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.”
Once again, thank you, Revelator, for posting these Fleming insights here. You’re classing us up, Sir.
Glad you’re enjoying them! I think they definitely add an extra dimension to our conceptions of Bond and Fleming. In this interview the line that stood out was Fleming’s admission “I can’t put a face to him.” I’ve never been able to do so either when I read the books. As Kingsley Amis pointed out, by only partially filling in Bond, Fleming made it possible for readers to better identify themselves with Bond.
I think this is part of the reason why the books and indeed the films are such a success. Bond has enough realism as a character and is inserted into fantastic scenarios - making the world an exciting place and allowing us to fantasise. Bond still experiences relatable periods of boredom, depression and anger like we all do. But during that time he’s often living a life of refinement and discipline. To survive against the torture he routinely faces Bond has to have questionable elements of darkness, which goes to what Fleming says about Bond being a competent professional rather than a pure hero.
The Man Behind Secret Agent 007
Our Sleuth in London Tracks Down Author Ian Fleming, Creator of the World’s Currently-Most-Popular Fiction Tough Guy.
By Arthur Veysey (Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov. 18, 1962)
That impeccable, unique Britisher, Ian Fleming, sat in the bar of London’s Ritz watching two rough chunks of ice swirl lazily thru his late-afternoon double Scotch. A romantic blonde, tantalizing as a Caribbean breeze, studied him from the settee across the room. It was obvious she found most pleasant his large tanned face, his wavy, almost curling black hair laced with gray and worn long in the London fashion, his ocean-blue pin-striped suit from Saville row, his boldly striped shirt and tie.
James Bond, British Secret Agent 007, would have been at her side in a moment. But Fleming merely gave his glass another twirl. With women, he said softly, he’s shy—unlike Bond, who frankly, is something of a cad.
“I envy him his success with women,” said the author and creator of the world’s currently-most-popular tough guy, “but I can’t really say I much like the chap.”
It takes only a few minutes with Fleming to realize how much of a real-life figure this fabulous creature of his virile imagination has become to him. Though Fleming devotes only six or eight weeks each year to writing the newest of Bond’s wild adventures, just about everything Fleming hears, reads, and sees all year long is sifted for situations, sites, or even words to give new spice to next year’s tale.
The way Fleming tells it, Bond, like Topsy, just grew. It happened 11 years ago when Fleming, then a 43-year-old bachelor, became bored during a long winter vacation at his Jamaican seaside hideaway.
“I have a puritanical dislike for idleness,” he said. “So I decided to write a book. At the rate of 2,000 words in three hours each morning, the book dutifully produced itself.”
Fleming, son of a wealthy Conservative member of parliament, was at the time a successful London newspaper man—foreign manager for the Kemsley chain of British newspapers. He had attended Eton and Sandhurst, Britain’s West Point, and universities in Geneva and Munich. He had been a correspondent for Reuters, the British-owned world news agency, and had gone into London merchant banking and the London stock exchange. During the war, he was assistant to the director of British naval intelligence. An older brother, Peter, was famous even before the war as a writer and explorer.
Upon his return to London from Jamaica, Fleming packed away his book. But two weeks later, an old friend, the chief reader for the Jonathan Cape publishing house, discovered accidentally Fleming had written the book and asked to read it.
“Adolescent tripe,” Fleming said of it, but surrendered the manuscript. Much to his surprise, Cape’s, which had not handled a thriller in many years, published it. More to his surprise, the London Times praised it, and the public found it amusing and exciting and lined up to buy it.
Within weeks [sic] Fleming quit his job and career to become an author. He also married Lady Rothermere, former wife of the head of the Kemsley papers.
Only an hour before Fleming and I met at the Ritz, he had delivered to Cape’s the last chapter of his 12th book. “What do you think of Belles of Hell as a title?’ be asked. ‘Or should I play safe with something like, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service?”
The hero, of course, as in all previous 11 books, is Bond, who now is Britain’s best selling mystery fiction character, replacing the entire entourage of Agatha Christie. In America, Bond’s popularity has risen fast since President Kennedy declared him his personal favorite. Altogether, more than six million Bond books have been sold in a dozen languages.
This fall, Bond, in the image of a 29-year-old one-time Glasgow building laborer named Sean (pronounced Shawn) Connery, is flashing onto world movie screens. For the first of a series, United Artists chose Dr. No. The film, shot in Jamaica, recently premiered in London.
Many British literary critics are harsh with Fleming and Bond. Published statements include: “School boy shockers”…“Trash with an Oxford accent”…“A maze of extravagant absurdity”…“Gentlemanly chronicler of bizarre and ungentlemanly adventure”…“The old recipe of blood and thunder, with pain, wine, and off-beat sex thrown in.”
But Sir Ronald Howe, former deputy commissioner of Scotland Yard, says Fleming is “the most readable post-war writer of adventure stories.”
Fleming says his books are thrillers and calls himself a “kiss-kiss bang-bang” writer. He says he’s happy to go on turning out Bond stories so long as the public will buy them. His plots, he says, are “not very clever but always something is happening.”
As a writer, Fleming says he is not ambitious and is “incapable of writing on a high level.”
“Anyway, I have nothing to say on that level,” he adds. He is happy, he says, if his Bond tales give people a few hours’ relaxation. He thinks men like them “because most men hope the things that happen to Bond will happen to them some day but they know jolly well they won’t.” Women, he says, like them because “the female characters are always getting bashed about.”
If the books do raise blood pressure, what, he asks, is wrong in that? If he had to label his books he would choose three words:
“Good, healthy fun.”
An interview with—Ian Fleming
By H. Doug Campbell (The Sunday Gleaner, Feb. 10, 1963)
Ian Fleming, English novelist, took time off from writing a new book at his holiday home, “Goldeneye,” in Oracabessa to discuss nuclear disarmament and race and colour in the world today, among other things.
His book Doctor No was filmed partly in Jamaica last year and already the motion picture has become the second best money maker in Britain’s film history since its showing in London.
Meyer Hunter, the Publicity Director, recently outlined the proposed plans for having a western hemisphere premiere of the film in Jamaica in April or May and to which the stars of the film, Sean Connery (James Bond), Ursula Andress as well as Ian—will be invited. He told me that the success of the film Doctor No is second only to The Guns of Navarone at the theatre box office.
“When you see Doctor No you will be proud of the Jamaican actors,” he said in a voice that sounded as if he is also very proud of that too. Asked whether he also wrote the movie script he said he had not and explained: “I was writing the book On Her Majesty’s Secret Service at the time the film Doctor No was being made on the north coast.” He added, “Script writing is a technical job for which I am not equipped.”
He had urged the film directors [sic] to use Jamaican actors for parts in Doctor No and was pleased that that was done, he said.
The new book On Her Majesty’s Secret Service will be out in April this year. “It is largely set in Switzerland and involves a terrible amount of mayhem and death and terrible goings on, all over Europe.”
He would not disclose much about the book which he is working on at present. This book is set in Japan. “It is a close trade secret and to disclose details now may irritate my publishers,” he said.
Eleven books have so far been written by him and “All my books were written at ‘Goldeneye,’ every single one of them,” he said.
His various novels of suspense include Casino Royale, The Spy Who Loved Me, Live and Let Die, Moonraker, Diamonds are Forever, From Russia with Love, Doctor No, Goldfinger, For Your Eyes Only, Thunderball, and The Diamond Smugglers.
Born May 1908, he is the son of the late Major Valentine Fleming MP, DSO, and was educated at Eton, Sandhurst, Munich, and Geneva University. He worked with Reuters News 1929-33; Cull & Co., Merchant Bankers 1933-35; Rowe and Pitman Stockbrokers 1935-39.
He served in the war from 1939-45. He was at one time Foreign Manager of Kemsley, later Thomson Newspapers (1945-59).
How does he go about writing a book? He explained that “the hatching of the book is done in my head during the year.” Then he does research; beside his typewriter you can see a pile of research books. His first book, written eleven years ago at “Goldeneye,” was Casino Royale.
This was followed by Live and Let Die, a book set with a Jamaican background. “Two of my books have a Jamaican location and also two of my short stories.” Asked if he will write another book with a Jamaican setting, he said with a chuckle, “I can’t go on plugging Jamaica like this or my public will think I have shares in the Jamaican travel business and so on.”
His favorite book is From Russia with Love. This book is now being filmed on location in Istanbul, Turkey, and it is anticipated to be equally successful as Doctor No.
He first came to Jamaica in July 1942, when Britain was worried about U-Boat sinkings in the Caribbean. Then he stayed at Myrtle Bank Hotel in Kingston and “although it rained during that time, I fell in love with Jamaica,” he said.
He disclosed that Noel Coward is due in Jamaica shortly and while here will work on a musical based on one of Terrence Rattigan’s plays. Coward had great success with his musical Sail Away, which he staged in England.
Asked whether he had any thoughts he would like to express on race and colour in the world today, he replied “That is rather getting into the realms of politics, but I am very happy the way things are going, the way we are becoming what we basically are—brothers. As far as I am concerned, the colour problem does not exist.”
Asked what he thought about nuclear disarmament, he said, “I am all for it, as I hope you are too, Doug. The two big poker players, America and Russia, are evenly poised and the bluff and double bluff going on all the time is above my head and I hope it will all settle down in the end, as I expect the two players are so evenly matched they will finally decide to call the game off and we shall all be able to settle down and not worry about it any more,” he said.
“Goldeneye” is where former British Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden and Lady Eden spent a holiday. “It was just after Suez. Sir Anthony Eden became very sick and chose Jamaica and my house to rest. As you know, Sir Anthony later resigned and became Lord Avon. So struck he (Lord Avon) was with the beauty of the Caribbean on his visit to Jamaica, that he bought a property in Antigua,” Mr. Fleming explained.
His hobby is spear-fishing and his spacious sitting room is loaded with spear fishing and underwater diving equipment. “My wife and I love underwater sports.”
Mr. Fleming describes “Goldeneye,” which is on a cliff overlooking the sea—“It is a very simple house, which I designed and which was built by Jamaican workmen. It is a square U with a 60 foot living room. It has no glass in the windows, only the good old Jamaica jalousies, designed so the birds can fly though and so we can live as much inside as outside.”
That Other Secret Service Feller
It’s Pistols for Two When Ian Fleming Meets his Latest Rival
By Peter Evans (Daily Express, March 27, 1963)
He selected a cigarette, placed it in his ebony holder and lit it with a gold lighter. It was all done with the studied rhythm of a man playing for time while thinking of exactly what to say.
“I look forward to meeting this fellow,” Ian Fleming said finally, tilting his head towards the ceiling and gently blowing smoke after his words.
With one finger he pushed aside the curtains of the private room over the restaurant not very far from Tottenham Court-road and looked down-into the street.
“Yes, indeed,” he said after another long moment, “It should be a most fascinating encounter. Even perhaps memorable.”
Indeed. For the missing guest was Mr. Len Deighton, the author whose first spy book, The Ipcress File, has made him the biggest threat to the suave Mr. Fleming and his equally suave hero James Bond since Smersh.
Deighton’s unnamed agent has been snapped up by Bond’s own publishers, Jonathan Cape, and signed by the producers who filmed Doctor No.
What is even more fascinating is that where Mr. Fleming is reputed partly to have modelled Agent 007 on himself, so Deighton’s fumbling, cheapskate hero has more than a touch of his curious creator.
Mr. Fleming, who himself nominated The Ipcress File among the [Sunday Times] Books of the Year, said “I simply have to meet him, you know. It is important to know the kind of fellow you are up against.”
Some fifteen minutes late, Deighton arrived—an untidy man in one or those 1963 suits with the 1957 price tags. He made it look lumpy. On his cuff-links were colour pictures of Littlehampton. He is a man who looks in a perpetual state of surprise.
“This is a bit posh, isn’t it?” he said, shaking Fleming’s hand. “They very nearly didn’t let me in downstairs.”
Mr. Fleming arranged his face into a bleak smile. “It is rather a pleasant little restaurant,” he said, searching his rival’s face like a map-reader searching for a bearing.
There was the kind of sharp silence that occurs in the first round at a boxing match, when the crowd is waiting for the first punch to be thrown.
Mr. Fleming opened up. “My favourite restaurant is Scotts, actually. Almost got arrested there during the war, as a matter of fact. They suspected I was a German spy. Awfully amusing.
“I was working for [Naval] Intelligence and giving some U-Boat commander a slap-up lunch. The idea was to pump him for information. Cost about £20 and the blighter didn’t talk. Saw right through it obviously,” Fleming admitted pleasantly.
“Anyway, the waiters heard us yapping away in German and in no time we were surrounded by police. I got a most frightful rocket when I got back to my office.”
Deighton’s head began to rock slowly backwards and forwards, as if mesmerised by Mr. Fleming’s story.
“You were in intelligence yourself, weren’t you?” Mr. Fleming put the question across like an angry schoolmaster who has caught one of his pupils dozing.
“Yes. Air Intelligence,” admitted Deighton.
“I guessed as much,” said Mr. Fleming, a look of satisfaction seeping over his face like a blush. “You get pretty near the knuckle in some parts, I must say. Anyway, I realized you knew what you were talking about—as indeed I do.”
“Your next book,” said Deighton slowly, is set in Japan.”
“Correct,” said Mr. Fleming, his face a mask. “It’s called You Only Live Twice. I’ve just been to Tokyo actually. Ran over on the old willow pattern route. Very jolly. Saki and kimonos and all that damn bowing amuses me enormously. Ever been to Tokyo?”
“Yes,” said Deighton.
“BOAC,” said Deighton.
“I was a steward,” said Deighton.
Again that circling, first-round silence. “I have a rotten feeling,” Deighton said moodily, “that my car’s going to be towed away.”
“What do you drive, old boy?” asked Mr. Fleming, perhaps sensing a common bond in cars.
“A beaten-up old Volkswagen, actually,” said Deighton, adding brightly, “but I’ve installed a telephone. Yours?”
“I’ve just got one of those new Studebaker Avantis. Naught to 60 in 4.5 seconds, 175 miles an hour with four passengers up. Supercharged, of course. I must say I adore it,” said Fleming.
Silence. Then: “You know what we should do?" asked Mr. Fleming suddenly. “We should start a running joke in our books. Like those chaps Crosby and Hope. I’ll get Bond to knock your chap—you really should give him a name, you know—and you can get him to tear the hell out of Bond.”
“Super,” said Deighton, “I’d love to knock Bond. You remind me of him in many ways.”
A thin smile traced across Mr. Fleming’s face. “Really? Well, I do identify myself with him in a few things.”
Mr. Fleming smiled a sad smile. “But of course Bond has a far better digestion than I have, and his prowess with women is considerably greater than mine, unfortunately. Needless to say, he has more guts.”
Deighton asked: “Do you honestly like Bond?”
Mr. Fleming thought about this question for a minute, then: “I began by disliking him intensely. I’ve grown to like him. To be honest, I think your fellow is rather more solid—indeed, Bond is often quite cardboard—but I have put him through so much it would be too disloyal not to like him now.”
It was, as Mr. Fleming predicted, a most fascinating encounter.
Note: Fleming afterward wrote to Raymond Hawkey, who had also attended the meeting: “Thank you also for the amusing photograph of me and Len Deighton. I am sorry to say I thought Evans’ piece was pretty skimpy, but don’t tell him I said so!”
Hawkey, an art college friend of Deighton, had designed the cover for The Ipcress File and went on to design the Pan paperbacks of the Bond series. Fleming acclaimed Hawkey’s first Bond cover (for Thunderball) as “really brilliant…I think it is quite splendid and I don’t think the filthy little Pan sign spoils it too much.”
Fleming did indeed mention Deighton in his contribution to the Sunday Times “Books of the Year” feature (Dec. 23, 1962), though with reservations:
“The Ipcress File, by Len Deighton (Hodder & Stoughton), was a brilliant firework, but rather too ‘scatty’ for my taste. I don’t think thrillers should be ‘funny.’”
In a letter to his close friend William Plomer, dated May 20, 1964, Fleming discussed Deighton’s Funeral in Berlin:
“Amusing cracks but I simply can’t be bothered with his kitchen sink writing & all this Nescafe. Reminds me of [John] Bratby. I think Capes should send him to Tahiti or somewhere & get him to ‘tell a story’. He excuses his ignorance of life with his footnotes & that won’t stand up for long –- nice chap though he is.”
Deighton worked on the screenplay of From Russia With Love, though it seems his contributions were mostly disregarded. He later collaborated with Kevin McClory and Sean Connery on the script for the unmade Bond film Warhead. In 2012 he published the ebook James Bond: My Long and Eventful Search for His Father. I haven’t read it, but the Amazon review by John Cork (the Bond expert) suggests the book has some problems.
Conversation at Scott’s
By Herb Caen (San Francisco Chronicle, May 16, 1963)
He was seated alone in the Window Room of Scott’s Restaurant in Coventry Street, his long, tapered fingers toying with a glass of white wine to which two teaspoons of water had been added.
