Posts Tagged ‘BBC videos’

A List Of My 5 Favorite Spy Novels And TV Series About World War II And The Cold War

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

I’ve had a little tune running around in my head for the past few days,  the  tune apparently often hummed or whistled by the French Resistance  as an informal  password during World War II.  Not that I have been hob-nobbing with anyone from the French Resistance lately but  ever since I got a  copy of  one of  my  favorite books,   Neal Stephenson’s  “Cryptonomicon“,  autographed during a week-end trip to Washington D.C. to attend the  Sept., 2011 National Book Festival,   I’ve been getting back into WWII  literature.   This then led to re-watching on DVD  the absolutely top notch,  terrifically suspenseful  BBC series 1, 2 and 3  of   “Wish Me Luck“.  A mini-series  featuring fictionalized stories of  real-life British spies, primarily women, it details the heroism of those  working undercover together with the Resistance in Occupied France and the theme song of  Series 2 and 3 consists of a few bars of that tune.  ( Not that they tell you this,  but one eventually figures it out. )

At any rate,  having that little tune ping-ponging around in my head has made me think about the  many spy novels and TV espionage series that I have enjoyed over the years and I decided to make a little list of the ones I have enjoyed the most.  There is almost nothing more enjoyable on a balmy Eastern Shore of  Virginia summer’s day, ( or a breezy spring or a crisp fall day for that matter ),  than sitting out on the screened porch,  bees buzzing,  birds singing, boats going by every once in a while,  ice cold tea at the elbow,  an exciting book in hand  and the time available to read it,  that’s the life of Riley for sure.  So…  the following  5  books are my  “spook”  favorites,  the top 4 re-read at least once,  maybe  twice,  because to me re-reading a book I  loved is like reuniting with an old friend.  Seriously, who could read “Gone With The Wind” or  “Hawaii”   just once  ??   Most of  the following cloak and dagger favorites  are set in Europe during the Cold War  but  “Schoolboy”, one of my  tied -for- 1st place espionage suspense novels,  is set during the Cold War period but  the action takes place   primarily in Viet Nam  and Hong Kong.

1.  “The Honorable Schoolboy”   by John Le Carre’  tied with  “Tinker,Tailor,Soldier, Spy”  also by John Le Carre’ , who had,  in real life,  actually been a part of the  British Secret Service.  It’s interesting to me that in an interview where he was asked what he considered his best work,  he did not list “Schoolboy”  but did list “Tinker,Tailor“.  Nevertheless,  “Schoolboy“,  which is his longest book  by far, running to almost  600  pages in paperback,  has a complicated story line which moves deftly between Asia and the UK,  and is still my personal  favorite even if it is not the author’s.  (  I confess that I am prone to prefer long books because once I get interested in a character,  I like them to stick around for a while ! )

2. “The Company”  by Robert Littel.  Also a very long book, close to 900 pages, this is a great read, each and every pages, which is sometimes not  the case  in  long  novels.  Utilizing all the bells and whistles of the trade,  this is a thoroughly  intriguing story of the struggle between the CIA and the KGB  to discover  ( or keep secret, depending on which  side one is on )   the identity of  a deeply placed KGB mole.  Explores  in detail  number of historical events and seems very much in-the-know about the inner workings of  the CIA.  Definitely is one of those books where once you start,  you just want to keep on reading  even if it is past midnight and you have to get up early the next day !

3.”The Charm School”  by Nelson DeMille.  This book is set in the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War and gives an amazingly realistic picture of Russia of that time. It’s a fascinating story, another one of those can’t-put-it down novels. It seems like every time DeMille comes out with a new book they also do a reprint addition of  “Charm School” so I have given copies of  this book as a gift to several people, all of whom loved it too.  In his new forward to one of the latest reprints,  DeMille indicates that this book had at one point  become suggested  reading for new  US foreign service officers which lends some interesting credibility to the story line.   DeMille has written a number of  excellent novels  but I think this is his very best,  with “Word Of Honor” ,  an unusual combination of  a courtroom suspense drama and a Viet Nam era war novel,  coming in a close second.

4.”Cryptomicon”  by Neal Stephenson.   ( Did I mention, maybe for the 10th time,  that I now have a  personalized signed copy ? )  Technically not a true spy story but  it does have its great spy moments.   Plus endless and fascinating detail on the  WWII code breaking efforts which led to the invention of the computer,  some details of  which are  probably best understood by tech whizzes.  Nevertheless,  it is a fabulous book,  initially set at the outbreak of WWII  and continuing forward for decades thereafter.  Interesting and funny, extremely well written, covering many issues.  At nearly 900 pages,  plotted  in alternating chapters between the War period and present day,  there is plenty of time to enjoy the myriad of  characters and their offspring  as they traverse  the world,  doing lots of wild things.  Plus the good guys win, who could ask for anything more ?

