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The Ipcress File
The Ipcress File
by Len Deighton
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: 6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars The name's Osborne, John Osborne, 18 Nov 2013
This novel was published 51 years ago. But it still seems fresh today and despite its subject matter it is not dated. The film version widely diverges from the written plot.

'The Ipcress File' was the début work by Deighton and appeared right in the middle of the burgeoning East-West confrontations of Berlin and Cuba. There were also ongoing spy scandals, the defection of Philby and the Portland Spy Ring kept espionage centre-stage.

It does appear to be the work of an Angry Young Man, trying to create a kitchen-sink antithesis to James Bond or Bulldog Drummond, someone for whom Queen and Country is not a near-spiritual experience but a day job with bureaucracy and salary arrears. So instead of the suave lantern-jawed, dinner-jacketed martini-swiller we have an antihero, a veteran of various dubious escapades who so distrusts his own service that he keeps a series of false identities in circulation. We never know his name and it is likely that he is employed in his main job using a false one.

There are several strands to the plot, but the main one revolves around the growing realisation that an increasing number of high-achievers are behaving oddly and could be endangering the security of the state. The plot weaves through pre-swinging 1960s London, The Lebanon, a Pacific Atoll used for weapons tests (a fictionalised version of Johnston Island?) and 'Communist Hungary'. The good guys win and the bad guys lose, but there is compromise and the world of espionage is depicted as not having very concrete values. There are shades of grey, but then in the 21st century we are accustomed to this to the point of cliché. Betrayal by the state against a protagonist is normal. In the early 1960s, the dying days of deference, this was not so clear. When the book came out MacMillan was in Downing Street, Kennedy was in the White House, Khrushchev was in the Kremlin and change to this state of affairs seemed unlikely. Three years later they had all gone as the world as a whole became more uncertain as the atmosphere of this novel.

The novel was widely acclaimed on publication as a breath of fresh air in a genre that was apparently highly formulaic. Its cover was new. Other novels usually had a painting depicting some action point featuring the hero and, in all probability, a pneumatic female sidekick in a provocative situation. The cover, of which the one here is a homage featured smoked cigarettes, a cup of coffee, paperclips, bullets and a revolver. The public went wild. Deighton was made.

In updating the genre, Deighton had to make allowances for readers accustomed to the traditional form of the genre. Thus there is a lengthy exposition after the denouement. But this did encourage me to re-read the novel to see how this all fitted in.

There is also mention of a 'neutron bomb', which pre-dates the enhanced radiation weapon of the Carter era. This was confusing to me as the weapon described is not explosive. Rather it 'showers' the target with neutrons. This is one area where hindsight can cause confusion, in my opinion.

The style of writing is in places reminiscent of William Gibson and as such the 'Ipcress File' has the potential to be described as the first Atompunk novel. It certainly will reward reading and re-reading. Espionage today is less about human intelligence than data capture and analysis and the modern defectors appear to work in that area. This book will transport you back to a time where there were agents outside of democratic scrutiny who worked for a cause, but also worked for themselves and did not have the consciences which seem to be highly developed today.


Gangster No. 1 [DVD]
Gangster No. 1 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Malcolm McDowell
Offered by DVDBayFBA
Price: 4.78

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not Truly Awful, 8 Oct 2013
This review is from: Gangster No. 1 [DVD] (DVD)
The challenge faced by the maker of any gangster film is to try to find a unique angle. The problem is that the nature of the gangster appears quite uniform, a group of individuals who see themselves as having no fear of the forces of the law and acting accordingly, making up their own rules to live by. The other problem is how to balance the film.

'The Godfather', seen as the gold standard of gangster films virtually completely ignored the nuts and bolts of organised crime - this is the organised criminal activity - and focused instead on the dynamics of the ruling elite and their interactions with rival organisations.

'Goodfellas' , took the opposing view, starting from the bottom up. The use of violence is a standard, as is an examination of the psychological problems that appear to accompany those who see killing as a form of business.

Then there is the gangster film as dark comedy. 'The Italian Job' and anything by Guy Ritchie falls into this area. Here we see criminals as lovable oafs, capering relatively unhindered by such inconveniences as the police or jail to achieve their goal of getting something for nothing, apart from intense violence.