“Sit down,” he said, half rising, the terseness of the words tempered by a smile that flickered for a warm second—no more—and was gone. It was obvious he had little time for small talk. After a quick but careful glance around the handsome Edwardian room, he leaned forward to ask the key question. “What will you drink?”
“Martinis,” we said. Swiftly assessing the cryptic word, he summoned a waiter with a commanding flick of his head. “Two martinis, very dry,” he ordered. “Four and 2 quarter parts of Coates’ Plymouth gin to five eighths of a part of Boissiere, the white vermouth. On the rocks. No lemon peel, no onion, no olive. Stir, don’t shake.”
He turned his surprisingly blue eyes on us. Cold as sapphires, they shone out from a lean, ruddy face—handsome, if you like—that betrayed a few tell-tale signs of too many late nights at the baccarat table and perhaps more champagne (Taittinger blanc de blancs) than was strictly necessary. His luxuriant close-cropped hair was, I noticed, now completely gray. Again, he bent his supple, six foot frame forward.
“Cigarette?” he asked, offering a dull silver case surmounted by a curious coin. He caught my brief stare. “Gold sovereign,” he said. “My lucky coin at Monte Carlo. Made a killing with it.” The snakelike head of his Ronson Variflame flicked evilly and in a flash his cigarette was lit. As he took a deep drag, the neat polka-dot bow tie bobbed at the collar of his Sea Island cotton shirt with short sleeves.
If the foregoing sounds like a pallid attempt to imitate the style of Ian Fleming, creator of the James Bond stories—well, it is. The gentleman, described above, with whom we were taking lunch in the admirable surroundings of Scott’s, was Mr. Fleming, the successor to the Hammetts, the Greenes and the Amblers as the world’s best-selling author of international spy fiction. His hero, James Bond (No. 007 in the British Secret Service), has become a household word in most of our best households, including the one in the White House.
“Actually,” he said over the cold salmon, sliced no more than .007 of an inch thick, “I picked the name of James Bond because it sounded to me like the most commonplace name in the world. I first ran across it in Jamaica—a James Bond was the author of an obscure scientific book I was reading. What an unspeakably dull name, I said to myself. Just a step removed from anonymity. Now the readers think there actually IS a James Bond.”
“Do you know any good villains?” he inquired, flicking an ash off his blue suit (no pocket handkerchief). “Villains are the hardest for me. I was rather fond of Rosa Klebb, but, of course, I had to kill her off. Same with ‘Doctor No.’” I mentioned Blofeld, the evil fellow with the syphilitic nose who almost finishes Bond in his newest book, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but Mr. Fleming merely shook his head over his lamb chops (pink in the middle).
“I kill off Blofeld in the next book, which I just finished,” he said regretfully. “An excruciating death. And as for Bond, I’ve got him in such a devil of a pickle I don’t know how I’m EVER going to get him out. Poor James.”
In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service the dashing Bond, who averages three affairs and an equal number of killings per book, marries a fine girl named Tracy. As they are starting out on their honeymoon in a white Lancia, the unspeakable Blofeld, in a red Maserati, races past and fires at them. At the end of the book, the Lancia has crashed into a field, “and Bond put his arm around her shoulders, across which the dark patches had begun to flower.”
“I hate to ask this,” I said, mindful of previous miraculous recoveries, “but is Tracy REALLY dead?”
Mr. Fleming poured himself a splash of vin ordinaire from a carafe and nodded sorrowfully. “Of course,” he replied. “Blood oozing out the back—sure sign. Too bad, but I couldn’t keep Bond married, you know. He’s on constant call, has to be too many places, get into too many scrapes. Wouldn’t do at all.”
He glanced at the stainless steel Rolex on his left wrist. “Really must go,” he apologized. “Catching a plane for Istanbul, where they’re filming From Russia. With Love. The first picture made from one of my books—Dr. No—has just been released here. Tremendous success. Made all its costs back right away, and I’m happy to say I have a small piece of the action. Sean Connery will play James Bond again—don’t you think he’s a fine Bond?”
We agreed. We had seen a preview of Dr. No and Connery seemed almost as good as the real thing. Mr. Fleming struggled into a luminous blue raincoat and led the way out of Scott’s into the gray London afternoon. As we searched for a cab, he pointed to a second-story corner window of the restaurant. “See that window?” he asked. When James is in London he always lunches there, at the corner table. That’s so he can look down and watch the pretty girls walking past.”
And with that, Ian Fleming—or is HE James Bond?—waved a cheery farewell and strode off into the anonymous crowd.
Note: The legendary San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen was one of Fleming’s early American fans and praised the books in his columns. Fleming returned the favor by writing an article, “The Case of the Painfully Pulled Leg,” in praise of Caen for the Chronicle. After Fleming’s death Caen devoted another column to him—extracts below:
Farewell to Double Nought Seven
By Herb Caen (San Francisco Chronicle, August 16, 1964)
I saw Ian Fleming for the first and last time in London, a little over a year ago. His penultimate [sic] book, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, was about to be published and the word was already around that in it, James Bond, the avowed bachelor, had married La Comtesse Teresa di Vicenzo, otherwise known as Tracy. “That’s true,” smiled Fleming over lunch at Scott’s, “but of course I had to kill her off at the end. Nasty death, on their honeymoon. It wouldn’t do at all for James to be married, you understand—a wife would just be in the way. I may have to kill off Bond one of these days, too—before he kills me. Plots are getting harder and harder to come up with.”
[…] I didn’t realize how closely he identified with Bond till we got around to a discussion of the movie versions of his books (Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and next, Goldfinger). When we agreed that the actor who portrayed M., Bond’s chief, was miscast, I suggested “You should play M.—you’re about the same age, aren’t you?”
Immediately, he looked hurt, and I clammed up. Obviously, he felt he had nothing in common with the aging sea dog who headed the British Secret Service. He gave me a long, cold, ironical look that would have done justice to James Bond.
[…] Spy critics poked fun at Bond’s modus operandi—pointing out, for example, that no agent would smoke those special cigarettes with the three gold bands, so easily identifiable. They snickered at Fleming’s penchant for ticking off Bond’s clothing, smoking and drinking habits by brand name, never letting him forget that he misspelled Bond’s favorite champagne—Taittinger Blancs de Blanc (he left the “s” off the first “Blancs”).
Fleming’s patient report to all this criticism was “Don’t they have any sense of fun?”—and, in this gloomy, literal-minded world, Bond was fun, for all his faults.
The Spectacular Cult of Ian Fleming
Erotic scenes of torture and sex have brought fame to a quiet man who hates all violence
By Geoffrey Bocca (Saturday Evening Post, June 22, 1963)
In Doctor No, James Bond finally disposes of the wicked Communist doctor by smothering him in bird droppings. In Moonraker, the villainous Sir Hugo Drax is blown up by his own atom bomb. Oddjob, the torturer in Goldfinger, is last seen oozing out the window of a plane: “As if the Korean’s body was toothpaste, it was slowly sucked with a terrible whistling noise through the aperture.”
These and similar scenes of violence have been responsible for the sale of more than seven million copies of the James Bond stories—11 books in 11 years. Bond is almost essential reading in smart society and on college campuses. President Kennedy, Prince Philip and former CIA chief Allen Dulles are among his fans. Literary magazines acknowledge him as “every intellectual’s favorite Fascist,” and his creator as “the thinking man’s Mickey Spillane.” Parodies abound, and one 70-page paperback called Alligator, published by the Harvard Lampoon, has sold no less than 50,000 copies.
All this uproar naturally delights the tall, handsome, sardonic man who created James Bond. At 55, slowed in his movements by a heart attack two years ago, Ian Fleming has high cheekbones, close-set eyes, a bashed-in nose, and a rich taste for the luxuries of life. Each winter, he retreats from the London whirl and writes a new Bond novel at his beach house in Jamaica. Every afternoon he lies face down in the water, looking at the fish through his faceplate. In his manner he thinks out the plot, and contemplates the trick he has been playing ever since Bond was born.
The trick consists of having led his readers to believe that Fleming has modeled Bond on himself. Like Bond, Fleming is a former naval commander. The creator and his creation share a taste for vodka martinis, custom-made cigarettes, and, until Fleming’s marriage, unattached women. Dust-cover photographs of Fleming with it gun help the illusion. In fact, Fleming has created a character who is the opposite of himself. Bond, Fleming writes in every book, is “cruel.” The essence of Fleming’s personality is his gentleness. He abhors violence.
“I believe one has the right to kill only what one eats and nothing more,” Fleming says. This is scarcely an exaggeration. When Sir Anthony Eden’s health broke down after Suez, he and Lady Eden rented Fleming’s house, “Goldeneye,” at Oracabessa, Jamaica. On their first night there they were horrified to find giant bush rats scuttling around the house. “Commander Fleming does not like them to be killed,” one of the servants explained. “After all, they cannot help being bush rats,” Fleming reflects moodily. As the rats proliferated, however, Fleming was obliged to send local boys after them for the price of sixpence a tail, an execution order that sent him into a deep depression.
Fleming is so softhearted, in fact, that he finds it hard to reject a stranger’s request for money. And when a friend is ill he feels compelled to fill the hospital room with flowers, Fleming also has interests that Bond would scorn. Bond has never read a book, but Fleming is one of England’s principal authorities on rare books. He is publisher of the London Book Collector, perhaps the leading magazine in the world on the subject.
Fleming has an almost infinite number of quirks, prejudices and dislikes. Some are apparent in his form of dress, which he has not changed since he was demobilized from the Royal Navy in 1945. In London he invariably wears a dark blue suit with cuffs on the sleeves, a spotted bow tie loosely tied, a blue shirt with short sleeves, and loafers. “Wearing the same clothes saves me from having to wonder what I shall wear today,” he says rather defensively. “I hate buttons, studs and laces. I wear short-sleeved shirts because I cannot stand dirty cuffs.”
Fleming dislikes the theater because he feels he is held captive in the audience. He prefers movies because he is free to come and go as he pleases—“and they are cheaper.” He never watches television, and he detests flowers in his room. He hates cocktail parties. His wife, Ann, is a celebrated hostess and gives some of the best parties in London, but Fleming often succeeds in avoiding them.
Fleming protests constantly that he is not a gourmet like Bond, and that his favorite meal is scrambled eggs, but he cannot resist an adventure in exotic eating. The food does not have to be good, so long as it carries the spice of danger. Sometime ago. Fleming met an old friend from the Royal Navy, a polar explorer who had written a manual of survival for escaped prisoners of war.
“Can a man desperate from hunger live on grass?” Fleming asked him.
“Nobody can live on grass,” the explorer said.
“Suppose a Russian stood between you and starvation, and you killed him. Which is the best part of him to eat?”
“How should I know?” the explorer asked uneasily.
“I have been told that the palm of the hand is the tastiest,” Fleming persisted.
The explorer looked about, then turned to Fleming, his eyes gleaming. “A cut off the ribs,” he said. “That’s the best part.”
This delights Fleming, for adventure is his passion. “Ian,” said one of his close friends, “is fundamentally a hero worshiper. He loves physical achievement in the face of adversity. It began in his awe of his elder brother, Peter, who had explored the Brazilian jungles, crossed the roof of China, and written fine books about his experiences. He worships Sugar Ray Robinson and Jacques Cousteau, the skin diver.”
These are the characteristics of Ian Fleming that are distilled into James Bond. This is the fundamental secret of Fleming’s success. No matter how fantastic his plots, he gives the impression that he knows what he is talking about. When he writes about SMERSH, the Russian spy apparatus, he writes from a background of several years in the Soviet Union. Two of his novels, Casino Royale and Moonraker, turn on desperate card games for huge stakes. Fleming can make the scenes authoritative because he is himself a fanatical gambler. He is also a six-handicap golfer. In Goldfinger Bond plays a game of golf with the diabolical Auric Goldfinger for $10,000—and, of course, wins.
Many readers complain of the torture scenes which keep bloodying his books, Fleming replies that these are exactly what happened to Allied agents during the war. He should know. He worked with Allied agents during the war.
Fleming was born on May 28, 1908, the second of the four sons of Maj. Valentine Fleming. M.P., D.S.O. His grandfather, Robert Fleming, was a private banker and a sometime associate of J. P. Morgan, His mother, Evelyn Fleming, was one of the most beautiful women in England, Like so many privileged children of the era, young Ian had a thoroughly unhappy childhood.
When he was eight, his father was killed on the Somme (Winston Churchill wrote his obituary for the Times). Fractious and needing affection, Ian was sent instead to an especially tough school which specialized in beating conformity into unhappy and rebellious children. He emerged reserved and arrogant, and went to Eton where he was confronted with a headmaster who, he said later, “had it in for the Flemings.” Eton didn’t work, and Fleming moved briefly to the military academy at Sandhurst, but he had no military inclinations. Another brief period at Munich, where he added fluent German to his fluent French, marked the end of Fleming’s formal education, and the beginning of the adventures which led to the creation of Bond.
Fleming became a journalist and went to Moscow as head of the Reuters bureau. Already, within the young, green Fleming, one could see the older, ever-curious Fleming peeping out. Many correspondents hated Moscow. Fleming loved it. He learned to speak good Russian, and he was endlessly fascinated by the presence of the secret police.
In those days almost the only possible “scoop” was an exclusive interview with Stalin, which every now and then he was prepared to grant. One day Fleming and Stanley Richardson of the Associated Press sent Stalin a joint letter, and to their astonishment received a personal reply. It was badly typed on a faulty typewriter and it said simply. “I am sorry I cannot see you,” signed “J. Stalin.” Though they had no story, Fleming and Richardson realized that the document did have a certain financial and historic value, and they agreed to play poker for it. Fleming won and still has it.
In 1939 the Admiralty—at that time perhaps the most alert of Britain’s fighting services—decided that it needed men like Fleming: multilingual, imaginative, fit. Called home and commissioned as a lieutenant, he worked as personal assistant to Admiral John Godfrey, Director of Naval Intelligence. Much of his wartime work is still secret today, and most of the stories Fleming tells are farcical rather than daredevil.
On one memorable occasion when he and an assistant were required to question a captured U-boat commander to find out which routes the U-boats were taking through the British minefields in the Kattegat, Fleming had a flamboyant idea. Instead of grilling the commander in a grim prison office, why not soften him up by bringing him to London and questioning him over good food and fine wine?
The German and his first lieutenant, of unmistakably Teutonic bearing, were escorted to Scott’s Restaurant in Piccadilly in civilian clothes. Fleming and his aide were in uniform. Everyone spoke German throughout. Fleming ordered a bottle of Rhine wine and another and another. While the Englishmen were getting progressively drunker, the Germans stayed rigidly sober, revealing nothing. In the end Fleming gave it up and blearily took a taxi back to the Admiralty.
“Dammit, Fleming, what the devil have you been up to?” demanded the director of Naval Intelligence. “I have only just saved you from being arrested. You have tied up half of M.I. Five and the C.I.D. listening to you all afternoon.”
“Baker, the maitre d’hôtel, had reported that we had been behaving suspiciously,” Fleming recalls. “It showed an alert and proper attitude on his part, and I have patronized Scott’s ever since.”
On another occasion, when Fleming was on his way to secret talks in Washington in 1941, he stopped off with Admiral Godfrey at Estoril in Portugal. Fleming recognized German Intelligence agents in Estoril Casino playing chemin de fer. He decided to play them and take them for all of their secret funds. Instead of taking the Nazis, however, the Nazis took him, and Fleming sheepishly had to ask his chief for more travel money. This was to lead to the dramatic chemin de fer game which James Bond plays with the scoundrel Le Chiffre in Casino Royale. In the book Bond wins.
After D day Fleming took control, from London, of No. 30 Assault Unit, which was to become more celebrated among its members as F.P.N., or Fleming’s Private Navy. This was a group of some 300 Royal Marines who advanced with front troops to try to seize secret enemy equipment, codes, and so on. Despite the importance of Fleming’s secret war, he received no decoration at the end of it.
“He deserved a big one,” said one of the senior officers of the unit. “He would have got one if he had merely lifted a finger for it. But that is Ian for you. He will push with all his weight for one of his subordinates. He is always too indolent to push for himself.”
In 1945 Fleming was appointed foreign manager of the Kemsley Newspapers of London, then a rather somnolent Fleet Street newspaper group. It did not tax his intellect much, and left him plenty of time for golf. At the same time his private income was just enough to induce languor in someone not compulsively energetic. He was quite happy.
This enjoyable loafing ended in 1952, when, at the age of 44, he gave up bachelorhood and married Ann Rothermere, divorced wife of Lord Rothermere, proprietor of the London Daily Mail. The new Ann Fleming had enough dynamism. for both. “Horrified by the prospect of marriage, and to anesthetize my nerves,” Fleming later recalled, “I sat down, rolled a piece of paper into my battered portable, and began.”
He began with the words. “The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. James Bond suddenly knew that he was tired…” He called it Casino Royale. He deliberately gave his hero the least adventurous name he could think of. There is a real James Bond, author of a definitive work on birds of the West Indies.
