Thank you for the kind words gentlemen! This thread will be my best yet. More to come next Friday, and 24 Fridays afterward.
[Caption: Photographer Norman Eales offers his own interpretation of the James Bond girl. Essential elements: the beautifully wide cheekbones; the hair that falls fine and free; the mobile mouth, the unpainted fingernails; a crisp white silk shirt and not a superfluous bow; wide handstitched calf belt, narrowly pleated skirt. Would she find favor with James Bond? There’s no telling: They’ve never met.]
Barbara Griggs Introduces…Men Looking at Women
No. 1: Ian Fleming (Evening Standard, April 4, 1960)
Talking to Ian Fleming about women and the way they dress is hypnotically like chatting to the MI5 [sic] hero of his famous thrillers, tough, bon-vivant man-of-the-world James Bond.
The same enthusiasms and preferences, the same shuddering antipathies and prejudices, the same insistence on more woman and less fashion make themselves manifest—a draught of cold manly air blowing through the hot-house atmosphere of fashion.
And indeed, checking back afterwards, I discovered almost all of his most forceful remarks crystallized for me in one or other of the Complete Works, so perhaps Mr. Fleming will forgive me if I occasionally quote him in support of himself.
The Big Snare
“Women, of course, don’t dress for men,” he told me authoritatively when I went to see him in his brand-new dark-green and white office. “They dress for each other—or for an audience. And so they occasionally waste an awful lot of money, and occasionally go frightfully astray.
“High fashion, unfortunately, is their big snare. Most couturiers are destroyers of sex.
“Look at the sack, for instance: it didn’t look too bad on some wonderful young girl in Rome sometimes: but on who else?”
“Women should stay out of the streams of fashion; they shouldn’t be taken in by it. Just observe it enough to preserve their self-respect.”
Skirts are Tops
“What sort of clothes do I like women to wear? I love shirts and skirts and wide handstitched belts. I think women should stick to finely-pleated skirts; they flatter the walk immensely.”
(Tilly Masterton’s dress for a car-crash outside Macon in Bond’s book Goldfinger: “She wore a white, rather masculine-cut heavy silk shirt. It was open at the neck but it would button up to a narrow military collar. The shirt had long wide sleeves gathered at the wrists…she wore a very wide black stitched leather belt with brass buckles…her short skirt was charcoal grey and pleated…)
On the subject of shirts, Ian Fleming is a stickler for plainness: “I hate those bogus pockets and flaps. All decorations should have a basis of usefulness.
“I love white shirts—but a whole dress in white? I think it’s a mistake, except on a tanned skin. And it gives a woman such anxiety complexes: those backward glances down at their skirt as they walk out of a restaurant to see if they’ve sat in something. Too awful for them.”
“For evening? Something long and plain—preferably black velvet. The frightful thing about it though, is the way it marks when you sit on it.”
( “Do you mind if we go straight in to dinner?” she asked. “I want to make a grand entrance and the truth is there’s a horrible secret about black velvet. It marks when you sit down.” [Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale])
Ian Fleming is forthright on the subject of shape:
“Women in this country have been brought up to be ashamed of their bosoms and behinds. They should wear them like flags.
“Her behind is the most distinctive part of a woman’s body: it shouldn’t be flattened out and concealed by all that scaffolding and wire and basketwork.
“Women should stick to their own shape; the moment you start pretending you’re a different shape you’re in trouble.
“As long as a woman’s flesh is clean and healthy, what does it matter what shape she is?
“Trouble is, women here simply are not clean: absolutely filthy, the whole lot of them. I’ve said so to beauty experts here and they agree with me.
“Englishwomen simply do not wash and scrub enough. And why don’t they use frictions more often? Those wonderful all-over Eau-de-Cologne ones?
“Scent? I hate the musky ones—anything that smells of patchouli; I like any of the light flowery ones, particularly lily-of-the-valley.”
(N.B.—Mr. Fleming is sensitive on this subject of scent. One of his rare recorded lapses was the occasion when he credited Balmain’s Vent Vert to Dior)
“Make-up I like as light as possible—as little as possible—and durable. I can’t stand women who keep fiddling with their hair or face all the time.
“I don’t care much for nail-varnish, unless it’s pale pink; unvarnished, well-polished nails are prettier.”
(Gala Brand in Moonraker: “Apart from the warm rouge on her lips she wore no make-up and her nails were square-cut with a natural polish…)
“I like dirty clothes for the country. They shouldn’t have that glossy Tatler look to them. A well-cut mac covers an awful lot of sins.
“What happened to the beret? You never see it now. When a good thing like that comes along, I think women should hang on to it. Men do.
“Why are women so obsessed with models? I can’t understand it. They’re such awful narcissists—almost as bad as actresses; thinking of themselves the whole time. Just not whole women.
“No man is taken in by an advertisement showing a handsome man—he knows he won’t look like that. But women are perennially taken in.
“Are Englishwomen better dressed than Frenchwomen now? I think we’re overhauling them rapidly. Frenchwomen, of course, know how to use great artifice. But they have hideous bodies and skin.
“The great thing is that we’re beginning to get thousands of really beautiful girls all over England.
“That last long summer got them all out like butterflies.”
James Bond and Me
Ian Fleming interviewed by Anne Britton (Books and Bookmen, May 1960)
Just eight years ago a character called James Bond was born.
His dossier kept by the Russian organization SMERSH described him: “eyes: blue; hair: black; scar down right cheek and on left shoulder; signs of plastic surgery on back of right hand; all-round athlete: pistol shot, boxer, knife thrower; does not use disguises. Languages: French and German. Smokes heavily (NB: special cigarettes with three gold bands); vices: drink, but not to excess, and women. Not thought to accept bribes.”
Quite a man, this James Bond, whose yearly appearance causes more discussion, jealousy, disgust and admiration than any other thriller “hero.”
His creator, Ian Fleming, has a good deal to say on the subject.
“I wrote the first book, Casino Royale, in the few months before I got married. It was better than biting my nails and thinking that getting married at forty-three was too big a step. I took the name James Bond from the author of a bird book on Jamaica, thinking it would make him sound neutral. I had no intention of writing another book with the same character. But he’s popular and until I grow out of him, I shall go on writing about him.
“The last thing I wanted James Bond to be was the hero type. Rather the opposite.” In Casino Royale he made this clear in a revealing chapter ending. “…with the warmth and humour of his eyes extinguished, his features relapsed into a taciturn mask, ironical, brutal, cold.”
“I wanted Bond to be a strong character, masculine, a composite figure made up of the commando types and spies I met during the war. He is a man who gets involved. Many of the English thriller heroes these days are ordinary men who find themselves in circumstances against their nature. Bond is not a character that readers can identify themselves with, perhaps that is his strength. Rather it is wishful identification.
“He is intended to be a blunt instrument in the hands of a Government department and his quirks are to give him added character. Take his interest in expensive food and drink: good food and wines were still scarce when I started the first book and I hoped the description of meals would make people’s mouths water. They certainly made mine water. But now, of course, Bond still has to remain gourmet.”
I asked him what answer he had to give to his critics about the outrageousness of Bond’s situations and the varying forms of torture he is forced to endure.
With just the faintest trace of irony he says, “Few people seem to realise that so many incidents in the James Bond books are based on fact. I string these together, along with a beautiful girl, to make a good story. In Casino Royale the gambling incident was very true to life.
“I was in Estoril during the war and saw the German spies gambling at the Casino. I love gambling and decided I could beat them at their own game. I failed miserably, but I made Bond succeed. Later on, the bomb throwing incident of the red and blue cameras with a reconstruction of the Russian attempt to kill von Papen in Ankara. The Russian organisation SMERSH does actually exist.
“One of the things that intrigues people is the bridge game in Moonraker. They have only to look up one of Culbertson’s books of instructions and see that game described, word for word. In much the same way the method of cheating at Canasta in Goldfinger was taken from an actual court case in Miami. I spent several years during the war in Naval Intelligence and saw far stranger things than I write about, and one only has to read the newspapers to confirm that.
“A case in point is another episode in Goldfinger when the Korean is sucked through the window of a pressurised cabin of a plane. That had actually happened a short while before.
“And then the torture. You have only to read about the concentration camps and the treatment of prisoners in Algeria to realise mine is mild stuff compared with that. People like to hide their eyes from the truth.”
Of necessity Ian Fleming is two people. For nine months of the year he is the experienced, brilliant newspaper man. For three months he closes his mind to that, goes to Jamaica and dissolves into the character of James Bond. “I try to have some kind of plot already formed, but often the ideas and incidents weave themselves into a story once I have started.
“Sometimes I feel like changing the formula, but people want the same thing again. I have regular hours of work. If one is writing professionally it is the only way. It also adds pace which is the main ingredient of a good thriller. People read thrillers in trains and planes and you must make them want to read over the page. Too many of the modern thriller heroes are cardboard cut-outs. They spend their time recapping to pad out a few more pages.”
As a writer Ian Fleming is always seeking perfection. “Even the sex bits, which do tend to be a bit vulgar, I would hate to think were badly written. I started adding more sex to shock a little. It is good for the English. We are so Calvinistic and nonconformist.”
As a man his interests are wide. He finds nature always exciting and his love of underwater fishing has crept into more than one of his books. “And travel, I will never lose the thrill of a journey, of a new country. When I’m tired I can always settle in a small French town and examine it minutely the way Simenon does.”
He does admit that to write these thrillers he must have an insatiable interest in the odd, the queer and the exciting. “But above all I believe in getting on with it, in writing what I please, not what I ought to. So often I am asked when I am going to write something better. But I have no wish to be a Serious Writer. They take themselves and their work too seriously and are always searching for a message.”
His new book, For Your Eyes Only, has another eye-catching jacket. (Wisely, Fleming discusses all his jackets with the artist, Richard Chopping. Between them they have not produced a dud one yet.) It is a volume of five stories which he describes as experiences of James Bond that would not fit into any other book. The middle one will be an enigma to many of his admirers since its style and tempo are suspiciously Somerset Maugham, but the last two, even if they are rather more restrained, will undoubtedly please Bond fans. And the underwater sequence is a joy to read.
