerment. Lang’s Spione (1928) and George Fitzmaurice’s pre-Hays Code Mata Hari (1931) were mentioned as films which reflected a sensationalising of the female spy as a glamour figure. Where, in fact, the female spy was subject to low-pay and low-status, with women being seen as ‘less able to feel patriotism; and being ‘prone to romantic sentiment’. Working-class women were left out of spy films. Victor Saville’s I Was a Spy (1933) was analysed as one of the key British examples of the sub-genre.

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She gave an overview of many 1930s and 40s films, and stated that the cycle came to an end in 1945, to be replaced in a few years by the Cold War. The 1991 TV Ashenden re-adapts W. Somerset Maugham and incorporated much autobiographical material, and added a homosexual romance.

Historian Chris Smith (University of Kent, Canterbury) placed the WW2-related Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films in their historical context. This was an excellent paper, limiting much analysis of the film texts and taking the films as sources among many. He made good use of Monthly Film Bulletin reviews, and placed the films’ content and reception in the wider historical context. He discussed the ‘Fifth Column’ as a moral panic before Stanley Cohen had coined the concept. I spoke to the speaker later when we were on a boat trip.

Smith referred to the government’s failed ‘Silent Column’ propaganda campaign. This encouraged the telling off and prosecution of rumour-mongers, like ‘Miss Leaky Mouth’. He mentioned a Spectator editorial criticising the wasting of time that this all amounted to.

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The combative Kent academic praised Ealing’s The Next of Kin (1942) as a superior propaganda film. When it was first shown privately, it showed the British commandos losing; Churchill insisted on the British commandos winning, so the ending was changed. Smith provided statistical detail which highlighted the importance of cinema: over 4000 cinemas were open in the UK with over 19 million cinema-goers – and the BBC, with 90% of homes having a radio.

In the Q&A, Smith had more chance to discuss left-wing Scottish historian Angus Calder’s The People’s War: Britain, 1939-1945 (1969). He argued that in Sherlock Holmes and The Voice of Terror (1942), the people come to Holmes’ aid: that it isn’t just about the hero, it’s the British public who are agents and contributors. He made reference to Roland Barthes and myth, and said more important than debunking them is considering why the powerful are trying to create myths.

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There’s always room in life for a random image of Alastair Sim…

Among many films that got mentioned was Cottage to Let (1941) with Alastair Sim, a recommendation in itself! Toby Manning and Joseph Oldham made reference to George Smiley as being rather like Sherlock Holmes: both are essentially analysts of data, like historians. Oldham added that many WW2 spies were historians.

Second Scouse speaker and conference co-organiser Nicholas Barnett (Plymouth University) discussed the BBC’s retro spy-drama The Game (2014) and its representation of the 1970s. The cultural historian saw this 1972-set series as a period piece, and how it is looking back on the Cold War ‘with a sense of nostalgia’. The title contains the chess-like Cold War metaphor; a very blatant engagement with ‘the familiar’ by writer Toby Whithouse. Barnett referred to inter-textual references to George Cockroft’s novel The Dice Man (1971). In episodes 5 and 6, the game becomes poker. He described there being a subtler narrative of chess in the first three episodes, with its copying of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979), with the last three copying The Americans. This lack of originality prefigures what Manning was to say about Homeland on Sunday. The series becomes a game of chess between Joe and Odin, who makes himself more sinister through peeling apples.

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The clichés have to be there for it to be a spy drama, and are part of a view of the 1970s as a ‘comforting’ time: the ‘sinister Russian enemy’, the mole within MI5, a fairground scene with the protagonist having a gun, signposting dialogue like “welcome to the end of our story” (episode 6), a dead letter drop (episode 2), Russian vodka, a clunky camera, reel-to-reel tapes and open-plan committee rooms in Birmingham City Library used as a set. In the show, the 1970s are where, while it less comforting than WW2, ‘we knew where we stood with the Russians’.

Barnett went on to discuss a ‘lost politics of class in British society’. Waterhouse, the head of counter intelligence, pin-striped suited and has a servant; he was contrasted with Joe, state-school educated like Callan. ‘Daddy’ (Brian Cox) is referred to as a post-war masculine ideal: at once the war hero but also the family man – which Barnett compared with Lynne Segal’s analysis. Chloe Pirrie’s Wendy is presented as a voice of reason, and Waterhouse eventually follows her advice. Daddy talks of WW2 as a war ‘that made heroes’, feeling a nostalgia for the previous war; making the audience perhaps think that people like Daddy were heroes of the Cold War. This is described as an attempt by Whithouse to draw some lines of continuity between WW2 and the CW.

He mentioned the show’s depiction of working-class areas; the working-class comedian telling an Irish joke complete with a garish jacket and a comb-over, pubs with beer mugs with handles and smoking – that past that is within our memory but is just beyond us. I would have liked a bit more analysis of this, but this was no doubt due to time constraints…

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The public information film Protect and Survive is used anachronistically – it was actually made in 1976, not in 1972. Barnett quoted historian Matthew Grant’s comments about oral history interviewees’ misremembering of the past: people saying they’d seen Duck and Cover (1951), which was never shown in Britain.

Barnett finished by summarising how The Game portrays the Cold War as a simpler time with its continuities with WW2, and its noble, familiar intelligence game, but also as part of the transition towards today’s less comforting world, with a more dangerous game with increasingly endangered civilians.

Justin Harrison (Learning Commons Librarian, University of Victoria BC, Canada) gave a rare power-point-less talk. He discussed the representations of Britishness in The Avengers. He discussed the confident, optimistic national identity, as projected via the lion on the shield in the Tara King titles sequence. He emphasised the ‘mutual respect’ between the generations conveyed by the series and its core audience being young women in the 18-34 age group. This discussion of Steed as an establishment gave rise to my thought that the agent might be an attempt to redeem the public-school spy following Philby and co…

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Harrison argued that tradition and modernity co-existed; there’s the British lion, but then also Linda Thorson’s character is simply known as ‘Tara King’ without any marriage title. He discussed the inconsequential nature of much of the show’s narratives, with plot often being merely a justification for a champagne cork popping at the end. The last Tara King episode ‘Bizarre’ (TX: 22/05/1969) was used as an exemplar in its ‘preposterous’ plot. Writer on 1960s Britain Mark Donnelly was used to discuss how the show kept reality away.

Harrison concluded by mentioning the intriguing sounding ‘Two’s a Crowd’ (TX: 17/12/1965), one of very few Avengers stories to identify its villains as Soviets and thus more directly engage in the Cold War. On the long train to Plymouth and before bed following the first night of the conference, I had watched two Tara King episodes on my laptop: ‘The Rotters’, which partly fitted Harrison’s depiction of Steed as rural gent, with signifiers of ‘English oak’, ‘dry rot’ and a red-pillar box, and ‘The Interrogators’ with villain Christopher Lee backed by Chinese army uniformed helpers. This latter was rather better, and showed an at least tangential relation to the Cold War.

Joseph Oldham (Warwick University) said that his paper came out of the previous Spying on Spies conference. And reflected how little focus there had been there on the 1990s, basically between the end of the Cold War and the start of the War on Terror. This can be seen as a lost decade in spy fiction and Oldham wanted to question whether or not this was due to the lull in major geopolitical tensions. This led to his focus on Bugs (1995-99), televised in the ‘Doctor Who’ Saturday evening slot and which often gained 10 million viewers; a series which he said had been ‘written out of the academic narrative’. He focused mainly on the first two series’.

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Its focus was on the ‘miniaturized wizardry and computer cunning’ and ‘excitement of technological gadgetry for good and evil’. Even Charles Jennings’ positive review in The Observer was patronising: Jennings viewing it as ‘light-hearted entertainment and not to be taken seriously’. The Radio Times spread to promote the first series placed it in the heritage of The Avengers (1961-69), The New Avengers (1976-77) and The Professionals (1978-82). Brian Clemens had been brought on board as ‘series consultant’.

Oldham used David Buxton’s analysis of The Avengers as a ‘pop series’, a historically specific thing that could only have existed the way it did in the 1960s. He mentioned Felix Thompson’s comments on Clemens’ 1970s works being different and then how the Radio Times spread positioned Bugs as ‘we are doing The Avengers again’. The 1990s background included the nostalgia boom of 1960s adventure series being repeated on BBC-2 and Channel 4, which fed into the ‘Cool Britannia’ moment which was heavily indebted to the 1960s style. He also mentioned the exaggerated use of such imagery by Austin Powers, and how Bugs didn’t go in for this sort of iconography.

Bugs’ aesthetic has bold colours, indebted to the 1960s pop-futurism, but mixed in with glassy, chrome visuals which reflected what Oldham described as a ‘neo-liberal futurism’. By being largely shot on location in the London Docklands, formerly derelict, which had been massively redeveloped in the Thatcher era as a hub of the financial sector – the process which is incisively investigated by Andy Beckett in Promised You a Miracle: Why 1980-82 Made Modern Britain (2015). He mentioned The Observer’s commenting that ‘You will never see a pre-1990 building in Bugs’; Oldham said this was an exaggeration – it should have been pre-1980. The series sees this area (unnamed in the series) as ‘massively important and a key point of vulnerability’. Canary Wharf is said to appear in every episode of series 3. There’s an obsession with landmarks, and also innovations such as driver-less trains on the Docklands Light Railway.

The retro element is more to do with narrative than visual aesthetics. The common gripe of 1990s TV drama was articulated by Brian Clemens himself in the publicity for Bugs: ‘Normally when the BBC or ITV have a free evening slot, they stick in a copper, a vet or a doctor and they’re all so downbeat and depressing’. This was the idea of there being much ‘soapification’, issue-led stuff, and there being a need to return to the adventure show and ‘rollercoaster’ viewing. Oldham mentioned how there’s little ongoing narrative in Bugs and how most episodes end with a terrible joke and they all laugh!

Unlike in the 1960s TV adventure series’, Oldham described the spies in Bugs as not working for the state but working as a ‘small-business enterprise’. He placed this in the context of the 1990s dot.com boom and Thatcherite ideology. Key was the characters’ role as ‘surveillance experts’; this was before Big Brother and CSI were on British TV. He said that Bugs was part of the gadget renaissance of the 1990s, as in GoldenEye and contrasted them with older, Orwellian British TV drama series’ like 1990 (1977-78). Their company was called ‘Gizmos’ and their use of surveillance is portrayed as quirky, small and not as threatening as the archetypal Orwellian state surveillance operation.

Oldham concluded his excellent paper by arguing that Spooks continues the glassy aesthetic of Bugs and that the neglected 1990s series represents how we got from the 1960s adventure series and the Cold War to Spooks and the War on Terror. He plausibly argued fot it as a key text right in the midst of what we might term the 1990s interregnum.

The Q&A included a question by Felix Thompson about how serious was the focus on Canary Wharf and the banking sector. Oldham commented on the uncertainty of the tone between irony and seriousness. When Barnett asked about the villains, Oldham said that eco-terrorists tended to come up a bit.

Barnett said that nostalgia is usually linked to declinism but that that doesn’t seem to be the case with Cold War nostalgia, in the context of what is generally seen as the ‘relative success’ of the Cold War.

Catherine Edwards (ICCS Manager, Birmingham University) tackled narrative beginnings in John le Carré adaptations, though this also sprouted off into discussion of In Bruges (2008) with its bickering hitmen giving the names Cranham and Blakely when they check into a hotel: inter-textually referencing Kenneth and Colin, who played the hitmen in a mid-80s TV version of Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter. This got me thinking about how comparatively little explored is Harold Pinter’s relation to the Cold War – despite such plays as One for the Road, and also his manifest exploration of communication ambiguities, complexities of identity in so many of his other plays which were staged in the ‘intelligence’ and ‘spy’ era.

Edwards also discussed the problematic nature of ‘beginnings’, utilising the example of Coney theatre company’s immersive methodology, with their plays existing from before, to and after the ‘actual production’, living on afterwards in minds and in its influence.

Edward Biddulph (independent scholar) was next, describing On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1968) as his favourite Bond film and exploring some of the franchise’s memes. The reach and sway of JB was emphasised with the example of Allen Dulles’ claim that in recruitment he would look for people with Bond’s qualities.

Memes were defined as units of cultural selection, like genes. Among many examples were ‘Bond, James Bond’ and ‘Shaken, not stirred’. Biddulph traced the dominance of these, as well as ‘Bond Girl’: singer of Skyfall Bond theme Adele was asked in 2013 about whether she’d want to be a ‘Bond Girl’ and when interviewed used the collocation naturally herself. Biddulph used multiple examples of these memes amid newspaper and other cultural discourses from the 1960s until today.

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Biddulph extracted probably the biggest laugh of the conference with his captioned image adapting the ‘Seven Ages of Man’ ape-to-man progress for Bond, including ‘Campus Rogerus’, a Safari-suit-clad Moore among the others!

Barbara Korte (University of Freiburg) discussed the agency of the agent in SPECTRE (2015), analysing surveillance and prevention concepts in today’s supposedly ‘post-heroic times’. The meme of ‘friendly surveillance’ was located in this recent Bond film, with MI6 being shown to be more transparent. This film and Skyfall (2012), representative of the technologically reliant era, were said to display nostalgia for the days of the field agent when there was a perceived greater level of agency and inventiveness. Cold War inter-textuality was present in SPECTRE, with M using the phrase “George Orwell’s worst nightmare”. Korte linked the location of a meeting in Rome to the Italian capital’s previous status as a fascist capital in the Mussolini era.

The Q&A included discussion of the anticipation before texts are released and reaction to texts after release, alongside a focus on the precise rhythm and timing of phrases in the Bond films. This, again, got me thinking of Pinter, with the precise, metronomic focus on pauses inherited from Beckett. Korte’s power-point slide of still images from SPECTRE was much focused on, with Craig’s Bond conveyed as a Romantic hero, bare-chested within sublime landscapes. One of them resembled Caspar David Friederich’s 1818 oil painting Wanderer above the Sea of Fog.

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There was additional focus on how SPECTRE had a conservative ideology in how security is provided by the state, with the ‘responsible’ presentation of M. Someone mentioned the ‘disconcerting’ role of Lucas North character, played by Richard Armitage in seasons 7-9 of Spooks (BBC-1, 2002-11). This show interestingly involved firebrand leftist writer Howard Brenton in its early series’.

Rosie White (Northumbria University) was the conference’s 20th – and the day’s ‘Keynote’ – speaker. White gave an interesting talk, comparing and dissecting the screen personae of Leslie Howard in the title role of The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) and Tom Hiddleston as Jonathan Pine. Power-point included an evocative use of a gif animated image of Howard that showed his expressive quality and eyes. She spoke of being both seduced and discomfited by early 2016’s ratings success The Night Manager, with its narrative of the arms trade mingling with cinematic glamour. Mention was made of how JLC’s ethically engaged tone was downplayed in this BBC international co-production which marketed itself as ‘Quality British Television’ and encouraged press discourses of Pine being an audition for the role of James Bond.

