Friday, 19 June 2009
Huey Long passed on June 10 at the age of 105.
Huey Long was born on April 25, 1904 in Sealy, Texas. His professional music career began when he was a shoeshine and occasionally emcee at the Rice Hotel in Houston. One night Frank Davis and his Louisiana Jazz Band were scheduled to play at the hotel. Unfortunately, their banjoist never showed. Long immediately went to a music store, bought a banjo, and filled the void left by the banjoist that night. He became their regular banjoist.
In 1933 Long switched to the guitar and even played with Texas Guinan's Cuban Orchestra at the 1933 World's Fair. In 1935 and 1936 he recorded with Richard M. Jones’s Jazz Wizards and the pianist Lil Armstrong and Her Swing Orchestra. He was not only the guitarist for Lil Armstrong and Her Swing Orchestra, but their arranger as well. Later he would also be guitarist and arranger for Zilner Randolph’s W.P.A. Concert and Swing Band. Huey Long would eventually be hired by Fletcher Henderson for his orchestra. Long made the move from Chicago to New York with Henderson. It was there that he joined Earl Hines’s orchestra. In New York he would perform with Billy Eckstine, Sarah Vaughan, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie before he formed his own trio.
In 1944 Bill Kenny offered Huey Long the position of guitarist in The Ink Spots. Long would not stay with The Ink Spots long. Eventually original guitarist Charlie Fuqua returned to the group. Long then performed with Eddie (Lockjaw) Davis’s Be-Boppers before forming another trio of his own. They would eventually be part of a USO tour that visited troops in Korea and Japan. By the early Sixties, following the break up of The Ink Spots, Long would form his own version of the group, before teaching music in New York. Eventually this would evolve into an outright music school. It was in 1996 that he returned to Houston and founded The Inks Spots Museum with his daughter.
Huey Long was a true pioneer in music. In Chicago in the Thirties, Long developed chordal solos--the direct ancestor of the guitar solos found in rhythm and blues and rock 'n' roll. Indeed, if both rhythm and blues and rock 'n' roll have an emphasis on rhythm, then Huey Long must be given the credit for that. He was a truly revolutionary guitarist and the best guitarist The Ink Spots ever had.
Guitarist and founding member of The Ventures Bob Bogle died on June 14. He was 75 years old. The cause was non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Bob Bogle was born near Wagoner, Oklahoma on January 16, 1934. While young he moved to California, where he was a bricklayer in his teens. He later moved to Washington. A self taught guitarist, Bogle met another guitar lover while working on a construction site, Don Wilson. Together in 1958 they founded a group called The Versatones in Tacoma, Washington. Playing small clubs and private parties throughout the Pacific Northwest, The Versatones appeared on live, local television in 1959. That same year The Versatones learned there was already a group in New York by that name. The Versatones in Washington then became The Ventures. They recorded a single that year, "The Real McCoy" with Don Wilson on vocals. Unfortunately, "The Real McCoy" went nowhere.
It was following the failure of "The Real McCoy" that The Ventures observed that instrumental bands were becoming popular, noting the success of Duane Eddy, Johnny and The Hurricanes, and similar bands. Bogle owned the Chet Atkins album Hi Fi in Focus on which there was the song "Walk Don't Run (originally recorded by Johnny Smith in 1955)." The Ventures developed a simplified version of Atkins' arrangement that at the same time possessed even more energy than the first two recordings of the song. It became, if not the first, then one of the earliest examples of surf rock and established the style for which The Ventures became best known. "Walk Don't Run" proved to be a smash hit, reaching #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 by September 1960.
The Ventures would become the most successful instrumental rock group of all time. With albums such as The Colourful Ventures (released in 1961) they pioneered the concept album. They also had hit singles, including Perfida, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, and Hawaii Five-O. Even after their success declined in the late Sixties, they have maintained a legion of fans to this day. They also led the way for other instrumental artists, such as guitar legend Dick Dale, British band The Tornados, Ronny and The Daytonas, and others.
As lead guitarist and a founding member of The Ventures, Bob Bogle proved extremely influential. Indeed, it would be the guitar style of The Ventures when combined with the guitar work of Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly and the vocals of The Everly Brothers and The Beach Boys that would create the subgenre of rock known as power pop. It should then come as no surprise that The Beatles and The Who both counted The Ventures among their influences. They were also an influence on such diverse groups as The Beach Boys, Credence Clearwater Revival, Yes, KISS, and Deep Purple. Like Huey Long, Bob Bogle was then one of the most influential guitarists of all time.
Thursday, 18 June 2009
For those of you who frequent this blog, you may notice it has a new look. I finally found a three column template that works with Blogger's new layouts. This allows me to take advantage of all the new gadgets while keeping the traditional three columns that A Shroud of Thoughts has had for most of its history. The only problem I have found is the placement of my ads. There seems to be no way of placing the ads above the header, as I once had them. For now I have placed them at the bottom, hardly an ideal solution. If anyone can think of a way to place the ads above the header, please let me know. I do not want ads in the sidebars or after every post!
If any one of you have difficulty reading the entries in the new look, please let me know. While I'd like to keep the black colour scheme (this is A Shroud of Thoughts, after all), I can change the font colour to a theoretically easier to read white. I realise that many of us are getting on in years and can sometimes have trouble reading text if there isn't a good deal of contrast!
