Revelator, indeed, another gem and greatly enjoyed. Happy Holidays.
Girl’s Best Friend (Sunday Times, Dec. 09, 1956)
Diamond. By Emily Hahn. (Weidenfeld & Nicolson.18s.)
By Ian Fleming
I am one of those people who actually buy books. I think I have done this all my life because I like bookshops and booksellers, and I certainly used to like all the books I bought which, up to the war, were 90 per cent. fiction.
After the war I started buying books again, but the proportion of fiction dropped very rapidly. I don’t think it was because I was getting older, I think it was because novels became increasingly introspective and “difficult” and stopped having plots. Instead I read more stories of travel and adventure and reportage. In these there are no wastes of introspective dialogue and none of those contrived psychological situations which I, the hero, would have solved in the first chapter by emigrating to Canada and getting away from the dreadful woman.
So books like Diamond have become my escape-reading where, before the war, I would have bought, apart from the obvious ones, the latest T. F. Powys, Liam O’Flaherty or A. E. Coppard. Of course, the technique of reportage has improved out of all knowledge. Miss Emily Hahn is a graduate of the New Yorker Profile school, which has for thirty years been turning out the best contemporary history. She also holds degrees in mining engineering and mineralogy, which explains American advertisements describing Diamond as “the sparkling new book by the world’s most beautiful mining engineer.”
Miss Hahn’s story is not the whole history of the diamond. The Indian and Brazilian fields are barely mentioned. It is the story of the great diamond fields and mines of Africa where the first diamond was found in 1866 or 1867—by the Boer child who picked up the pretty pebble. The rush was slow in developing and expert geologists who scouted the Kimberley veld poured typically professional cold water on the myth of the pretty pebbles.
One of these, a. Mr. J. R. Gregory, representing a London diamond firm, reported dogmatically that the veld was not diamondiferous. The few stones that had been picked up, he announced, were brought to the locality in the crops of ostriches. His firm, without wondering where the ostrich had found the diamonds in the first place, accepted the expertise and dropped all interest in the veld. A year later the rush was on. And then came the great diamond names—Barnato, Belt, Joel, Dunkels, Robinson, Wernher, and, finally, the Oppenheimers, who head the industry today.
Emily Hahn examines them all with a sharp, neat pen. She quotes the music-hall lyrics about them at the tum of the century when the South African millionaires were collectively known as “Piggy.” “Piggy will pay, pay, pay!” the ladies of the chorus caroled blithely as they went through their dance routines.
She tells the story of the discovery of the Cullinan—a great heavy chunk of blue-white diamond so big that the finder could not close his hand over it—and of that other huge stone found a few years ago in the Premier mine that somehow got into the crusher and was pulverised. She writes about the early prospectors, IDB, and about Hannay, the man who “made” diamonds.
All the hot romance surrounding the hard, cold stone is in this book. The writing is clear, humorous, excited. This, to me, is the perfect literature of escape.
Ian, you’re in a glass house, probably best you put that stone down.
More about Emily Hahn. Quite the adventurer…
Introduction to Herbert Yardley’s The Education of a Poker Player (1957)
By Ian Fleming
If it were possible to have worse laws than our sex laws they would be the laws that regulate gambling…To deal only with what is relevant to this brief note, while twenty million adults gamble on the football pools each week, ten million on horse-racing and five million on premium bonds, playing poker for money, a legal game over half the world including most of the British Commonwealth, is illegal. And really illegal. The Hamilton, a respectable private London card club, found this out in a police action which effectively warned the whole of England off the game. In 1945, at Bow Street, it cost them £500. The grounds for this action? That poker is not a game of skill! Of course an old woman who marks her football coupon and wins £70,000 for her shilling bet has done nothing but study football form for 50 years. No luck in that little gamble! Moreover, she and the other 20 million experts bring in £22 million a year to the Exchequer while the poker player brings in nothing. So the pools are legal and poker isn’t. Balderdash, and hypocritical balderdash at that, to the power of n.
