Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Mysterious Adam Diment

"In the future everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes." Andy Warhol

The above, often paraphrased quote originated in Mr. Warhol's catalogue for an exhibit at the Moderna Museet, in Stockholm in 1968, but it might as well have been said of the year 1968 itself. Indeed, there may be no better example of someone who was extremely famous for a brief time than author Adam Diment. In 1967 his novel The Dolly, Dolly Spy was published to accolades and a huge amount of press. The book featured a spy as never seen before, the pot smoking, thoroughly Mod Philip McAlpine. Mr. Diment would write three more novels featuring McApine (The Great Spy Race and The Bang, Bang Birds from 1968, Think Inc. from 1971) before disappearing from public view. Since then both he and his books have been largely forgotten.

 Adam Diment was born in 1948, the son of an upper middle class  farmer in Sussex, England. He was educated at Lansing, a private boarding school in West Sussex. According to a newspaper article by Dick Kleiner of the Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) published around July 23, 1968, Mr. Diment had worked in both publishing and advertising, but liked neither. It was in 1967 that Mr. Diment's agent sent the manuscript for The Dolly, Dolly Spy to publisher Michael Joseph. Not only did Michael Joseph buy the book, but they did so for an unheard sum of money for a work by an unpublished writer. They also signed Adam Diment to write an entire series of books. What is more, Diment's agent would go onto sell The Dolly, Dolly Spy in 17 other countries, including Australia, Canada, and the United States. The Dolly, Dolly Spy was at the centre of a good deal of publicity. In the years 1967-1968 there was a good deal of newspaper coverage of Adam Diment. Indeed, to promote the publication of The Dolly, Dolly Spy in the United States, Mr. Diment did a book tour across the country. He would even be photographed by Life magazine.

Today it must seem unusual that there would be so much furore over a spy novel, but then it must be pointed out that The Dolly, Dolly Spy was a very  unusual spy novel. Its protagonist was Philip McAlpine, a pot smoking, Chelsea swinger who loves girls and fast cars. McAlpine is blackmailed into working for a rather shadowy part of British Intelligence with the threat he will be arrested for drug dealing. As to his blackmailer, that would be his boss in British Intelligence, a thorough sadist named Rupert Quine. Quine is a complete dandy whose speech pattern is total camp. He consistently refers to McAlpine as "honey" and "sweetie." Quine was as far from M from Ian Fleming's James Bond novels or Mac from Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm as one could get. Philip McAlpine dressed in the latest Mod fashions and used the most up to date slang. In other respects, however, The Dolly, Dolly Spy had all the necessary ingredients of Sixties, Bondian spy fiction: lots of sex and lots of violence. Indeed, the plot of The Dolly, Dolly Spy is similar to other, contemporary spy novels--McAlpine must abduct a former member of the Waffen SS.

Adam Diment
To the press at the time The Dolly, Dolly Spy was published, it seemed clear that Adam Diment had based Philip McAlpine on himself. He was young, only 22 when the book was published. He was also described as tall and good looking. He also dressed the part, wearing Regency suits and frilly shirts. Like McAlpine, Mr. Diment also loved beautiful girls. The two also had a less legal habit in common. By his own admission (the aforementioned article by NEA's Dick Kleiner being an example), Adam Diment smoked marijuana. In the above referenced article, he even expresses surprise that he had "..never been arrested, given the notoriety the book had." Indeed, in the article Mr. Diment also expressed the idea that it should be legalised.

Because its hero and its author both smoked marijuana, The Dolly, Dolly Spy did cause a bit of controversy upon its publication in the United Kingdom. It also proved to be a roaring success, something it would repeat in most of the seventeen countries in which it was published. The Great Spy Race was published in March 1968. The book centred upon Philip McAlpine working to get to a secret microfilm before enemy agents can do so. The novel received the same sterling reviews that the first book did. In fact, it would be in 1968 that Hollywood would come calling upon Mr. Diment's door.

It was in 1968 that United Artists bought the rights to The Dolly, Dolly Spy. The movie was to be produced by Stanley Canter and Desmond Elliot (Adam Diment's agent), and was set to star David Hemmings (of Blowup fame) as McAlpine. The movie did seem to present United Artists with some problems. In the above cited article by Dick Kleiner, Adam Diment discussed whether the movie would include McAlpine's pot habit or not. The movie was even mentioned in a blurb in the Thriller Book Club edition of of the third novel, The Bang Bang Birds. Unfortunately, it would seem that a movie adaptation of The Dolly, Dolly Spy would never materialise. As to why, that remains a mystery to this day.

It was in November, 1968  that the third McAlpine novel, The Bang Bang Birds, was published. In the novel Philip McAlpine's assignment is to investigate the mysterious Aviary Organisation, who own a chain of brothels worldwide. Of course, all of this is a cover for more nefarious activities, such as collecting intelligence through such means as blackmail and murder. The Bang Bang Birds also received good reviews and sold well.

