1968-A Review

Len Deighton’s Continental Dossier

Travel in 1968…..

Continuing in my review of the year 1968, I have chosen Len Deighton’s Continental Dossier as my travel book of choice for the year. Whilst not strictly a Len Deighton book, it makes a worthy companion to his London Dossier, published the previous year and gives the reader an invaluable insight into travel and travel guides of the late sixties.

The book came about when Deighton, who, at that time, was travel editor for Playboy magazine, was told of a series of travel scrapbooks written by two friends of his from his student days, Victor and Margaret Pettitt. These notes were a compilation of the couple’s travels across Europe in which they set out to detail places of interest during long road journeys. Deighton took the work to a number of publishers before Peter Stuyvesant gave the green light and the Pettitt’s work was condensed into this lovely hardback edition featuring sixty five routes with maps and accompanying text taking in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Munich, Rome, Brussels and many more.

Most of the entries for each town or city offer an historical footnote, take the journey from Portofino through to La Spezia when they stop off at Sestri Levante: ‘Smolllett stayed here a night-says”one landlord was a butcher and had very much the looks of an assassin…we passed a very disagreeable night….and paid a very extravagant bill. I was glad to get out of the house with my throat uncut”. Dante and Petrarch were charmed by the place’

Other towns are noted for their food and regional specialities and of course, wine regions and the great vineyards feature prominently. Cities, with the exception of Paris, are deliberately skipped over given the abundance of material readily available for the tourist. The authors concentrate on what lies between cities and major towns along a given road map. Not everywhere is favourably reviewed and it would be interesting to see what progress, if any, has been made since the Pettitts day; ‘Bracco Pass-over a spur of the Apennines 2,000 feet above sea level. A tedious lorry-laden-road-some terrible inns. The alterative autostrada is badly needed’

Deighton, in his introduction explains some of the task that went into getting the book published and how the authors had to condense, quite considerably, their original notes and devise the maps and accompanying illustrations so this mass of collated information could be fitted into a relatively short book. Deighton tells us how the Pettitt’s laboured for their knowledge working as tourist guides ‘toiling constantly against food poisoning, hall porters, devaluation, floods, fools, baggage thieves and water in the carburettor’. 

It is a charming book, not, as I say, a true Deighton book and a slightly poorer relation to London Dossier but nevertheless a worthwhile addition to my review of 1968.

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