Friday, 20 May 2016

Some possible influences in Steve Cole's Heads You Die

(This post contains mild spoilers)

The latest Young Bond adventure, the second by Steve Cole, is now out. Heads You Die, set in 1934, takes the fourteen-year old James to Cuba, where his plans to relax after having a gruelling time of it in Hollywood are quickly scuppered.

After arriving in Havana with his school friend Hugo, James is met by Gerald Hardiman, a family friend. But things aren't quite what they seem, as James encounters pickpockets, a suspicious and tough girl called Jagua, and a man with a concrete fist, and learns that his friend is involved in a terrifying plot that threatens the world.

As usual when reading a Young Bond or continuation novel, there's fun to be had in spotting influences from Ian Fleming's novels and, indeed, the Bond films, or at least speculating on potential links. And Heads You Die appears to have its fair share.

Steve Cole has confirmed that he was inspired by the short story, 'The Hildebrand Rarity', whose influence is evident in the descriptions of James diving off the Cuban coast and character names of Valentine and Lana Barbey. More generally, diving and the sea feature often in the Bond books, and Steve Cole was keen to be the author to introduce James to it.

There are other nods to the Bond books. Take the villain's name. Scolopendra has a familiar ring to it, sounding rather like Scaramanga, Bond's adversary in The Man with the Golden Gun. It's also taken from the scientific name of the giant centipede, Scolopendra gigantea, a creature which shares Bond's bed in Dr No. In the film of Dr No, the centipede was replaced by a tarantula, presumably because the spider was thought more terrifying. In Heads You Die, James has another close encounter with a tarantula, which, as in the film, crawls up his arm.

At another point in the book, James thinks back to holidays at the seaside, recalling the feel of wet sand between the toes, collecting seashells, going rockpooling, and eating Cadbury's Flakes. The passage largely replicates the adult Bond's memories in the opening chapter of On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Then there's a reference to A Field Guide to the Birds of the West Indies by the real James Bond. The young Bond comes across the book (or rather a typescript – the book wouldn't be published until 1936) in Jagua's room.

I thought a description of Scolopendra's lair, with its collection of exotic plants and wildlife not native to Cuba, somewhat reminiscent of Blofeld's 'Garden of Death' in You Only Live Twice, while Scolopendra's right-hand man, El Puño or the Fist, is a graduate of the Jaws' school of henchmen. 

We are introduced to some of James' essential character traits, with frequent reference to St George (it's an allusion that Fleming made, and the concept of Bond as a St George figure is a favourite point of discussion in academic or literary studies) and luck, about which Bond often muses in Fleming's novels. Steve Cole also gives James what may be his first taste of an avocado, although in a club sandwich, rather than served as a dessert (Bond's unusual means of eating the fruit in Casino Royale).

Heads You Die is an exciting read that is packed full of Bondian thrills. As usual, though, I do feel rather anxious for James. Given all he's been through over the years, it's a wonder he doesn't shut himself in his bedroom at his aunt's house at Pett Bottom and refuse ever to come out. Still, I'm looking forward to the next instalment - Strike Lightning, which is out in the autumn.

Heads You Die by Steve Cole is published by Penguin

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Ian Fleming at the Whitstable Literary Festival

Ian Fleming's Kentish connections were celebrated yesterday evening at the Whitstable Literary Festival, which presented talks by Young Bond author Steve Cole, Fleming biographer Andrew Lycett, and historian Matthew Parker. The audience was also privileged to see Fleming's step-daughter, Fionn Morgan, in conversation with Andrew Lycett.

The festival coincided with the publication of the latest Young Bond adventure, Heads You Die, and so fittingly Steve Cole was on hand to discuss the book and the ideas behind it, and reveal some of the secrets of the next book. During a very entertaining hour, Steve Cole talked about the nature of spying and gadgets, and reminded the audience that the most useful gadget a spy could have today is the mobile phone. He also spoke about his research into diving, which in the 1930s was still an experimental and dangerous hobby, and naturally features prominently in the book.

