You’re both very welcome, and I’m delighted to hear you’re archiving the posts. Part of my reason for sharing these articles was to make them accessible as texts that can be copied and pasted and easily shared. That wouldn’t have happened if Talk of the Devil had been made available to anyone besides millionaires. Anyway, I’ll be posting Fleming’s last interpol article at the end of the week.
Gangs Cock a Snook at Interpol (Sunday Times, June 10, 1956)
By IAN FLEMING, The Sunday Times Special Representative
Allegorical figures representing industry, thrift, invention and wisdom look down on the police chiefs of 55 countries gathered in the Academy of Sciences here for the 25th assembly of the International Police Commission. The dark goddesses of sex, greed and narcotics would have been more appropriate witnesses.
The international drug traffic, gold smuggling, counterfeiting and prostitution are on the agenda, but much (too much) of this meeting will be occupied with a revision of Interpol’s statutes and with the election of a new president. Sir Ronald Howe, deputy commissioner of Scotland Yard, would have taken the place of the veteran M. Louwage of Belgium, but Sir Ronald is retiring to join a firm of merchant bankers, and M. Erie Ros, Stockholm’s chief of police, is likely to be elected.
Just as last year the criminal elements of Istanbul cocked a snook at Interpol by smashing up the city around the delegates, so, this year, have Austrian Teddy-boys shown their disdain by raiding the police museum at Graz and taking the pick of the modern revolver exhibits. These teen-age gangsters are known here as “halb-starke”—the half-strength ones—and their uniform is shiny leather jackets, shoes with two-inch soles and long greasy hair. The public is terrified.
A more attractive criminal element is the band of desperadoes who act as guides through the Iron Curtain. Their expert knowledge of safe routes through the minefields has so exasperated the Russians that they are moving the Hungarian curtain fringe a mile back. A conducted tour through the Hungarian Iron Curtain is cheap. I have been offered, and reluctantly rejected, a one-way passage for £2.
Vienna has a peculiar affinity with the mythos of crime. Over 100 years ago, a Viennese; Hans Gross, the first scientific criminologist, wrote his “Criminal Investigation,” and it remains the bible of the modern detective. Interpol itself was founded here in 1933, and today Vienna is the home of the greatest safe-breaker in the world—Joseph Bieraaus, who plies his trade as a locksmith.
His is a name to conjure with in the strongbox world, and he earns rich fees from the great safe-making firms. When the invasion of Britain was being planned he was asked if he could open the safes of the Bank of England and the Mint. On promising that he could, he was promoted sergeant and remained peacefully “on call.”
Then, of course, we have Nicholas Borrisov, alias Benno Blum, the original model for the Third Man, Harry Lime, who has opened his own cafe. Vienna is just the place for Interpol to meet.
Interpol, with its 250,000 card archives, seems to be increasing its cunning. Since its last meeting it has helped to come down on diamond smuggling from Africa, it has developed a new electronic method for detecting cheque forgeries and it has had some amazing successes against the drug traffic.
One of the drug cases is interesting, because the gang used doctored cars—two Jaguars, two Buicks and a Fiat. Their own car body builder welded dummy crossbars to the chassis, capable of hiding away on each car up to 441 lb. of opium—a fortune’s worth. For two years these cars ran a regular shuttle-service between the Middle East and Marseilles. Then the police seized them all except the leader, a Lebanese “K,” who escaped.
Perhaps this summer, as you take your tryptique into some frontier office, that travel-stained Jaguar with the swarthy man and pretty girl which edged in just in front will be the redoubtable “K” with his latest girl, and perhaps if you follow their car to the next petrol station your keen eyes will notice that their tank takes only half as much petrol as your Jaguar does. Interpol in Vienna puts ideas into your head.
Fleming later wrote that his first Interpol conference, in Istanbul, “was great fun” and "by scraping together fragments from official papers and speeches and tying them up with informed gossip, I was able to write two long dispatches on ‘The Secrets of Interpol’ whose success was assisted by the Istanbul riots which took place conveniently over that week-end and on which I was able to give a scoop to my paper.
"The next year I went again to the conference, this time at Vienna, but my ‘revelations’ of the year before had put the police chiefs on their guard and, on this occasion, I was only able to produce a pretty thin three-quarters of a column. The learned papers read by the police chiefs had been more rigorously censored than before and were more carefully guarded, and the gossip dried up in my presence.
