What a fabulously told nightmare - thank you for sharing this tale with us, @Revelator. Serves to show how invested Fleming was in his golf.
I’m very glad you liked it! Golf was definitely one of Fleming’s greatest and most consistent pleasures in life…and he managed to pass the obsession on to Sean Connery as well!
Introducing Jamaica (Preface to Ian Fleming Introduces Jamaica)
By Ian Fleming
Jamaica has now been my second home for eighteen years. Since 1946 I have been coming here, as regularly as clockwork, from January 15 to March 15 and, each year when the time comes to leave, I say my goodbye with a lump in the throat. In this long span of time everything has changed and yet nothing. Jamaica has grown from a child into an adult, she has flirted with Federation and then broken off the engagement, she has gained her Independence and Membership of the United Nations, bauxite and tourism have changed her economy, emigration to the United Kingdom, with all its problems, brings around £7,000,000 back into the island every year, the West Indian cricketers have become the darlings of the Commonwealth and a Jamaican girl has been chosen Miss World.
But the Doctor’s Wind continues to blow in from the sea during the day and the Undertaker’s Wind blows the stale air out again at night, and the news in The Daily Gleaner, the “Country Newsbits”, is just the same. A family at Maggotty has been wiped out by “vomiting sickness” (the paper still will not add the medical diagnosis of “eating unripe ackee”), — and Cornelius Brown has “mashed” Agatha Brown with his cutlass and has been sentenced to prison and twelve strokes of the tamarind switch. And the people are just the same, always laughing and bawling each other out, singing the old banana songs as they load the fruit into the ships, getting drunk on rum when the ship has sailed, sneaking an illicit whiff of ganja, or an equally illicit visit to the obeahman when they are ill or in trouble, driving motor cars like lunatics, behaving like zanies at the cricket matches and the races, making the night hideous with the “Sound System” on pay night, and all the while moving gracefully and lazily through the day and fearing the “rolling calf” at night.
And yet, against this background of “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” my own life has been turned upside down at, or perhaps even by, the small house named ‘Goldeneye’ I built eighteen years ago on the north shore, and by my life in Jamaica. In 1952, I got married here, in the Registry Office in my neighbouring Port Maria. Noel Coward and his secretary Cole Leslie were the witnesses and Noel tied the shoe on to the back of his own car by mistake.
Encouraged by marriage, or as an antidote to this dangerous transmogrification after forty-three years of bachelorhood, I sat down at the red bullet-wood desk where I am now typing this, and, for better or for worse, wrote the first of twelve best-selling thrillers that have sold around twenty million copies and been translated into twenty-three languages. I wrote every one of them at this desk with the jalousies closed around me so that I would not be distracted by the birds and the flowers and the sunshine outside until I had completed my daily stint. (I have interrupted my sticky thirteenth to write these words.)
The books feature a man called James Bond. Here is another Jamaican link. I was looking for a name for my hero — nothing like Peregrine Carruthers or “Standfast” Maltravers — and I found it, on the cover of one of my Jamaican bibles, Birds of the West Indies by James Bond, an ornithological classic. (Only a couple of weeks ago, I met him, the real James Bond, and Mrs Bond, for the first time. They arrived out of the blue and couldn’t have been nicer about my theft of the family name. It helped at the customs, they said!) Would these books have been born if I had not been living in the gorgeous vacuum of a Jamaican holiday? I doubt it. Noel Coward has written much of his later music and prose here and other still more famous writers, let alone painters, have been stimulated by Jamaica. I suppose it is the peace and silence and cut-offness from the madding world that urges people to create here. There is certainly enough native talent to support the theory.
And my life has been changed in other ways. I first learned about the bottom of the sea from the reefs around my property and that has added a new dimension to my view of the world. And, a vital postgraduate study, I learned about living amongst, and appreciating, coloured people — two very different lessons I would never have absorbed if my life had continued in its pre-Jamaican metropolitan rut. But, above all, Jamaica has provided a wonderful annual escape from the cold and grime of winters in England, into blazing sunshine, natural beauty and the most healthy life I could wish to live.
My house, Goldeneye, has also lived through many changes. The thirty or so acres in which it stands were a barren donkey’s racecourse when I built it. Now the land is a jungle of tall trees and tropical shrubs and we could live on my citrus and coconuts and the fish from the sea. Couples have spent their honeymoons here, stricken friends have regained their health, painters and writers — Cecil Beaton, Truman Capote, Lucian Freud, Graham Greene, Robert Harling, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Rosamund Lehmann, Peter Quennell, Alan Ross, Stephen Spender, Evelyn Waugh — have stayed and worked here, and a British Prime Minister and his wife, Sir Anthony and Lady Eden, were here for three weeks during his convalescence in the winter of 1956, after Suez. (The Jamaican Government turned my little gazebo on the western corner of the property into a direct teleprinter link with Number 10 Downing Street. The police guards cut ‘God Bless Sir Anthony and Lady Eden’ into the bark of my cedar trees. The detective, sleeping in the back room, shot at the bush rats, beloved by my wife, with his revolver, but the two trees, of a species still wrapped in mystery, which the Edens planted, have flourished mightily.)
But this is name-dropping. Why should this modest house, with wooden jalousies and no glass in the windows, with three bedrooms with shower baths and lavatories that often hiss like vipers or ullulate like stricken bloodhounds, with its modest staff of local help, headed by Violet, my incomparable housekeeper for all these years, have attracted all these famous people to its meagre bosom come rain (which can often fall, as it does in all corners of the world) or shine which it always will in my memory? Noel Coward provides a comment. He is given to hyperbole. In 1948, from March 22 to May 31, he stayed at Goldeneye, at, he claims, an exorbitant rent. He wrote in the visitor’s book, and foolishly signed them, the following words: “The happiest two months I have ever spent.” He then went off and, as close to me as he could get, built a house (what am I saying? four houses) and — to hell with the charms of Bermuda and Switzerland! — comes here every year. But, before he left Goldeneye, he wrote the ode which I now reprint, not for its merit, which is small, but purely to fill up space.
NOEL COWARD MEMORIAL ODE
Alas! I cannot adequately praise
The dignity, the virtue and the grace
Of this most virile and imposing place
Wherein I passed so many airless days.
Alas! Were I to write ’till crack of doom
No typewriter, no pencil, nib, nor quill
Could ever recapitulate the chill
And arid vastness of the living-room.
Alas! I cannot accurately find
Words to express the hardness of the seat
Which, when I cheerfully sat down to eat
Seared with such cunning into my behind.
Alas! However much I raved and roared
No rhetoric, no witty diatribe
Could ever, even partially, describe
The impact of the spare-room bed — and board.
Alas! I am not someone who exclaims
With rapture over ancient equine prints.
Ah no, dear Ian, I can only wince
At all those horses framed in all those frames.