What is it that has made James Bond such a cult—even to the extent of three fan clubs in Australia and Hollywood who write earnest letters and spend their money on Berettas? Is it the pace, the technical brilliance of the writing, the detailed but never dull description, the sheer entertainment value, the sadistic streak, the forthright attitude towards sex, or a secret delight in snobbery?
Ian Fleming cannot supply the answer, but with any luck he will go on rousing our baser instincts for a long time to come.
Mr. Fleming Escapes from Belgravia—Thanks to James Bond
By Thomas Wiseman (Evening Standard, Oct. 7, 1960)
Mr. Ian Fleming, gentlemanly chronicler of the bizarre and ungentlemanly adventures of James Bond, secret agent, did something very unusual yesterday: he went to one of his wife’s renowned luncheon parties in Victoria Square at which the guests included Mr. Somerset Maugham, Mr. Cyril Connolly and Mr. Angus Wilson.
Normally Mr. Fleming finds such occasions an unmitigated bore. He much prefers to be in a low bar in Hamburg.
It is possible too, that in the presence of such literary celebrities, Mr. Fleming feels a trifle intimidated: a discussion of Mr. Fleming’s literary creations, such as the lady who wears nothing but a leather belt, might not be exactly apposite in this setting.
The contrast between the published life of James Bond and the private life of his creator is startling. Fleming is the son of a Tory MP, the husband of the former Lady Rothermere, now one of the leading hostesses of London; a friend of Sir Anthony Eden; he was educated at Eton; and until recently occupied an important executive position on one of the posh Sunday papers.
As the author of James Bond’s adventures, Mr. Fleming has been responsible for a series of best-selling novels which, to put it mildly, emphasize the less refined relationships of the sexes.
It is instructive to talk to Mr. Fleming about this apparent split in his personality; for one discovers him to be a kind of Walter Mitty; a man living the high life and hankering for the low life.
“My wife,” he explains, “fully understands my attitude, that I don’t care for her parties and literary friends. For one thing, you know, if you are married to a hostess, you find that she will seat the most interesting men next to herself and saddle you with their boring wives. So whenever possible I avoid going to wife’s parties.
“I am, anyway, not a very sociable person. Of course, my wife hates the whole James Bond business. I think she rather wishes I were a Cyril Connolly or something respectable like that. She would like me to write on a much higher level. I have to tell her that I am not capable of writing on a higher level. I’ve got nothing to say on that level. I am not ambitious.
“I find the people one meets in a low strip-tease joint in Hamburg infinitely more interesting than anyone one would meet a Belgravia dinner party. Give me a cheap joint any day.
“That Belgravia crowd, you would need a tin-opener to get at them. They may, of course, be just as interesting as anyone else underneath, but it would take years to find out, and then, of course, they might turn out to be as boring underneath as on the surface.”
The creation of James Bond has provided Mr. Fleming—if only in fantasy—with an escape route from Belgravia. In his smartly decorated office off Fleet Street, with its green-striped walls and shelves of garish paper-backs, Mr. Fleming can transport himself into the world in which James Bond operates: a world in which blondes are always and instantly available, in which fiendish foreigners inflict unimaginable tortures on unimaginable heroines, in which blood is spilt as cheerfully as a dry-martini.
Such a cad
Upon reflection, Mr. Fleming is not sure that he likes James Bond very much. “He really is a frightful cad,” he admits, “and, apart from the fact that he wears the same clothes that I wear, he and I really have little in common.
“I do rather envy him, his blondes and his efficiency, but I can’t say I much like the chap.
“His success with women is pure wishful-thinking on my part.
“All Englishmen are shy with women and I am just as shy as any of them. I suppose one projects one’s secret fantasies in this sort of fiction. That I suppose is why male readers like my stories; they express what every man hopes might happen and jolly well knows doesn’t happen.
“The reason women like the stories? Well, women are all masochistic and I suppose they like the way the female characters are bashed about.”
He accepts criticisms of his writing—that it is sadistic, erotic—with equanimity.
“It doesn’t hurt to raise the blood pressure of novel readers a bit. It could do with a bit of raising. I don’t think any of my books do any harm. It’s all good, healthy fun.”
Only the suggestion that James Bond is something of a snob about food and wine succeeds in momentarily ruffling Mr. Fleming.
“You can’t call a liking for caviar snobbish,” he protests, “it’s just bloody good stuff.”
Some recent Fleming news: on a Bond Facebook group I came across the Daily Mail article “Ian Fleming’s rules for life are revealed as James Bond creator’s private notebook goes up for auction.”
As Heritage Auctions reveals, the rules are from a 39-page notebook Fleming kept during his trip to Japan to research You Only Live Twice. Here are some scans:
Fleming’s rules are:
- Don’t draw your gun unless you can see both the other man’s hands.
- Don’t waste your time on women who wear a bracelet on their left ankle.
- Beware of motorcars with 2 women in the front seat.
- Don’t play cards against married couples, unless they are drunk.
- See the brand name on the bottle.
- Avoid people who call you ‘Old Boy,’ and all politicians.
- Never eat scrambled eggs unless you make them yourself.
- Talk secrets only in the open air.
- Don’t buy anything that eats.
- Beware of people who smell and tread carefully in the company of moustaches, side-burns, or beards.
- Have nothing to do with correspondence in coloured ink - particularly when variegated.
- Cut down on your drink when your eyes get red and on your smoking when your breath feels short. Don’t worry about cirrhosis of the liver or cancer.
- Live until you’re dead.
And speaking of death:
Personality: Ian Fleming
A tour with the creator of James Bond, Goldfinger, and the insidious Dr. No as he seeks sin—Chicago-style. (Rogue: Designed for Men, Feb. 1961)
By William F. Nolan
In this glittering age of specialization, when the globe-trotting adventurer is becoming almost as scarce as the whooping crane, it gives you a great deal of soul-satisfaction to meet a modern-day Soldier of Fortune who ranges the world in quest of excitement, unique experiences, and bizarre sensations. Recently I had occasion to spend an unusual afternoon with a suave and sophisticated member of this vanishing breed, England’s Ian Fleming, well known in the United States as the author of several explosive, hard-driving thrillers starring the implacable, indestructible James Bond of the British Secret Service. As Foreign Manager of the London Sunday Times, Fleming was in Chicago to pick up colorful data for a series of articles on “Sin Cities of the World.” He had already covered Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Honolulu, San Francisco and Las Vegas; now he was wrapping up his assignment in the Windy City, where I was to meet him in the lobby of the Ambassador West. As a cab took me across town I reviewed Fleming’s background: Educated at Eton and Sandhurst, where he distinguished himself with a remarkably high scholastic standing, he entered the Reuters News Service, operating out of London, Berlin and Moscow. In the spring of 1939 he was appointed special correspondent to Russia (representing the Times), joining the Naval Intelligence Division later that same year.
During the Second World War he served in the Special Branch of the R.N.V.R. (Royal Navy Veteran’s Reserve). When the global conflict ended he moved to Jamaica where he organized the foreign service of the Sunday Times and of the Kemsley papers. He eventually became Vice-president for Europe of the entire North American Newspaper Alliance. In 1952, because of certain close attentions paid to the titled Lady Rothermere, Fleming was named correspondent in a divorce suit filed by a nettled Lord Rothermere.
Ian immediately married the Lady in question, and they set up residence at Goldeneye, a luxurious resort home in Jamaica, where Fleming wrote the first of his fast-paced adventure novels, Casino Royale, published in 1953. In this book Fleming introduced James Bond, Secret Service Agent 007, a cool-nerved, steel-muscled gentleman with a snake-quick gun hand, addicted to raw violence, vintage sports cars, exotic foods and seducible women. A new Bond book—combining sex, sophistication and sudden death—emerged each year, by-product of the author’s extensive world travels for the Times. The critics, from Paul Gallico to Harper’s Gilbert Highet, were stunned and enchanted. Novelist Elizabeth Bowen went so far as to declare: “Here’s magnificent writing.”
With the publication of Goldfinger (seventh in the series) in 1959 Fleming was a firmly-established name to some 1,250,000 loyal readers—as well as the focal point in a bitter critical controversy, spear-headed by London’s New Statesman, as to whether his books were merely superbly-fashioned adult escape fantasies or a seriously destructive influence on the morals of Great Britain.
Fleming replied: “For one thing, I am accused of injecting too much sex into my work. Perhaps Bond’s blatant heterosexuality is a subconscious protest against the current sexual confusion in our society…I am not, after all, an entrant in the Shakespeare stakes.”
As a member-in-good-standing of Britain’s Upper Crust, Fleming often hobnobs with such social luminaries as Churchill, Sir Anthony Eden, Noel Coward and W. Somerset Maugham (whom he calls “Willy”). In addition, his dust jacket photos picture Fleming as an unsmiling, slightly distasteful man with cold, penetrating eyes—and I wondered if I could successfully pierce his wall of icy British reserve.
My fears, I was soon to discover, were unfounded. As I entered the spacious lobby of the Ambassador West a tall figure in a dark blue raincoat moved easily across the thick red-velvet carpet to shake my hand.
“I’m Fleming,” he said, smiling. “Glad to know you.” And his disarmingly warm manner immediately put me at ease. Ruddy-complexioned, with the veins in his cheeks close to the skin, he wore the sallow, slightly dissipated look of the “typical” Englishman. His curly hair was combed across a wide, high forehead and his slate-colored eyes were heavily lidded, yet were anything but cold. Despite the overall hauteur of his face his eyes sparkled with a knowing good humor.
“Can we talk here?” I asked, not aware of Fleming’s plans for the afternoon.
“Fraid not,” he told me. “I’ve engaged a chap with a private car who claims to know the old Chicago. Capone era. He’s going to take me to a few places I want to see. Come along. We’ll chat en route.”
A long black Cadillac glided hearse-like to the entrance, and we climbed into the rear seat as Fleming gave the driver careful instructions. “First I want to be taken to the site of Dion O’Banion’s assassination, then to Big Jim Colosimo’s nightclub, then the exact location of the St. Valentine’s Day massacre and, lastly, to the Biograph motion-picture theatre on the North Side. Got that?”
