Airshipwreck, UK First Edition, 1978
Another collaboration with a fellow enthusiast about a hobby by Deighton, this time its graphic designer and film producer Albert Schwartzmann who helps create a beautifully illustrated and detail-packed book.
It reads as a tribute by Deighton to the pioneers of airship travel which had a fleeting heyday in the twenties and thirties but was eventually undone by the cost and - as evidenced by this book - frequent liability to crash, often spectacularly. Full of illustrations and photos of the most famous airship designers and their ships. In 2010 Len used much of the content from this book to develop a feature piece in the Daily Mail looking back at the era of the 'Cathedrals of the skies'.
Stories include the fate of the famous airships like the R101 and the Hindenburg. Each incident is illustrated with numerous photographs, all of course in black and white because the heyday of the airships was over by the mid thirties when they were superseded by the aeroplane. The chapters look at each aircraft from the point of view of where it crashed, how it came down and its history up to that point. Early editions came with a 7" floppy single record of the new broadcast recording the crashing of the same aircraft in the USA in 1937, with an introduction by Len Deighton. This last item is extremely rare and also poignant when you listen to it as it brings back the drama of this most famous of airship crashes.
Why it's interesting
Well illustrated, it demonstrates again Len Deighton's capacity to turn his hand to any new theme; his interest in airships clearly comes across later in his books on the Zeppelin post flights, on which he has become something of a global expert, in part due to his being a philatelist specialising in stamps and postcards from the great airships of the 'twenties.
The front jacket flap has a paper showing Deighton at the site of the R101 crash in Beuavais, France, a testament to the amount of serious research which Deighton put into this book. You can read throughout the text his admiration for these pioneers or air travel like Zeppelin. Reading about the causes of the various crashes it's immediately apparent just how vulnerable these graceful aircraft were.
'For me, the airship has a magic that the aeroplane cannot replace. The size is awesome, the shape Gothic; a pointed arch twirled into a tracery of aluminium. And the reality is not disappointing. No one present ever forgot the day a concert pianist sat down and gave his fellow passengers a recital while the airship moved through the cloudy skies of the Atlantic.
There were special trips too. In 1929, the Graf Zeppelin took some lucky passengers from the very severe European winter for a gentle, non-stop flight round the Eastern Mediterranean. The schedule was so prepared that they breakfasted over the Riviera, saw Athens at dawn and the Holy Land by midnight. The airships usually flew very low; the ground was so close and the engines so quiet that it was not unusal to hear voices from below and dogs barking at the strange silvery shape.'
Deighton was helped in his research by Kapitan Hans von Schiller, who was captain of the Graf Zeppelin; he died while the book was being completed.