The Extraordinary Case Of The Missing Spy Novelist

At the height of the Swinging Sixties, a young author exploded onto the London pop scene with a clutch of hit thrillers starring the hash-smoking, dandyish, hipster spy Philip McAlpine, a cooler, loucher, more switched-on James Bond for the Beatles generation. Fêted like a rock star, with riches to match, the writer suddenly vanished from sight. Fifty years on, whatever happened to Adam Diment?

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“First, my name. Philip McAlpine.”
The Dolly, Dolly Spy (1967)

Mysteries are only mysteries if you want them to be. Before I started looking into his story, I’d known Adam Diment purely by Wikipedia reputation, as the wildly successful literary wonder boy whose best-selling Sixties spy novels saw him briefly become Britain’s biggest publishing phenomenon. In 1967, on the strength of a single unpublished manuscript, the 23-year-old landed a six-book deal, with what was (at the time) the largest advance ever paid to a first-time author. Promoted more like a pop star than a novelist, Fleet Street dubbed Diment “the biggest thing in the entertainment world since The Beatles”. Dressed in the latest Mr Fish threads and draped with girls, his face popped up everywhere from Sunday supplements to the sides of double-decker buses, tagged with the helpful tagline, “You Don’t Listen to Adam Diment, You Read Him”.

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On its release, the Financial Times labelled Diment’s 1967 debut, The Dolly, Dolly Spy, “a King’s Road mini-thriller, dressed to kill”: translated into 13 languages, from Iceland to Brazil to Japan, it sold one million copies within the year. It was followed in rapid succession by The Great Spy Race (“utterly preposterous but regrettably unputdownable”, The Observer), and The Bang Bang Birds (“his creator’s best effort yet. James Bond – pish! That’s strictly for birds that don’t go bang-bang”, The Times Literary Supplement).

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The Bond comparisons were endless, and inevitable. Arriving two years after Ian Fleming’s death, Diment was perfectly timed to grab the 007 mantle. But there was little common ground between the shaken-not-stirred Bond and Diment’s anti-hero, Philip McAlpine, a wisecracking, pot-smoking, Carnaby Street-clad charmer, blackmailed into working for a vague subdivision of MI6 by the pint-sized, memorably Machiavellian Rupert Quine, an employer with ethics as outrageous as his psychedelic wardrobe.

“I thought he was hugely cool,” recalls crime writer Peter James, one of McAlpine’s many fans. “James Bond was a fantasy figure, remote, from a different world, almost a different planet. But somehow Philip McAlpine was more accessible. He felt like someone who might have been in class with me at school, the handsome hunk that everyone admires and secretly wishes they could be.”

Tall, blond, and fashionably flippant, McAlpine was – as his creator cheerfully confessed – a lightly fictionalised version of Diment himself. And in an era when most writers stayed safely within the photos on their books’ dust jackets, Diment’s flamboyant image and headline-friendly sex-and-drugs soundbites became as much part of his success as anything he actually wrote. From the outside, the young author seemed to lap up the fame and money McAlpine’s success bought him. But then, after 1971’s Think Inc (“a fast and very hip read”, The Sunday Telegraph), Adam Diment simply walked away. He left behind a trail of what-might-have-beens; a contract for two further novels; an aborted Hollywood deal, which would have made McAlpine the next big movie spy; and repeated admissions of his yearning for a more serious literary career. (In one of his first interviews, he’d groaned “I don’t want to be writing McAlpine when I’m 27!”) As time went on, the media barrage slumped into a scattered string of rumoured sightings, in a succession of increasingly vague, unrelentingly exotic destinations. In 1975, when The Observer ran a short piece titled “Whatever Happened to Adam Diment?”, the answer was succinct: “Diment now lives in Zurich, shunning publicity, and has no plans to write a new book.”