For those of you who might wonder where I got this template, I got it from Free XML Blogger Template - 3 Column Minima. As might be expected I have made a few modifications. I changed the font to the blog's traditional Georgia (except for Helvetica and its variants, I never cared much for san serif fonts), removed the ads and labels in the right sidebar (I have no real use for labels...), and placed my various links in the left and right sidebars and the archive in the left. A new addition is the Followers box, which is in the right sidebar. With the classic template I never could use it!
On a historical note, this is the first time I have made significant changes to the look of the blog since March 25, 2005 (which was sadly also the day that Beverly Hillbillies creator Paul Henning died). I still have that template and screen shots for my future anniversary posts!
In honour of the blog's fifth anniversary, I still have an open invitation to anyone who wants to make a guest post to A Shroud of Thoughts. If you would like to be a guest blogger, you can email me at the handy dandy email link in the right hand column. If for whatever reason the link at the right does not work, then email me at either mercurie at gmail.com or spacelord at warpdriveonline.com. I only have a few ground rules:
1. The post must be on some facet of pop culture. This is not as narrow as it sounds, because it includes everything from movies to literature (by my definition, Shakespeare is pop culture). Have a favourite actor or writer you want to profile, a favourite book or TV show? Those topics are ideal for this blog's focus.
2. Please, keep all posts rated PG-13 at the most. I will not say A Shroud of Thoughts is a family blog, but I am fully aware that children might be reading it.
3. Given the fact that I can be long winded, a guest blogger's post can be fairly long, but not so long that it must be posted over several different entries. I am the only one who gets to write series of articles here!
4. If you want pictures included with your post, please email them to me!
Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Beginning in 1961 in the United Kingdom and spreading to the United States in 1962 was a spy craze that would overtake books, comic books, television, and movies for the better part of the Sixties. By 1967 the spy craze was coming to an end. While this meant that spy fiction was less popular in the Seventies and Eighties than it had been in the Fifties and Sixties, it did not mean that it ever disappeared entirely. Indeed, the Cold War begun in 1947 between the United Kingdom and the United States on one hand and the Soviet Union on the other hand would continue for the next two decades. This provided plenty of fodder for new spy tales. Indeed, some of the finest writers of spy fiction would start their careers in the Seventies and Eighties.
Perhaps the finest spy-fi writer to emerge during the Seventies was also one of the finest spy-fi writers of all time. In 1971 the first book by Robert Ludlum, The Scarlatti Inheritance, was published. This first book was set during World War II, but with his second book, The Osterman Weekend, Ludlum began writing stories set in the present. Ludlum would be hugely successful in the Seventies, writing novels which were often inspired by conspiracy theories. It was in 1980 that Robert Ludlum reached the pinnacle of his career with The Bourne Identity. The Bourne Identity introduced the world to retrograde amnesiac Jason Bourne. The Bourne Identity would prove successful enough that Jason Bourne would appear in six more novels (the last four written by Eric Van Lustbader) as well as three feature films. In a poll conducted by Publishers Weekly, The Bourne Identity was voted the second greatest spy novel, beat out only by The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carré.
While Robert Ludlum weaved his novels about conspiracy theories, other writers would take a more journalistic approach to spy fiction. Frederick Forsyth had been a reporter for both Reuters and BBC when he became a fiction novelist. Using the techniques he had learned as a journalist and applying them to fiction, Forsyth wrote his first novel, The Day of the Jackal, based around a fictional assassination attempt on French president Charles de Gaulle. Published in 1971, The Day of the Jackal proved very successful. Forsyth would blend spy fiction with history in many of his novels, including The Odessa File and The Fourth Protocol.
Another former reporter, Ken Follett, also took a journalistic approach to spy fiction. While many of Forsyth's books were set in the present day, Follett tended to write spy fiction set in earlier, historical periods. His first novel, Eye of the Needle, was set during World War I. On Wings of Eagles dealt with the Iranian Revolution. The Man from St. Petersburg was set in World War I.
While the spy craze had ended around 1967, superspies would find a new home in the popular field of men's action novel paperback series so popular in the Seventies. Among the spies to be found in the men's action novel paperbacks was Richard Camellion, the hero of The Death Merchant series. Camellion was literally a gun for hire for those government agencies (think CIA, FBI, NSA, and so on) willing to pay his hundred grand price tag. The plots of The Death Merchant novels probably owed more to the James Bond movies and spy shows like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. than anything else, but with a greater quotient of sex and violence. Unfortunately, like most of the men's action novel series, The Death Merchant was not particularly well written.
While many of the men's action novel series were regarded little more than trash (and for the most part still are), there was one exception to the rule. The Destroyer series was classic in the same that the Doc Savage novels and Ian Fleming's Bond novels. It had less in common with its fellow men's action series than it did the pulp magazines of old. The villains in The Destroyer series were often larger than life and the plots often fantastic.