Steve Cole revealed that his previous book, Shoot to Kill, was set in Hollywood because the book was the sixth Young Bond adventure, just as Dr No was the sixth (adult) Bond novel. And as Dr No was the first Bond film, Young Bond would go to Hollywood. So much for my theory that the story was inspired by the 1930s' California of Raymond Chandler, whose work Fleming admired enormously.

More excitingly, Steve Cole let the audience into a secret: the title of the next Young Bond novel, to be published in the autumn, will be Strike Lightning. A projected image of the temporary cover showed the use of a lightning flash symbol within the title. The symbol recalled Nazi imagery, giving us a hint that in the adventure, Bond will be encountering Nazis, as the Young Bond timeline draws ever closer to the start of the Second World War. Steve Cole also revealed that the Tatra – the ill-fated Czechoslovakian car of the 1930s and favourite of German officers – would feature in the book.

Later in the evening, Andrew Lycett spoke about Ian Fleming's life, his contradictory personality, his family background, his love affairs, his relationship with Ann O'Neill, whom Fleming was to marry, and of course his creation of, and feelings towards, James Bond. We also heard about Fleming's connections with Kent. Noël Coward had cottages on the coast at St Margaret's Bay near Dover, which Ian and Ann rented to escape attention and gossip. Locations here would feature in Moonraker, and Fleming's journeys between London and the coast would be followed by Bond in Moonraker and Goldfinger. Ian and Ann subsequently had a house at Bekesbourne near Canterbury (a city which featured in Ian Fleming's children's book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), and Ian was a frequent visitor to the Royal St George's Golf Club, which was immortalised in Goldfinger as Royal St Mark's.

Matthew Parker, author of Goldeneye: Where Bond was Born, spoke about Jamaica of the post-war years, the everything-goes attitude of the ex-pat and jet-set community, the deep divisions between the ruling white elite and the black population, the shocking racism, and the impact of independence in 1962. Matthew Parker also spoke about Fleming's love of nature, particularly birds and fish, and Fleming's affair with Blanche Blackwell.

The final event was an absolute treat: Andrew Lycett in conversation with Fionn Morgan, Ian Fleming's step-daughter. In a series of touching and crystal-clear recollections, Fionn spoke about her fondness for her step-father, Ian's melancholia, and about some of the many enjoyable times they spent together (they would, for example, often eat kippers and buttered brown bread together at Victoria station). Fionn fiercely defended Ian against the view that he had been a bad father to her step-brother, Caspar, and revealed that she had never read a Bond book (although she did attend a private showing of the film, Moonraker). Fionn also announced that she's working on a book charting the relationship between Ian and her mother, Ann, based on their letters. That will certainly be essential reading, and I cannot wait to see it.

Overall, the Fleming evening at the Whitstable Literary Festival was huge success, and left me (dare I say it) shaken and stirred. Now, where's my copy of Moonraker?

Friday, 6 May 2016

It belongs in a museum: James Bond's Walther PPK

Mention the words Walther PPK to anyone, and the chances are they'll identify it as James Bond's gun. There can't be many fictional characters whose handguns are so deeply embedded in popular culture. Dirty Harry's .44 Magnum is the only other example I can think of off-hand, but there may be others.

The Walther PPK is so closely associated with James Bond that any description or history of the weapon is likely to allude to its most famous user. This occurred to me when I visited the Royal Armouries in Leeds last week. The museum has been home to James Bond in the past – in 1997 it hosted the World of 007 exhibition – but it also contains a permanent display of guns that feature in the Bond novels.

The 007 display at the Royal Armouries, Leeds

Naturally there is a Walther PPK, but there is also a Beretta 1919/318, as well as a Luger Model 1908, Sauer Model 38-H, Colt Hammerless Pocket Model, Smith & Wesson Airweight Model 12, and others guns that are mentioned in the books.

It would have been reasonable to display the guns without reference to Bond – each no doubt has an interesting history in its own right – but Bond is useful and popular common factor that brings them together. It seems unlikely, however, that the display would have been considered had the Walther PPK not been so synonymous with Bond.
A Walther PP at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford
James Bond is referenced in another display of handguns, this time in the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford. Information next to a Walther PP again mentions that the PPK model was Bond's weapon of choice.

