Ian Fleming's Lost Moonraker Screenplay Found

Ian Fleming’s lost James Bond screenplay reveals a very different 007

With no Moneypenny and no M, a previously unpublished script reveals the author’s original ideas for Moonraker (The Observer, April 30)

…In 1956, a year after the Moonraker novel was published, Fleming wrote his own 150-page film treatment with a plot that is as serious as the 1979 film is lightweight, despite Roger Moore’s charm as the fictional spy.

Just as in the novel, Bond is portrayed as a cold-hearted assassin, but Fleming makes some changes. The head of the British secret intelligence service is not called “M”, and more closely resembles an affable 1950s city gent than the gruff character of the novels and films.

M’s flirtatious secretary, Miss Moneypenny, is conspicuous by her absence.

A Cockney card sharp called Tosh – a special branch officer working undercover – is one of a new cast of characters who take on the villain Hugo Drax.

Jon Gilbert, an expert in Fleming literature, told the Observer: “This is the very first screenplay written by Fleming imagining Bond for the big screen. It is his only attempt at a film script, so it’s hugely important. It is a very Bondian scenario – a megalomaniac who wants to see the downfall of Britain.”

But the Rank Organisation, at the time the biggest film company in the UK, failed to see its potential. The typed screenplay, still in its Rank folder, remained forgotten decades after Fleming had submitted it.

…The undeveloped screenplay has come to light as part of a major collection of Bond material amassed by two leading antiquarian bookshops in London, Peter Harrington and Adrian Harrington Rare Books, where Gilbert is the resident Fleming expert.

In the screenplay, 007 and a policewoman go swimming off the coast of Kent. Gilbert said: “Bond wears light blue swimming shorts – as blue as his eyes – which would become a defining image of Bond, along with the black tuxedo, portrayed by Connery and revived by Daniel Craig. It would appear to originate here with Fleming, rather than a later screenwriter. That’s quite significant. It’s conceivable that Fleming then developed this when discussing the subsequent films with Broccoli and Saltzman.”

Fleming had been an officer serving in British naval intelligence during the second world war and was a journalist before becoming a full-time novelist. Gilbert said that his screenplay was fascinating, but “far too descriptive”. A true scriptwriter would have concentrated on the dialogue, with minimal directions: “That’s why it’s 150 pages. Screenplays for Bond films … are usually 100 pages. But it reads very well.”

He added that the screenplay is “much more serious” than the 1979 film, which reflects the time when it was created: “You have the threat of the cold war and serious nuclear threats. In the 1970s, the films reflected a climate that wasn’t life-threatening.”

The screenplay had been under the radar until it surfaced at a Bonhams auction in 2015, from where it was acquired by a private collector.

Andrew Lycett, author of the biography Ian Fleming: The Man Who Created James Bond, told the Observer: “Finding this screenplay is very exciting. Fleming was obsessed with getting his books filmed. He tried very hard to interest producers in the UK and US.

“In 1954, he corresponded with producer Alexander Korda, who had read a proof of his second novel, Live and Let Die, and had praised it. Fleming wrote to him about his third novel – still to be written – which would be Moonraker. He said it was ‘an expansion of a film story I’ve had in my mind since the war’. This was ‘a straight thriller with particularly English but also general appeal, allowing for some wonderful film settings’. He then went to Jamaica to write the book, which came out the following spring. The point is that Fleming always conceived Moonraker as ‘a film story’. So, to find his screenplay is particularly interesting.”

Note: Ian Fleming’s Moonraker script has long been my holy grail of Fleming items, ever since I read about it in Lycett’s biography 27 years ago. For decades its whereabouts were completely unknown and it was feared lost, until it turned up as a listing in the catalogue Ian Fleming and James Bond: Manuscripts in The Schøyen Collection. Earlier this month 120 of the collection’s Bond-related film scripts, screenplays, manuscripts, storyboards and film treatments were jointly offered for sale by the London-based rare book dealers Peter Harrington and Adrian Harrington Rare Books for £500,000. Apparently those dealers have acquired all the Bond items in the Schøyen Collection, which numbers close to 600 items.

I’m guessing Fleming’s Moonraker script is part of the larger collection held back from sale. Jon Gilbert, who catalogued the collection and works for Adrian Harrington Books, will likely be the man who decides what to do with the script. He has worked with the Fleming family at Queen Anne Press, which published Ian Fleming: The Notes and Ian Fleming: The Bibliography (written by Gilbert), so it’s possible the script will be published as a collector’s edition there. Hopefully at an affordable price!


I would love to read it! I, too, hope it becomes easily available.