The driver nodded, easing the heavy car into the flow of crosstown traffic. “Biograph’s the place they trapped Dillinger,” Fleming said, settling back into the seat. “FBI chaps cut him to bloody ribbons in the alley. They were waiting for him to come out. Betrayed by a woman in a scarlet dress. Genuine drama there, don’t you agree?”
I agreed. It was going to be an unusual afternoon.
“Found much sin in the sin cities?” I inquired.
“Oh, it’s always there,” replied Fleming. “Most of the time one has to dig a bit. In Macao however I ran across a rather remarkable house of prostitution. Seven stories tall, with girls for sale on each floor. All the real pigs are on the first level. And frightfully cheap! As you progress upward the quality, as well as the price increases. On the top level, which is decorated like an Egyptian palace, the young ladies are all absolute smashers! Truly lovely creatures. But one walks out with an empty wallet—which is probably why the sailors never seem to get beyond the second floor.”
The car pulled to the curb on State Street.
“That was O’Banion’s flower shop,” the driver told Fleming, indicating a nondescript grey building. “Across the street’s the church where he got it. Cut down on the steps.”
“Dispatched on God’s doorstep,” mused Fleming as he made rapid notes on the back of a large envelope.
“Wanna get out?”
“That won’t be necessary. You may head for Colosimo’s.”
The Cadillac purred into motion.
“Odd the things that can annoy you,” commented Fleming. “In London, simply because I happen to like good food, people are always asking me to supply the name of one headwaiter or another. Figure they’ll get better service. Well, the fact is I cannot keep up with all the names and just don’t bother…But I do happen to know the name of the headwaiter at Scott’s. Named Baker. Know it because the chap did his best to have me arrested as a German spy during the war.”
“How did that happen?” I asked.
“Whole affair was rather embarrassing,” grinned Fleming. “I was in Naval Intelligence at the time. Another fellow—from the Sub Service—and I were attempting to get the captured captain and navigator from a U-boat drunk at Scott’s, so as to worm out of them just how the devil they managed to avoid our mine fields in the Skagerrak. They’d been ‘allowed out’ of their prison camp for a day’s sightseeing in London, and we were playing the role of friendly brother officers. Only fighting because of politics sort of thing. A bit clumsy, but we hoped it would work. Anyhow, Baker, who was then just a waiter, heard our conversation and grew alarmed. Within minutes we found ourselves surrounded by a roomful of outwardly harmless-looking couples, picking intently at bits of fish—and it was only when we arrived back at the Admiralty, befuddled and no wiser about the Skagerrak, that a red-faced Director of Naval Intelligence testily informed us that the only result of our secret mission had been to mobilize half of Scotland Yard. And that is why I happen to know Baker’s name.”
By now the car had stopped again, and the driver pointed out another undistinguished soot-grey building. “We’re at twenny-second an’ Wabash,” he said. “Big Jim had his club here.”
“Ah, yes,” nodded Fleming, as he scribbled more notes, “I’m told that Mr. Colosimo was quite the enterprizing fellow. Ruled his own empire of vice. Drugs, gambling, white slavery…And this was the hub of it all.”
The big car rolled majestically back into the traffic flow.
Fleming had written a book and a series of articles on diamond smuggling, and I was curious about certain methods of detection.
“How do the natives who work in the diamond mines manage to carry out stones when they have X-ray machines to detect such attempts?”
“Half the time they’re caught,” replied Fleming. “The diamonds show up as black specks on the plate—but the catch is you can’t go on X-raying men over and over without loading their bodies with gamma rays. If you X-rayed them each time they left the mines they’d die like flies. So they run spot checks. Sometimes a native will be sent to the hospital for a purge with a stomach full of black specks. But these often turn out to be buttons or nails or pebbles the fellow has swallowed just to test the white man’s magic. It’s a tricky business all round.”
We began to discuss gambling, and Fleming had an incredible story to tell regarding his recent visit to Hong Kong.
“I saw two shabby-looking little Chinese walk into the casino, each carrying a battered suitcase. One case was empty, the other full of money. It turned out that here was the life savings of an entire town—from the village where these two chaps lived. They’d collected it from hut to hut with the promise of doubling the total at the tables in Hong Kong. Well, they stayed there in the casino, gambling desperately, for almost a week. Then they closed the suitcases and shuffled back to their village—but this time both cases were stuffed with money. And they seemed utterly unconcerned about their fantastic luck.”
I thought of Casino Royale, Fleming’s first novel, and of the tense, beautifully-written sequence between Bond and the deadly Le Chiffre. I told Fleming that this scene was one of my favorites.
“That first book was a pure lark to write,” he admitted. “I knew a bit about gambling and about the Secret Service and I thought it would be jolly to combine them. Had no idea of doing a series at that time. There really is a James Bond, you know, but he’s an American ornithologist, not a Secret Agent. I’d read a book of his, and when I was casting about for a natural-sounding name for my hero I recalled the book and lifted the author’s name outright.”
“Did you have a publisher in mind when you wrote Royale?”
“Heavens, no. Didn’t know what to do with the thing when it was done. Met the senior editor of Jonathan Cape, Ltd. at my club one afternoon and we got to talking about thrillers. Both agreed that Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler were first-rate. Then, rather hesitantly, I told him I’d just done a thriller myself. He was intrigued, read it, and the next time we met told me he was going to publish it over the objections of Cape’s younger editors.” Fleming grinned. “Seems they all thought it too wild.”
“The critics certainly loved the book,” I said.
Fleming nodded. “So much so that Cape wanted more on Bond, and I agreed to do one a year for them. Every season now, after the Christmas holidays, I head for Goldeneye with a packet of notes and put old Bond through his paces…Takes two months, January and February. Book’s in the mail by March.”
“You seem to take a special joy in killing off your villains,” I said. “They never seem to survive.”
“Rosa Klebb, the head of Otdyel II—which is the department of torture and death in Russia—was alive at the end of From Russia With Love,” said Fleming, “but I do admit it’s fun to eliminate master criminals. Le Chiffre got a bullet between the eyes; Mr. Big was eaten by a leopard shark; Sir Hugo Drax with blown up by his own atomic warhead; Jack Spang was shot out of the sky. Then I had Bond personally strangle Goldfinger.”
“You forgot Dr. No,” I added. “He was buried under a mountain of bird dung.”
Fleming grinned happily.
“What does your wife think of these literary efforts?” I asked.
“She’s constantly nagging me to do something better, but dammit, I enjoy Bond and give him my absolute best. There just isn’t any more.”
Now the Cadillac was slowing once again; the driver pulled to a stop on Clark Street in front of yet another squalid grey building and informed us that we had arrived at the site of the St. Valentine’s Day massacre.
“They used ‘rippers’ to do the job here, didn’t they?” inquired Fleming.
The driver removed his chauffeur’s cap and scratched his balding head. “We call ’em ‘choppers’—Tommy Guns,” he said. “I was a kid then. Lived right in this neighborhood, and I heard the shootin’ a block away, so I ran down here and peeked in one of the windows. Blood all over the joint. Bodies sprawled every which way. Nothin’ was alive inside except a dog, and he was howlin’ like a Banshee.”
Fleming took more notes.
“Splendid,” he said. “Let’s get on to the Biograph.”
“In Twentieth Century Bernard Bergonzi declares that the women in your books are all half-nude pushovers for Bond,” I stated. “Care to comment?”
“He’s quite right,” chuckled Fleming. “But then I feel that poor Bond—though he is something of a bastard—deserves a bit of feminine companionship after what I put him through.”
Fleming had a point. Surely Operative 007 had undergone more assorted tortures than any ten Stateside private eyes. In Royale he’d been bound naked in a cane chair with the bottom removed. Then Le Chiffre had attacked Bond’s manhood with a carpet beater. In Live and Let Die he was almost eaten alive by cannibal fish—and he was nearly scalded to death by a steam jet in Moonraker. He lived through auto crashes, avalanches and mob beatings—and, in Dr. No, had survived bullets, fire, electric shock, a deadly centipede, a cage of tarantulas and a giant squid in order to share a sleeping bag with the heroine on the final page.
“That blonde spy he found in his bed in From Russia With Love…is she typical of real-life female spies? Are they all great beauties?”
“Unfortunately, no,” said Fleming. “Most of them are very plain. They attract less attention that way. There are exceptions, of course. I recall the case of a British spy, Christine Granville. Dark-haired beauty, that one. Had a fabulous record in wartime espionage. Even earned the St. George medal. Rare honor.”
“What became of her?”
“Too beautiful for her own good. She was murdered by a love-crazed ship’s steward in a Kensington hotel room in March of 1952. Real loss to the Service.”
I was tempted to inquire further into the activities of Miss Granville, but we had now reached the Biograph on Lincoln—and Fleming wanted to get out and inspect the alley in which John Dillinger had died.
Somehow the neighborhood seemed unchanged by the intervening years. The Biograph was still a product of the Roaring Twenties with its dusty rows of naked light bulbs completely outlining the little wooden box office. It seemed likely that an unsuspecting Dillinger might emerge at any moment to face a dozen blazing FBI guns.
We walked into the alley and I ran my fingers over several deep scars in the rotted wood of a telephone pole. “The bullet holes are still here,” I said.
Fleming carefully placed a Chesterfield in his long silver holder and lit the cigarette. He walked thoughtfully along the street, absorbing the past.
“Shame to waste all this on a damned article,” he said. “Really should have Bond visit Chicago. Maybe get him involved with the Mafia.”
We got back in the car and Fleming told the driver to take us to the Edgewater Beach Hotel.
We arrived at the Edgewater and Fleming paid off the driver, tipping him generously for his help. We entered the hotel.
“Bar’s supposed to be a corker here,” said Fleming.
We walked down a gangplank into what seemed to be the interior of a lavish yacht’s lounge.
We sat down and Fleming ordered a double bourbon. I settled for Scotch and soda.
The drinks were served and Fleming leaned back with a satisfied sigh. “Nothing like good bourbon to brace you up.” He smiled suddenly at an inward vision.
“Let me in on the joke,” I said.
“No joke,” he said. “I was simply recalling a double bourbon evening I spent in London at a party in honor of Princess Margaret. It was latish, and we were all sitting around this enormous fireplace. Mellowed by the bourbon, I volunteered to relate a rather grisly story, warning Margaret that it was not the sort one tells to a young Princess. But she urged me on.”
