The Spy stories of Desmond Bagley

Lee Child kindly wrote the foreword to my book Alistair MacLean’s War in which he said how he had ‘…loved the patient way MacLean set up a story and sucked me in, slowly with great self confidence.’ So much so he was one of main inspirations in his own writing.

   The Freedom Trap was made into a film in 1973 starring Paul Newman in the lead and directed by John Huston re-titled as The Mackintosh Man presumably after Mackintosh the British agent who recruits Reardon for the job and is one of my favourite spy films. I particularly liked the car chase along the Irish cliffs with Reardon driving an old beat up Ford Transit.

   With my own writing Desmond Bagley was more my mentor, for it is true most writers set off trying to imitate another. Certainly From the Foam of the Sea my first novel had its roots back in the pages of Bagley’s first book The Golden Keel which was based on the lost treasure of Mussolini known as the ‘Dongo Treasure’ probably looted by the Partisans who captured him  The Italian Dictator does come up in one of my other books but more of that another time. For Bagley’s two spy thrillers largely inspired my Rob Nicolson books. Running Blind 1970, a first person narrative book which features Alan Stewart a former MI6 agent who is brought back for one last job, a familiar scenario that befalls Rob Nicolson. Set against the dramatic landscape of Iceland it was later made into a three-part TV series which I don’t think did the book justice.

   The Freedom Trap 1971which although not a follow up novel does feature Slade a Russian double agent from the first book and is loosely based on the George Blake escape from Wormwood Scrubs. The hero Joseph Reardon is put into prison to try and infiltrate the Scarperers a gang who specialise in releasing long-term prisoners. However Reardon finds out the gang have an altogether different agenda, which puts him in peril of his life. Of course Alec Leamas in John Le Carre’s The Spy who came in from the Coldalso serves a short time in prison to make him appear ripe for defection to the east.

   Also elements of John Gardner’s Boysie Oakes might have crept into Rob Nicolson, they both dislike authority and both drive an E-Type Jaguar but there the likeness ends. For Rob is certainly no coward and not at all like the comic character Boysie, who Gardner so well portrayed.

   Of course it is true in many ways that Key Characters are in large part a reflection of their creators. John Le Carre said that to a lesser or greater degree all his leading characters were a reflection of him. Indeed A Perfect Spy was very much an autobiographical novel, Magnus Pym having an early life that mirrored Le Carre’s.

   Even the most famous spy, James Bond, who seems to have had every Tom, Dick or Harry claiming to be the inspiration for him, whereas it was mainly Fleming from loving cars, scrambled eggs, smoking, women, swimming, short sleeve cotton shirts, all were traits enjoyed by author and character.