Saturday, 27 September 2014

The Spy's Bedside Book

As a measure of the growing success of Ian Fleming's James Bond adventures, three passages from the novels were included in The Spy's Bedside Book, an anthology of spy stories and episodes edited by Graham Greene and Hugh Greene and published in 1957. The stories range from tales of Napoleonic intrigue to descriptions of Cold War spycraft, and present the absurdities, banalities and brutalities of espionage.

The three excerpts from Fleming's books are from Casino Royale (1953), Moonraker (1955) and From Russia, with Love (1957). The passage from Casino Royale is in a section called 'Professional Perquisities', and sees Bond ordering dinner for himself and Vesper Lynd in the restaurant of the Hotel Splendide. The passage from Moonraker, placed in the anthology under 'Tricks of the Trade', is from a scene in Blades, M's club. Bond has ordered vodka and proceeds to sprinkle pepper into the glass to take the residual fusel oil to the bottom of the glass. The passage from From Russia, with Love, placed in a section called 'Delights of the Profession', describes Bond's attaché case, the bag of tricks put together by Q Branch.

It is arguable how much of Bond's origins can be found in the writings of John Buchan, William Le Queux, and other early 20th-century spy writers, but these three passages do not seem out of place among tales of imperial and wartime adventures. Apart from Buchan and Le Queux, other authors in the anthology include Sir Robert Baden-Powell, T E Lawrence, Compton Mackenzie, and Rudyard Kipling. There is also room for some of the authors that Fleming most admired: Eric Ambler, Somerset Maugham, E Philips Oppenheim, and Fleming's brother, Peter.

My copy of the book, incidentally, is a former library copy, having once belonged to the library of Seaton Burn County Modern School in Northumberland. For me, what is perhaps as fascinating as the stories are the marginalia and annotations made by some of the book's readers. The marks made on the list of contents pages are especially interesting. The first name of Richard Garnett, who contributed to the Dictionary of National Biography, has been crossed out and replaced by 'Alf', forming the name of a sitcom character who first appeared on British television in July 1965. The name of co-editor Hugh Greene is at one point altered to Hughie Greene [sic], who was a popular television gameshow host on ITV from the mid 1950s to late 1970s. And in all three listings of the Bond passages, Ian Fleming has been underlined, drawing attention to the entries.

Given the date of the Alf Garnet reference, the annotations must date to or after the period of 'Bondmania' that began with the release of Goldfinger in the cinema in 1964. The juvenile scribblings inevitably reflect the cultural environment of the time and provide a little insight into the increasing popularity of James Bond.

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