“What was the story?” I asked.
“Had to do with a fellow lost in the depths of the Black Forest during a storm. Just at dusk, with the rain pelting down, he found this old dark castle, and was admitted inside by a sad-looking chap who offered him food and shelter for the night. They had a late supper at a long, candle-lit table, with the host and his wife at one end, half-lost in shadows. The young man kept trying to get a clear look at the girl all through the meal, but could not. She had left before dessert was served, and the sad-looking host gave the young man a candle and led him to an upstairs bed chamber. During the night, in the pitch blackness, the door slowly opened and in crept the girl, a dim shape of loveliness in the moonlight. She climbed directly into bed with the young man and made vigorous love to him, leaving just before dawn. As the young man prepared to leave the castle he couldn’t help asking the girl’s name, naturally giving no hint of the close relationship they’d shared. ‘She is Elspeth, my wife,’ the sad-faced host told him. ‘Poor dear. So lovely…and yet, so doomed.’ ‘What do you mean?’ demanded the young man. The host shook his head. ‘Elspeth,’ he said slowly, ‘is a leper.’”
Fleming chuckled. “I can still hear Margaret gasp,” he said.
We finished our drinks and left the Yacht Club. Outside, Fleming hailed a cab.
“Art Institute, please. On Michigan,” said Fleming. In front of the Art Institute the car braked to a jarring halt.
“Fraid I’ll have to leave you now,” Fleming told me. “I’ve only got a few more hours to spend here and I really can’t properly interview Chicago while you’re interviewing me. Bloody shame, but there it is. Hope you understand?”
“Perfectly,” I said, and we shook hands.
I watched Fleming mount the wide steps of the Art Institute between the two huge stone lions and thought of Auric Goldfinger and Mr. Big and James Bond and giant squids and Christine Granville and Big Jim Colosimo and a seven-story brothel in Macao and a bullet-scarred telephone pole on Lincoln Avenue. …My initial hunch had been correct.
It had certainly been an unusual afternoon.
James Bond runs a cool eye over the man he owes most to
[By Robert Harling] (Daily Express, March 15, 1961)
James Bond? A man of fiction, of course. But a credible man none the less—partly modelled, in fact, on the writer of this article, who is a close friend of author Ian Fleming. Here Fleming is given a secret agent’s appraisal on the eve of the Daily Express serialisation of his latest thriller, “Thunderball” (starring Bond). Start reading “Thunderball” tomorrow.
Ian Fleming is about six feet tall, with dark hair now touched heroically by grey. A ruddy, craggy, sardonic, probably handsome face, which contrives, somewhat paradoxically, I’ll admit, to seem amused and spleenish at one and the same time.
He has pale blue eyes—as if you hadn’t guessed.
In London he wears dark grey or dark blue suits and no waistcoats. Quite often he wears, with pale blue shirts, a bow tie. He is one of the very few men who give distinction to that dicey piece of neckwear.
He never actually wears a hat, but usually carries a battered black felt that looks as if it had been savaged by a wolf-hound.
He hates all unnecessary (and most necessary) chores, and thus wears casual black shoes which require no lacing.
For the countryside and golf he sports a pleasantly extrovert line in hound’s-tooth checks and hirsute pullovers.
He has been accused by some of his more emotional critics of sadism in his books and, of what is an even greater crime in present-day Britain, snobbery.
Few of his friends would recognise these qualities in him.
He’s not over-fond of pets. He hates, with sadistic fervour, theatre-goers who take coffee in the interval.
He has about six well-hated acquaintances.
He does have his cigarettes made for him, but he now buys ready-made shirts and shoes.
In London he lives in a small and pretty stucco house in Pimlico with circular rooms, overlooking one of London’s smaller, car-choked squares.
His wife Anne, who has as spiky and wicked a wit as any woman since Mrs. Pat Campbell, has considerably skill as an interior decorator, and the house is gay and comfortable in the still-fashionable Regency-Victorian manner.
It is also a very real home—in the sitting-room that is.
But Mrs. Fleming also has a passion for hostessing and [has] gathered round her dining table some of the most splendid egoists of our time.
As she also has a tip-top cook and the arty intelligentsia of London is always hungry and ill-fed, her dinner parties are apt to be marathon sessions, memorable to both gastronomic gluttons and gluttons for intellectual punishment.
Fleming invariably goes out, returning at 11 or midnight to find his wife’s guests still at table, still settling the fate of the world.
As he needs a lot of sleep, he usually continues upstairs to bed.
Yet, despite his affection for his London home, Fleming is probably happiest in the Caribbean, where he writes his books.
At Goldeneye, his well-loved Jamaican house, hidden among a plantation of giant palms, he dresses in a fiercely-patterned cotton shirt, shorts and sandals, and works hard. Very hard.
Something of his Puritanical Scottish background must impel him to these efforts—as well as the spurs of fame and fortune—for he is, by nature, a hedonist and would rather be out beyond the reefs with goggles, snorkel and spear than slogging at the typewriter.
He designed the house himself, although he cannot draw a line. So take heart all would-be amateur architects, for Goldeneye is the most successfully planned of all the tropical houses I have ever stayed in.
A vast dining-living room and three bedrooms overlook the sea and the small private cove below the cliffs.
One friend, steely eye fixed on Fleming, knowing his man, contended that the name of the house might well have been Rum Cove.
Another friend, Noel Coward, who has cosier ideas about tropical interior decoration than Fleming, countered by saying that the house should have been called Golden Eye, Nose and Throat.
Still the house is cool and quiet, and comfortable. And always at the foot of the cliff steps is the beach or a boat or a swim.
Among friends, he talks well in simple, unvarnished English, quickened from time to time by vivid phrases, which he delights in himself and appreciates in others.
Unlike many good talkers he is no monologue-roller, but a warm and willing listener.
So long as the material is worth listening to, that is. If not, he is quickly bored—and shows it.
This characteristic, of course, makes him particularly susceptible to new experiences, new thrills, new anything—except, possibly, new friends.
The promise of a trip on the footplate of a railway engine puffing through the Rockies has him as excited as a schoolboy. The chance of trying out a new underwater gadget is a heady prospect.
But he doesn’t demand that all the experiences should be hair-raising.
He is just as ready to be entertained by the prospect of a visit to a little known church with John Betjeman, or to inspect some of the bookish treasures of the Holkham Library under the genial guidance of Dr. Hassall of the Bodleian.
This interest in the bases of our lives as well as its more esoteric extremes was well shown when he was editing a gossip column in a weekly paper.
One of his reporters came to him one day to say that a convention of the world’s greatest chefs was being held in London and that the chefs were preparing for themselves one of the greatest slap-up feasts of history. Shouldn’t she try to get hold of the menu?
“No,” said Fleming. “Ask each of these great chefs his recipe for scrambled eggs.”
He is shrewd, practical, to the point—qualities which were well illustrated by his answer to a question I once asked him—What would he do post-war?
“Write the spy story to end all spy stories,” he said with simple grandiloquence.
And so James Bond was born. You can read about him again tomorrow.
Writers in the Tense Present
Interview by Elizabeth J. Howard (Queen, August 1961)
If we are lucky, we notice a certain amount of our present and remember fragments of our past, while the future is usually a subject for idle, speculative anticipation, curiosity and foreboding. In an attempt to clarify our reactions to the age we live in, I asked a group of writers six questions relating to their work in the Sixties. Here they are…
FIRST QUESTION What do you expect to achieve in the Sixties? Are you aiming at any particular quality or quantity of work?
IAN FLEMING: thriller writer, creator of James Bond, whose adventurous orgies he records every year.
One can never expect to achieve anything—even less if one is in the fifties and living in the sixties. Since I am a writer of thrillers I would like to leave behind me one classic in this genre—a mixture of Tolstoy, Simenon, Ambler and Koestler, with a pinch of ground Fleming. Unfortunately I have become the slave of a serial character and I suppose, in fact, since it amuses me to write about James Bond, I shall go on doing so for the fun of it. I would also like to write a really stimulating travel guide to the Commonwealth and the remainder of our Colonies, regarding this as a public duty. But this would require too much time and energy from me, and, in fact, would better be done by a central editor using a different writer, but good ones, for each territory. I would also like to write the biography of a contemporary woman, once a professional prostitute and spy, who has changed the face of a certain country. But the source material would be difficult to get, the story would be bristling with libel, and I expect the idea will be stillborn.
SECOND QUESTION What do you feel is different about the Sixties? (Better, or worse, or simply different)
IAN FLEMING: During my lifetime, life in general has accelerated fantastically—communications, inventions and the pace of peoples’ lives. This process will continue in the Sixties together with the further destruction of gods and images and heroes, which the Age of Realism is achieving. Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World will come closer and closer, life will become more comfortable and much duller and basically uglier, though people will be healthier and live longer. Boredom with and distaste for this kind of broiler existence may attract an atomic disaster of one sort or another, and then some of us will start again in caves, and life on this planet become an adventure again.
THIRD QUESTION Do you want to make any particular public impact in this time? (Political, moral, spiritual, intellectual, or any combination of these?)
IAN FLEMING: Certainly not. Personal privacy is becoming worth diamonds. But I would like to continue, in the thin literary seam that I mine, to provide occasional slices of excitement and fantasy which will briefly hoist people out of their broilerdom.
FOURTH QUESTION Do you expect, or hope for; any change in your way of life as a writer, and if so, what kind of change?
IAN FLEMING: No. All I ask for is more zest and inventiveness—and time.
FIFTH QUESTION: What medium, first in all the arts, secondly in writing, do you think is the most influential today?
IAN FLEMING: If television could develop from a craft to an art, it would be more influential than any of the individual painters, writers, actors, etc., who would be presented through its medium to the public.
SIXTH QUESTION What three living writers do you think have, or will have (in this decade) the most impact (a) on you, (b) on society?
IAN FLEMING: William Plomer, for his quietude and irony in the midst of chaos. Simenon, because he is the master of my particular craft. Graham Greene, because each sentence he writes interests me, both as an individual and as a writer. (b) At a wild guess, Muriel Spark, Bernard Levin, and the partnership of author and draftsman known as Trog.