Modern gangsterism as a sociological phenomenon is quite young, perhaps less than a century old. But it appears to have all the characteristics of the aristocracy of the Middle Ages - Wars of the Roses with machine guns - and as such is disconcertingly familiar. This is why such films enjoy popular appeal, they simply reprise the same kind of stories, but updated with modern settings. It is no surprise that 'Macbeth' could be remade in a 1930s gangster setting by the director of 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang'.

Which brings us to 'Gangster No.1'. As can be seen from the distribution of the reviews here, this is a film that is either loved or hated. Given that I am awarding this film two stars, you can see which view I more closely favour. The only reason it does not get one star is that there are considerably worse films out there and the one-star rating should not be overused.

The film was obviously produced to cash in on the late '90s popularity of, well, gangster films, perhaps brought about by the widespread critical and popular acclaim for the work of Guy Ritchie and Tarantino. But where their criminal fantasies succeed in charming the audience, this film fails. And in so doing it also demonstrates that no number of good actors can rescue a film for a poor script, weak direction and overuse of clichés. McDowell is a fantastic baddie elsewhere but here. Bettany was superb in 'Margin Call' and is clearly wasted here.

The use of a mockney voice-over by McDowell distracts from the drama. It may have worked in 'Lock Stock...' but it falls flat on its face here. The film tries to give us a fly-on-the-wall look at gangland life in the 1960s but the scenes seem contrived and over-long. The central drama seems to be tugged between two poles, that of a rivalry between Thewlis' gang and that run by an obvious Kray lookalike and the ambitions of Thewlis' top lieutenant who is plucked, Harry Potter-style, from a pool hall to become the most trusted confidante with only a haircut and an expensive suit in between. The gimmick here - the titular character has no name - was better done in 'Layer cake'. Here all we know is that the character has the same initials as his new boss, otherwise his giving him the initialled tie-pin makes absolutely no sense except in a homoerotic context, something which is suggested but not explored. The violence is seriously overdone here. The idea may have been to be as authentic as possible about how criminals torture and execute their rivals, but it just comes over as bad acting with a lot of fake blood. Gangster violence on screen only succeeds it if is either stylish or banal. The in-car killings of Sonny and Paulie in the 'Godfather' respectively demonstrate these. Anything else is just torture porn and belongs in another genre.

The psychological descent of the titular character is also not fully explored. I have a suspicion that this may be on the cutting-room floor. Thus the behaviour of Malcolm McDowell makes no sense as it lacks context. We see a montage of the rise and rise of Mr. Big, but the deterioration is not addressed. Thus the finale, where Thewlis is released and looking surprisingly youthful after his 30-year stretch, makes absolutely no sense and simply reinforces the fact that no amount of talent can rescue a scene from poor scripting and direction. The end, a suicide reminiscent of Cagney's 'White Heat', is just bizarre.

There is, in fact, only a pair of scenes which look as though they belong in a better film. This is when the gangster sees a low-level member associating with the Kray lookalike and goes to his council flat and interrogates him. Then he decides to kill his associate who was there when the fact of the hit on Thewlis was disclosed so the hit will not be thwarted. These scenes are in sharp relief with the rest of the film. On their own they do not justify watching the film as the rest is a by-the-numbers homage to countless predecessors. The supporting characters are mainly ciphers who are there to fill out the scenes and do not add colour. Kenneth Cranham clearly had a couple of spare afternoons when he was not busy. The generation gap between him and the other gangsters is never explored. The film tries to sail against the tide when it refuses to have the ambitious gangster start an affair with Thewlis' moll, but it does not work. The moll is an unnecessary plot distraction. She is no Diane Keaton.

This is not a film to hate for wasting your time and insulting your intelligence. But neither is it worth watching. It is obviously shot on a budget and as such cannot recreate the 1960s in an immersive fashion. The lack of extras outside of the pub and club scenes add to the unnecessary emptiness of the film which is based in one of the most populous cities on earth.

I do guarantee you will be disappointed with this film. Ignore the slick graphics of the cover art which are a desperate attempt to look stylish. If you ignore this review, you only have yourself to blame.