It is now easy to see why the Bond stories have caught the popular imagination. Not only does Fleming write with great skill and verve, but there is a startling topicality about his work. Bond’s world of spy fantasia has proved to be no fantasia at all but a mirror of what is going on in the world. We know now that the Russians do build missile bases in nearby Caribbean islands (Doctor No). They do plot carefully to get beautiful girls into the beds of Allied agents (From Russia, With Love ). Fleming said it first.
Fleming’s current novel, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, is set in Switzerland and gets Bond married. Now that another winter is over. Fleming is polishing up Bond No. 12, in which, he confided recently, “Bond becomes Bondo-San.”
In London, New York and Jamaica, Fleming moves in a small society of talented friends who think he can and should do better than write spy novels. Fleming listens to the criticisms with a sardonic grin, fits another cigarette into his holder, and goes his own way.
What he thinks of his own work, he does not say, but he shows no sign of changing. He much prefers lying face down in the Caribbean, with a hot sun beating on his back, his mind far away. Will James Bond outwit the evil crypto-Communist tycoon, Sir Basil Quicksnade? Will he escape the dastardly plot to tum the Washington Monument into cheese? Will he save the dazzling Avis Rearguard from the back seat of the flaming Alfa Romeo? Will he sell yet another million copies to the wishful thinkers of this world?
JFK Is James Bond Fan—Ian Fleming Autographs Thrillers for President
By Hal McClure (AP, syndicated in The Morning Call [Allentown, Pennsylvania] July 14, 1963)
How does it feel to be President Kennedy’s favorite mystery thriller writer?
“It’s quite flattering,” says author Ian Fleming, whose melodramatic adventures of British secret agent James Bond have sold millions of books throughout the world.
Fleming, who at 54 is a somewhat older version of his suave fictional hero, was sitting outside the tiny Turkish railroad station of Yarımburgaz, where recently a British film company was shooting the latest James Bond movie, From Russia, With Love. The author had come down from London to watch.
He brushed lank gray hair from his eyes and a smile creased his ruddy face as he
recalled his only meeting with President Kennedy.
“It was six months before the 1960 election and I was introduced to them as they walked along a Washington street. Both Mr. Kennedy and Jackie asked me, ‘Are you THE Ian Fleming?’
“That’s music to any writer’s ears.”
The President recently placed Fleming’s From Russia, With Love, a spy thriller that starts in Istanbul and goes behind the Iron Curtain, on a list of books he has most enjoyed reading.
Fleming said he has not seen Kennedy since, but sends him autographed copies of each new Bond book. “It’s the least I can do,” he added.
How did he start the James Bond books?
Fleming was foreign manager (he prefers manager to editor) of the Sunday Times of London when he began the series in 1952. He drew on his own experiences in British naval intelligence in World War II.
“I was about to be married after 43 years of bachelorhood and it had been a momentous decision for me,” he said, then quipping: “I suppose I needed a diversion to get over the shock.”
He wrote his first book in Jamaica on his honeymoon. In all, he has written a dozen books at his Jamaica retreat. He smiled and continued telling about his writing habits.
“I never look back when I’m writing,” he said. “That’s good advice for young writers. If you start correcting and revising the previous day’s work, you waste another day. I revise only after I’ve finished the book.”
He said it takes him about six weeks to write the first draft, turning out about 2,000 words a day in two stints—from 10 a.m. to about noon and from 6 to 7 p.m.
Has his books’ success changed his life?
“Surprisingly little,” says Fleming. He said he still contributes a piece to the Sunday Times now and then and continues to make his home in England. He admits if it weren’t for the high British income tax he’d be a millionaire today.
Fleming writes lovingly and knowingly of gambling and good eating in the Bond stories and admits he, like his hero, likes to gamble.
But as for being a gourmet, “I’d as soon eat scrambled eggs.” He says people like to read about exotic foods and he continues to write about them.
Since this week’s interview was rather short (in retrospect I should have just excerpted it in the short interviews post) I’m throwing in some pictures.
Here’s Fleming adjusting the shelves of an airport bookshop to make his books stand out more:
Tatiana and her creator (taken in Yarımburgaz?):
The author and his character:
My avatar! I’d like to more about this image–who was the photographer? Is there more from this photoshoot?
The Ian Flemings
The Improbable Domestic Backdrop, the Life, of the World’s Most Successful Writer of Thrillers—the James Bond Books
By Robert Harling (Vogue, Sept. 1, 1963)
I will start somewhere near the beginning of the legend as it came my way.
During the war, Ian Fleming, as Personal Assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence, fathered and was put in charge of one of those private “armies” apparently inseparable from modern war, although Hannibal was doubtless plagued by them; Nelson, too. This unit, of which I was a member, was known generally as 30 AU, more formally as No. 30 Assault Unit, and finally, as No.30 Advance Unit, and was organized as a result of the direful experiences of the British in the battle for Crete, when a similar German unit captured valuable British secret material. The British, always ready to learn, however late, decided to copy this rewarding notion. Fleming maintained close control over 30 AU, a necessary procedure, for members of the unit sometimes seemed to think that the war was being waged for their particular entertainment.
On one of Fleming’s visits to the unit, in company with his chief, Vice-Admiral Rushbrooke, permission for 30 AU to operate with American advance troop under General Patton’s command was suddenly deemed necessary. Off we went. Patton was in one of his more histrionic moods. Like Garrick playing Hotspur or Massey playing Lincoln, he strode before us, explaining how he would pip the Allied Commanders to Berlin. Later, over our K rations, under an intoxicating euphrasy induced partly by Patton and partly by Calvados, the end of the war seemed imminent. I asked Fleming what he would then do. He replied simply and grandiloquently: “I shall write the spy story to end all spy stories.”
I thought this was a bit steep but let it go.
Nobody, of course, had better grounding for the task. Before the war he had worked as a special correspondent for Reuters and The Times. He had served under two Directors of Naval Intelligence. He had taught himself to write a spare and simple prose. Above all, he knew how fictionally preposterous are the true espionage stories. Altogether, a reasonably factual springboard later for his own brand of fantasy
But all this was long ago. Twenty years. And the James Bond books didn’t start appearing until ten years later. By then he was doing a fair-sized job as Foreign Manager of The Sunday Times and other newspapers, owned at that time by Lord Kemsley and now by Roy Thomson. In between he got married and that was a fair-sized job, too. As Fleming is, in spite of physical vigour and other outward appearances, a somewhat idle fellow, these, allied with these other activities, all helped to postpone the Bond saga.
He published Casino Royale in 1953, its successors at yearly intervals. Another has just gone to his publisher. The demand for them is apparently insatiable and world wide.
In the course of this melodrama of success, Fleming has changed very little physically, mentally, and all the rest. He has put on a few pounds and slowed down a few steps, but he remains what he was, a tallish man with black hair, now touched by grey, above a dark-skinned, strong-featured, deep-lined face. His eyes are blue and of a sharp and gay intensity. When moody or broody, he can look somewhat sombre and threatening, but the mood soon goes. Merriment will out.
He dresses well but simply. Navy-blue suits, heavy in winter, lightweight in summer. Blue shirts, black and white spotted bow tie, very occasionally a striped club tie. His suits and shirts are made, his casual shoes—he eschews buttons and laces—bought off the rack. In common with most Englishmen, he hates shopping and always seems mildly intimidated by salesmen, whether in gunsmiths or shoe shops. At weekends, he exchanges these scarcely formal London clothes for a simple wardrobe of pull-overs, hounds-tooth tweed trousers, and nut-brown leather casuals.
He is no fancy dresser, but is interested in his clothes and even more interested, perhaps, in the clothes of his friends, especially when touched by any dash of eccentricity. Being a direct man by nature, he is prepared to point out these oddities. “Why that high-buttoned Italian jacket?” he will say. “Carrying a gun or bicycle chain?,” the latter being amongst the more fashionable and lethal weapons sported currently by London thugs.
During his brief sojourns in winter London, he adds a fairly exotic black-and-white check tweed overcoat to his outdoor accoutrements, but almost always carries his hat, a battered soft black felt, which, when worn in a sudden shower, is seen to be a sinister rakish headpiece that would arouse George Raft’s envy. He professes to have reduced his wardrobe to the essential elements suitable for a man of sophistication and modest self-esteem, but one or two of his friends suspect that he occasionally hankers after a more exuberant wardrobe.
Because the minutiae of the so-called sophisticated manner seem to preoccupy Fleming in all his books, many critics have accused him of snobbery of a fairly material order, but Fleming is incapable of the self-conscious imprisoning dedication needed for snobbery. He doubtless has his personal alleyways of snobbery (who hasn’t?) but they would take a lot of unravelling and are not very obvious. In any case, leanings towards snobbery are usually attributes of those lacking in self-confidence or vitality (not always related qualities) and Fleming has an abundance of nervous vitality and is, above all, natural in his dealings with all, friends, acquaintances, enemies, bores, and nobodies. His voice is straightforward, English, unaffected. So, too, is his laughter. So, too, is his genial disregard for other people’s feelings. Scarcely the ideal equipment in any approach to snobbery.
The interest of James Bond in the subtleties of food, wines, guns, cars, and the other material oddments of the high life, with which his critics make much play, are not stressed in Fleming’s own existence. His breakfast is based upon good coffee and honey. The honey is Norwegian, which may sound esoteric but is not: he simply regards this Scandinavian variety as the best for his palate. His favourite midday meal in his favourite restaurant, Scotts at Piccadilly Circus, starts with a large Martini, followed by a dozen Colchester oysters (which he prefers because they are the biggest and the best) plus a Guinness, followed by a Scotch woodcock, which is just scrambled eggs topped by crossed anchovies. On a fiendishly wintry day he will be likely to choose steak, kidney, and oyster pudding—quite a dish. He also likes fillets of fish, grilled or meunière. Like any Englishman knowledgeable about food, he prefers plaice to sole, for it is a more succulent fish, although cheaper than sole. He has no sweet tooth, rarely tastes cheese, and, like most heavy smokers, is no trencherman, despite the fact that his housekeeper, Mrs. Crickmere, is one of the best cooks in London. Fleming is no wine drinker either. He prefers Martinis midday and, in the evening, fairly stiff potions of brandy and ginger ale or, not the drink of his forefathers, Scotch, but bourbon and water. He smokes too heavily. His cigarettes are made for him, not exclusively, of course, but he is against any of the well-known mass-production brands. He would like to cut down his smoking, but there it is.
He has always been interested in motorcars, personally and generally. Before the war he had a deep regard for the Invicta (now no longer made) and the Le Mans Bentley models. He has been through a tidy postwar collection. At first, they were British models, and even, for one day, a Daimler, but on his wife’s flick-knife remark that he looked rather like the late Queen Mary inside it, he swapped it forthwith for a racier model and has stayed racy ever since, moving steadily through the Detroit range of Thunderbirds to his present supercharged Studebaker Avanti. He also has considerable respect for the Mercedes stable, but thinks top handmade English cars are apt to be too fussy.
He has written at length about his passion for guns. This derives partly from schoolboy hangover stuff, and partly because he has enormous respect for all beautiful handmade objects, whether simple-seeming but complex steely mechanisms made to kill or enamelled golden Fabergé objects made to captivate.
Part of the recondite expertise which he provides in his books and which drives his critics into apoplexy derives from his deep-foraging interest in other people’s offbeat jobs. He will dig relentlessly away at the professional know-how of gunsmith, wrestler, geisha girl, engine driver, deep-sea diver, croupier, matrimonial agent, tightrope walker, or steeplejack. And as almost anybody will willingly talk about his job, Fleming gets his data.
He cannot bear to be bored. He likes companionship—on his terms. In spite of his obvious attraction to and for women, he prefers the company of men. He has an enormously juvenile sense of humour, and takes delight in bizarre tales with prosaic endings or vice versa, especially if the tales are of happenings to his friends. He readily appreciates a droll tale or quip: a friend confessing to “angst in his pants”; another’s contention that every French youth of sixteen owns three objects: “a moustache, a mistress, and a hoop.”
Fleming loves his friends dearly, particularly if they make no demands upon him. A reasonable request, for he makes no demands on them, apart from a hope for entertainment, and of this he gives as good as he gets. He keeps his disparate friends away from each other and they rarely meet. He has, say, a couple of friends in each of his several worlds: golf, journalism, gambling, Boodle’s (one of the half-dozen leading London clubs), publishing, finance. He spaces out his luncheons with them so that neither side is bored by too frequent a rendezvous. These meals and their pre-planning are important to him, though in general he prefers to eat alone. So, too, is the spacing-out and distance-keeping, for, although to his friends he is a warmhearted man, he also has a hard-rock reserve, a fairly formidable seam reached pretty early on in acquaintance with him.
Like most of us he has a yearning for affection, yet, like most Englishmen—or Scotsmen—of his kind, is ill-fitted by upbringing and habit to acquire the technique of affection-getting, which, after all, is basically a reflex of affection-giving. The English upper crust wants and needs affection as deeply as any other crust, but impulses towards this important emotional release are frequently stifled for them at about the age of eight when boys go away to boarding school. Affection by letter and postcard is as broken-backed as most other emotions by proxy. The boys grow up, professing to hate what they so need. Hence the undertones of sadism and masochism so frequent among British males. Hence, perhaps, those passages in the Bond books which have provoked such bitter attacks. Stuff here for a thesis by some psycho-quiz sophomore.
This imprisonment of the emotions is gradually being dismantled in Britain, but it gripped Fleming’s generation in steely handcuffs. Yet because emotion cannot be wholly buried in print and must out somewhere, somehow, Fleming’s temper is occasionally explosively violent. But, then, most Englishmen would rather admit to outbursts of spleen than affection.
His interests are basically mouvementés. He was an athlete at school and in early manhood and retains his interest in sport. He was a partner of Donald Healey, one of England’s more enterprising racing-car drivers before World War II. He has climbed and skied and sailed, but his first love was golf and remains so. This respect for physical achievement is reflected in his continuing capacity for hero-worship. He started by hero-worshipping his elder brother, Peter, a scholarly explorer-reporter. He continues to admire men who excel in games or endurance: Cousteau, the deep-sea explorer; Bannister, the first four-minute miler; Peter Thomson, the golfer; Heinrich Harrer, the seven-year-in-Tibet man; Douglas Bader, the fighter-pilot, who lost both legs in the war and leads as full a life as Lord Beaverbrook.
Yet he has interests far off from the sporting and strenuous life. I met him because of his interest in the complexities of typography, my own absorbing hobby, and I have travelled with him into one of the more derelict purlieus of London to track down brass reliefs of mythological gods and goddesses—he has the finest collection of brass pictures in England. He has similarly wandered with John Betjeman to inspect some of the lesser masterpieces of London’s ecclesiastical architecture.
He formed, with the help of Percy Muir, one of the most notable and knowledgeable of English bookdealers, a remarkable collection of books on milestones in original thought through the great revolutionary periods from the end of the eighteenth century. His wide and unique collection includes such rarities as first editions of Darwin’s Origin of Species; Einstein’s basic paper on the theory of relativity; Helmholtz’s monograph on the ophthalmoscope; Lenin’s What Is To Be Done?.
Muir, a long-time friend, vividly remembers Fleming’s succinct instructions: “You get the collection going. I’ll buy it, book by book, but I’m not very keen to do overmuch work on it myself.” Fleming kept to his side of the bargain without going back one whit on his word, Muir warmly said. The collection was valued some years ago by John Carter, the bibliographical pundit of Sotheby’s, the London auction house, at many thousands of pounds. He prefers the books. Another of his side interests is his ownership of The Book Collector, perhaps the world’s most erudite bibliographical journal, edited by John Hayward. Fleming has kept this magazine alive through thick and thin and cosseted the journal into its present valuable authority and financial stability.
Fleming married in his early forties. This fact should not be taken to indicate either a lack of interest in women or a predilection for the celibate life. He had known many women, but had managed to elude them. As someone said: “Ian is like a handful of sea water; he slips away through your fingers—even while you’re watching.” Perhaps the girls were too undemanding, for when Fleming did marry it was only after a period of shattering personal complexities and tensions for himself and his wife, experiences which would have meant nervous breakdowns for lesser combatants.
Anne Fleming (née Charteris) was first married to Lord O’Neill (who was killed in the war in 1944), then to Lord Rothermere, from whom she was divorced in 1952. She married Fleming immediately she was free. As a simple “Esquire” he remained unperturbed in following these resounding titles, but promised his wife that if he ever became ennobled he would choose as his title “Lord S.W.1.,” the London postal district in which he lives.
Anne Fleming (known as “Annie” to her friends) is a slim, dark, handsome, highly strung, iconoclastic creature of middle height with a fine pair of flashpoint eyes. She has something of the air of an imperious gypsy, and I have always thought that long, multicoloured flouncing skirts would become her even more than those of more modish length. Suitably attired, she would, seated on the steps of a caravan, have made a magnificent addition to the late Augustus John’s paintings of the Romany folk of the Welsh Marches.