White was eloquently uncomfortable at the ‘exotic, saturated colour contrasts’ and what she saw as the fetishisation of the lives of the “super-rich”. Indeed, I would support this – remembering how much The Guardian in a Saturday edition played on the series’ popularity to pitch its locations as holiday destinations: for its presumably more affluent readers. While I did enjoy the series, its pleasures were somewhat out of place in the light not just of the arms dealing narrative, but also the Austerity Britain we are living through.

Leslie Howard.gif
That wondrous gif image of the lad Leslie

She spoke of the contrast between the mythical Englishness shown in Howard’s gentle features and Hiddleston’s more studied and manufactured projections of English identity, which showed a lot more conscious ‘work’. White argued persuasively that the myth of Englishness today is spread via more globalised cultural industries, and is increasingly hollow. Howard was once the subject of an old Jeffrey Richards Listener article I chanced on in the British Library; Richards portrayed him as a national phenomenon comparable to Priestley and Churchill. White alluded to this same idea of the Howard as a powerful myth, even more so due to his premature death.

She referred to the film’s use of John of Gaunt’s ‘This Sceptred Isle’ speech from Shakespeare’s Richard II. As I mentioned elsewhere, Graham Greene was intensely critical of how this speech omitted reference to Robert Southwell’s execution and the turmoil experienced by Catholics in England.

Pimpernel Smith (1941) was analysed for how it demonstrated Richards’ description of the national characteristic of the English ‘sense of humour’ as a ‘redoubtable bulwark against tyranny.’ Smith, in rebuke to our present-day ideas, always has a book on him – rather like Niven’s jovial renaissance-man Peter Carter in A Matter of Life and Death (1946). Another consciously ‘elegiac’ Jeffrey Richards essay from the Aldgate-Richards collection Britain Can Take It was quoted from: ‘a mystic England’, ‘an England of the soul’ and so forth…

With the ethereal gif of Howard playing, I thought of how indexical the two terms “English” and “gentleman” always seem to be… I also thought of ‘The News in English’, Graham Greene’s story of a Lord Haw Haw figure, but who has the tones of ‘a typical English don’. I thought also of how excluded the working-classes have been; an area Greene touched on with Purves, the poacher, getting a key role in his short story, ‘The Lieutenant Died Last’. Interestingly comparable to Howard is David Niven, not least in The Elusive Pimpernel – a Powell and Pressuburger curio that I have never seen and is damnably tricky to track down.

Dragon School Oxford.jpg

White reflected on just how dominant the Dragon School in Oxford and its ‘Eminent Dragon’ alumni have been in British politics and culture: Alain de Botton, John Betjeman, Hugh Gaitskell, Rory Stewart, Tim Henman, Dom Joly… This was followed, of course, by reference to the casting of Eminent Dragons Hugh Laurie, Toms Hollander and Hiddleston in TNM. She referred to Laurence Fox’s defensive reaction (“Shut up!”) to Julie Walters’ comments on the now-entrenched class divisions in British acting. White finished pointedly with an oppositional image that made an unarguable case for the situation of the advantaged vs. the disadvantaged in the British arts today… During the Q&A, Laura Crossley helped tie some of the threads together by saying she’d read that Hiddleston had been quoted saying he’d love to play the Scarlet Pimpernel…

eminent dragons.jpg

Thus, Day 2 concluded; relaxation ensued, but ghosts and images of the past and present stayed very much in mind.

“Spies on British Screens” Day 1: Lucky eyes, communist maths teachers and the politics of quiche

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This piece is a fuller, more rambling expansion of the piece I have written here for Literary 007. I wasn’t quite sure they were so interested in the 1950s boffin, ‘Father Stanley Unwin’ and Glasgow locations standing in for Czechoslovakia (and there was a word limit)!

On a pleasant Friday morning (17/06/2016), the Spies on British Screens Conference commenced in a small lecture room, housed in a building that was less than ten years old. Most of Plymouth was suitably early Cold War in its look – plenty of concrete shopping precincts and 1950s-60s tower blocks.

Alan Burton (Klagenfurt University) provided a chronological survey of the British spy film cycle, from 1964-73. He applied genre-theorist Steve Neale’s formulation of a film ‘cycle’ to a group of films made in a ‘specific and limited timespan’, in the wake of the success of From Russia with Love (1963). The focus was initially on the 1960s; Burton quoted Alexander Walker’s description of James Bond as ‘man of the decade’. He argued that the cycle’s high-water mark was in April 1965, when Films and Feelings magazine declared a state of ‘spy mania’: the year of the stratospheric box-office success of Thunderball and the anti-Bond complexities of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and The Ipcress File.

WHERE THE BULLETS FLY

Many films in the cycle couldn’t escape the shadow of Bond: Where the Bullets Fly (1966) even promoted Tom Adams’ Charles Vine as the world’s ‘second best’ secret agent! Among the many obscure films in the cycle that Burton mentioned (and, for many, it sounded like this status was entirely deserved!), some particularly interesting ones were Where the Spies Are (1966) and Otley (1968), with Tom Courtenay as a small-time antiques dealer, left floundering and bewildered in the world of espionage. Danger Route (1967) and Innocent Bystanders (1972) were given as examples of the more violent end of this cycle, with adjectives like ‘vicious’ and ‘unpleasant’ used.

otley

DANGER ROUTE

The compendious Burton, who has recently had published A Historical Dictionary of British Spy Fiction, rounded off his enlightening survey with mention of the spy spoofs – Morecambe and Wise, Carry On, Modesty Blaise (1966) – and the anti-Bond sub-cycle of Deighton and le Carre adaptations. Despite spoofs kicking in early, and a July 1966 Guardian article which asked ‘Is the spy bubble about to burst?’ Burton was able to trace a lineage of films through to 1973, though the cycle had long since ceased to be economically or critically valued. Bond operated on a different level commercially; even if its critical acclaim dwindled from You Only Live Twice (1967) onwards.

Felix Thompson (University of Derby) effectively did the same for TV spy dramas as Burton had done for films, though his paper included analysis of how a smaller range of examples demonstrated the dissolving of national boundaries in the era of mass tourism: another popular cultural practice of the 1960s and 70s of equal significance to James Bond. He analysed series’ such as Danger Man, and mentioned how Patrick McGoohan was very critical of James Bond.

THE PRISONER
THE PRISONER (1967-68). The Bond-like tale of ‘The Girl Who Was Death’ is revealed to be a children’s story book… with clear connotations of the yarn being pacifying false consciousness for the kiddies.

Thompson gave an overview of TV drama in the age of long series, contrastingly to today in Britain where serials such as The Night Manager dominate. He explained how series 2 of Danger Man was both a ‘panorama of cosmopolitan encounters’ and strongly connected to news discourses at the time. Even The Saint, to an extent, was concerned with Britain’s loss of Empire and the increase in globalisation, trade and migration. He explained John Drake’s unique status as simultaneously working for the UN, the CIA, MI5 and NATO, and how narratives included ones such as ‘The Galloping Major’, where the goal is to prevent a coup in a new post-colonial democracy. He analysed how Drake figures as the ‘colonial hero transforming into the tourist’. The Saint’s airport sequences – very common! – were linked to the very 1960s aspiration of jet-setting lifestyles. This show also depicted international cooperation and summitry, with Simon Templar going to a Geneva Conference in an episode ‘The Russian Prisoner’; though this was said to contain national stereotypes and paranoia.

Callan

Thompson went on to discuss the more ‘procedural’ spy series’ like Special Branch, Callan and The Sandbaggers, set in a more everyday world and more likely to contain complaints about working conditions. Settings were again dissected: Callan with the shabby suburban controller’s office far from the world of Bond or even Smiley. He discussed Callan’s theme of class tensions and exploitative relationships, with the hierarchy of upper classes exploiting and giving Callan orders, who, in turn, exploits and gives Lonely orders. Special Branch was said to contain some focus on immigration discontent and racism and made the ‘defence of national boundaries’ into a problematic issue. Thompson concluded by tackling that most widely popular of Cold War British spy shows, The Avengers, with ‘The Charmers’ identified as a rare episode in including a Russian character: a renegade KGB officer, who trains gentlemen to be sleeper agents – something in the vein of the Cambridge Spies.

In the Q&A, Burton mentioned Tightrope (1972), a children’s spy series which included a communist take-over of a school, with a ‘particularly suspect’ Maths teacher involved! To even more amusement, there was discussion of Gerry Anderson’s The Secret Service (1969), ‘only ever shown in Birmingham’ (!), which featured the eccentric Stanley Unwin as ‘Father Stanley Unwin’, a puppet vicar secret agent!

Tightrope2d Secret Service

A profound question was considered: ‘Why is there so much light-heartedness in spy dramas?’ This seemed to be the particularly 1960s mood, with more seriousness (The Sandbaggers), blandness (The New Avengers) and ‘macho’ aggression in relation to terrorism (The Professionals) characterising the 1970s. Out of the Q&A came a fascinating educational summary of the spies:

  • James Bond = public school, fee-paying, socially established.
  • Harry Palmer = grammar school, selective on ability, socially mobile.
  • David Callan = secondary modern, practically focused, socially proletarian.

Ben Wishaw

The second panel began with Claire Hines (Southampton Solent University) analysed the current film archetype of the tech geek, through the portrayal and representation of Ben Whishaw’s Q in recent Bond films. This as a mainstreaming of the ‘nerd’ character was mentioned, with the example of Whishaw’s Prada photo shoot and GQ magazine’s Bond special featuring the character heavily. The archetype was briefly located as a development of the earlier WW2 ‘boffin’ figure, a significant presence in the early Cold War, as best exemplified by Barnes-Wallace in The Dam Busters (1955).

1985omelette1

Next, Stephanie Jones (Aberystwyth University) gave an analysis of Bond and the ‘New Man’ – a cultural archetype recorded by the OED as first appearing in discourses around the 1982 film Tootsie. Jones explored the myths of Dalton’s Bond as being the ‘New Man’, and popular memory of him making quiche for a romantic meal with a female character. This memory is false, Jones revealed, showing the scene as actually from the late-Moore era film, A View to a Kill (1985). Jones further questioned the perceptions of Dalton as a more progressive, cultured Bond; arguing this was more to do with his persona off-screen – Shakespeare actor and partner of Vanessa Redgrave – than anything to do with his performance as Bond.

TEL

Moving on from the politics of quiche – and false memory – Matthew Bellamy (University of Michigan, not the Muse singer!) tackled the relation between Bond and Cambridge spy, Guy Burgess. He placed the defiantly “leak-proof” Bond as designed by Fleming in opposition to the more effeminate and sexually ambiguous figures in British espionage and culture from the 1920s onwards: T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom was used to contextualise the Cambridge Spies. Bond was seen as an unambiguous figure, able to redeem and refresh the establishment. The Q&A discussion revealed that recently released files show that the British secret services thought they could get Burgess not for his spying activities but for his homosexuality, in a Britain that had yet to see the liberal reforms of the 1960s. The Q&A also contained interesting discussion of where the ‘007’ of Bond came from: it isn’t just the UK dialling code for Russia, but was also seen as a lucky number by a spy of a somewhat different era: John Dee, Queen Elizabeth I’s spy who saw the 0s as representing eyes: “I am your lucky eyes”, as he said to the Queen. The absorbing Q&A also took in the dandyism of Roger Moore’s Bond and how the shock at Bond cooking quiche seems odd in that Bond is so often depicted cooking in Fleming’s novels.

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The third and final panel of the day began with an analysis by James Mason expert Sarah Thomas (Aberystwyth University) of the 1966 film, The Deadly Affair. This was an adaptation of the first George Smiley book, featuring Mason as Smiley, renamed, for copyright reasons: ‘Albert Dobbs’. In contrast to the exotic vistas of Bond films, this film was analysed as having ‘unromanticised’ and ‘drab’ everyday London settings such as an East End boozer. As with the other papers on this panel, the focus was on setting, use of locations and analysis of how films use mise-en-scène to create specific impacts on the audience.

tinkertailor

Douglas McNaughton (University of Brighton) used television theory to analyse how director John Irvin and the BBC production team made the acclaimed 1979 serial version Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, explaining the ‘Oratic power’ of when productions use actual locations that the audience would recognise. He gave the example of the serial’s opening shots of the Cambridge Circus, with its cinematic presentation of the actual Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road junction. The production’s ingenuity was also shown in how they used Glasgow for scenes that were supposed to be Czechoslovakia. McNaughton’s paper formed an argument that the TV version of TTSS was more writerly and more cinematic than the 2011 film version.

JOHN HURT

Jane Barnwell (University of Westminster)’s following paper focused on the 2011 film adaptation, being based on extensive interviews with set designers. She explained how the set design of Control’s messy, disordered flat helped John Hurt ‘get’ just how unhinged and crazy his character, Control, was. Interiors with their elaborately thought-out and researched period décor, were described as having a character of their own. The Q&A reflected how the 1970s aesthetic ‘look’, with oranges, browns and pinks connoting drab austerity, is now a British ‘Heritage’ look comparable in familiarity to how country houses regularly appear in Merchant-Ivory films or Downton Abbey. There was an interesting debate, which could not end conclusively, on whether places (i.e. sets or locations) in films represented people (i.e. characters in the diegesis), or whether they said more about the geographical locations represented.

Sean Connery - Vince's

The ‘Keynote’ lecture was delivered, in interactive and entertaining style, by Pamela Church Gibson (London College of Fashion), an extensively published analyst of the cultural history of fashion and cinema. She discussed Sean Connery’s early job as a model and how he bought his clothes at Vince’s Men Shop in Soho – which was also frequented by influential cultural types such as George Melly and Peter Sellers. She attacked the ‘dangerous myth’ of social mobility: of being able to move up the social class ‘ladder’, as most glaringly exemplified by the ‘insufferable’, upwardly-mobile Joe Lambton in Room at the Top (1959).

ROOM AT THE TOP - UK Poster

Church Gibson then compared Bond with the unnamed narrator in The Ipcress File (Harry Palmer, of course, in the film), saying that in the novel he possesses a cultural capital that Bond lacks, reading books and the New Statesman, stripped away in the Michael Caine film, which just leaves the cooking. She mentioned Caine’s Palmer’s ‘enormous’ appeal to women at the time, despite his use of the colloquial “birds” for women. Discussion of the film developed into the director Sidney J. Furie’s The Leather Boys (1964) as a ‘really interesting film’ and discussion of London: St James’ Park is ‘always where spies meet’ in spy films!

time magazine

The April 1966 issue of Time magazine on London as the ‘Swinging City’ was critiqued. The associated mythical ‘silliness’ of the 1960s as Swinging London – embodied in a film mentioned in the Q&A, Smashing Time (1967) – was unfavourably contrasted with The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965) film, starring Richard Burton as Alec Leamas in a crumpled mac. Church Gibson contrasted this veracity with the recent BBC-1 adaptation of John le Carre’s The Night Manager, ‘which could be a fashion shoot’, highlighting the difference in backgrounds between Connery, Caine and Burton and the cast of that serial, the main three of whom – Laurie, Hiddleston and Hollander – were all ‘Eminent Dragons’, alumni of the same Oxford prep school. This wasn’t the last in SOBS that we were to hear of casting and social class: Rosie White’s paper on Leslie Howard, Tom Hiddleston and national identity was to explore this further on Saturday…

Conference paper: Not so ‘Special’ a Relationship? Cold War geopolitical history in the 1983 adaptation of Graham Greene’s “The Honorary Consul”

Go here to read and / or download my paper, which I delivered at Plymouth University three Sundays ago; it concerns the 1983 film adaptation of Graham Greene’s The Honorary Consul. This was part of the excellent Spies on British Screens inter-disciplinary conference, organised by Dr Nicholas Barnett and Dr Laura Crossley, which brought together many disciplines and ideas. I will be writing further reflections on this event here in the near future.