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Nothing’s changed 40 years on: no new books, no publicity and silence from the author. But unlike so many of his contemporaries from that boom decade of British spy fiction – Gavin Lyall, Adam Hall, James Leasor, John Gardner, Peter Townend – Diment’s star has refused to fade. He’s regularly credited in dictionaries and thesauruses, for his colourful Sixties’ vocabulary; “dolly”, “chaver”, “feel up”, “acid-head”, “go down a bomb”. Online, there’s a healthy trade in old McAlpine paperbacks, with their distinctive guns-and-girls covers, including catchily-translated international versions like En Hip, Hip Agent, Les Poupées Bang Bang and Püppchen, Püppchen.

Over the decades, there have been repeated (but failed) attempts by publishers to gain permission to reprint the novels, and regular tributes to their influence from successive generations of thriller writers. And so, long after his name should have faded into obscurity, people still wonder what happened to Adam Diment.
 

“Well-dressed secret agents are definitely wearing cloaks this spring.”
The Great Spy Race (1968)

“It’s just extraordinary how all these voices from the Sixties have come out of the woodwork!” grins Rob Baker when we first meet. A former television producer, Baker now runs the modern history blog Another Nickel in the Machine, and is baffled and delighted in equal parts to find himself caught up in the Diment saga. Six years ago, he published a succinct overview of the story, “The Disappearance Of The Author Adam Diment”. It drew together most of the information then available (articles, reviews, book covers and magazine photo shoots, plus two anonymous letters written to the Bank of England in 1969, linking Diment to shadowy allegations of money laundering and drug dealing.)

It’s one of many similar pieces about Diment to have appeared on the internet, but Baker’s piece is noteworthy for its comments section, which has mushroomed into a Diment shrine. There are tributes from those who loved the McAlpine books at the time and those who have only just stumbled across them; memories from those who knew Diment in his DB5-driving Kings’ Road heyday or who claim to have met him later in Rome, Ibiza, or Nepal; and theories from those who speculate he blew his mind on drugs years ago and those who insist he is alive and well (and still writing.) Taken as a whole, what they show is that Diment’s story is a conspiracy theorist’s wet dream: an absent author, a parade of gorgeous girls, an abandoned film deal and a hint of blackmail, soused in a nostalgic haze of sex and hash. All the ingredients for a perfect Swinging Sixties thriller, actually, but few of the facts.

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Frederick Adam Diment was born in Weymouth in 1943 (as he explained to a bemused American reporter, he never used his first name “because no swinger is called Fred.”) His parents were farmers, first in Dorset and later at Crowhurst, East Sussex. As a teenager, he studied at Lancing College, a grandly Victorian public school which lists Evelyn Waugh, Tom Sharpe, Christopher Hampton and David Hare (the latter two overlapped with Diment) among its literary alumni. There’s no evidence to suggest Diment’s future path in the school archives, though; his record there is unhelpfully brief; “Entered Second’s Lent ’57. GCE: O 6, A 2. Bronze Medallion. Art Prize for Drawing ’61. Cpl CCF RAF. XL Geog. To Circencester Agricultural College.”

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Looking back, agricultural college seems like an unlikely detour for an author-in-waiting. And halfway through his course, Diment dropped out. He moved to London, where he roomed with another ex-Lancing boy, the future lyricist Tim Rice. A spattering of mentions in Rice’s autobiography provides most of what’s now known of Diment’s pre-McAlpine life; he was there as Diment ambled through a haphazard succession of short-lived jobs, producing 14 different book manuscripts on the side, all rejected by publishers. He was there when Diment moved to Fulham, to a flat owned by James Leasor, whose 1965 espionage thriller Passport To Oblivion was on the way to becoming one of the decade’s top sellers. Leasor’s example seems to have spurred Diment on; he speed-read his way through the assorted works of Ian Fleming and Len Deighton, and hammered out manuscript 15, The Runes of Death, in just 17 days. Famously, the story would be published without a single change, save the title, which his publishers switched for the far more of-the-moment The Dolly, Dolly Spy. Lucy Abelson, then a features writer for teen mag Rave, interviewed Diment for the book’s release. “Terry Hornett, Rave’s editor, had a real talent for spotting what was next, and what was going to be hot. And we never usually covered books, but he was adamant that Adam Diment was going to be the next big thing.” The piece set the tone for all the interviews Diment would give over the period of his success: languid, cheerfully controversial and disarmingly disparaging about the books themselves. “Personally,” he told Abelson, “I’d call them competent junk!”

