Sunday, August 20, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 484: DIEPPE UNCOVERED



Somebody once said, "The only reason truth is stranger than fiction is because fiction has to make sense".

We all spend a lot of time trying to make sense of something. And a lot of times we fail because we're so busy applying logic or science that we don't look any deeper.

So imagine my surprise on learning that a mystery I've been trying to figure out for a long time would be solved by a guy I wrote about last week -- Ian Fleming.

Let me begin 75 years ago this week, August 19, 1942 when Canadian soldiers raided the Nazi held French port of Dieppe. The attack was a military disaster resulting in more than half of the invading force being killed or captured.

I don't remember learning about the battle in school, maybe because some school supervisor thought the story would be too painful in a place where many of the lost men had once lived.

But later in life I was cast in a musical about the raid entitled "Gravediggers of 1942" written by well known Canadian playwright Tom Hendry. Now, you might think a musical about a military disaster would be in bad taste. But such shows as "Oh, What A Lovely War" were much admired at the time and this was our version.

But all of the cast spent their free time in rehearsal reading books about the raid where the prevailing opinion was that it was badly planned by the British generals in charge and that the Canadian troops were merely canon fodder sacrificed to learn how not to conduct an invasion.

The show was a huge hit and I can't count the number of times I met an audience member who'd lost a member of their family and was as obsessed as I was on discovering why such a tragedy had been allowed to happen.

A couple of years later, I revisited Dieppe again on stage by way of Peter Colley's "The War Show" where the first act climax depicted the slaughter on the beaches. Often the curtain dropped not to applause but to silence and the sound of someone weeping.

One night, during the intermission, there was a knock on the Green Room door. Being the only actor who wasn't in the middle of a cigarette, I answered it. A huge, muscular man in his late 50's filled the doorway with tears streaming down his face. He reached out and dropped several crumpled 10's and 20's into my hand. "I lost a lot of good friends at Dieppe," he said, "Have a drink to 'em on me."

He started away, then turned back. "And Bless you all for remembering. It means a lot."

That lack of remembering seemed to be the official stance at the time. Part of it might've been the feeling that perhaps our boys let the side down. Maybe it was because we didn't want to be impolite and accuse the Brits of using us.

Whatever the reason, you knew the whole conversation was being avoided. And because of it, thousands of men who had survived the battle were abandoned, forever to wonder how an event that had so negatively impacted their lives had been allowed to happen in the first place.

Only a handful of those men are alive as the 75th anniversary of the battle is marked, all in their 90's now and perhaps past understanding of why their sacrifice had been needed.

A couple of years ago, the mystery of Dieppe was finally solved. For it turns out, the raid was a cover, almost a diversion to distract from the real mission. One which might have shortened World War Two by months, if not years, had it succeeded. A mission planned and commanded by a young naval intelligence officer by the name of -- Ian Fleming, the man who would one day create James Bond.

The truth is a tale only a writer of fiction could concoct, perhaps knowing that said truth needed to be couched in an official story that would not make sense. 

What it doesn't explain is why a generation of warriors couldn't have had their burden of regret recrimination and guilt lifted after WW2 was over. Perhaps that's the real mystery of Dieppe.

Learn the true story of Dieppe below and please catch the full version if you can...

And -- Enjoy Your Sunday...



Sunday, August 13, 2017

LAZY SUNDAY # 483: SPY VS SPY


On a hot, prairie afternoon in 1962, I was introduced to the world of espionage.

"Dr. No" was screening at Regina's classiest theatre, The Capitol. I'd never heard of Sean Connery or the film let alone the book from which it was adapted and knew nothing of a genre that would come to have a profound effect on my life.

"Dr. No" absolutely blew me away. After the movie, I stood staring at the lobby cards in the poster windows outside, enervated, reliving the scenes depicted. I then shot down the street to the nearest bookstore to buy a copy of the novel that the credits had indicated was written by some guy named Ian Fleming.