Which brings me, after the smoke has cleared, to this book. It is a book whose publication in London I am proud to have fathered. The circumstances were these. Knowing that I love cards, a friend sent me a cutting from an American magazine that handsomely ‘trailed’ The Education of a Poker Player with some of the late Mr Yardley’s most intriguing hands. I at once sent to America for the book, was delighted with it and gave some copies away for Christmas. The next time I talked to my publishers, Messrs Jonathan Cape, I urged them to publish the book here. They demurred. No one in the British Isles played poker. It would not do well. I said that the book contained only a dozen pages of instruction—brilliant instruction—and that the rest was a hatful of some of the finest gambling stories I had ever read. It didn’t matter that the game was poker. These were wonderful, thrilling stories about cards. The book would certainly become a gambling classic. English card players would read it and love it. The book had zest, blood, sex, and a tough, wry humour reminiscent of Raymond Chandler. It was sharply, tautly written. It would be a bestseller—well, anyway, it would look very well on the backlist. The mention of this holy word in publishing was, I think, the clincher. Cape’s readers, that sapient, humorous, receptive duet, read the book. Yes, it was certainly all that I had said. Perhaps, if I would write a preface…I said I would and here it is and here is the book that Mr Yardley wrote.
Myself, as fine writers phrase it, I am not a good poker player. I drink and smoke and enjoy the game too much. You shouldn’t do any of these things if you want to win at poker. Poker is a cold-hearted, deadly game that breaks and bankrupts men today just as, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, écarté, backgammon, ombre and faro bankrupted our rakehelly ancestors. The last time I played poker, I lost more than I could afford in rich brassy company in a house at Sunningdale in what is now known as ‘The Canasta Belt’. These people would introduce variations which I was mocked for not understanding. In the end, numb with martinis and false bonhomie, I pretended I understood the intricacies of ‘Minnie Everley’. I remember the name but not the variation. It was named in memory of one of the Everley sisters, who in Chicago at the turn of the century kept the finest brothel America had ever known. The chamber pots were of solid gold and the sisters paraded their girls through the town, be-feathered and be-flounced, in open landaus, every Sunday morning when the bells were ringing and the quality of Chicago were on the streets and making for the churches. I learned all this afterwards. At the time and in the name of Minnie, I played a ragged, brash game that cost me dear. I was fleeced and deserved to be. I would not have been fleeced if I had read Mr Yardley’s book and if I had, above all, digested the card-playing philosophy which lies behind his stories and his instruction. Every fine card player I have ever known has this philosophy, but I will caution you that very few fine card players are the sort of people you and I would like to play with. It’s not fun playing against cold-hearted butchers, however soft their words, and as you read about them in these gay, smoke-filled pages I think you will often feel a chill of apprehension. But it will be an authentic chill. That is why, not as a poker player, but as a writer of thrillers, I can recommend this book to every consenting adult card player in Great Britain.
Note: Herbert Yardley led a fascinating life and wore many hats: spy, father of American cryptography, whistle-blower (in his book The American Black Chamber), Hollywood scriptwriter, playboy, agent for hire by Canada and China, and accused traitor. For more, consult the article “Gambling with his Life” at Artistic Licence Renewed. For even more, consult “The Many Lives of Herbert O. Yardley,” uploaded by the National Security Ageny. And for a lot more, there’s the 2004 book The Reader of Gentlemen’s Mail: Herbert O. Yardley and the Birth of American Codebreaking, by David Kahn.
Perhaps it’s not a surprise that a professional code-breaker and man of mercenary motives should turn out to one of the “cold-hearted butchers” gifted at poker. Neither Fleming nor Bond fit the quoted description, which is partly why poker doesn’t fit in their world. I wish someone had told the filmmakers that in 2006.
They’d just made Die Another Day…are they really going to give a toss how one card game was perceived over another by Fleming in another books foreward in the 50’s?
Perhaps not, but the film did take pains to be faithful to much of the rest of the book. I’ve heard that the decision to go with poker in part resulted from Michael Wilson being a fan of the game, but of course there was also a poker craze at the time. The resulting film obviously leaped on that trend and that of the Bourne series.
In any case, the filmmakers wouldn’t have needed to read the introduction to know that poker plays no part in book Bond’s world.
As always Revelator, thank you for digging out these little gems and mounting them all for the rest of us to appreciate. I’ve waited years to read Fleming’s journalism and asides. You keep presenting fascinating little bits and pieces I’d no idea even existed. Thank you!
You’re very welcome! I’m delighted to share these articles with fellow connoisseurs and even more delighted by their responses.
Brilliant stuff. Cheers!
An Open Letter to The Transport Minister
(Copy to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and all borough and county councils). (Daily Graphic, Sept. 18, 1952)
By Frank Gray [Ian Fleming]
Dear Mr. Lennox Boyd —
With road casualties mounting towards the quarter of a million a year mark, there is genteel heart-searching in the public prints and a new coat of paint for the zebras.