“Spying on Spies” Day 3: Of British dystopias and battleaxes

The final day of the conference began, with my delivering my paper on Dennis Potter’s ‘Traitor’ – downloadable here. It was not quite an easy task doing this first thing at 9.30am, after a fair few drinks the previous evening… but ample practice and the excellent conference facilities made it all a relative breeze.

DEFENCE OF THE REALM

Following my 21-minute ‘oratory’, was Paul Lynch (University of Hertfordshire, GB). His paper was an especially fascinating disquisition on the British conspiracy thriller: the chief instances being 1986 films Defence of the Realm and The Whistle Blower and The Fourth Protocol (1987). Lynch’s readings were in the light of ‘LABOUR ISN’T WORKING’-‘GOTCHA’ and Thatcher, and the 1982 security scandal, with ‘mini-Watergates opening up from Westminster to Wapping’. He contextualised this is an era where CND had 110,000 members and were considered an ‘enemy within’ alongside the miners. He referred to Christopher Andrew’s 2009 history of MI5 which discussed widespread fears of Soviet infiltration in the early 1980s. The film of Defence… is considered as a sort of British Parallax View for paranoid times, starring gaunt Gabriel Byrne. His Nick Mullen takes on the establishment, with London as a metaphor and a Leviathan British state, reflecting permanency, power and defiance. The film presents ‘asinine, faceless neighbours’ and a bureaucratic machine described as ‘Kafkaesque’.

THE FOURTH PROTOCOL

Lynch went into a discussion of The Fourth Protocol, focusing on the contesting of ideologies in production of this thriller, the novel of which was by Frederick Forsyth, whose politics were, as Lynch states, ‘to the right of Genghis Khan!’ He mentions that in Moscow there was a palpable sense that the early-mid 1980s Labour Party could be an ally, which fed into Forsyth’s right-wing paranoid vision of a Britain on the edge of left-wing revolution. The novel was adapted by George Axelrod, screenwriter who adapted key work of ‘First Cold War’ paranoia, The Manchurian Candidate, twenty-five years earlier. Lynch referred to John MacKenzie being very much on the other side of the political divide to Forsyth and the thriller writer being in despair when he watched a rough cut of the film in the editing suite, seeing how far MacKenzie had taken it from his vision. Odd considering that steadfast conservative Michael Caine had made the original suggestion to FF to film it, and had taken up a key role.

THE WHISTLE BLOWER

Caine also features in The Whistle Blower, which Lynch compares to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four, with its central Caine and Nigel Havers characters bearing the common-sense English name of ‘Jones’. Lynch reflected on the symbolic, evocative casting of John Gielgud and James Fox. His reading of the film is that it is in part a response to the Orwell-like dystopian measures of the Thatcher government in its mid-1980s authoritarian populist pomp. He sees te film as depicting the sacrifice of British interests to get US protection and that American influence has shattered the peace of rural Britain. It should be noted that the film was released in UK cinemas in December 1986; that January had seen the Westland crisis, which had seen conservative tensions over American dominance come to the fore.

Lynch quoted the opening from Hal Hinson’s Washington Post review of this film: ‘By now an atmosphere of subdued tension, of hushed, behind-the-hand conversations and clandestine street-corner meetings, is as indigenous to British films as Wellingtons and brollies. If the cinema is any gauge, espionage, double-agenting and secrets trading are to England what baseball is to America — a national pastime and, for some, an obsession.’ Then Michael Denning was cited regarding the influence of news stories on how we think. He posed the crucial central question regarding the impact of secret service activities on nationhood: ‘Yet what sort of society is preservable?’ This paper got me wanting to urgently watch these films, a task not yet achieved, but awaiting future holidays…!

Alan Burton (Universitat Klagenfurt, AUSTRIA) opened with a question: how many in the room had seen Game, Set and Match, YTV’s 1988 adaptation of the first trilogy from Len Deighton’s triple-trilogy of novels? Of the twenty or so at least reasonably specialist folk present, only two hands went up. Burton created the sense of this series as banished to a critical oblivion, as well as obscurity. The trilogy of trilogies, featuring a new Deighton anti-hero protagonist, Bernard Samson, sold 40million books worldwide. The 13-part series was broadcast in October-December 1988, with episodes 1-5 set in Berlin, 6-10 in Mexico and 11-13 in London.

SPY STORY 1976

In terms of adapted Deighton, only lesser known now is Spy Story, a 1976 film directed by Canadian exploitation helmsman, Lindsay Shonteff, which Burton mentioned. Deighton was said to have wanted G, S & M to match the ‘quality’ of serial adaptations Brideshead Revisited (1981) and The Jewel in the Crown (1984). GS&M claimed a budget of £5million to be the most expensive British TV drama to date; it also boasted filming in Bolton, Lancashire, Nether Alderley, Cheshire and genuine locations like ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ in Berlin. Another curio was that star Ian Holm – second choice to Anthony Hopkins – boasted to have been in 709 of its total of 711 scenes. His performance and stamina were praised.

Otherwise, the reaction was generally dire. ‘A mess’ and ‘a disaster’, said the New York Times. Film director, novelist and critic Chris Petit in The Times criticised the bizarre casting, where ‘no-one is as one imagined them in Deighton’s novel’. Deighton himself ranted against this adaptation – ‘the tall become short; the brunettes blonde’ and bought back the rights to prevent any subsequent re-transmission. However, Burton noted its high IMDb average rating and that it could be seen as a last gasp of this sort of leisurely serial on British television, pre-1990 Broadcasting Act. He also noted plans – reported in 2013 – by Slumdog Millionaire screenwriter Simon Beaufoy in collaboration with Deighton to bring back the ‘Bond with Brains’ protagonist Samson, with a new adaptation.

Greene - THE HUMAN FACTOR

This fascinating panel was rounded off by Oliver Buckton (Florida Atlantic University, USA), with one of very few conference papers focused on Graham Greene, or more specifically, Greene’s The Human Factor and its 1979 film adaptation. The novel, commenced in the 1960s, was finally finished by 1978. He had stayed at Fleming’s ‘Goldeneye’ residence, but refused to write a Bond intro. Buckton states that Greene mocks Bond through the Davis character, and that Maurice Castle’s childhood belief in a dragon is analogised to Bond, ‘in Greeneland, a figure of myth or mockery’. Buckton mentions how this novel was delayed due to the Philby affair coming out, though Castle is a ‘typical office worker’, with no resemblance to Philby. He notes the novel’s ‘unglamorous settings’ and sites it in context of the establishment’s ‘nightmare of scandal’, from Vassall to Philby to the Portland Spy Ring.

THE HUMAN FACTOR 1980

The film was adapted by Tom Stoppard; Buckton showed a clip with a very prosaic, mundane office setting – complete with the banality of Impega box-files. The shift to South African settings reflects a remove from dull routine. Buckton analyses designer Saul Bass’ opening credits, with the focus on an old-fashioned telephone line being severed; this is analogised to the film’s core relationship being hanging by a thread. It was left a moot question just how deeply this film reflected Apartheid South Africa and its relation to the Cold War.

Q&A:

Oldham started with a question for Lynch, on whether there was influence from Deighton and JLC on these conspiracy thrillers. Lynch argued that JLC was a strong influence, mentioning the reactions to the TTSS TV adaptation of 1979. Phyllis Lassner alluded to Deighton being described by thriller scholar and writer Julian Symons as a ‘poet of the genre’ and how Graham Greene downplayed the significance of his spy thrillers by describing them as mere ‘entertainments’. She then asked the panel whether these writers and John le Carré are now part of the literary canon. Buckton mentioned that, by the time of THF, Greene had given up the distinction between his ‘literary’ novels and ‘entertainments’, reflecting a clear change in critical mood. Burton mentioned that there’s often been a critical distinction: between Greene and JLC, seen by critics as having ‘credibility’ due to being involved in the secret services, and Deighton and Eric Ambler, who weren’t involved. This was memorably described as a ‘degrees of MI6-ness’ test fallen back on by critics to a perhaps problematic extent. I referred to Le Mesurier’s Adrian Harris being described by Nancy Banks-Smith in The Guardian as his ‘Hamlet’ – showing how the spy is the pivotal tortured modern figure analogous to Shakespearean heroes. As well as that Le Mesurier was viewed in the lineage of the literary and theatrical canon.

Reference could have been made to TTSS’s secure position within the TV canon, alongside I, Claudius, the aforementioned Granada adaptations of Waugh and Scott, and challenging works such as Boys from the Black Stuff (1982), Edge of Darkness (1985) and The Singing Detective (1986). No one dissent from, say, Matthew Sweet’s view that Alec Guinness’ Smiley is a great and tragic creation.[1] This canonical TV drama was to feature in the conference’s final keynote.

Lynch quoted the noted Greek-French director Costa-Gavras – “You don’t catch flies with vinegar” – saying that conspiracy films often come in for a lot of criticism as they conclude by saying: “it’s all a conspiracy; we don’t really know who to blame”. He quoted film critic John Hill on how this perception undermines these films and the depth of political comment they often make. He again quoted Hill – “A film that isn’t seen is not a film” – to explore how these films are caught between the imperative to make political points and the need to find a mainstream audience.

HIGH TREASON

On this subject, I could’ve mentioned Boulting Brothers’ High Treason (1951), as an early, ‘first Cold War’ instance of the conspiracy thriller. This film is one of the clearest British examples of the ‘red plot’ narrative, with communist conspirators planning to hijack power supplies and bring the British economy to its knees. This film, insightfully analysed by Tony Shaw, was a sequel to Seven Days to Noon (1950), which I have yet to see![2]

There was a question for Buckton on the ideological dimension of the South African sequence – the character in the book not being a communist but an anti-colonialist. Buckton referred to personal loyalties being foregrounded, with Connolly not taking political sides. Anti-Bondness is there throughout Greene’s career, and his association with Philby. In the film of THF, Castle’s reasons for espionage get occluded, in comparison with the novel. There’s more focus on his relationship with Sarah and a glamorised.

Toby Manning made the point that often there’s a lack of focus on the issue of motivation. He referred to JLC’s critique of Greene’s writing a foreword for Philby’s autobiography and then that Greene wrote a sort of Philby novel without going into the political motivation. He mentioned the extreme lengths to which many go to deny communism was a genuine ideological motivation for betrayal – e.g. it’s omitted as a motive for Bill Haydon in TTSS – and asked me whether this was also glossed over in ‘Traitor’. I mentioned Raymond Williams’ review, saying that the play denies the 1930s international context, with Potter focusing on the domestic politics of unemployment and class. There was further discussion about Castle and Haydon both being anti-American rather than explicitly leftist; I commented on this issue in relation to Potter here.

I was then asked by Christa Van Raalte about the parallels between Philby and Harris in ‘Traitor’; for her, the differences stood out, with Harris being wistful, lonely and isolated, in comparison to the garrulous descriptions of Philby, post-defection. I quoted Williams again on Potter’s ‘cold, alienated method’ in showing Harris as insular and isolated, in a shabby flat in Moscow… I mentioned the key scene where he argues with the journalists about materialism in his bare flat – stating that his setting is unimportant and that they’re imposing western bourgeois value judgements on him. I concluded by that Potter ultimately isolates him in an attempt to discredit the Philby-type character. And this finished a panel that, irrespective of my own involvement, I found the most fascinating of any at the conference.

30-40 people were left by near-lunchtime on Saturday for the final speaker: Rosie White (Northumbria University, UK) gave a paper on women, ageing and espionage. This used useful initial stimuli, from Sontag’s essay on ageing as a ‘moveable doom’ to Dan Gibson cartoons, to introduce and contest the idea of older women as property of depreciating value. The ideal cover for being a spy. White spoke of the Melita Norwood case, where she was unveiled as a Soviet spy in 1999, aged 87; this was depicted in the British media as an almost Ealing comedy-esque ‘harmless eccentricity’, which may seem oddly appropriate given Matthew Sweet’s argument in Shepperton Babylon that Ealing was actually rather radical and left-wing in a lot of ways. She mentioned an interesting sounding biography and novel about Norwood.

Rooney - RED JOAN

Gilman - THE UNEXPECTED MRS POLLIFAX

Another long-lived old lady, Dorothy Gilman, a New Jersey, wrote 14 novels featuring Mrs Emily Pollifax, a 60-year old spy. Gilman is argued to depict this older woman figure as a disrupter of certainty; she is eccentric and unstable as well as drawing on great resourcefulness and experience. The character has featured in two adaptations: the Rosalind Russell-starring and scripted film Mrs Pollifax-Spy (1971) and, for television, The Unexpected Mrs Pollifax (1999).

MRS POLLIFAX - SPY 1971

TTSS - Beryl Reid

White extended the thesis by analysing Connie Sachs in the TV version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy . Sachs as a human archive, ‘the memory of the Circus’, based on the real-life MI5 operative Milicent Bagot (1907-2006). Bagot had been the first person to warn MI5 about Philby’s previous membership of the Communist Party, and had also written an account of the ‘Zinoviev Letter’ scandal of 1924 that had unseated the first ever Labour government.

White showed a clip from TTSS – later acclaimed by Toby Manning as the ‘best scene ever on British television’. White analysed Reid’s roles ‘problematised typical gender roles’: eccentric performances in The Belles of St Trinian’s (1954) and The Killing of Sister George (1968) – and could surely have added the bizarre Psychomania (1973) to this litany. There was discussion of how ‘queer’ used to be associated with counterfeit: ‘queer money’, referenced as early as 1740, according to the OED. White spoke of how Sachs is all Smiley is not: she is fit, engaged and utterly vindicated by the narrative; representing a model of how we might want to age. The depiction in Smiley’s People has shifted to chair-bound, weaker and more deeply aged. White mentioned she liked the Alfredson version of TTSS, and that Kathy Burke’s Connie was more pathetic and less angry than Reid’s.

Q&A:

Judi Dench’s Q in Bond films and Nicola Walker’s Ruth in Spooks were compared, as strict head-girl types, and are later placed in the context of Stella Rimington, DG of MI5 from 1992-96.

There was mention of cultural pressures to ‘keep young’ and the disturbing sense that pensions are being reduced and downgraded. There was a reference to how no-one has done ‘Old Bond’, which got me thinking about the melancholy, slow-burning Play for Today: ‘The General’s Day’ (1972), with Alastair Sim as its fading old reprobate of a titular protagonist. This tallied with a later comment: ‘not to be sexual in the twentieth century is a bit queer’. If women married, they would be stricken from the BBC and the British secret service. Gender re-appropriations include Salt (2010) with a married woman protagonist, and Ed Brubaker’s comic series, Velvet (2013- ), with Bond reimagined as a female secretary.