Alas! My sensitivity rebels,
Not at loose shutters; not at plagues of ants,
Nor other “sub-let” bludgeonings of chance
But, at those hordes of ageing faded shells.
Alas! If only common-sense could teach
The stubborn heart to heed the crafty brain
You would, before you let your house again
Remove the barracudas from the beach.
But still my dear Commander, I admit,
No matter how I criticize and grouse,
That I was strangely happy in your house
In fact I’m very very fond of it.
Signed “Noel”, February 1949
(Note that it took the man nine months to dream up this insulting doggerel!)
Well, I am still devoted to the monster (misprint for “Master”) and the rivalry between our houses (he refers to mine as “Goldeneye, Nose and Throat”) has continued all these fifteen years (he wanted to build a swimming bath — his beach is lousy — and asked his “attorney” what strength of pump he would need to keep the water clean. The attorney replied “Hit depend, Mister Cowhard, how much soap you use”). But the point is clear. It is not the rude comforts of my house that appeal nor, I think, entirely my wife, who is as honey to a hummingbird. It is the friendly embrace of Jamaica and of the Jamaican way of life, and the fact, as the advertisements put it, that Jamaica is no place like home. To illustrate what the country is made of and what it has to offer, and as an hors d’oeuvre to the more nourishing fare that follows, I will reprint here my very first impressions of Jamaica, a mood piece which I wrote for Cyril Connolly’s famous Horizon magazine in December, 1947, and specifically for the lively series, entitled “Where Shall John Go?” which was aimed at readers who wished to flee the drabness of postwar Britain. I have made a very few alterations in the light of my experience of Jamaica since it was first written. But these few alterations are only of facts; the mood remains unaltered.
[Article omitted for reason of length and because it is already online]
Well, there you are — the great part of the first article I ever wrote, the writing of which perhaps gave me confidence one day to write a book. There is little that I would alter today. Many facts have dated. The mosquitoes have been almost entirely eradicated, the political background has changed, although those perennial duellists, Sir Alexander Bustamente and Mr Norman Manley, are still at it, and the University has been built, but I would alter nothing of the “mood” of the piece except to add the caveat that some of the many new hotels charge exorbitantly and that shrimp cocktails and steak have followed the almighty dollar into the island.
To write any more would be only to repeat myself and to hold you from the wonderful team of Jamaican writers whom my friend Morris Cargill has assembled to make this the first comprehensive book ever to have been written on Jamaica.
As you can see from the date, this one of Fleming’s last writings–probably his second to last. For greater context, make sure to read the invaluable Goldeneye. Where Bond Was Born: Ian Fleming’s Jamaica, by Matthew Parker.
There are a number of positive reviews on that book, such as that of the Financial Times…
Yes, the book was well-received, though there were a couple of reviewers who resented Parker for not demonizing Fleming as a racist/sexist etc. I also reviewed the book for Artistic Licence Renewed. Parker’s Goldeneye belongs on the short shelf of required reference books on literary Bond, next to The Man with the Golden Typewriter, Amis’s Bond Dossier, and Chancellor’s James Bond: The Man and His World.
The Case of the Painfully Pulled Leg (San Francisco Chronicle, September 16, 1963)
By Ian Fleming
Some Caen. Some Caen’t.
No harm in starting off with a really bad joke. Master, or rather Past-master Caen has several times exercised his lamentable sense of humor at my and James Bond’s expense and I am glad of this opportunity to strike back.
But a valid truism lies behind the execrable pun. To the uninitiated, it looks easy enough to be a columnist. What could be more simple than to sit down at the typewriter and ramble on about the passing scene—the human comedy?
After all, Boswell was no genius. He just wrote down what he saw and what he thought—commonplace stuff. He was no Shakespeare, no Shelley—a competent reporter with ink in his veins.
Ah, but that’s the point! You must have ink in your veins. You really must love writing and communicating in order to sit down and write around 1000 words a day in such a fashion that people will read them. And that is what a daily columnist has to do.
Every day, come hangover, come flu, come lack of inspiration, come ailing wife or bawling children, he must go confidently and with seeming omniscience on stage and show himself to the public in naked black and white.
No excuses! You are a columnist, and by God you’ve got to fill your column to the satisfaction of your readers and, though this may be rare, to your own.
I know these things because I once wrote a column myself. I did it for three years and chucked it about five years ago when James Bond came to my rescue.
I was Foreign Manager of the Sunday Times (the real one. Not yours!) and I thought that its gossip column, which went, and still goes, by the pompous name of “Atticus,” was so bad that I would have a bash at it in between coping with the future of the world and the marital tangles of my foreign correspondents.
I renamed the column “People and Things” by Atticus, because I am interested in Things, and got into business. It went down all right, though I received more kicks than ha’pence from an editor whose sense of humor differed from mine, and the from readers who appeared only interested in writing in when I made a mistake, and to this day I am proud of two paragraphs of undying merit from that long stint.
The first, through a careful study of the psychology of the drinking American, correctly forecast the winning Miss Rheingold for that year (You see how right the editor was. Perhaps .007 per cent of Sunday Times readers had even heard of Rheingold beer).
The second, revealing the existence of a Grimsby troglodyte who smoked kippers as they should be smoked, brought in 4,700 letters (A record for the paper) and incidentally made a fortune for the old man.
Is there a common denominator between my modest achievement and Herb
Caen’s majestic record? What’s all this about Fleming anyway? We want to hear about Herb. Patience! Pazienza! Geduld!
Yes, there is a common denominator. Every columnist, and Herb Caen is a shining example, must be interested in everything, even in those matters which are outside his readers’ ken, and he must communicate his enthusiasms to the reader, and secondly, he must have some vague social purpose—a desire to help and instruct his readers and if possible right an occasional wrong (rescue the kipper merchant for instance).
But above all, whether exposing a peccant mayor or police chief (a favorite sport in the United States, I believe) or just writing about the smog, he must at all costs avoid being a bore.
For half a generation, and from the evidence of this anniversary accolade, Herb Caen, writing for perhaps the most wide-awake community in the United States, somehow has managed, day in, day out, to avoid being a bore. For what it is worth, we have not, in Great Britain, got one journalist with anything like the same record.
And, in conclusion, I will tell you something else which is even more to his credit, and something which may be news to you. Some time ago, amongst my cuttings (clippings), I received a column by Herb Caen which affectionately but devastatingly sent up James Bond, pulling the author’s leg almost out of its socket.
A saboteur in the pay of SMERSH, I surmised, and tucked the author’s name away in my “unfinished business” file.
When next in New York, I asked one of the hamlet’s most famous editors about this fellow Caen.
“He’s one of America’s greatest columnists,” he said. “We’d all like to get him. Trouble is, nothing on earth will drag him away from San Francisco.”
Well, feed your captive well. He’s good for another 25 years at the coal face.