The cosy fiction that “BLANKTOWN WELCOMES CAREFUL DRIVERS” no more stems the tide of and shattered limbs and lives than do the other polite admonitions and mild scolds which greet the hasting family saloon on its merry way to that last rendezvous.
4,000 a week
It seems that so long as “MAJOR ROAD AHEAD” remains our most strident warning alike of a dangerous crossroad with a notorious death-roll and of a fairly innocent intersection, the price of myosis and well-bred understatement will continue to be about 4,000 casualties every week. (Five hundred casualties a day on our railways or air services would cause a bit of a stir!)
Even the compelling Black Widow poster, a most notable attempt by the authorities to make us think about keeping death off the roads, was the subject of so much squeamish clamour from our sensitive citizens that it was replaced by those folksy extortions, seen but not perceived, to do something about sudden death, civil defence, the Lord Mayor’s fund, or making fish-cakes out of barracuda—one never reads far enough to find out which.
Are good manners more valuable than all these lives and all this misery? Is it not time to borrow a little emphasis from abroad and let our road-safety signs raise their voices a trifle?
In America, at black spots which have caused many deaths, there are skull and crossbones signs with the previous year’s casualty total inscribed above.
Different towns and districts and even private concerns have their own campaigns and slogans, the latter often on two or three hoardings some twenty yards apart, building up to a punch-line.
Here are some of them:
“DON’T LEARN SAFETY … BY ACCIDENT" “WANT TO DIE? … DRIVE CAREFULLY.” “LOSE A MINUTE … SAVE A LIFE.” "DRIVE CAREFULLY … THE LIFE YOU SAVE … MAY BE YOUR OWN,” and the poignant “DEATH IS SO PERMANENT.”
Wrecks or cars are left at dangerous corners with “HE DIDN’T MEAN TO” inscribed above them, and garages put out signs like this: “DANGEROUS CORNER…SLOW DOWN…WE’LL FIX YOUR WRECK…IF YOU DON’T.”
An undertaker has this: “STEEP HILL…BAD CURVE HALFWAY DOWN…WANT AN APPOINTMENT?..ZOKOWSKIS’ FUNERALS…WE’RE WATCHING YOU.”
At holiday times you will see the following: “DON’T LET DEATH TAKE YOUR HOLIDAY,” “DON’T GIVE YOUR LIFE FOR CHRISTMAS,” “DON’T GO OUT WITH THE OLD YEAR.”
At pedestrian crossings: “DON’T KILL A PEDESTRIAN … BECAUSE HE IS WRONG,” and “LOOK FIRST … LIVE LONGER,” “DON’T TAKE A SHORT CUT … TO DEATH,” “THE SMALLER THE CHILD … THE BIGGER THE ACCIDENT,” “KIDS DON’T KNOW … HELP THEM … DRIVE CAREFULLY,” and so forth.
I admit these signs are strident, vulgar and ugly. But I really believe they’ll make the road-hog in his juggernaut and the motorcyclist trying to break through the sound barrier remember that he is aiming a loaded gun from the moment he leaves the garage—and that goes for the havering, crown-of-the-road, pride-of-the-family saloon, too.
Incidentally, “BLANKTOWN WELCOMES CAREFUL DRIVERS” was the fragrant thought (and the waste of paint) or another government.
I hope you’ll agree, Mr. Lennox-Boyd, that something more Winstonian should now be tried.
P.S. An afterthought—please declare illegal all stickers, celluloid canaries, pendant doilies and notices saying “KEEP OFF MY TAIL” on the windows of motor-cars. They obscure the vision, they are cheaply ostentatious and they diminish one’s love of one’s neighbour.
Fleming fans will of course recognize “the poignant ‘DEATH IS SO PERMANENT’” as the title of chapter 24 in Diamonds Are Forever.
Detail-oriented readers might also recognize that this article doesn’t actually have anything to do with the title of this thread, but I couldn’t resist sharing it with you.