A woman of clear-cut views, Anne Fleming provokes extreme reactions as a wasp provokes panic. Her friends adore her. Others, intimidated by what they consider to be her ruthless vitality and unequivocal views on this or that, are more reserved in their response. She is certainly more interested in men than women, although she does have a few fairly close women friends, notably Lady Avon (wife of the former Sir Anthony Eden), Lady Diana Duff Cooper, and Loelia, Duchess of Westminster. But her main friendships are with men, or possibly with the minds of men, and she retains a bright schoolgirl’s undue respect for academic distinction and political achievement. Thus her closest friends include Somerset Maugham, novelist; Evelyn Waugh, novelist: Sir Isaiah Berlin, philosopher; Sir Maurice Bowra, classical scholar; Sir Frederick Ashton, choreographer; Cecil Beaton, artist et al; Malcolm Muggeridge, most ruthless of commentators; Noél Coward, playwright and songbird; Randolph Churchill, controversialist; Lucian Freud, artist grandson of Sigmund; Peter Quennell, poet and historian; Cyril Connolly, critic and wit. And so on and on. The list is lengthy and formidable. All these men delight in her company, savouring the occasional sharp edge of her tongue, but, even more, her talent for provoking others to dispute. Certainly she is not the kind of woman to whom men would be likely to bring confession of failure or weakness: they are more apt to come to her table to display their learning and to sharpen their wits.
Perhaps somewhat inevitably, with these intellectual predilections and companionships, Anne Fleming has taken a mildly dyspeptic view of her husband’s runaway success with his controversial thrillers. “These dreadful Bond books,” she has called them publicly, and there is no doubt she would swap a thousand James Bonds for one Stephen Dedalus.
Her marriage weathered one of its trickier moments when Fleming, returning to his house from Jamaica, overheard Cyril Connolly reading aloud to a collection of Mrs. Fleming’s intellectual guests, and with appropriate theatrical emphasis, extracts from his first Bond page-proofs. Yet being as socially energetic as she is, Anne Fleming seemed to enjoy, to the fullest degree, the revelry attendant upon the press showing of Dr. No, the first Bond adventure to be filmed, with Sean Connery as Bond. The evening party at Les Ambassadeurs, a night spot, was a rollicking fiesta which laid Fleming low, but gave his wife full scope for involving Somerset Maugham and a score of other improbable guests in a midnight frolic.
The Flemings started their marriage in a large Chelsea flat overlooking the River Thames, a far cry from his discreet bachelor mews house in Mayfair and her own in one of London’s largest mansions, Warwick House, Lord Rothermere’s house, overlooking the Green Park. The large flat, with its sometimes gay but more often melancholy outlook over the wide grey river, didn’t suit Anne Fleming’s mood or manner and they soon moved to a small Regency, cream-stuccoed house in London’s smallest square, about a hundred yards from the riding school of Buckingham Palace. There they have remained through eleven years.
The house is a particularly pleasant example of English urban architecture, even better adapted for living in today than when it was built, and, as it is one of two corner houses, with emphatically bowed windows, it has even more charm than its terraced neighbours.
[Photo of the house, taken in 2017]
Within, the house has a warm, welcoming, carefree air, resulting from a skillfully casual arrangement of comfortable chairs and sofas, Regency furniture, with a profusion of brass inlay, Fleming’s black Wedgwood busts, multitudinous books, and a highly individual collection of pictures, including paintings by Augustus John, Lucian Freud, Victorian lesser masters, and, of course, brass pictures of flighty goddesses and martial heroes.
[Caption:] Fleming’s bedroom, above, has walls papered in bottle green, and such interesting bookmates as A Walk on the Wild Side and Firearms Curiosa; on the round table beside the bed, Lectures on Psychical Research; on the table in the foreground, Dangerous Marine Animals; Northern Underground; Science and History. On the bookshelves on the right: some of the Fleming collection of black basalt Wedgwood busts. The bedspread is a heavy needleworked portrait of “Regina Victoria, 1875.”
This doll’s house has a bowed dining room that seats eight in comfort but must frequently take a willing dozen in diminished comfort, for Anne Fleming is perhaps the most naturally gifted and successful hostess in London, a position due chiefly to her own high vivacity allied with a simple belief that the perfect recipe for an entertaining evening is well-chosen, well-cooked food, good wines, and a group of egomaniacal talkers with diametrically (or, even better, diabolically ) opposed philosophies. The results are noisy, fierce, and memorable.
Fleming is rarely present at these dinner parties (or gab-fests, as he terms them) which are likely to take place at the rate of a couple a week in the season. Forewarned is forearmed, he claims, and at the appropriate moment, he is more likely to be settled in at the Portland Club, temple of gastronomy and the game of bridge, playing an expensive game with reasonably responsive results, than sitting at his own dining table. Returning at midnight, he is likely to find his wife’s guests still at table, still embattled in high-voiced political diatribe, abuse, and argument. Fleming, waving not too demonstrative a greeting, proceeds upstairs to his own room and comparative tranquility.
Occasionally, he openly pines for a quiet little mouse of a wife who might worshipfully await his evening arrival with carpet slippers and a large Martini, but au fond he is another man who needs to re-sharpen his wits from time to time and finds in his wife a ready sponsor for such an enterprise.
They are one in affection for their ten-year-old son, Caspar; less at one perhaps, in their hopes for this young man, for Anne Fleming believes that the highest destiny for any Englishman is to be Prime Minister, while it is certain that Fleming would settle for a lesser, and perhaps more permanent, career. Whatever bent the boy does eventually follow, lucre need not be his primary ambition, for he is the unknowing recipient of much of Fleming’s income from Bond.
By her first marriage, Anne Fleming had two children: a son and a daughter. The son is the present twenty-nine-year-old Lord O’Neill, the fourth Baron. Here, too, Anne Fleming had been daunted in her wish for a politically-minded son, for Lord O’Neill, a gay but self-contained and resolute young man, prefers life on his Northern Irish estates and running a large garage in Belfast to life among the metropolitan politicos. His sister, Fiona, was married three years ago to a young Foreign Office First Secretary, with a considerable reputation as a Russian and Chinese authority.
At this time the Flemings have completed another house in a fairly remote part of Oxfordshire. This new house has been added to the enchanting remains of a seventeenth-century house built by the side of a woodland lake of considerable bucolic charm. Here, the tale goes, Fleming will find the restful background he needs for writing his books, but others suspect that in truth he loathes the quiet sequestered life in England and prefers his present split-level life between London, various golf-courses, and the Caribbean.
Fleming does a good deal of his more ephemeral writing in a small office in Mitre Court, off Fleet Street, a courtway set amongst the chambers of barristers and the offices of journalists. There, for three or four days a week, he keeps more or less regular hours and copes with an avalanche of demands for his views on Life and Luv, revolvers and flick-knives, food and drink, travel and adventure. Here, too, he sees agents, interviews interviewers, and a growing tribe of film men. But his books are written in Jamaica.
He bought his Jamaican property in 1946, inspired by two wartime weeks conniving with the U. S. Office of Naval Intelligence to counter the U-boat offensive in the Caribbean. All those who have a dream house in mind yet can not draw should take heart from Fleming’s enterprise, for although he cannot draw a line, he designed his own house. And the house is the most practical and pleasant house any traveler could hope to find at a tropical journey’s end. Low-built, wide-eaved, wide-windowed, the house is proof against the snarl-up of the hurricane and the downbeat of the sun.
Here, for two months every year—January and February—Fleming is at his mellow best. The transplanted Englishman becomes a genial Caribbean squire. Here his yearnings towards a more exuberant wardrobe are given scope by recourse to an occasional shirt. For the rest it is life in shorts and sandals.
To his resident Caribbean housekeeper, Violet, every word of the master’s is both law and benediction. Every culinary whim must be indulged. Every possible comfort quadrupled. Here he works, with a fierce intensity, as he is one of those men who would rather work as a galley slave for two months than be a ten-till-six serf for eleven. And here the Bond books are written. “I’ve got this bloody man Bond half way up a cliff and must leave him there overnight if I’m to answer your letter. Well, here goes…”
Here, too, he swims for long hours above and between the reefs which ring his private beach. Once upon a recent time he was a keen underwater swimmer, but now, less adventurous, he peers at the nearer denizens, floating away the afternoon, dreaming up, for the pleasure of President and policeman, professor and popsy, yet more improbable situations for superman Bond to love in or escape from, all of which, according to rumour, will be translated into more languages than exist.
I love reading all of these, @Revelator. To the point you’ve inspired me to order Goldeneye: Where Bond was Born: Ian Fleming’s Jamaica. It’s meant to be a good book from what I’ve seen via the reviews. Have you read it? I’m assuming so.
Glad you’re enjoying them! Yes, I have read and can heartily recommend Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born (I even reviewed it). Parker understands Fleming and deftly ties his life in Jamaica to the island’s socio-political history; he also discusses Fleming’s problematic racial attitudes without excessive condemnation or excuse-making. He also made use of John Pearson’s notes and conducted several new interviews, including one with Blanche Blackwell. His book definitely belongs on every serious Fleming fan’s bookshelf.
The World of Bond and Maigret: Fleming Meets Simenon (Sunday Times, Sept. 15, 1963 and Harper’s Bazaar, Nov. 1964)
By Gordon Young
The low-slung black supercharged Studebaker Avanti which drove up one evening last month to the ancient Château d’Eschandens, outside Lausanne, was upholstered in rich black leather. It had self-powered windows, nine crimson-lettered dials on its dashboard and a top speed of 170 m.p.h. It is one of the few cars of its kind in Europe.
Its driver, Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, was paying his first visit to Georges Simenon, author of 167 novels (forty-nine of them filmed) and creator of Jules Maigret. Their meeting had been arranged by Gordon Young, who recorded their two-hour talk, from which the extracts here are taken.
The scene is Simenon’s private study on the first floor of the château, his home. High-vaulted castle windows look out on to a quiet park; white walls are sparsely decorated with a few family photographs and a painting by Fernand Léger. (A Simenon portrait by Bernard Buffet is in the salon on the ground floor.)
In an alcove, racks hold Simenon’s twenty-four pipes and six great glass jars of tobacco. Ten more pipes are on Simenon’s inlaid antique desk, along with a pot full of sharpened pencils, four copies of the latest Simenon Penguin edition—and Simenon’s golden ball, on an ebony block. (Because Simenon needs something to play with while he thinks, Madame Simenon had this solid gold ball made for him by Cartier of Paris.)
Simenon, young and sprightly at sixty, sits at his desk in a spotless white open-necked wool shirt and flannel trousers. Fleming, casual, in a well-worn blue sports shirt and charcoal woolen cardigan, looks like Bond on holiday. Perched on a stool against the wall is Denise, Simenon’s French-Canadian wife and efficient business manager, in a beige woolen suit and brown-trimmed white silk blouse.
Fleming has just come back from playing in a golf tournament at Aigle and, since Simenon is a golfer too, Fleming begins easily with a wry account of his defeat…
Fleming: I was outsmarted. I always thought I was good off my handicap but somebody was better; an American. They were playing a most extraordinary competition…
Simenon: (talking excellent English, with a soft Maurice Chevalier accent) I played a round this morning. But every night when I’ve been playing golf during the day, I think “Why did I miss that shot?” and I try in my mind to find what was wrong, and it takes me an hour before I can go to sleep—and the next day I make the shot worse than I did the day before.
Fleming: I think one becomes too self-conscious. I know that when I address a ball I feel all my muscles, everything working, and I think how the shot is going to be and so forth. Well, that’s stupid; you’ve got to be an automaton, have a repeating swing.
Simenon: I’m not as lucky as you are—you have a 13 handicap. That’s not bad.
Fleming: It’s not very good. But I find golf a wonderful relaxation, anyway. It cuts you down to size and it can be hilariously dramatic.
Simenon: It’s the only way after you’re sixty, and I’m sixty, so…
Fleming: Well, I’m fifty-five.
Simenon: You’re a young man.
Fleming: I read your first books in 1939 on my way to Moscow. I stopped in either Amsterdam or The Hague and there on the bookstall was a whole collection of those very good jackets you had in those days, those photographic jackets. I bought three or four to take to Moscow, and I absolutely adored them. And I think, of course, that if it hadn’t been for those jackets I probably shouldn’t have bought them for years. I think jackets are very important for books. But publishers don’t seem to think so.
Simenon: Oh, yes, now they care a lot about jackets, especially in America. They study a jacket for weeks sometimes and try five, six, seven different jackets.
Fleming: Do they give you a chance to comment on your jackets?
Simenon: They give me the chance, but I don’t bother. I never worry about a book when it’s finished.
Fleming: Really? Don’t you like the way it appears and how it’s printed?
Simenon: Not especially.
Fleming: Oh, I’m very keen on that.
Simenon: As soon as the book is out of this room, it’s out of my life.
Fleming: What about correcting? I mean who does the correcting for you? Does your publisher correct and then send corrections back to you and suggest things or not?
Fleming: Nobody does?
Fleming: I find I make stupid mistakes which they correct.
Simenon: My publisher has not the right to change a comma—not even to suggest to change a comma.
Fleming: Very interesting. But I find I keep on getting into bad habits: I get a word which I use too often. At the moment I’m going through an awful period of using the word “just.” “It was just five miles away.” … “He was just going to get into his motor car,” and I keep on putting this damn word in. It’s like a painter who finds that he’s painted a “face” somewhere in his picture that everyone sees but him.
Simenon: I have exactly the same trouble—but the word changes for each novel. In one book I will always use the word “mais”—“but”—in another always “perhaps,” so it takes me three days to take out all the “perhapses.”
Fleming: Well, I do most of that myself, but I still find…you see, I’ve got a very good publisher’s reader, William Plomer, who’s a great poet and an extremely nice man, and he said some time ago that I never put in any exclamation marks. This stuck in my mind, and so in my last book I put in exclamation marks like pepper. And my publishers left them in. Now only yesterday I got a fierce review in The New York Times saying not only is Ian Fleming a very inferior writer but he has the girlish trick of putting in exclamation marks all over the place. I think a little help occasionally from a good reader is a very helpful thing. How many people read your manuscript before it goes to the publishers?
Simenon: My wife reads the copy every day, but she doesn’t correct anything and she doesn’t even speak to me about it.
Fleming: Well, my wife reads my books and also says nothing, but that upsets me.
Simenon: My wife reads the pages every day and then she doesn’t read it again.
Mme. Simenon: Well, I usually look at the proofs when they comes back.
Fleming: That’s what I mean. Who does the proof correcting?
Mme. Simenon: Well, I weed them a bit.
Simenon: I don’t even send away my manuscripts. When the manuscript has been corrected by me, instead of typing it again it’s Photostatted and it’s the Photostat which goes to the publisher. So the MS never leaves this house. I prefer some little mistakes to a too-cold correctness.
Fleming: Well, you write wonderful French. I read your books always in French when I can. You have one of the most beautiful French styles I know.
Simenon: Some French critics have said I have no style at all. And they are almost right, because what I have tried for forty years how is to avoid everything which is like literature.
Fleming: Not to be too literary? I agree.
Simenon: Yes. To stay as simple as possible.
Fleming: Well, you’ve always been like that. I think that, say, 100 years from now, you’ll be one of the great classical French authors. I’ve always said so. You’ll be the Balzac of…
Simenon: To tell you the truth I don’t care, because I won’t be there.
Fleming: Of course you’ve written novels, you see. In fact all your books are novels of suspense, whereas I write quite a different thing, which is the thriller, a thing of action and no psychology—except that the villain occasionally has to have some psychology to explain why he should be a villain. But I never try to examine my characters in depth, whereas all your books do that. I haven’t read all your books, but probably about fifty of them.
Simenon: I know what you write, but to tell you the truth I have never read it—for one reason, and that is that at age of twenty-five I decided never to read any novels again. And I haven’t read any novels since 1928. Not a single one. I have a lot of friends who are writers and they send me their books and inscribe them. I know your books from the critics, and that’s why I know you very well.
Fleming: Have you written about Switzerland?
Simenon: No, I very seldom write about a country where I live. It takes me a long time. For example, in the United States I waited almost six or seven years before I wrote about America. I prefer to be far away, to have some recul…You stand in Trafalgar Square or the Champs-Elysees and try to describe it in, say, a hundred words. It’s impossible—because you see too many details; you will have three pages instead of a hundred words. But if you are in Tanganyika dreaming about a glass of ale and Trafalgar Square or a terrace in the Champs-Élysées, you will in two sentences give the essential. And that’s why I prefer always to be far away from the setting.
Fleming: Quite true. I write all my books in Jamaica. I can’t really write anywhere else—because there’s a vacuum there and I can only write in a vacuum. I can’t do it in England—life simply won’t allow me to. My friends are quite uninterested in my writing—they think I can turn these things out in five minutes and that this is anyway not literature and therefore deserves no sympathy at all.
Simenon: Here we cut every connection with life around us when I am on a novel. Nobody comes here, not even relations, and I don’t go to town or even to the village. I walk in the garden, I count my steps, and I know how many kilometres I make a day just to get some fresh air.
Young: How long does that go on for—how long do you put yourself through that?