Given the success of the Philip McAlpine books, it might seem odd that The Bang Bang Birds would be the last one for some time. Throughout 1969 very little is heard of Adam Diment or his Mod, superspy hero. Interestingly enough, there were two anonymously letters sent to the Bank of England's Exchange Control Department in March 1969, only recently released by the National Archives. The letters allege that in November 1968 American producer Stanley Canter gave Adam Diment a cheque in the amount of $2,400. In return the letters allege that Adam Diment gave Mr. Canter a cheque for £1000 drawn on Mr. Diment's account at Barclay's Bank in London. The letter goes on to claim that Mr. Canter cashed the cheque and Mr. Diment smuggled the American dollars out of the United Kingdom to Rome, where he stayed for three months. One of the letters alleged that some of the money was for Mr. Diment " spend on the Continent, some of it on drugs."

It is probably important not to make more of these accusations than there actually are. The two letters are remarkably similar in tone and writing style, to the point that it seems in all likelihood they were written by the same person. Indeed, to my admittedly untrained eye they look like they could have been composed on the same typewriter. It seems most likely to me that the letters were written by some individual with an axe to grind against Messrs. Diment and Canter. At any rate, neither Adam Diment nor Stanley Canter were ever arrested for a currency swindle, let alone ever prosecuted for one. It is pretty clear that if either of both of them had, it would have made the news in 1969.

Regardless, there would be only one more book featuring Philip McAlpine and only one more book by Adam Diment. Think, Inc. was published in May 1971. In Think, Inc. McAlpine has been fired from his job as a superspy and soon finds that several different intelligence agencies want him dead. To survive he takes a job with a very exclusive criminal organisation. The author's biography on Think, Inc. claimed Adam Diment was living in Zurich at the time and working on a fifth book. A fifth book never came.

Since then Adam Diment, whose photo was once in Life and whose books were lauded by The Daily Mirror and The New York Times, has largely been forgotten by the general public, as have his books. Among his fans, both those whose read the books when they first published and those who have developed since then, the reason Adam Diment stopped writing remains a mystery. As is often the case with mysteries, rumours have run rampant as to what happened to Mr. Diment. There are those who claim he went to India to live in an ashram. Another rumour is that he settled in Kent and took up farming.  Other rumours are far more darker.

While it is impossible to say if Adam Diment took up farming in Kent without the author himself coming forward, it seems most likely that he simply retired from writing. In the aforementioned article by NEA's Dick Kleiner, published in July 1968, Mr. Diment stated, "I'm getting a little tired of the character now." It seems possible that Adam Diment simply tired of Philip McAlpine and perhaps tired of writing entirely. He may have then simply retired.

Regardless, even though Philip McAlpine and his creator have largely been forgotten, they may have had a lasting impact. It was in 1968 that The Final Programme by Michael Moorcock was published, the first novel to feature superspy and adventurer Jerry Cornelius. While there are considerable differences between McAlpine and Cornelius, it must be pointed out that, like McAlpine, Cornelius is an anti-hero, a post-modern James Bond, and a hipster (at least in The Final Programme). Cornelius parties, does drugs, and has lots of sex (even with his own sister). While McAlpine was probably not an inspiration for Cornelius, he may have certainly paved the way for him.

While Philip McAlpine most likely did not inspire Jerry Cornelius, it seems likely he was a source of inspiration for Grant Morrison's comic book character Gideon Stargrave. Gideon Stargrave was introduced in 1978 in the British anthology title Near Myths. Like both McAlpine and Cornelius, Stargrave was a spy. Like both McAlpine and Cornelius, he took drugs.   Like both McAlpine and Cornelius, he has a lot of sex. Like McAlpine, he is a sharp dresser. Unlike McAlpine, Stargrave may also be bisexual. It seems possible that Philip McAlpine was a source of inspiration for Gideon Stargrave. It is a certainty that Jerry Cornelius was a source of inspiration for Stargrave. Not only has Grant Morrison admitted such, but Michael Moorcock has made statements on more than one occasion that Morrison outright plagiarised Cornelius to create Stargrave.

Another possible legacy of Philip McAlpine is the character of Austin Powers. First introduced in the movie Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997), Austin Powers is a hip superspy who dresses in somewhat exaggerated, Mod fashion, frequently uses Britsh slang from the Sixties, and has lots of sex. In fact, the primary difference between the Philip McAlpine novels and the Austin Powers movies is that the Austin Powers movies are outright spoofs of Sixties spy movies and Swinging London, while the Philip McAlpine novels are serious works of spy fiction. Many have cited the possibility that the TV series Adam Adamant Lives was an inspiration for Austin Powers, while Elizabeth Hurley has said British presenter and DJ Simon Dee was also an inspiration for the character, but given the similarities between Philip McAlpine and Austin Powers it seems likely that McAlpine also inspired Powers.

Upon the publication of The Dolly, Dolly Spy, Adam Diment and his books enjoyed a great deal of publicity. In the years 1967-1968 he was considered one of the great, young authors of the Sixties. And while the books would develop a following and would prove to have a lasting impact on pop culture, both Adam Diment and his creation Philip McAlpine would be forgotten. It would seem that Andy Warhol was wrong. Oh, he was apparently right about everyone being world famous for fifteen minutes, but he was wrong about the time. It would not be in the future. It was in the Sixties.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Interesting read, thanks for posting it. I wonder how close UA came to making that David Hemmings film version.