‘All History is Love and Violence’
By Don Ross (New York Herald Tribune, Feb. 4, 1962)
Ian Fleming, the Englishman who writes the thrillers about James Bond, the British intelligence agent, was in town the other day on his way from England, where he plots his stories, to Jamaica, where he writes them. We sent a reporter around to his hotel to have a chat with him.
Mr. Fleming, a tallish chap with longish wavy hair and urbane manners, told us that he lives in Jamaica with his wife in a house called “Goldeneye” on the north coast near a broken-down banana port called Oracabessa. There he spends two months each year batting out his books which are replete with risen hair, gourmet food, fine luxurious beds more often than not containing a girl—Steady, Bond, old boy, that’s Tatiana, the Russian spy—and sudden death.
More than two and a half million copies of the paperback editions of the Bond books have been sold in this country and President Kennedy is reported to be a fancier.
“Doctor No” as Film
For the, first time a Fleming thriller—Doctor No—is to be made into a film. It went before the cameras two weeks ago in Jamaica, which is the locale of the book.
Doctor No is a homicidal maniac who has been hired by the Russians to devise electronic thingamajigs to make American missiles from Cape Canaveral go off course. James Bond foils him. A third character is Honeychile, an eighteen-year- old girl with a penchant for collecting sea shells in the nude. She is stunningly beautiful except for her nose, which was broken by a man who raped her. She got even with him by planting a deadly tarantula in his bed. It bit him and he died, horribly.
Mr. Fleming, who was assistant to the director of British naval intelligence during the last war, offered us a cigarette which we declined. (Readers of Bond books know you can’t be too careful about cigarettes that strangers offer you. They often explode.) Mr. Fleming then offered us a whisky and soda. We declined with a sneer. (What did he take us for? That drink might have had enough cyanide potassium to have killed every man, woman and child in Istanbul.)
Mr. Fleming was wearing a blue suit, blue shirt with a bow tie and brown suede shoes. The suit looked bulgy under the left armpit. No doubt a shoulder holster with a .25 Beretta in case we turned out to be an operative of Smersh, the execution arm of the Soviet Secret Service, instead of a Herald Tribune reporter. Smersh is everywhere.
A Few Precautions
Mr. Fleming excused himself and went into the bedroom to get a handkerchief (at least that’s what he said). We took a chance that he wasn’t studying us through a peephole and looked quickly behind a Degas print hanging on the wall. No bug. We glided swiftly to the icebox In the pantry and opened It. Just orange juice. Where the hell was the wireless transmitter? There’s always a wireless transmitter.
Hearing a noise in the next room, we dived back to the sofa, and were innocently scratching our chin as Mr. Fleming came back and sat down.
“Was Honeychile’s broken nose a symbol of our decaying civilization?” we asked him.
“No, I simply feel that my heroines shouldn’t be too perfect,” he said. “In my last book, which is called Thunderball, the girl has a bit of a limp. There’s always something wrong with the girls I meet—perhaps a mole, a crooked finger. I suggested to the producers of the film that they break the nose of the actress playing Honeychile, but they said it would cost too much money.”
Ursula Andress, a girl with a very nice nose, will play Honeychile. Sean Connery will be James Bond and Joseph Wiseman will be Doctor No.
The Whole World Over
Mr. Fleming, who has been Moscow correspondent for Reuters and The London Times and is presently a member of the editorial board of The London Sunday Times, has been accused of loading, his books with sex and sadism. In England he is sometimes known as “the thinking man’s Mickey Spillane.”
“If you’re in the market place you’ve got to get used to the tomatoes and rotten eggs,” said Mr. Fleming, who is not a Spillane fan and does not relish the comparison. “All history is love and violence. It doesn’t matter where you go, people are making love and fighting and one thing or another. James Bond is a sort of Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, you might say. He climbs the Hill Difficult and fights the Giant Despair and at the end he has a meal of caviar and champagne and gets the beautiful girl.” (The noise you hear at this point is John Bunyan revolving in his grave.)
“I don’t want to imitate Spillane,” said Mr. Fleming. “I really can’t remember anything about his books. I can’t remember any incident, any piece of knowledge that he has given me. You’ve got to be well educated to write good thrillers. I was expensively educated.” (Eton, Sandhurst and the Universities of Geneva and Munich.) “And I get things right. I’m proud of my factual knowledge.”
Mr. Fleming said that, despite his education, he had gotten a couple of things wrong in his books and had never heard the last of it from outraged readers. One of the mistakes he blamed on his wife. “In Casino Royale,” he said, “I spoke of the perfume Vent Vert. I asked my wife who made It. She said Dior and so I put it down Dior. Well, it turned out to have been Balmain.”
In From Russia, With Love, Mr. Fleming said, he wrote that the Orient Express had hydraulic brakes. “Some blasted railroad experts wrote and told me that any damned fool knows it’s got vacuum brakes,” he said. Then, in Moonraker, came the most hideous gaffe of all. “I said James Bond ordered asparagus with béarnaise sauce. Of course, I should have said mousseline sauce.”
As a former British intelligence man, Mr. Fleming prides himself on the authenticity of the technical intelligence Information in his books. “I use my knowledge subject to security,” he said. “They know I know enough about the racket not to say the wrong thing.”
“Allen Dulles (former head of the American Central Intelligence Agency) is a good friend of mine,” Mr. Fleming said. "He told me once that he had tried out two or three of the technical gimmicks in my books, in the laboratories of the C.I.A., and that they didn’t work. This is a strong indictment of the C.I.A.,” Mr. Fleming said, smiling.
As for the President. Mr. Fleming said, “he writes me very nice letters when I send him copies of my books. He apparently reads them. I am delighted but I do hope he is keeping up with his more serious reading at the same time.”
No less an authority than Elizabeth Bowen, the English novelist, has said that Mr. Fleming writes a fine prose. “It’s really not fine,” he said, deprecatingly. “I think I write a good professional prose which I learned when I was with Reuters as a child. I think my stories have pace and I think the reader wants to turn the page. This is the essence of a thriller.”
No Satirical Intent
Some readers have suspected that Mr. Fleming writes with a satiric intent—that he is trying to spoof the thriller, as it were. He denies this utterly, although he will admit that the name James Bond is a sort of spoof. He borrowed it from a James Bond who wrote an ornithological treatise called Birds of the West Indies, the last place in the world where one would look for beautiful spies and state secrets.
“In Jamaica I write,” Mr. Fleming said, “in one hell of a rush. I pull up the drawbridge of my house. I see no one.” At the end of his two months in Jamaica, if the timetable of his previous winters there holds good, he will have produced one more thriller, and he will then return to London and his duties at the London Sunday Times.
Eton’s Spillane stops in Gotham
By Ward Morehouse (North American Newspaper Alliance, syndicated to Birmingham News; Feb. 18, 1962)
Ian Fleming, the Eton-educated Mickey Spillane, paid a hurried visit to New York recently, pausing long enough to talk colorfully of President Kennedy, who reads and appreciates the Fleming suspense novels, the theater (which Fleming loathes), actors (another dislike), and gambling (which he loves).
“Yes, the President has said he is a fan of mine, and it’s very nice of him,” he said. “He writes me very nice letters when I send him copies of my books. I rather think he should do more serious reading, but I’m very grateful to him. The whole Kennedy family reads my books.”
More than 2,000,000 copies of Fleming’s novels have been sold in this country and millions more in Europe. London is his home, but the novels are written at his Jamaica estate “Goldeneye,” where he was host to Sir Anthony Eden a few years ago.
A motion picture of a recent Fleming thriller, Doctor No, is now being filmed by United Artists in Jamaica, with Sean Connery as James Bond, the British secret service agent who is hero of all the Fleming novels.
Actors bore him
“Cary Grant, David Niven and James Mason wanted to play James Bond,” said Fleming. “But I said why spend millions of pounds on one of these characters, why not create our own Cary Grant? We made a nationwide search and hit on Sean Connery, a young Shakespearean actor who weightlifts for Scotland and is a very solid fellow. Actors generally bore me to tears. So many of them are pansies, forever flitting about.”
Fleming said of the theater. “I loathe it. I always know what’s going to happen and it annoys me so much when people laugh at the obvious jokes. I like films. They’re much cheaper for one thing, and you can go in and out whenever you want to.”
In 1952 he wrote his first novel, Casino Royale, an instant success, “Having been a bachelor until I was 43, I was suddenly trapped by marriage and I was so appalled by it I had to write a thriller to take my mind off it. I’m still happily married.” His wife is the former Lady Rothermere.
A novel a year
He has since turned out a novel a year. “I go to Jamaica in January and stay to March and write one of these books. Noel Coward’s place is only 30 minutes from mine. I’m quite fond of Noel. We cabled him about playing the villain in Doctor No and he cabled back, ‘No, no, no, no, no. Love. love, love. No.’ I agree with him. He would have been wrong for it.”
Fleming loves to talk of his gambling coups. He won a million (francs) at chemin-de-fer in Le Touquet. And in Las Vegas he hit the jackpot on a dollar slot machine, a memory that still gives him visible shivers of pleasure.
“The ugly brute erupted suddenly, and the floor was rolling with silver dollars. One of those fellows with a gun on his hip came over to help me. Las Vegas is a daft place, all those women with blued hair standing at the machines like so many dazed hens. They never even go to the zoo.”
The Man Who Made Bond
Douglas Keay meets Ian Fleming (Harper’s Bazaar, Feb. 1962)
He sits at a leather-topped desk (small, one feels, mainly because the room is small), which is somewhat cluttered with a fancy gold clock (present from his wife), a garish red pen tray decorated with a life-size black china revolver (souvenir from Las Vegas), papers, magazines, and a sick-joke ashtray on which the word “THINK” has been crossed out by the manufacturer and the word “SCHEME” scrawled underneath.
His suit is subdued blue hopsack, well cut to his tall, lean frame, but not so well cut that creases do not show like weals across his back when he rises to go to the glass-panelled bookcase behind him. His bow-tie is as gentle as his handshake of greeting and his whole appearance, in fact, admirably suited to the front pew of a parish church any Sunday.
