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Leaky Establishment [Paperback]

David Langford
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 24 1985
"I'd rank this book alongside Michael Frayn's The Tin Men, another neglected classic. I've wanted for years to see it back in print. It is one of those books you end up buying several copies of, because you just have to lend it to friends. It's very funny. It's very real." - from the introduction by Terry Pratchett

Smuggling plutonium out of a nuclear research centre is surprisingly easy. The difficult part is smuggling it back in again ...

The Leaky Establishment is an atomic farce whose author David Langford once worked in the gentle radioactive glow of Britain's nuclear weapons industry, and who hilariously satirises it from the inside. Black comedy overtakes the unfortunate defence scientist hero Roy Tappen when a "harmless" theft of office furniture lands him with his very own doomsday nuclear stockpile at home. Chain reactions of comic escapades follow, with disaster piled on disaster, leading the increasingly desperate Tappen to the borders of science fiction as he seeks a way out of the mess.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Review

A comic novel with both verbal wit and comedy of situation, that owes something to the tradition of Tom Sharpe, and a great deal more to the Langfordian warped sense of humour. The Leaky Establishment has that quality belonging to genuine farce, best described as delighted frustration - frustration because Tappen is blocked at every turn, difficulty piled on impossibility, until it seems that the plot can never be resolved; and delight, because these impossibilities are comic, one has the immense and reprehensible satisfaction of seeing some other poor bugger in the mire. -- Mary Gentle, Interzone

A comic novel with both verbal wit and comedy of situation. -- Mary Gentle, Interzone

A splendid send-up. -- Daily Mail

An agreeable romp. (AWRE News, house journal of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (since renamed), Aldermaston, Berkshire, England) -- AWRE News

An agreeable romp. -- AWRE News, house journal of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment

I'd rank this book alongside Michael Frayn's The Tin Men, another neglected classic. I've wanted for years to see it back in print. It is one of those books you end up buying several copies of, because you just have to lend it to friends. It's very funny. It's very real. -- From the introduction by Terry Pratchett

The Leaky Establishment concerns the trials and tribulations of one Roy Tappen, a scientist at the Nuclear-Utilization Technology Centre at Robinson Heath, who discovers that sneaking the plutonium core of a nuclear warhead out of the centre is easy enough; the problems arise when he tries to sneak it back in. It's either a gloriously absurd farce or a sober record of The Great British System disguised as a gloriously absurd farce: whichever way round it's the kind of book you can give to spouses/partners who can't stand SF. -- Andy Sawyer, British SF Association, Paperback Inferno --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From the Publisher

The Leaky Establishment was the first title I signed up for Big Engine. I had read it at university and found it frighteningly funny -- it’s more than just a knockabout farce in the nuclear industry, it’s plausible too, from its opening blurb of genuine British Admiralty bureaucratese (“…it will be seen to that the bottom of each warhead immediately be labelled with the word TOP”) to the closing line. Then I graduated and grew up and moved out into the real world, and found further proof of its reality at every line.

Part of Big Engine’s ideal is to keep the classics, the works that people need to read, in print. This is one such book. Anyone who grew up in the Reagan/Thatcher era can read it and thank their lucky stars they are still here today. Anyone from a younger generation, read it and see what your elders and betters went through …