“I skipped the next year’s meeting in Lisbon, and that was the end of my acquaintanceship with Interpol.”
It’s astonishing Fleming even got as far as he did. The only explanation is that most of the police chiefs were ignorant in whose presence they talked; you can hardly expect a journalist and thriller writer to keep mum about everything he heard during that conference.
It probably helped that Fleming had not yet become a best-seller. Plus his friendship with Ronald Howe must have helped ingratiate himself with the other policemen.
Incidentally, I found the idea of “Austrian Teddy Boys” very funny. I’m sure in real life they were awful, but in my mind I picture them wearing frock coats and periwigs, joyriding around town on Lipizzaners and smashing windows to grab Linzer tortes.
Mudscape with Figures (The Spectator, August 5, 1955)
By Ian Fleming
Some people are frightened by silence and some by noise. To some people the anonymous bulge at the hip is more frightening than the gun in the hand, and all one can say is that different people thrill to different stimuli, and that those who like The Turn of the Screw may not be worried by, for instance, The Cat and the Canary.
Only the greatest authors make the pulses of all of us beat faster, and they do this by marrying the atmosphere of suspense into horrible acts. Poe, Stevenson and M.R. James used to frighten me most, and now Maugham, Ambler, Simenon, Chandler, and Graham Greene can still raise the fur on my back when they want to. Their heroes are credible and their villains terrify with a real “blackness.” Their situations are fraught with doom, and the threat of doom, and, above all, they have pace. When one chapter is done, we reach out for the next. Each chapter is a wave to be jumped as we race with exhilaration behind the hero like a water-skier behind a fast motor-boat.
Too many writers in this genre (and I think Erskine Childers, on whose The Riddle of the Sands these remarks are hinged, was one of them) forget that, although this may sound a contradiction in terms, speed is essential to a novel of suspense, and while detail is important to create an atmosphere of reality, it can be laid on so thick as to become a Sargasso Sea on which the motor-boat bogs down and the skier founders.
The reader is quite happy to share the pillow-fantasies of the author as long as he is provided with sufficient landmarks to help him relate the author’s world more or less to his own, and a straining after verisimilitude with maps and diagrams should be avoided except in detective stories aimed at the off-beta mind.
Even more wearying are “recaps,” and those leaden passages where the hero reviews what he has achieved or ploddingly surveys what remains to be done. These exasperate the reader who, if there is to be any rumination, is quite happy to do it himself. When the author drags his feet with this space-filling device he is sacrificing momentum which it will take him much brisk writing to recapture.
These reflections, stale news through they may be to the mainliner in thrillers, come to me after rereading The Riddle of the Sands after an absence of very many years, and they force me to the conclusion that doom-laden silence and long-drawn-out suspense are not enough to confirm the tradition that Erskine Childers, romantic and remarkable man that he must have been, is also one of the father-figures of the thriller.
The opening of the story–the factual documentation in the preface and the splendid Lady Windermere’s Fan atmosphere of the first chapters–is superb.
At once you are ensconced in bachelor chambers off St. James’s at the beginning of the century. All the trappings of the Age of Certainty gather around you as you read. Although the author does not say so, a coal fire seems to roar in the brass grate; there is a glass of whisky beside your chair and, remembering Mr. Cecil Beaton’s Edwardian décors, you notice that the soda-water syphon beside it is of blue glass. The smoke from your cheroot curls up towards the ceiling and your button-boots are carefully crossed at the ankles on the red-leather-topped fender so as not to disturb the crease of those spongebag trousers. On a mahogany bookrest above your lap The Riddle of the Sands is held open by at well-manicured finger.
Shall you go with Carruthers to Cowes or accompany him to the grouse-moor? It is the fag-end of the London season of 1903. You are bored, and it is all Mayfair to a hock-and-seltzer that the fates have got you in their sights and that you are going to start to pay for your fat sins just over the page.
Thus, in the dressing-room, so to speak, you and Carruthers are all ready to start the hurdle race. You are still ready when you get into the small boat in a God-forsaken corner of the East German coast, and you are even more hungry for the starter’s gun when you set sail to meet the villains. Then, to my, mind, for the next 95,000 words there is anticlimax.