It is interesting to note that in both museums the Bond references are literary, with reference to the books, although it should be said that the display at the Royal Armouries includes posters from the Bond films. Arguably, however, it is the films which have done most to introduce and perpetuate the Walther-PPK-is-James-Bond's-gun meme in people's minds.

Bond's reluctant acceptance of the Walther PPK, replacing his beloved Beretta, at an early point of the first Bond film, Dr No, is likely to have been a factor; the scene is imbued with significance, and it established a link that hasn't been rivalled. If the gun had been introduced several films later, then chances are the link would have been weaker, because there would have been other, well-established guns, particularly the Beretta, and the Walther PPK would have been required to compete for recognition. In addition, the link has been reinforced by occasional on-screen acknowledgements, for example in For Your Eyes Only ('A Walther PPK. Standard issue, British Secret Service') or GoldenEye ('Walther PPK. Only three men I know use such a gun').

Incidentally, in the gift shop at the Royal Armouries I saw further proof of the strength of the Walther PPK-Bond connection when I picked up Guns: A Visual History by Chris McNabb and published in 2009 by DK Publishing. The book is an illustrated guide to guns through the ages and the information presented is largely technical. Yet, flick through to the section on the Walther PPK and you will see a double-page spread on its role in the Bond films.

As with the vodka martini or the Aston Martin DB5, the Walther PPK is inextricably linked with Bond. The association is so close that no museum display or reference work that features the gun is complete without acknowledgement of it.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Who was the real James Bond?

Over the years, there has been no shortage of speculation about which commandos Ian Fleming meant when he said that James Bond was 'a compound of secret agent and commando types I had met [during the war]'. Among the usual names linked to Bond are Fitzroy Maclean, Patrick Dalzel-Job, Conrad O'Brien Ffrench, and Dusko Popov.

To this list we can add Forest Yeo-Thomas, whom Sophie Jackson in her 2012 book, Churchill'sWhite Rabbit, has claimed was the real inspiration for Bond. As with the others, the evidence is at best circumstantial, but what is perhaps of more interest in this and other cases is the way that the perceived connection, however tenuous, provide selling points for books about the individuals.

It must be said that the wartime exploits of Forest Yeo-Thomas – a member of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) who was parachuted into occupied France, captured by the Gestapo, imprisoned at Buchenwald, and made a daring escape – are the very stuff of Bondian-like adventure. What's more, Ian Fleming was aware of them.

During her research into Yeo-Thomas, Sophie Jackson uncovered a top-secret letter written in May 1945 by Fleming in which he expressed his happiness on learning that Yeo-Thomas, after being sent on his mission, was still alive and had escaped, and his thoughts about the publicity value of Yeo-Thomas' remarkable story.

While the letter proves that Fleming knew Yeo-Thomas and his exploits, it does no more, and the evidence Sophie Jackson offers in addition to the letter to suggest that Yeo-Thomas was the inspiration for Bond – Yeo-Thomas' capture, torture, and escape is worthy of Bond, as is his apparent popularity with women – is hardly conclusive.

But that's firm enough evidence for Sophie Jackson's publisher, The History Press, who makes the most of the connection. The book's subtitle is 'The true story of a real-life James Bond', while associated publicity states that the book reveals how Yeo-Thomas 'provided the inspiration for Ian Fleming's famous secret agent, James Bond.'

In that regard, the book is in good company. The subtitle of the 2002 edition of Patrick Dalzel-Job's autobiography, From Arctic Snow to Dust of Normandy, is 'The war memoirs of the real James Bond'. (This is retained in the French edition, though the Bond connection is emphasised: Le Vrai James Bond. Des neiges de l'Arctique aux sables de la Normandie 1939-1945.) The back cover blurb of Penguin's 2009 edition of Fitzroy Maclean's classic Eastern Approaches begins, 'Fitzroy Maclean was one of the real-life inspirations for super-spy James Bond'. The back-cover text of Russell Miller's 2005 account of Dusko Popov, Operation Tricycle, is more cautious but mentions James Bond all the same.

