Saturday, 28 January 2012

Atticus: Ian Fleming's nursery of ideas

Sometimes an idea takes a while to develop before finding expression in a book. Ian Fleming's regular Sunday Times column is a case in point. Under the pseudonym Atticus, Fleming wrote the 'People and things' column for the London paper between November 1953 and August 1955. Reading his articles now, one is struck by the number of stories and ideas that would later be adapted for use in his James Bond novels.

For instance, Fleming's interest in squids and octopuses, as shown by Bond's battle with a squid in Dr No (1957) and the short story 'Octopussy' (1966), was piqued earlier. Atticus of 4th April 1954 included a piece about octopuses and squids, noting among other facts the squid's use of jet-propulsion and the largeness of some octopuses' eyes.

Then, on 18th April, Atticus wrote a piece on Japanese cormorant fishing. Atticus explained to readers how the little port of Gifu, 120 miles south of Tokyo, was the centre of this type of fishing, which was carried out at night using a lantern attached to a pole on the boat to attract the fish, and several cormorants tied snugly by rings at their necks to lines to plunge into the water and collect the fish. The idea of cormorant fishing would resurface ten years later in You Only Live Twice (1964), when Bond accompanies Kissy Suzuki on a fishing expedition.

As John Griswold suggested in his Annotations and Chronologies for Ian Fleming's Bond stories, Magic 44, the code-breaking/intelligence gathering system used by the Japanese Secret Service in You Only Live Twice, was named after 'Magic', the cover name given to the deciphering of Second World War Japanese diplomatic signals by the United States. Fleming had been interested in this before he wrote the novel; he referred to 'Magic' in his Atticus column of 20th June 1954.

The same article also included the first of two pieces on diamonds that Fleming wrote as Atticus two years before the publication of Diamonds Are Forever (1956), and three years before The Diamond Smugglers (1957). In the first, Fleming informed readers about the properties of a 'good blue-white', which, among other insights, has a mass of 426.5 carats. In the second piece, published on 26th September 1954, Fleming refers to the increased security required at the Diamond Corporation, off Hatton Garden in London.

Heraldry was another topic that featured in Atticus. Fleming wrote two pieces on it – the first, in Atticus of 25th May 1954, on the misuse of grants of arms, and the second, published on January 9th 1955, on the coat of arms of Horatio Nelson – eight years before he wrote the Bond novel, On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1963), in which heraldry was an integral part. The stories on diamonds and heraldry that Fleming reported are minor, but potentially important too, as they may have been responsible for drawing his interest in the subjects, which culminated in his writing the two Bond novels.

Ian Fleming was fascinated by facts. Some of the facts he learned while writing his Atticus column were too evidently good to waste in a disposable newspaper. Some of them he remembered and adapted for use in his Bond novels. Other facts may have led him down particular avenues of research, leading to entire novels in which the subject played a key role.


  1. This is a terrific piece and I wish I had written it! I also wish that the Sunday Times (or whomever might have the publication rights) would see fit to issue a collection of Fleming's "Atticus" columns.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Travis. Glad you enjoyed the piece. I agree - it would be great to see Fleming's collected Atticus columns in a single publication (although I don't know whether any of them appeared in the 'Talk of the Devil' volume). The copyright is probably owned by the Fleming Will Trust, which deals with all Fleming's journalism. You never know - we might see more of Fleming's non-Bond writing on future significant Fleming anniversaries.


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