It wouldn’t matter. From the start, the main selling point would lie less in the novels’ breezy, rapid-fire prose than in the blurred lines between McAlpine and Diment himself. He obligingly posed for photos in play-spy mode; juggling machine guns, piloting Tiger Moths and driving sports cars, cosying up to girls and rolling joints. As it turned out, pot would be the fundamental ingredient of both McAlpine and Diment’s backstories; the counter-culture twist that set them firmly apart from Fleming and the sober-suited Bond. “Grass Smoker’s Best Seller Makes Him Lots of Green”, ran one typical American headline, while an Italian magazine excitably trumpeted his publisher’s boast, “Adam Diment Writes 750 Words an Hour with the Help of Hash”. Diment’s parents, endearingly, took their son’s notoriety in stride. “The youngsters like to talk about these things more than they do them,” his father sighed when Life magazine showed up on the family’s Crowhurst doorstep. Whatever the case, Diment’s story caught the world’s attention. But looking back at the media frenzy decades later, Tim Rice would qualify his former flatmate’s success: “Someone had to be the first dope-head novelist and [Adam] was lucky it happened to be him.”

I had been pretty sure Quine had sold me out before the general mentioned his lousy name. The preening, scrofulous little stoat had come up to his previous record.
 

‘And what price did you offer that miserable ponce for his very best, top-notch, little whore?’”
The Bang Bang Birds (1968)

“I fear I will disappoint you with my knowledge and memory of Adam Diment, he was not around for very long, as you know. However, there is no doubt that his public persona as a Sixties ‘swinger’ was created entirely by Desmond Elliott, my boss.” That’s the first line of my correspondence with one Carolann Smith-Dorrien, and the first hint that Diment might, in fact, have been as much a work of fiction as the spy he’d invented. After meeting Baker, I’d worked my way through people who’d commented on his blog, asking how they knew Diment and what they remembered of him. It was slow work but gradually people began to respond, among them Smith-Dorrien, who, as a graduate in the late Sixties, became personal assistant to the man responsible for launching Diment upon the world.

Desmond Elliott was a London publishing legend, a tiny, redheaded Irishman with a colourful taste in suits (an unforgettable apparition by any standards), with all-too-tempting echoes of Diment’s red-haired spymaster, Rupert Quine. He’d scored his first hit with Leslie Thomas’ The Virgin Soldiers, and would go on to represent best-selling authors Jilly Cooper, Richard Doyle and Penny Vincenzi. In the mid-Sixties, he paired Tim Rice with the young composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, and spent the ensuing years trying to get the duo’s novice efforts onto the stage. But while progress stalled on that front, Diment persuaded Rice to show Elliott The Runes of Death.

“I remember Adam coming to meet Desmond in Duke Street, where we had a tiny office above the tailor Welsh & Jeffries,” says Smith-Dorrien. “Adam was tall and blond, and reasonably good looking. And he was malleable. I’m sure Desmond said something along the lines of, ‘I can do something with you, if you’ll allow me to’.” Diment was, it seems, open to the suggestion; he grew his hair long, bought a Bond-worthy Aston Martin and, in Rice’s words, “began to act permanently stoned. Elliott swept him off to the King’s Road, to kit him out as a foppish Regency dandy”.

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“Desmond thought the Americans would fall for it,” Smith-Dorrien laughs. He was right; they did.

This svengali twist on the Diment story is echoed by the too-perfectly-named-to-be-true Suzie Mandrake, who turns up in The Dolly, Dolly Spy as Veronica, an early McAlpine love interest whose whirlwind career (society deb, cave dweller, artist’s model, adult film starlet) is worthy of a novel in its own right. Mandrake first got to know Diment when they worked together at advertising agency Connell, May & Stevenson. “I honestly think Adam was still quite green and a country boy when we first met,” she recalls. “We became best friends outside of office hours, and Adam used to hang around with my boyfriend and myself, which I think introduced him to the Chelsea lifestyle. His ‘new romantic’ look didn’t really start until the fame and publicity shoots, up to then he was quite ‘anorak’. I would say it was definitely orchestrated/encouraged by Desmond Elliott. It was Chelsea, but even then quite extreme – the only other people I saw dressed like that were the likes of Jagger.”