If you’re curious why Fleming appeared under a pseudonym, Andrew Lycett has the details:
When not working on his book and his publishing interests [in 1952], Ian occupied himself with literary trivia…Another article burning a hole in his drawer concerned road safety. During his late-summer visit to the Bryces in the United States in 1950 he had become fascinated with the apocalyptic vision portrayed in the road signs. Americans were not afraid to suggest that car accidents led to deaths…On his return to Gray’s Inn Road, he asked Rodney Campbell, the New York correspondent of the Sunday Times, to do some further research which Ian used to write an article, “Death is so Permanent.” But the Sunday Times editor, Harry Hodson, was not impressed by Ian’s efforts. “I don’t think it quite makes the grade,” he told Ian stiffly.
Nearly two years later Ian rediscovered the text and decided that the most certain way of having it published was to enlist the support of his chairman. On 17 September he submitted it to Lord Kemsley with a polite covering note. The very next day, it was printed as a full-page spread in the Kemsley group’s tabloid, the Daily Graphic. His article had become “An Open Letter to the Transport Minister.” It listed some of the crassest of Campbell’s American road-safety signs – for example, “The Smaller the Child, the Bigger the Accident” – and suggested they should be copied in Britain…[though] he provided no evidence that the American way of doing things led to fewer road accidents…Although Ian had signed his original letter with his own name, in the Daily Graphic he became Frank Gray, an unaccustomed pseudonym.
Thanks for sharing Revelator! Another great Fleming find.
Another brilliant find and share. Thanks again. I do quite enjoy these.
The Secrets of Interpol (Sunday Times, Sept. 4, 1955)
From IAN FLEMING, Special Representative of The Sunday Times
The Twenty-fourth General Assembly of the International Criminal Police Commission, generally known as “Interpol,” opens here on Monday. Through the courtesy of the United Kingdom delegate, Sir Ronald Howe, Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, I shall be able to report on some of its deliberations.
Interpol is the longest arm of the law: with the major exception of the Iron Curtain countries, it reaches all round the world. Its object is to counter the growing internationalism in crime and to abolish national frontiers in pursuit of the criminal. From its modest foundation in 1923 in Vienna, Interpol has continued to expand. Today it is firmly established in fifty-two countries, and the murderer, counterfeiter or smuggler can hardly find safe refuge on the face of the earth from the deadly hand of the central Interpol radio station near Paris.
Every year the police chiefs of the member States meet to coordinate new methods of detection so as to keep ahead of the constantly improving science and ingenuity of the criminal, and every stock “Commissaire: from the detective fiction of the world is today arriving in this romantic city by air and sea and, more appropriately, by Orient Express.
On Monday, under the presidency of the formidable Monsieur F. F. Louwage, O.B.E., Inspector-General of the Belgian Ministry of Justice and President of the I.C.P.C. since 1946, there will begin a week of conferences on the major aspects of modern crime. These are some of them:
First, the General Secretariat will present a report on the Illicit Drug Traffic, notably in opium, cannabis, morphine and cocaine. The Secretariat will report that Lebanon remains one of the principal supply centres for opium; that the Chinese, followed by the French and Italians, are still the chief traffickers in opium and that the amount of opium seized in 1954 increased by nearly 250 per cent, over 1953.
As to cocaine, it will be no news to the delegates from the American Narcotics Bureau that the United States remains the chief target of traffickers and that Cuba has developed into an important entrepôt for the Bolivian suppliers, and it will only confirm their suspicions that Italy, with its channels into American gangland, remains the chief European centre for the cocaine traffic.
The report gives details of certain cases in which the I.C.P.C. played a decisive role. Typical is the capture of about 330 kgs. of opium, hashish and morphine-base, and the twelve arrests effected as a result of co-operation , through the I.C.P.C, of the American Narcotics Bureau with the police forces of Greece, Lebanon Turkey and Syria. This is one of the biggest hauls since the war.
Scotland Yard’s Concern
The conference will leave this realm of high drama and depravity to listen to some suggestions by Sir Ronald Howe for tightening up the policing of air traffic.
Apart from the flight of criminals, the smuggling of gold bars, diamonds and drugs by air has, in different parts of the world, become a serious problem, as has the security at airports of legitimate air freight such as bullion, precious stones and banknotes.
These problems are complicated by the speed with which a criminal can cross the world—perhaps before his crime has been discovered; by the ease with which privately chartered planes can land in a pretended, emergency at unguarded airfields, and by the vast expanse of aerodromes themselves.