Simenon: It depends on the length of the novel, but not only that. It also depends on whether I write a book at the rate of one chapter a day or if I write a book like I did the last one—one day writing a chapter by hand, and the next day writing it over again on the typewriter. With some books I write in the afternoon one chapter by hand and the next day in the morning at six o’clock I rewrite it on the typewriter. That is what I call doing a book with two sittings a day. But for certain novels I write by hand for one day both morning and afternoon—only one chapter—and the next day I type it, so that takes twice the time. A novel in two sittings takes from eight to eleven days, and a novel with one sitting a day takes twenty-two to twenty-four days—that’s about it. And then the revision takes from three days to one week. I hate revising a book.
Fleming: I don’t mind revising because I feel the book is finished. I’ve done my work and I can play with it then.
Simenon: It seems to me so disgusting when I read my book over again; I say to myself but this is not at all interesting, nobody will read it—it’s so flat and dull and inconclusive. I hate that job.
Fleming: Well, I write straight on to the typewriter and I never look back until I get to the bottom of the page, because otherwise I’m so horrified while I’m writing at what awful piffle it is that I could never get on with it—I’d lose pace at once if I started correcting what I’d written the day before.
Simenon: I understand. I never do it until later; I work until the book is finished. That’s why I like the typewriter, because with the typewriter you don’t look back—you keep your rhythm. You spoke about style a little while ago. I consider rhythm as the definition of style—and the style comes from rhythm, like in music or painting. It’s a question of the rhythm, of the colour, and if you write and keep coming back on it again you lose the rhythm.
Fleming: And you lose pace. I think pace is very important. I think in books where there’s some sort of a mystery, people do want to get on; they don’t want suddenly to have to wonder what is the hero doing, why is he doing this.
Simenon: Yes, that’s even more important in the books you write than in the books I write.
Fleming: But then, don’t you feel that people get rather tired if Maigret, for instance, at the end of a book has to assemble all the suspects and examine them all and give the reader a chance to guess which is the villain? Don’t you have to be very careful not to hold up the speed too much?
Simenon: I don’t pay any particular attention. In most of the Maigret stories I think people know after ten or twenty pages who is the killer or whatever it is. I don’t like to have four or five suspects and have to choose between them. Do you think that the reader of today does still try to guess? I don’t think so.
Fleming: No, that’s very old-fashioned.
Simenon: So you have to give them something else than just to guess. Even my children now guess everything after five or six minutes.
Fleming: Yes, that’s quite true. But of course we’ve still got in England the old-fashioned detective story—the Agatha Christie type of story, with the suspects and the poisoning and all the rest of it. I personally can’t read them, because I’m not interested enough in who did it. But lots of people, the Oxford don and the Cambridge don, go on writing this sort of book. Up to a point in America too—Rex Stout and Erle Stanley Gardner. They’re all exactly the same, the Erle Stanley Gardner ones. I can’t read them. But Stout I always read because his Nero Wolfe is such a splendid monster.
Young: As an ordinary reader of both of you, and a great admirer of both of you, what I have always wanted to know very badly is this: To what extent have your own personal experiences been the basis of your writing? How much of your lives come into your books?
Fleming: Well, from my point of view, practically none at all, except through one’s powers of observation. I invent the most hopeless-sounding plots; very often they are based on something I’ve read in a newspaper. And people say, “Oh, this is all nonsense”—and then the Russians come along in Germany and shoot people with potassium cyanide pistols. Last year a Russian spy got a heavy sentence for killing three West Germans in this way—with a water pistol. So I find constantly that things I’ve read about in some obscure magazine or somewhere are always coming true in real life. But I go around the world a lot—for instance, I set my last book in Japan. Well, I couldn’t possibly have done that unless I’d spent a lot of time in Japan.
Simenon: I never put a precise experience of my own into a book, but everything is experience to an author, every minute of his life. So I wouldn’t write the same books if I didn’t lead the same life. But I never consciously use something I know, or some person I know. For example , I know a lot of people, but I never think when I’m meeting somebody, “Oh, this one will be a good character in one of my novels.” It’s the same if I travel; I never travel as a writer, looking at somebody or taking notes; but twenty years later it comes back and I use it.
Fleming: Do you have to make little notes about, say, a good name, if you see a good name above a shop?
Simenon: No, I never do that. Until last year I used telephone directories. I have 180 or 200 phone books from all over the world and I used them. Then I had some trouble with that. So now I use the Littré (French dictionary). That’s wonderful. You see, almost all French names come from common nouns and trade names—Boulanger the baker, Maréchal and so on. So if you take words from the Littré and somebody happens to have the same name, they can’t say anything.
Fleming: Like Mr. John Butcher, Mr. Sam Baker—yes, I see.
(Simenon takes one of the great red volumes of the Littré from the shelf behind him.)
Simenon: Here, I can open it at any page and you’ll find it full of possible names. I get hundreds of names. (Simenon draws from his desk a four-sheet folder covered in columns of names.) Look, that’s just for one novel. I make this list and then choose my names from it. I use perhaps only ten of these names.
Young (to Fleming): Where do you get your names from?
Fleming: Well, I get a lot of mine motoring—if I pass through a village street anywhere abroad and I see a good name outside a shop.
Simenon: That was Balzac’s way. All his names came from shops.
Fleming: I found particularly in German Switzerland some very good villains’ names. I saw one wonderful villain’s name, but I can’t use it. Unfortunately it was the name of a very respectable builder. It’s getting more and more difficult to find villains.
Simenon: Ah yes. In America there’s only the Cubans left now. Even the Chinese you can’t touch.
Fleming: Of course, you don’t have villains like I have villains. My villains are so black and, as you know, people aren’t really like that. I make them like that. I generally give them a heavy moustache because I dislike moustaches. But I find it more and more difficult to find good villains. I used the Russians marvelously for four or five books; but now, you see, I think we ought to have peace with the Russians, so I’ve had to stop ragging them. I’ve had to invent an international organisation.
Young: The last time I saw her, Madame Simenon let drop a very stimulating remark. We were talking about women or something and she said, “Oh well, if Mr. Fleming has had half as much experience of women as my husband, I’m sure he will be able to talk, very well on that subject.”
Simenon (exploding with laughter): Oh well, you know all my secrets, do you?
Young: So perhaps we can ask now to what extent life enters into your art in that respect.
Fleming: Well, Mr. Simenon is sixty years old and I’m only fifty-five, so he’s got the advantage of five years!
Mme Simenon: It depends a bit on the age at which you started!
Fleming: Yes. I remember trying to tempt my governess once, but I failed. No, I think I make my heroines entirely out of my head and instead of making them too beautiful I try to give them some little peculiarity—a slight limp or something of that sort to make them slightly more true to life, because one’s girlfriends are never perfect. They’ve always got some little thing, so I try to give them something: they are, I admit, inclined to be over-luscious.
Simenon: And people are very seldom in love with a very beautiful woman. A beautiful woman is something to put in a theatre or to make a movie about, but you don’t like to have them in your drawing room or in bed.
Fleming: I talked to an oculist about that, and he said just the same thing. I asked him if he’d ever seen a pair of perfect eyes. And he said yes, he had once, in a woman, and he said they were totally dull. He said it was quite extraordinary, they looked cold and lifeless, and yet he said they were a really beautiful, perfect pair of eyes.
Simenon: And look at the movies, for example. They have to have people with exactly the same two halves of the head: yet such people are not attractive in life at all.
Fleming: Not to me, not at all. Elizabeth Taylor…
Simenon: What we consider in a woman is beautiful is just the little difference! So the more little difference they have, the more chance they have to catch a man. It’s the same with the eyes; a little difference can be attractive.
Mme Simenon: Yes, we call it in French une coquetterie dans l’oeil. It means eyes which are not crossed but just a little, little bit out of alignment. My daughter has it. It gives so much life to her eyes.
Fleming: Very good. Of course that particularly applies to teeth. I can’t understand what the film-makers are doing. They find a girl and the first thing they do is to saw off all her teeth and put caps on. I mean, how dull can you be?
Simenon: It is perhaps because on the film a little irregularity gives a wrong idea of the girl.
Fleming: Now, about Maigret. Where did Maigret, the man himself, come from? Can you remember?
Simenon: Not at all. I wrote the first novel about Maigret not knowing at all that it would be a series. He was a character for one book, so I didn’t care. He just came into my mind.
Fleming: How old is Maigret now?
Simenon: He has no age. In my novels he is still about fifty-three. When I started thirty years ago he was forty-five. I would like to age so slowly. It would be wonderful. Because when I started I was twenty-five and he’s still fifty-three.
Fleming: Bond’s still in the middle thirties. Unfortunately, I’ve had to write his obituary in the next book—oh, the news of his death is exaggerated—but I’ve had to give certain facts that get him to about thirty-eight or thirty-nine. But I’ve had the greatest difficulty in keeping him down. Do you suppose you’ll go on writing about Maigret?
Simenon: Very seldom. You know at first I wrote eighteen Maigret books in a row just to learn my trade, to know how to write a novel, and then I stopped and I said, “Never any more.” And then I wrote just plain novels. But seven years later, I got so many letters from readers that I started again for the fun of it. And between two novels there’s too much time doing nothing. So I decided about once a year or so to write a Maigret. Partly through sentiment and partly as an exercise.
Fleming: Your ambition really is to write the great novel?
Simenon: Not big literary—just plain novel.
Fleming: You don’t want to write a War and Peace?
Simenon: Not at all.
Fleming: Well, I’ve no ambitions at all to write a novel. When I’ve finished writing James Bond I don’t think I shall write any more. I’m getting very close to the end of my tether, too.
Simenon: It would be very difficult for me to live without writing.
Fleming: Yes, I dare say it would be for me.
Simenon: When I stay two months without writing I get almost sick. I lose confidence in myself; I am a man without roots. I feel completely loose.
Mme Simenon: Lost.
Simenon: Yes, lost.
Fleming: Do you feel that as you write you improve? Because if you didn’t improve in some tiny way, you’d get disconsolate, too. You must feel that you are writing better, don’t you?
Simenon: I am not very ambitious, but on each novel I have the feeling that I learn something new, or that I reach a little goal a bit further ahead than the last one. But the question for me is to try to have less artificial story, and less adventure, fewer conventional ideas—to go instead a little deeper under the skin of the man. That’s my goal, but in a way it’s an impossible one. I can’t be God, so…
Fleming: Yes. But do you find you need to meet a lot of people, do you need to move about a lot in order to see more of life, to write more about life?
Simenon: Not any more. I see very few people now; I use my memories of the people I have met. I see them now from far away. And I learn more about people from my children than from people who come here. Each child teaches you so much.
Fleming: And renews you too, presumably, because you can see a lot of your own youth in it.
Simenon: For me the complete novelist is the one who makes the full round of life. I mean that at twenty, for instance, he gives the ideas of life of a boy of twenty and at thirty you can keep the same character, the same situation, and then have a completely different book. At forty the same—and at fifty, sixty and seventy. That’s why Goethe’s such a big man; because he made the full round.
Fleming: Yes. Goethe, I think, was the only homme complet in history. You can’t fault him. Psychologists say that most geniuses are suffering from some kind of physical inferiority or physical defect. I mean Beethoven was deaf and so on. But they’ve never been able to find anything wrong with Goethe. He was healthy, he lived a full life, his sex life was normal, he covered an enormous range of interest—even the pollination of flowers.
Simenon: …and he studied the eye too, and everything.
Fleming: You do read some other books then—not novels, but technical books?
Simenon: Yes, especially medical books. That’s my hobby. I take five or six medical reviews every week.
Fleming: Have you ever been to the Far East?
Simenon: I was in India—but not further than India, because I came from New Zealand and Australia. Before the war when I was travelling a lot I was tempted to go to Japan and China, but I didn’t go because I felt it would not be honest to go just for three or four months. It takes a full year or two to start to understand them. Then I decided to wait until I had enough time to spare—and now I’m still waiting. I went to Russia in 1932. Not to Moscow, but all through the south from Odessa.
Fleming: Is there anywhere in the world you would still like to go to?
Simenon: Everywhere and nowhere, you know.
Fleming: I like se deplacer; I like movement. I even like being in the Montreux Palace. I look out of my window and I see these stupid boats and these idiotic tourists going back over the Simplon…
Simenon: That reminds me of the story of Van Johnson, the film actor. A very nice boy.
Mme. Simenon: He came to Switzerland at the time all the other Hollywood stars were coming here and he stayed one week, two weeks, three weeks, a month. Then all of a sudden we saw him in Cannes. So we asked him if he’d decided where he was going to settle in Switzerland. “NOT in Switzerland; I’m taking the next plane back to Hollywood,” he said. We asked him why. He said: “Well, at first the quiet was wonderful. I’d wake up in the morning and I’d see the lake and the mountains and they seemed just perfect. Beautiful. But then they started getting closer and closer and closer. And one morning I found them at the foot of my bed—and I got OUT.”
Fleming: M. Simenon—have you ever written a play?
Simenon: No. I wrote a play from one of my novels.
Fleming: And was it ever produced?
Simenon: Yes, in France, in England, and America—but that was fourteen years ago. But you know I am not tempted by the theatre. For one reason. I consider it as being something so completely different. It’s the same as if you ask a painter if he wants to make a sculpture. Painting is the size of nature: sculpture is greater than natural size. It’s the same with the theatre. The novel is plain life, it’s natural life. But the theatre needs to be greater than life-size. I’ve spent all my life looking at people from the same level, so…
Fleming: And films? Have you ever thought about writing films?
Simenon: I never cared about that. My wife sells the rights and I never even see the producer or the actors.
Fleming: No, I’m not interested in the least. They consult me, and I give them my ideas, perhaps, at a lunch, but that’s all.
Simenon: I don’t even go to see the films of my books.
Fleming: Have you ever seen any of your television series in England?
Simenon: They came with two and showed me them, and I was quite satisfied.
Fleming: I think they are well done.
Simenon: Very well done.
Fleming: The character’s good.
Simenon: Very good. Rupert Davies. He came here and saw us.
Fleming: He’s thought to be very good in England.
Simenon: But of course, everybody when he reads a book has his own idea of the character. That’s why books with illustrations are always bad, because the illustrations never correspond with what is in the mind of the reader.
Mme. Simenon: That’s one reason why one needs to be more difficult about Maigret than James Bond, because you describe Bond, but my husband never really describes Maigret. I went through all the Maigret books and I tried to make an identica, but you cannot do one. You can read every Maigret that he’s written and you never know whether his hair is red or brown, or the color of his eyes. People think that he’s stocky, but actually he’s tall—that was mentioned in just one book. Maigret has no age, so if he matures ten years in forty years it doesn’t matter. When my husband created Maigret, he was already, then, ageless and timeless. It was an unconscious feat of creation, whereas I think that when you created Bond you had a precise image of him.
Fleming: Quite. One thing would interest me to know. I’m a collector of rare editions, a bibliophile. Which is the rarest of Monsieur Simenon’s books? The smallest edition, for instance?
Mme. Simenon: The smallest edition is not a novel. It’s called Le Roman de l’Homme and it was published afterwards in a very limited edition in France.
Simenon: We keep it a little confidential, actually. Of course, from a bibliophile’s point of view the rarest of my books is Le Pont des Arches—my first book, which I wrote at the age of sixteen. It’s now completely disappeared, except that I have one copy here. I wrote it when I thought I was going to be a humorist. But they didn’t understand it—because of the humour.
Mme. Simenon: Actually, it’s been republished.
Fleming: That doesn’t count from a bibliophile’s point of view.
(A servant comes in with whisky and soda for everyone except M. Simenon who has a glass of iced tea.)
Mme. Simenon: Tell me, Mr. Fleming, why did you have such a bad review of your last book in Newsweek?
Fleming: Did I really? I had a wonderful review in the Herald Tribune—he compared with Shakespeare and heaven knows what all; tremendous stuff. But The New York Times! Anthony Boucher has always hated my books.
Simenon: He hates my books too.
Fleming: Do you pay much attention to your reviews, M. Simenon?
Simenon: No, my wife sometimes shows me one or two and that’s all. I don’t read them.
Fleming: Actually, I’m as interested in my bad reviews as I am in my good ones. Occasionally one gets someone who really sees the point and then, of course, one is delighted. But the bad reviews interest me just as much because very often they deal with a legitimate complaint, which I am very interested to read. I regard my oeuvres in a very humble fashion.
Simenon: So do I!
Fleming: So I really don’t mind if somebody gives me a kick in the pants. I think I deserve it anyway. If you go out into the market-place, you must expect plenty of tomatoes among the roses.
Ian Fleming (Counterpoint: Penetrating Comments on Life And Living, Writers and Writing By 63 Leading Authors, Critics, and Playwrights, by Roy Newquist. Rand McNally, 1964; interview conducted Oct. 1963)
In 1952 James Bond was born—full-grown, suave, dashing, with a taste for fine food, women, and liquor. Since then he has become a giant in the world of contemporary letters, changing little from the day of his spectacular birth, though claiming an ever-widening audience. Perhaps no single character in the loosely-defined area of the suspense novel has captured a market so boldly and held it with such consistency. (Sherlock Holmes is the only counterpart that springs to mind, but he was a sleuth, not an adventurer, and we never did really know whether or not Mr. Holmes ate, drank, or bedded down.)