This is a book of great renown; and it is not from a desire to destroy idols or a tendency to denigration that this review–now that, after the statutory fifty years, The Riddle of the Sands has entered the public domain–is becoming almost too much of an autopsy. But those villains! With the best will in the world I could not feel that the lives of the heroes (and therefore of my own) were in the least way endangered by them.
Dollmann, villain No. 1, is a “traitor” from the Royal Navy, whose presence among the clucking channels and glistening mudbanks of the Frisian Islands is never satisfactorily explained. His job was “spying at Chatham, the blackguard,” and the German High Command, even in 1903 when the book was first published, was crazy to employ him on what amounts to operational research. He never does anything villainous. Before the story opens, he foxes hero No. 1 into running himself on a mudbank, but at the end, when any good villain with his back to the wall would show his teeth, he collapses like a pricked balloon and finally disappears lamely overboard just after “we came to the bar of the Schild and had to turn south off that twisty bit of beating between Rottum and Bosch Fat.” His harshest words are “You pigheaded young marplots!” and his “blackness” is further betrayed by the beauty and purity of his daughter, with whom hero No. 1 falls in love (it is always a bad idea for the hero to fall in love with the villain’s daughter. We are left wondering what sort of children they will have.)
Von Bruning, villain No. 2, is frankly a hero to the author, and is presented as such; and No.3, Boehme, though at first he exudes a delicious scent of Peter Lorre, forfeits respect by running away across the mud and leaving one of his gumboots in the hands of hero No. 2.
The plot is that the heroes want to discover what the villains are up to, and, in a small, flat-bottomed boat, they wander amongst the Frisian Islands (and two maps, two charts and a set of tide-tables won’t convince me that they don’t wander aimlessly) trying to find out.
This kind of plot makes an excellent framework for that classic “hurdle race” thriller formula, in which the hero (despite his Fleet-Foot Shoes with Tru-Temper Spikes and Kumfi-Krutch Athletic Supporter) comes a series of ghastly croppers before he breasts the tape.
Unfortunately, in The Riddle of the Sands there are no hurdles and only two homely mishaps (both of the heroes’ own devising)–a second grounding on a mudbank, from which the heroes refloat on the rising tide, and the loss of the anchor chain, which they salvage without difficulty.
The end of the 100,000 word quest through the low-lying October mists is a hasty, rather muddled scramble which leaves two villains, two heroes and the heroine more or less in the air, and the small boat sailing off to England with the answer to the riddle. Before 1914 this prize must have provided a satisfactory fall of the curtain, but since then two German wars have clanged about our heads and today our applause is rather patronising.
The reason why The Riddle of the Sands will always be read is due alone to its beautifully sustained atmosphere. This adds poetry, and the real mystery of wide, fog-girt silence and the lost-child crying of seagulls, to a finely written log-book of a small-boat holiday upon which the author has grafted a handful of “extras” and two “messages”–the threat of Germany and the need for England to “be prepared.”
To my mind it is now republished exactly where it belongs–in the Mariner’s Library. Here, a thriller by atmosphere alone, it stands alongside twenty-eight thrillers of the other school–thrillers where the action on the stage thrills, and the threatening sea-noises are left to the orchestra pit.
Readers with long memories might remember that I posted this article a few years ago, but no collection of Fleming’s literary journalism is complete without it, since “Mudscape” is one of his best and most sustained critical essays.
We already knew Ambler, Simenon, Chandler, and Greene, were influences on Fleming, but it’s good to hear we was also influenced by Poe, Stevenson and M R. James. What Fleming praises in these authors are his own qualities as a thriller-writer. “Above all” he values pace and in a thrilling metaphor says “each chapter is a wave to be jumped as we race with exhilaration behind the hero like a water-skier.” Pace is of great value in the Bond books, since it’s used to hustle the reader past implausibilities and plot defects.
Fleming’s counsel against getting bogged down in detail might sound hypocritical, but Fleming had to convince his readers of far wilder events and characters than the comparatively realistic Childers. And Fleming certainly took his own advice in avoiding “leaden” recaps. He kept his books short.
Predictably, Fleming is most entranced (and seeks to entrance the reader) by details of clothing and furnishings (“you notice that the soda-water syphon beside it is of blue glass”), down to the hero’s spongebag trousers of the hero. As many have stated, he was sometimes more interested in things than people, but his interest was deep and sensual.