Mr. J. W. Kallenborn, the great authority on forgeries and head of the I.C.P.C. office at The Hague, will next raise the whole subject of cheque forgeries which, particularly with the increased use of travelers’ cheques, is becoming vastly more important than the counterfeiting of currency. Mr. Kallenborn’s recommendation is that a standard form of cheque should be adopted for each country and that an attempt should be made to make cheque forms as inviolable to counterfeiters as most currencies now are. He will even mention cases of cheque forgers printing cheque forms of their own design and drawn on imaginary banks, knowing that these can be passed through bank employees already confused by the present multiplicity of shapes, sizes and designs. Even before the war, counterfeit cheques yielded far greater returns than counterfeit notes and Mr. Kallenborn will quote some fabulous achievements, including in 1931, the cashing of a forged cheque for the then majestic sum of 3,007,000 French francs, the full story of which I would very much like to know.
Mr. Kallenborn’s plea will be supported by Dr. Giuseppe Dosi, head of the National Central Bureau in Rome, who will discuss the general relationship between policing and banking. He will detail the most modern methods of bank robbers (those who have seen the French film “Rififi” will have little to learn from them), including the latest electric drills, oxy-hydrogen blowpipes and the like, and he will make the unqualified statement that there is no such thing as a perfectly secure underground vault, safe or metal container, which can be depended on to protect its contents unless supplemented by a permanent guard or regular inspection. The dictum of Dr. Dosi is: “The degree of safety of any safe is inversely proportional to the time available to the safe-breakers.”
Crime and Disease
The nature of delinquency invariably takes up a great deal of the time of each General Assembly. Next week Dr. J. F. de Echalecu Y Canino, Professor of Criminal Psychology and of Neuropsychiatry of the Direccion General de Seguridad, Madrid, will re-affirm the theory that the more serious types of crime have their ultimate origin in the region of the cortical and the sub-cortical layers, and that nearly all crime is a bio-sociological phenomenon.
On the same line of country, Professor Castroverde Y Cabrera of Cuba will urge that health statistics should invariably accompany crime statistics in the dossier of a criminal because of the close connection between disease and crime. The painful stimulus of disease, he will say, provokes the individual to extremes of action and, since all extremes of action are anti-social, to crimes.
The Australian delegation will come back to earth with some hard facts about the migration of criminals, with particular reference to certain groups of “new Australians” who have settled in Australia since the war. Among them are Europeans whose crimes indicate that the perpetrators were trained in their nefarious activities in their mother countries, and the Australian police will make a plea for timely warning of the arrival of these undesirable migrants.
Since certain of the member States may be very happy to ship such people off to the other side of the world, I am doubtful that they will achieve more than airy promises.
The Face of Crime
However, the Australian police may make progress with their plan for coding the visual identification of the human being, which is basically an extension of the finger-print system to cover the human face. There is nothing new in the use of a “Portrait Parlé” such as “John Brown. 50 years. 5 ft. 9 in. Brown hair. Blue eyes. Low forehead. Straight nose. Wide straight mouth. Round chin and double neck cords,” but the Australians would codify this particular description into “John Brown. A4, D2, E3, R3, G4, H4, H2, I2, L13, M10, U41” which will certainly have attractions for the Radio Communications Branch of the I.C.P.C. Their documentation contains the complete catalogue of Portrait Parlé descriptions, from which I am interested to note that there are fourteen official face shapes from “pyramid” to “flabby”; seventeen nose peculiarities from “lump on tip” to “dilated nostrils” and five splendid eyelids described as: “hooded bags under eyes, blear-eyed, crying eyelids” and “reversed lower lids.” I also observe that violet eyes do not exist, but that green eyes do, and that “soup-strainer moustache” is officialese.
On problems of communication, the General Secretariat will make a plea for better radio discipline, and Inspector Sanjuan of Madrid will demand a secure cypher for all Interpol transmissions. He will preface his request with a short history of the secrecy of communications beginning with a method which was new to me. Apparently the first means of secret communication was to shave the head of a slave and write the message in indelible ink on his bald pate. Once the hair had grown to a reasonable length, the slave would be sent out on his journey and at his destination the hair would be shaved off again and the message read. This strikes me as more ingenious than those bits of paper modern heroes are always swallowing.
Amongst other subjects to be dealt with will be some highly technical proposals by Professor Charles Sannie, head of the Criminal Identity Department of the Paris Prefecture de Police, for an extension of the Bertillion finger-print system. His object is to defeat forged finger-prints—an ingenious invention of the modern criminal by which he actually profits from the accuracy of the finger-print system.
