The Outer Banks Voice – Stream On: You Had To Be There – Len Deighton’s “Game, Set and Match” Miniseries
WHAT TO WATCH ON TV
Stream On: You Had To Be There – Len Deighton’s “Game, Set and Match” Miniseries
By Peter Hummers on July 28, 2022
In 1989, PBS | Thirteen stream a Granada TV mini-series from one of my favorite authors, Leon Deighton (born 1929), who created the character of British spy Harry Palmer in a series of films based on his books, including The Ipcress folder (book, 1962; movie, 1965; a TV serieswhich I will review next week, 2022).
Academic George Grella considered Deighton “the angry young man of the spy novel”, his central characters being working-class, cynical and resourceful, at odds with the bureaucratic upper-class intelligence agencies for which they working. Deighton’s considerable narrative wit reminds me Raymond Chandler.
The miniseries was adapted from Deighton’s trilogy Berlin Game, All of Mexico and London game; it lasted about 13 hours, and I filmed it with foresight. PBS broadcast it live in New York, and some of my tapes suffered from the poor reception inherent in such daytime transmissions, but they are watchable. A few years later I digitized my tapes at thirteen Video CDs‘s (an early and inexpensive digital format, still popular in Asia, which contains about 80 minutes of video per CD. Most DVD players and computers will play them).
For reasons known only to Deighton, he disavowed the series, and as far as I can tell, it was never offered for sale on VHS or DVD, or streamed. But since then, other home recorders have uploaded their episodes to YouTube, and it’s finally widely available. The episodes have the 480i resolution and look of VHS tapes (“standard definition” televisions), but they’re still better than what I caught on my VCR in Staten Island.
BERLIN MATCH (Episodes 1-5)
Bernard Samson (Ian Holm, The fifth Element) is a middle-aged former British SIS (Secret Intelligence Services) agent. His father was an SIS agent living undercover in wartime Berlin. He grew up in post-war Berlin before the wall was built and received a typically German upbringing rather than a privileged English education and never went to university. Bernard worked for his father from an early age along with his best friend Werner Volkmann (Michael Degen) as couriers making payments to agents and doing odd jobs related to espionage. Bernard made friendships and connections that would serve him well in his future work with SIS.
Bernard left the field after a mission in which a friend was killed and he was lucky enough to escape alive to the West. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, has recurring nightmares and drinks too much. Bernard had hoped to head the German office in London, but he was passed over by Dicky Cruyer (Michael Culver), a ridiculous and condescending Oxford man with no experience in the field. Bernard now runs errands for Dicky, whom he considers incompetent and dangerous.
Bernard’s wife Fiona (Mel Martin), who went to Oxford with Dicky and got her job through Bernard, works on the “top floor” and is a rising star in the department while Bernard is stuck , grumpy, and insubordinate and believes he knows better than his superiors, who are all just desk jockeys in school ties. He trusts no one except his old friend Werner.
Now a high-ranking agent in East Germany, named “Brahms Four”, wants to come to the West. Brahms Four is one of Britain’s most trusted and valuable agents behind the Iron Curtain, and his sudden demand for safe passage to the West sends a wave of panic through the SIS. Samson is responsible for bringing it out, as it was Samson who had set up the network and Brahms Four does not know anyone else personally. But before Samson nervously leaves for East Berlin, he discovers undeniable evidence that there is a traitor among his colleagues working for the KGB. This “mole” is the subject of all three stories.
MEXICO SET (Episodes 6-10)
Mexico set begins there, where Samson is on the trail of his Soviet counterpart: Erich Stinnes (Gottfried John), a KGB major working in East Germany whom London Central wishes to coax to the West.
The task of laying the delicate and elaborate groundwork for Stinnes’ defection propels Samson from Mexico to London, Paris, Berlin and the East-West border. What happens along the way – a temporary kidnapping, a needless murder, an untimely suicide – unfolds so fast that Samson is barely able to keep London Central informed of developments and senior staff – Samson’s immediate supervisors, locked in their endless internal office warfare. , to the Dot General Manager himself – begin to suspect that Samson might be working for the other side.
LONDON MATCH (Episodes 11-13)
Based on information obtained from Stinnes, Samson locates a British woman working as a Russian courier. His questioning leads to the suspicion that there is an additional mole in London Central. Could it be Brett Rensselaer (Anthony Bate), the American-born chairman of the committee in charge of investigating Stinnes? Or someone even more unlikely?
I’m reviewing, so my memory was aided by Wikipedia in reconstructing this Byzantine narrative, in which office politics proves as dangerous and unpredictable as Cold War geopolitics. Deighton’s work was generally more popular than its peer Jean Le Carredeliberately opaque narratives (The spy from the cold et al.), but with this trilogy (which Deighton eventually expanded in print to three trilogies and a prequel), Deighton was able to spend more time on character development and crafting storylines, giving him a detailed feel, some might say of Le Carré. . Maybe it was too much for TV, even at 1 p.m., because Game, set and match was a ratings disaster. The screenwriters may also have assumed that the audience was more informed than they were about the (then contemporary!) power structures of the USSR and the Eastern bloc – and the pace is still slow. Maybe that’s why Len Deighton disavowed this TV miniseries, but I’m so grateful to be able to see it again. (IMDb.com users gave it a rating of 8.6/10.)
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