One Minute To Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War
One Minute To Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War
by Michael Dobbs
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Uneven and padded account for the casual reader, 25 Sep 2013
I did approach this book with anticipation. I have been performing private research into the crisis and it was good for me to have a single volume account as a base-line.

Unfortunately this book sells itself on sensational revelations and a dramatic day-to-day account but falls short.

The Cuban Missile crisis was not something that started when the USA discovered the SS-4 sites on 14 October after a U-2 overflight. Still less did it start with JFK's televised announcement on 22 October. This is like stating that the Second World War started merely on 1 September 1939, when the origins are as important as the war itself. This is even more important in the First World War in 1914. And it is this part that is neglected in this book. The seeds of the crisis were sown months, if not years previously. This is not covered properly. Nor is the fact that people in the US were well aware for weeks beforehand that the Soviets were sending soldiers to Cuba and that plans had started to be drawn up.

The fact that the US government had been running a sustained campaign of sabotage under the CIA's Operation Mongoose is touched on only in detail with the actions that take place during the crisis itself. However the operation, which had been running for over a year, probably informed Castro's alignment with the USSR. The stationing of missiles had a lot to do with the serious inferiority of the USSR's intercontinental striking power, but this became apparent almost exactly one year previously when the US Government revealed the sheer size and reach of its nuclear arsenal for the first time. This is not really covered in detail.

Thus the context of the crisis, with Operation Mongoose, the 'missile gap' and its exposure as bogus, the rivalry in Germany, Khrushchev's economic and political difficulties are virtually ignored. Virtually no mention is made of the ongoing nuclear tests that took place throughout the crisis. The Kapustin Yar launch program, which saw more than 1 rocket a day being launched is not covered.

Dobbs would have done better to have discussed the crisis as a thesis that this was the only actual shooting war that took place between the USSR and the USA and also that the war was severely limited due to the inability of strategists on both sides to be able to control the level of military and nuclear escalation as neither side had seriously considered it. He also fails to explore in detail the communication problems experienced by both sides, especially the Kremlin. There is no indication of how long it took for orders to be despatched between Moscow and Cuba, and this at what time both sides knew what the other side was doing.

Another problem is that despite the book being written some 46 years after the events he is describing, Dobbs is unable to tell us exactly how the USSR people first got to hear of the crisis. We know about Kennedy's televised address on October 22. Why not tell us what happened in Russia? We only get snippets, like one page of Isvestia denying the existence of missiles, while the other admits and justifies it. The meetings at the Kremlin are described in highly limited detail. Even this omission could have been explained better in the narrative.

Then there is the padding. A classic example of this is part of the central new revelation, that there was a type of nuclear-tipped cruise missile deployed on the island. But that is not all. Dobbs tells us that the ancestor of the cruise missile is the V-1 that was used against London in the Second World War. This kind of unnecessary back story is apparent throughout the book. We even get a section on the Nedelin disaster, which is so tangential to the story of the crisis that it has to be included to fill out the pages. The U-2 incident of 1960 gets far too much of an airing. There is also a degree of repetition, especially about the cruise missiles. Whether Kennedy had sex with one of his numerous mistresses is also discussed.

As this book is about a military confrontation it would make sense to have more detail on the military hardware involved. There are photographs, but there is no picture of the missiles that actually sparked the crisis. There is much mention of the Il-28 'Beagle' bombers, but again, we do not see what one looks like. Perhaps including a technical section would have made the book larger, but then some of the padding could have been removed. Dobbs also has a problem over what he should be calling the FROG missiles. Dobbs misses some important but interesting details, like the fact that the MiG-21 could not use all the fuel in its tanks as after some had been used up, the balance of the 'plane was affected and it became hazardous to fly. This has been in the public domain for at least 30 years and would have been 'good padding'.

The problem with dramatising the crisis is that it was very quickly resolved after Black Saturday and by the end of the weekend the situation had vastly improved. Even on Black Saturday it was merely the delay in message delivery that caused uncertainty. The loss of the U-2 was disturbing but ExComm managed to determine an appropriate response. Dobbs tries to indicate that somehow the US Generals would have been able to force through an aggressive policy even if Kennedy and his supporters opposed it. But this may have been because some of them were willing to bet the country in a nuclear contest. However he does not make it clear if the soldiers were ever taken seriously in this respect.

