Book cover: Funeral in Berlin

Funeral in Berlin, by Len Deighton, Jonathan Cape, 1964, cover by Raymond Hawkey

Raymond Hawkey, who designed this cover, died in August last year. In the same month MI6 employee Gareth Williams was found dead in his Pimlico flat, his body locked in a holdall. I couldn’t help thinking of this image when I read about the reticent, seemingly anonymous, spy’s death.

On display in Hawkey’s image are the contents of the mundane life of Len Deighton’s fictional MI6 agent, Harry Palmer: the milk of magnesia and the aspirins alongside the Russian language guide, the camera and, of course, the revolver. Deighton created Palmer as an antidote to James Bond; through him Deighton explored the treacherous world of real espionage in which not even your own bosses are to be trusted. This is not the world of luxury hotels and casinos but of seedy digs and boarding houses.

Hawkey’s cover for the first Harry Palmer novel, The Ipcress File (1962), is a minimal masterpiece, a composition of gun and War Office coffee cup (with a cigarette stubbed out in the saucer). The background is loosely scattered with bullets and paperclips, representing Deighton’s particular mix of casual violence and dreary bureaucracy. The cover’s ingenuity lies in the way the messy details of the everyday appear both mundane and sinister. It is complemented by the stripped, self-effacing font, which runs continuously like a telex message with no differentiation between title and author’s name except for a simple stroke.

The story goes that the publishers hated Hawkey’s Ipcress File cover and refused to pay his full fee but the success of both book and cover placated them and Hawkey not only did the covers for the rest of the series – and Deighton’s other books – but also for Ian Fleming’s later Bond books.

The designer was best known for his work on newspapers, notably The Observer and later The Independent, but he also went on to write a handful of thrillers himself.

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