The Destroyer was created by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy. The first novel, Created, The Destroyer, was actually written in 1963 at the height of the Bond craze. It would be 1971 before Created, The Destroyer was published. The series centred on Remo Williams, a police officer framed for murder so that he could be "executed" and then go to work super secret government agency called CURE, an agency known only to a few people (the President of the United States and its director Harold W. Smith among them). Somewhat unwillingly at first, Remo finds himself working for CURE and training under Chiun in an ancient martial art called Sinanju, "the sun source of all martial arts." Named for the village from which Chiun comes, Sinanju practitioners are veritable supermen--they can walk up walls, punch through metal, and do nearly anything. Together Remo and Chiun faced such menaces as Nuihc (a renegade Sinanju master who also happens to be Chiun's nephew), shapeshifting android Mr. Gordons, a Chinese vampire called the Master, and Friend, a sentient computer chip who can send his consciousness from computer terminal to computer terminal. Written with tongue firmly in cheek, The Destroyer was fun in the same way as old pulp novels and spy TV series such as The Avengers and The Man From U.N.C.L.E..
In 1977 Firefox by Craig Thomas was published, creating a new subgenre to become known as the techno-thriller. Techno-thrillers combine a large amount of technical detail regarding real world technology or technology which could plausibly exist in the near future. The roots of the subgenre actually go back to the Fifties, including such forerunners as Moonraker by Ian Fleming and Fail-Safe by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler. Craig Thomas has continued to write techno-thrillers, often featuring the characters of of Sir Kenneth Aubrey and Patrick Hyde and set in MI-6.
While Craig Thomas pioneered the techno-thriller, its most popular author would be Tom Clancy. In 1984 Hunt for Red October introduced the world to CIA analyst Jack Ryan and Clancy's highly detailed style of dealing with matters of espionage and military science. Jack Ryan would prove to be one of the most successful characters in the history of spy fiction, appearing not only in several more novels, but movies as well. Tom Clancy would also write novels that were not part of the Jack Ryan series, as well as many non-fiction books. Arguably, no other writer took the techno-thriller to the heights which Tom Clancy has.
While Craig Thomas and Tom Clancy have written novels with plenty of technical detail, former CIA agent Charles McCarry has written novels with a meticulous view of the spy trade. Often McCarry's books feature superspy Paul Christopher. An admirer of both W. Somerset Maugham and Robert Condon (author of The Manchurian Candidate, shows a good deal of influence from both in writing.
Spy fiction would continue to be popular from the Seventies into the Eighties. In fact, there was no serious concern that it would decline in popularity until 1991 when the Soviet Union fell at last. The fall of the U.S.S.R. left British and American spy fiction authors without a realistic antagonist for their novels. After over forty years of popularity, spy-fi was itself in danger of extinction.
Following the fall of the Soviet Union, spy fiction faced a crisis of the sort it had not faced in its nearly one hundred years of existence. Eastern Europe, once firmly in the control of the U.S.S.R., found itself in need of financial aid from the West as it moved from Communism to democracy. Even once powerful Russia was struggling to survive. There were so few serious threats to the West that the United States even considered dismantling the CIA, the organisation at the forefront of the Cold War. Interest in spies and spy fiction fell to such lows that The New York Times even ended its long running column of spy fiction reviews.
This is not to say that spy fiction ceased to exist entirely. Authors established before the fall of the Iron Curtain, continued to publish new books. The works of Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, and a few other authors continued to be popular. For the most part, editors at the time were very hesitant in publishing books by new authors in the genre. Only a very few new spy fiction writers emerged during this era.
Among these were Joseph Finder, a one time CIA employee whose works have an emphasis on realism. His first book, The Moscow Club, was published in 1991 to a good deal of success. Former reporter Gayle Lynds started her career in fiction writing men's action novels before moving into spy fiction with Masquerade in 1996. A former employee of CNN, Daniel Silva began a career in spy fiction with The Unlikely Spy, set during World War II and published in 1996. He would become best known for his series featuring assassin Gabriel Allon. Charles Cumming used his experience working for MI-6 in his novels.
While there were these exceptions to the rule, for the most part spy fiction struggled to survive during the Nineties. This situation would change with the tragic destruction of the World Trade Centre by terrorists on September 11, 2001. With new opponents to face in the form of al-Qaeda and similar terrorists, spies soon found themselves back in print. Writers such as John Le Carré and Frederick Forsyth returned to the genre. Writers such as Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy who had continued writing spy fiction during the lean years saw a resurgence in their popularity. New writers began to emerge in the genre in significant numbers, the first time since 1991.
Spy fiction written by those who had worked for the various intelligence agencies became very popular in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Allan Stripp, a former British cryptographer, wrote the popular novel The Code Snatch, published in 2001. Retired CIA officer Thomas F. Murphy would have success with Edge of Allegiance. Among the most successful new writers in the field of insider spy fiction is the former Director General of MI-5 herself, Dame Stella Rimington, author of such novels as At Risk, Secret Asset, Illegal Action, and Dead Line.
The renewed popularity of spy fiction would even see a series of spy novels written for the youth market, the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz. Spies found renewed popularity on film, with the emergence of the Jason Bourne series, as well as the successful reboot of the James Bond series started with Casino Royale. New spy dramas would debut on television in the forms of Alias, 24, Spooks, and Chuck.
Tales of spies date back to the Torah and The Iliad. Spy fiction itself has existed as a genre since the late 19th century. And while it has risen and fell in popularity over the years, there can be little doubt that it will not end any time soon. As long as the nations of the world find a need for spies, there will probably be a demand for spy fiction.
Tuesday, 16 June 2009
World War II was the largest conflict ever known to Man. It involved several nations, including every single one of the world powers of the time. In total, over 100 million people were mobilised to take part in the war. World War II saw the creation of several different weapons of mass destruction, not the least of which was the atomic bomb. It was effectively the first wholly modern war.