As an example. Professor Sannie will mention the case of a prisoner in gaol who impressed his prints on a piece of glass and gave the glass to someone else. This second party left it on the scene of a burglary which was committed while the owner or the prints had the best possible alibi of being himself in prison. He will also mention the moulding of false finger-prints on to rubber finger-stalls and other ingenious gambits.
Child and Bogeyman
Perhaps the most important but least technical discourse will be given by the President of the I.C.P.C. himself. Monsieur Louwage will discuss aspects of juvenile delinquency, and it is pleasant to record that in urging police all over the world to avoid becoming “bogeymen,” he will quote as the desirable attitude the firmness but friendliness of the London “Bobby,” and the success with which he gains the confidence and affection of youth. There will be nothing particularly new in what Monsieur Louwage has to say, but his words will certainly not be amiss in a conference of the chief bogeymen from fifty-two very different countries.
Note: As you may have guessed, this report was written a week before Fleming’s report on “The Great Riot of Istanbul.” Next week I’ll bring you Fleming’s report on the actual proceedings of the conference, written after the riot.
Delinquents and Smugglers (Sunday Times, Sept. 18, 1955)
From IAN FLEMING, Special Representative of The Sunday Times at the International Police Conference
Despite the respective resignation and dismissal of its joint hosts, the Turkish Minister of the Interior and the Istanbul Chief of Police, the Twenty-fourth General Assembly of the International Police Commission tactfully averted its gaze from the surrounding shame and chaos, completed its labours and on Wednesday, discreetly thankful, took to its heels. Thanks to the heroic efforts of the secretariat much was achieved and many criminal loopholes have been blocked. But the most solid achievement was not in the final minutes of the assembly but in the public and private airing of the problems and cases of the police chiefs from 52 different countries.
Here, without committing Governments, and without the befogging intrusions of national sentiment, embarrassing topics could be discussed on the technical level. Thus the head of the Australian delegation could talk over piracy from the Pacific pearling grounds with the Police Chief of Tokyo, the head of the Egyptian Sureté could raise with the Inspector-General of Police of Tel Aviv the increased drug traffic from the Arab countries, and Mr. Donald Fish, B.O.A.C. chief security officer, could offer private advice to the director of the new Delhi intelligence bureau on certain ingenious ruses used for concealing gold bars in aircraft.
Unofficial pooling of experience and knowledge is far more important and practical than the adoption of joint resolutions by representatives of 52 different countries with widely varying customs and legal systems. For example, juvenile delinquency sounds an easy topic to discuss. Everyone agrees that there should be less of it. But no resolution will cover even the words “juvenile” and “delinquency” as applied to, say, India, Scotland and Norway, let alone the other 49 States.
What about the criminal status of juvenile homosexuality, for instance? When you come to statistics, how do you explain that as against an international norm of 17 per cent., the percentage of crime committed by juveniles is 0.5 per cent. in Denmark and 44.5 per cent. in Scotland? In fact, the age of puberty—much later in Denmark—comes in as well as the differences in criminal law and the relative stringency of Scottish courts, and perhaps the Irish element in Glasgow. That is an example of the difficulty of codifying crime and therefore of codifying methods of prevention.
On the other hand, on a matter like gold-smuggling Interpol can be of real value, and it is probable that India, which is the chief target for the traffic, as America is for narcotic smugglers, will get real co-operation as a result of the remarkable facts her delegation laid before the assembly. It seems that she is being deluged with illicit gold. During 1954 nearly 40,000 ounces, valued at about £6 million, were seized by customs and police in 229 cases, involving 236 foreign nationals, and the delegation admitted that this haul can represent only a fraction of the illegal imports. Apparently it is coming in from all the gold-producing countries of the world— from Australia by steamship via Macao, Hongkong and Singapore; from Africa by fast lugger via Egypt, Syria and the Persian Gulf; from America by air via London, France, Switzerland and the Middle East. All this represents one of the most fabulous criminal networks in history, and the many Interpol States involved will now co-operate to crush it.
Other smaller points of interest that came up in discussion include the following. The U.S. Customs are particularly troubled by diamond-smuggling from Belgium and by the smuggling of watches and watch-movements from Switzerland. Regarding the latter. Dr. Grassberger, from Vienna, where next year’s Interpol conference will take place, observed that it is better to get real smuggled Swiss watches than counterfeit ones. For the past two years an Austrian gang have been running a side-line to the smuggling of watch-movements: they put cheap watch-movements in formerly discarded watch-cases, forge famous names on the dials and smuggle these too.