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Mandrake tagged along with Elliott and Diment on their headline-grabbing 1967 coast-to-coast US book tour. “We had people spitting at us in the streets there because of his bottle-green suits and frilly shirts,” she says. “Wasn’t this when the Bond books were so popular, and beginning to be turned into films? I think Adam’s books were a kind of affectionate, more hip, spoof on those. He certainly became a superstar, and loved it at the time.”

“The tour was a great success.” Smith-Dorrien agrees. “Desmond stayed in the background, but you can be sure he told Adam exactly what he should say, and how to dress.”

Back in London, there was a frenzy of press and a launch party for The Dolly, Dolly Spy held, inevitably, at Dolly’s nightclub in St James’s. There were nationwide jaunts, to present regatta prizes and judge beauty pageants (Southport’s Miss English Rose and Liverpool’s Miss Selfridges Personality Girl both received the benefit of Diment’s expert eye). There were even rumours of McAlpine toiletries and clothing, a logical step for a spy who was such a dedicated follower of fashion. And, of course, there were the girls, co-opted by Elliott into starring alongside Diment in publicity shots: Victoria Brooke, who later married a Getty; Camille, a glamorous Cuban émigré who disappeared from view even more thoroughly than Diment; and, briefly, Mandrake. She and Diment dated, but it didn’t last. “Mainly,” she laughs, “because his parents were so horrified that he’d expect them to meet a girl who would appear in bed with him, never mind smoking a hookah, for Life.”

The Life photos also show Diment deep in conversation with British actor David Hemmings. Soon after, Elliott brokered a deal with United Artists and producer Stanley Canter to make a film of The Dolly, Dolly Spy, with Hemmings (then riding high on the success of Blow-Up) as McAlpine. It was an obvious move; the first five Bond films had all been box office smashes, and a whole slew of copycat movies were being rushed through to cash on the spy boom, Licensed to Kill, Our Man Flint, Agent 8 3/4, OK Connery, Modesty Blaise, Come Spy With Me and Where the Spies Are (an adaptation of Leasor’s Passport to Oblivion) among them. Filming was set to begin in late 1968 and with preparations underway, Diment continued to capitalise on his success. He rattled out two more novels within the year, became a magazine columnist and chat-show regular, made a cameo appearance in the cult aliens-in-Swinging-London movie Popdown, and made a publicity tour of Europe.

But there were questions; for many journalists, Adam Diment was too good to be true. “They could practically enter this kid at Cannes,” the Chicago Tribune’s reviewer sniped. In England, the New Statesman noted: “Because of the way the books have been sold, some people seem to imagine the Diment phenomenon is like those pop music and fashion happenings that are thought up by a committee of (usually middle-aged) trend-spotting entrepreneurs who find a pretty face to hang the clothes on, or to open and shut the mouth in time with the music, or whatever it may be.” The article’s author was closer than he knew. Fifty years later, Lucy Abelson seems almost relieved to discover the Diment phenomenon was part-fabricated. “Oh, I thought it was a bit off. I was quite skeptical about it all, to be honest; that he could dash off these thrillers in weeks, and that he’d suddenly got this three-book-deal out of nowhere.”

To acknowledge Elliott’s role in the affair isn’t to detract from Diment’s success or, indeed, from the writing itself. But it explains, at least in part, why he might have walked away from it all. “He was quite flip,” Mandrake reflects, “but there was an underlying need to be a serious thinker and if he did delight in his fame when it was happening, it soon palled. I don’t quite know how to put this, but there was an almost childlike naivety in his desire for, and enjoyment of, the outward trappings of fame – the Aston Martin, the clothes. But still, in the end, it wasn’t quite enough.”

Looking back, it’s perhaps not hard to speculate why the lustre of success might have faded. After all, the young writer was dealing with the consequences of having created not one, but two imaginary characters: Philip McAlpine and Adam Diment.
 