One would have expected that during the largest conflict ever known to man that spy fiction would have experienced a heyday. Surprisingly, this was not the case, as more spy novels were produced prior to the war than during the war itself. This is not to say that there was no spy fiction produced during World War II. Authors who had written spy fiction prior to the war would continue to do so. In fact, World War II would see a major shift in spy fiction. Before the eve of World War II, most spy novels were period pieces set during World War I. Ashenden, The Thirty-Nine Steps, Drink to Yesterday, and yet other novels were all set shortly before or during the First World War. On the eve of World War II, more and more spy novels would be set in the present day. The first Thomas Hambledon novel, Drink to Yesterday, by Manning Coles was set in World War I. The next several Hambledon books were set in either Nazi Germany or World War II era England. Of course, from the beginning the novels of Helen McInnes were set in the present. Her first novel Above Suspicion featured newlyweds assigned to spy on Nazi Germany. Her second novel Assignment in Brittany, took place in Nazi occupied France. Her third novel The Unconquerable was set on the eve of the German invasion of Poland.
While World War II saw more and more spy novels set in the present day, almost no new authors in the genre emerged. The exception was a man who would become one of spy-fi's greatest writers, Graham Greene. By the time he wrote his first spy novel, Graham Greene had already been a successful author for nearly seven years. It was in 1936 that his first espionage novel was published. A Gun For Sale centred on Raven, a man hired to kill the Minister of War, taking from him secret notes. He was among the earliest of a new breed of anti-hero--the assassin with his own personal code of honour. While Graham Greene would continue to write in other genres, A Gun For Hire was only the beginning of a highly successful career in spy-fi. The Ministry of Fear, published in 1943, concerned an Englishmen caught in a spy ring during the Blitz. After the war Greene would rise to even greater prominence as a spy fiction writer, one who often questioned the morality of espionage. His most famous works are also classics in the genre, The Third Man (published in 1949), The Quiet American (published in 1955), and Our Man in Havanna (published in 1958). Graham Greene established himself as one of the most intelligent and literate of all writers of spy-fi.
While World War II produced little in the way of new spy fiction, it would have a lasting impact on the genre. The very nature of the conflict forced the world powers to modernise espionage and intelligence gathering techniques. While codes and code breaking had been a part of espionage for centuries, they would prove vitally important during World War II. Means of eavesdropping on private conversations such as wiretapping and electronic bugs were being used more and more. While assumed to be a fictional invention of Ian Fleming, spy gadgets were a reality in World War II, as they had been before. Bombs disguised as frozen eggs or even chocolate bars, microdots, knives hidden in shoes, miniature cameras, and yet other gadgets were all used at some point or another during World War II.
Perhaps the most lasting result of modernisation in espionage that took place during World War II was the modernisation of intelligence agencies. In the United Kingdom both MI-5 and MI-6 increased recruiting for the manpower necessary for the coming war. New recruits also meant that the British intelligence agencies had to establish training for them as well. At least Britain had intelligence agencies in place at the start of the war. Alone amongst the world powers, the United States had never had a centralised intelligence agency. World War II forced the United States to establish the Office of Strategic Services or OSS, the country's first centralised intelligence agency. While the OSS was disbanded at the end of the war, it laid the groundwork for the establishment of the Central Intelligence Agency or CIA in 1947.
Of course, World War II would bring an even greater change than the modernisation of espionage. With the defeat of Nazi Germany, the Western Allies (led by the United Kingdom and the United States) and the Soviet Union decided to divide Europe amongst themselves. This naturally led to disagreements between the one time Allies. These disagreements would only be intensified by the establishment of the Eastern Bloc by the Soviet Union, a collection of countries that had either been annexed into the U.S.S.R. (such as Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia) during World War II or turned into satellite states of the Soviet Union (East Germany and Poland). The disagreements between the Western Allies and the U.S.S.R. would never break into armed conflict, but by 1947 a Cold War existed between the United Kingdom and the United States on one hand and the Soviet Union on the other. The Cold War would be fought through propaganda, military alliances, and competition in technological development (including weapons development and space exploration). As might be expected, much of the Cold War was fought utilising spies.
The Cold War which lasted from 1947 to 1991 would prove to be the most fruitful period for spy-fi in the history of the genre. Particularly during the Fifties and the Sixties there was an outright boom in spy fiction which introduced new authors and new recurring characters as well. Indeed, by the Sixties spy fiction had proven so successful that spies had not only overwhelmed the paperback racks, but television and movie screens as well. While there can be no doubt that continued tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union was responsible for much of the newfound popularity of spies, much of the popularity of spy fiction in the Fifties and Sixties may have been due to the most famous fictional spy of them all. James Bond, Agent 007 for MI-6, was created by Ian Fleming in 1953. By the early Sixties Bond would become phenomenally popular, bringing not only new readers to spy-fi, but new authors as well.