VELVET

Questioning led to a return to James Chapman’s concern with The Lady Vanishes: Miss Foy being more than just a ‘little old lady’. There was mention of strong elder character in The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) – Marjorie Fielding? – and I inevitably also thought of the remarkable Katie Johnson performance in that vital British film The Lady Killers (1955). White pertinently mentioned a Guardian article by Lucy Mangan published on the day before this conference started: ‘Whatever happened to the Great British Battleaxe?’ wherein Mangan elaborated upon Alan Bennett’s recent comments bemoaning the cultural loss of this archetype.

The concluding remarks were brief and warm; there was a giveaway of Charles Cumming’s novel A Foreign Country; Manning not being especially complimentary about the writer, when comparing him with John le Carré! There was much talk of doing another such conference in 2016, which would be a fine prospect.

List of literary, film and television works referred to in the conference talks I attended:

LITERATURE: FICTION

Akunin, Boris – The Turkish Gambit (1998)
Boyd, William – Restless (2006)
Boyd, William – Solo (2013)
Bridge, Ann – A Place to Stand (1953)
Brubaker, Ed – Velvet (2013- )
Buchan, John – The Powerhouse (1916 – written 1913)
Buchan, John – The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915)
le Carré, John – The Russia House (1989)
le Carré, John – The Spy who came in from the cold (1963)
Childers, Erskine – The Riddle of the Sands (1903)
Conrad, Joseph – The Secret Agent (1907)
Cumming, Charles – A Foreign Country (2012)
Cumming, Charles – A Spy by Nature (2001)
Deighton, Len – The Ipcress File (1962)
Fleming, Ian – Casino Royale (1953)
Fleming, Ian – Dr No (1958)
Fleming, Ian – Goldfinger (1959)
Gilman, Dorothy – The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax (1966)
Greene, Graham – The Heart of the Matter (1948)
Greene, Graham – The Human Factor (1978)
Greene, Graham – Our Man in Havana (1958)
Herge – The Adventures of Tintin: Red Rackham’s Treasure (1943)
Herge – The Adventures of Tintin: Prisoners of the Sun (1946-48)
Herge – The Adventures of Tintin: The Seven Crystal Balls (1946-48)
Kipling, Rudyard – Kim (1900-01)
MacInnes, Helen – Above Suspicion (1941)
Maugham, W. Somerset – Ashenden (1928)
Moore, Alan – The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (1999- )
Oppenheim, E. Phillips – Miss Brown of X. Y. O. (1927)
Pamuk, Orhan – The New Life (1997)
Pamuk, Orhan – My Name is Red (2001)
Pamuk, Orhan – The Black Book (1994)
Pynchon, Thomas – The Crying of Lot 49 (1966)
Pynchon, Thomas – Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)
Ray, Satyajit – Feluda: A Bagful of Mystery
Ray, Satyajit – Feluda: The Criminals of Kailash
Rooney, Jennie – Red Joan (2013)
Schreyer, Wolfgang – Die Suche oder Die Abenteuer des Uwe Reuss (The Search) (1981)
Stoppard, Tom – Hapgood (1988)
Stoppard, Tom – Jumpers (1972)
Thürk, Harry – Der Gaukler (1978)

LITERATURE: NON-FICTION

Andrew, Christopher (2009) The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5
Arendt, Hannah (1958) The Human Condition
Baker, Brian (2012) ‘”You’re quite a gourmet, aren’t you, Palmer?” : masculinity and food in the spy fiction of Len Deighton’, Yearbook of English Studies, July, 42, pp.30-48
Burke, David (2009) The Spy Who Came In From the Co-op: Melita Norwood and the Ending of Cold War Espionage
Burton, Alan (2016) Historical Dictionary of British Spy Fiction
Chapman, James (2007) Licence to Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films
Denning, Michael (1987) Cover Stories: Narrative and Ideology in the British Spy Thriller
Greene, Graham (1980) Ways of Escape
Haffner, Sebastian (2000) Defying Hitler: A Memoir (*written 1940)
Halberstam, Judith (2011) The Queer Art of Failure
Hinson, Hal (1987) ‘The Whistleblower (PG)’, The Washington Post, 19th August [online] [accessed: 29/11/15]
Lanza, Joseph (2007) Phallic Frenzy: Ken Russell and His Films
Mangan, Lucy (2015) ‘Whatever happened to the Great British Battleaxe’, The Guardian, 2nd September [online] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/02/battleaxe-alan-bennett-matriarch-extinction  [accessed: 29/11/15]
Moran, Christopher (2013) ‘Ian Fleming and the Public Profile of the CIA’, Journal of Cold War Studies, (15)1, p.119-46 (Winter)
Said, Edward W. (2000) – ‘Introduction’ to Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, Penguin Classics
Sellers, Robert (2008) The Battle for Bond: second edition
Sontag, Susan (1972) ‘The double standard of ageing’, Saturday Review, 23rd March
White, Rosie (2007) Violent Femmes: Women as Spies in Popular Culture , Routledge

FILM

Above Suspicion (dir. Richard Thorpe, USA, 1943)
The Belles of St. Trinian’s
(dir. Frank Lauder, GB, 1954)
The Boston Strangler (dir. Richard Fleischer, USA, 1968)
A Bullet for Joey
(dir. Lewis Allen, USA, 1955)
Casablanca (dir. Michael Curtiz, USA, 1942)
The Conspirators (dir. Jean Negulesco, USA, 1944)
The Defence of the Realm (dir. David Drury, GB, 1986)
Dr Goldfoot and the Girlbombs
(dir. Mario Bava, ITA/USA, 1966)
Don’t Raise the Bridge, Lower the River (dir. Jerry Paris, GB, 1968)
Double Indemnity (dir. Billy Wilder, USA, 1944)
Flight to Hong Kong
(dir. Joseph M. Newman, USA, 1956)
Foreign Correspondent (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, USA, 1940)
Four Flies on Velvet (dir. Dario Argento, 1971
The Fourth Protocol
(dir. John MacKenzie, GB, 1987)
Goldginger
(dir. Giorgio Simonelli , ITA/SPA, 1965)
La Guerra Segreta, aka. The Dirty Game (dir. Christian-Jaque, Werner Kilinger, Carlo Lizzani & Terence Young, FRA/ITA/WGER/USA, 1965)
The House on 92nd Street (dir. Henry Hathaway, USA, 1945)
The Human Factor (dir. Otto Preminger, GB, 1979)
I Deal in Danger
(dir. Walter Grauman, USA, 1966)
I Was a Spy (dir. Victor Saville, GB, 1933)
International Lady
(dir. Tim Whelan, USA, 1941)
The Iron Curtain (dir. William A. Wellman, USA, 1948)
The Killing of Sister George (dir. Robert Aldrich, USA, 1968)
The Lady Has Plans
(dir. Sidney Lanfield, USA, 1942)
The Lady Vanishes (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, GB, 1938)
The Lavender Hill Mob
(dir. Charles Crichton, GB, 1951)
The Leather Boys (dir. Sidney J. Furie, GB, 1964)
Liberation (dir. Yuri Ozerov,  SOV.U/EGER/YUG/ITA/POL, 1970-1)
Lisbon
(dir. Ray Milland, USA, 1956)
A Man Could Get Killed (dir. Ronald Neame & Cliff Owen, USA, 1966)
The Man Who Knew Too Much (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, GB, 1934)
The Man Who Knew Too Much (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, USA, 1956)
Le mépris,
aka. Contempt (dir. Jean-Luc Godard, FRA/ITA, 1963)
Mission Bloody Mary
(dir. Sergio Grieco, ITA/SPA/FRA, 1965)
Mrs Pollifax-Spy (dir. Leslie H. Martinson, USA, 1971)
Modesty Blaise (dir. Joseph Losey, GB, 1966)
Night Train to Munich
(dir. Carol Reed, GB, 1940)
North by Northwest
(dir. Alfred Hitchcock, USA, 1959)
Notorious
(dir. Alfred Hitchcock, USA, 1946)
Operation Kid Brother
, aka. O.K. Connery (dir. Alberto Di Martino, ITA, 1967)
One Night in Lisbon (dir. Edward H. Griffith, USA, 1941)
A 008, operazione Sterminio (dir. Umberto Lenzi, ITA/EGY, 1965)
‘The Palace of a Thousand Lies’ (1941 – scenario)
The Parallax View (dir. Alan J. Pakula, USA, 1974)
Pickup on South Street
(dir. Samuel Fuller, USA, 1953)
Psychomania (dir.
Rome Express (dir. Walter Forde, GB, 1932)
Sabotage (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, GB, 1936)
Saboteur
(dir. Alfred Hitchcock, USA, 1942)
Salt
(dir. Philip Noyce, USA, 2010)
Secret Agent
(dir. Alfred Hitchcock, GB, 1936)
Secret Agent Fireball
, aka. The Spy Killers (dir. Luciano Martino, ITA/FRA, 1965)
Skyfall (dir. Sam Mendes, GB/USA, 2012)
The Snake Woman
(dir. Sidney J. Furie, GB, 1961)
The Spy in Black
(dir. Michael Powell, GB, 1939)
Spy Story
(dir. Lindsay Shonteff, GB, 1976)
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
(dir. Martin Ritt, GB, 1965)
Superseven chiama Cairo
(dir. Umberto Lenzi, ITA/FRA, 1965)
36 Hours (dir. George Seaton, USA, 1964)
The Secret Door (dir. Gilbert Kay, USA/GB, 1964)
State Secret (dir. Sidney Gilliat, GB, 1950)
The Thirty-Nine Steps (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, GB, 1935)
The Thomas Crown Affair (dir. Norman Jewison, USA, 1968)
Topaz
(dir. Alfred Hitchcock, USA, 1969)
Torn Curtain
(dir. Alfred Hitchcock, USA, 1966)
The W Plan
(dir. Victor Saville, GB, 1930)
The Whistle Blower
(dir. Simon Langton, GB, 1986)
Wonderful Life (dir. Sidney J. Furie, GB, 1964)
The Young Ones (dir. Sidney J. Furie, GB, 1961)

TV

The Americans (USA, FX, 2013- )
Brideshead Revisited (GB, Granada, 1981)
Callan
(GB, ABC/Thames, 1967-72)
Game, Set and Match(GB, YTV, 1988)
Homeland (USA, Showtime, 2011- )
Indian Summers
(GB, C4, 2015- )
The Jewel in the Crown (GB, Granada, 1984)
The Sandbaggers (GB, YTV, 1978-80)
Smiley’s People (GB, BBC, 1982)
Spooks (GB, BBC-1, 2002-11)
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
(GB, BBC, 1979)
The Unexpected Mrs Pollifax (USA, CBS, 1999)
Das unsichtbare Visier (GDR, 1973-79)

[1] Sweet, M. (2005) Shepperton Babylon: The Lost Worlds of British Cinema. London: Faber and Faber, pp.185-8

[2] Shaw, T. (2006) British Cinema and the Cold War: The State, Propaganda and Consensus. London: I.B. Tauris, pp.40-5

“Spying on Spies” Day 2b: Of welfare capitalism and sunglasses indoors

Friday of Spying on Spies continued with a panel I chaired, on Len Deighton – which saw a mix of socio-cultural, literary and film studies approaches to the writer’s work.

First up was Laura Crossley (Edge Hill University, Liverpool, UK), whose research preoccupations have included nostalgia and fashion in film, as well as British identity; while her PhD concerned notions of nation and identity in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. She has written a paper, available on Academia.edu that I really should read:‘Indicting Americana: how Max Ophüls exposed the American Dream in Caught (1949) and The Reckless Moment (1949)’.

Her paper on the film of The Ipcress File (1965) sought to analyse how Harry Palmer’s flaw in vision reflects how the knowledge that vision yields is flawed, and how this calls into question perception and interpretation, and ‘exactly who is in a position to control the mechanisms of power becomes less clear and more sinister’. In the programme, Crossley declares her debt to Foucault’s 1977 theories on Bentham and surveillance, exploring how surveillance, knowledge and power are articulated and interrogated through the film’s visuals and themes.

THE IPCRESS FILE - cimbalom

Crossley referred to the cimbalom, the Hungarian hammered dulcimer used in Barry’s soundtrack, signifying ‘foreign’ and which ‘hints at the idea of the Cold War threat lurking on the edges of this otherwise ordinary scene’. Which she later contrasted with the ordinary, innocuous muzak used elsewhere in the key supermarket scene: complementing bright colours and largely female shoppers. Crossley mentions the Campbell’s soup tins in the scene, conjuring links to Warhol and the pop art aesthetic of the mid-1960s era. This linked in my mind with the ‘long front of culture’.

Crossley quoted Jean-Louis Baudry on how the cinema apparatus ‘works to situate the spectator within predetermined parameters, with the camera carefully guiding our viewing: it is the camera that chooses what we see and how and so interpretations are made for us – it is, arguably, a subtle form of mind control.’[1] And then she identified several occasions where we get an unexpected perspective and also that one key reveal – the identity of the secret services’ traitor – is made manifest to the audience first. This brought to my mind how cinema itself has a role in the original 1962 novel: the early and mildly seedy Soho sequences, which were entirely excised from the film.

I pondered the question: how does the brainwashing in this British film differ from that in that Cold War paranoia exemplar, The Manchurian Candidate (1962)? Maybe the proto-psychedelic pop art aesthetic on display reflects a slight thawing, and the marginally less front-line nature of British engagement in the Cold War during the Wilson era?

THE IPCRESS FILE - poster

Crossley identified it as an inherently conservative text, citing Toby Miller (2003) on how espionage narratives are trapped in a ‘cage of capitalist normalcy’. Colonel Ross dislikes the supermarket, Palmer is comfortable and shows connoisseurship there; capitalism ultimately prevails. Crossley referred to the live nature of the ideological struggle in the Cold War and that, in this narrative, ‘despite Colonel Ross’ dislike of American-style supermarkets, capitalism – and so the state and its attendant ideologies – must prevail. And, for this very British story of spies, that includes maintaining the hierarchies of class and the Establishment.’[2] She expanded here upon Miller’s characterisation of espionage cinema and TV as pro-state and pro-capital, whatever Palmer’s apparent rebelliousness. By the end, he has been put in his place, saying he could have been killed or driven insane, and then the more dominant Ross replies, stating that is what he is being paid for.

Janice Morphet (University College London, UK) has specialised in infrastructure planning, local government and public policy; as well as researching the relationships between the early fiction of Len Deighton and John le Carré and spies in the suburbs. She was also on the Planning Committee for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Her paper was an absorbing investigation of social and generational differences. To combat the ‘social in-breeding’ of the elite, she mentioned the 1950s attempt to enlist new working-class or grammar school educated young men – who had undergone national service – with the powerful older generation coming under question following the defections of Burgess and Mclean. The nepotistic ‘knowing someone’s people’ means of vetting was in doubt. She focused on the aspirational working-class literature like Look Back in Anger (1956) and Room at the Top (1957) but not in as simplistic a way as Dominic Sandbrook. She mentions in the programme the protagonists’ opposition to ‘clinging to the past’ and their need to ‘be characterised as anti-establishment’.