Fleming’s biggest complaint against Childers involves his villains. Fleming’s own, full of “blackness,” are among his greatest strengths, and it is no coincidence that the weakest Bond books are those with the least substantial villains. We also have an amusing namecheck of the “delicious” Peter Lorre, who had already played LeChiffre by the time Fleming penned this article.
“It is always a bad idea for the hero to fall in love with the villain’s daughter. We are left wondering what sort of children they will have.” Is this why Draco was made so loveable ally? And why Tracy was killed so soon after the wedding? I jest.
Mountaineering Downwards (Time and Tide, January 2, 1954)
By Ian Fleming
British Caving: An Introduction to Speleology
Members of the Cave Research Group, Routledge and Kegan Paul. 35s.
“Down in a deep dark hole sat an old cow chewing a beanstalk.” Irreverently the dummy hexameter jingled through my head as I digested this weighty tome on a subject which should surely not be taken quite so seriously. ‘The Science of Speleology!’ The sport of exploring caves really cannot be rated a science any more than mountaineering (Montophily?) or treasure-hunting (Thesauromania?). It is true that the science of geology is involved, also physics and geophysics, biology (‘biospeleology’ to the potholers if you please!), palaeontology and so forth. But these can also be part of mountaineering and even of treasure-hunting. Somehow these underground mountaineers have been persuaded to take themselves very seriously indeed and this tome is one of the results.
I am sorry that the Reverend Cecil Cullingford, the editor, did not fight shy of the project. He is the author of that cheerful and expert little handbook Exploring Caves which deals with the sport at exactly the right level, as an entertaining pastime with undertones of romance and adventure. Now he treats us to a volume so comprehensive that the only subject connected with caves that is omitted (or avoided) is the psychology of speleologists—why people like exploring caves—which would have been far more interesting than the sections on meteorology, mammalogy and gravimetric surveying.
Personally I should guess the whole business has something to do with a return to the womb. Certainly there is a touch of infantilism involved, as one may learn from the commonsense chapter on “Caving Code and Ethics” in which the writer criticises the speleologist’s love of secrecy and the jealousy with which he keeps his caves to himself, barring and locking them from others with the result that ‘the relationship between the potholer and the ordinary country folk is now in danger’. Then:
“The manners of some of them are deplorable. At the village Saturday night dance they argue with the doorkeeper about the price of admission, or steal in when no one is looking. One party even stole in to a dance by an unattended door and were dancing in spiked boots, wearing their safety helmets!”
Stalactites are stolen from caves and gypsum flowers and cave pearls “have been filched in their hundreds from near Settle”.
But enough of deflating these excellent people. The best amongst them are incredibly brave expert mountaineers responsible for bringing to light a great deal of archaeological and cultural interest and who, in this scholarly though pompous work, remind us that our forebears lived in these caves, fighting for possession with sabre-toothed tigers, cave-lions, hippopotami, wolves, bears, rhinoceri, leopards and even mammoths. It is a thrilling and romantic sport that makes the skin crawl and the spine tingle and for those who enjoy it or who wish to become expert, and even for those who don’t know a spelunca from a hole in the ground, this book contains all the hard facts and some very beautiful photographs. I just wish that cavers wouldn’t call themselves speleologists.
Wonders of the Deep (Sunday Times, Oct. 28, 1956)
By Ian Fleming
I have become very leery of “underwater” books. The best one was Cousteau’s The Silent World and little but trash has followed. There are three aspects of submarine literature which particularly offend—the general archness of the writing (some of those translations from the French are excruciating), the dreadful jokiness, in which Haas painfully excels, and the bare-faced cheating of the reader about the perils of the deep, heightened by trick photography.
There are sea myths still to be explored—the mile-deep battles between sounding whales and giant squids, with eyes a foot in diameter, is one that particularly attracts me—but anyone who writes with bated pen about octopuses, shark, barracuda or the manta ray is a bluffer.
Two books before me offer reassuring evidence that the literature is settling down. Above all, they are factual. James Dugan received his underwater education from Cousteau. He helped with both the book and the film of The Silent World, and his The Great Iron Ship qualifies him as one of the finest research workers in romantic fact. His Man Explores The Sea (Hamish Hamilton. 30s.) is a history of undersea exploration from Alexander the Great’s diving-bell to the bathyscaphe. It is a long book, splendidly illustrated, and it contains more excitement and adventure than any book I have read this year.