Contrary to popular belief, James Bond was not the first of the new breed of superspies. That honour should go to a character largely forgotten now. Johnny Fedora was an agent for British Intelligence created by Shaun Lloyd McCarthy, using the pen name of Desmond Cory. He first appeared in the novel Secret Ministry in 1951. On the surface Johnny Fedora would seem quite similar to 007. Both came from humble backgrounds. Both often became entangled with seductive women. Both were debonair men who dressed sharp and appreciated the finer things in life. The similarities would end there, however, as Fedora and his milieu were very different than James Bond and the world Ian Fleming provided for him. Fedora was as much a hired assassin as he was a spy, compelled as much by the desire to avenge his parents' deaths as he was out of patriotism. His adventures would have a more deliberate pace than those of Bond, with plots that were far more complex and far more intellectual. Indeed, Johnny Fedora would eventually be labelled "the thinking man's James Bond." Although he inspired no movies and is largely forgotten today, Johnny Fedora proved quite popular. He appeared in sixteen novels from 1951 to 1971.
The success that should have belonged to Johnny Fedora would eventually go to James Bond. His creator, Ian Fleming, had served in British Naval Intelligence during World War II, so he could lend a good deal of authenticity to the Bond novels. In fact, while heavily romanticised, the first two Bond novels (Casino Royale and Live and Let Die) tended to be more realistic than future outings with 007. It would be with the third Bond novel that Ian Fleming would blend spy fiction with a touch of the fantastic, creating a new subgenre of spy fiction--the Bondian spy novel. Moonraker centred on James Bond's effort to prevent rogue industrialist Hugo Drax from destroying London with a nuclear missile. Published three years before the first successful test launch of an ICBM, the novel was a bit ahead of its time. In further adventures Bond would face even more fantastic plots, from Dr. No's sabotage of American missile tests to Goldfinger's plot to detonate an atomic device in Fort Knox. The appeal in the adventures of James Bond would not be a realistic portrayal of espionage, but instead a romantic fantasy version of the spy game.
Although moderately successful from the beginning, it would take several years before James Bond would become a phenomenon. In fact, for much of the Fifties the Johnny Fedora novels outsold the James Bond novels. Regardless, as the Fifties passed James Bond would grow popular enough that Ian Fleming, Kevin McClory, Ivar Bryce, and Jack Whittingham would make an attempt to create a James Bond television series. The idea died on the vine. James Bond took a giant leap in popularity in the United States when President John F. Kennedy confessed in an interview which appeared in the March 17, 1961 issue of Life that From Russia with Love was among his favourite books of all time. At the same time a spy craze was growing in Britain with TV series such as The Avengers and Danger Man. In the end, James Bond would come to motion picture screens in the movie Dr. No in 1962, establishing Bond as the most famous superspy of all time.
Johnny Fedora and James Bond would not be the only superspies of the Cold War era. Edward S. Aarons created a spy very similar to Bond in the form of Sam Durell, a tough agent of Cajun descent for a super secret section of the CIA. Like Bond, Durell often became involved with sexually provocative women and often battled fantastic opponents. Like Bond, Durell could be one tough customer, deadly with a gun and fierce in hand to hand combat. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that Durell was a mere Bond imitator. The first Sam Durell novel, Assignment to Disaster, was published in 1955, only two years after the first Bond novel. This was a time when James Bond was little known in the United States and it seems unlikely that Edward S. Aarons had heard of Bond. The similarities between Bond and Durell may simply be due to the fact that the time was ripe for superspies.
While Bond would produce many imitators, particularly after Dr. No inaugurated the highly successful Bond movie franchise in 1962, it seems as if many novelists were intent on creating heroes as different from Bond as possible. This was probably the case with what may have been Bond's biggest literary rival, the American counter agent Matt Helm. Seeing continued success with Edward S. Aarons' Sam Durell series, paperback publisher Fawcett Gold Medal approached author Donald Hamilton about creating a counterspy who fought spies within the United States. They further suggested that this new counterspy should be an assassin. Hamilton created a spy as unlike Bond as possible. Matt Helm was a happily married man, an accomplished writer, and an avid hunter. He also happened to serve as a government assassin during World War II. Not only was Helm a wholly different character from Bond, but Donald Hamilton's writing style was very different from that of Ian Fleming, bringing to mind the dark, cynical style of hard boiled detective fiction. Matt Helm would prove popular enough to be adapted into a series of movies starring Dean Martin. Sadly, the movies turned Helm into an ersatz James Bond and his deadly serious adventures into something decidedly campier than even the most outlandish Bond adventures.
Ian Fleming's James Bond offered an overly romantic view of espionage with events in the books that sometimes bordered on the fantastic. With the Bond series growing in popularity, for many the time may have seemed right for novels which portrayed intelligence work more realistically. David John Moore Cornwell had served in the British Army's Intelligence Corps starting in 1950 and by 1952 was working for MI-5. In 1960 he would transfer to MI-6. With plenty of experience as a spy in real life, Cornwell was ideally suited to write espionage novels that would be more realistic in tone than those featuring Johnny Fedora and James Bond. Taking the pen name John Le Carré, his first novel, Call For the Dead, was not only more realistic than anything written by Ian Fleming, but gave the world a spy who was more realistic than James Bond or Matt Helm. George Smiley was an intelligence officer working for MI-6. He also happened to be middle aged, quiet, and very mild mannered. He lived by his wits rather than the gun, and preferred to outsmart his opponents rather than engage them in combat. Smiley was not given to sleeping with woman after woman as Bond did. Indeed, more often than not Smiley was cuckolded by his wife Ann. The character of George Smiley would prove very popular, appearing as a major character in five more novels.