“You’ve been reading too many crime stories,” she said.
Think Inc (1971)

As it turns out, Adam Diment isn’t hard to find at all. Despite all the fevered speculation over the years, he never actually vanished in the Lord Lucan or Agatha Christie sense. This is the information age, after all, and the skeleton of his life (like all our lives) is only a Google search away; age, marriage, children, address. It doesn’t take long to establish he’s alive and well, and that he has simply chosen, whenever the matter has arisen, not to respond to any queries connected with his former fame. When I contact his friends and family, I’m met with loyal silence and courteous refusal. Agents send regretful emails: “Tim [Rice] would rather not do this without Adam Diment’s permission and he cannot get hold of him right now”; David Hare “advises he didn’t really know Adam Diment, but that Tim Rice is probably best placed to help”; Jilly Cooper “has only a very vague recollection of Mr Diment”.

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But Diment’s not been forgotten by the wider world. Current British thriller writers Jeremy Duns, Tom Cain and Adrian Magson are vocal in their admiration for his writing. “I was still in my teens and broke,” says Magson, recalling how he found The Dolly, Dolly Spy in a south London swap-shop, “so, I must have liked the blurb and the title as much as the swap price. It was new, it was refreshing and more in tune with the feeling at the time. I loved the fact that McAlpine was anti-authoritarian, a real rebel, and young enough not to care, but with expertise enough to get himself out of trouble. There was also a touch of dark humour, which I liked. McAlpine was of my generation, which made me feel more in tune with his character.”

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Duns, a more recent convert, says, “I think they’re very under-rated. The marketing at the time sold them as a cool alternative to boring, middle-aged James Bond, and Diment was presented almost as a stand-in for his character. I think that meant people took them less seriously and they were largely forgotten as a result, consigned to a drawer marked ‘novelty act’. There are certainly Austin Powers elements to them, but they’re also very taut, tightly-plotted, well-written thrillers.”

Duns hits on another key aspect of the novels’ appeal. “Despite the marketing on the sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, the books are rather down to earth.” He has a point. Unlike 007, McAlpine is endearingly human; he cries when a girl betrays him, moans about his weight and tucks into tinned soup after hearty sex romps. His dolly birds are Bond-movie gorgeous, but come with cosy middle-England names like Veronica, Patsy, Josy, Steph and Marianne. His writing is as compelling when describing the mundane – the grey murk of midwinter London, the monotony of office life – as it is when McAlpine decamps to a tropical island or a Swedish orgy. And it’s hard to imagine 007 refusing to use a tracking device, as McAlpine does, by protesting, “You look such a bloody nit when the thing starts up on the top deck of the bus.”

When it comes to picking favourites, Magson, Duns and Peter James all plump for The Dolly, Dolly Spy, the record-smashing debut hailed by The New York Times as “one of the funniest of all anti-spy novels”. But the one that stays longest on my mind is Think Inc, the series’ stark finale. Written over years instead of weeks, as Diment drifted away from the Kings Road scene to Italian villas and Indian ashrams, it marries the best of Diment’s writing – exuberant pace, sudden gear-shifts into icily efficient prose, startling flashes of unexplained violence – to a cold-eyed new mood. The novel starts in the aftermath of an international operation gone badly awry. After a tense showdown with Quine, McAlpine is cut loose and, avoiding an assassination attempt, he bids a dry-eyed farewell to Swinging London and goes on the run. Wandering through Europe, he joins an international crime gang and falls unsentimentally in love, or something like it. It’s a story without hope, each chapter hammering another nail in the coffin of Diment’s “switched-on spy”. It ends on a bleak, tantalising cliffhanger, with McAlpine alone, under attack, out of lives and luck.

Published with little of the media fanfare of his earlier books, Think Inc was only a modest success. In The Spectator, Auberon Waugh sniffed, “Perhaps it is too much to expect a thriller to have a theme, or any particular purpose. But he really should concentrate more on thrilling.” Few, by then, cared about the author’s slide away from fame, apart from Eric Hiscock, a Fleet Street columnist who’d been early to spot The Dolly, Dolly Spy’s potential, and who provided the perfect epitaph to its author’s brief, brilliant career: “Diments are not, it seems, forever.”