This all set the context for her discussion of ‘internal, but anti-establishment outsider heroes’ in the fiction of Deighton and JLC, with the generational worlds colliding. Harry Palmer and Alec Leamas are ‘both northern working-class finance administrators within MI6’ who become the means to show ‘the internal workings of the machine’. Their outsider status gives them greater insight into bureaucratic and self-serving systems. Yet their expendability, as working-class agents, also serves to reinforce the status quo.

Morphet’s paper was less the critical close-reading style deployed by Crossley; it was more a deeply contextual approach, placing the novels and characters into history, with many legal and cultural landmarks highlighted. She began by discussing the security services’ need to find new blood, following Philby: the 1944 Education Act had enabled some increase in working and middle-class entrants to Oxbridge, and these graduates were deemed a fertile recruiting ground. The other means of recruiting was national service, and she mentioned that ‘Those who were already destined for Oxbridge were identified and offered the opportunity to learn Russian at the Joint Services School for Linguists’.[3] These included many important forces in post-WW2 culture, including Alan Bennett, Peter Hall, Michael Frayn and Dennis Potter.

A HILL IN KOREA

Some did national service when even younger, which made me think of the fascinating 1956 film, A Hill in Korea (about which I am certain to write more). This film focuses on a unit in the Korean War fighting with a majority being sixteen years old; it also, aptly for this panel, includes the very first film appearance of Michael Caine.

She mentioned the need for the establishment to win the debate on revising its recruitment policy; key was Henry Fairlie’s 1955 Spectator article on ‘The Establishment’, which ended by arguing that the establishment was even stronger than ever and implied that a Cambridge Spies scenario could easily happen again. Noel Annan – himself recruited over lunch – was mentioned as arguing for a high percentage of grammar school boys being allowed in, to widen the establishment pool; he had taken steps in his role at King’s College, Cambridge to accept more grammar school candidates. Furthermore, Anthony Sampson, in his Anatomy of Britain (1958) argued about the vast inefficiency of our privilege-based system. Michael Shanks’ The Rise of the Meritocracy (1958) was mentioned as making the economic and political case, as was C.P. Snow’s novel The New Men (1954) in its recommendation that new blood was needed in establishment decision-making.

The Sandys defence review of 1957 was described as leading to the end of National Service in 196; Davenport Hines (2014) was quoted on the perception that its most significant legacy for servicemen was that it taught them ‘how to duck and dive, break rules and subvert authority…and (this) chipped away at the law-abiding respectful traditions of the Britain before peacetime conscription’. She mentioned that this coincided with the rise in popularity of James Bond, with Fleming’s narratives depicting Britain winning abroad but that ‘this was not so useful in the heightened tensions of the cold war and increasing evidence of spies embedded in English suburban society such as Klaus Fuchs (1950), the Krogers in a suburban bungalow as part of the Portland spy ring (1961) and George Blake (1961) who passed information on the platform of Bromley station.’[4] This was key context for what Morphet defined as the ‘neighbour as spy’ school of espionage fiction.

On this theme of suburban spies, Morphet then referred to a Thursday paper I didn’t see by Shaun O’Sullivan, who pointed out ‘that after the Radcliffe Report on national Security in 1962 a working party was established to consider ways of alerting the public to potential cold war neighbours and this included reference to the role of Fleming together with TV series including Danger Man […]’ It is a curate’s egg to consider what influence the fictions of Bond and Drake may have been able to exert in this context!

She referred to the new realist fiction’s working-class heroes not being especially patriotic but valuing hard work and social advancement. Morphet quoted David Cameron-Watt (1990) on how the intelligence authorities themselves had most likely shaped the change in style seen in espionage fictions from the 1960s onwards, and that all such texts would be vetted. Then she referred to JLC and Deighton as writers emerging at exactly the same time with no prior experience and as having independent dispositions – suggesting that their new, updated style had been directed by the secret services. She identified this as greater realism, as their work depicts ‘foreign spies in suburbia’ and traitors being internal to the security organisations.

Deighton’s background led him to be a typical NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) while doing national service. JLC’s parents were middle-class but outsiders and non-conformists, along with his father’s debt. This all contrasted with the older establishment who ‘went to very good schools’ and have the trappings of office and cigars. The milieu of JLC’s fiction reflects his more upper-middle class background, having been to Oxford and taught at Eton – though Smiley is not referred to as an ‘old man’, in Snow’s terms. She identified a ‘new school’ approach in Call for the Dead (1960), which chillingly portrays the spy as hidden among the mundane suburban settings and using ‘suburban regularity’ to hide his crimes, as George Blake did. Deighton’s protagonists are much more clearly ‘anti-establishment’; she quotes The Ipcress File’s unnamed narrator’s sardonic thoughts: ‘He’d been to one of those very good schools where you meet kids with influential uncles. I imagine that’s how he got into the Horse Guards and now into WOOC(P) too…He had the advantage of both a good brain and a family rich enough to save him using it.’ (TIF, 8).[5]

THE IPCRESS FILE - novel cover

Morphet, in analysing the text, found that Palmer is a truer patriot than those higher than him within the establishment: ‘Palmer is critical of those who are his seniors because they are more interested in the trappings of their office, including the opportunity to have expensive meals and cigars, rather than to serve the state that is funding this lifestyle. It is the criticism of the ultimate patriot.’[6] Morphet also referred to him as being caught in the middle between Communism and the Establishment. While she does refer to Deighton’s sure grasp of London locations, she makes the salient point that Deighton locates Palmer as from Burnley but nothing at all in the novel indicates any real familiarity with Burnley.

THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD - novel cover

The Spy who came in from the cold (1963) was described as the only JLC novel with a working-class hero: Alec Leamas. Morphet said that this was influenced by Deighton: like Palmer, Leamas is from the north and did not go to a public-school. However, she focused on many differences – alluding to a Life article Deighton had written distinguishing himself from JLC. She stated that Leamas is given faults that somewhat stereotypically relate to his Irish and northern background: drinking, going on to argue that JLC shows less empathy for Leamas than Deighton for Palmer: ‘Whilst recognising that the establishment has used Leamas he also appears to be critical of Leamas for allowing himself to be in position where he can be used.’[7] She then mentioned how the film version’s closer relationship between Leamas and Liz has shifted how people have interpreted the novel. She was also somewhat critical of JLC in being less exact in his use of London locations, referring to him as having gleaned them more from reading Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners (1956) than from real experience.

THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD - film
the film’s ‘closer relationship’ between Liz and Leamas

Morphet said that The Spy was written while JLC was still a serving officer in MI6 and the text had to be approved before publication, which was only done after some ‘lengthy soul-searching’, as JLC recounted in the introduction to the novel’s 50th anniversary edition. The same introduction was said to refer to the book’s reception in 1963 as a ‘message from the other side’, with many in the US expressing anger at the book’s content and publication. This reflected the risk but also the necessity from self-interest of the secret services’ backing a new kind of spy fiction: enrolling ‘the anti-establishment to the establishment.’

Pasquale Iannone (University of Edinburgh, UK) has an interest in the history and theory of post-war European cinema; in particular, he has written on Luchino Visconti’s Conversation Piece (1974) and Pietro Germi as progenitor of the Italo-Western, and sound, music and the car journey in Hitchcock’s films. He regularly contributes to Sight and Sound and is also currently working on a BFI book on Jean-Pierre Melville’s resistance drama L’armée des ombres (The Army of Shadows) (1969).

Film Studies scholar Iannone focused on widescreen aesthetics within the Harry Palmer trilogy: The Ipcress File (1965), Funeral in Berlin (1966) and Billion Dollar Brain (1967). His focus was on how they made use of the 2.35:1 widescreen frame and the programme says he was going to draw comparison with other spy films of the mid-60s era: Thunderball (1965) and The Quiller Memorandum (1966), though this wasn’t significant in his paper as delivered.

He opened by stating that his paper was developing in accordance with the new-fangled Video Graphic Film Studies – mentioning In Vision, a new journal on this academic area. He demonstrated this new field of study through showing the openings of all three films in the HP trilogy simultaneously within power-point. This pointed up differences, but, more significantly, strong similarities between them.

Young Canadian director of TIF, Sidney J. Furie’s biggest initial successes were the Cliff Richard vehicles The Young Ones (1961) and Wonderful Life (1964), both in 2:35:1. Iannone used six frames from these two films to show him as a filmmaker ‘aching to take more risks with widescreen’. Furie allegedly delved into many different filmic styles: The Leather Boys (1964) and The Snake Woman (1961) representing social problem picture and horror, respectively.

GOLDGINGER
“an Italian Morecambe and Wise”

In a link back to Lorenzo Medici’s earlier Friday paper, Iannone mentioned Goldginger as featuring Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingarassia, an ‘Italian Morecambe and Wise’. This film was shot in Techniscope, a flexible Italian equivalent to Cinemascope. He described the extensive use of 2:35:1 Cinemascope by directors in the western, historical and globe-trotting spy genres, and that Thunderball was the first Bond film in Cinemascope.

THE IPCRESS FILE - technoscope

Iannone said that we might have the expectation of a more restrained, sober aesthetic for a film with the more realistic content of The Ipcress File (1965). He mentioned Furie’s use of split-screen as being innovative – three years before The Thomas Crown Affair and The Boston Strangler: both 1968. He mentioned Sidney J. Furie’s DVD commentary to TIF as not just being insightful, being very frank in its language. I would make a further aesthetic and content link, going beyond the obvious example of The Manchurian Candidate: to the psychedelic torture scenes in The Avengers episode, ‘The Wringer’ (ABC, TX: 18/01/1964). This ‘Steed tortured’ escapade includes a psychedelic light-show and uses extremely bizarre electronic sounds, directly anticipating TIF.

Fritz Lang in Jean-Luc Godard’s Le mépris (1963) was quoted about cinemascope being ‘only good for snakes and funerals’. Furie gets around this, Iannone argued, by using partitioning of the screen and careful use of unconventional high and low angles. Furie was said to use very few extreme close-ups, unlike Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. He mentioned how Furie often inventively places significant objects in the extreme left and right parts of the widescreen frame. The film’s influence was seen, for example, in how Dario Argento’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) referenced a particular TIF shot.

FUNERAL IN BERLIN

Funeral in Berlin director Hamilton was seen as a ‘safe pair of hands’, not likely to engage in as much visual experimentation as Furie. Panavision was used in FIB and BDB, though less in FIB, which was said to include a naturalistic depiction of Berlin locations and more traditional full-length shots of actors than the other films in the trilogy. Ken Russell’s Billion Dollar Brain was rightly described by Iannone as the ‘ripest’ of the trio, visually – with a ‘gloriously characteristically overwrought style’. Russell’s previous Monitor films for the BBC on Elgar and Debussy were mentioned as being ‘stylistically daring’. Iannone cited Joseph Lanza’s point that Russell wasn’t impressed by Deighton’s novel and that he felt that the genre had been ‘exhausted’ and re-wrote a lot and embellished the story.

BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN

This film’s screenplay was written by John McGrath, playwright of several BBC Play for Todays and founder of the political theatre group 7:84. McGrath clearly latches onto and exaggerates any left-wing strain in Deighton – playing up the radicalism by dramatizing General Midwinter’s gathering as a surreal, nightmarish and grandiose McCarthyite rally. His Palmer seems to adhere to the ‘Neither Moscow nor Washington’ position identified by Morphet, even if his ultimate allegiance is to his own unassuming brand of British patriotism.

The frames from BDB that Iannone used on his power-point were ‘chilling’, connoting horror and WW2: these were described as ‘extraordinarily powerful central images’. The camera was also much more mobile than the previous films. Also, in contrast to the urban settings of the first two films, Russell is faithful to the BDB novel with his extensive use of Finnish and Eastern European landscapes. The Midwinter’s army sequence was compared to silent cinema historical epics.

Q&A:

I announced that we would have seventeen minutes of Q&A. The first question saw Iannone asked about the relationship between the cinematography and the content of the films, but said that deeper focus on the content was beyond the remit of his paper.

Phyllis Lassner questioned Crossley on having positioned capitalism in opposition to communism, as Lassner saw capitalism as purely an economic system, with communism being an economic, political and ideological system. Lassner advised it as better to talk about liberal democracy or social democracy. I responded that surely these were areas within capitalism? Lassner contradicted: no, capitalism is restricted to being an economic system.

In response, Crossley argued that the books were speaking to a welfare state-type ideology, with TIF’s novel at least fundamentally concerning itself with institutions of the state. She made the interesting point that Deighton is critical of how the establishment is taking advantage of the welfare state for ‘pleasurable ends’: which we could see as abuse of those in power of their power, not looking after the welfare of all in the Beveridge manner. I would add, to counter Lassner’s distancing of capitalism from politics, that it isn’t for nothing that Alan Sinfield has summarised the hegemonic ideology of the 1945-79 era as ‘welfare capitalism’. Clearly, there are sub-categories and contrasts within this, but it holds as the best umbrella description of the ‘Butskellite’ era.

Another question concerned whether the panelists thought there was a limit to the everyday and the comic in the genre; if the comic element was pushed to the extreme, then could the genre dissolve? They don’t expect a lot of humour with this genre, Iannone argued. He reflected that there is humour to a degree in the novels, but that Furie and Russell added much more humour. Crossley stated that genres aren’t pure and are so often hybridised. Iannone mentioned new audiences and Austin Powers. Crossley, to laughs: “I think we should do the dance on the way out!”

There was some further discussion of Ross’ dislike of US shopping methods. I would link this with the 1960s development of the ‘long front of culture’ that Robert Hewison has documented. The older generation’s more ‘Little Englander’ scepticism towards both European and American cultural influences – represented by Ross – being supplanted by the more open-minded grammar-school generation represented by Palmer. Food – the connoisseurship in the novel, is as Brian Baker has said, much more pronounced than in the film.[8] Though the film has often been lauded for its scene of Palmer cooking for a lady friend – a scene not specifically in the novel. Deighton’s Observer food columns, where he seemed to exhibit a northern preoccupation redolent of his decision to set the novel in Burnley.

The spy genre itself was gradually to become part of an expanded ‘long front’ of culture, with genre fiction accepted as worthy of study and ascribed as having ‘value’. Yet it is still amorphous and not demarcated in the way ‘Classics’ of fiction are: Morphet commented on the curiosity that if you’re looking for spy fiction in a bookshop, it’s difficult to know whether it comes under crime, ordinary fiction or military and that that is part of its essential character, its slippery nature.