As Henry Chancellor suggests, there is probably more of Ian Fleming in James Bond than any one commando (and to my mind, judging by statements made by Fleming and the style of the Bond books, a good dash of American private-eye thrown in for good measure). Nevertheless, the link between numerous wartime heroes and Bond remains strong, thanks in part to publishers' copy-writers and continued interest in the role of secret agents and commandos in the Second World War.


Chancellor, H, 2005 James Bond: The Man and his World, John Murray
Macintyre, B, 2008 For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond, Bloomsbury

Monday, 25 April 2016

Two food and drink companies inspired by James Bond

I recently came across two examples of eating and drinking companies where James Bond had inspired aspects of their marketing. One is a cocktail bar in Bristol with the name of Her Majesty's Secret Service, which obviously derives from the title of the film (or book), On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

In addition, the bar's logo has a hint of the heraldic-like artwork used for the marketing of the film, comprising as it does a coat-of-arms-style device of a crowned medallion containing the name of the bar, and flanked by two birds.

The drinks offered on the menu (nicely designed to resemble a passport and available online) are a little unusual – there is no vodka martini in sight – but patrons looking for a Bondian drink could choose a Mojito (which Bond drinks in Die Another Day), an Old Fashioned (ordered by Bond in the book of Live and Let Die), or a Mint Julip (a cocktail which Bond accepts from Goldfinger). , 

If those don't appeal to you, then how about a boiler maker – a shot of spirits followed by a beer
which is also on the menu? Bond goes for a boiler maker (in his case a schnapps washed down with a Löwenbräu) in the short story, 'The Living Daylights'.

The second company is the UK pie-sellers, Pieminister, whose tasty pies are available in pubs, restaurants and by mail-order. At one pub, the words 'Live and Eat Pie!' were spotted on a Pieminister menu. This exhortation is clearly a play on Live and Let Die, and provides further evidence that the title of Live and Let Die is a hugely successful meme, being memorable and adaptable and deeply embedded in popular culture.


Leigh, D, 2012 James Bond drinks: The complete guide to the drinks of James Bond, 2 edn

Friday, 15 April 2016

Dining out with Bond and Marlowe

He went into the kitchen and cooked himself Canadian bacon, scrambled eggs and toast, washed down with coffee. James Bond having a spot of breakfast? Actually, no. This is a breakfast consumed by Raymond Chandler's dogged and wise-cracking private eye, Philip Marlowe. But it could easily have been Bond's breakfast too, bacon, coffee, and in particular scrambled eggs being Bond's favourite. Only the cooking separates the two heroes; Bond has a housekeeper for that.

Re-reading Chandler's 1953 novel, The Long Good-bye, I was reminded how large a role food plays in the Philip Marlowe mysteries, almost rivalling the Bond books for food mentions and descriptions.

In the same book, while investigating the murder of a wealthy socialite, the apparent suicide of the only suspect, her husband, and babysitting an alcoholic author, Philip Marlowe consumes more Canadian bacon for breakfast, a chicken salad sandwich lunch, and evening meals of hamburger, mashed potato and onion rings, and prime ribs and, somewhat incongruously, Yorkshire pudding.

It's clear from interviews with Ian Fleming that James Bond owes his origins in part to the tradition of hardboiled detective fiction, particularly that of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. The last two thirds of The Spy who Loved Me is pure American pulp-fiction (in the best possible way), and generally the action, spare prose, and dry humour (yes, there is some) of the Bond books wouldn't be out of place in a Chandler novel. To that list we can add food descriptions, which offer another point of similarity.

Being a relatively frequent visitor to the US – though not to California, where Marlowe plies his trade (at least not in books; Bond does travel to California in the 1985 film, A View to a Kill) –  Bond would be familiar with Marlowe's food choices. In Live and Let Die, Bond eats a charcoal-grilled hamburger and has a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and coffee at his New York hotel, and orders a chicken sandwich during his rail journey to Florida. In Miami (Goldfinger), Bond enjoys roast prime ribs of beef. Admittedly, Bond doesn't eat Yorkshire pudding in the US or elsewhere for that matter, but he does have a passing thought about toad-in-the-hole, which uses the same batter recipe.

