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Bernard Samson is a fictional character created by Len Deighton. Samson is a middle-aged and somewhat jaded intelligence officer working for the Secret Intelligence Servicemarker (SIS) — usually referred to as "the Department" in the novels. He is a central character in three trilogies written by Deighton, set in the years 1983–1988, with a large gap between 1984 and 1987. The first trilogy comprises the books Berlin Game, Mexico Set, and London Match. The second trilogy comprises Spy Hook, Spy Line, and Spy Sinker, and the third and final trilogy comprises Faith, Hope, and Charity. The plot of the entire trilogy of trilogies revolves around Samson's wife Fiona, also an intelligence officer, and which side she is really working for. In the first trilogy Fiona Samson defects to the East Germans; but it is later revealed that she was in fact a double agent working for the SIS.

Samson undergoes great personal sacrifice in his duties and is often ignored by his superiors, being passed over for promotion or sent to Berlin on duty during the Christmas holidays, for example. This is especially true in the first trilogy. Like Deighton's earlier unnamed spy character ("Harry Palmer" in the film adaptations), Samson is cynical and has a disrespect for his superiors and any ambitious colleagues.

Bernard's description appears in Berlin Game:

Possibly coincidentally, Bernard Samson is also the name of a Swiss Franciscan seller of indulgences, who was denounced by Zwingli in 1516.

Early life

Samson is the son of Brian Samson, a British SIS operative who worked undercover in Germany during World War II. Brian Samson plays a small role in Deighton's 1987 prequel novel Winter, which covers the years 1900–1945 and sets the stage for many of the recurring characters in the series.

Following the war, Brian Samson was assigned to Berlin and Bernard grew up there, receiving a typical German schoolboy's education rather than a privileged English one. Despite his ability to speak German fluently, he is seen as an Englishmen by Germans, and as a German by the British, creating a situation where he is at times uncertain which country he really belongs to. With his father the head of the Berlin Field Unit (the Rezident), Bernard was inducted into the world of espionage from an early age; he and his best friend Werner Volkmann acted as couriers, transferring money to and from Swiss bank accounts and performing many espionage related 'odd-jobs'. Growing up and going to school in post-war Berlin, Bernard made the friendships and connections that would serve him well in his future work.

In the Novels

The novels, with the exception Spy Sinker, are first person, with Bernard as the narrator. The sixth novel, Spy Sinker, recounts the events of the previous books from a third person perspective.

Following a dangerous escape from East Germany which resulted in the death of his companion, agent Max Busby (recounted in detail in Spy Sinker), Bernard expected to be promoted to the German Desk (London) (i.e. to be placed in charge of intelligence operations in Germany). However, he was passed over, his incompetent colleague Dicky Cruyer receiving the post instead, as it was felt that his being in the post might interfere with Fiona Samson's secret mission. He was deliberately told nothing of his wife's role as a double agent so that his reactions when she defected would be completely authentic.

Game, Set and Match

In the first novel, Berlin Game, Samson is assigned to help a highly-placed agent, known by the codename "Brahms Four", escape from East Germany. Bernard suspected that a traitor was inside the SIS in London and decided at the last moment to send the agent Brahms Four out in his place. His suspicions proved well-founded when he was captured and subsequently confronted by his wife, who had defected and betrayed the operation.

In the second book, Mexico Set, Bernard is still under suspicion from his superiors following his wife's defection. To test his loyalty they send him to Mexico Citymarker, where he tries to persuade a KGB agent, Erich Stinnes, to defect. Stinnes is a counterpart to Bernard, with a great deal in common, since he too grew up in postwar Berlin as the son of an intelligence agent.

Hook, Line and Sinker

In the second trilogy Bernard thwarts a security leak but is confronted by a warrant for his arrest and is forced to flee to Berlin. He discovers that Fiona is in fact a double agent despatched to be a deep cover mole, and is dissuaded from conducting his own investigations by finally being informed of the truth behind his wife's defection. She was slowly 'dangled' to the Russians and eventually they took the bait. While working at London Central, she passed information to the Russians and eventually 'defected'. This was all part of a years long brilliant plan. The idea was to get her in place 'over there' and it worked. The only catch, one that authenicated her to the KGB, was that her husband had no idea she was still working for London. His rage and shock and depression, as well as getting involved with a new woman, convinced the KGB that Fiona Samson was a genuine defector. And of course, it would look too suspicious for Bernard to get the promotion to head of the German Desk, controlling British intelligence operations in Germany, just as his wife defects, so he was passed over for that long deserved promotion. He was instead made assistant to the incompetent Dicky Cruyer, who was given the promotion over Bernard.

In the fifth book, Spy Line, Bernard takes part in the operation to bring Fiona back from East Germany, an operation which results in the death of her sister Tessa; it is strongly implied that Tessa's death was part of the SIS scheme, in order that her body be mistaken for Fiona's, thus causing East German intelligence to believe Fiona dead rather than alive and in the West. Fiona and Bernard are flown out of Germany to a secure compound in Los Angelesmarker where they are debriefed, and Bernard becomes unhappy when it becomes apparent he may be secluded from his children and friends for months or even years.

The sixth novel, Spy Sinker, is a recounting of the previous five novels from a third person perspective, and Bernard resumes his role as narrator in the seventh, Faith.

Faith, Hope and Charity

The final trilogy explores the impact of the end of the Cold War on the characters. Each book recounts the same events from three different perspectives, with the theme in each being healing and reconciliation.


Len Deighton has stated that Bernard's testimony in the books is not reliable. Samson is biased, especially towards his superiors, and is prone to regarding himself too highly. The true nature of his character can be gleaned from reading between the lines, or alternatively from the sixth novel, Spy Sinker, which recounts the events of the previous books from a third-person perspective, and casts doubt upon Bernard's reliability as a narrator, especially in his assessment of his colleagues' capabilities and motives.

Critic Wesley Britton has seen the Bernard Samson books as an echo of the Biblical story of Samson: like Samson, Bernard has his own Delilah, when his wife turns out to be an apparent traitor.

In other media

Bernard Samson was played by Ian Holm and Fiona Samson by Mel Martin in a 1988 Granada Television adaptation of the first trilogy, entitled Game, Set and Match, transmitted as twelve 60 minute episodes. Filmed on location in Berlin and Mexico, the project included a large international cast with 3,000 extras and a budget of $8 million. It is considered the most ambitious espionage miniseries ever filmed. While critically acclaimed, the ratings for the series were poor.

In February 2008, director Quentin Tarantino expressed interest in developing the Game, Set and Match trilogy as a three-hour film. He is quoted as saying, "I would see if I could boil it down to the fat of the characters, and ignore all this Maquis double agent stuff.

See also

Pictures from the Granada TV production of Game Set & Match


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