No mention is made of the effect of the crisis on the Congressional mid-term elections that took place a week later.

The notes to the book are not properly numbered. The only way you can locate a note is to refer to the text mentioned and the page it is on. Numbered notes in the text are a standard part of a properly researched book. Their deliberate omission here is curious.

So the book is really only about what went on during the thirteen days, but the narrative is interrupted by too much padding. There is insufficient technical detail and this book seems to have been designed for the casual holiday reader who has no real interest in matters military, or perhaps politics, and probably will never read another book on this topic. But this was a military confrontation which was under political control. But the narrative does not really grip the reader to that effect. Instead it is written almost in the style of a thriller.

Buy this book only if you never want to read anything else on the topic.


Britannica Book of the Year 1987
Britannica Book of the Year 1987

5.0 out of 5 stars Does exactly what it says..., 27 Aug 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This book is a must for those who really want to know everything that went on in 1986 from a contemporaneous view, but do not want to sift through old newspaper cuttings.

The design quality has improved from the design apparently adopted in the 1960s and marks Britannica getting away from trying to appear modernistic. Half of the book is a Gazetteer of nations of the world. Pears Cyclopaedia does something similar but in a different structure.

An ideal gift for anyone born in 1986 to show them then world they were born in to at a point when they were far too young to appreciate what was going on. This will help them contextualise their earliest experiences.


Immortal [DVD]
Immortal [DVD]
Dvd ~ Charlotte Rampling
Price: 12.38

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At last - A Grown-up CGI Sci-Fi film., 19 Aug 2013
This review is from: Immortal [DVD] (DVD)
This film is one of those that separate the wheat from the chaff. By that I mean that no attention need be paid to the rantings of the one- and two-star ratings here. Those reviewers made a mistake. They assumed that CGI and Science Fiction equals 'Star Wars' or 'Transformers' or some such. Slick graphics and lots of property damage involving projectiles and explosives.

Sorry guys. CGI Sci-Fi has grown up.

Just like with kids' movies, the barrier to entry into CGI has lowered. The consequence for those Pixar knock-offs is that quality writing and direction has relaxed. Pixar created the market and others piled in, but they made the mistake of believing that crisp appealing visuals and impossible set-piece stunts could compensate for deficiencies in other areas. This is not the case. You can polish anything, but no amount of polish can disguise what you are actually polishing.

Here it is the reverse. The quality of the writing is much, much better. The lowering of the barrier to entry means that there is no need to attract a mass-market audience with the simplest common denominator.

So, gentle reader, the point I am hopefully making is that the criticisms of this film you see elsewhere are because the genre and production values attracted the wrong sort of audience who made erroneous assumptions. But that is their problem.

I came across Bilal far too many years ago in the Heavy Metal anthology magazine. I always found his graphics appealing, but the actual plot and action eluded me. Perhaps this is because I am not French. However this was not Bilal's fault. Bilal aspires to raising comic art to the level of literature, employing techniques more associated with novels. The French take their 'bandes desinees' far more seriously than we did in the Anglosphere prior to 'Watchmen'. Heavy Metal magazine always had a serious quantity of French content.

So although I was aware of Bilal, its presentation in Heavy Metal in its necessarily episodic format made it difficult to follow and get engaged. But that's my fault.

The film is not a highly faithful adaptation of the comic. But that's not a problem. 'Watchmen' was highly faithful, but it lack of pacing for a single sitting of an episodic drama made it hard to engage. Bilal's designs also influenced the look and feel of 'Blade Runner' so it is not too surprising that this film is being compared to it.

Just like 'Star Wars' there is an integration between CGI characters and human. The difference here is that it is not seamless. The lighting and shading of the CGI actors means you can tell the difference. But since you could do so in 'Star Wars' simply because what you saw on the screen was impossible in real life then this is academic and also in this film the fact that you know the CGI characters are just that is not really a distraction. They do blend in. Plus part of the plot is that human genetic re-engineering has gone wild on the planet, so this simply emphasises the 'otherness' of the CGI characters.