Note: Caen actually spent 34 more years at the coal face. He was one of Fleming’s early American fans and helped popularize the books in his column from January 28, 1962, titled “The Thin Cruel Smile.”
Well, you can imagine how excited I got recently when I read that President Kennedy’s favorite author of secret service thrillers is Britain’s Ian Fleming. In the twinkling of a trice, I felt closer to the lonely young man in the White House—perhaps even a step along the road toward solving the mystery of those hooded, opaque eyes (Mr. Fleming writes like that)…
Mr. Fleming, whose books sell in the millions, is the creator of James Bond, the classiest British secret service agent ever to purr down the pike in a Bentley convertible with two inch exhausts. Bond’s exploits and sexploits are explored (all right, and sexplored!) in a series of adventures with such compelling titles as Moonraker, Goldfinger, Doctor No and From Russia, With Love, to name only a few…
Mr. Fleming is a Mickey Spillane who went to Eton—snobbish, sadistic and inventive, with a fine eye for detail. Hence his James Bond wouldn’t be caught dead in anything so obvious as a trenchcoat; when Bond is caught dying (but soon to make a miraculous recovery), you can be sure he will be wearing something from Savile Row, tastefully old.
After this article, Caen and Fleming met in London. Their lunch was immortalized in Caen’s May 16, 1963 column “Conversation at Scott’s.” Excerpts below:
“Do you know any good villains?” he inquired, flicking an ash off his blue suit (no pocket handkerchief). “Villains are the hardest for me. I was rather fond of Rosa Klebb, but, of course, I had to kill her off. Same with ‘Doctor No.’” I mentioned Blofeld, the evil fellow with the syphilitic nose who almost finishes Bond in his newest book, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but Mr. Fleming merely shook his head over his lamb chops (pink in the middle).
“I kill off Blofeld in the next book, which I just finished,” he said regretfully. “An excruciating death. And as for Bond, I’ve got him in such a devil of a pickle I don’t know how I’m EVER going to get him out. Poor James.”
In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service the dashing Bond, who averages three affairs and an equal number of killings per book, marries a fine girl named Tracy. As they are starting out on their honeymoon in a white Lancia, the unspeakable Blofeld, in a red Maserati, races past and fires at them. At the end of the book, the Lancia has crashed into a field, “and Bond put his arm around her shoulders, across which the dark patches had begun to flower.”
“I hate to ask this,” I said, mindful of previous miraculous recoveries, “but is Tracy REALLY dead?”
Mr. Fleming poured himself a splash of vin ordinaire from a carafe and nodded sorrowfully. “Of course,” he replied. “Blood oozing out the back—sure sign. Too bad, but I couldn’t keep Bond married, you know. He’s on constant call, has to be too many places, get into too many scrapes. Wouldn’t do at all.”
He glanced at the stainless steel Rolex on his left wrist. “Really must go,” he apologized. “Catching a plane for Istanbul, where they’re filming From Russia, With Love. The first picture made from one of my books—Dr. No—has just been released here. Tremendous success. Made all its costs back right away, and I’m happy to say I have a small piece of the action. Sean Connery will play James Bond again—don’t you think he’s a fine Bond?”
We agreed. We had seen a preview of Dr. No, and Connery seemed almost as good as the real thing. Mr. Fleming struggled into a luminous blue raincoat and led the way out of Scott’s into the gray London afternoon. As we searched for a cab, he pointed to a second-story corner window of the restaurant. “See that window?” he asked. When James is in London he always lunches there, at the corner table. That’s so he can look down and watch the pretty girls walking past.”
Caen later devoted a column to Fleming’s death. In “Farewell to Double Nought Seven” (August 16, 1964), he wrote:
I saw Ian Fleming for the first and last time in London, a little over a year ago. His penultimate book, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, was about to be published and the word was already around that in it, James Bond, the avowed bachelor, had married La Comtesse Teresa di Vicenzo, otherwise known as Tracy. “That’s true,” smiled Fleming over lunch at Scott’s, “but of course I had to kill her off at the end. Nasty death, on their honeymoon. It wouldn’t do at all for James to be married, you understand—a wife would just be in the way. I may have to kill off Bond one of these days, too—before he kills me. Plots are getting harder and harder to come up with.”
…I didn’t realize how closely he identified with Bond till we got around to a discussion of the movie versions of his books (Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and next, Goldfinger). When we agreed that the actor who portrayed M., Bond’s chief, was miscast, I suggested “You should play M.—you’re about the same age, aren’t you?”
Immediately, he looked hurt, and I clammed up. Obviously, he felt he had nothing in common with the aging sea dog who headed the British Secret Service. He gave me a long, cold, ironical look that would have done justice to James Bond.
…Spy critics poked fun at Bond’s modus operandi…They snickered at Fleming’s penchant for ticking off Bond’s clothing, smoking and drinking habits by brand name, never letting him forget that he misspelled Bond’s favorite champagne…Fleming’s patient report to all this criticism was “Don’t they have any sense of fun?”—and, in this gloomy, literal-minded world, Bond was fun, for all his faults…it’s hard to fault a writer who could invent such lovely names as Pussy Galore, Tiffany Case, Sable Basilisk and Emilio Largo. And when James slipped into his faultless evening clothes, patted the .25 Beretta in its chamois holster, filled his gun metal cigarette case with 50 Morlands and got behind the wheel of his Mark II Continental Bentley, with the two-inch pipes bubbling in his wake, we knew we were off to high adventure. For James Bond was licensed to kill. And last week, he killed the man who loved him best—and, in the process, himself. If he were still around, he would have read the news with a cold, ironical smile, creasing the vertical scar in his right cheek.
Caen also wrote about the San Francisco world premiere of A View to a Kill, which he hated:
With the enthusiastic cooperation of the Mayor and the police and fire departments, San Francisco is made to look like a loony-bin in the newest and possibly last James Bond film, A View to a Kill, an awkward movie with an awkward title. As I recall, author Ian Fleming’s original title for the flimsy short story on which this $30-million bombo is shakily based was With a View to a Kill [sic], which scans a little more smoothly. It wasn’t Fleming at his best but the movie it inspired may be James Bondage at its worst.
One Man’s World (Sunday Times, April 24, 1960)
By Ian Fleming
Have you murdered anyone lately? All right. How do you know you haven’t?
Watching the Halford-Hewitt Tournament the other day, I remembered my first visit to Deal twenty-five years ago and the murder, or at least culpable homicide, in which I participated.
My accomplices and I, tenderloins in golf and life, stood on the first tee. Halfway down the fairway, moving slowly and hitting the ball erratically, were two elderly gentlemen. One of the caddies said: “You’ll never get through them. That’s Captain Smith and Colonel Jones. They never let anyone through.”