If Ian Fleming and John Le Carré represented two ends of the spectrum of spy fiction, Len Deighton would probably be found somewhere in the middle. The anonymous agent Deighton introduced in The IPCRESS File, published in 1962, was a more realistic character than the nearly superhuman James Bond. He was a working class man who lived in a cheap flat and sometimes even seedier hotels. He hardly lived the high life of 007, shopping in supermarkets and often desiring a raise in his pay. Worse yet, Deighton's unnamed agent was near sighted enough he had to wear glasses, a condition probably made worse by the endless paperwork he had to fill out serving the British government bureaucracy. While the anonymous agent of Deighton's novels is a more realistic character than James Bond, he sometimes faced plots that were Bondian in scope. In The IPCRESS File he uncovers a plot involving mind control. Billion-Dollar Brain centred on a supercomputer and a weapons grade supervirus. Len Deighton's anonymous agent would prove popular enough to appear in four novels in total, as well three feature films starring Michael Caine. In the movies the spy's name is given as Harry Palmer.
Len Deighton would later write a series of novels featuring a spy named Bernard Sampson, a somewhat jaded, middle aged agent for MI-6. Sampson first appeared in the novel Berlin Game in 1983. He would appear in seven more novels. Despite this, Sampson is not nearly as well known as Len Deighton's earlier, unnamed agent.
Len Deighton was not the only author of spy fiction to occupy the middle ground between Ian Fleming and John Le Carré. Writing as Adam Hall, Elleston Trevor also occupied that ground with his Quiller novels. Quiller was an extremely talented spy who worked freelance for a British intelligence agency only known as "The Bureau." He was a skilled linguist, driver, pilot, and martial artist. He did not carry a gun, preferring to take opponents out through his skill in Shotokan karate. He could resist interrogation and even torture. Quiller first appeared in The Berlin Memorandum in 1965, proving successful enough to be adapted as the movie The Quiller Memorandum and to appear in seventeen more books. While Quiller himself was nearly superhuman, his adventures tended to be much more realistic and down to earth than those of James Bond or Sam Durell.
For much of the Sixties both the United Kingdom and the United States were overtaken by a spy craze that included television and motion pictures. It is then surprising that by the mid-Sixties there were fewer and fewer new superspies appearing in print. Among the few to make his debut in the mid-Sixties was Michael Jagger, the creation of novelist William Garner. Michael Jagger was a disgraced former agent who loved the high life, hated himself, and found risking his life exhilarating. He would make his first appearance in the novel Overkill published in 1966 and appear in three more novels.
If there was an award for the strangest superspy of the Sixties, it might well go to Philip McAlpine. The creation of Adam Diment, McAlpine shared James Bond's love of sex, fast cars, and jet planes, but there the similarities end. Philip McAlpine was young, long haired, used the latest British slang, and smoked both hashish and marijuana. Philip McAlpine first appeared in 1967 in the novel The Dolly Dolly Spy and proved a hit with both critics and readers. His success would lead to three more novels. Still successful with the publication of the final novel, Think Inc. in 1971, author Adam Diment disappeared from public view and has not been heard from since.
The spy craze that had overtaken the British and American public would come to an end in the years 1967 and 1968. While the Cold War continued, then, the heyday of spy fiction tapered off as the Sixties became the Seventies. This is not to say that the Seventies would see a dearth of new spy fiction. In fact, some of the best writers in the genre would make their debut in the Seventies, even creating new subgenres in the spy-fi genre.
Monday, 15 June 2009
As hard as it might be to believe today, spy novels were not always so plentiful. Today paperback racks will usually boast a good number of them, and libraries have entire sections dedicated to the genre. But there was a time when novels about spies were a rarity, and spy fiction or "spy-fi" as a genre was virtually unknown.
This is not to say that the business of espionage is anything new or that stories about spies did not exist before the 19th century. Espionage is among the most ancient professions. The ancient Egyptians utilised spies to great effect. The Chinese strategist Sun-Tzu and the Indian strategist Chanakya both discuss espionage in their writings. Founder of the Maurya Empire (which existed in India from 321 to 185 BCE) and a student of Chanaya, Chandragupta Maurya not only used secret agents to gather intelligence, but even to commit assassinations.
With the antiquity of espionage, it should not be surprising, then, that among the earliest accounts of spies can be found in Numbers XIII of the Torah. God instructed Moses to send men "that they might spy out the land of Canaan..." Moses sent his secret agents out into the wilderness of Paran with orders to "see the land and the people who dwell there, and whether they be strong or weak, few or many, and whether the land in which they dwell is good or bad, what cities they dwell in, whether those cities are strongholds or camps." Unfortunately, the intelligence which Moses' spies gathered was put to poor use, and the Hebrews would spend forty years in the wilderness. Fortunately, The Book of Joshua in the Tanakh tells of a more successful spy mission which led to the successful conquest of Jericho.
Espionage not only figured in ancient Jewish writings, but in ancient Greek writings as well. In The Illiad Odysseus and Diomedes ventured behind Trojan lines to assassinate Rhesus, who was at the centre of a prophecy which said if his horses drank from the river Scamander then Troy would never be taken.