Indeed one is almost disappointed to discover that only the smile, which begins with the upper lip rising a fraction before both lips part, and the look in the eyes, which lingers disconcertingly, can persuade one that this could possibly be Ian Fleming the thriller writer, the creator of James Bond, the most vicious, sadistic, supersexed secret agent ever to keep readers moist with tensility until the last excruciating page.
When The Spy Who Loved Me appears on the bookstands in April Ian Fleming will have completed ten thrillers in ten years, seen his sales rocket to two million in Britain, one million in America, and a total of over four million throughout the world. More significant, he will almost certainly remain the only contemporary “non-serious” writer to have been attacked (instead of being merely mocked), by two well-known “quality” papers, and count among his most publicly avid readers the President of the United States and Mrs. Kennedy.
In his self-described “rather splendid” office, tucked strategically mid-way between the holocaust of Fleet Street and the deceptive calm of the Temple, I began by asking Mr. Fleming if he could explain why his books are as successful in Kensington as in King’s Cross, which they are.
“Well I think one of the reasons is that I do produce a hero who isn’t in line with the current fashion, you know. I mean, everybody’s always knocking the Queen and knocking Admiral Mountbatten and crying down with this and down with that, and people who read Bond say, ‘well at least the fellow’s doing a good job for his country and is not ashamed of it…’
“And then again, I think one of the reasons for their success in Belgravia is that I do know a higher stratum of life than the average thriller writer does. I’ve been round the world two or three times. I’ve got very strong views about which are my favourite restaurants and which aren’t. I’m not starry-eyed about night-clubs and the Ritz and things of that sort, and because I know German and French and took psychology as one of the extra subjects for the Foreign Office exam, I’m much more at ease with the sort of world I write about than I might otherwise be.”
Fleming’s background as well as his manner of speaking might be said to be out of the top drawl. His father, a major, a DSO, an MP, was killed in 1916 serving with the Oxfordshire Hussars and had his obituary in the Times written by Winston Churchill. He himself was educated at Eton, Sandhurst, Munich and Geneva universities. His brother is Peter Fleming, the travel writer, and his wife was married first to the third Baron O’Neill and then to the second Viscount Rothermere. One of his three houses, “Goldeneye” in Jamaica (allegedly renamed the Goldeneye, Nose and Throat by Noel Coward), was used by Sir Anthony Eden for convalescence.
All of which might make it seem slightly surprising that Ian Fleming should even want to write thrillers, let alone be the indisputable master that he is.
But then, like the hero of his books, one ventures further, and in doing so makes some interesting discoveries. At Eton, for instance, the young Fleming was Victor Ludorum (winner of the individual track and field championship) twice—a unique achievement. At Sandhurst he was meted out the severest punishment ever, short of dismissal (a month’s CB and six months’ stoppage of leave), for an escapade involving a beautiful girl. And in the last war he was Personal Assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence and, strong rumour has it, didn’t confine himself to chairborne spying.
“I suppose I could be described as belonging to the old school,” he says. “If I’d been born a bit earlier” (he’s fifty-four), “I would probably have been an Empire builder. Not that I’ve a desire to collar India again or anything like that, but I like the idea of adventure immensely and I do think the Empire did provide adventure for a host of excellent chaps. Nowadays nobody wants to go out and govern some little province, which I find rather sad. And though there is still a desire for adventure—there was that little party in the Amazon the other day, remember?—we live in an age which is becoming increasingly coloured with the blue rinse of American widows with large alimonies living in fat hotels. The whole ethos of adventure is regarded rather as old hat and consequently there isn’t enough for young people to do on wet afternoons…”
Did he in any way feel that his James Bond thrillers helped to fill the gap?
“Well yes I suppose so. There are plenty of people who want a straight adventure story. They don’t want the kitchen sink and they don’t want everyone to be filthy and dirty. I can’t say I enjoy the Osbornes and Weskers either. I quite liked [John] Braine’s Room At The Top, but I can’t be bothered with—what’s the name of the red-brick one?—that’s right, Kingsley Amis. I couldn’t be bothered with his sense of humour. It didn’t seem to me to be funny compared with Evelyn Waugh. And it does seem to me, I must admit, that there is something tremendously vulgar in a different sense about [Alan] Sillitoe’s writing—a sort of inverted snobbery.”
Fleming’s own books have been criticised for being extremely vulgar and snob-ridden. I quoted to him an extract from the Guardian: “The idea that anyone should smoke a brand of cigarette not because they enjoy them but because they are exclusive…is pernicious, and it is implicit in all Mr. Fleming’s glib descriptions of food, drink and clothes.”
Mr. Fleming leaned forward, extracted a cigarette (a popular brand), from a drawer, placed it in a holder, and lit it. “Well, I agree. My books have got an air of vulgarity, but then nowadays so many good things are automatically vulgar. I mean if a man eats a large meal you immediately assume he’s on an expense account and that he’s on some racket or other. The sort of people you see nowadays in the smart restaurants are extremely vulgar looking people and really I’ve tried to give my villains strong touches of vulgarity so as to have more fun knocking them down.
“What I’m after is realism and authentic detail with a touch of the fantastic towards the end. Everybody’s always talking about the sadism in my books but the torture Bond suffers at the hands of his enemies” (in one story he’s stripped, strapped to a seatless chair and his most sensitive parts are flicked with a cane switch) “is not nearly as bad as what was done to our secret agents during the war. If I used the absolute truth it would really make the reader’s hair stand on end. You see, all life is violence and love. All of us are sadists or masochists. Freud tells us so anyway and I’m pretty sure my books do ring a bell with everyone. Besides which the kind of thing which happened to Bulldog Drummond just won’t do any more. He used to get a bang on the head with a wooden stick and that was all. But that’s not Life! In the same way I don’t think there’s a kiss in the whole of Buchan. He may occasionally hold the girl’s hand but no more. Well, really…”
The more one talks with Ian Fleming the more one is troubled by a niggling desire to ferret out some sort of satisfactory connection between this urbane man and the ruthless hero of his books. Was it true, I wondered, that after a pre-war spell with Reuters and during his time as Foreign Manager of the Sunday Times, he had deliberately set himself the task of writing “a spy story to end all spy stories”? And why?
“Well yes, it was true. I’ve always liked reading the kind of book I write, but they’re jolly hard to come by you know. Most of the English thrillers start with a sleazy Soho night spot which has fascinated the writer and end up in Tangier which has also fascinated the writer. Now I regard both these areas as absolutely dead meat as far as thrillers are concerned, far too overdone.
“I also find a lot of the writing in other thrillers worse than it should be. Thriller writing is a thin seam of literature.
“But as far as there being a connection between James Bond and myself, I don’t really think that we’re at all alike. I don’t live the smart life he lives and I don’t particularly like the food he eats. I put the foodmanship stuff in the first book because at the time, just after the war, we were all feeling a bit thin. But in fact my own favourite dish is scrambled eggs. I admit I share his enthusiasm for gambling, but I’ll not go to a casino more than twice a year.
“People often ask me how I would describe James Bond and, really, I’ve no idea. I’ve got so confused by the pictures I see of him in strip cartoons, on book covers and on posters advertising shirts.
“When I started I looked for a name that would have no glamour and would help to make my hero an anonymous secret agent. The name actually came from a book called James Bond’s Birds of the West Indies. When I saw it I thought, ‘My God, that’s a dull name.’”
Next July the first James Bond film (based on Dr. No) will be premiered in London. Playing the role of Bond will be a young, hardly known actor called Sean Connery. Fleming appears pleased with the choice. “Physically he’s a very good example of James Bond—except he’s got rather a strong Scottish accent. He’s very slow moving, powerfully built, six feet tall, dark hair, weight-lifts for Scotland, boxed for the Navy, and plays centre forward for the Variety Artists team at weekends—yes, I think he will be very good in the part, and if he clicks, his fortune is made because I’m going to do a Bond film a year from now on.”
“Doing” a Bond film a year means writing a Bond book a year. He spends months on research (“attention to detail has helped my success tremendously”), then, within a day or two of January 17th each year, he takes off for Jamaica where he spends exactly two months pressurizing facts and fiction into yet another Bond book as smooth as the bonnet of a Bentley, as taut as a suspender.
“I regard myself as a pro trying to make as much money as possible without lowering my sights which, even in thriller writing, one must have. I’m a commercial writer in a commercial world…”
But oh, one instinctively feels, if only the sun hadn’t gone down on the Empire, what Ian Fleming might have been!
“The Talk of the Town”: Bond’s Creator
By Geoffrey T. Hellman (The New Yorker, April 14, 1962)
Ian Fleming, whose nine Secret Service thrillers (Casino Royale, Doctor No, For Your Eyes Only, From Russia with Love, Live and Let Die, Moonraker, Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever, and Thunderball) have had phenomenal sales in this country and abroad (more than eleven hundred thousand hardcover copies and three and a half million paperbacks), was here for a weekend recently en route from his Jamaica hideaway to his London home, and we caught him on Sunday morning at his hotel, the Pierre, where he amiably stood us a lunch. He ordered a prefatory medium-dry Martini of American vermouth and Beefeater gin, with lemon peel, and so did we.
“I’m here to see my publishers and assorted crooks,” he said. “Not other assorted crooks, mind you. By ‘crooks,’ I don’t mean crooks at all; I mean former Secret Service men. There are one or two of them here, you know.”
“Who?” we asked.
“Oh, men like the boss of James Bond, the operative who’s the chief character in all my books,” said our host. “When I wrote the first one, in 1953, I wanted Bond to be an extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened; I wanted him to be the blunt instrument. One of the bibles of my youth was Birds of the West Indies, by James Bond, a well-known ornithologist, and when I was casting about for a name for my protagonist I thought, ‘My God, that’s the dullest name I’ve ever heard,’ so I appropriated it. Now the dullest name in the world has become an exciting one. Mrs. Bond once wrote me a letter thanking me for using it.”