For five holes, despite first courteous requests, then unheeded shouts of “Fore!” and finally mild bombardment, we could only creep forward like angry snails. Finally, at No. 6, Colonel Jones sliced into the shingle and there they both were, scrabbling for their one sphere amidst a million others—but still not waving us through. We played that hole as if it was a fast hockey match, calling sarcastic “Thank you, sirs” as we sprinted past.
When, later, we came out from luncheon for our second round, we expressed the fervent hope that we would not find the Colonel and the Captain ahead of us again.
“No, you won’t that,” said my caddie.
“Colonel Jones is dead!”
“Good heavens, what happened?”
“He was that mad after this morning, sir, when he finished his round he got into his car and drove off like crazy. When he got to the sharp turn on to the esplanade he stamped on the accelerator by mistake for the brake and went over into the sea.”
As certainly as if with a gun, we had slain Colonel Jones.
To be serious, people, just as unwittingly, are killing their neighbours every day all over the world—by an act of bad driving, after which, perhaps far behind, there is the distant crash of a collision; by blowing germs into people’s faces; by bathing and mountain-climbing “accidents” for which, however remotely, they were the indirect cause. And then there is the slow homicide, by cruelty, neglect, hate, lack of charity.
To go back to the beginning, how do you know you haven’t?
True and Blue
I have no connection with the company (except, that is, for using their products for the past thirty years) so I can’t be accused of payola if I reveal that Gillettes have a splendid new razor blade—the Extra-Blue—coming on the market in a few days’ time. Indeed I almost severed relations with them recently when I found them responsible for squandering some of my small stock of virtue.
All those years, after shaving, I had meticulously washed my razor and carefully cleaned the blade, sneering at the unkempt razors in other people’s bathrooms. Not long ago, I began frequently to cut myself shaving. Reluctantly, because I hate the noise they make, I consulted my chemist about electric razors. He asked me if I had recently changed houses—as in fact I had—and suggested that probably the water in the new house was much harder than in my old. (This turned out to be the solution.) He also asked suspiciously if I cleaned the razor blade after use.
“Of course,” I said proudly.
“Well, you shouldn’t. You blunt the blade. You should just rinse the razor under the tap.”
I was, and still am, aghast at the oceans of virtuous diligence I have wasted because this vital piece of intelligence (confirmed by Gillettes) was excluded from my education. A few printed words by the bewhiskered patriarch on those packets would have saved me thirty years of doing dutifully, laboriously, the right thing—and being utterly wrong!
A murrain on the Governor and Company of the Bank of England for slaughtering our pound notes—and so soon after slaying our beautiful fivers. A murrain also on the Big Five, to whom I understand the new design was submitted, and a murrain re-doubled on the Treasury, who lord it over the Bank when it suits them but now publicly disown responsibility for the Bank’s vandalism.
I personally believe that it is nothing but an act of self-aggrandisement by the Bank of England. Not only has she given herself a type several points larger, but she has managed to get her own name on the new notes something like 300 times instead of only twice on the old bit of lettuce.
Only two aspects of the new design commend themselves—the smaller size of the note, slightly more commensurate with its purchasing power, and the “how-dare-you!” expression on the face of Her Majesty the Queen.
I write thrillers whose “hero” is a secret agent called James Bond. Not long ago I was invited to play golf for an Old Etonian side against the school. My young opponent was called Ian Bond. Amused by the coincidence, I asked him if he had ever heard of a man called James Bond. “Oh yes,” he said politely. “That’s my uncle. He lives in Essex.”
Wonderful post. I love these little anecdotes.
Yes, they’re good fun. I’m not quite sure if “One Man’s World” was a series of guest-of-the-week columns, but this piece is reminiscent of Fleming’s Atticus columns, which ran from 1953 to 1956.
Fleming’s thoughts on how “people, just as unwittingly, are killing their neighbours every day” probably derive from this passage in the first chapter of Goldfinger:
Anyway, people were killing other people all the time, all over the world. People were using their motor cars to kill with. They were carrying infectious diseases around, blowing microbes in other people’s faces, leaving gas-jets turned on in kitchens, pumping out carbon monoxide in closed garages. How many people, for instance, were involved in manufacturing H-bombs, from the miners who mined the uranium to the shareholders who owned the mining shares? Was there any person in the world who wasn’t somehow, perhaps only statistically, involved in killing his neighbour?
I wonder who I’ve killed recently. Anyway, some of us are more murderous than others.
As for Ian Bond, after 1964 he certainly knew of more than one man called James Bond!
I haven’t killed anyone… well… lately. Only the middle of the month.
Brilliant reads these bits. Great fun.
Eton and Brought Up (Sunday Times, June 3, 1962)
By Ian Fleming
The Fourth of June. By David Benedictus. (Blond. 18s.)
I don’t think the old music-hall gag is inappropriate. In this brilliant first novel Mr Benedictus has swallowed his public school life and regurgitated it because some of its bones stuck in his throat.
It was inevitable that before long we should have an angry young Old Etonian, and Etonians, wincing as they will beneath the author’s lash, will at least admit that the cane is being wielded by a supremely talented hand.
Perhaps The Fourth of June should have been reviewed by one of the author’s own generation. The last book on Eton I read, apart from the scintillating fragments by Connolly and Orwell, was One of Us, a romantic novel in verse by Gilbert Frankau, some thirty years ago. To older generations of Etonians, Mr Benedictus’s bubbling, steaming brew of adolescent life, peppered with the á la mode four-letter words, will be almost unrecognisable. But only almost, because beneath the author’s vicious brush-strokes the ancient brickwork, the remembered totems and taboos come through, often with exquisite brilliance.
Briefly, the story is of Scarfe, a grammar-school boy bent and finally broken by the snobbery, sadism and sexuality (hetero-, homo-, and auto-) which, in the Benedictan view, are the devils in the machine of an Eton education, and this theme, for a man with as sharp a pen as the author’s, is, of course, a natural.
Knowing nothing of the strains and stresses suffered by the modern Scarfes beneath the weight of Eton and its customs, it is difficult for an older Etonian not to argue that in his day the psychologically halt and lame boys also went to the wall, and he might complain, I think legitimately, that the author has outstripped the bounds of truth in laying Scarfe’s downfall to the three S’s mentioned above.
I cannot, for instance, swallow the Bishop with his militant religiosity combined with voyeurism. I do not believe in the sadism of Defries, Captain of the House, in the strangulation of the hero’s pet bird, nor in the pusillanimity and downright venality of the housemaster and the headmaster (in a foreword Mr Benedictus makes plain what is obviously true, that none of his characters have any relation to any living person) when faced with blackmail by a boy’s mother who finally pays off the housemaster with her body.
These, and many other incidents, however brilliantly described—an elder boy who hires out his younger brother is a sharp and disagreeable case in point—are sheer caricature, and to give poor Scarfe festering wounds which sent him to the sanatorium after being tanned by the Captain of the House as a punishment for a breach of the rules, which both culprits could have explained, is, to this former target of cane and birch, incredible.