Despite the fact that espionage was among the most ancient of professions, novels about spies would be far and few between prior to the late nineteenth century. The reason for this is simply that, while every country utilised spies, the profession was seen as a dishonourable one for much of Europe's history and later even North America's history. It was then inconceivable that anyone would write a novel in which a spy was the hero. In fact, what can be considered the first true spy-fi novel would not be published until 1821. That novel was The Spy: A Tale of the Neutral Ground by James Fenimore Cooper. The novel centred upon Harvey Birch, an American in the state of New York during the American Revolution wrongly suspected of being a British spy. As the first true piece of spy fiction The Spy: A Tale of the Neutral Ground is surprisingly sophisticated, dealing with the inherent dishonesty of the spy profession and the necessity of the profession's use during time of war. At the same time, however, it is very much a romantic novel, in which Cooper drew heavily upon the historical romances of Sir Walter Scott for inspiration. Cooper would revisit the theme of espionage in The Bravo: A Tale, set in early 18th century Venice.
Cooper's novels were not enough to establish spy fiction as a genre. For spy fiction to be established as a genre it would take British concerns over Britain being invaded by a foreign power and a writer of much less talent than James Fenimore Cooper. Following the Boer War the United Kingdom grew worried that the British Empire was in decline. Worse yet, as of 1900 the entire British Army was not in the United Kingdom. Between concern that the Empire was in decline and the absence of an army to defend the country, Britain was swept by fear of impending invasion from a foreign power. It was only a matter of time before a British novelist capitalised on the invasion scare in the United Kingdom at the turn of the century. That novelist was William Le Queux.
William Le Queux was an Anglo-French journalist for the Daily Mail who became the first author to write spy fiction regularly. It was in 1894 that his first novel was published, a novel which dealt with British concerns over invasion. The Great War in England in 1897 portrayed the French invading England with aid from Russia. Through the use of freedom fighters and espionage, Britain eventually turns the tide and defeats its French and Russian enemies. The Great War in England in 1897 proved wildly successful, leading Le Queux to write yet more espionage novels and even to write more invasion novels. In England's Peril French spymaster Gaston La Touche plots the downfall of Britain, in the end to be defeated by the brave agents of the British Secret Service (never mind MI-5 had yet not been founded...).
Concerns over the French invading the United Kingdom were soon dashed by the Entente Cordiale, a series of agreements signed on 8 April 1904 between the United Kingdom and France. This would not put an end to the invasion fantasies of Le Queux and his imitators. While Britain no longer worried about an invasion from French, it grew increasingly concerned at an invasion from another enemy, Germany. In 1906 The Invasion of 1910 by William Le Queux (with naval chapters by H. W. Wilson) was published. The novel centred upon Germany invading Britain by way of large force landing on the East Coast of England. Again, through a popular uprising and espionage, the British defeat the German invaders. This novel also proved very successful.
While William Le Queux was definitely a pioneer in the genre of spy-fi, his works are not well respected today. Although wildly successful in his day, today Le Queux's books are regarded not only as having an overly romantic and unrealistic view of espionage, but as very poorly written as well. Nonetheless, Le Queux would inspire more than his fair share of imitators. E. Philips Oppenheim cannot really be considered an imitator of Le Queux, although he too would explore the idea of German plots to overthrow Britain. His first novel, Expiation, published in 1887, dealt with neither espionage nor invasions, but he would turn to the genre which would make him famous soon enough. In 1898 Oppenheim's first espionage novel, Mysterious Mr. Sabin, was published. The novel dealt with Mr. Sabin, who steals British secrets with the intent of selling them to Germany. His most successful novel, The Great Impersonation was published following World War I. It concerned a German plot to keep Britain out of the war.
If anything Oppenheim had an even more successful career than Le Queux. Oppenheim ultimately published more than one hundred fifty novels, most of them either spy fiction or thrillers. Despite this, today Oppenheim is only a regarded as a little better than Le Queux. His most lasting legacy is only that he would have an influence on better authors than he was, namely John Buchan and Geoffrey Household.
Strangely enough, the invasion fantasies of Le Queux and Oppenheim would play a role in the foundation of MI-5. With undue concern over perceived plots by Germany to invade Britain (none of which actually existed) and worries over a perceived network of German spies in Britain (which did not exist either), the Secret Service Bureau (later renamed MI-5) was founded in 1909. The spy fantasies of the era played nearly as much a role in the foundation of MI-5 as any actual plots of Germany's secret service. Already spy-fi was having an impact on the public perception of spies.
Between William Le Queux and E. Phillips Oppenheim it might be tempting to write the earliest spy-fi novels off entirely. While Le Queux and Oppenheim may have been the genre's pioneers, they were hardly great writers. Fortunately, they would be joined by writers of quality soon enough. In fact, no less than Rudyard Kipling wrote one of the earliest and greatest spy-fi novels of all time. Kim, first serialised in McClure's from 1900 to 1901, has been called the "first spy novel." Given that it is pre-dated by Le Queux and his imitators, this is not quite accurate, but it was definitely the first spy novel of quality. Kim centres on the Great Game (as espionage was often called at the time) between Britain and Russia in Central Asia. It is notable not only for the most realistic portrayal of espionage up to that time, but for its detailed description of India and its peoples. It would have a lasting influence on the genre and prove that spy-fi could be a genre to be taken seriously.