There are glimpses, here and there, of Adam Diment’s after-life. Sebastian Baker, a London acquaintance, ran into him in Ibiza in the early Seventies, and believes Diment was on his way to study psychology at UCLA. “Adam was a phenomenon, you know,” he says. “The Dolly, Dolly Spy was a really big deal when it came out. But I was impressed that he had kept himself together through that time and, more than anything, in the fact he was able to walk away from it all.” By the time The Observer published its “where is he now?” piece, Diment had moved on to Zurich, the Aston Martin was replaced by a battered Fiat and the role of celebrity author succeeded by that of editor at a publishing company specialising in psychology. His last piece of writing (to my knowledge) dates from there – a decidedly un-thrilling introduction to the firm’s latest offerings.

Two years later, American backpacker Clay Caughman met Diment in a remote Nepalese hotel, where they co-existed for a time. “We were just really, really quick friends. Adam’s room was next door to mine, and he had a little portable Remington Underwood. He typed every morning, and then this ganja guy would come by and sell us weed every afternoon. We talked a lot, mainly about writing. And he was still living off the proceeds of The Great Spy Race, I remember that!” But when Suzie Mandrake saw him in London at the end of the Seventies, those funds appeared to have dried up. “We’d already lost touch. I was studying painting by then; he pulled up beside me at a bus stop as I was going from one class to another, and said he was working as a minicab driver.”

After that, no-one admits to hearing from Diment for decades. Then, about ten years ago, traces begin to reappear: Lucy Abelson ran across him at a writers’ conference in Winchester. “It sort of stuck in my mind, because people came out of his session very upset. My memory is that he was quite fiercely critical of some of the writing produced by ladies who attended his lectures – so much so that one or two were almost reduced to tears – with the result that he was not subsequently invited back.”

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Around the same time, Canadian Hugh Harrison met Diment in a bar in Cambodia, and asked, in the years of friendship that followed, most of the questions any interviewer might have hoped for. “He certainly wasn’t prone to bragging,” Harrison says. “But he must have touched on the fact that he’d written some books at some point – books he’d said, rather dismissively, had enjoyed considerable popularity at one time. Later, after having finally discovered the circumstances of Adam’s brief celebrity on my own, I asked him why he stopped. I know he wrote at least one more book, and I believe he has numerous others in various stages of development. But the problem is, publishers aren’t interested in the subjects he’s written about and he’s not interested in selling his soul… However, I think I can state with confidence that should Adam find a publisher ready to print and promote the manuscripts he stuffed in a shoebox a long time ago, I’m sure he would be more than happy to put his support behind the reprint and distribution of a suitable quantity of the Sixties spy novels.”

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Others aren’t so sure. Adam Jezard, a Financial Times commissioning editor who loved the McAlpine novels as a youngster, never forgot them or their author. “As I grew older, the books disappeared, and I became more interested. I finally made an attempt to track Adam down about ten years ago, and eventually made contact with him through his father, who was still alive then. Adam came to the phone and said he wasn’t interested in what had happened in his past.” Jezard sighs. “It’s rather sad, really. A whole generation of boys grew up reading those books. This is just one story that isn’t going to have an ending.”

The right ending seems to be to track down Diment. I contact his younger brother Nicholas, who responds pleasantly and honestly. “Adam’s a bit reclusive these days and doesn’t enjoy interviews or articles. However, if I can be of any help with any particular information you can but ask. I’m not saying I’ll be free to answer but you can try!” When I broach visiting their childhood home, Nicholas’ tone stiffens: “I don’t much like the idea of you snooping around at Crowhurst. Snooping is not a word you might choose but what do you hope to find out there?”

Snooping. Not a word I would choose, but not one I can avoid, either. What do I hope to find? It’s a reasonable question, and one I’ve been avoiding ever since starting to write this story. Adam Diment, the man, walked away from Adam Diment, the author, four decades ago and has never given any hint of wanting to change his mind. But we don’t deal well with missing jigsaw pieces, in this all-access world; there’s always another combination of search words to input, always another route around the problem. And on the short train journey from London to the village where Diment now lives, I’ve rehearsed all the reasons he might, just might, change his mind. Perhaps there’s more to his story to be told, more than the simple intersection of ambition, opportunity, marketing and spot-on timing everyone else remembers. Perhaps, if nothing else, it might simply put an end to the curiosity, to having your past endlessly resurrected. And it might even be a relief, after so much silence, to finally talk. What harm can it do to ask?

