If you were a Daily Express reader during the late 1950s and 1960s, you would have been lucky enough to read the latest James Bond adventures before they appeared in the bookshops. With the exception of The Spy Who Loved Me, all Fleming's full-length novels from Diamonds Are Forever to The Man with the Golden Gun (plus occasional short stories) were abridged and serialised in the newspaper prior to publication. Fleming bibliographer Jon Gilbert includes a comprehensive account of these serialisations in his Bibliography, but it is worth highlighting here a number of aspects which provide some insight into the rise of the Bond phenomenon.
The first novel to be serialised was Diamonds Are Forever, whose first part was published on 12th April 1956 and heralded by an article by Ian Fleming on how he wrote the novel. Readers were invited to “meet James Bond, secret agent, meet M, his boss, and get ready to meet the girl you won't forget”, and the first part was accompanied by an illustration by Express artist Robb showing giant head of Bond behind a drawing of Tiffany Case.
From Russia, with Love appeared a year later, with the first part published on 1st April 1957. The Express proclaimed that “the 'Diamonds Are Forever' man writes a thriller that is hotter still”, and Robb's illustration showed a (clothed) Tatiana Romanova reclining on a bed. In a drastic abridgement, the Russian-set chapters forming the first quarter or so of the novel were reduced to a preface that took up half a column.
In keeping with Fleming's pattern of completing a new Bond novel each year, Dr No, the follow-up to From Russia, with Love, began its serialisation on 19th March 1958. The work was billed as “Ian Fleming's savage and scorching new thriller”, and was accompanied by an illustration by Robb of the three 'blind' men assassinating Commander Strangways. The first part of the next novel, Goldfinger, appeared on 18th March 1959 and was illustrated by a drawing of Goldfinger – by Raymond Hawkley this time – and a panel from John McClusky's comic strip of the adventure.
Later that year, Express readers were treated with a bonus – the serialisation of the short story, 'From a View to a Kill', which appeared on 21st September under the title 'Murder Before Breakfast'. The Express gave this serialisation more of a splash than it had the others, announcing it to be “the fastest thing in thrillers”, with a pace “tailor-made for the Express”. The serialisation of 'Risico' followed in April 1960 under the title 'The Double-Take'.
As Thunderball began its serialisation on 16th March 1961, the Express asked, “Is Bond's action-packed life beginning to tell?” The illustrations were by Raymond Hawkey, who depicted a somewhat middle-aged Bond in a sports jacket and firing a revolver. After a two-year gap, Bond was back with On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which began its serialisation on 18th March 1963. Robb returned to illustration duties and showed Tracy at the casino.
By the time You Only Live Twice was serialised from 2nd March 1964 onwards, James Bond had become a global phenomenon, and this was reflected in the fanfare that the newspaper gave the latest Bond adventure. “Begins today: For the Eyes of Express Readers Only”, proclaimed the Express, which interestingly reveals that Fleming's title 'For Your Eyes Only' had started to take life as an expression in its own right, with editors now recognising its potential to be adapted for headlines. The Express continued: “The world of James Bond is one of quick death and beautiful women. No other character in fiction has quite so enthralled people of every nation as has this Secret Service agent 007, licensed to kill and trained to do so with knife or with gun or bare hands.” With little mention of it in the earlier serialisations, Bond's code number had also gained significance, and as the introductory blurb in the Express suggests, its meaning was well understood in popular culture. Robb drew an illustration of M (his back to us) in conversation with Sir James Molony. Illustrations in later parts were clearly influenced by the films, as Bond now resembled Sean Connery.
Following the death of Ian Fleming in 1964, the Express was keen to promote the serialisation of his final full-length novel, The Man with the Golden Gun. With the first part was published on 22nd March 1965, the Express wrote, “Never before has there been a fiction character with the fascination of James Bond. Wherever intelligent people meet they talk of him. These coming day – by reading the Express – AND ONLY BY READING THE EXPRESS [Express' emphasis] – you can leap ahead in 'Bondery'.” The illustration by Robb showed a frightened Moneypenny in Bond's arms.
The novel was not the last Express readers had heard of Bond – at least outside the comic strip – and the following year, the short story 'Octopussy' was serialised, beginning 4th October 1965. Again, the Express was eager to promote the story, and it prefaced its serialisation (“a vintage week for connoisseurs of the thriller-hero of this decade: a story stamped with the personality of its author”) with a potted biography of Fleming, concluding that Fleming was “licensed to enthral”. As with 'For Your Eyes Only', the phrase 'licence to kill' had sufficient cultural value to be used idiomatically. The influence of the films is again apparent, as an illustration showed a Connery-esque Bond with Dexter Smythe.
On 18th March 1968, James Bond was back in Colonel Sun. Alluding to Kingsley Amis' earlier work on Bond, the Express revealed that “another entry in the Bond dossier has now been compiled.” The illustration by Robb showed a montage of characters and scenes from the book, recalling the contemporaneous style of Bond film posters.
The history of the Express serialisations to some extent reflects the rise of Bond phenomenon. The later serialisations were heralded with increasing fanfare as the introductions acknowledged the global success of James Bond. In addition, the serialisations provide markers for the point that phrases such as 'licence to kill' began to have cultural resonance outside the books, and they also reveal how the film series exerted its influence on the presentation of Fleming's work.
Gilbert, J, 2012 Ian Fleming: The Bibliography, Queen Anne Press