Rudyard Kipling was not the only writer of quality to work in the genre of spy fiction. Author and adventurer Robert Erskine Childers began his writing career writing light detective stories for the Cambridge Review. He recorded his experiences in the Boer War in his first book In the Ranks of the C. I. V.. In 1903 his first work of fiction was published, The Riddle of the Sands. Like many novels of the time, The Riddle of the Sands concerned a German plot to conquer England. Unlike many novels of the time, it was a work which treated espionage realistically and contains an enormous amount of detail to add authenticity to the story. In this it would prove extremely influential, having an impact on authors as diverse as John Buchan, Ian Fleming, and John Le Carre.
Arthur Conan Doyle occasionally delved into espionage in his Sherlock Holmes stories. "The Naval Treaty", "The Second Stain," "The Bruce-Partington Plans," and "His Last Bow" all feature Sherlock Holmes going against spies. In "His Last Bow" Holmes even acts as a double agent, one of the earliest instances of such in fiction. Doyle then not only pioneered detective fiction, but then spy-fi as well.
Adventure novelist Joseph Conrad also wrote a spy fiction novel. The Secret Agent, published in 1907, was one of the first serious spy novels. The novel followed Mr. Verloc in his work as a secret agent. Not only did it provide a realistic view of espionage, but it examined the ideas of anarchism and terrorism as well, one of the earliest novels to do so.
World War I would see the emergence of the most influential of the early spy-fi authors. John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir, began his writing career with the novel John Burnet of Barns, published in 1898. In 1910 his first adventure novel, Prester John, was published. Nineteen fifteen saw the publication of his first espionage novel and what may be his most famous novel, The Thirty-Nine Steps. Set shortly before World War I, The Thirty-Nine Steps centred on stiff upper lip Englishman Richard Hannay, who uncovers a plot to assassinate the Greek Premier and steal British plans for the beginning of the war. The novel would prove extremely influential. Not only did it continue the tradition of providing the reader with an enormous amount of detail, started by Kipling and Childers, but it is also one of the earliest examples of the "man on the run" plot, not only influencing future spy thrillers, but other genres as well. It also introduced the genre's first recurring hero in Richard Hannay. Richard Hannay would appear as the protagonist in four more books: Greenmantle (1916), Mr Standfast (1919), The Three Hostages (1924), and The Island of Sheep (1936). While Rudyard Kipling and Robert Erskine Childers only dabbled in spy-fi, John Buchan became the first writer of quality to work in the genre regularly.
The end of World War I would not mean an end to spy fiction. If anything, following World War I the genre would become more sophisticated. Author W. Somerset Maugham had actually served as an intelligence officer in World War I, His novel Ashenden (1928) would then be a very accurate portrayal of wartime espionage. Ashenden would prove to have a influence on those spy-fi writers to come, including authors as diverse as Ian Fleming, John Le Carre, and Robert Ludlum. Strangely enough, another former intelligence officer would provide the genre with what may its first parody. Water on the Brain, published in 1933, was written by Sir Edward Montague Compton Mackenzie, better known simply as Compton Mackenzie. While other works focused on the adventure and romance of espionage, Water on the Brain was a rather savage satire on the absurdities of the espionage profession, based on Mackenzie's own experience in intelligence.
While other authors wrote about professional spies, thriller writer Eric Ambler introduced the idea of ordinary people who become involved in espionage. Ambler first explored this theme in his second novel, Uncommon Danger, first published in 1938. In the novel a British journalist, Kenton, inadvertently finds himself involved wish spies in pre-war Europe. Ambler would explore the idea of ordinary people caught in the spy game again and again, most notably in Journey into Fear (1940), in which a British engineer runs afoul of German agents.
Spy-fi has generally been the province of men, but among the earliest authors in spy fiction were women. The first espionage novel of Helen MacInnes, Above Suspicion, was published in 1941. The novel centred on British newlyweds who find themselves recruited by British Secret Service to spy on the Germans on the eve of World War II. The novel began a career which would span 45 years. Another woman would also be responsible for many classic spy-fi novels. Adelaide Frances Oke Manning and her neighbour Cyril Henry Coles wrote several spy thrillers under the pseudonym Manning Coles. Their first such novel, Drink to Yesterday, introduced one of spy-fi's earliest recurring characters. Thomas Elphinstone Hambledon would appear in 26 of the Manning Coles novels in total. A teacher in a British boarding school at the beginning of Drink to Yesterday, Hambledon finds himself involved in espionage during World War I. Hambledon would not always be the protagonist in his appearances in the Manning Coles novels, appearing only in a small role in some of them. The Manning Coles novels benefited from the real life experiences of Cyril Coles, who worked for British Intelligence in both World War I and World War II.
Geoffrey Household was another author who wrote spy-fi before World War I. While Household would also write works with elements of the supernatural and even science fiction, some of his more notable works were spy-fi. His most famous work may be Rogue Male, published in 1939. In Rogue Male an un-named British sportsman decides to hunt the most dangerous game of the era--Adolph Hitler. Household's career would span fifty years.
As stated above, many of the writers of spy-fi from the turn of the century to the eve of World War II would prove very influential. Indeed, Kim, Riddle of the Sands, The Thirty-Nine Steps, The Secret Agent, Ashenden, Journey into Fear, and Above Suspicion would all be adapted into motion pictures (the most famous of which may well be Hitchcock's The 39 Steps. These movies would in turn influence future spy-fi writers. Of course, September 1, 1939 would see an event that would change spy fiction forever. It was that day that World War II, the biggest conflict known to man, began. Not only would it change Europe and Asia forever, but spy-fi would never be the same.