The United Nations delegate reported an interesting technical process for discovering the geographical origin of smuggled narcotics. The U.N. Narcotics Division has discovered that by alkaloid and spectrographic analysis the nature of the soil in which captured opium was grown, and thus its country of origin, can be determined, greatly facilitating the pursuit back down the pipe-line.
Policing Air Routes
Sir Ronald Howe, deputy commissioner at Scotland Yard, presented the common-sense view of the Metropolitan Police and the Home Office on many recommendations where a conservative voice was needed. For instance on the occasion when the delegate from Chile suggested that your finger-prints should be verified before you could cash a cheque! As chairman of the sub-committee on policing the air routes, he fought for the rights and comforts of the passenger, and as a result we may see a simplification of the dreadful embarkation and disembarkation cards and a check to the practice in some countries of depriving the transit passenger of his passport during overnight stops.
(Incidentally I found unanimity among the senior delegates that Sir Ronald should be invited to become President of Interpol when M. Louwage of Belgium in due course resigns. This will be a great tribute to the prestige abroad of Scotland Yard.)
The corridors of the ornate Chalet Palace where the meetings were held were a splendid listening post. Here the Chief of Police of Thailand told me of the two elephants which form his riot squad. “Very effective against small villages,” he explained. Mr. Charles Siragusa, head of the U.S. Bureau of Narcotics, explained his methods for “leaning on” Lucky Luciano, the famous American gangster who was deported from America and now lives in Naples. “He won’t explain how he happens to stay so rich,” said Mr. Siragusa; “so my Italian police friends have interpreted this as withholding information from them and have put him on parole. That means that he may not consort with criminals and has to be indoors by 11 o’clock every night. One day soon he will happen to talk to a waiter with a police record or get home a few minutes late and will find himself in gaol. That is what we call ‘leaning on’ someone.”
The Director of the Paris Sureté talked of the iron-clad conspiracy of silence among the Dominici family. The Australian delegate complained of the expense of the Petrov case, which has not only left Australia with the burden of keeping Petrov alive but has meant the abstention of Russia from Australian wool sales for over a year. The famous Professor Soedermann, from Sweden, told me of a hitherto unpublicised plot to kill Hitler in 1942, and so on.
Ignorance is Bliss
The one police chief who has been sadly missed this year is the delegate from Burma. Last year at Rome the assembly was discussing sex crimes, and one by one delegates from the major Western powers reeled off their formidable and grisly statistics. Finally the Burmese delegate diffidently climbed to the rostrum. “I must apologise to the assembly,” he said, “for I have no statistics on this subject. We are a backward nation and have no sex-crimes. But as our civilisation catches up with those of the distinguished delegates who have been speaking I hope we may do better. Next year I will try to bring some good statistics on this matter.” Perhaps this year he was ashamed to come back still empty-handed.
Remarkable how much times have changed - and how much they stayed the same. Counterfeit watches, drug smuggling, organised crime, so on so forth. And lots of it even reaching back to the 1930s. One wonders about Fleming’s optimistic tone in these reports; how much of that reflected actual opinion of these heads of police when their experience should have told them better?
Over 60 years later none of the problems mentioned have been solved. Forgeries are more prevalent than ever, from currencies to brand stuff to documents and industrial items. I’d like to hear what Fleming would have made of similar events today; how the organisation has changed; how things have become so complex that they had to be broken down to regional and topical themed conferences; how politics and crises are shaping the entire field of policing now.
I think the late 50s/early 60s was definitely a time of optimism, soon to be dashed by the unrest of the later 60s. As you note, none of the problems mentioned have been solved; technology has only exacerbated them. The one exception might be juvenile delinquency, which was a big scare in the 50s but seems to have disappeared with the dip in crime rates (one positive feature of our modern world). Fleming was a man of great curiosity, and were he around today I’m sure he’d be fascinated at how crime as mutated to keep up with the times. Organized crime for instance has now taken a backseat to state-sponsored crime.
Revelator thank you again for these gems. I’ve actually taken to doing a cut & paste of these into a word document for my files. So wonderful of their time but also oddly very timely. Makes one wonder what Interpol meetings are like these days. Probably not too far removed.
I’ve done the same. I have separate copies of each article, as I love going back and re-reading IF’s words every now and then.