There are accounts of the great underwater treasure troves; the most dramatic incidents in the evolution of the submarine; the development of underwater photography (A catalogue sent to a South American amateur diver was returned with the notation “Undeliverable. Addressee eaten by a crocodile”); scientific underwater research on fish, minerals and oil; the great discoveries in undersea archaeology and gripping tales of underwater sabotage. Here is a sample:
There appeared before me out of nowhere a large white form. It had arms and legs, heavy and puffed like pillows. It had a dome-shaped head and a white eye. It was a Japanese diver wearing white burlap overalls over his diving dress to offer a less-attractive surface to octopi. He stayed there for two minutes watching my line strain, then he disappeared. He was going off to let me die, fouled in the kelp. I was hopelessly lost; with a tremendous effort I got to my feet. There, right behind me, with a knife in his hand, was the Jap diver. He was cutting my lines…
It is a thrilling and, with the exception of an occasional unnecessary note of farce, admirably written book which will be given for many Christmases to come to anyone who has put on goggles and gazed into this other world.
. . .
The Collins Pocket Guide to the Undersea World (Collins 21s.) is exactly what it says, and Ley Kenyon is to be congratulated on producing a really comprehensive and attractively written handbook on the sport of skin diving. There is everything here, with splendid photographs and drawings, and I am unable to fault it for common sense and basic general knowledge.
Another great post Revelator - thank you!
Last summer I got my hands on a copy of The Silent World. I kept it on hand whenever I hiked down to the beach, and between swimming and snorkelling, I would lie in the sand under the sun and read a few passages. It’s still immensely readable. While the equipment and techniques (and popularity) of scuba have advanced greatly since the book was published, Cousteau’s words still capture the thrill of underwater exploration like nothing else can. Even some of the best modern photographs and footage of the undersea world often pale in comparison to the poetry and passion that are present in Cousteau’s vivid words. The fact that it appealed to and inspired Fleming so much is easy to understand.
You’re very welcome! I’m happy to report that a review of another Cousteau book is in the pipeline, probably for next week. Fleming also reported on a couple of Cousteau’s expeditions for The Sunday Times and admired him greatly.
Great to know. I can understand the kinship between Fleming and Cousteau. Both had a child-like sense of wonder and adventure, which both brought to life in their works - and passed on to the rest of us.
Great stuff indeed. Yes, I do imagine both were much the same in some respects. Old Ian did love to snorkel in Jamaica and dive.
Full Fathom Five (Sunday Times, April 17, 1960)
Captain Cousteau’s Underwater Treasury. By Jacques-Yves Cousteau & James Dugan. (Hamish Hamilton. 30s.)
By Ian Fleming
Swimming is really an extremely dull activity unless you are showing off to the spectators or competing at it. Swimming in the sea is just as dull as going for a walk in the middle of a snowfield or a desert. There is nothing to look at or occupy your mind, and you go on, automatically moving your limbs, until you are tired and it is time to go back.
Around 1942 Jacques Cousteau and his happy band of comrades altered all this. It was he who taught the common man to look under the sea as he swam, and, suddenly, swimming became interesting. Interest and curiosity, the act of focusing one’s eyes, and mind, have results you do not expect. I suppose I can swim for pleasure about half a mile before I get bored and therefore tired, but, with a mask on, and if the underwater territory is a new one, it is almost impossible for me to stop swimming. A mile or two is nothing, and I have a feeling that if I were to visit the Great Barrier Reef, I wouldn’t stop until a mud fish or a giant clam got me.
Cousteau, unhonoured and scantily sung, has put man back under the sea where he came from, and, from what the scientists say, he has done this by chance just at the moment in history when anyway we are being driven back into the oceans in search of more food and raw materials.
I am sure he never meant to cause this world-wide revolution, though, being the extraordinary man he is, he would certainly have been a pioneer in something. What first inspired him might, be expressed in the words of Thomas Fuller: “He goes a great voyage that goes to the bottom of the sea.”
Unfortunately, Cousteau writes far too little about his experiences. I doubt if The Silent World would ever have got written but for James Dugan, who somehow squeezed the book out of him. Cousteau just has not got patience for writing, and he is totally uninterested in the paraphernalia of fame. Fortunately, James Dugan keeps on at him, and one day we shall get his second volume of biography, the fantastic tale of his last ten years in the Indian Ocean, the Seychelles, prospecting for oil for the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (most successfully, I understand), plumbing the great ocean deeps, and other thrilling exploits of which we read only scraps in the newspapers.