In speaking to Ian Fleming, the creator of the fabulous James Bond, the first natural question would be the origin of Mr. Bond. Who is he?
Well, it’s almost entirely imagination, but of course I used various people I’d known during the war, spies and commandos and so on, because working in Naval Intelligence one came across these people quite a lot. And I didn’t want him [Bond] to be a glamorous figure at all. I wanted him to be an extremely uninteresting man to whom extraordinary things happen, and that’s why I chose the very dull name “James Bond,” which when you come to think of it is a very dull name, instead of calling him “Peregrine Caruthers” or something even more romantic.
Now the name James Bond I borrowed, without his approval, from a very famous American ornithologist James Bond, who wrote Birds Of the West Indies—which is one of my bibles and remains one of my bibles when I’m out writing in Jamaica, where I write every year—and I thought “well, that’s a jolly dull name, let’s use that one.”
And so the character, which in the first book was a fairly simple straightforward one, has gradually become encrusted with mannerisms and belongings and perhaps individual characteristics and so forth simply in the writing of the stories. But I think if you’ve read the books you’ll find that there’s absolutely no discussion anywhere of Bond’s character—some of his mannerisms of course—but no character study in depth, excerpt perhaps by the Russian secret service, the KGB, which goes into him fairly closely in a book called From Russia, With Love. But I, the author, make no comment really about James Bond, whether he’s a moral person or immoral person or anything of that sort. Just straightforward, quickly-paced stories.
Do you think you’ve put any of your own personality into him?
I couldn’t possibly be James Bond. First of all, he’s got much more guts than I have. He’s also considerably more handsome and he eats rather more richly than I could possibly manage to do. As to quirks and tastes, likes and dislikes, bits of me probably creep in. But not important bits.
The only real criticism of your books that I’ve come across made some reference to the fact that “James Bond novels are studies in sex, snobbery, and sadism.”
I don’t think they are studies in anything, not even in those quite proper ingredients of a thriller. Sex, of course, enters all interesting books and all interesting lives. As to snobbery, I wonder how much it isn’t a very common motivation, perhaps a spur. Wouldn’t all of us like to eat better, stay in better hotels, drive faster motor-cars, write better books? James Bond is lucky; his life is both cushioned and exciting. As for sadism—frankly, the old-fashioned way of beating spies with baseball bats and truncheons became obsolete during the last war. It’s quite permissible to give them a rougher time than we did in more gentlemanly days. But as to “studies in sex, snobbery, and sadism,” I’m certain they are nothing I attempt, want to attempt, or could do properly should I attempt them.
In considering both the character of James Bond, and the general pace of your novels, can you think of any writers who have influenced you?
Two splendid American writers, the great masters of the modern thriller, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. I was influenced by these writers, by their extremely good style and the breadth and ingeniousness of their stories. I suppose, if I were to examine the problem in depth, I’d go back to my childhood and find some roots of interest in E. Phillips Oppenheim and Sax Rohmer. Perhaps they played an important part.
In creating the situations in which Bond finds himself, do you pay a great deal of attention to the authenticity of background?
Yes, I do. I don’t think I’ve ever written about a part of the world which I myself haven’t visited. But you see, I was a reporter for a long time. I have a reporter’s eye and sense of locality, and I add to this by taking notes and buying road maps wherever I happen to be.
Could you describe the ascent of James Bond on bestseller lists?
Well I can’t really imagine [how], because the sales of the books [have] just gone on progressively upward. Actually today I was just getting the sales of my softcover books from America, the New American Library, and also from Pan books in England, and it is an absolutely steady progression, taking a sudden leap in the past two years, both in England and America. That’s partly because of the fact of the first film being made and now the second—Dr. No was the first one, which did very well—and of course the paperback publishers took advantage of the films to increase their prints. I see that my total American sales have gone up to something over eight million—that’s over 10 books I think—and in England about six and a half million, which probably represents more or less the population difference between our two countries. The only interesting point, at least which interests me very much, is that an Englishman should have been chosen by the Americans as a popular hero, because I don’t think it very often happens.
I think there are a few twists that make James Bond seem very American. Likes and dislikes, brand of cigarettes, and his rather full sex life.
There is some American detail. Of course, three or four of the books are set in and around America, and there’s a subsidiary hero, an American named Felix Leiter who’s with the CIA and later with a detective agency.
Of course I get into trouble with my Americanisms. People write in and say I’ve got things wrong here and there. Recently, in fact, I got an assistant librarian at Yale who helps me out if I have an American scene. I pass the book over to him, and he very kindly goes through it and suggests where the American language could be improved, or some of the other usage improved. So I try and get everything correct—it annoys me as much as it must annoy Americans to find America so badly depicted in English books and similarly the mistakes about England made by American writers. It’s irritating, and one as an author really ought to do one’s best to try to get the lingo more or less correct. Particularly the sort of gangster language of which we have an exaggerated idea over here, due largely perhaps to Damon Runyon. But of course gangster language changes with the times, just like beat language, and it’s very difficult indeed, if one isn’t living for instance in America, to keep up with it. But as I say, I do my best, and I’m pleased to find that too many Americans don’t complain.
I still have a feeling that throughout your stories you use Bond, or other characters, to take verbal potshots at certain people or institutions you, as a person, have negative feelings about. Are you aware of this?
Now, I have potshots at a lot of things, including things like American food, which I think is over-frozen, or any [other] kind of food. Quirks I may have I very often put in the mouth of one of my characters. And I unashamedly rag on the Russians because even now they’re up to their old tricks. Only a few months ago we had that big spy case in Stuttgart in West Germany where a Russian assassin, sent by their Secret Service, confessed to the murder of at least two West Germans with a liquid cyanide water pistol, which he fired in their faces when they were going upstairs, so when they fell dead immediately from the effects of the cyanide no trace of it were found on them, and the verdict in fact in both these cases was “heart failure.” So all that’s pretty ingenious, and if the Russians go on doing that sort of thing I’ll have to go on ragging them about it. Much as I think it would be a good thing if we turned off the whole espionage heat and saved us all a lot of money. But still that’s neither here nor there.
Do you think you’ll ever tire of James Bond?
Unfortunately, it isn’t a matter of tiring of James Bond. It’s a question of running out of inventiveness. One can’t go on forever having blondes and guns and so forth in the same old mixture. I do try to find a different milieu for each story and a very different plot. I hate the idea of short-weighting my audience by giving them the same stuff all over again. In fact, I should be too bored to write it myself.
Somerset Maugham, who is a great friend of mine, once said: “Ian, I’m very amused by your stories, but your great trouble will be in running out of invention.” I think that’s probably correct, so how long it will keep going I just don’t know. When I feel the situation slipping, I’ll simply stop writing James Bond stories.
Last year—in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service—I finally became annoyed with your disposal of a heroine I liked. Bond actually married her, then pffht—she was dead. How important is his bachelorhood?
Well, James Bond can’t really be married. He couldn’t settle down, I think. His wife would be very irritated with his constantly going abroad, she’d want to change all his friends and his way of life, and Bond would worry about the measles epidemic back home and his own faithfulness and—no, it can’t be done.
This same problem faced Raymond Chandler. In the last book he started to write, just before he died, he was going to have Marlowe marry a French countess. Well, he was very amusing when he told me about this, about how it really would be the end of Marlowe because she’d change all his habits and friends, he’d take to the bottle, and between her wealth and his faults the personality of Marlowe would be quashed. So in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service I took the easy way out. Tracy is no more.
To turn away from James Bond for a bit. Your career obviously started long before James Bond took it over. Could you outline it?
Well I didn’t start writing James Bond until 1952, [when] I think the first book came out, and before then—mark you, you’ll find this in Who’s Who—I’d been at Eton and Sandhurst and then I went into Reuters, which is a big international news agency and had a great deal of fun there for three or four years. Then I went into the City to try and make some money, but I wasn’t very good at just plain making money, although the city of London is a wonderful club to be a member of, and great fun.
And then I went back to Moscow, where I had worked for Reuters for some time, for the Times of London in the beginning of 1939. And from there I was more or less drafted straight into Naval Intelligence, although normally I would have gone into the army, but they wanted somebody with languages and an alleged knowledge of the city. And I found myself there, where I remained assistant to the director of Naval Intelligence, two directors actually, throughout the war until I was demobilized. Then Lord Kemsley, who owned the Sunday Times and a very big string of provincial newspapers, asked me to come along and organize his foreign service, which of course was great fun to do, and I did that until about two years ago. I was Foreign Manager of the Sunday Times and I’m still on the Sunday Times editorial board, but of course journalism is now completely subsidiary to running the James Bond factory.
You’ve more or less incorporated, haven’t you?
I’ve had to. I am a company, and it’s perfectly legitimate, but it’s the only way to keep all ends straight and to save money from the tax people. However, I am British, and proud of being British, and I’m not going to dodge fair payment by making a dash for Switzerland or one of the other tax paradises. I’ll continue to divide my time between England and Jamaica and save a bit less. But even if the tax thing wasn’t in the picture, I’d have to have a company. There are always too many Bond projects at hand.
In the realm of theory, when you’re writing the Bond stories, do you feel any definite obligation to the hero you’ve created, the situations you employ, the public for which you’re writing?
I think I find more of an obligation to myself. I write the sort of books that I, personally, would like to read if somebody else would write them for me. They’re the sort of books to while away an airplane journey or a plane journey, or if one was ill in bed, the sort of things to take one’s mind off one’s troubles. And I from the very beginning have set out to try and entertain and stimulate the reader through all his senses, even down to his taste buds and the meals that are eaten and so forth, which I find entertains people. Previously you’ll find in books the hero has a meal but you never know what he eats. And certainly in English detective stories people are always just drinking interminable cups of tea or pints of beer and that’s the end of it. It amuses me to put together good food and things I happen to like myself for James Bond to eat them for me.
As far as locations and logic are concerned, I think we have discussed these before. I try to make everything credible, as related to what I know about the rather improbable world of espionage and the parts of the world I’ve visited. A glaring inaccuracy, or a stretching of plausibility, would bother me more than it would any reader.
Again, theory: What advice would you give the talented youngster who is seriously concerned with making a career of writing?
Well, I would tell him to write more or less as he speaks. To try to get an accurate ear for the spoken word and not, so to speak, put on a top hat when he sits down at his typewriter. He must not think that literature has to be literary. I talked over this very subject with Georges Simenon not too long ago, and he made the same point – not that we should write in a less literate manner, but that we should avoid pretentiousness. This may be an oversimplification, but I’d tell the youngster to learn to type well and to avoid literary myths.
In looking at literature and theater at the moment, what do you find that you most admire, and what do you most deplore?
I’ve gotten very tired of this “kitchen sink” period and in fact I haven’t seen any of the kitchen sink plays nor read any of the kitchen sink books, with the exception of Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim, which I thought was amusing enough but not all that shakes. And I must admit that the sort of boiled cabbage school bores me to tears. It isn’t necessary to wallow in filth to know what filth is. Things go altogether too far when filth is viewed as beauty and obscenity becomes accepted communication. The world is drab enough, and sometimes horrifying enough, without having this desolation monopolize our theater, books, and films.
I’m even old fashioned enough to disagree with the findings of the Lady Chatterly case. I think it would have been much better not to push that work out into the world, though I dare say the world will digest it and get used to it as it’s absorbed Miller’s erotic excursions to the tropics. We’ll take any four-letter word without a flinch, and I suppose that those words will ultimately lose their shock, then their meaning. I think that they rather strike an attitude on the page, however, and I refuse to use them.
I’m rather glad that there is, I think, a return to what I might call romantic writing—a sort of story with a beginning, a middle, and an end seems to be returning to favor, and this should be good for everyone.
Note: An 11 minute audio excerpt from this interview can be heard here. Comparing the audio to the printed interview, I noticed several differences. Though Newquist never changed the meaning of Fleming’s words, he changed several of the words themselves and rephrased various sentences during the transcription process.
With that in mind, I have restored Fleming’s original words and phrasing whenever possible. The process remains incomplete, since only an excerpt of the original audio is available and the complete copy is either lost or unlisted. Nevertheless, this interview can be regarded as reliable, if not perfectly exact.
Ian Fleming Talking…1964—and James Bond gets his 13th assignment
by John Cruesemann (Daily Express, Jan. 2, 1964)
In Who’s Who he lists his output as “various novels of suspense,” which might mean anything. Until you come to look at his name again: Ian Fleming, creator of the most enviable hero of our day—James Bond.
In two weeks’ time Fleming flies off to Jamaica to start on Novel No. 13. And last night he talked easily about Bond and himself for, unlike many writers who have become bored with their creations, Fleming still likes Bond a lot.
“I’ve written for 12 years now,” he said. “Of course, one is getting rather old for blondes and guns.” (Fleming is 55.) “The trouble with my kind of writing is that action must be constant. And that requires invention.”
How was Bond invented in the first place?
“He just came out of thin air. There he was: a compound of secret agents and commando types I had met during the war.” From 1939 to 1945 Ian Fleming was Personal Assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence, rising to Commander R.N.V.R.
“The odd thing about Bond is that I didn’t think of him as a ‘character’ at all. I didn’t mean him to have any characteristics except to be a blunt instrument in the hands of Government. But over the years he has become a character largely exaggerated in the public mind.
“The paradox is I made him rather anonymous. Quite deliberately. This has enabled people to identify themselves with him.
“People have simply put their own overcoats on James Bond and built him into what they admire. In my books I don’t actually describe him at all.
“There are all sorts of popular notions. Bond is a gourmet. In fact he just happens to have a good meal now and then, like most of us enjoyed for two days last week.
“He very seldom drinks wine, an occasional glass of very good champagne. That doesn’t make him a wine snob though. Basically he is a hard liquor man.”
Fleming lit another cigarette—“I would like to smoke less, I’ve got a box that holds only 10 cigarettes. The answer I found was to refill it rapidly”—then he went on—
“There is this business about Bond being fastidious over clothes. His shoes, for instance. In fact I’ve never mentioned them, except to say he doesn’t like laces. Any more than he likes buttons. He’s fond of black silk knitted ties, I agree. But there is no snobbery about his clothes.”
I pointed out that two Bond films have stamped an image—Sean Connery. Is he as Fleming conceived the character?
“Yes. I believe he is. He’s good, you know. One thing I put my foot down about when they planned the first film was to choose an unknown actor who wasn’t yet typed.”
Was there anything of Bond in himself? “Nothing. Except that we both happen to like short-sleeved shirts. And I’ve been to all the places he has—so that I can describe them.
“And during the war I got mixed up in a lot of light hearted things.” Which sounds a typical bit of English under-statement, until Fleming smartly pointed out: “Bond is Scottish. On both sides, as I shall explain in my next book.”
Where actually did he get his name?
“Well, there again, I wanted the flattest name possible. One of my ‘bibles’ in Jamaica is a book called Birds of the West Indies by James Bond. That sounded all right to me.
“Two years ago the real Mrs. James Bond wrote to me rather pulling my leg. Her husband is a distinguished American ornithologist, a splendid chap, I believe.”
Fleming continued: “I take a lot from life—plots I mean. They are bizarre, but they are made up of real things.
“Espionage is like an iceberg. So much more is hidden beneath the waves. The trouble is espionage always goes one better than a plot I can think up myself.”
Bond’s attitude towards his girl friends has been criticised as unchivalrous.
“Oh, nonsense,” was the loyal reply. “Everybody complains he leaves the girl behind in some place like Mexico. But he has to get back to headquarter in London, you see. After all he is on a job.”
Now in reverse Fleming is off to his head-quarters in the West Indies. “I can’t put Bond into retirement. Oh, it’s all been a tremendous lark. I never look back on the past: I have no regrets. I am happily married.”
He paused thoughtfully: “It’s just a question of knowing what Bond does next.”
Note: So what on earth did Fleming mean when he said “Bond is Scottish. On both sides, as I shall explain in my next book.” How could he explain this, since in the previous book he gave Bond a Swiss mother? Did he have a brain fart and temporarily forget that? As for TMWTGG, Bond ironically calls himself a Scottish peasant, but that’s it. What Fleming meant shall forever remain a mystery.
The penultimate paragraph of this interview contains two lies by the way. The first is Fleming’s claim to be “happily married.” In reality his marriage to Ann was under horrible strain. “I fear that since the rise of James Bond you do not care for a personality that in any way can compete with yours,” she wrote to him. “If you were well and we were both younger our marriage would be over; but I love you and want to look after you, and grind my teeth when you smoke, and am pleased when you refrain from the deadly gin after whisky, and because of these things I think it would be worth your while to put yourself out a little to do things with me and for me.”
He responded “But for my love for you and Caspar I would welcome the freedom which you threaten me with. It has all been getting worse and worse…Either we survive it or we don’t. There is no one else in my life. There is a whole cohort in yours. I am lonely, jealous and ill. Leave me my pleasures as I leave you yours. Above all, have compassion.”