Friday’s early evening Plenary session was commenced by Adam Piette (University of Sheffield, UK), writer of The Literary Cold War, 1945 to Vietnam (2009). He analysed John le Carré’s The Russia House (1989) – a novel of ‘mystery and companionship’ – in the light of Glasnost and British perceptions of Russia. Piette explained that Gorbachev had revived what had been a dissident term, denoting openness to public scrutiny. Piette mentioned Solzhenitsyn but it wasn’t the scope of this study to discuss him much. He discussed the perceptions of some at the time that Gorbachev’s moves towards liberalisation may have been a clever ploy, the reforms bogus. Much of Piette’s focus was on protagonist Bartholomew Scott Blair, aka. ‘Barley’, head of a modest, family-owned British publishing company. Katya, the beautiful young Soviet woman, represents ‘mystery’, ‘companionship’ and a politically-charged romance for Barley.

JohnLeCarre_TheRussiaHouse

The amateur, drunk and lazy Barley was argued to have a ‘Shelleyian liberalism’ and a ‘Wordsworthian passion for the people’. Expansive transnational sociality was referred to, as was a love of the Russians; Piette quoted the novel: “Their huge heart beating beneath a huge shambles”. Barney identifies a libertarian, romantic political identity as being his ideal of pre-Cold War Englishness. An England, in his perception, that was freer before the Cold War.

To contrast with Barney was the grey, bureaucratic narrator Harry Palfrey, incidentally the title character played by Alec McCowen in Storyboard: ‘The Traitor’ (TX: 23/08/1983) and Mr Palfrey of Westminster (1984-85). The TV Palfrey was a mild, balanced middle-aged civil servant and the style of the series is rather JLC-esque in its lack of action, its deliberate pacing and focus on character.

Graham Greene was referred to as a ‘mentor’ for JLC. JLC’s focus here on the motif of the telephone preserves what Greene would call the human factor, as well as the voice’s subjection to power and surveillance. It provides Katya and Barley with their only way of communicating.

There was said to be a political and erotic love of country and partner, an ‘erotics of politics’, at play within the novel. He said that JLC took a ‘left-liberal’ ideological line and that there is a sense of a potentially ‘transformative’ left-liberal politics tangible in the post-Glasnost and pre-Yeltsin days. The character Goethe – named with an eye to European transnational culture – is a Soviet nuclear physicist whose reforming radicalism was born of experiencing the 1968 Prague Spring. He referred to Barley as very much a 1960s romantic and progressive individualism, noting the unlikelihood and frisson of JLC associating with hippie culture here. A transnational progressive liberalism is JLC’s ideal, which seems possibly within grasp at this time. Katya represents this ideal in an enigmatic way. This novel sounded a significant late-1980s contextual read; to supplement it would be the 1990 film adaptation, plus a 1994 radio version featuring Tom Baker as Barley.

Christine Berberich (University of Portsmouth, UK) has co-edited These Englands: Conversations on National Identity (2011) and written The Image of the English Gentleman in Twentieth Century Literature: Englishness and Nostalgia (2007), which Toby Manning said he could ‘heartily recommend’, in his introduction.

To begin, she quoted Fleming in 1963: “I am not ‘involved’ […] my books are not ‘engaged’.” His claims to be apolitical are questioned by Berberich, who claimed they were ‘highly charged and problematic texts’. Michael Denning, a conference-quotation mainstay, was cited in terms of spy fiction constituting ‘cover stories for our culture, collective fantasies and imaginations in the Western world’. She mentioned certain crucial moments: the unveiling of the Cambridge Spies in 1951, showing that patriotism was no longer a given. In the context of this, Fleming wanted to create an English ‘super-spy’. Also mentioned were Suez 1956 and Acheson 1962: ‘Britain has lost an empire; she has not yet found a role’.

She quoted James Chapman on how Fleming’s Bond is a ‘nationalist fantasy in which Britain’s decline as a world power did not really take place’, and Bennett and Woollacott’s discussion of Fleming’s ‘mythic conception of nationhood’, with England invariably taking the leading role, even above Britain. I thought about how much research has been done into how the average reader of the books (or the films) has interpreted them – presumably a lot with the focus on fandom, audiences and reception in much Media, Film and Television academic.

Ian Fleming - Goldfinger

Berberich analysed Goldfinger (1959) for its Orientalism: Goldfinger’s Korean minions are described as ‘apes’ with ‘flat yellow faces’. They are animalised. Oddjob was referred to as appropriating that classic marker of Englishness, the bowler hat. The novel was quoted: ‘In his tight, almost bursting black suit and farcical bowler hat he looked rather like a Japanese wrestler on his day off. But he was not a figure to make one smile.’ Bond has a personal vendetta towards the ‘racialised Other’ Oddjob. The ‘vitriolically singled-out’, ‘presumably Korean communist minions’ with Fleming referring obliquely or otherwise to the ‘clearly defined ideological war’: the Korean War, 1950-53.

Berberich argued we can’t just view these novels as entertainment. She quoted the excellent literary and cultural critic Alan Sinfield: ‘Literature is involved in the process of self-understanding in the past and present. These are inevitably interpretations and evaluations of perceived possibilities in the real world. These constructions are not just responses, but interventions. Publication feeds back possible images of the self in relation to others, helping society to interpret and constitute itself. The social identities formed in recent history dominate our current perception.’ She then referred to Fleming’s personal bewilderment at the changing times amid de-colonisation and multiculturalism. She said he had been trying to find a place for his own values and his vision of the country. She concluded that Fleming’s novels are ‘deeply problematic as they are rooted in a racialist and imperialist code that, in the wake of the Second World War, Britain should well and truly have left behind’.

Patrick Major (University of Reading, UK)’s most notable Cold War publications seem to be his co-edited Britain, Empire, and Intelligence since 1945 (2009) and Across the Blocs: Exploring Comparative Cold War and Social History (2004), co-penned with Rana Mitter. He is currently working on an interesting research project on Anglo-American and German film depictions of the ‘Bad Nazi’ and ‘Good German’ figures. Major gave an urbane talk about East German fictions, literary and televisual. He had planned to focus on Das unsichtbare Visier, discussed earlier in the day by Haller. Due to this unexpected overlap, he reduced the amount on that series and discussed two key neglected thriller writers of the GDR who he had discovered in second-hand bookshops in Berlin instead: Harry Thürk and Wolfgang Schreyer. Both were born in 1927 and from petit-bourgeois; Schreyer had Nazi connections, being a part of the Wehrmacht from 1944-45. HT had connections with the Stasi, WS was heavily surveyed by them. The GDR Ministry of Culture did much vetting of books. The thriller was seen as a primarily Western genre, and the adjective ‘hard-boiled’ was used pejoratively and as being associated with the West and Mickey Spillane. Like Bond thrillers, these writers’ works had a partial function as tourism substitute.

Harry Thurk - DER GAUKLER

Thürk’s novels were popular in Eastern Europe; for example, being translated into Hungarian and Czech. Many of his novels were set in exotic South-East Asian locations. Der Gaukler (1978) portrayed Solzhenitsyn as a CIA tool in its conspiracy narrative; even the Ministry of Culture said he’d went too far with this and asked him to tone it down. Major discussed the 1963 film For Eyes Only, which Thürk scripted, depicting a Stasi agent undercover in the West, though it was without The Lives of Others’ domestic focus. This film depicted stereotypical Americans to undermine perceptions of the West, showing them wearing sunglasses indoors!

FOR EYES ONLY - 1963

Schreyer’s narratives tended to use more Caribbean and Cuba type settings. Most GDR thrillers, Major argued, tended to be set in the West and attempted to discredit life there and remove its allure. They never wanted to dwell on internal GDR affairs.

Wolfgang Schreyer - DIE SUCHE...

Schreyer’s plots generally elicited more suspicion than Thürk’s in the GDR; his Die Suche oder Die Abenteuer des Uwe Reuss (The Search) (1981) had a mind-reading machine being used by the protagonist to chat up women. This story was, Major indicated, even published in Playboy.

DAS UNSICHTBARE VISIER

Next, Major turned to the 1973-9 series DUV, which he argued was intended as an antithesis to James Bond. The Stasi commissioned the series in the 1960s and informed their own portrayal in it: as ‘explorers for peace’, rather than ‘spies’. They saw it as a means of creating role models for East German youth, as well as more broadly to undermine the Ostpolitik developments of 1969-74 and portray the Bonn-based West German regime as unchanged in its regressive and aggressive nature. The Stasi had also insisted on having Armin Mueller-Stahl as the star. In the series, Western spies are associated with putsches and counter-revolution. There was a focus on the ‘contaminating’ and ‘titillating’ aspects of Western influence, in strangely staged depictions of the West. Western agents are constantly depicted in the milieu of strip bars, as in the DVD excerpt that Major showed. To round off, Major referred to AM-S’s quitting the show in 1978 when he left the GDR for West Germany, along with other disaffected actors.

Q&A:

A questioner posited the idea of James Bond as a contemporary knight; a Galahad in contrast to other characters representing other knights. Berberich answered that Alan Moore undermines the ideas of mythic heroes in his The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, with Bond as a thoroughly bad egg. Piette was questioned further on the ideologies in TRH and mentioned Russia’s divergent left tradition of anarchism; which related to his earlier identification of a left-libertarianism in JLC and characters’ perspectives.

Major was asked several questions on DUV, which enabled him to reveal that plots featured neo-Nazism being used as a cover and the Red Army Faction (Baader-Meinhof). He mentioned that many of the supposed Western-set scenes were filmed in Bulgaria. He was able to discuss the show’s oddly ‘out of time’ foregrounding of ‘anti-fascism’; 1930s ideas and rhetoric lingering into the 1970s. Expanding upon his discussion of For Eyes Only, Major mentioned that DUV often featured Americans as the enemies, with many larger-than-life roles. The last question mentioned how East German films were very popular in the USSR and then asked Major why DUV wasn’t shown in the USSR; a question Major couldn’t answer, given his focus on GDR archival material. He finished with mentioning the many transnational co-productions of the time; for example, the 445-minute WW2 epic, Liberation (1970-1), which was co-made by the Soviet Union, the GDR, Poland, Yugoslavia and Italy.

LIBERATION

Day 2 completed, the majority of delegates went on a scenic riverside walk, followed by a drinks reception and tapas-style meal at a Zorita’s Kitchen, Broken Wharf, a restaurant near the Embarkment tube and overlooking the Thames. Appropriately Eurocentric cuisine following a day of so much Deighton.

[1] Crossley, L. (2015) ‘‘Do You Always Wear Glasses?’ Vision, Knowledge and Power in The Ipcress File (1965)’, Academia.edu [online] https://www.academia.edu/15485524/_Do_You_Always_Wear_Glasses_Vision_Knowledge_and_Power_in_The_Ipcress_File_1965_ [30/12/15]

[2] Crossley, L. (2015) ibid.

[3] Morphet, J. (2015) ‘Enrolling the anti-establishment: working class agents in the early spy fiction of Len Deighton and John Le Carre’, Academia.edu [online] https://www.academia.edu/15972648/Enrolling_the_anti-establishment_working_class_agents_in_the_early_spy_fiction_of_Len_Deighton_and_John_Le_Carre [30/12/15]

[4] Morphet, J. (2015) ibid.

[5] Morphet, J. (2015) ibid.

[6] Morphet, J. (2015) ibid.

[7] Morphet, J. (2015) ibid.

[8] Baker, B. (2012) ‘”You’re quite a gourmet, aren’t you, Palmer?” : masculinity and food in the spy fiction of Len Deighton’, Yearbook of English Studies, July, 42, pp.30-48

“Spying on Spies” Day 2a: Of eurospy, the GDR and sensational, implausible narratives

This is the second in a series of four pieces written summarising and reflecting on the talks I witnessed at the Spying on Spies conference of September 2015.

My first panel of the long, good – but not Docklands-set – Friday – was chaired by the President of the European Language Council, Maurizio Viezzi. This panel covered a range of European Cold War films and television shows and representations of Europe.

Lorenzo Medici (Universita degli Studi di Perugia, Italy) focused on Italian spy movies in the late-1960s, with a decorous power-point that incorporated a vast array of amusing and bizarre film posters. He identified 170 Italian movies in this genre of ‘Eurospy’ – which is marked by its usually ‘incomprehensible’ plots. The genre’s heroes included: ‘Agente 077’, ‘008’, ‘Upper-7’, ‘OSS-077’ and ‘James Tont’ – ‘tonto’ being Italian for stupid! One film was entitled O.K. Connery (1967), and featured Neil Connery – Sean’s brother. From Russia With Love’s Daniela Bianchi was cast alongside These films sounded silly, lurid and surely would be entertaining, containing such tantalising signifiers as ‘booby bombs’, ‘a thermo-nuclear navel’, ‘rich colour’ and ‘Pop Art’. While, seemingly, they lacked the considered satirical intent of a Modesty Blaise (1966), who wouldn’t want to see a Eurospy film called Goldginger (1965), where action is situated at a Ginger Ale factory!?

DR GOLDFOOT
Dr Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (dir. Mario Bava, ITA/USA, 1966)

Medici pinpointed La Guerra Segreta (1965) – starring Henry Fonda and Annie Girardot – as a ‘strange film’. Secret Agent Fireball (1965) – set in Beirut, unlike the film version of The Ipcress File (1965), which excises the novel’s Beirut sequence.

Any direct mention of Communism was avoided, due to the strength of the Italian Communist party – and indeed, in the late-1960s détente had enabled these films to portray the Soviets and Americans as allies. The focus in the Eurospy genre was on Chinese villains, not Soviets. In the Q&A, Medici disavowed any sense that these films might be seen as part of the NATO or Atlanticist Cold War ‘effort’, arguing that this was an economically booming country trying to maintain a frivolous distance. In the 1960s, Italians had more leisure, which was said to be mirrored in the films’ technology, foreign locations and action sequences. Italians had money and did travel. There’s at least one 1960s episode of Steptoe and Son where Harold yearns for Fellini’s Italy – ‘Sunday for Seven Days’ (TX: 04/02/1964) – and Italian food and fashions were coveted by urban connoisseurs like Harry Palmer (unnamed in the novel) in The Ipcress File. Medici closed with a precis of the ingredients of this filmic sub-genre: ‘funny’, ‘lust’, ‘troubles’, ‘mystery’.

The forceful Rui Lopes (Universidade Nova de Lisboa) explored US filmic portrayals of espionage in Lisbon in the reign of fascist dictator Salazar, who ruled Portugal from 1933-74. Greene and Fleming had both cited Lisbon as an inspiration for certain of their writings. In Casablanca (1942), Lisbon is the gateway to freedom. The West, as ever selective with its adherence to democracy, backed Salazar and he aligned with the West, though Portugal was neutral in WW2. US films were accepted; foreign markets were deemed necessary. Lopes mentioned numerous films with Lisbon signifying a safe haven, or path to America. These included The Lady Has Plans (1942), which depicts the said lady having secret plans tattooed to her body. There was intriguing mention of Alfredson referring to espionage as the feminine version of war, foregrounding intuition and persuasion.