And was it really necessary to be so much involved in the angry swim as to need to direct a harsh side-kick at Royalty?
But these are criticisms of a reader who was fascinated by one of the most brilliant first novels since the war, written with rapier wit, acute observation and a perceptive eye for each of the lesser characters. The style is sharp and professional (though Mr Benedictus will kindly write out “éminences grises”—page 21—a hundred times) and the whole devastating package is embellished by the Jacket of the Year.
We shall hear more of Mr. Benedictus, so I informed myself about him. He is 23, the son of the managing director of a famous London store, and he was Captain of his House at Eton. Then came Balliol and the State University of Iowa to learn play-writing . He is now with the B.B.C.
Which of these institutions will bend next to the harsh block?
The reason Ian Fleming reviewed this novel apparently was its “Jacket of the Year” by none other than Richard Chopping, Fleming’s favorite Bond book cover artist:
For more information, consult the article “Blessed by Fleming, Adorned by Chopping – ‘The Fourth of June’”.
My crude guess is that Chopping asked Fleming to review The Fourth of June as a favor, and though Fleming hated the novel’s portrait of Eton and said so, he sweetened his review with some blurbable praise (“one of the most brilliant first novels since the war”).
Interested potential readers should be informed that the most recent reprint of the book dispenses with Chopping’s cover. Speaking only for myself, I’ve never been crazy about Chopping’s trompe-l’œil book covers, even for the Bond novels.
Author David Benedictus has another quasi-Bond connection. He wrote the original-but-later-discarded script for the very troubled Harry Saltzman-produced Olivia Newton-John sci-fi musical Toomorrow.
Saltzman, who by this time had numerous money woes, could not and did not pay anybody who worked on the film. Director Val Guest (one of CR67’s directors) obtained an injunction blocking the film’s release until all and sundry were paid. Did it work? Nope. Saltzman paid not a dime and the film remained in legal limbo for decades.
Harry Saltzman; a man happy to indefinitely delay film production and release, even 25 years after he died, so he didn’t have to pay back a single penny.
Who knew the connection between Ian Fleming and an Olivia Newton-John sci-fi musical would be so direct? I wonder what Benedictus thought of such an insane project.
Foreword to The Seven Deadly Sins (1962)
by Ian Fleming
I have various qualifications for writing an introduction to this series of distinguished and highly entertaining essays.
First of all, I invented the idea of the series when, a couple of years ago, I was still a member of the Editorial Board of the London Sunday Times. This Board meets every Tuesday to comment on the issue of the previous Sunday, discuss the plans for the next issue and put forward longer-term projects.
It is quite a small Board of seven or eight heads of departments—I was Foreign Manager at the time—together with the Editor and the Proprietor, Mr. Roy Thomson, and we are all good friends, though at this weekly meeting, beneath the surface of our friendliness, lurk all the deadly sins with the exception of gluttony and lust. Each one of us has pride in our department of the paper; many of us are covetous of the editorial chair; most are envious of the bright ideas put forward by others; anger comes to the surface at what we regard as unmerited criticism, and sloth, certainly in my case, lurks in the wings.
The same pattern is probably followed at all executive meetings in all branches of business. When someone else puts up a bright idea, however useful or profitable it may be to the business concerned, traces at least of Envy, Anger and Covetousness will be roused in his colleagues. Yet, on the occasion when I put forward this particular “bright” idea for the future, I seem to remember nothing but approbation and a genial nodding of heads.
The project was outside my own sphere of action on the paper and I heard nothing more of it until I had left the Sunday Times to concentrate on writing thrillers centered round a member of the British Secret Service called James Bond. So I cannot describe what troubles the Literary Editor ran into in his endeavours to marry the Seven Deadly Sins to seven appropriate authors. So far as I can recall, the marriages I myself had suggested were closely followed, except that I had suggested Mr. Malcolm Muggeridge to write on the theme of Anger on the grounds that he is such an extremely angry man. In the event, as you will see, Mr W.H. Auden was the brilliant choice.
My next claim to introduce these essays was my suggestion to Mr. Lawrence Hughes, a friend of mine and a Director of William Morrow & Co., that he should publish them in a book. Usually when one makes brilliant suggestions to a publisher, a dull glaze comes-over his eyes and nothing happens. But in this case Larry Hughes was enthusiastic and, despite all kinds of copyright problems, energetically pursued my suggestion and gathered these seven famous English authors together between hard covers—no mean feat if you know anything about copyright and literary agents.
So you might think I could justifiably allow myself a modest indulgence in the deadly sin of Pride. You would be mistaken. I have read and re-read these essays with pleasure and profit, but their moral impact upon me has been uncomfortable. To be precise and truthful, the critical examination of these famous sins by some of the keenest brains of today has led me to the dreadful conclusion that in fact all these ancient sins, compared with the sins of today, are in fact very close to virtues.
To run through the list. I have always admired the Pride of Dame Edith Sitwell, the pride which, with her proudful brothers, has carried this remarkable literary family through battles of opinion and taste reaching back to my youth.
The Covetousness of Cyril Connolly, which he takes off so brilliantly in his piece of fiction, is one of his most endearing qualities and he would be a smaller and less interesting man without it.
The Gluttony for life, food, drink and women of Patrick Leigh-Fermor are the essence of his tremendous zest for everything. Lust? If Christopher Sykes is lustful, may he, and I for the matter of that, long remain so.
Envy has its ugly sides, but if I, as a second son amongst four, had not been envious of my older brother and his achievements I would not have wished all my life to try and emulate him. As for Anger, surely we all need more rather than less of it to combat the indifference, the “I’m all right, Jack” attitudes, of today.
Of all the seven, only Sloth in its extreme form of accidia, which is a form of spiritual suicide and a refusal of joy, so brilliantly examined by Evelyn Waugh, has my wholehearted condemnation, perhaps because in moments of despair I have seen its face.
How drab and empty life would be without these sins, and what dull dogs we all would be without a healthy trace of many of them in our make up! And has not the depiction of these sins and their consequences been the yeast in most great fiction and drama? Could Shakespeare, Voltaire, Balzac, Dostoevsky or Tolstoy have written their masterpieces if humanity had been innocent of these sins? It is almost as if Leonardo, Titian, Rembrandt and Van Gogh had been required to paint without using the primary colours.
The truth, of course, is that generally speaking these Seven Deadly Sins were enumerated by monks for monks, and one can easily see how mischievous and harmful they could be within a monastery.
We do not live in a monastery, but in a great pulsating ant heap, and this brings me back to the moral confusion into which I have been thrown by these essays and which amounts to feeling that there are other and deadlier sins which I would like to see examined by authors of equal calibre in a companion volume to this.