To my surprise, there was a whole shelf of Ian Fleming's Bond books. By Christmas, I'd read all of them. Maybe too young to fully understand all the finer points and certainly the sexy parts. But in addition to opening my eyes to an exciting adventure genre head and shoulders above Tarzan and Treasure Island, I suddenly started paying closer attention to the news, the cold war and the hotter one taking shape in Viet Nam.

James Bond had led me to wanting to know more about how the world really worked.

Of course, I saw every Bond film, usually on the day it was released and might've been Connery's biggest fan. Then, in 1965, a new spy arrived on the scene -- Alec Leamus, personified by Richard Burton in John LeCarre's "The Spy Who Came In From The Cold".


Despite Burton's consummate skills as an actor, "Spy" troubled me. Leamus didn't seem to enjoy his job as much as Bond and he had this guy named Smiley hanging over him as that boss who never tells you the whole story. I picked up Le Carre's novel too, but honestly found it hard going, depicting I world far darker than I imagined could really exist and with not a lot of charming characters or lighter moments.

Luckily around the same time, a new actor and a new spy entered my life -- Michael Caine as Harry Palmer in Len Deighton's "The Ipcress File". I was about 16 by then and Harry Palmer matched me to a T. He was working class like I was, wore exactly the same glasses I wore. More important, he had a healthy mistrust of authority -- the same one I was developing.


Somehow, in an era prior to entertainment magazine shows and social media, I learned that the director of "The Ipcress File" was Canadian -- Sidney Furie. Fifteen or twenty years later, while still an actor, but trying to learn to write, I got to meet Furie and peppered him with questions -- which mostly came down to why it had been his only espionage film.

For me, so much of that movie had been perfect for the genre, the moving masters in the corridors of power, the film noir touches, the grit of real spycraft combined with lighter moments that kept the story personal and engaging.

I think I was looking for something resembling hope for the genre, for we met not long after I'd seen "Moonraker", a film so egregious I was certain the Bond franchise had run its course. Like that unforgettable sunny afternoon in front of the Capitol theatre, I stood in front of an equally classy theatre in an equally sunny Los Angeles -- only this time holding back tears and angry at what a character and world I loved had been allowed to become.

A short time later, My careers of writing and acting at a tipping point, I was hired as the story editor on a new CBS series entitled "Adderly". Adderly had been a minor character in a novel by American writer Elliot Baker. But he was unique enough that the TV powers that be decided he'd be worthy of a television series.

And so for two seasons he was, with those of us responsible for creating his adventures constantly pulled between the more popular cultural icon of espionage created by Ian Fleming and the more realistic version provided by John LeCarre. Oddly, or maybe because of my own bias, the compromise usually ended up being somewhere in the Harry Palmer ballpark.

But still, a half century after all these characters entered the culture, the debate about which of the key creators, Fleming or LeCarre, was better at story telling and creating the world of spies still continues. To be honest, the more mature me likes them both but for far different reasons.

Check out the confrontation that follows to make your own choice.

And -- Enjoy Your Sunday...

Monday, August 07, 2017

LAZY SUNDAY # 482: SMOKE ON THE WATER



The folks on Canada's West Coast have been watching the skies a lot more than usual lately. And it's not for the usual purpose of seeing if there's some blue among the rain clouds.

Big chunks of British Columbia are on fire and have been for more than a month. Thousands of fire fighters have been deployed. Entire cities have been evacuated. Newscasts are full of shots of pick-up trucks fleeing flaming forests.

The Sun and the Moon are bright red from dawn to dusk. And smoke blankets everything...

Yesterday, I ventured off my island to watch my beloved Saskatchewan Roughriders get their gridiron asses handed to them by the BC Lions. And the taste of ashes that comes from such a colossal loss was this time quite literal on the boat ride home. 

But smoky skies suggests something else to a good number of us -- smoke it up some more!

Because this week also included Vancouver's "Celebration of Light" one of the world's largest fireworks competition. Saturday concluded the show with a spectacular presentation from Team Canada.

We like to think of it as fighting fire with fire.

Enjoy Your Sunday.