5. “The Unlikely Spy”   by Daniel Silva.  Although most of Daniel Silva’s  subsequent books have featured a very interesting character named Gabriel Allon and are set in in current times, ( my favorite of those being “The Secret Servant” ),   “The  Unlikely  Spy”  is set  during the Cold War and  proceeds at a very fast pace.  It  has all the satisfying complexities  and duplicities one expects in such a book plus, unusual for Silva,  a sadly ambiguous ending,  the very sort one always expects from Le Carre’.

And  the TV spies ?   Nobody does espionage on the telly like  the  BBC,  hands down,  nobody else can  hold a candle to BBC.  So here is a list of my favorites, not all BBC,  and  several  are among  my favorite cloak and dagger books which have been dramatized for  television or film.

1.Wish Me Luck–  This BBC series, 3 seasons altogether,   is hold- your- breath dramatic.  Based on real life, the characters are completely realistic.  Gives a real sense of what the risks were for undercover agents during World War II and a program everyone should watch as a little reminder of the serious  sacrifices made behind the lines by so many during the War.

2. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.   A  6 part mini-series of the Le Carre’s book by the same  title.  Staring  Alec Guinness, this is a very dramatic production and handles the multiple sub-plots very well which I’m sure wasn’t easy to do in the time allotted.

3. The Sleepers .  A fall-off-the-sofa-laughing  mini-series,  by BBC,  who else.  Staring  Warren Clarke and Nigel Havers,  the plot is very simple —  after 20 years, two deep cover Soviet sleeper spies living in the UK get called to active duty but they have become too comfortable as  British citizens and revolt against  the call to duty.  The antics and carryings on as the KGB hunts them down  are  simply hilarious, quite different from most  espionage productions, everyone I’ve loaned this DVD to has  simply loved it.

4. “A Perfect Spy”  ties  for 4th place with “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold”  staring Richard BurtonBoth are John Le Carre’  superb novels made into superb dramas.  And both with such sad, sad endings.   That is one of the things one must be prepared to accept about Le Carre’s work–  the endings are usually quite sad or very ambiguous.  As a person who prefers  a happy or at least a somewhat less sad ending,  I find, for me,   it is not my favorite aspect of  his work.  Not looking for Pollyanna but maybe a light at the end of the tunnel  which is not the on-coming train  ?

5. The Man Who Knew Too Little  staring Bill Murray ties  with Hopscotch  staring  Walter Matthau,  both American made films, staring well-known American actors.  Like  BBC’s  Sleepers,  both of these  movies are absolutely hilarious.   Bill Murray turns in what I think is one of  his  best performances ever in this comedy about spies and mistaken identity.   In  Hopscotch, Matthau and co-star Sam Waterston, longtime  favorites of mine,  are outstanding,  filmed 1980,  shot on  location in Austria,  the UK and Washington DC., it’s  absolutely delightful.  Such fun,  check out both of  these funny, funny movies.

So those are some of  my personal espionage favorites.  If  anyone decides to check them out,  I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.   Maybe you’ll even find one or two that you’ll put  on your  “read again”  or  “see again”  list.  Bon appetit’.

(Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134  Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA)

Planning To Feed My Murder Mystery Addiction At The New Play At The Palace Theatre In Cape Charles