I have made a list of these Seven Deadlier Sins which every reader will no doubt wish to amend, and these are my seven: Avarice, Cruelty, Snobbery, Hypocrisy, Self-righteousness, Moral Cowardice and Malice. If I were to put these modern seven into the scales against the ancient seven I cannot but feel that the weight of the former would bring the brass tray crashing down.
But is this loose thinking? Could it perhaps be argued that if we are free of the ancient seven we shall not fall victim to their modern progeny? I personally do not think so, but it would need better brains than mine and a keener sense of theological morality than I possess to pursue the argument. As a man in the street, I can only express my belief that being possessed of the ancient seven deadly sins one can still go to heaven, whereas to be afflicted by the modern variations can only be a passport to hell.
And by the same token, what about the Seven Deadly Virtues?
What about the anal-eroticism which the psychologists tell us lies at the base of Frugality? How much is Charity worth when it springs from self-interest? Is political acumen a virtue as practised by the Communists? What hell Sociability can be! Where is the line to be drawn between Deference and, not to use a more vulgar, hyphenated word, Sycophancy? Neatness in excess becomes pathological, so does Cleanliness. How often is Chastity a cloak for frigidity?
But I have held you for too long from these wonderful, and each in its different way exciting, essays and I must at all costs avoid that deadliest of all sins, ancient or modern, a sin which is surely more durable than any of those I have enumerated—that of being a Bore.
Fleming hoped his Seven Deadlier sins would be “examined by authors of equal calibre in a companion volume to this.” 57 years later he got his wish…sort of.
At my suggestion, the website Artistic Licence Renewed has run a series of article on Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins, to examine how they apply to the Bond books and whether Fleming or Bond were guilty of them. It would have been impossible to assemble “authors of equal calibre” (especially since I was part of the new team), but the results are a worthy examples of literary criticism, in my obviously biased view.
The master page for the entire series is here. And here is the roster of Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins:
AVARICE, by Wesley Britton
HYPOCRISY, by Edward Biddulph
SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS, by Michael May
MORAL COWARDICE, by Benjamin Welton
The last three sins were written by me. I had originally intended to write only “Malice,” but had to pinch-hit after some authors became unable to work on the project. “Snobbery” was began by the editor of Artistic Licence Renewed, who deserves co-credit but is too modest to give it to himself.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading about the Fleming’s Deadlier Sins. If you think we’ve missed any examples of them, please say so!
Brilliant idea to revive this hobbyhorse of Fleming - I certainly will enjoy reading these!
Ian Fleming makes an appearance in this week’s New Yorker, which has an excellent article by Adam Gopnik titled “Are Spies More Trouble Than They’re Worth?.” It focuses on the CIA and its loony MK-ULTRA program—“the attempt, mostly in the nineteen-fifties and sixties, to achieve mind control through drugs.” It was inspired by fear of Communist “brainwashing,” which itself "was a classic piece of Cold War propaganda, popularized by a writer with C.I.A. connections named Edward Hunter, as an attempt to “explain American defections in Korea.” The CIA “bought into the story, and launched a mind-control program in a desperate effort to counter the nonexistent threat that it had helped conjure into being.”
Referring to Sidney Gottlieb, the “renegade chemist who oversaw the MK-ULTRA program,” Gopnik writes “the fantasies that Gottlieb’s work indulged are part of the woof and warp of the James Bond novels, a good index of the period’s inner life. Biological warfare through posthypnotic suggestion is the thread running through the best of them, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963), and Bond himself is turned into a programmed assassin in The Man with the Golden Gun (1965), with orders to go back to headquarters and kill M. (M, of course, has anticipated the attack, and installed a descending shield in the ceiling above his desk.) That none of this was real did not make it less emotionally credible. What seems ridiculous to us now was then not just part of the currency of fantasy but part of the currency of the plausible, no more or less absurd than our own particular set of accepted pulpish horrors, like the fear that makes us all obediently take off our shoes and have them X-rayed in honor of a single failed ‘shoe bomber,’ nearly two decades ago. A time’s terrors are its own, and each age gets the agents it deserves.”
A further Bond connection: Gopnik notes that “Gottlieb was, in the early sixties, put in charge of a plan to depose Fidel Castro by making his beard fall out.” Ian Fleming had jokingly proposed a similar scheme to John F. Kennedy during their legendary meeting in Georgetown, arranged by Oatsie Leiter. Little did Fleming know that the CIA has seriously embarked on the same idea.
Introduction (to All Night at Mr. Stanyhurst’s, by Hugh Edwards, 1963)
By Ian Fleming
An essential item in my ‘Desert Island’ library would be The Times Literary Supplement, dropped to me each Friday by a well-trained albatross. If forced to produce some reason for my affection for the journal, I would lamely say that I am nearly always interested by its front page article, by the letters, although there are not enough of them, and, being myself a book collector, by its back page of bibliophily. But, less lamely, I would praise the anonymity of its writers and reviewers which surely lies at the root of the unshackled verdicts that are, sometimes to the point of splendidly savage denunciation, to be found in the T.L.S.
Not long ago I was flying over the Nevada Desert on my way from Los Angeles to Chicago. It was one leg of a lunatic journey round the world in thirty days writing about its thrilling cities for the Sunday Times. My mail had caught up with me at Los Angeles and it included two issues of The Times Literary Supplement. In contrast with the mushy infant food of the American newspapers and magazines that had been my daily fare since arriving in America, I cannot describe the thrill of excitement with which I read a particularly devastating review of Miss Mary McCarthy’s Venice Observed: I remember that the slashing broadside made me almost lightheaded with pleasure.
All this is to explain the sequence of events leading up to the republication of this forgotten little book which would not have occurred had I not, as a matter of course, read a leading article which appeared in The Times Literary Supplement of April 14th, 1961, and some of which, by permission, I now reprint.
OUT OF PRINT
It is cheering when a book of real quality seems to break through a barrier of indifference and bad luck. Ten years ago Mr. Christopher Burney wrote a short work called Solitary Confinement which is one of the classics both of the last war and of that long process of imprisonment, brutality and sudden death in which the war itself was only one extra acute and well publicized stage. The publisher went out of business, the book out of print. The public soon forgot it in favour of the simpler and more immediate, but also more trivial jottings of Anne Frank. Yesterday it was reissued in a new edition by another publisher (Macmillan, 173 pp., 13s. 6d.), and here it is once more…
But how often are books raised from the dead in this way? Nowadays a work of fiction or autobiography or any other non-specialized, non-utilitarian type of literature has only a short time in which to sell or die—sometimes as little as three months. Less than ever, it seems, can publishers afford to keep unprofitable works in print, and in the restless search for new titles it is most uncommon for a publisher, as here, to turn to a more or less unsuccessful work of the past. Why the backward look should be so short-sighted it is difficult to say…Probably everyone has his own mental list of similarly neglected works which he is always pressing on his friends. What happens then? He lends his out-of-print copy; somehow it disappears; he cannot replace it; and within a few months he too has half forgotten what the book was like.