The core plot of the film is simple and yet is convoluted by its environment. The Egyptian god Horus has been condemned to death by his divine peers in the giant pyramid that floats above late 21st-century New York. For his bloodline to survive, he has to impregnate a human female. There is a subplot involving political machinations, plus the intrusion of a sinister eugenics organisation that appears to be above the law. Horus, however has a problem. To copulate, he has to possess a human form, but all the re-gened humans explode when he inhabits their bodies. So he has to find an pure human specimen and also find Miss Right.

Think 'Donnie Darko'. Something has to be done before a looming deadline.

I won't give away any more, except to point out that Miss Right is actually played by a former Miss France. Charlotte Rampling is also here. And she is, in my opinion, an actress who can do no wrong. It's a crush thing.

There is not a crass performance in the film and the visuals are always superb. The film does drift close to the spareness of 'Ghost in the Shell', but stays as far away as it is possible to do so in a high-tech dystopian world. There is limited angst here (Manga is stuffed with it), but that may be because the French don't do angst. They do passion.

So this is film with an interesting plot, some of which is not fully explained but then does every film need the intro card receding into the universe to be enjoyable? We are where we are in this film. It is literary and as such aspires to a higher form of entertainment. You will want to watch this film again, not for the spectaculars, but for the nuances. And to revel in the visuals.

If you come to this film expecting bangs, crashes and machismo you will be disappointed. CGI has moved away from the barrel of a laser blaster and is now attracting a more mature audience. Play no attention to the 1- or 2-star reviews here. They say more about the reviewers than they do about the film.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 4, 2014 7:21 PM GMT


Bomber: Events Relating to the Last Flight of an RAF Bomber Over Germany on the Night of June 31st, 1943
Bomber: Events Relating to the Last Flight of an RAF Bomber Over Germany on the Night of June 31st, 1943
by Len Deighton
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: 5.59

2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars 'Let's all go to war and let's all die', 15 July 2013
The above quote is taken from Paul Verhoven's own description of his film 'Starship Troopers'. It is quite apt in this context. This book was published in 1970, as the sixties stopped swinging and withdrawal symptoms of the hangover decade took over.

'Bomber' is a very downbeat book. The characters all speak in a sardonic fashion as if nothing works. Some of them lecture the reader. It is decidedly and perhaps deliberately an antidote to all of those gung-ho W.E. Johns 'Biggles defies the swastika' novels that perhaps informed films like 'The Dambusters', where the human cost of war is left to a coda after the main action where every one dies a heroic death.

There are no heroes in 'Bomber'. Everyone is just doing a job and anyone who actually looks like they are trying to have a good war is the object of derision. This does not make this an anti-war book. No argument is made against war itself. Instead all we have is a catalogue of people's deaths in a rather hopeless situation.

And that is essentially what Deighton has written. He sets up the characters with detailed potted back-stories and then kills them off in a variety of ways. Characters are flattened to death under bombs they are loading, have their faces shattered by birdstrikes, shot down by flak, burnt alive by target flares, crushed by falling masonry, eviscerated by shrapnel, fall out of the sky when their plane's fuel runs out, drop to the earth when their parachute fails, beaten to death with spades by vengeful Germans, pummelled by falling planes, run over by trucks, guillotined for treason, ruptured to death by explosive shockwaves and incinerated by phosphorus particles. Some people are actually blasted into small pieces by explosive bombs. One man, a Nazi, goes mad. We get all their lives and then we get their deaths.

The problem with this novel is that the life stories, followed by the death stories, together with the accurate technical exposition appears as though they are merely quoted from a card index. Deighton tells us of the immense effort of research he made in order to make this work as authentic as possible. It could be that he spent so much time on the research that he had no time to complete the novel to meet the deadline and had to dash something off quickly. Either that or the work was brutally edited to make it a reasonable size. If the latter is true, perhaps Deighton could revisit the work and give us a 'Director's Cut'. It worked for Ridley Scott after all in another medium. And interest in Bomber Command is actually increasing as modern revisionism successfully challenges the assertion of some biased historians that the campaign shaded into war crime.

So this book is a disappointment. It does not flow as prose and perhaps only works as a clumsy form of docudrama. Deighton is, of course, a highly successful author. His 'Declarations of War' book of short stories is well-written. He made his name with his 'Harry Palmer' stories, which were told in the first person. But Harry Palmer was not a bomber pilot and Deighton's attempt to expand his prose style into a range of characters and a rigidly historical setting is not a success.