Fleming’s second lie was “I can’t put Bond into retirement." As Fleming’s letters made clear, he intended TMWTGG to be the final Bond book. He had often toyed with the idea of dropping Bond before, but now—thanks to ill health and a decreasing interest in reading or writing fiction—his threats rang true. As he wrote to his close friend and unofficial editor William Plomer: “I feel totally ‘remis’ though not yet up to correcting my stupid book—or rather the last 3rd of it, but I shall get down to it next week and then you & I will plan whether to publish in 1965 or give it another year’s working over so that we can go out with a bang instead of a whimper.”
You can’t ask for more!
By Rene MacColl (Daily Express, February 24, 1964)
When I met Raymond Burr in Hollywood, I kept almost calling him Perry Mason. And when I met Ian Fleming at Oracabessa today it was difficult not to address him as James Bond.
Fleming is a man who deliberately set about plotting the good life which he now so abundantly enjoys.
It is a life he richly deserves, thanks to his prodigious dedication to hard work and the fantastic imagination which has so far produced 12 books chronicling the adventures of the entirely unstoppable Secret Agent No. 007.
The 12th Bond, You Only Live Twice, which is to be serialized in the Daily Express next week, is set in Tokyo.
“Bit of a lucky coincidence really,” remarked Fleming, with a huge, crumpled smile as he smoked his favourite brand of English cigarette from a small-sized filter-holder.
“The Olympic Games are being held there this year and the topicality might help the sales quite a bit.”
If any author could afford to do without fortuitous help in the sales of his books it is surely Fleming.
So far the Bonds have sold 20,000,000 copies in 23 different languages and No 11, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, is still, after several weeks, in the American best-seller lists, a rare achievement for a thriller.
At the moment the granite-faced Fleming, with his prominent, high-bridged nose and wavy, greying hair, is at work on No. 13, The Man With the Golden Gun, set, like his Doctor No, right here in Jamaica.
“I’ve done about 30,000 words on it,” said Fleming, “but it should by now have been 50,000. I seem to be slowing up a bit—I used to regularly do 1,500 words a day.
“But I didn’t go abroad last year and that’s a handicap. I should travel regularly in order to recharge the batteries.”
Fleming, lanky and sunburned in his trunks and sandals, had come in from swimming. This is a wonderful spot, a 27-acre hide-out he has named “Golden Eye,” 2½ hours’ drive east from Montego Bay along the north coast of Jamaica.
Fleming maintains that he planned the house and garden in his head while still working at the Admiralty in the last year of the war.
Down below is his private beach. From it “The Commander,” as he is known thereabouts, delights in underwater swimming.
Fleming led me into his bedroom where he keeps his triangular working desk. This he has fitted into a corner so that all he can see if he glances up from his typewriter are the blank, whitewashed walls, an old-fashioned lamp with a shade made of “jippa jappa” palm leaf, and the jackets of all 12 of his previous best-sellers as encouragement.
I asked Fleming about the remarkable expertise he shows in all manner of fields. How was the homework done?
“Well,” he said, “they are nearly always subjects in which I’m already interested, such as sharks. And then I always study the best authorities on the particular subject.”
He has no intention of ever abandoning Bond. “When you’ve got hold of a serial character like him it would be a great mistake to let him go,” he says.
“I like to generate a sense of urgency, of almost intolerable excitement. The essence of a thriller is that you have to try and force the reader to turn the next page.
“I really don’t see why Bond should drink miserable cups of tea and dreary half-pints of beer. I insist on seeing to it that the man enjoys only the best.”
“I don’t write to a pattern. I have no priority on the basic things—sex, money, fast cars, luxury living, and so forth. I never write coolly—I get terribly excited myself.”
Fleming has a coloured housekeeper named Violet, who has been with him for 18 years, He has a cook, a housemaid, a gardener, and a gardener’s boy.
He detests such run-of-the-mill food as roast mutton, pudding, and custard. Instead, he and his delightful wife go in for such Jamaican delicacies as curried goat.
Other offerings at the Fleming table—where I enjoyed an excellent lunch—include such exotica as salmagundi (a mixture of raw herring, onions, and spices), salt fish, ackee—a local fruit which, while delicious when ripe is a violent poison if eaten too early—fresh limes, grapefruit, and pawpaws from the garden. And the great legion of fish brought to the Fleming beach by fishermen in their canoes.
Fleming keeps on his desk a loose-leaf “book of golden words,” phrases and ideas which he notes as he goes along.
Among the current ones are: “Mr. Szasz” (Szasz, he feels, would make a splendid villain’s name), “My enemy’s enemy is my friend” (a Bulgarian proverb), and “You won’t have a lover if you don’t love,” which is pure Fleming.
He told me: “One can only be grateful for the talent that came out of the air, and to one’s capacity for hard, concentrated effort. I am perhaps the smallest and most profitable one-man factory in the world.
“If I chose to leave England and live somewhere like Switzerland I could be a millionaire.
“I don’t want yachts, racehorses, or a Rolls-Royce. I want my family and my friends and good health and to have a small treadmill with a temperature of 80 degrees in the shade and in the sea, to come to every year for two months.
“And to be able to work there and look at the flowers and birds and fish, and somehow to give pleasure, whether innocent or illicit, to people in their millions. Well, you can’t ask for more.”
A Redbook Dialogue: Allen Dulles and Ian Fleming (Redbook, June 1964)
Allen Dulles has served in diplomatic, legal and intelligence posts under eight presidents, beginning with Woodrow Wilson. Now retired, his last post was Director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Ian Fleming, prolific author of chilling spy stories, is a former foreign correspondent, and also served as personal assistant to Britain’s Director of Naval Intelligence during World War II.
It is a raw, rainy day. Allen Dulles and Ian Fleming arrive a few moments apart, Dulles first, accompanied by his publisher’s representatives, then Fleming, who is staying in the hotel where the dialogue is to be held. Fleming is also accompanied by a publisher’s representative. Dulles removes his hat and coat, then his rubbers, revealing feet shod in soft bedroom slippers. “I am allergic to wearing shoes indoors,” he says. “I hope no one cares. I believe in being comfortable.”
There is a brief hubbub in the hotel suite as Dulles and Fleming, old acquaintances, greet each other, as coffee is ordered, as appointments are made and as, one by one, the publisher’s representatives, leaving copies of Fleming’s and Dulles’ books, make their farewells. Continuing their small talk. Dulles and Fleming establish themselves in comfortable chairs.
MR. DULLES: Are you staying in this hotel?
MR. FLEMING: Yes, I am.
DULLES: I always did. As long as Uncle Sam was paying the bill. Now my old law office, you know, has a suite in a hotel nearby, so now I use that. It’s excellent.
FLEMING (Sounding like his discriminating fictional hero, James Bond): It’s a good, quiet hotel, without pretensions. But the big hotels, the good hotels, are all gone.
DULLES: Of course, Claridge’s is the best hotel in the world. (Indicating the microphone) Is this thing on?
MODERATOR: It’s on.
DULLES (Laughing): Well, I don’t want to advertise or slander anybody at the moment—not without knowing I’m doing it
FLEMING: Well, come on. Let’s get this over with, Allen.
DULLES (Humorously): Give me a chance to get my breath! Now, what do you want to talk about? I wrote down a few ideas…
FLEMING: Well, I’ve got a few in my head. I think the thing to do is to make it as merry as possible.
DULLES: Oh, I agree with you.
FLEMING: If we can avoid being dull…
DULLES (Playfully): Well, then, let me give you a tip. A few nights ago I was sitting around after a dinner party, and there happened to be three or four ladies about, and I was talking to them. I said I was coming up here to have this talk with you, and they were all fascinated. And then they started talking about your books, and they said, “You know, the only trouble with Ian Fleming’s women is that they’re sort of one-purpose women. We don’t object to the one purpose,” they said, “but we’d like to have a book sometime where there is long-lasting love, where the woman not only participates actively in the operations but comes out as a heroine with some sort of character to her.” I give you (Twinkling) that tip.
FLEMING (With mock gravity): Thank you, Allen. …Well, there have been such women in espionage. They may have existed. But as you know, women spies are difficult people. I mean, they’re emotional. They get involved; and you can’t really control a woman’s emotions to the same extent that you can control a man’s, assuming he’s a normal man. I mean it’s very difficult to say to a woman, “Come on—you must go and make love to So-and-so.” How does one know she’s not going to fall in love? And then where are you?
DULLES: That’s often happened. But some women spies have been very good. You know the history of Mata Hari.
FLEMING (With dislike): She was a hopeless girl!
DULLES: She was very useful, though. She did get information. Women certainly have a part to play in intelligence. And then I’ve found too, on the analytical side of intelligence—even in order of battle—I’ve found women extremely good. Meticulously careful! You have that in England too. You remember that marvelous—don’t you?—that gal who analyzes the photographs?
FLEMING: Yes, yes. Marvelous! You’re right! I’ve forgotten her name… (Referring to aerial photographs taken from a man-made satellite) “Spy in the Sky.”
DULLES: “Spy in the Sky.” Yes.
FLEMING: Quite right! I don’t know your staff breakdown, but I suppose there are a good many women…
DULLES: A great many. They are excellent. Men often are impatient of details. And in intelligence you’ve got to be very careful. Say you have fifteen or twenty reports about the make-up of a certain Soviet army group, and you have all kinds of little pieces to put together like a jigsaw puzzle. What is the true strength of this particular group? How many divisions are there in it? And where are they positioned? And so forth. You give a gal the raw material and I would say that most of the time she’ll be doing it better, if she’s well trained, than a man.
FLEMING: Well, I grant you that. That’s perfectly true. What I meant was that the old-fashioned idea of a female spy, a girl going to bed with a man to find out secrets, that went out with Edgar Wallace…
DULLES (Humorously, still not agreeing): But Mata Hari got, I would say, a good deal of valuable information from her association with high French officials. She was extremely useful.
FLEMING: Yes. But how does one do it? All right; one is in bed with Mata Hari! And she says (Acting it out): “Darling, do tell me about that Howitzer that you just developed.” And you say, “Oh, well, my dear, it’s part of a gun,” and so forth, “and it fires quite a big shell.” And she says, “How big, exactly? How many millimeters?” One simply can’t believe that conversation!
DULLES (Amused): You know, I think it was a London daily that published a most marvelous letter from some gal, going back to the Profumo case—just asking, “At what stage during the amorous dalliance did Christine pop the question about giving the bomb to the Russians?”
FLEMING: That’s it, you see, really…
DULLES: Well, the point is that you establish certain connections which can be used otherwise than in bed. They were enamored of Mata Hari. Some of those men who were enamored, they would see her all the time…
FLEMING: Yes. Well, you’ll be amused when you see my next film, From Russia With Love.
DULLES: That’s the book of yours I like best of all.
FLEMING: Well, it’s great fun. I like it the best too, as a matter of fact. And I think there you have a perfectly reasonable operation by a woman. I mean, the whole operation is quite straightforward. She doesn’t have to ask about howitzers or missiles or anything of that sort. She has a definite job—to make the man fall in love with her, and I must say it’s a lark, this bloody film; you must see it, Allen.
DULLES (Still teasing a little): I will. I will. But—well, there you have it—your point. She falls in love herself. She turns out to be a very nice girl. But in some of your other books—that’s what some of your women readers complain of—they would like to have you idealize a woman a little more than you do. What is your ideal woman, Ian?
FLEMING: The woman one sees from the top of a bus. We’ve got those double-decker buses in London. Perhaps on a gusty, rainy day, and you’re going along on the top, which I rather enjoy doing…You might see half a dozen ideal women from the top of a bus, you know.
FLEMING (More seriously): I think I very much like the WREN type of woman. Or—what’s the name of your women’s naval service?—the WAVES. I like the fact that they seem to want to please, to make one happy. Rather like, you know—if you’ve ever been to Japan; there’s a desire to please among Orientals which I find very pleasant after living in the harsh West. (Pausing) But I think it’s very difficult to say. Because in the end, one ends up marrying entirely the opposite of what one thinks, you know, which I have done.
DULLES: But haven’t you noticed, in a great many cases, after death or a divorce, the next wife will have certain traits very similar to those of the first?
FLEMING: That’s probably true, yes.
DULLES: I’ve seen it again and again.
FLEMING: You know, wives, marriage…The whole business of marriage…It’s a ridiculous institution, really.
DULLES (Laughing): I’m not supposed to assent to all of this.
FLEMING (Continuing seriously): I think anybody who has a happy marriage…Well, both of them are heroes! I mean, both parties of a marriage, a successful marriage, have got to be heroes. Because I think marriage is the most difficult thing in life. I mean, Allen, your job in CIA was nothing—
DULLES (Humorously): I grant that.
FLEMING: —absolutely nothing compared to creating a happy marriage! My golly, it requires intelligence! It requires understanding, it requires intuition, it requires sensitivity, far beyond anything your staff could ever have produced.
DULLES (Again laughing): That sounds very different from James Bond!
FLEMING: Well, I am different. Oh, Lord, yes. Just as I suspect you are different from a lot of the spies you’ve employed.
DULLES (Comfortably): Well, I’m supposed to look like a professor.
FLEMING: A genial professor, yes… But tell me, Allen, how do you like being, so to speak, in retirement? After giving up your tremendous job.
DULLES: Well, one never likes it, really. You adjust yourself to it. I made one big mistake. I thought I was going to be bored when I left, so I took on a good deal more than I can do. I’m on quite a number of boards, and I’m up here—
FLEMING: What kind of boards?
DULLES: Investment companies, things of that kind. They think I know what’s going to happen in the world, you know, and I may be useful. And I’ve written, you know, this book, The Craft of Intelligence, and have two or three more books in the works. And they keep me running around, the publishers. I thought you wrote a book, you know, gave it to the publishers and they did the rest. But they’re after you all the time. I’m traveling all over the country.
FLEMING: Well, particularly in America—you’re required to do too much of this editing, over here.
DULLES (Referring to the dialogue): What I’m talking about is promotion. This is promotion, isn’t it?
FLEMING: I suppose it is. Yes…When was it we met, Allen? You gave a dinner, I recall. Four years ago, was it?
DULLES: It was longer. Six or seven years. And we met (Dryly, very casually)—you remember that man, head of one of your unspeakable—I mean unmentionable—British agencies?
FLEMING (Remembering with pleasure): That’s right! And we sat around…We got…Oh, we had great fun!
DULLES: He’s still going strong, isn’t he?
FLEMING: Yes, he is. Nice chap.
DULLES: Was that about the time you met President Kennedy?
FLEMING: No, no, I met him later. It was in the spring, about March—before he was elected President. I was visiting an old friend, and I was driving along through Washington one day with his wife—a charming person; and there we saw two people on the street and she said, “Oh, there’s Jack and Jackie Kennedy!” And so we pulled up, and she said, “How are you?” and so on—she’s a great friend of theirs—and, “Do you know Mr. Ian Fleming?” And Jack Kennedy said, “Not the Ian Fleming!” Of course, this is the sort of thing that any author, you know—this is just what we love! You know (Playing it out) “The Allen Dulles!” (Dulles laughs) And I sort of blushed and said, “Well, I’m the chap who writes the books.” And they said, “Oh, you must come to dinner tonight,” and so on and so forth. And we went to dinner and we had great fun; and since then—I mean, we became friends, and I always sent the Kennedys my books. And, of course, he did me a fantastically good turn in America by saying they liked my books.
DULLES: Well, I can testify to that. Because I got one of your books from Mrs. Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy; and then I sent her the next two…
FLEMING (Sadly, almost inaudibly): A lot of adventure went out of the world when he died.
DULLES: It did. It did. And lightness and quickness…
FLEMING: He was an extraordinary man. It just hit us like a sledge hammer in England.
DULLES (Quietly): He was—he was extraordinary…In any case, that was when we met the first time, you and I, at that dinner. And then you were kind enough to begin introducing some of our CIA people into your books. In subordinate positions, of course. I say this very politely, you understand.
FLEMING (Also more lightly): Yes…Well, I’ve brought you into my next book also. Comparing you favorably with your successor, who, I have said, is a much more difficult man to get on with—from the British, of course, point of view.
DULLES: I hope not too difficult. Because I’m supporting him in every way I can.
FLEMING: Well, in the book he’s under jurisdiction of the defense council. And he’s very worried about the leaks in England—about the Vassal and Profumo cases, and so forth. Discovering that Vassal, a highly trusted man, had for six years been leaking information to the Soviet—that was quite a thing.
DULLES: Well, we’ve had our own leaks in this country too. I’ve always been very cautious about criticizing. Faced with what we have to cope with in the Soviet system, we’re all going to have spies in our midst. But what we’re doing now—and I hope sometime you can emphasize the fact—is strengthening our counterintelligence. Counterintelligence is getting very, very much better than it was ten, fifteen years ago.
FLEMING: I’m very glad to hear that.
DULLES: And now we’re picking them up.
DULLES: And the fact that you are finding enemy agents in Great Britain too ought not to be a subject for too much criticism. That you have them, that’s damned bad. But you are finding them. And we’ve been finding them here too. But, you know, I think we exchange them too rapidly. I was very much opposed to the exchange of Egorov and his wife before trial. You remember—Ivan D. Egorov, the fellow in the UN who was running a network here…
FLEMING: That’s right…
DULLES: …and we let him go home? Some in his network will he tried, but the chief fellow had been exchanged! I thought we ought to have tried him first—then if you want to exchange him, all right.