Diment’s house slants off the brow of a long hill, just past the line where commuter-belt hedges and soaring trees give way to open countryside. Over the past three months, on Google Earth, I’ve scrolled past it time and again. But in reality it comes up suddenly, without warning. It looks smaller than I thought it would, a huddle of chimneys and gables, and windows so small they seem designed to keep light out, not let it in. There’s no sound in the wide, empty landscape, no motion, no sign of life, just rolling folds of fields, and a soft sky. The garden is a small, flat plot of dull green, split by a single line of paving slabs. An upended wheelbarrow lies next to the cottage door; two slim, rusting swords hang on the wall alongside. The windows are dark. But the front door is unexpectedly, startlingly ajar.

I knock, knuckles scraping against the peeling timber, the noise cracking through the still air. After a few minutes, I knock again, rapping nervously and then loudly, and then calling into the hallway. “Mr Diment?” No answer. Minutes pass. I could simply walk in to this seemingly empty house full of possible answers. Diment’s either out or away or, if he’s actually in, is somewhere out of sight, waiting for me to leave. But then, out on the road, there’s a sudden roar as the waiting taxi driver revs his engine. The silence breaks and with it the spell; I’m standing, uninvited, on a stranger’s doorstep.

Back in London, I look at an article that trails off into a non-ending, about an author who refuses to reappear. Months in, Adam Diment’s no closer than he was at the start. Many of those in his story, like Desmond Elliott, David Hemmings and film producer Stanley Canter, are dead. And those still alive aren’t talking. Adam Diment is now in his early seventies; the version of him that exists is a half-century old cartoon. And beyond that blurry Austin Powers persona, there are only a handful of half-views of the real man: a precocious, confident schoolboy, popular but withdrawn; an ambitious writer-in-waiting; an overnight sensation who lived his dream in front of the cameras and went home to the flat he shared with his brother; the world-wandering recluse, sheltered by his money after the spotlight faded; the husband and father who put his public past away, and who refuses to talk about it to this day. Every piece of information seems only to deepen the cloud of vagueness around him, not to pierce it. Mysteries are only mysteries if you want them to be; Adam Diment certainly acts like he wants his life to remain one.

A few hours after my visit, Diment’s younger son contacts me. His father isn’t even in the country. In recent years, he’s taken to travelling again, returning more often to the Far Eastern drop-out trail he first followed in the Seventies. It seems a poor finale to his story; not a bang (bang), not even a whimper. What would Philip McAlpine have done? More than likely, he’d have taken the hint: Diment’s hero was never slow to cut his losses. But perhaps more to the point, how would the tirelessly vindictive Rupert Quine have responded?

On impulse, I look up the number of the Phnom Penh hotel where Hugh Harrison met Diment. It takes minutes of painful repetition over a crackling line to establish that a British tourist with a name somewhere in the “Mr Diment” ballpark is currently staying there, but only seconds for the cheery receptionist to offer to fetch him. I put the phone down, half-shocked, heart pounding. Has Adam Diment been a simple call away the entire time?

Ten minutes later I ring back, only to be met with incomprehension once more. But after bellowing “Die-Ment” down the line several times, something clicks; they remember me, and the errand. “Oh, yeee-sss! Die-ment! He gone.”

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From the man in charge of creating them​
The Dude Big Lebowski
GIF
Film
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These Are The 21 Greatest Character Exits In Movie History
"The Dude abides"​​
Jamie Vardy
Culture
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Jamie Vardy Slowed His Injury Recovery Because He Loved Skittle Vodka Too Much
A hero we can relate to​​​
James Corden and Usain Bolt
TV
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Watch James Corden Take On Usain Bolt In A 100 Metre Sprint
Also starring Owen Wilson, for some reason​​​