Mr. Fleming, a sunburned, tall, curly-haired, blue-eyed man of fifty-three in a dark-blue suit, blue shirt, and blue-dotted bow tie, ordered another Martini, and so did we. “I’ve spent the morning in Central Park,” he said. “I went there to see if I’d get murdered, but I didn’t. The only person who accosted me was a man who asked me how to get out. I love the Park; it was so wonderful to see the brown turning to green. I went to the Wollman skating rink and saw all those enchanting girls skating around, and then I thought, ‘This is the place to meet a spy.’ What a wonderful place to meet a spy! A spy with a child. A child is the most wonderful cover for a spy, like a dog for a tart. Do tarts here have dogs? I was interested to see that in the bird reservation in the Park there was not a single bird. There are no people there—It’s fenced in, you know, with a sign—but no birds, either. Birds can’t read.”
Mr. Fleming lit a Senior Service cigarette and, in answer to some questions from us, said that he was a Scot, that he had been brought up in a hunting-and-fishing world where you shot or caught your lunch, and that he was a graduate of Eton and Sandhurst. “I shot against West Point,” he said. “When I got my commission, they were mechanizing the Army, and a lot of us decided we didn’t want to be garage hands running those bloody tanks. My poor mamma, in despair, suggested that I try for the diplomatic. My father was killed in the ‘14-‘18 war. Well, I went to the Universities of Geneva and Munich and learned extremely good French and German, but I got fed up with the exams, so in 1929 I joined Reuters as a foreign correspondent and had a hell of a time. Wonderful! I went to Moscow for Reuters. My God, it was fun! It was like a tremendous ball game.”
He ordered a dozen cherrystones and a Miller High Life, and we followed suit. “I like the name ‘High Life,’ ” he said. “That’s why I order it. And American vermouth is the best in the world.”
He added that he had been with Reuters for four years, and we asked what happened next.
“I decided I ought to make some money, and went into the banking and stock-brokerage business—first with Cull & Company and then with Rowe & Pitman,” he said. “Six years altogether, until the war came along. Those financial firms are tremendous clubs, and great fun, but I never could figure out what a sixty-fourth of a point was. We used to spend our whole time throwing telephones at each other. I’m afraid we ragged far too much.”
We inquired about the war, from which, according to the British Who’s Who, Mr. Fleming emerged a naval commander, and he said, “I was personal assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence, so I went everywhere.”
We asked what he’d done after the war.
“I joined the editorial board of the London [Sunday] Times,” he said. “I still write articles for it, and I’m a stockholder. And in 1952, when I was in Jamaica, Cyril Connolly asked me to write an article about Jamaica for his magazine, Horizon. It was rather a euphoric piece, about Jamaica as an island for you and me to go to.”
We promised to go, and he said, “How about some domestic Camembert? It’s better here than the French.”
During this and the coffee, he reverted to the non-ornithological James Bond. “I think the reason for his success is that people are lacking in heroes in real life today,” he said. “Heroes are always getting knocked—Philip and Mountbatten are examples of this—and I think people absolutely long for heroes. The thing that’s wrong with the new anticolonialism is that no one has yet found a Negro hero. They’re scratching around with Tshombe, but…
"Well, I don’t regard James Bond precisely as a hero, but at least he does get on and do his duty, in an extremely corny way, and in the end, after giant despair, he wins the girl or the jackpot or whatever it may be. My books have no social significance, except a deleterious one; they’re considered to have too much violence and too much sex. But all history has that. I finished the last one, my tenth James Bond story, in Jamaica the other day; it’s long and tremendously dull. It’s called The Spy Who Loved Me, and it’s written, supposedly, by a girl.
"I think it’s an absolute miracle that an elderly person like me can go on turning out these books with such zest. It’s really a terrible indictment of my own character—they’re so adolescent. But they’re fun. I think people like them because they’re fun. A couple of years ago, when I was in Washington, and was driving to lunch with a friend of mine, Margaret Leiter, she spotted a young couple coming out of church, and she stopped our cab. ‘You must meet them,’ she said. ‘They’re great fans of yours.’ And she introduced me to Jack and Jackie Kennedy. ‘Not the Ian Fleming!’ they said. What could be more gratifying than that? They asked me to dinner that night, with Joe Alsop and some other characters. I think the President likes my books because he enjoys the combination of physical violence, effort, and winning in the end—like his PT-boat experiences. I think James Bond may be good for him after the dry pack of the day.”
Mr. Fleming is married to a former wife of Lord Rothermere and has a nine-year-old son, Caspar, who is away at boarding school. “He doesn’t read me, but he sells my autographs for seven shillings a time,” his father said.
The Ian Fleming?
By Hollis Alpert (Saturday Review, May 26, 1962)
“There’s only one gun for that, sir,” said Major Boothroyd stolidly. “Smith and Wesson Centennial Airweight. Revolver. .38 calibre. Hammerless, so it won’t catch in clothing. Overall length of six and a half inches and it only weighs thirteen ounces. To keep down the weight, the cylinder holds only five cartridges. Fires the .38 S & W Special. Very accurate cartridge indeed…”
The writer of the above passage? Obviously Ian Fleming, Sandhurst educated, English author of ten James Bond thrillers (latest, The Spy Who Loved Me), master of the precise detail, resident of London and Oracabessa, Jamaica, B.W.I. It is at the latter place, in a house called Goldeneye, that he does the writing each year of a new James Bond adventure, each featuring an exotic villain and a beautiful girl, a girl who gratefully succumbs to Bond’s superior style of lovemaking. But no bed can hold the British Secret Service agent for long, and Fleming’s faithful readers (including the President of the United States) now firmly expect Bond to desert his lovely conquest before the next book appears.
Fleming became aware that JFK was among his fans when he met the then campaigning Senator at a Washington reception. “Not the Ian Fleming?” asked Kennedy. “I couldn’t have been more surprised,” the tall author said, over a drink at the Carib-Ocho Rios. “A most pleasant encounter indeed.” And he admits to having visited the President and his First Lady since.
He was at work on his eleventh James Bond (his next year’s book), and hardly a dozen miles away the first movie to be based on one of his thrillers was being filmed, with an Irish [sic] actor, Sean Connery, playing James Bond, and in pursuit of the malevolent Doctor No. Authenticity of background is not usually regarded as important in the movie-thriller genre, but an Ian Fleming whodunit was another matter, so Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, the producers, had decided on a real Jamaica instead of a studio replica.
“I find the script rather ingeniously done,” Fleming said, “and although I’ve made it a point to keep my nose out of their business, I’ve told Cubby and Harry that the crabs have got to come in. They’ve been left out, you see.”
He referred to the fact that the heroine in Doctor No had been menaced in the book by an army of crabs, which were supposed to have eaten her alive while she lay pegged to the ground. “If they don’t get in the bloody crabs,” Fleming said, “all my fans will be disappointed. The girl won’t be harmed, because crabs are vegetarians.”
Fleming confessed that, for the accumulation of such fine points of detail, he always carried a pad with him “for jotting down the things one sees as one goes along. For the rest of it I use a research service in London. Yet I invariably manage to make one big mistake per book. For instance, I gave the Orient Express hydraulic brakes. Dozens of people wrote, absolutely furious.”
He also admitted that the British Secret Service, to which he was once attached, was made, in the book, “a bit larger than life. I can’t be too faithful to the reality there. Must not tread on toes or go beyond the limits of security.” SMERSH, the Soviet organization that once menaced Bond, will not exist in future books. “I have dissolved it myself, for the sake of good international relations.”
Fleming writes four hours a day on the average, and settles for about 2,000 first-draft words per day. “I have a rule of never looking back. Otherwise I’d wonder, ‘How could I write such piffle?’ It’s no good writing for the muse, I find. I must regard it as office work, and bloody well get on with it. I use a German portable typewriter. Tried a few until I found the one that suited me. Let me see now—what is its name?”
The master of detail could not remember.
Note: In a letter to The Spectator (Oct. 26, 1962), Fleming returned to the crab controversy:
“Queequeg asks what happened to the crabs in the film Dr. No. Alas, they went the way of the giant squid, despite urgent representations from me and from one of the producers. The black crabs had not started ‘running’ in Jamaica last February when the Jamaican scenes were being shot, but on my return to London in March I received an excited invitation to visit Pinewood and inspect a consignment of spider crabs obtained from Guernsey. A large tank was unveiled. All the crabs were dead. I asked if they had been preserved in sea water and was told that, since none was available, they had been put in fresh water with plenty of salt added! After that the crab faction gave up.”
The image (and mistaken caption) are from the May 19, 1962 issue of Tatler.
Note: This week’s post is a collection of snippets, excerpts from otherwise unremarkable interviews, short interviews, and various appearances Fleming made in newspaper columns. I’ll resume posting full-length interviews after I return from my vacation in mid-October. I’m less than half-way through posting my collection, and the best is yet to come. See you in a month!
From “Personality of the Month, Ian Fleming,” (Books and Bookmen, May 1956):
“How could I have written this bilge? What a fool the hero is. The heroine is purest cardboard. The villain is out of pantomime.” Thus Ian Fleming after re-reading the typescript of his first novel, Casino Royale, which, in one leap, took him to bestsellerdom.
“Sir Anthony’s Rats” (Evening Standard, Dec. 12, 1956):
[Note: After the fiasco of the Suez Crisis, Prime Minister Anthony Eden suffered a mental breakdown and decided to recuperate at GoldenEye, having heard about the house from his wife, a close friend of Ann Fleming. The Edens enjoyed their time there, aside from all the rats…]
Sir Anthony Eden’s rat-catching activities in Jamaica have surprised his host, Commander Ian Fleming.
“They are not really bad rats at Goldeneye,” Fleming tells me today. “They are field rats, not house rats.”
The Prime Minister organized the rat hunt after he and Lady Eden had been disturbed by noises during the night. Seven rats were killed.
Commander Fleming tells me he had not warned the Edens about the rats.
“The rats have never given trouble before,” he says. “They wake one up in the night, knocking coral and crockery off the shelves. But I cannot believe they seriously frighten anyone.”
What is Commander Fleming’s reaction to the success of Sir Anthony’s campaign? “Violet (the housekeeper) will be delighted that they have been removed.”