THE CONSPIRATORS

Lopes commented that the dictatorship, if portrayed at all, is seen as saviour, not, as many Portuguese would have seen them, as torturer and persecutor. The Conspirators (1944) was seen as a key film – not just featuring Hedy Lamarr, the “little man” (Peter Lorre) and the “fat man” (Sydney Greenstreet), but with the Dutch Resistance hiding out with the Portuguese fishing community, and a rallying anti-Nazi speech that implied there is no parallel between Nazism and the Salazar regime. In several 1950s and 1960s films, the pattern continued: of avoiding comment on the Salazar regime in favour of Lisbon as site of ‘romantic allure’, seen through the prism of espionage. As Lopes comments in the programme: ’Hollywood’s formulaic narratives – in some cases combined with Washington’s propaganda strategies – resulted in a depiction of Portugal that ultimately dissociated Salazar’s dictatorship from its fascist origins and practices.’

DAS UNSICHTBARE2

Then, Sebastian Haller (Danube University Krems) was the first of two conference speakers who addressed Das unsichtbare Visier (1973-79), an espionage TV series from the GDR. This was a story of the Stasi, over sixteen episodes, covering the period of the late-1940s to the end of the 1960s. Episodes 1-9 focused on one agent (‘an East German James Bond’), before a more ideologically apt focus on a collective of agents from episodes 10-16! It featured its Stasi agent heroes in a fictional world which encompassed far-flung locations as various as West Germany, Argentina, Portugal, Italy and South Africa.

DAS UNSICHTBARE3

Socialist Unity Party and GDR leader from 1971-89, Erich Honecker, was quoted in terms of how the series depicted nationhood in terms of class. It represents West Germans as an out-group, and their country as associated with an unemployment crisis, in contrast with the stability and security offered by the GDR. The series’ rhetoric was said to incorporate anti-imperialism and anti-fascism and depicts a peace-loving state. A bit of a contrast, then, to its British contemporary, Brian Clemens’ The Professionals (1978-82)! West German NATO membership and reinstatement of former Nazis is critiqued; the building of the Berlin Wall is commended and contextualised. This was all in response to the late-1960s, early-1970s rapprochement and Ostpolitik, with both Germanys moving away from the policies of reunification: an easing of tensions but also a need to establish distinct identities. To end a particularly fascinating paper, Haller referred to the series as ‘popular culture’s contribution to the establishment of a Socialist nation’.

Q&A

PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET

When asked, Medici scotched any question of their being significant residual fascism in post-WW2 Italy, and restating his point that the country didn’t really want to be involved in the Cold War. Lopes referred to Italian director Sergio Corbucci as being an outspoken leftist, and Medici accepted that most in Italian cinema held communist or socialist beliefs, but these views did not shape the content of the films. Sergio Grieco was mentioned as another Italian Communist, who had made films in the Soviet Union, working as assistant to Vsevolod Pudovkin. There was discussion of how Samuel Fuller’s Pickup on South Street (1953) was edited for West German and Italian release, to remove communism from its plots, to avoid losing a large section of the audience with communist sympathies; Medici referred to the Communist Party’s regular 30% support in the polls. Haller made the point that the 1970s was the one time where the GDR could plausibly present itself to be on the right side – with Portuguese and Spanish fascist regimes collapsing and anti-imperialist movements growing in Angola and Mozambique. Haller also stated that most people in the GDR would have known Bond, and that it would have been perceived as an imperialist fairy tale – in effect, James Bond fuels wars, the Stasi spy in the series ends them.

As a curious complement to the Eurospy films, Lopes discussed maritime imagery in Mexico-set films made in Portugal, and made droll reference to a sardine cannery featuring as a villains’ HQ in one WW2 era film. There was reference to transnationalism in the sense of co-productions, which made me think of Hammer and how much of British horror wasn’t quite so pure in its ‘Englishness’ as is supposed, in production and funding contexts, at least. I was curious what the audience sizes were, for both the Italian Euro-spy thrillers and the GDR’s Cold War epic narrative, but didn’t get the time to ask.

A line from this marvelous panel that stayed with me as encapsulating the self-image of Italians was Medici’s quote – “I’m neutral. I’m Italian!” – from a scene of a Europsy thriller, when an Italian ‘hero’ character is menaced by a Chinese spy.

James Chapman

Experienced popular culture academic James Chapman (University of Leicester)’s Keynote Lecture focused on the neglected spy films of Alfred Hitchcock, who made more in the genre than many others. He placed the twelve films – 5 UK, 7 US-made – into ideological and historical context, while also providing notable points on recent archival research at the Margaret Herrick Library, California. He quoted Peter Wollen on Hitchcock’s films being about a ‘disruption of the surface normality by forces of anarchy and chaos that lurk beneath that thin crust, that thin protection of civilisation’, which Wollen had misquoted from John Buchan’s The Powerhouse (1913).

Chapman placed Hitchcock’s British films in the context of the 1927 Cinematograph Act, a protectionist measure which required a quota of British films, alluding to ground fascinating covered by Steve Chibnall and Matthew Sweet among others: the “quota quickie”, a type of film cheaper than historical epics or the like. Regarding 1930s British cinema, he made the salient point that Edgar Wallace was the most adapted author, not the more ‘important’ figures such as A.J. Cronin or J.B. Priestley. 350 British crime films were made in the 1930s, Chapman reported, with about 10-12 spy films per year. The BBFC was very against “American style gangsterism” with its tommy guns, and the spy film grew as a result. The W Plan (1930), a WW1 spy film, and the contemporary Rome Express (1932) started the cycle and 1936-9 saw the peak in the numbers of British espionage films, and he situated Hitchcock’s films in context of the rise of fascism and appeasement. He begins with discussing The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) as a concise, fast-paced spy thriller about an ‘anarchist threat’, suggesting to me certain Conrad and Chesterton texts.

The Thirty-Nine Steps’ (1935) political meeting scene is highlighted, along with a reference to Michael Denning’s analysis of Hannay’s navigation of the class system by assuming different guises. Secret Agent (1936), a Maugham adaptation was referred to briefly as a somewhat denigrated film and not one of the most interesting. Sabotage (1936) – confusingly, the adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent (1907) – is placed in Denning’s lineage of the ‘existential thriller’. He is said to combine and move between the Buchan-James Bond and Graham Greene-John le Carré schools of spy story.

THE LADY VANISHES

Of the British films, The Lady Vanishes (1938) received deepest analysis, Chapman describing it as ‘the most English of Hitchcock’s films’. He made amusing reference to there being a paper waiting to written on the mythical landscapes of central Europe: he theorised that The Prisoner of Zenda’s Ruritania becomes Bandrika in TLV, following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and then Vosnia in the post-WW2 State Secret (1950), also by Launder and Gilliat. He analysed the key scene where, following a blunt critique of pacifism on the train, Mr Todhunter (Cecil Parker) gets out of the train, raises a handkerchief in the air and is shot and killed; critics have described this as an allusion to appeasement. Chapman explained that the film was in the can before the Munich conference, though it was in British cinemas by September 1938, so definitely had cultural topicality that affected its reception.

Hitchcock’s American films were glossier; Foreign Correspondent (1940) cost four times that of The Thirty-Nine Steps, Chapman stated. He noted that Hitchcock was equally against the grain in 1940 America with FC’s pro-interventionism stance as he had been in 1938 Britain with TLV’s anti-appeasement stance. Reflecting on research from the Margaret Herrick archive, he discussed a minor character portrayed by George Sanders: “In the first draft, he’s not called Scott Foley…” He paused for several seconds. “He’s called Ian Fleming” – a pay-off that elicited much amusement. A likeness he then analysed with Foley being a journalist with an effete manner and sporting of suede shoes…

Saboteur (1942) was discussed as a somewhat overlooked, interesting film, containing a post-Pearl Harbour speech and an ‘enemy within’ threat; Notorious (1946) was not analysed in depth but was described as a precursor of the moral ambiguity of the Cold War spy films. Hitchcock went on to make four Cold War films. There was discussion of the ‘genre upscaling’ of the more ‘leisurely’ US The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956).

NORTH BY NORTHWEST

North by Northwest (1959) is referred to as an ‘exemplary paranoia thriller’ and the best instance of Hitchcock’s distinctive combination of the sensational thriller with the moral ambiguous Cold War drama. He dissected its sense of absurd masquerade, impersonation and fluidity of identity. Chapman entertainingly reeled off a litany of the film’s ‘bizarre and dangerous predicaments’:

“He’s mistaken for a spy… A spy who it turns doesn’t exist. He’s kidnapped in broad daylight in a crowded hotel lobby. He’s forcibly plied with alcohol and put behind the wheel of a car. He’s suspected of murdering a diplomat at the United Nations. He’s lured out to the middle of a prairie and attacked by a crop-dusting plane. Now, at the end of the film, he finds himself scrambling over the Presidential monuments at Mount Rushmore, clutching a blonde in one arm and an Amazonian statuette containing a secret microfilm in the other. This is a sensational, adventure, implausible narrative!”

Developing on Notorious’ narrative, Eva Marie Saint’s heroine has to prostitute herself in the supposed service of her country. Cary Grant is given the line to US secret service types: “If that’s the kind of tactic you guys use, then maybe you ought to try losing a few Cold Wars…” Chapman reflected that there couldn’t have been a piece of dialogue like that five years earlier, amid McCarthyism.

He discussed the influence of NBNW – a spy parody in itself –on Bond films, with the crop-duster scene as ‘far superior’ to the rip-off in Dr No (1962). Hitchcock was interested in directing the James Bond with the Secret Service film, scripted by Fleming, yet it didn’t happen as Fleming and others wanted to retain control. Hitchcock is said to have admired The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), the key film of the more ambiguous school along with the Deighton adaptations.

Defector story Torn Curtain (1966) was described as ‘perfectly passable’ and ‘underrated’, but one that fell between stools and did not match the seriousness of TSWCIFTC or the wild excesses of a spoof like the same year’s Modesty Blaise. Pauline Kael is quoted on his final spy film, the so-so Topaz (1969): ‘the same damn spy movie that he’s been making since the thirties, but it’s getting longer and duller’. Chapman concludes with describing Hitchcock’s spy films as a paradigm of the genre, displaying the full range of narrative types open to the spy film.

Q&A:

When asked further about the ideologies, he said that Ivor Montagu may have had much to do with some of the anti-fascism of Hitchcock’s films. Post-war, ideologically, he was said to lean perhaps towards JFK and the Democrats, due to his wife’s influence. The original script to the 1956 TMWKTM is said to very specifically include references to the Russians, written out at a later stage.

peter-lorre-man-who-knew-too-much

In the British TMWKTM, he identified a ‘marvellous ambiguity’ in Frank Vosper as Ramon, the Spanish-sounding assassin and the none-more-sinister European Peter Lorre playing a character with the Abbott, a traditional English surname. This is in the context of the film’s anarchists – with “our cause” – being international and not rooted. In NBNW, he makes it clear there’s no specific Soviet villainy – more a generic Eastern European one, and vague references to “over there”.

When asked regarding spy-craft and Hitchcock’s ’amateur’ spies, Chapman contrasts this tendency with Topaz – a ‘flawed film’ – is said to be the most focused on ‘realistic’ spy-craft, and there is a sequence set in Cuba including bugging techniques. Other questions elicited interesting responses: on how Sabotage shows much fidelity to Conrad and how the 1979 version of The Lady Vanishes was ‘far better’ than often credited but that the recent BBC TV was much closer to the book but that ‘just wasn’t as good!’

“Spying on Spies” Day 1: Of conspiracies and compartmentalisation

20150903_103915

This article is the first of a series on what I saw at the Spying on Spies conference at the Warwick Business School on the seventeenth floor the Shard, London, 3rd-5th September – ably organised by Toby Manning and Joseph Oldham, who has written a far conciser conference report than myself here! Evidently, one human being can only gather so much of the total output of the conference, but the Facebook group is yielding many of the papers that I missed, which I may also comment on in time. I witnessed nineteen papers, plus three keynote speeches, making a total of 22. This was a mere 41.5% of the total number of 53 speakers at the conference. The articles intend to follow a chronological path, and aim to encapsulate what I learned about the Cold War through the voices of fellow SOS delegates.

My own paper, which I have previously linked to, is here.

THURSDAY

The opening remarks were brief and germane, setting out the conference’s remit to the 55-60 or so people in attendance at the beginning. The word ‘cross-disciplinary’ was mentioned; always, I feel crucial that supposedly ‘discrete’ disciplines are not placed in silos, but can intermingle. Important also, among these particulars, was mention of the later pint-meal convening in the George Inn, Borough Street, after Thursday’s panels. There was an allusion to a quiz and prizes by the end of the conference. Oldham’s making reference to Callan and The Sandbaggers was intriguing to me, having been captivated by the latter in recent viewings of Network’s DVDs. Unfortunately I was to be unable to see Oldham’s paper on the Cambridge Spies on TV, due to being on helper duties for my first panel of the conference… As ‘helper’, I assisted in a technical support role, and witnessed all Thursday’s papers in the Syndicate I-III, a non-Arthurian ‘round-table’.

The first panel I attended, then, was on ‘Postmodernism and the Spy Genre’… chaired by Oliver Buckton, who was to be part of my panel on Saturday.

EPO

Kyle Smith (University of Highlands and Islands, UK) began proceedings in animated style, comparing two literary works: E. Phillips Oppenheim’s Miss Brown of X. Y. O. (1927) and Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973). There was reference to the ‘sleepy state’, ‘conspiracy’ and ‘apocalypse’ narratives’ presence in EPO’s novel, which revolved around a Communist plot against the British state.

There was mention of Duncan Sandys; I cannot recall the exact context from my vague notes! But I did recall that Sandys was responsible for the 1957 Defence White Paper which reduced conventional forces in the move towards the missile age, and also set in train the end of National Service. Smith linked Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) with futuristic Seattle, with its early 1960s World’s Fair – Pynchon had worked in Seattle. He analysed the novel’s depiction of architecture as controlling and discussed the internationalism of transnational, bureaucratic states – the ‘rocket-state’, indeed. Gravity’s Rainbow’s protagonist Tyrone Slothrop was said to be unwilling to be an information machine – a concern ever more relevant with post-1973 economic shifts.

It is often very difficult to follow academic papers on novels you haven’t read, but I learned a lot and came away wanting to read both novels. Smith made a point that stayed with me: he quoted General Leslie R. Groves, military head of the Manhattan Project, on compartmentalisation of knowledge being good – and then linked this disturbing tendency with Pynchon’s text, citing the line: ‘Everything he needed to do his job and nothing else’.

AKUNIN

Eugenia Gresta (George Washington University, USA) was not in attendance, but Buckton read the paper. It focused on Boris Akunin’s writings, including The Turkish Gambit, with its postmodern shifting between the 1877-8 Turkish-Russian War and the Khrushchev era thaw; its focus is on de-Stalinization, ideology and propaganda. There was a mention of ‘Russians turning inwards’, towards ‘Mafia activities’, which put me in mind of the tremendous, bleak film Leviathan (2014). Akunin was said to have written epic political series’ of novels, set in 1931-83 and 1966-88.

