Len Deighton Biography


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Born on February 18, 1929, the son of a London chauffeur, Leonard Cyril Deighton grew up in London and was educated at the Marylebone Grammar School. He worked as a railway clerk before doing his National Service stint as an air cadet in the Royal Air Force, where he was also assigned as a photographer attached to the Special Investigation Branch. These experiences were to become extremely influential in his writing about World War II.

After his discharge in 1949, Deighton went to art school at the St. Martin’s School of Art and then to the Royal College of Art on a scholarship, schools at which he studied illustration. He tried his hand at various occupations, among them waiter, dress-factory manager, teacher, British Overseas Airways Corporation steward; and he founded a literary agency. It was during his time as a waiter in the evenings that he developed an interest in cooking and learned the skills of pastry chef. He worked as an illustrator in New York City and as an advertising agency art director in London.

Deighton was a lifetime subscriber to Strategy and Tactics magazine, and during the 1950’s, while living in London, was a member of the British Model Soldier Society. At that time the society enacted large-scale war games with full teams working on military actions. (Deighton based his 1974 novel Spy Story on a war game.) In the early 1960’s Deighton produced a comic strip on cooking for The Observer. Its appeal led him to write cookery...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Leonard Cyril Deighton (DAY-tuhn) is regarded as one of the most accomplished spy novelists of his generation, although his talents and varied interests have frequently led him beyond the genre and beyond fiction as well. The son of a cook and a chauffeur, he was born and grew up in the London district of Marylebone. During World War II he served in the Royal Air Force, developing skills in photography, weaponry, aviation, and diving—exacting fields, the details of which he would later draw upon in his writings. After the war, Deighton attended St. Martin’s School of Art and the Royal College of Art, both in London, and began a successful career as a commercial artist in London and New York. He has also been employed in a number of other fields, traveling widely, for instance, as an airline steward and even working briefly as an assistant pastry chef. He and fellow illustrator Shirley Thompson were married in 1960.{$S[A]Deighton, Cyril;Deighton, Len}

Aside from an unpublished description of life as he found it in the United States, The Ipcress File was Deighton’s first piece of writing and marked an auspicious beginning to a prolific career. Deighton had begun the novel as a lark on vacation in France in 1960, finishing it the following year on another vacation. A chance conversation with a literary agent led to the manuscript’s being submitted to several publishers, with publication following in 1962. The novel features an irreverent espionage agent of working-class background caught up in a series of dangerous and dauntingly complex events. It proved highly popular with the public and with most critics, although one of the latter complained that the story read as if every other chapter had been deleted.

Deighton followed The Ipcress File with seven other novels featuring essentially the same protagonist, though he is usually unnamed, and his characteristics undergo changes from time to time. (When several...

(The entire section is 800 words.)