FLEMING: Quite. But was that for Powers? Or for whom?
DULLES: No. Egorov and his wife were exchanged for a Fulbright scholar. He was arrested over there in 1961. And for a Roman Catholic priest who’d been held since 1940.
FLEMING: Oh, of course. I remember.
DULLES: I agreed to the Powers exchange. I agreed because, after all, we got value for value there. And Abel—Colonel Rudolf Abel, who had been posing as a lowly photographer in Brooklyn—I don’t think Abel was ever going to talk! You remember, up to that point the Soviets had taken the position that they had no responsibility for him. And so we also won the point that in his exchange we had an admission by the Soviet that he was their spy.
FLEMING: But what’s annoying to me, Allen, is the fact that we work in a democracy and they work in a police state. And nobody makes trouble in their newspapers, Pravda and Izvestia, when they get into espionage trouble.
DULLES: No. It’s never mentioned.
FLEMING: Never! But my Lord, you or I, your country or mine, they’ve only got to sense trouble and the thing makes banner headlines all over the place.
DULLES: Even more so here than in England. You at least have the Official Secrets Act.
FLEMING: How is it you don’t have it?
DULLES: Well, you see, our Constitution is such that that might be deemed impairment of freedom of the press, which is constitutionally guaranteed. I’ve often discussed this question with the Department of Justice—when I was Director. But they always told me that in their view—and I’m a lawyer too, and understand their position—under our constitutional provisions, we probably couldn’t have a National Secrets Act.
FLEMING: Well, I don’t know how the hell you operate without it, Allen.
DULLES: We do have espionage laws.
FLEMING: Yes. But, you see, you’ve some terrible leaks, particularly in some of your scientific publications, as you know.
DULLES: Oh, yes, that’s true. In my book I tried to attack that. And then there was a Polish defector, the Polish military attaché here, who defected from the Polish Embassy in Washington. Well, he wrote a book—Really, the subject of that book is how pleasant it is to spy in the United States! A delightful land for spies! Of course, if they get caught, they can get the extreme penalty.
FLEMING (Worriedly): No. It is difficult, that. I mean, I’ve seen things in the press—I’m only on the fringe of these affairs nowadays—but the enemy’s got imagination, and I’ve seen things put out by some of your absolutely top columnists that put my hair on end!
DULLES (Laughing ruefully): They aged me a good deal too in the days when I was Director.
FLEMING: I’ll bet they did.
DULLES: I mean really did. Sometimes it was ignorance, in the sense that the writers did not realize the importance of what they were telling. Take when we were trying to develop defenses against the Soviet missiles—that is, from the point of view of intelligence—finding out where they were shooting, what success they had, and so forth. I’m not disclosing any secrets now, but there was that radar we had near the Iron Curtain. It was very important. You had to place your radar within reasonable distance of where the missiles were being tried to know what was happening. Well, that was all disclosed! Now, that didn’t do anybody any good. That certainly wasn’t a bit of information the American public had to have to supervise their government. And the enemy wasn’t raising the issue. And it was all disclosed in our newspapers; and it put the countries where the radars were in a very difficult position.
FLEMING: Well, I think you’ve got your problems and we’ve got ours, and I don’t know what you feel are the main security risks in your country. But I think perversions, sexual perversions—the possibility of blackmail by the enemy of people in important positions—is probably one of the biggest troubles. And they’re so difficult for us to find out.
FLEMING (Continuing): …because there’s a sort of trade union among those people, which makes it difficult…
DULLES: Oh, yes.
FLEMING: I mean, if you and Fleming: I mean, if you and I happened to love girls in mackintoshes, we would get together! We would say, you know (Secretively, acting it out) “Look quickly there! There’s a girl in a mackintosh!” (Dulles laughs)
FLEMING (Continuing seriously): But the enemy finds out, and it seems to me that is one of the greatest risks. Now, take this Vassal case we had. It’s so difficult to spot them! He seemed perfectly ordinary, a perfectly ordinary man…And for six years he was working for the enemy because he was afraid he’d he exposed.
DULLES: Well, I think in your country—and I ought to be very careful about any criticism—that maybe you’re a little slow over there in adopting tactics and techniques that might be helpful in finding out. Naturally, you desire to protect everybody’s rights, and so do we.
FLEMING: That’s quite true.
DULLES: Now, I found that what they call the lie detector, is extraordinarily effective in that field. It was perfectly fantastic.
FLEMING: Did you?
DULLES: Not that you ever convict by this alone. We don’t. But, I mean, we get on to them. You use the polygraph and you and you get traces, and then you’re able to follow these traces, and you get a confession nine times out of ten.
FLEMING: We don’t use it—the lie detector—so much, do we?
DULLES: Not so much, but there have been some talks about it.
FLEMING: But doesn’t that come under your ruling here against eavesdropping? I was reading something about that in one your newspapers. Surely a lie detector is a maximum form of eavesdropping! I mean, it’s eavesdropping on somebody’s subconscious!
DULLES: This is different. That man knows that he’s taking the test. As a matter of fact, I always made it a rule in our shop that you didn’t have to take the lie-detector test. (Pausing) But it’s perfectly true that if you refused to do it, we were pretty anxious to know why. And it didn’t help you in getting a job if you refused to take the test. (Jovially) I never took it because they couldn’t throw me out anyway, so I thought it just as well not to take it. But I’ve often wanted to since—just to see how it works. I think maybe I’ll ask them to give it to me now.
FLEMING: It would be interesting for me to give it to you—to see if I could put my finger on some of your secrets. It would be rather fun to try.
DULLES (Laughing): You might try. I don’t think we’ve got time this morning, though. (Continuing thoughtfully) The thing is, in intelligence and counterintelligence you have to be careful—you can trip on anything. It’s a critical business.
FLEMING: It’s all-out war! People who raise questions about ethics, moral standards, that sort of thing, just don’t understand what it’s about. I mean the head of the CIA and his opposite number in in this case Semichastney, head of Soviet State Security—they are absolutely like two commanders in chief in the field! I mean, all right—you see the traffic in the streets and everything’s quiet and orderly here. But those two men have been locked in deadly combat—for years!
DULLES: Yes. It goes on just the same, that combat. But I think our people are coming to realize this, and to realize how much we accomplish. Of course, we’ve got a very different problem now from what we had ten or fifteen years ago. For example, I’ve always been fascinated by Khrushchev’s actions and attitudes. There seems to be something of the shock treatment idea in his actions. You know—surprise them; do something when they don’t expect it! Take the timing of the Belgrade conference of unaligned states. That was the time Khrushchev took to unilaterally break the test ban agreement—oral agreement, the so-called gentleman’s agreement. You would have thought that this was the one time he wouldn’t have done it. Because all those unaligned states were so interested in banning the bomb. But he did. And he took the blame. He just stood up and said, “I’m going to start testing tomorrow!” And he did.
FLEMING: I shall be sorry when Khrushchev goes. I find him sympathetic. I mean, he’s an enemy, an enemy politician, but he’s interesting; a devil we’re beginning to know. It’s a hell of a start.
DULLES: He’s got a sense of humor.
FLEMING: Yes. He’s got a sense of humor.
DULLES: Do you remember that story when I met him at the White House?
FLEMING: Remind me of it.
DULLES (Smiling): Well, when Khrushchev was over here in the fall of 1959—you remember, he went around the States and complained that we wouldn’t let him go to Disneyland, and all that—remember?
DULLES: There was a big dinner at the White House. And I was there, J. Edgar Hoover was there—there were about sixty to seventy people there, quite a big dinner given by the President. And as I went along the line to be introduced to Khrushchev, Khrushchev turned to the interpreter and said something; and then the interpreter said, “Oh, he says he knows you; he reads your reports.”
FLEMING (Grinning): That’s marvelous.
DULLES: Well, you know a reception line isn’t a place where you can stop and argue, so I just shook hands and went on. But after dinner, when the men were in that small room next to the dining room having their cigars and cognac and so forth, Dick Nixon came up and said, “Have you had a good talk with Khrushchev?” I said, “No, I just had a word or two as we went along the line.” He said, “Well, come on up,” and he introduced me. And Khrushchev repeated, “Oh, yes, as I told you, I know you well. I read your reports.” “Well,” I answered, “I hope you come by them honestly and legally." And he said, “You know we do. We all have the same agents. The agents report to me and they report to you. We all read the same reports.” (Laughs)
FLEMING: That’s terribly funny. And of course, there’s a modicum of truth in that story. I mean the spy is a money-maker in the end—at least, a lot of them are in it simply for money—and of course, as we know, a lot of them deal with both sides.
DULLES: I’ve found that the money-maker is the least dependable type of spy.
DULLES: Sometimes money is important. I can think of a number of cases where a man wanted to keep up a certain social position and got in debt or something of the kind; then money plays a role. And as you say, you get people with some sort of problem, and the enemy gets at them and blackmails them into espionage. But there are also the ideological fellows, those who go into it because they really want to serve their country. By and large I’ve found that if you get an ideological fellow, you’re much safer.
[Continued in next post]
[Continued from previous post]
FLEMING: Well, and there are the romantics, the adventurers. The ones who like the excitement…
DULLES: Yes, like James Bond, the hero of your books.
FLEMING: Well, he is more a commando type. He likes adventure.
DULLES: Yes, but he’s working for his government. He’s got patriotic feeling. He’s part of the Service. That’s something I tried to build up when I was the Director—esprit de corps; the fact that we had a fine group of people who had high standards and were part of the team.
FLEMING: Well, in spite of James Bond—who represents the romance and adventure of the game—my books are meant to entertain! It’s a fact that an awful lot of intelligence work is not flamboyant at all.
DULLES: That’s true. The man in my shop in the old days who was largely responsible, I think, for one of the greatest intelligence coups—getting, in 1956, the secret speech of Khrushchev, in which he denounced Stalin to the Twentieth Party Congress—was doing that kind of job. And that coup had effects all around the world. It hit the Communist parties, you know, like a bombshell; it broke up some of the parties. It contributed to the Hungarian uprising. The finding of that speech was the result of very sophisticated work. You see, we knew the speech had been written down. It was much too long and detailed to have been made extemporaneously, even by Khrushchev, who is famous for long, extemporaneous speeches. We knew that it had been given a very limited circulation to the heads of some of the Communist parties abroad. Now, where could you get it?
DULLES: And we in CIA took no credit for it. We gave it to the State Department. We spent weeks analyzing—bringing in all the experts to make sure we hadn’t got a forgery, because there are an awful lot of forgeries and a lot of paper mills, people who turn out completely worthless stuff…
FLEMING: Yes, and double-agent stuff, useless stuff which they sell to both sides.
DULLES: Yes. But finally we got the unanimous view of the experts that this could not be false. There were items in it that no person other than Khrushchev could know. It was a great coup! And that cost us practically nothing.
FLEMING: There you are! As you say, the great stuff generally doesn’t cost a lot of money. It’s the small stuff, the swindles, that cost.
DULLES: Well, due to closer collaboration among the services of the Free World, one has been able to cut that down a good deal too. Because some of those people would sell to two or three allied services too, you see, and as soon as you began to compare notes you saw you were being “had.” (Laughs) You were buying the same goods, just mimeographed on different paper.
FLEMING: Whereas the best agents, the real professionals, quietly do their jobs and generally seem very unimpressive.
DULLES: That’s sometimes a great problem. It’s no secret that wives who don’t know what their husbands are doing sometimes wonder why they don’t do better.
FLEMING: Yes, you get a man who’s perhaps got the job of agricultural attaché; maybe in Moscow or somewhere of that sort. Of course his wife is very worried that from the point of view of his social standing he goes on being agricultural attaché year after year and never gets any promotion. And as for the embassy parties—he’s probably not even invited, because he’s not high enough on the protocol. This is very difficult vis-à-vis the other wives. She can’t say to the other wives, “Joe’s in the Secret Service, you know,” and hear them answer, “Oh, my gosh, is he really!” So Joe goes on as the agricultural attaché, never getting anywhere; and though he may be doing extraordinary work, this means nothing to the wife, and similarly to the children as they grow up. (Acting the question out) “Why is Pa still agricultural attaché?”
DULLES: Sometimes, you know, the wife has to be let in on the secret—perhaps officially—to explain why her husband doesn’t get on. And some of the foreigners begin to ask questions too! “Why, Mr. So-and-so is an awfully smart fellow! Why does he stay on as Secretary of the Legation for five years while younger people who are obviously not nearly as intelligent or clever are moving on?”
FLEMING: Yes, it’s a real problem. But of course, these covers are generally penetrated fairly quickly. A good thing, too. You know, we had a very, very good spy whose job was in the Latin countries—in Italy, largely, and in Paris. When he went over he was a Commander of the Navy, which was his cover. And everybody said, “Oh, here’s dear old—” let’s call him Joe—“Here’s dear old Joe from the English Secret Service!” And people used to come out of the masonry and out of the cabinets, you know, and say, “Thank God, at last we know whom we can go and tell things to.” Actually, it’s very important to have one or two people who are known spies.
DULLES: You know, I had an interesting example of that when I arrived in Switzerland two days after the invasion in North Africa. I barely got in, because the frontier was closed. You remember, when Hitler moved down at the time our troops landed in Africa in November, 1942. Well, I arrived in Switzerland. I just barely made it. They threatened me with arrest at the frontier, but I got in. And the next day there was an editorial in the Journal de Genève, an excellent paper, that said I had arrived, and that though I had come as a mere attaché or special assistant in the legation, really I was the special representative of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Well, I thought my career there was fixed; I thought I was “blown”! And I said to myself, “Well, let’s accept this.” I had denied, of course, that I was anything special, but the more you deny something, the more they believe it. And the result was, as you say, that a lot of people came to me, thinking that I was a special representative of Roosevelt, and it was very helpful. A lot of crooks came in, but there were a lot of extraordinary people too. And often they came to me after they’d tried to get to other secret· service men and couldn’t find them.
FLEMING: Quite. Exactly. It’s good to have an occasional chap above the surface. But then you have to keep your operations especially careful.
DULLES: Yes, yes. You know, the Swiss blackout was one of the things that helped me tremendously.
FLEMING: Was it?
DULLES: You could do things at night. Switzerland was a hotbed of international agents. I don’t think there was any infra-red camera or anything of that kind. So one was able to have meetings at night with all kinds of people, do a great many things I never could have done without the blackout.
FLEMING: Are you going to write that period of your life?
DULLES: I hope to, yes. It’s almost time. There’s a little of in my current book.
FLEMING: Yes. Of course, your government being much easier on all this publication than ours is…
DULLES: May I question that?
FLEMING: Well, you have had some books that went too far. We spoke of one earlier, and we agreed—But we’ve had very interesting book published in England which I see is now on sale here, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. It’s a very, very fine spy story.
DULLES: I’ve read it. I got an advance copy of it. (Playfully) But I thought somebody was invading your field a little bit. You’re having some competition there, aren’t you?
FLEMING: I don’t object to that. Because first of all, I admire this book very much. It’s very well written. But of course, the only trouble about this is, it’s taking the “mickey” out of the spy business.
DULLES (Laughing): Explain that a little bit. I’d like to get you to explain that.
FLEMING: Well, none of us wants to do it. I mean, none of us professional writers about spies want this to happen. We want the romance—at least I do; I’m talking for myself—I want the romance and the fun and the fantasy to go on. If you reduced the whole thing to police daywork or ordinary secret-service daywork, it would bore the reader to tears.
DULLES: Well, I didn’t think this did.
FLEMING: No, no. It didn’t. It was well done. But what he does to the spy story is to take the fun out of it. This is a serious, a most depressing, book. I mean, it’s a book that one reads with great respect, but it isn’t a book I would take an airplane journey. Because it wouldn’t take my mind off the airplane. It might even increase my fears and nervousness—
DULLES: I didn’t even know you had any!
FLEMING (Dryly): Well done, Allen. Now, I’ve got to go now, Allen—
DULLES: Can’t we put in a word—I would like to put in a word about my book here.
FLEMING: Yes, come on.
DULLES: Have you had a chance to look at it?
FLEMING: No, Allen. I haven’t seen it yet. It hasn’t appeared in England yet. I’ll buy a copy here.
DULLES: Oh, no. You’re going to get an American copy. I’ll give it to you.
FLEMING: How much does it cost—four ninety-five?
DULLES: Yes, but I’ll give it to you. I can’t take money. (Fleming laughs)
Moderator: We have one for you.
FLEMING: Oh, hooray!
DULLES (Deliberately): Well, The Craft of Intelligence is the first effort here to really describe in a book the purposes and objectives of an intelligence service and how it operates, insofar as it can be told. And (Humorously, to the moderator) when you reproduce this dialogue, I want something on the book, because that’s—Well, I’m here to see Ian Fleming, but I’m also here to promote my book.
FLEMING: Hear! Hear! I think the thing to do is to end the dialogue on the sort of lines, “All you’ve got to do is read about it in Allen’s The Craft of Intelligence and the latest Ian Fleming!”