But now James Dugan, who I am sure again did most of the work, has made him put together in this thick and beautifully illustrated volume more than sixty of his favourite underwater adventure stories from all literature. Everything is here—sharks, octopuses, treasure, submarine battles, exploration, archaeology, the glorious beauty of the coral reefs. Everyone who has ever put on an underwater mask will enjoy this fat, rich anthology, and if any teacher is looking for a wonderful source for reading aloud to boys—and girls, for that matter—of from ten to over twenty, then this, and especially now, on the threshold of the Ocean Age, is the book for him.
Partner! You Have Triumphed My Ace… (Daily Graphic, Sept. 28, 1949)
By I.L.F. [Ian Lancaster Fleming]
Did you know that “trump” was originally “triumph”? Did you know that spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs were originally swords, cups, coins and staves, representing the nobility, the clergy, tradesmen, and peasants—the main social classes of the Middle Ages?
Have you reflected that not even the French Revolution or the Communists succeeded in replacing the kings and queens in the pack with other symbols, and were you aware that Wild Bill Hickock shot all the pips out of a ten of spades at twelve paces?
Not me, and I still don’t know the rules of “Canasta,” the new card game which is sweeping America on the heels of gin rummy, after reading The Complete Card Player, by Albert Ostrow (The Bodley Head, 15s.). Nor do I know the latest contract bridge rules and I don’t know the odds for drawing a card at “chemin de fer.” These are serious lapses in an American card encyclopaedia “which should challenge Hoyle as the general reference book.”
But if you want to play Bimbo high-low at poker, Blind Hookey, Cedarhurst Gin, Clobberyash, Double-dummy with a widow, Idiot’s Delight, Oh Pshaw, Seven-toed Pete or Stealing the Old Man’s Bundle—this is the book for you.
What a curious assortment of odd games this book seems to have been…
I tried googling those games, and in some cases the only information I found was from the book under review! Turns out The Complete Card Player is available at the Internet Archive.
The White Cheat (Sunday Times, November 2, 1947)
Gamesmanship. By Stephen Potter. (Rupert Hart-Davis. 6s.)
By Ian Fleming
On the analogy of white lies, this little book is an aid to the white cheat, hereafter referred to as a “gamesman.” We have all met gamesmen and perhaps been defeated by their gamesmanship. It has fallen to Mr. Potter to be their first champion, the first chronicler of their “ploys” and, who knows, perhaps the subversive guide towards a new golden age in British sport when Ryder Cups, Ashes and the goblets of Wimbledon, Henley and the Olympics will all come home again.
After some introductory remarks on the history and origin of gamesmanship, the author proceeds to the “flurry” ploy, of which the basic axiom is “the first muscle stiffened (in the opponent) is the first point gained.”
His description of preparations for leaving home in the opponent’s car en route for the tennis courts is a workmanlike summary of the “primary hampers” which all of us have experienced at the hands of gamesmen. (There is a helpful “Sketch Plan to show specimen wrong route from Maida Vale to Dulwich Covered Courts.”) While touching on “clothesmanship” and “stakesmanship” the author sounds a note of warning against the counter-gamesman, and readers will be wise to draw wider conclusions than are suggested by the single example, the “Frith-Morteroy Counter.”
Reading on, it will seem to many gamesmen that the “Jack Rivers opening” is weak. I prefer the more deadly “Huntercombe” variant (not mentioned by Potter) which goes like this. On the first tee: Gamesman: “I say, did you see that article of Cotton’s in the ‘Lancet’?” Opponent: “No, what did he say?” Gamesman: “Well it seems you breathe in on your upswing and out on the downswing, and the point is I’m sure he’s wrong. I do just the opposite. Let’s see what we really do during this round and we can write in a letter shooting him down.”
Potter is on firmer ground in his remarks on “Basic Fluke Play” and I concur when he states categorically that there are only eighteen ways of saying “Bad luck”; but many will think that his chapters on Brinkmanship, Clubmanship, etc., are amateurish and even naive, and readers will have little faith in his rudimentary advice to card players. (He does not even touch on “Voice Control” in husband and wife partnerships at the bridge table!)