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

For better or for worse,  I’m addicted to murder mysteries.    No point in trying to deny it because an entire room,  a very spacious room even,  that was planned as my husband’s home office with space for my books,  CD’s and DVD’s  has now evolved into  my library with space  for my husband’s desk and file cabinets  at the far end,  by the full wall of windows.  ( Well,  at least I let him keep  the windows, which are  floor-to-ceiling,  south-east  facing and overlook  our beautiful rolling lawn,  bird feeders,  trees and  pretty sunrises.  I feel that makes things even-steven but I don’t think  he really agrees. )   Six tall bookcases,  books I’ve already read but  want to keep stacked at least two rows deep,  books I’m planning to read sitting on my  “read this next”  table,  about 30% of which are murder mysteries or courtroom dramas,  not the gory ones,  just the good, old-fashioned sleuthing- through- clues to find the bad guys kind.   ( I think I could probably write a book,  a thick, heavy tome,  about the books that I love…. I do read a lot of non-fiction too but let’s face it — not as much fun !  Currently reading   “The Immortal World of Henrietta Lacks”,   fascinating but  not nearly as satisfying as a John Grisham thriller.  )   Two tall bookcases of DVD’s including,  more or less,  the complete sets  (or working towards  complete )  of  most of  BBC’s great mystery  series.  (Let me recommend  as an absolutely  “must view”  website. )  Inspector Morse,  Foyle’s War,  Sir Peter Wimsey,  Rumpole,  Prime Suspect,  MidSomer Murders,  Last Detective,  Poirot ad infinitum,  Sherlock Holmes,  P.D. James,  etc., etc. (all  on the dramatic side) on stand-by  on the shelf,  ready to be watched or re-watched at a moment’s notice.   Plus  light and humorous  favorites like Hamish McBeth  (was TV John a delightful character or what ? ),  Campion,  the new(ish)  Miss Marple series staring  Geraldine McEwan  ( BBC’s best Marple ever ),  Rosemary and Thyme,  Hetty Investigates  and the wonderful  series we are currently viewing,  Pie In The Sky…. impatiently waiting for UPS to deliver Series 3  ( which was originally shown in the U.K.  about a thousand years ago  but  just  released in the  U.S. on DVD September 7 th,  why on earth BBC  waits  so long I can not  imagine. )   Anyway,  hopefully Monday.  What  the mystery lover’s  life would be like without the British Broadcasting Corporation —  well, I shudder to think !  (  We love British comedy too but  no space  for that commentary  now —  except to say that anyone who doesn’t practically fall right off  the sofa laughing while  watching  Black Adder,  Faulty Towers or  Vicar of Dibley simply doesn’t  have much of  sense of humor.  Watching an episode of  Father Ted  is like eating potato chips– you cannot stop at  just one !  )  But enough already about BBC videos.

So naturally I’m really looking forward to seeing  the  latest production this week-end at the Palace Theatre,  ” The Two Mrs. Carrolls” ,   a mystery,  produced by Art’s Enter.   A word, or three,  about  Art’s Enter,  actually headquartered in Cape Charles’  historic Palace Theatre,   and its successful efforts  to bring  the visual and performing arts in the southern tip of  Virginia’s  Eastern Shore under one roof.    Lucky !  Fortunate !  Favored !   That is what Cape Charles is to have  Art’s Enter as a vibrant  part of  the town and its culture !    And flipping to  the other side of  that coin,  that’s what Art’s  Enter (   )  is to have  the  love, support and participation  of the people of  Cape Charles.  So,  a synergistic  relationship,  benefiting all.   This truly amazing arts group,  headed up by Co-Directors  Clelia Sheppard and Mary Ann Roehm,   has brought such well known organizations as the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and the Virginia Opera Company,  both headquartered in Norfolk,  to the Palace Theatre for performances.  (  It tickles me no end that the Virginia Symphony Orchestra,  which has performed at many national venues including  the world renowned Carnegie Hall,  has actually also performed,  several times even,  here on the Eastern Shore at the  Palace Theatre.   Thanks Clelia and Mary Ann — you’re amazing ! )  And  dozens and dozens of other high quality vocalists, dance companies and orchestras  recently including the Cab Calloway Orchestra,  David Leonhardt Jazz Group and Lee Jordan-Anders have lit up the Palace’s  stage.  

It is also  a beehive of activity for the Eastern Shore  of  Virginia’s  growing thespian community,  providing a wonderful theatre season right here in our own community.  The  performances last season included an evening of one act plays,   “The Wizard of Oz”  and  “A Christmas Carol”.   In addition  to  “The Two Mrs. Carrolls”,  the 2010-2011 theatre season at the Palace Theatre also  features   “The Importance of Being Earnest”  and  “Oliver”.    But  for all of us at Blue Heron Realty Co. ,  the icing on the cake  for  the performance of   “Two Mrs. Carrolls”  is that two of  the actors on-stage are  Blue Heron agents !   Maestro, drum roll,  please !    Eva Noonan,  an agent in our Cape Charles office,  an effervescent gal  who  has performed in a number of Art’s Enter’s  previous plays,   takes the lead role in  “Carrolls”.   And David Kabler, our Cape Charles managing broker,  will be making his stage debut.   And so this week-end I will not only be feeding my mystery addiction at the Palace Theatre,  I will be on hand  to enthusiastically  applaud two of our own.   Break a leg,  break two legs even,  Eva and Dave !!!!!