Saturday, 23 February 2013

Agent Zig Zag, Skyfall, Argo, Flashman

Skyfall looks to be up for multiple Oscar's tomorrow night. My main problem with Skyfall .. i have to admit... is class, based on my own inverted snobbery

As introduced in that classic scene on the train in Casino Royale where Vesper reduces him, this new Daniel Craig Bond hasn't ridden up from a public school through the old boys club to the secret service, he has come up as a squaddie through the SAS. Daniel Craig's Bond is not the gentleman spy, but the ex-army (probably navy, probably ex-SBS actually) 'blunt instrument'.

Much as I love the earlier Bonds I could actually relate to Craig's Craig's version.

So finding out in Skyfall that, in this modern continuity, his parents really did die in a mountaineering accident, and he really did grow up in a Scottish castle, a bit disappointing. I know this is the way Fleming wrote it, but there is plenty about Fleming's Bond that is not to like.. and if you have read  Fleming's Britain of the 1950s, you'll know it is a world away from Britain of 2013. (I wrote something last year that tried to reflect the shock of the Fleming's 1950s if you are interested)

Not to totally disregard Skyfall, the opening titles,Macau scenes and the villain are truly magnificent BTW. But it easier to believe that a well bred James Bond is needed to socialise and seduce the power brokers of the world?

Well, as we continually find out, things happen in the real life world of  intelligence that just would seem ridiculous in a fiction. The events of Argo are competing with Skyfall for Oscars this year, and that story of hostages smuggled from Iran beneath the cover story of a star wars rip off movie treads a fine line of believability brilliantly.

The part time bass player with the punk band The Members ("Sound of the Suburbs"), who I sit across from at work these days at Deluxe MediaCloud, passed this incredible link from the NYT last week. Gérard de Villiers, the French equivalent of Ian Fleming ,has been writing racy spy novels for so long that he is a fully accepted member of their intelligence community and his plots reveal far more about recent history than the official version of events. So much so I'm hardly surprised that his novels are not on sale here.

But the real prompt for this post about spies and their believability was a Christmas present, Agent Zig Zag by Ben Macintyire. Yet another World War 2 history book, adapted as Radio 4 book of the week .. yawn.. but really this is different.  It is almost Blackadder Goes 1940s.

Imagine the womanising spiv character from Dad's Army finds himself in jail in Jersey when the Germans invade. Not being too well disposed towards his home country he volunteers for work as a spy for the Germans and lets all his considerable skills as a lying charmer go to work on them. He is inserted back into Britain to bomb the De Haviland Mosquito factory in Hatfield (now my alma mater BTW) but immediately gives himself up to MI5. By the end of the war he is perhaps the most successful double agent in history

Zigzag, real name Eddie Chapman, is very much a Roger Moore (louche adventure playboy) era Bond but lovingly lower class right from the off, and though though I'm sure the Zig Zag movie (see below) will make him Lord Peter Flint he begins as just a very upwardly mobile and resourceful Eas tEnd villain and pretty much remains so, in increasingly comical fashion, right to the end.

One insane piece of detail from the story, aside from the incompetence of the German spy agencies (so much so the allies wonder at one point if Chapman is a triple agent) one of Chapman's German Secret service rivals, a committed Nazi, is obsessed with Morris dancing and - after quitting the Abwher to join the fight on the Eastern from - is instead forced to become the Wehrmacht's chief dance instructor.

One very strange theme in this true story about WW2 is about Anglo-German friendship. Despite his constant rogue-ishness and his betrayal of everyone around him Chapman remains friends with nearly everyone, including his best friend, Stephan von Groning,  his handler at the German Abwher! Ben Mcintyre's masterful and touching summing up of the later careers of all the crazy characters in this story is worth reading the entire book for. Chapman's ability with women is truly staggering. One less than grateful female source rang Mcintyre after the first edition of the book to declare "He was an absolute shit you know, the handsomest man I ever met. But a prize shit" before hanging up without giving a name.

Perhaps the strangest thing about Chapman  is the constant connections to the Fleming's Bond series and the subsequent films. One of the gang of socialites Chapman finds himself carousing with in Soho is Terence Young, future director of Dr No and From Russia With Love. Later cast members remark on Sean Connery that his Bond is "simply doing a Terence Young impression". When at MI5 Chapman likely met the man on whom Quatermaster is based and, when working on a plan to deceive Kriegsmarine with a fictional U-boat detector Chapman almost certainly met Ian Fleming himself, then working for Naval Intelligence.

so the Zig Zag movie?

Getting the tone of the Zig Zag story will be awkward as it could be

 either be a 1940s Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy,

Or Catch Me If You Can, type crime caper

Or Mel Brooksian farce a la To Be Or Not To Be

It could be Terence Fisher era Bond film

It could be Lewis Gilbert era Bond film

It wouldn't even look out of place in Tarrantinos re-written history movies alongside Inglorious Basterds..( if it wasn't real)

The only person I can think to play Eddie Chapman would be Micheal Fassbinder, based on his star turns on period characters in Inglorious Basterds and Xmen : First Class. But Mr Fassbender is busy enough with many other projects, including apparently at crack at George McDonald Frasier's classic Flashman books, which immediately prompts another thought.. anyone.. anyone honestly who thinks the endlessly rogering, history meddling character of Sir Harry Flashman is a little bit unlikely really needs to read Agent Zig zag, because that unlikely life of 

Harry Flashman 1822-1915 

was aparently lived for real by 

Eddie Chapman 1914-1997

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