From “For Christmas Atticus Considers…The Heart of the Matter” (Sunday Times, Dec. 20, 1959):
Thriller-writer Ian Fleming has more positive ideas on Christmas: “Ideally, the only possible place to spend it is Monte Carlo. You don’t have to eat turkey—a detestable bird. There aren’t any people there you know at this time of year, and it’s perfectly easy to play a little golf and avoid over-eating.”
But even for the creator of James Bond, the ideal is not always attainable, and Mr. Fleming will in fact be spending his Christmas near Belfast, reading three good American thrillers, including the latest Rex Stout, and “going to church in a long crocodile with the rest of the family” on Christmas morning. His one way of simplifying Christmas is to give the same present year after year to all and sundry. It consists of a dozen snuff handkerchiefs from Fribourg and Treyer.
From “Making Crime Pay” (Evening Standard, June 16, 1960):
Mr. Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, said he never read detective stories. “I think they’re frightfully dull.”
“What I like is some amusing background and that sort of thing—not a lot of nice English bobbies sitting around drinking tea.”
From “Married to a Van,” (The Evening Standard, July 22, 1960):
Ian Fleming’s powerful Ford Thunderbird was the apple of his eye.
He once wrote an article in its praise that read like a love letter. There was the beauty of its line, the drama of its snarling mouth, the giant flaring nostril of its air intake. He made it sound like Joan Crawford.
“Its paintwork,” he wrote, “is immaculate, and there is not a spot of discoloration anywhere on its rather over-lavish chrome…”
But alas for Fleming. Alas for the Thunderbird. The paintwork is no longer immaculate. The over-lavish chrome is no longer unblemished. On a quiet English road the other day the Thunderbird came to grief.
It tangled with one of the most peaceful vehicles we know and came out of the contest rather badly.
Its opponent: an ice-cream van.
“I was coming back from Oxford with my wife’s small son, Caspar,” says Fleming. “We had been visiting Summerfields, the private school he will be going to in September.
“We were going down that terrific stretch of road near Henley when—well, when the Thunderbird got married to this ice cream van. We were shocked, of course, but remarkably no one was hurt.
“I had managed to brake like hell and swerve before the impact. The car will be away for three months.”
What is he doing without the Thunderbird? “I have to keep mobile,” he says. “So I have hired a Jaguar.”
From “James Bond Thrillers to be Filmed” (The Daily Gleaner, July 21, 1961)
“My books,” he said, “tremble on the brink of corn. One has to be very careful. And I am most anxious that there should be no mistakes in the films.
“I’ve made a mistake in every one of my books so far. In one I gave the Orient Express hydraulic brakes. You should have seen the angry letters I got from train lovers all over the world.”
[…] “I was looking for the dullest name I could find. A name as anonymous as the secret agent he was supposed to be.
“Ten years ago, in Jamaica, I was about to get married, and to take my mind off the ordeal, I was reading as much as I could. One of the books was Birds of the West Indies, by a Mr. James Bond. So I used that.
“Oddly enough I got a letter from Mr. Bond’s wife only the other day.”
“Smoking Again. Ian Fleming: 20 a day man” (The Evening Standard, Sept. 2, 1961)
I am delighted to say that James Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming, has not buckled under to those doctorly warnings not to smoke or play golf.
When he collapsed in his office in April and was packed off to the London Clinic, his doctors said the attack was brought on by too many cigarettes and that he would have to give the habit up.
Now he seems to have reached a very civilised agreement with them. The doctors say he can smoke 20 a day. And Fleming says he is keeping to this figure most of the time, only at moments of stress tending to creep up towards the 30 mark.
“My doctors seem quite satisfied with me,” he said. “And life can’t be a complete vacuum. I’m doing everything in moderation.”
I talked to Fleming at Sandwich, scene of that sinister golf match between Bond and Goldfinger. His secretary told me he had gone there to escape the “excitements and temptations” of London.
He won’t see much of his doctors, either.
“I am playing a bit of golf,” he admitted. “In fact my handicap has only gone up two strokes, to twelve, since my illness. I’m quite commercial on it.”
From “Sex and Sabotage” (San Francisco Examiner, Oct. 28, 1962)
Fleming’s a fast worker, too. He spends two months of every year in Jamaica, in the British West Indies, where he gets out his trusty portable every morning after breakfast and works from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The afternoon is devoted to an after-lunch siesta, swimming, skin-diving, reading. At 6 p.m., in the cool of the evening, he puts in another hour’s work. His day’s output is always about 1,500 words which, in two months, piles up into a novel.
[…] Young Fleming, an indifferent, even lazy student, concentrated on athletics. Once, he piled up so many bad marks he was due to be birched—on the date of the Eton steeplechase. With a great demonstration of salesmanship and pure nerve, the 17-year-old Fleming petitioned the headmaster to receive his caning at 11:45 instead of at the traditional time of high noon so that he could compete in the steeplechase.
“My request was acceded to,” Fleming recalls, “and with blood-stained shanks as a spur I duly came in second.”
[…] “All history is love and violence and those are the main themes of my books, plus accurate reporting and a rather overheated imagination. My stories are true to spy life.”
“About James Bond—” (San Francisco Examiner, June 11, 1963)
“Thank you very much for the splendid column. Glad you liked the Dr. No film, but the damn fools would of course go and make Sean Connery wear a tie with a Windsor knot. These show biz people are a lot of ignorant clots.
“I must try to get over to San Francisco some time. I was only there once flying from Pearl Harbor in that giant flying-boat called, I think, The Mars, and I adored the place.”
“From Graham Abroad,” by Sheilah Graham (Syndicated in The Honolulu Advertiser, Feb. 9, 1964)
Coming up on Burt Lancaster’s schedule, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, which I found Ian Fleming reading when we met at John F. Kennedy airport in New York. “It’s the best thriller I’ve ever read,” said Ian, who has written some good ones himself.
If it weren’t a rights holder issue you should publish all of this in a book.
I would love to edit such a book (and would even do it for free), but alas…
More of Fleming should be in print. I’m grateful Thrilling Cities and The Diamond Smugglers are still around, but the collection of Fleming’s journalism, Talk of the Devil, is still unavailable to anyone who can’t pony up a few thousand dollars for the Queen Anne Press complete works of Fleming. I suppose Fleming’s scripts for Moonraker and what became Thunderball might have rights complications, but surely IFP has the connections and resources to handle the problem. The same goes for a book of Fleming’s interviews, or State of Excitement (does the Kuwaiti government really still care about suppressing a 59 year old travelogue?).
Fans of other authors, ranging from Conan Doyle to F. Scott Fitzgerald, can read practically every word written by those authors. On my bookshelf is The Uncollected Sherlock Holmes, which includes everything from Doyle’s play of “The Speckled Band” to Sherlockian squibs he wrote for charity. Why can’t we get The Uncollected James Bond?
That would be fantastic.
Probably needs someone to nudge publishers in the right direction.
You might look into the University of Mississippi Press:
I published my book of Mankiewicz interviews with them, and found that many of the rights for the interviews were free. Andrew Sarris was most kind, and allowed his interview to be reprinted gratis, and for several of the interviews, since the journal/magazine was no longer in print and the rights holder not findable, there were no fees (I just had to show/assert that I made an effort to find the holder). Lastly, UoM Press provided a small amount against future royalties to spend on rights which had to be bought (you will be doing this for free LOL), and had arrangements with certain publishers for a discounted rate.
Have a wonderful vacation.
Thank you! I have some books in the Library Conversations series–the ones on Buster Keaton, Greil Marcus, and Pauline Kael–but hadn’t thought of contacting the publisher. I must track down the Joseph Mankiewicz volume now–considering how witty the man was, his interviews must be good reading. Thanks again for the extremely helpful advice!
You edited a book on Mankiewicz? And you’re only telling this now?
Haunted by his Creation
Tarantulas in Bed—Just Routine
By Tom Cullen (Salisbury Times [Syndicated by Newspaper Enterprise Association], May 31, 1962)
James Bond, better known as British Secret Service Agent 007, has had more close brushes with death than a dozen real-life spies put together.
On one occasion a tarantula was secreted in his bed. On another a baby octopus was placed inside the face mask of his diving suit.
With the utmost calm Bond has faced the prospect of being vaporized in a 2,000-degree electric furnace, or of being fed alive to a ravenous barracuda.
He has also undergone the ghastly pain of having his finger slowly broken in an effort to make him talk.
All of this has earned for Bond, the Beretta-packing hero of a score of books, a following on both sides of the Atlantic, including President Kennedy, who is a confessed fan.
Such Bond thrillers as From Russia With Love and Diamonds Are Forever have sold over five million copies in the United States alone and are now being made into films.
Bond may be a favorite with the President, but he is no hero to the man who created him, 53-year-old Ian Fleming. In fact, Fleming positively dislikes Bond, as I discovered after talking with the author.
“I’ve never made Bond out to be a hero, but only a competent professional,” Fleming explained to me. “That’s why I’m amazed to see the teenagers take him up and idolize him.”
The news may come as a surprise to Fleming’s admirers who have always supposed that Bond was a larger-than-life projection of the man that Fleming would like to be.
Certainly, Bond drinks the right drinks, drives the right cars, and makes love to the right women—that is, when he is not being knocked about as the unwilling victim of mayhem.
If he dislikes Bond so much why does he write about him? “Because the character has taken possession of my mind. While walking along the street I find myself thinking up scrapes for Bond to get out of, or wisecracks for him to make. To me he is like a real person, except that I can’t put a face to him. All I know is that he has blue eyes and black hair.
He doubts whether there are many secret agents now running around loose as glamorous and as irresistible to women as James Bond. “Most secret service work is dull,” he said.
Recently Fleming was the subject of a flat-out attack in the British weekly magazine Today. He was accused of producing “the nastiest and most sadistic writing of our day…disgusting drivel.”
The magazine went on to describe James Bond as a “cheap and very nasty upper class thug” who regards sex as “a tortured bean-feast.”
Fleming denied that he deliberately injects sadism and cruelty into his books in order to titillate the reader. When they occur it is because they are part of the truth, he said.
“The world has read enough about torture used during the Algerian war to know that these things happen. In the old days Bulldog Drummond would have been hit over the head with a cricket bat, but nowadays he would be subjected to much more refined torture. I try to get as near the truth as I can without scaring the daylights out of people.”