Ben Jeapes,Big Engine --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


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Customer Reviews

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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Curses! Long after we'd abandoned hope of a reprint, and barely 12 weeks after I'd splashed out on a used - signed, no less - first edition, this imprint inexplicably appears!
Don't get me wrong: it's a pretty funny book. Set around the aptly-named "Robinson Heath" bomb lab (a blatant send-up of AWRE Aldermaston, where the author once worked), it recounts the exploits of scientist Roy Tappen who accidentally takes the fissile part of his work home one night and struggles to smuggle it back inside the fence. In the process, Langford shines the harsh light of satire on the secretive and cowering creatures of the Scientific Civil Service.
The plot is far-fetched (luckily), and the story mashes in a fair few in-jokes, such as place names, which mean that you can probably knock half a star off the rating if you haven't worked at Aldermaston and another half if you don't know the area. Shame to see the laser getting only one throwaway gag though, since it's such a multi-billion dollar save-the-earth project in the US and France now.
Langford's style a bit glib and teenaged (maybe he was still gloating at his escape?) but it rattles along quite nicely. But the best part has got to be the wonderfully succinct caricatures of inmates in UK Government labs: a must for anyone who's had to deal with them.
What's puzzling is the timing: Aldermaston was privatised in the early 1990s, so this tale isn't really a hard-hitting topical parody any more. In fact, the place is overdue for a sequel: trendy new management styles etc bred new stereotypes, and the funnier old ones, like the industrial-rate smokers, have gone.
Read more ›
Was this review helpful to you?
Format:Paperback
Curses! Long after we'd abandoned hope of a reprint, and barely 12 weeks after I'd splashed out on a used - signed, no less - first edition, this imprint inexplicably appears!
Don't get me wrong: it's a pretty funny book. Set around the aptly-named "Robinson Heath" bomb lab (a blatant send-up of AWRE Aldermaston, where the author once worked), it recounts the exploits of scientist Roy Tappen who accidentally takes the fissile part of his work home one night and struggles to smuggle it back inside the fence. In the process, Langford shines the harsh light of satire on the secretive and cowering creatures of the Scientific Civil Service.
The plot is far-fetched (luckily), and the story mashes in a fair few in-jokes, such as place names, which mean that you can probably knock half a star off the rating if you haven't worked at Aldermaston and another half if you don't know the area. Shame to see the laser getting only one throwaway gag though, since it's such a multi-billion dollar save-the-earth project in the US and France now.
Langford's style a bit glib and teenaged (maybe he was still gloating at his escape?) but it rattles along quite nicely. But the best part has got to be the wonderfully succinct caricatures of inmates in UK Government labs: a must for anyone who's had to deal with them.
What's puzzling is the timing: Aldermaston was privatised in the early 1990s, so this tale isn't really a hard-hitting topical parody any more. In fact, the place is overdue for a sequel: trendy new management styles etc bred new stereotypes, and the funnier old ones, like the industrial-rate smokers, have gone.
Read more ›
Was this review helpful to you?
Format:Paperback
Curses! Long after we'd abandoned hope of a reprint, and barely 12 weeks after I'd splashed out on a used - signed, no less - first edition, this imprint inexplicably appears!
Don't get me wrong: it's a pretty funny book. Set around the aptly-named "Robinson Heath" bomb lab (a blatant send-up of AWRE Aldermaston, where the author once worked), it recounts the exploits of scientist Roy Tappen who accidentally takes the fissile part of his work home one night and struggles to smuggle it back inside the fence. In the process, Langford shines the harsh light of satire on the secretive and cowering creatures of the Scientific Civil Service.
The plot is far-fetched (luckily), and the story mashes in a fair few in-jokes, such as place names, which mean that you can probably knock half a star off the rating if you haven't worked at Aldermaston and another half if you don't know the area. Shame to see the laser getting only one throwaway gag though, since it's such a multi-billion dollar save-the-earth project in the US and France now.
Langford's style a bit glib and teenaged (maybe he was still gloating at his escape?) but it rattles along quite nicely. But the best part has got to be the wonderfully succinct caricatures of inmates in UK Government labs: a must for anyone who's had to deal with them.
What's puzzling is the timing: Aldermaston was privatised in the early 1990s, so this tale isn't really a hard-hitting topical parody any more. In fact, the place is overdue for a sequel: trendy new management styles etc bred new stereotypes, and the funnier old ones, like the industrial-rate smokers, have gone.
Read more ›
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Parody of the UK nuclear weapons lab in the 1980s Dec 16 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Curses! Long after we'd abandoned hope of a reprint, and barely 12 weeks after I'd splashed out on a used - signed, no less - first edition, this imprint inexplicably appears!
Don't get me wrong: it's a pretty funny book. Set around the aptly-named "Robinson Heath" bomb lab (a blatant send-up of AWRE Aldermaston, where the author once worked), it recounts the exploits of scientist Roy Tappen who accidentally takes the fissile part of his work home one night and struggles to smuggle it back inside the fence. In the process, Langford shines the harsh light of satire on the secretive and cowering creatures of the Scientific Civil Service.
The plot is far-fetched (luckily), and the story mashes in a fair few in-jokes, such as place names, which mean that you can probably knock half a star off the rating if you haven't worked at Aldermaston and another half if you don't know the area. Shame to see the laser getting only one throwaway gag though, since it's such a multi-billion dollar save-the-earth project in the US and France now.
Langford's style a bit glib and teenaged (maybe he was still gloating at his escape?) but it rattles along quite nicely. But the best part has got to be the wonderfully succinct caricatures of inmates in UK Government labs: a must for anyone who's had to deal with them.
What's puzzling is the timing: Aldermaston was privatised in the early 1990s, so this tale isn't really a hard-hitting topical parody any more. In fact, the place is overdue for a sequel: trendy new management styles etc bred new stereotypes, and the funnier old ones, like the industrial-rate smokers, have gone. Also a pity that Langford didn't include some of the more timeless anecdotes from the "old days", such as the day the guards found that a hundred yards of the fence had been stolen, the guard who (while practising quick draws to while the night away) shot himself in the foot, the dreadful hostel "Boundary Hall" with its wing of 1950s originals still in residence (known in the 1980s as "Death Row") and which was double-glazed throughout - the month before it was demolished.
But overall, a good book. Nice to see it back in print!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Langford's best book Aug. 27 2007
By A. Wells - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is David Langford's best book to date (and that's saying something!) With his usual wit and humour, he has accurately captured both the spirit of the Cold War and the bureaucracy of the Civil Service in the 1970s and 80s. The characters are recognisable to us all, and the situations they get into are both true to life and side-splittingly funny.