Given their shared tastes, someone really ought to get Marlowe and Bond together for a dinner date. Now that's a parody waiting to be written. Thinking about it, we already have an idea of how that might look on the page. The Bond books feature a laconic private detective, Bond's friend and comrade-in-arms Felix Leiter (who, by his second appearance, is a Pinkerton's agent), with much of Leiter's time spent, it seems, in restaurants and bars.

Not only does Felix Leiter know his food, but he also has his fair share of wisecracks. In Diamonds are Forever, before entering Sardi's, where Leiter introduces Bond to brizzola ('Beef, straight-cut across the bone. Roast and then broiled. Suit you?'), Leiter quips that in Texas, 'even the fleas are so rich they can hire themselves dogs'. Philip Marlowe would be proud of that one, and would no doubt enjoy dining at Sardi's too.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Ian Fleming, Q Central and Q Branch

I was interested to learn recently of the history of Q Central, a British wartime establishment that was just as secret and vital to the war-effort as the code-breaking base at nearby Bletchley Park. What is especially intriguing is the likelihood that Ian Fleming was well-acquainted with the operations of Q Central and its satellite units.

Q Central was based at RAF Leighton Buzzard, a purpose-built station on the edge of the Bedfordshire town. Its importance cannot be overstated. The station served as the communications hub for all radio signals produced by the RAF, navy and army, and those of MI5, MI6 and MI8, as well as other secret units. Operators there also intercepted German radio traffic, which was then forwarded to Bletchley Park, and were responsible for transmitting coded messages and misinformation. It also operated, at the time, the largest telephone exchange in the world.

As personal assistant to the director of Naval Intelligence Division (NID), Ian Fleming would have been well aware of Q Central. He is likely to have known that signals sent by the Admiralty were routed through Section 2 of Q Central, and he was a regular visitor to other establishments in the area that were linked to Q Central.

Milton Bryan studios. Photo by Jayembee1969 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

One of these was, naturally, Bletchley Park. Another, perhaps lesser-known, location was Milton Bryan, a village eight miles north-east of Leighton Buzzard. This was home to the Political Warfare Executive (PWE), Britain's 'black propaganda' unit. Led by Sefton Delmer, a Daily Express journalist and friend of Ian Fleming, the unit recruited writers, foreign-language speakers, PoWs, and forgers to create and transmit material designed to demoralise the enemy.

Much of the information that formed the basis of radio broadcasts directed at the German navy was supplied by the NID. Ian Fleming, along with NID colleague Donald McLachlan, even set up two radio stations, which, from Milton Bryan, transmitted demoralising information to U-boat crews.

Fleming often visited the studios to see the work of the unit first-hand, and when broadcasts of propaganda to what had been occupied France ceased in April 1945, Fleming joined members of the PWE at Milton Bryan for an end-of-operations celebration.

The PWE at Milton Bryan was one of a number of secret and otherwise special establishments in the area, including No. 60 (Signals) Group, which operated radar stations, the Met Office, based at Dunstable, and USAAF Cheddington, whose crews flew sorties to drop propaganda leaflets. At the heart of all this activity was Q Central.

Given its name, and Ian Fleming's connection to the area, it is tempting to link Q Central with Q Branch of the James Bond books. There is no suggestion in the books that Q Branch was based on the wartime establishment – the role of Q Branch is one of supply, gadgets and equipment, rather than communications – but it's possible that Fleming had Q Central in mind when he came up with the name (it should be remembered that there is no Quartermaster in the books). This is, of course, highly speculative, but it seems just as likely as the alternative hypothesis that the name of Q Branch derived from the Q ships of the First World War.

Brown, P and Herbert, E (eds), 2014 The secrets of Q Central: How Leighton Buzzard shortened the Second World War, The History Press 
Lycett, A, 1995 Ian Fleming: The man behind James Bond, Turner