Ian Douglas – Hildebrand Section – Station L

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Personnel File of Spy Fan Ian Douglas –

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  1. My favourite spy author is….

John le Carré
John le Carré

My heart says Ian Fleming but my head says John Le Carré.

On any given day, it could be either of those two as I love both sides of Spy Genre – The adventure/escapism of Fleming and the realism of Le Carré.

Fleming was the author that started my interest in Spy fiction & films back in my early teens and I still love those books but Le Carré has become my favourite in my later years so I guess he wins this one for me, just…

Special mentions to all of those other authors that I’ve tried in the last few years as a result of this Podcast – Joseph Kanon, Brian Freemantle, Charles Cumming, Mick Herron, Adam Hall, Jeremy Duns, Young, Matthews & Horowitz plus the old stalwarts that I grew up with such as Forsyth, O’Donnell, Follett, MacLean, Boyd, McEwan, Ambler, Buchan, Greene & Deighton.

  1.  My favourite spy novel is

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Ian's favourite spy book is Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Understated and beautifully written. I’d caught a bit of the TV series on repeat back in the 2000s and decided that I needed to read the novel prior to the Film version being released in 2011.

I unapologetically love all three versions of the story – Novel, TV Series and Film. Yes, even the film!

The book, though completely fictional, realistically mirrors the story of “The Cambridge Five” with its mix of distinctive characters, SIS protocols and believable storylines plus a jargon which contains many words that have become part of espionage lexicon. Two very strong sequels followed and Smiley’s People is close behind this in my estimation.

3. My favourite non-fiction spy book is?

The Spy And The Traitor by Ben McIntyre. I actually found it more exciting and terrifying than a lot of spy fiction.

To be honest, I don’t read a lot of non-fiction spy books but I am looking forward to Kate Vigur’s Mission France which I recently received a copy of for Fathers’ Day – having given a list of presents that I wanted!

Both of these books came to my attention via the Spybrary podcast.

4. What spy book are you currently reading?

Not sure I’d call it espionage (feels more like a “noir” style thriller with Bondian touches) but it’s a recommendation from a fellow Spybrarian – Domino Island by Desmond Bagley.

Apparently written 50 odd years ago but only recently edited and published, enjoying it so far and it’s a very easy read.

It’s my first Bagley but suspect I’ll try one or two more.

5. And what was the one before that?

Night Soldiers by Alan Furst. An epic globe-trotting novel that felt quite dense in terms of characters, locations and plots but I stuck with it as it was so well written and once I’d really immersed myself in it, was sorry to finish it.

Will definitely try his other work as it was a great combination of international espionage and World War 2 action. 

6. Which spy book could you not finish and why?

I can only think of two that this applies to, both will see me flayed alive by a certain Spybrarian.

The Ipcress File

Len Deighton’s The Ipcress File which I tried when I was young but lost interest early on. I then read it recently ahead of the TV series and loved it!

Not always easy to follow the plot but the cynical humour and attitude of the unnamed spy keeps the interest going. I do think that the Bernard Samson series is a lot more accessible though.

I also needed two attempts at The Honourable Schoolboy which I tried after Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy but gave up after 50 odd pages because I just could not engage with any of the characters. I love drunken journalist as much as the next person but I found this rabble quite irritating.

Tried it again a few years later and appreciated it a lot more, especially due to the locations, though not as much as the other two books in the trilogy.

7. Which spy book are you ashamed to admit you have not read?

Funeral In Berlin by Len Deighton

Bizarrely, it’s Funeral In Berlin by Len Deighton – It’s my favourite film of the “Harry Palmer” trilogy (I don’t count the poor 1990s TV movies), and it’s been on my To Be Read list for several years but I know I will get round to it!

My list is ridiculously long and I’m adding books to it faster than I can read them. I blame Spybrary for this.

8. What is your favourite spy movie and why?

This is really tough!

Nostalgia would make me think of The Spy Who Loved Me or On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, both of which made me the Bond fan that I have become.

But the film that I have become slightly obsessed with over the last decade or so is The Lives Of Others. I can’t speak highly enough of it and thoroughly recommend it. Not a typical Spy film but a wonderful tragic yet bittersweet story, set in East Berlin during The Cold War.

9. What is your favourite spy tv series and why?

 A really tough question which I’ve struggled with.

I’d narrow it down to The Americans, Homeland, Fauda, The Same Sky, Little Drummer Girl, The Game, Deutschland 83, TTSS, Smiley’s People, 24, Spooks and The Sandbaggers.

But, at present, I’d probably go with The Bureau as that’s one that I’ve recently been watching, though haven’t finished yet. I hope the quality continues all the way to the end.

It’s a masterpiece of casting, performance & storytelling that’s both subtle and exciting, constantly keeping the viewer guessing as to what happens next and where will the story end.

10. Do you have a favourite song, track or piece of music from a spy movie or TV series.

Would have to be one of the John Barry Soundtracks – probably OHMSS but then I also love most of his non-Bond soundtracks too such as Body Heat & Out Of Africa.

11. You are hosting a spy dinner, you can invite anyone living or dead, a real-life spy, an author, a spy character, an actor from a spy movie/tv show – which 6 guests are you inviting?

Oliver Reed, Roger Moore, Fiona Volpe (the Femme Fatale from Thunderball) Sean Connery, Modesty Blaise and Ian Fleming.

I imagine a lot of drink would be had followed by some incredibly bad behavior. I suspect I’d be the first to drop out, which would be out of character…

12. And what music would you play during the dinner?

The Best of Bond!

Probably a playlist of my favourite Bond songs & cues mixed in with a bit of other John Barry sounds plus soundtracks by Ennio Morricone, Lalo Schifrin & Richard Rodney Bennett.

13/14. Which spy book or author do you feel is the most underrated?

The Modesty Blaise series by Peter O’Donnell. It was certainly popular in its day and has quite a large cult following still but these books are up there with the best Spy/Action/Thrillers of all time and it’s an absolute travesty that we’ve not had a decent film series made of these stories.
Tarantino really should have a go at directing one of these books.

15. Which non espionage author would you like to see writing a spy novel?

George MacDonald Fraser.

Unfortunately, he’s no longer with us but his Flashman novels were great fun and whilst being a tad old-fashioned for the more sensitive, modern audience, I think he could’ve created a wonderful anti-hero spy. An absolute bounder and poltroon of the highest order.

16. Which spy character do you resemble in real life and why? (talking traits rather than looks.)

My younger self would certainly have misguidedly seen himself as Bond (Connery or Moore) for the high living and enjoyment of traveling.

The reality is probably more like Desmond Llewellyn’s Q these days.

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