If you've already got this book, you should get it down from the shelf and re-read it. If you haven't - well, what are you waiting for?
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious Nuclear Insecurity Sept. 1 2007
By Michael Glyer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The Leaky Establishment is a story spun from Dave Langford's experiences working at a British nuclear research establishment in the 1970s. Protagonist Roy Tappen is like a Wooster with no Jeeves to save him as Langford turns the nuclear research center into a goldmine of laughs.

Roy Tappen borrows a filing cabinet from work to use at home and unknowingly also takes home a plutonium warhead. He spends the rest of the book trying to infiltrate the warhead back where it belongs without Security or his boss discovering it ever left the facility. Tappen soon explains why his warhead in its aluminum jacket is no more dangerous than a lot of household items. From then on Langford is free to treat the plutonium core like any of the other humorous icons whose appearance at the right moment in the story is good for a chuckle. Jokes are set up and triggered in the deft Langford style, at the pace of about a joke per paragraph.

The Leaky Establishment is invested with all the delightful characteristics of Langford's writing, the flair for lucid prose found in writers from Bob Shaw to C.S. Lewis, lots of sophisticated wordplay, and inspired leaps between high-brow and low-brow humor.
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny.... and scary Jan. 15 2003
By Todd D. Vance - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Roy Tappen works for a (thankfully, fictional) nuclear weapons facility in the UK. He fights bureaucracy while trying to use it for his purpose, which is to undo the potentially disasterous results of a practical joke gone wrong.
What's scary is it looks so real, so familiar, to those of us who have dealt with government facilities.
It has a surprise resolution that is rather poetical.
17 of 31 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars BECAUSE I can't give it zero stars Sept. 12 2004
By Robert Whitaker Sirignano - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A dull, boring book. Terry Pratchett wrote an introduction, saying in it "This was the book I wanted to write!". Perhaps he should reconsider.

A bet is made at a nuclear power plant. Swipe the filing cabinets. The man takes them home, and find that a misplaced war head is in the files.

He was going take it back,BUT the very next day, the rules for going in and out of the plant have been upgraded and made more stringent.

A really contrived plot.

There are some funny lines, but the characters are so dull and flat that there's no concern for any of them. I watched the ceiling a lot whie reading this title. It was more interesting.

Langford can write, but the whole book is not worth the effort to seek out his good lines.

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