I have said enough to show that, though not definitive, Potter on Gamesmanship is a Christmas “must” for partners and opponents and for anonymous despatch to “that woman” at the Bridge club. Colonel Frank Wilson’s diagrams and illustrations, particularly his anatomical chart of the golfer’s stance on the putting green (show to opponent in the third week) are in the best tradition of English Sporting Prints.
Haha, you’re very welcome! Ian certainly knew a disturbingly large amount about gamesmanship…
Bestsellers in America: “Beautiful, Beautiful Books” (Sunday Times, Sept. 18, 1949)
By Ian Fleming
The decline in the Faculty of Attention is neither new nor peculiar to America (Wordsworth remarked upon it in the preface to the Lyrical Ballads nearly 150 years ago), but America has developed to a finer art than we the technique of attracting without actually engaging attention. Hollywood, the Tabloids, the Comics, the Shiny magazines, the Digests, Radio and “Video” provide a daily dish of premasticated pulp which is rapidly conditioning the American palate away from any mental fare whose absorption requires an effort. (Hollywood is filming The Forsyte Saga under the title of That Forsyte Gal because “Saga” is considered a “difficult” word.)
In order to sell their 15s. novels (the standard price), American book-factories (as opposed to reputable publishers) tempt the reluctant reader’s appetite by pressure-salesmanship of brightly wrappered sop-stuff—the title of this report is from a well-known blurb—with the result that writers and readers “with teeth in them are a rapidly dying race in America.”
James Marquand, for instance, has at last produced that bedtime story in swansdown prose towards which some of his recent work has, alas, been hinting. Point of No Return, which has led the fiction bestsellers for months past, is an agreeable meander through the life and pale loves of a character who closely resembles that American comic ineffectual, Mr. Milquetoast. These are harsh words, but from a sincere admirer of H. M. Pulham, Esq. and So Little Time.
Leading the general list is Cheaper by the Dozen (coming from Heinemann on October 10), a most engaging piece of real-life whimsy which describes the methods used to educate the 12 children of Mr. Gilbreth, an American consulting engineer and efficiency expert. Written by two of his children, it comes in much the same package as The Egg and I, which sold a million in America last year and has since done very well over here. Some religious books are being widely read, and there are many popular pink pills for pale psyches, such as Peace of Soul, Peace of Mind, The Mature Mind and How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.
It is sad to have to predict that admirers of John O’Hara’s Appointment in Samarra and Butterfield 8 will find themselves disappointed with The Rage to Live, the wearisome chronicle of a Pennsylvania family with a viper named Grace Caldwell in its bosom. This windy saga is not redeemed by extreme coarseness in parts, and it has the worst contrived ending of any novel I can remember.
Another casualty is Marc Brandel, whose adult and macabre Ides of Summer found him a discriminating English public last year. The Barriers Between is full of the turgid ruminations of a sensitive ex-G.I., whose heavy drinking in Mexico is too much for his sensitive stomach.
It is pleasant to be able to record that English authors continue in handsome demand. Mr. Churchill’s Their Finest Hour still outstrips all domestic war memoirs published this year and qualifies him for his newest laurels as chief literary dollar-earner for England (and top scrivener, for Sir Stafford!). George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is also having a phenomenal success. Featured by Life and then by The Reader’s Digest, this brilliant book is more than repeating its reception in England. Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate is a best-seller, as was her The Pursuit of Love, despite the unfamiliar idiom and cliquishness of this comedy of lost manners. Spencer Chapman’s The Jungle is Neutral is proving an excellent corrective to the American popular theory that we never fought the Japanese.
Finally, a book which will do much for our battered self-esteem, Our English Heritage, by Gerald Johnson. Mr. Commager, in The New York Times, concludes a review which would make all England blush with the words: “Every nation inherits a good part of its culture and its institutions. The United States has been fortunate because its inheritance comes from a nation whose peculiar contribution to civilisation has been integrity of character.”
Note: The Hollywood film of The Forsyte Saga was eventually titled That Forsyte Woman. Released in 1949, it starred Errol Flynn, Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, and Robert Young.
I haven’t read H. M. Pulham, Esq. (or anything else by the now-forgotten John P. Marquand), but I can recommend the film version, directed by the great King Vidor and starring the brainy and beautiful Hedy Lamarr.