With 'Bomber' Deighton may have been obliged by his publishers to follow the cultural acceptance in the UK for the 30 years after the war that Bomber Command was something to be ashamed of, like 'Oh! What a Lovely War' but with Nazis and Lancasters. This however is no longer the case and as such the book is dated. War is a terrible business, but Bomber Command fought a good war and the people in it were not all the manic depressives or death obsessives Deighton writes about. Things go wrong in war. But for us in the UK a lot went right. Deighton wrote a novel without hope and hopelessness was a kind of meme in the 1970s. But hope was what everyone in Britain was fighting for otherwise we would have surrendered in 1940.

Read this book only if you feel you are getting far too happy for your own good.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 8, 2014 7:35 PM GMT


Europe's Last Summer: Why the World Went to War in 1914
Europe's Last Summer: Why the World Went to War in 1914
by David Fromkin
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.39

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good casual read, but with drawbacks for the serious student, 8 Jun 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I was attracted to this book as it is extensively cited in the Wikipedia article on the July Crisis of 1914, which is the subject of the book.

And it is a good read. It comes up with the concept that the origins of the First World War were actually two wars that were intertwined and that the first of these war, the Austro-Serbian conflict was subverted by the Germans for the second, which was the Russo-German fight. If you want a quick read about the preparations for war made by the guilty parties, which are conclusively Austria and Germany, the this is the book for you.

By the book does have one major fault.

As with all books based on factual events or concepts, it relies on the author having to refer to other books on the topic. Thus unless a book is about topics in the author's direct personal experience, the author will inevitable be writing material based on books that he or she has read. It is thus vital that when assertions are made that these are back up by a reference to the source used. Time and time again there is a major revelation in the book about what historical figure knew what when and it would have been so useful to know where the author found this snippet of information. Why? Well in my case it would be because I happen to own a good selection of the works mentioned in the bibliography. Thus for me the delight of being able to locate the very same book that the author used is denied. This also means that my understanding of what the author did with the information is missing. This may be a personal observation related solely to my interest in the topic, but it does demonstrate a wider point. This is that this book in this context appears to be designed for a reader who does not propose to read any other book on the topic and no-one else. There are citations but these are few and far between and seem to be put there for effect.

So, to summarise, this book is really designed as a one-off read and not to be a work of reference integrating into the other works on the subject. For the serious student of the July Crisis this is a quick read that summarises all the main points, but it is not a standard work, despite its extensive citations in Wikipedia. It does benefit from being recent and thus makes use of all the scholarship of the 90 years since the crisis itself, but it does not really compare with more rigorous works.

It would be simple for the author to produce a centenary edition (the book itself came out for the 90th anniversary), by introducing citations and more relevant annotation. But that is a decision for the author.

So, three stars for the serious reader, one extra for the casual reader.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 24, 2013 8:18 PM BST


Smiley's People [1982] [DVD]
Smiley's People [1982] [DVD]
Price: 8.25

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Slow-paced sequel, 8 April 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Smiley's People [1982] [DVD] (DVD)
This is Alec Guinness' second and final outing as George Smiley.

It provides the cathartic conclusion to the saga as he finally captures his lifetime nemesis, Karla.

John le Carre was involved in the direction of this adaptation from his novel of the same name. And this perhaps demonstrates why authors should be kept firmly away from visualising their art.

The pacing of the episodes is all wrong. Characters drop in and out of of the plot to advance the story forward, but serve little other function and thus could be interchangeable.

The problem here appears to be that a faithful following of the novel results in a quite under-dramatic experience. There should have been better editing of the script. But with the author actually involved in the production process, this may have been awkward.

Another issue has to be the video transfer. It may well be that inferior film stock and lighting was used to make the series, but this has not been cleaned up and the image seems grubby and over-grainy. In black-and-white films it may add to the atmosphere. In colour films it simply spoils them.

If you like the original 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy', you may be disappointed to find here that this sequel lacks the same atmosphere and direction. As a detective story it lacks focus and drive. If you have read the book (as I have not) then this may be a delight in bringing the printed word to life. But there may be a risk that the images in your head are better than the ones you see on the screen.


