Saturday, 24 January 2015

Winston Churchill in the James Bond books

This week saw the launch of events to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Sir Winston Churchill, who died on 24th January 1965. There will be special exhibitions to celebrate Churchill's life and legacy in Paris, London and at Blenheim Palace, and on 30th January the boat that carried Churchill's coffin down the Thames, the Havengore, will retrace her route, accompanied by a flotilla of other vessels.

There is no doubt that Ian Fleming would have welcomed such a commemoration, as Winston Churchill was one of Fleming's heroes. It was an admiration that began during his childhood. Churchill and Fleming's father, Valentine, both served in the Queen's Own Oxfordshire Hussars during the First World War. When Valentine was killed on the Western Front, Churchill wrote an appreciation of his close friend for The Times. The young Fleming framed Churchill's words and subsequently hung them in every house in which he lived.

Fleming's admiration only increased during the Second World War. As a key figure in the Naval Intelligence Division, Fleming would have had many dealings with Churchill, and the relationship must have been a very positive one. As he revealed in his introduction to H Montgomery Hyde's biography of Sir William Stephenson, Room 3603: The story of the British Intelligence Centre in New York during World War II (1963), Fleming admired Churchill's courage, fortitude, and service to a cause and his country.

When Ian Fleming came to write the James Bond books, inevitably he found a place for Churchill in the novels. In From Russia, With Love (1957), Fleming states that May, Bond's housekeeper, would call no one 'sir', except the king and Winston Churchill. Later in the novel, we learn that Darko Kerim, head of T section (Turkey), has a copy on his desk of Cecil Beaton's photograph of Winston Churchill.
Cecil Beaton's portrait of Winston Churchill
But Winston Churchill seems to have a larger role – almost a speaking part – in Fleming's third novel, Moonraker (1955). As the terrifying truth of Sir Hugo Drax's plans for his Moonraker rocket emerges, M debates whether to have a word with the prime minister, and Ronald Vallance of Special Branch tells Bond that “the PM's going to broadcast” on the day of the rocket launch. At the end of the adventure, when destruction of London has been averted, M takes a telephone call from the prime minister (Bond is with M at the time), who tells M that he wants Bond out of the country to avoid the press as the Moonraker affair is hushed up.

Ian Fleming wrote Moonraker in the winter of 1954. As Winston Churchill was Prime Minister from October 1951 to April 1955 (Moonraker was published in March 1955), it is quite possible that when Fleming was describing the prime minister in the novel, he had Winston Churchill in mind.

The brief allusions to Winston Churchill in the James Bond books serve to underline Fleming's admiration of the wartime leader, which was forged in Fleming's childhood and remained with him for the rest of his life.

1 comment:

  1. Churchill is referenced again in From Russia With Love during the SMERSH planning meeting and is acknowledged as someone who is considered a hero.

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