And yet it may be that a book of this kind has merely been published before its time. To take an example from across the page, the English translation of Brecht’s Threepenny Novel was being remaindered in 1939; today it is published by Penguins as a modern foreign classic. Similarly Mr. Beckett’s Murphy, one of a remarkable batch of novels issued by Routledge in the 1930s, quickly dropped into the same limbo, where only word of mouth kept a few worn copies in circulation…
Does this then mean that merit will win through in the end ? It is not at all certain that it will, and for every sleeping beauty that is awakened by a publisher’s kiss there are others that slumber on. Admittedly kisses of this sort are not encouraged by the fact that reprints are so seldom reviewed. But it is a pity if every generation in turn has to treat the more difficult and original works of the past as undiscovered territory. We stagnate if we do not absorb them into our literature and evaluate them; we waste time and energy repeating the same experiments only to arrive, twenty or thirty years too late, at much the same point…
Several times since Jonathan Cape became my own publishers I have urged them to reprint my choice among ‘lost’ books, this short novel by the shadowy, unsung Hugh Edwards, and now, fortified by The Times Literary Supplement, I returned to the attack. The reply was unexpected. Yes, they would do it—if I would write an introduction. I will not discuss here my mixed reactions to this suggestion, but one thing was clear the rebirth of this book now lay, rightly or wrongly, with me. I had only to say “Fly again, little bird”, and it would fly. So, of course, I accepted and asked Capes for any material they had about the book and the author. The result was extremely meagre, but among the yellowing scraps, mostly ecstatic reviews, there was one treasure—an introduction by James Agate to the author’s next book Helen Between Cupids. I cannot remember much of this or any other of Hugh Edwards’s books, but what Agate has to say about All Night at Mr. Stanyhurst’s is so apt to the theme of what I now write that, risking the criticism that all my words are other people’s, I must repeat here some of what Mr. Agate had to say twenty-five years ago.
I am not going to pretend that Mr. Hugh Edwards’s All Night at Mr. Stanyhurst’s is the one good story which the readers of today have missed; I can think of half a dozen in the last three or four years over which public apathy began to silt even on the morning of publication. But I also know that on the day when Mr. Stanyhurst appeared we, meaning the Daily Express and me, came out pretty strong. We said: “The word 'masterpiece; is over-used, and one is wise to be shy of it. But I will maintain that here is probably a little masterpiece and certainly a tour de force. So far as my reading goes, it is the best long story or short novel since Conrad.”
I did more than review Mr. Edwards’s book; I even went to the length of buying a copy or two and sending them to friends. Taking advantage of the fact that I was in communication about something else, I sent a copy to Mr. Max Beerbohm, although I have never set eyes on him. I wrote: “It has been on my mind for some time that I have never answered your last critical and appreciative letter. To repair this I have sent you a novel published this week which has delighted me greatly. I do not know anybody except you who could have written it, and very few other people who are entitled to read it. I know nothing of the author except that he writes and writes and writes. There is no arrière pensée behind this gift except the desire to while away one of your evenings.” Max—who has no superior in the art of living, and this includes refraining from unnecessary correspondence—made no allusion to the book for another eighteen months, when, taking advantage of the fact that he was in communication with me about something else, he said he had read it twice, on each occasion with the liveliest pleasure. And surely if agreement is reached by two doctors of letters as dissimilar as the exquisite Max and the burly me, it can matter little who differs? But that’s the whole point! I shouldn’t mind if people differed. What I do mind is that they just don’t take any notice.
The rest of the introduction to Helen need not concern us. Suffice it to say that, despite rave reviews when All Night at Mr. Stanyhurst’s was first published in 1933, and despite Mr. Agate’s powerful reminder in 1935, it took more than four years for the modest edition of fifteen hundred to be sold. The author earned £31.3s. and the publisher barely covered his costs, having rashly spent over £50 on advertising.
In 1937 the book was reset and republished in the “New Library” edition at 2s. 6d. (Edwards was in good company here. “The New Library” included Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, and O’Flaherty’s The Informer) and this edition of a further three thousand sold out in seven years, earning £43.17s.9d. for the author. Edwards’s total reward for his “little masterpiece” thus amounted to just under £7 a year over eleven years, to which was later to be added a modest windfall of ten guineas when the little book was published in a Services paperback edition by Guild Books in 1943…
Hugh Edwards died in 1952 at the age of 74. At first I could find out nothing about him except, from his elderly sister, the widow of an Admiral, the following bare bones. He was born in Gibraltar in 1878 of a Naval family, was educated privately and then at Sandhurst whence he joined the West India Regiment and saw service mostly in the West Indies and West Africa. After twelve years in the army, he was invalided out and retired to his sister’s cottage in East Prawle in Devon. A forlorn attempt to render service in the First World War resulted only in a brief spell as an officer of the garrison of Cork. His health proved quite unequal to military duty and he returned to seclusion.
Encouraged by the success of former contributions to his regimental magazine (for which, incidentally, he had designed the cover) he had set about writing professionally, but it was some twenty years before Capes accepted his first novel, Sangoree. This was followed by the present book, then by Crack of Doom (Jonathan Cape, 1934), Helen Between Cupids (Jonathan Cape, 1935), and Macaroni (Geoffrey Bles, 1938). After that, silence! Hobbies: painting, polo, bridge and chess.
With these scraps of biography my researches had come to a full stop when, by chance, Commander and Mrs. E. J. King-Bull heard of my interest in Edwards and swam into my ken.
Commander E. J. King-Bull (who is, incidentally, a descendant of the character said to be the original ‘John Bull’ of old England) is a well-known writer and producer for the B.B.C. and has, with his wife, close connections with members of the Edwards family, notably the Leonards who, as children, sat at the feet of Hugh Edwards and listened to their uncle’s stories.
King-Bull was a great admirer of Edwards and, enjoying All Night at Mr. Stanyhurst’s as much as I do, turned the book into a radio play and persuaded the B.B.C. to allow him to produce it in the Third Programme in 1950. The play was conceived as a tribute not only to the memory of Hugh Edwards but also to the memory of King-Bull’s friend, the late Captain R. F. Leonard, D.S.C., R.N., from whom King-Bull had heard so much about Edwards. The play was a tremendous success, and was broadcast four times.
From what King-Bull told me it is clear that a whole book could be written about Hugh Edwards, but I have insufficient space here to do more than mortar together a few of the loose stones I have already put on display.
Having been at Sandhurst myself, and being thus able to imagine the regimental snobbery that must have permeated the place around about 1900, I was surprised that Edwards had joined the West India Regiment. But apparently about that time his parents lost most of their money and he had to accept a commission in an unfashionable regiment to protect his shallow purse. He was rewarded by seeing the West Indies in their last rip-roaring days, and his memories of the barbaric splendor—a compound of blood, champagne and pretty quadroons— were to inspire all he wrote, culminating in the Kingston earthquake which features in his Crack of Doom. To Hugh Edwards the cataclysm may well have seemed to presage the vanishing of the only era in which he was to live any other than a kind of ghostly existence.