Wings on My Sleeve: The World's Greatest Test Pilot tells his story
Wings on My Sleeve: The World's Greatest Test Pilot tells his story
by Captain Eric Brown
Edition: Paperback
Price: 11.82

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Me 163B - Did he or didn't he?, 19 Dec 2012
Having been the proud owner of 'Wings of the Luftwaffe' since 1978, I was rather pleased to come across this autobiography of the author to flesh out the rest of his extraordinary career.

Although he had written about his work on HMS Audacity in his review of the Fw 200, it was interesting to see how he determined the best way to down such a 'plane (frontal attack, if you are interested). Prior to reading this book I had somehow formed the opinion that the author had simply been a test pilot, so it was good to read of him serving our country in battle and winning, despite having his carrier torpedoed from under him.

It was also interesting to read of how the author segued from combat flying to testing planes. Which brings me to my single bone of contention.

The author explicitly stated in 'Wings of the Luftwaffe' that he only flew the Me 163B as an unpowered glider, being towed by a Spitfire to height, before being cast off. In this book, there is great detail about how a working Komet was made ready and there were a number of *powered* launches. Given that this was all being done for the aid of the British Government, it would be logical for there to be records retained of these powered flights at the PRO in Kew.

The book is a very good read, especially if you want to move beyond the history of the machines into a person who actually flew them. But in writing it, the author has left his readership with a conundrum by contradicting what he wrote 30 years ago.

So what is it? Did Eric Brown fly the Komet from powered take-off to glide landing or not? Enquiring minds want to know.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 28, 2013 5:25 PM GMT


Age of Extremes : The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991
Age of Extremes : The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991
by Eric Hobsbawm
Edition: Paperback
Price: 13.64

4 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars History, movements, forces but no people, 13 Nov 2012
The challenge any reader has when reading this author's work is to keep in mind that the late Eric Hobsbawm was an unrepentant communist. He was a man who despite the famines, show-trials, massacres, deportations and general misery caused by communism, was still a believer. And this is reflected in his work.

Hobsbawm is quite firmly a follower of the determinist theory of history. He believes that history is shaped by forces or movements over individuals. So to him individuals are irrelevant. This means that, for instance, he would believe that Britain would not have given in to Germany in 1940 even without Churchill. People do appear in the index of this book - Adolf Hitler receives numerous mentions - but for instance there is no mention of Eric Ludendorff or Kaiser Wilhelm II, both of whom were key players in the Great War. Margaret Thatcher merits 3 entries, even though she turned back the rise of state socialism in the West.

So in that context this is an incomplete survey. It would be a challenge to produce a single volume work of the 'short' twentieth century that would be of reasonable size, but consciously excluding the individuals unless they are Hitler to conform to determinist theory sells the reader short.

Hobsbawm is also in a tricky area when he discusses the fall of the USSR. He glosses over the main failings of the regime by trying to present the country as running well, despite war, revolution, dictatorship and terror until it hits the brick wall of the 1980s. The KGB is all but invisible. He is confused by how the collective leadership of the 1980s selected Gorbachev to run the place. The answer is however clear. Seventy years after the revolution, even men and women who had spent *their entire lives* under communism no longer believed in it. So no person of ability could be found to keep the flame of Marxism-Leninism alight.

Hobsbawm received honours under the Blair government and his work was widely acclaimed. But, as with all history books, it should not be read in isolation. What we see here is a man trying to come to terms with the collapse of his central belief system as it manifested itself as the dominant ideology of many countries. Hobsbawm simply cannot accept that communism is a busted system. And that is the central failing of the book. It is less of a history and more of a personal lament at a recent loss. It is not as badly written as Chris Harman's 'People's History of the World', but that is simply because Hobsbawm is a professional and knows how to present ideas properly. But the book still has to be read through the prism of Hobsbawm's persistent communist beliefs.

History is about the progress of humanity and the 20th century has been a struggle between the competing rights of the individual and the state as the technology enabling total state control reached its zenith before the Internet began to dismantle it. Unfortunately determinist history tends to ignore this.

Buy this book if you have Ferguson, Taylor and Roberts in your library. On its own it is not a standard work.


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