Charlie Muffin

Brian Freemantle reflects on the creation of his most famous protagonist , Charlie Muffin:

"Charlie Muffin! What a name! Who'd want a name like Charlie Muffin: wouldn't you change it to Smith or Jones,something ordinary? I wouldn't. Charlie Muffin was a name that sat up and begged to be a character in a book the moment I heard it, which was now close to 50 years ago before I'd ever published a novel. It went into the mental "save for later" locker and stayed untouched until I'd successfully published four books and got the idea for the fifth for a quirky, unpredictable, oddball MI5 spy who's a pain in the ass (not his: Charlie's discomfort is danger-twitching feet) of his Public School colleagues and Russian adversaries whose failing he so adroitly exposes. He's still doing it, 16 books later.

Here's a secret. It's not as easy for me now to write Charlie as it was in the beginning and the problem was the film of that first Charlie Muffin book. David Hemmings brilliantly played the part. I met him for the first time on set, when a gambling club scene was being shot. Between takes he came over to me, clad in scruffy suit and down-at-heel Hush Puppies ( it's the feet problem) and said: 'Here I am. I'm Charlie Muffin.'

Which he was. Up until that moment I knew how Charlie Muffin thought and how he'd react and what he physically looked like. But I didn't have his facial features. But from then on I did and it's always David Hemmings' face I see when I'm writing, not my blank-canvassed Charlie.

Could it be jealousy? A lot of people have asked me over the years if I based Charlie on any of the real life spies whom I've encountered. The answer's no, although I've taken mannerisms and behavior from them. My wife, Maureen, insists that I'm Charlie Muffin and that the books are autobiographical. Which means I'm a devious, amoral, determined, stop-at-nothing survivor who drinks too much and gambles too hard. It isn't true. Honest.

Here's another secret. It really is all in the name. My father became terminally ill after a career aboard the original Cunard liner Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. During the filming of Charlie Muffin I tried to ease his discomfort by telling him he was instrumental in my writing the book and giving me the name of Charlie Muffin, his shipmate about whom he was always talking, as my lead character.

'Who? demanded my father.

'Your best friend, Charlie Muffin.'

'You bloody fool,' said my father. 'His name wasns't Charlie Muffin. It was Charlie Mutton.'

Which would never have worked, like Charlie Muffin did, would it?"

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