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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Adam Diment

Adam Diment, aspiring singer Victoria Brooke and a Tiger Moth

In a brief description of Adam Diment, Atticus of the Sunday Times said, he "is twenty-three; his hero, Philip McAlpine, is based on himself. That is to say he's tall, good-looking, with a taste for fast cars, planes, girls and pot." Pooter of The Times (2 Mar 1968) revealed that "Tube posters will soon advise travellers that if they can't read Adam Diment, they should love him. An author needs the stamina of youth to underwrite an invitation like that. Diment at 23 is pale and a touch peaky, and the motherly might think that his fine blonde hair blows about a bit, but there are no other obvious signs of his being short of love. Nonetheless, viewers of Southern Television's 'Day by Day' may decide on Monday that it would be wise to lock up their daughters when he's signing copies of The Great Spy Race, judging from the footage of dollies which the unit canned."

Diment was the phenomenon of 1967, his debut novel wowing most reviewers. Anthony Boucher, in the New York Times, claimed Diment was "a happy answer to my recent plaint about the lack of really young writers in the suspense field. The Dolly Dolly Spy introduces Philip McAlpine, an agent who smokes hashish, leads a highly active sex life, kills vividly, uses (or even coins) the latest London slang, and still seems a perfectly real (and even oddly likable) young man rather than a reflected Bond-image. His first effort as a double agent, kidnapping a monster of the Waffen S.S., is slow in starting, but well plotted and brightly coloured."

Across the pond, in Diment's native London, H. R. F. Keating was rather less impressed, writing a pithy review in The Times (14 Oct 1967): "Mostly concerned with a very wicked air charter firm. Read it when you feel about 18: it will save you finding out for yourself what smoking 'pot' is like."

Desmond Elliott, Adam Diment and actress/model Suzie Mandrake

Originally entitled The Runes of Death, Diment took his manuscript to agent Desmond Elliott, who immediately sold it to publisher Michael Joseph, who contracted six books from the novice author. It has been said that the title was the only thing that changed before publication. The Dolly Dolly Spy shot Diment to immediate fame, an article in New Society revealing that the book made "something in the region of £40,000 from sale of hardback, paperback and translation rights." Jonathan King described it on TV as the most important work to appear in 1967. Dutton published an American edition, and Diment was interviewed by Publishers Weekly during a book signing tour and photographed by Life.

In photos, Diment lived up to his newspaper persona: sharp suits and frilly shirts, frolicking with young actresses, hanging out with artists and smoking dope. Jacket descriptions also pushed him as an action man, flying small planes and practicing pistol shooting. He was filmed dancing in Popdown, the cult movie that celebrated everything hip about late Sixties London.

In truth, he wasn't quite the young blade that his newspaper interviews portrayed, publicity having shaved a couple of years off his true age. Frederick Adam Diment was born in 1943, the son of Robert Eric Diment and his wife. Robert was a former sailor with the Union Castle shipping line who had begun farming in Chickerell, Wiltshire, following his marriage to Audrey Catherine Dare in 1939. They later moved to Court Lodge Farm, Crowhurst, East Sussex, Robert eventually retiring in 1978.

Adam Diment started writing fiction at school. He was educated at Lancing College, West Sussex — where one of his contemporaries was lyricist Tim Rice — and was a student at the Royal Agricultural College. He subsequently worked as an advertising salesman for magazines, in paperback publishing, and as a copy-writer.

Diment and actor David Hemmings

The Dolly Dolly Spy, published when Diment was 24, was followed in quick succession by two more novels featuring Philip McAlpine in 1968 and it was announced that the first novel was to be filmed for United Artists with David Hemmings in the lead role. The film was to be produced by Stanley S. Canter and Diment's agent, Desmond Elliott, but eventually came to nothing. During Canter's stay in the UK, both he and Diment were anonymously accused of a currency swindle — Diment accepting a $2,000 (or $2,400) cheque from Canter and writing out a cheque to Canter for £1,000 which Cantor was able to cash. Both letters (released from the National Archive in 2000 under the 30-year rule; they can be seen here and here) appear, from style and tone, to have been written by the same person. There would also appear to have been little if any legal follow-up and the file was closed within a few weeks... but given the scarcity of information known about Diment, it has become part of the mythology and will inevitably feature in any piece written about Diment in the future.

The letters do contain one interesting nugget: that Diment had travelled to Rome. With the apparent collapse of the film version of Dolly Dolly Spy, Canter's next project was an Italian/American co-production, Hornet's Nest, starring Rock Hudson, filmed by Producioni Associate Delphos and distributed by United Artists.

According to Eric Hiscock's Last Boat to Folly Bridge (1970), Diment "quit Britain" in April 1969 "with a beautiful Cuban girl called Camille, whom he had met at a party in London" — presumably the Camille to whom he dedicated The Bang Bang Birds. Canter eventually returned to the States (his later films include the Tarzan adaptation Greystoke) and Diment returned to London where he had a flat at 28 Tregunter Road, Fulham, and wrote his fourth book, Think, Inc., which saw McAlpine depart the British secret service and join a criminal gang. After that, Diment's name disappeared from book covers and McAlpine was never to be seen again. Perhaps the lack of an American edition and the four year gap between paperbacks here in the UK put Diment off the idea of writing volume 5. Perhaps his desire to write something different meant reinventing himself under a pen-name.

As far back as 1975, the Observer Magazine was asking "Whatever Happened to Adam Diment?" There were plenty of rumours which placed him everywhere from Europe to the Far East. Whatever the truth, Diment appears to have turned his back on his writing past; none of his books are currently in print and, married with two children, he now lives a quiet family life in Kent.

The Dolly Dolly Spy (London, Michael Joseph, 1967; New York, Dutton, 1967)
Pan Books 0330-02150-8, (Aug) 1968, 190pp, 5/-. Cover: photo

The Great Spy Race (London, Michael Joseph, 1968; New York, Dutton, 1968)
Pan Books 0330-02234-2, (Mar) 1969, 169pp.

The Bang Bang Birds (London, Michael Joseph, 1968; New York, Dutton, 1968)
Pan Books 0330-02382-9, (Nov) 1969, 191pp, 5/-.

Think Inc. (London, Michael Joseph, 1971)
Pan Books 0330-23699-7, (Sep) 1973, 172pp.

(* Photos © Time Inc.)

2 comments:

B Smith said...

More on Adam Diment can be accessed here

http://www.nickelinthemachine.com/2009/08/the-disappearance-of-the-author-adam-diment/

Steve said...

Hi B,

I should have mentioned the article noted in your comment; there is also a second good article to be found here.