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||Desmond Bagley (1923-1983)|
A British thriller writer, who gained world fame in the 1960s and published 16 popular adventure novels. On his rough, several years long trip from England to South Africa, Desmond Bagley gathered a colourful life experience that was highly useful later, when he started his career as a writer.
I threw discretion to the winds. "There's over £1,500,000 in gold alone – and there's probably an equal amount in cut gem-stones. The gold alone means £300,000 for a fifth share and that's £6,000 each for your friends. If you count the jewels you can double those figures." Her eyes widened as she mentally computed this into lire. It was an astronomical calculation and took some time.
Desmond Bagley was born in Kendal, Westmoreland (now, Cumbria), in
England's Lake District. His father, John Bagley, was a miner. After
his health began to fail, the family moved to Blackpool, where Bagley's parents began to run a theatrical boarding house.
attended a variety of schools is Bolton and Blackpool, showing talents
especially in mathematics. At the age of 14 Bagley left school and
began his working life as a printer's devil, and changed then to a
factory, where he made plastic electrical fittings. Between the years
1940 to 1946, he worked in the aircraft industry, making parts for
warplanes. At an early age, Bagley had begun to stammer and he was not
called for military service during the war. In 1947 Bagley began his
long journey to South Africa by road. He crossed the Sahara, got work
in Kampala in Uganda, contracted malaria, and worked his way down
Africa, taking various jobs in asbestos and gold mines. While in Natal,
Bagley developed his interest in journalism.
The Golden Keel
(1963), Bagley's first novel, became an immediate success. It was based supposedly on
a true story, which Bagley heard in a bar in Johannesburg. During World
War II Mussolini's vast personal treasures were moved from north in a
German S.S. convoy. As the convoy neared the Ligurian coast, it
vanished. An old soldier, named Walker, told Bagley that he really knew
where Mussolini's missing gold was, and even suggested the idea of
taking a yacht to the Mediterranean, and melting the gold down to make
a golden keel. Around this coup Bagley spun a tale, where a
successful Cape Town boat-builder designs an ocean-going yacht, sails
to the Mediterranean, and with his companion attempts to get the
treasure out of Italy.
Several of Bagley's books have been adapted to the screen. His spy thriller The Freedom Trap (1971) was filmed in 1973 under the title The Mackintosh Man,
starring Paul Newman, James Mason, and Dominique Sanda. In the story a
freelance agent is hired to catch a Communist spy. Sanda is a jewel
thief or a member of the British Secret Service, or both. Walter Hill
wrote the screenplay. The director, John Huston considered the film a
failure. He was offered a good sum of money to direct it, but he was
from the beginning plagued by the screenplay's weaknesses. "The worst
part was that the story lacked an ending. All the time we were filming
we were casting about frantically for an effective way to bring the
picture to a close. Finally, during the very last week of shooting, an
idea came to us. It was far and away the best thing in the movie, and I
suspect that if we had been able to start shooting with it in the mind,
The Mackintosh Man would have been a really good film. But we weren't. As it is, I know hardly anyone who has ever heard of it." (An Open Book by John Huston, 1980, p. 340)
Bagley also published short stories. When not travelling in search
of the background for his novel, Bagley spent his time sailing with his
wife and motor-boating. He loved classical music and films, military
history and played war games. Moreover, he was an active member of the
Sarnia Sword Club. Bagley's friends included the mystery novelist and
composer Robert Bruce Montgomery, who wrote under the pseudonym Edmund
Crispin. One evening in the early 1970s Montgomery telephoned, whether
he could come and watch with them a particular thiller for which he had
composed the score. "I've never sat through a movie with the composer
sitting next to me and it was an odd experience," recalled Joan Bagley.
"We saw the entire film in its musical context, accompanied by a
running commentary." (Bruce Montgomery/Edmund Crispin:
A Life in Music and Books by David Whittle, 2007, p. 274)
Night of Error (1983), in which an oceanographer investigates the death of his brother, and Juggernaut (1984), were published posthumously. Juggernaut was set in Nyala, an imaginary African country. Neil Mannix, the protagonist, tries to move a giant transformer, on a low-bed trailer, across the country. The Juggernaut is nearly 80 meters long and has 96 wheels. When the civil war breaks out, the transportation project is doomed – which can be read as a comment on the results of development co-operation activities.
Bagley died on the 12'th of April, 1983, in Southampton. After a
stroke he had been flown to Southampton for treatment; he died eight
days later. Bagley's works have been translated into some 20 languages.
Joan Bagley died in 1999. She re-edited two of her husband's
unfinished manuscripts for posthumous publication. The incomplete manuscript with the working title of Road appeared as Juggernaut.
Domino Island, Bagley's unpublished thriller from 1972, was discovered in 2017. The draft consisted of 243 pages; its working title was Because Salton Died,
with Bagley's remark to his publisher, "if you can think of a better,
please do". Completed by Michael Davies, the book was published in 2019
with a title that referred to the set of events, a Caribbean island.
For further reading: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang: The Boom in British Thrillers from Casino Royale to The Eagle Has Landed by Mike Ripley (2017); 'Bagley, Desmond,' in St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, ed. by Jay P.Pederson (1996); 'Bagley, Desmond' by Reginald Hill, in Twentieth-century Crime and Mystery Writers, edited by John M, Reilly (1985); 'A Word with Desmond Bagley' by Deryck Harvey, in Armchair Detective 7, (Aug. 1974) - Works by John Templeton Smith (has also published under the name John Smith): Skytrap, Patterson's Volunteers, Rolling Thunder, and The Fifth Freedom. White Lie, published in 1999, was the first part of a trilogy, which continued in The Saigon Express and Then a Soldier.