It was the custom in those days for one battalion of the regiment to alternate between the Caribbean and Sierra Leone, and it was while exploring the hinterland of Sierra Leone that Edwards contracted blackwater fever, as a result of which he was invalided out of the army with a meagre pension.
With this, and with his sister to keep house, he retired to the tiny fisherman’s cottage in East Prawle in which he lived the life of an eighteenth-century recluse, confining himself to one attic in which there was nothing but a large bed and hundreds of books. It was at about this time that he inherited from a relative, who had been in his day a West Indian planter, a stack of old documents and diaries of the eighteenth century in which Edwards immersed himself to that extent of total rapport that emerges almost supernaturally in the story from which I am holding you.
It is interesting, perhaps, that he should have been stationed for a while at Cork, that fair Atlantic seaport which, in the heyday of eighteenth-century trade, had had long associations with the West Indies, and which forms part of the back-cloth to more than one of the novels.
At Prawle he lived the remote life of his imagination for many years, reading, writing and composing albums of illustrated nonsense rhymes for the numerous nephews and nieces and cousins who came there for the holidays. One catches a glimpse of the man from the fact that, as I am told, he began the draft of an autobiography, never to see the light of day, by addressing in affectionate gallantry a bevy of his charming nieces and their friends.
In his Edwardian youth he had been, by all accounts, a young blade of tremendous dash and virility and with a zest for all the wine of life, but one of the terrible side-effects of blackwater fever is that it rids a man of all appetite for these things, and there is no doubt that the romantic sexuality and the background of high life to All Night at Mr. Stanyhurst’s are sentimental memories of the young rake-hell he had once been.
Perhaps also the poignancies of this story, which so pierce the heart, are in part tears shed for his brief youth. But these and other secrets of this strange and in some curious sense ghostly figure have gone to his grave with him and will, I fancy, never be disturbed.
I, at any rate, have come to the end of my brief researches into the story of the man who wrote All Night at Mr. Stanyhurst’s and it is now time for him to speak in his own strange and beautiful words.
Note: I read All Night at Mr. Stanyhurst’s several years ago and must confess that it didn’t make much of an impression on me. But you can decide its merits for yourself, since the book is available for free online at the Internet Archive.
A Malignant Growth in the Fabric of Society (Sunday Times, June 7, 1964)
The Honoured Society by Norman Lewis (Collins 30s)
By Ian Fleming
The Mafia, the Chinese Tongs and the assassination Apparat of the Soviet K.G.B., great grandspawn of the TCHECKA, are the only deeply evil phantoms of the past that still haunt the world. I have left out America gangsterdorm, for all its many-sided horror, because it is a mere stripling in the sudden-and-slow-death markets and only gained its “official quotation” in this century (unless we count the rough house “Tweed Mob” of the 1870s which, I dare say, was pretty bad news in Keystone Cop days ). The others have been buying and selling murder almost since markets in other world commodities—wheat, bullion, insurance—organised themselves (for greater efficiency) into cooperative groups.
The secrets of the Mafia were bound to be cracked first. Its cohesion was, paradoxically, too tightly knit, its family ties too incestuously woven, its geographical boundaries, though it tried with some success to extend them to the United States, too confined. It had not got the vast backgrounds of China or Russia into which to disappear when the heat, momentarily, was on. The Mafia’s fate was in danger when it began eating itself, stealing its own funds, betraying itself. The phase will no doubt pass.
Norman Lewis is not writing the Mafia’s obituary, only an interim appendix to one secret chapter of contemporary history. “Cosa nostra”—that chummy password from the dripping shrubberies of some schoolboys’ gangland—will continue to be “Our Thing” so long as Sicily stays harsh and poor and its tough people bite back at the world like cornered hounds. But I admit that, in my life-time, I never expected a writer to tell me with quiet, unjournalistic authority what the Mafia is, how it operates, with names and dates, and what it has been up to since the war.
To give a synopsis of the book daunts me. The families, the politicians, local and national, the tortuous double role of the police—of everybody down to A.M.G.O.T. officials—cannot be summarised. Even the foursquare figure of Giuliano, the famous bandit, grows further sides—six, eight, ten—as you tread among the crosses and double-crosses of which he was now the architect and now the pawn. But what interested me as a writer of crime fiction was how in the name of heaven Norman Lewis was able to open this grim and closely guarded safe deposit and get away with the contents. And, since so many of the host who will read this book will ask the same question, here is what I have elicited from him and his publishers.
Norman Lewis served throughout the Hitler war in the Intelligence Corps in the Mediterranean area. He is bilingual in Italian and his first marriage was to a Sicilian from an aristocratic Palermo family who, as automatically as any Lampedusa character, was privy to the secrets of the Mafia. From this and other more secret sources he was able to proceed to the detective work which has occupied him for the past two years. It was then only a question of putting the story down in the exciting narrative style Norman Lewis’s many admirers are accustomed to, and one’s only disappointment is that he didn’t spend another year in America expanding on his over-brief references to the overseas, and particularly American, operations of the Mafia and the links between its empire and its Sicilian motherland.
As I have suggested earlier, Norman Lewis is not greatly impressed by the recent clean-up and the “exile” of Genco Russo. Many Mafiosi have put up the shutters or even pulled out, just as happened to the London gangs who rapidly dispersed into temporary retirement when the heat generated by the Great Mail Robbery was at its height. Unless marina falls from heaven on Sicily, it will be “business as usual” within a matter of months and every Sicilian will once again be in that business at least up to his elbows.
Note: A week after this review’s publication, Fleming wrote the following to his Sunday Times editor Leonard Russell:
“I’m afraid I entirely agree with your criticism of my critique of Norman Lewis’s book, but I was not nearly as well up on the subject of the Mafia as you–strangely–appear to be. And though I never see him I am devoted to Norman and am sorry that he always just fails to come off.”
Fleming’s review was published little more than months before his death, which makes it the last article or literary work Fleming ever wrote. And so this thread comes to an end. For over a year I have had the pleasure of sharing Fleming’s literary journalism with you, and the result has been this book length series. Thanks to everyone who commented and see you around the board.
It’s been a most intriguing ride through some of his ‘civilian’ work, at times astonishing, at times hilarious - and sometimes also remarkable how a man of his experience and background expressed a worldview bordering on well meaning naïveté with some topics. Different times indeed and one can see how he was constantly busying himself with the course of his era and world. While Bond certainly was important in Fleming’s life it’s evident Bond was still just a condensed part of a much broader intellect.
Thank you for providing these rare glimpses into Fleming’s other profession, @Revelator!