There was reference to the narrative ‘fading into an artifice’; Gresta used phrases like ‘literary anarchy’ and ‘a postmodernist mosaic’ to describe Akunin’s approach. His novel has a Russian nobleman and civil servant as the hero and the Turkish spy as the villain. To the Soviets, ‘spy / spion’ had negative connotations, ‘secret agent’ had positive. The character Petrovich dresses like an English gentleman, linking somewhat with the portrayal of Adrian Harris in Dennis Potter’s Play for Today: Traitor (1971), which I was to analyse on Saturday.

HAPGOOD

Anna Suwalska-Kolecka (The State School of Higher Professional Education in Plock, Poland) gave a paper which was rare in the conference for its focus on drama. Her focus was Tom Stoppard’s 1988 play Hapgood, with its focus on twins, spies and quantum mechanics. Stoppard’s link between QM and espionage is said to reflect the intricacies of human identity. The play focuses on the British secret services and the CIA setting a trap for the mole who betrayed them to the KGB. Suwalska-Kolecka’s mentioned Stoppard’s creation of deliberate confusion with bizarre stage images; his evoking of the interrogative “What exactly is going on?” This somehow evoked in my noggin the recent re-viewings I’ve undertaken of that wonderfully absurdist dystopia of British television, The Prisoner (1967-68).

As with that series’ public tannoy announcements, there is an articulated meta-narrative, but this one doesn’t cheerily conceal: “In science this is understood: what is interesting is to know what is happening.” In contrast to Newtonian fixed laws dependant on ‘cause and effect’, QM theory has nothing as certain. Suwalska-Kolecka saw Stoppard as having linked this greater uncertainty and the (supposed) collapse of the metanarratives such as Marxism, and mentioned his utter distrust of binaries. There was a reference to the crisis in epistemology, and the typical postmodernism of ‘no one authoritative voice’.

Q&A:

When asked why he’d chosen that particular Oppenheim novel, Smith admitted there could have been good selections from John Buchan, Helen MacInnes and Geoffrey Household. However, he said its focus on a female protagonist – Miss Brown is a secretary – made it stand out, as well as its contrast to the 1970s with its view of ‘the worst thing that can happen is that the [British] Empire is destroyed’.

When asked about Pynchon’s use of third parties as ‘puppet-masters’, Smith stated that Pynchon didn’t like definite answers. He then mentioned the bizarre character who thinks he literally is World War II! Who then gets a temperature on D-Day… Returning to the Oppenheim novel, he said that the novel naively intimates the winding-up of MI5 at its close, once the threat has been defeated and a peace has been made with the Communists. I then mentioned Bernard Porter’s Plots and Paranoia, with its survey of the British reluctance to engage in espionage on any seriously wide, organised scale until WW1.[1] Therefore, the prospect may not have seemed entirely naïve at the time. Porter has commented that it was a mark of our confidence in the Victorian age that the British felt they didn’t need any organised spying. I then asked about whether there was any reference or link to the 1926 General Strike in Oppenheim’s novel. Smith said there wasn’t, it being primarily a romance rather than a ‘serious’ spy novel. He said there weren’t left-wing or communist villains in Bulldog Drummond and that Sapper claimed communist ideology didn’t exist! The villains tended to be pawns of industrialists, wanting revenge against Britain, reflecting a ‘motiveless malignity’.

THE BIG FOUR

I did vaguely think of Agatha Christie here, having read about The Big Four (1927), in which events such as the October Revolution have been steered by a shadowy gang most of whom are hiding out in the Dolomites: an American richer than Rockefeller, a French woman scientist, a spectral Chinese mastermind who never sets foot out of China and an obscure English actor and master of disguise known bizarrely as ‘The Destroyer’.  To quote from the novel: “There are people […] who know what they are talking about, and they say that there is a force behind the scenes”. … “A force which aims at nothing less than the disintegration of civilization. In Russia, you know, there were many signs that Lenin and Trotsky were mere puppets whose every action was dictated by another’s brain.”[2]

UNDERMIND3

This tendency interested me; it crops up enough in shadowy-conspiracy TV dramas like Undermind (1966), which is equally careful about precisely naming the ideology of its inscrutable conspirators. An intense ‘Yellow Peril’ politics can clearly be discerned in Christie’s positioning of Li Chang Yen as the Fu Manchu-style ‘mastermind’ behind the Big Four’s plan to create worldwide anarchy and then take over.[3]

Suwalska-Kolecka was asked about Hapgood’s staging in Poland and translation and said that much of Stoppard’s humour was lost when converted into Polish, but also that Polish TV broadcast a large amount of drama and theatre. She also mentioned Stoppard’s Jumpers (1972) exploiting detective fiction. She spoke seeing the Gdansk premiere of Arcadia and referred to TS’s frustration at the predictability of most novels; thus, he turned to modern science for what he saw as greater volatility. There was interesting mention of Shakespeare’s foreshadowing of unstable theatrical identities, with his comedies of misunderstanding and characters donning disguises. I am currently teaching King Lear at GCSE; a tragedy which has uncertain identity as a significant theme.

Next up, in the largest lecture theatre, was the first Keynote Speaker, Phyllis Lassner (Northwestern University, USA), who has had a distinguished academic career and has published two books on Elizabeth Bowen and one that I’d like to read some day: Women Writing the End of the British Empire. As Lassner states in her abstract, her Keynote aimed to ‘challenge the common assumption that the politics of spy fiction are only a pretext for adventure plots […] for Helen MacInnes and Ann Bridge, political crisis is the plot that drives the thrills and chills of spy fiction’.

above-suspicion

Lassner focuses on MacInnes’s novel Above Suspicion (1941), commenting on how the writer perceived critique and leadership as overly male dominated domains. She identifies radicalisms: at the centre of this novel is a woman’s voice, peoples’ right to self-determination is desired, instead of the sort of defence of Empire seen in Ian Fleming. There’s an interweaving of events in1939 and 1941 and a potent challenge to the Nazi representation of Jewish prisoners as ‘sub-human’: the novel’s protagonist Frances sees them as ‘civilised’. Lassner discusses the novel’s view that ‘if only the people of Germany had acted against the Nazis’, thus foreign involvement would not have been needed. She uses Haffner’s Defying Hitler memoir to explain how stacked the odds were against internal rebellion, given the appeasement tendency. Lassner summarises with a claim that MacInnes identified signs of the genocide to come.

ann bridge

She then analysed Ann Bridge’s 1953 novel, A Place to Stand. This was said to revolve around a portrait of 1940-1 Budapest, Hungary’s joining of the Axis and American isolationism. There is also mention of the Katyn Massacre of Poles by the Soviets during WW2; Lassner placed the number of Polish dead at 30,000. She then drew a link between the refugee situation and the Syrian crisis, dominating the news during the conference. There was discussion of motifs such as false identity papers and the nature of resistance, and how the novel was ‘politically and narratively’ caught between mourning a lost Europe and hopes for US and UK intervention.

Q&A:

Lassner discussed how Bridge critiques the place of women in narratives. A question regarding Fleming’s Casino Royale – which, it was noted, was published the same year as APTS – led to interesting discussion of how the character Vespa turns out to be far more complex than Bond suspects. This was said to be more complex than the ‘formulaic’ women of the early Bond films. A greater vulnerability was discerned in Skyfall (2012), which was said to be closer to Fleming’s Bond. Lassner mentioned how Bond is often a ‘hapless’ figure in the novels and regularly doesn’t win. She made strong final claims for MacInnes and Bridge’s work as reacting against the xenophobia of earlier writers, and avoiding the Oppenheim/Buchan binary of women as villainess or ‘help me’ figurine.

The early evening panel saw me back in Syndicate I-III. Surangama Datta (University of Delhi, India) gave a paper clearly influenced by Edward W. Said’s theory of ‘Orientalism’; she contrasted Herge’s Tintin and film director-writer Satyajit Ray’s Feluda, using binary terms. Tintin was placed as problematically imperialist in its ideology; having a ‘Eurocentric’ approach and seeing different cultures as “Other”. Red Rackham’s Treasure (1943) and Prisoners of the Sun (1946-48) were the two narratives analysed. The former was said to represent the native via a stereotypical cannibalism, signified through skulls and bones being strewn around the island.  Tintin and Haddock are portrayed as more idiosyncratic individuals in comparison to the uniform natives, whose story and perspective we never get. Haddock is even lionised in statue form: ‘Sir Francis Haddock’.

TINTIN - HADDOCK

It simply cannot be an academic conference without the verb ‘problematise’ showing up, and Master’s student Datta took the honours for the first such usage of SOS! I was also to partake of such lexis.

The Seven Crystal Balls (1946-48) was said to depict Tintin as a beacon of scientific knowhow, as opposed to the unreliable, superstitious Peruvian natives. Datta identified what she saw as a binary of EAST (Occult) : WEST (Scientific). She made a formal observation about the clear distinctions between the cartoon adventure’s panels reflecting the clear-cut content.  This was contrasted with the artwork of Tapas Guha, for Ray’s Bengal-set Feluda mysteries – Guha has the action burst across the panels: linked in the paper’s argument with the resistance of oppression. I would have appreciated more time allocated to Feluda; it was a little under-analysed in comparison to Tintin; but, still, clear points were communicated.

PAMUK

Doruk Tatar (University of Buffalo, USA), a third-year graduate student discussed the novels The Black Book (1994) and My Name is Red (2001), by Nobel Prize-winning Turkish author Orhan Pamuk. For context, he discussed Kipling’s focus on the geopolitical ‘Great Game’ and Edward W. Said’s critique of Kim and its white fantasy of ‘going native’, as well as Arendt’s The Human Condition – regarding our fascination with numbers and letters showing our compulsion to feel part of something bigger. He also discussed Frederic Jameson’s distinction between the receding public sphere and the private sphere. Tatar located the conspiracy aesthetic as being of the twentieth century – while, in the nineteenth, espionage had been articulated as a ‘game played for its own sake among colonial secret agents’. Conspiracy was viewed in context of the enlargement of the private sphere. It begged the pertinent question: how does the withering of the welfare state in Western societies affect people’s private worlds?

He situated Pamuk’s portrayal of transnational corporations alongside David Harvey’s critique of neo-liberalism. He also very pertinently mentioned how the economic ideas of the ‘Chicago boys’ were first exported to Chile, and referred to this as a “laboratory of Thatcherism”, which the excellent Andy Beckett has written extensively about.[4]

In Tatar’s biography in the conference programme, he mentions how the term ‘conspiracy’ is used to posit affective connections between individuals and ruling elites and usually excludes ‘social antagonisms’ and thus paradoxically enforces ‘a sense of harmony within post-colonial societies’. He cited Walter Benjamin regarding how Pamuk views everyday objects as having ‘unconventional meanings’ and harbouring ‘conspirational agendas’. TBB has a flaneur-type detective investigating how seemingly innocuous objects are ‘essential in shaping the habits of the society in the most sinister way’. MNIR depicts the monetary coin as effectively having character, with the worker estranged and stripped of agency. I liked Tatar’s focus on ideologies and representations of everyday life.

casino-royale-pan-first-uk-paperback

Samuel Goodman (Bournemouth University), focused on James Bond and Popular Culture after Empire, mentioning in an aside how apt it was to present his paper in London, a centre of imperialism. Bond – Fleming’s, Amis’s and Boyd’s, among others – was seen as bound up with nationhood and Britishness. Goodman pertinently mentioned Danny Boyle’s usage of Craig’s Bond in the 2012 Olympics promotional film – with the signification of Bond as quintessentially English, the fictional spy appearing in shot alongside the serving monarch. The difference from the 1948 Olympics was clear to Goodman; then: world power status assertion, now: inclusiveness, as signified by the Parade of Nations. He persuasively described Elizabeth II and Bond as cut from the same cloth: both implicated in this status decline, both being born in the public consciousness in the 1950’s.

Unlike Dominic Sandbrook in his recent TV ‘history’ show Let Us Entertain You, Goodman avoided ducking the issue of American influence. He mentioned Dr No’s plan to disrupt US missile tests, and how Fleming saw British colonies as buffers against communism. Casino Royale focuses on Marshall Aid; Goodman mentions the irony that Lend Lease debt was finally paid off in 2006 – the year of the Craig version of the same novel!

He mentioned the ‘fiction of a civilising role’ and the ‘exotic mode of aesthetic experience’ in Bond’s consumer enjoyment. Two months later, on Saturday 7th November, I was to see Goodman deliver a talk as one of the ‘New Generation Thinkers’ at the BBC Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead, which entertainingly explored the British Empire’s influence on British consumption and production of beer.

Q&A:

Solo-William-Boyd-

A delegate mentioned how Fleming entirely avoids the middle-east – unlike, as is mentioned, Peter Cheyney. Philby was based in Beirut; Deighton features Beirut early in The Ipcress File (1962). Goodman explained how, in William Boyd’s Solo (2013), Bond makes his first visit to Africa. This novel also presents Bond in 1969 London, older and paunchy amid the changing, increasingly multicultural city. He waves away a copy of The Times bearing tidings of Vietnam. The Nigerian-born Boyd apes Fleming’s colonialist politics – describing a local woman’s nipples as perfectly round like coins and depicting an Africa of ‘cliché and stereotype’. This got me thinking that Solo would have been benefited by including some sort of Tiny Rowland figure – whose outrageous business ‘practices’ in Ghana have been dissected by Adam Curtis in episode 2 of The Mayfair Set (TX: 25/07/1999). Of course, for a Cameron, Johnson or Osborne, Rowland would be one of those archetypal British ‘buccaneering’ capitalists we should do everything to encourage.

Datta was asked about stereotyping; In Tintin narratives, the natives are often stereotyped – I have read Tintin in the Congo (1931), and yes, the blacks are depicted as eager, savage children in need of firm tutelage. Mentioned the natives as ‘subordinate’ to Tintin. There were fewer questions on Pamuk’s work. The general neglect of Africa was raised; it was mentioned that Graham Greene – The Heart of the Matter (1948) is set in Sierra Leone. Concerning North Africa, it was my thought that someone should write a Bond novel set during the Suez Crisis, and not straightforwardly mimic Fleming’s style…

Thursday’s literature-dominated proceedings over, relaxation began, in the non-shadowy environs of the George Inn.

[1] Porter, B. (1989) Plots and Paranoia: History of Political Espionage in Britain, 1790-1988. London: Routledge. 

[2] Christie, A. (1927) The Big Four. Glasgow: William Collins & Sons.

[3] Frayling, C. (2014) The Yellow Peril: Dr Fu Manchu & The Rise of Chinaphobia. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.

[4] Beckett, A. (2003) Pinochet in Piccadilly: Britain and Chile’s Hidden History. London: Faber and Faber.

Conference paper: “The heart of England does not beat in stately homes or on smiling lawns” : Treachery and national identity in Dennis Potter’s ‘Traitor’

Go here to read and / or download my paper, which I delivered at the Shard in London this last Saturday on Dennis Potter’s ‘Traitor’. This was part of the excellent Spying on Spies: Popular Representations of Spies and Espionage inter-disciplinary conference; I will be writing further reflections on this event here in the near future.