‘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.