Friday, 13 February 2015

From Thunderbird to Thunderball to Bond: what Ann called Ian

Classic 1956 advertisement for the Thunderbird
In an article published in the Spectator in April 1958, Ian Fleming revealed to readers that he was in love with his car. A Ford Thunderbird, to be precise. Fleming bought the car some two years earlier (for the sum of £3000), and could not get enough of its reliability, acceleration, economy, and streamlined looks.

His wife Ann was not so enamoured about the vehicle or Ian's enthusiasm for it, however, and complained that riding in the passenger seat gave her neck ache. Ian was so preoccupied with the Thunderbird that Ann began to refer to Ian as Thunderbird in her letters to her close friend, Evelyn Waugh. For example, she signed a letter dated May 1959 as Mrs Thunderbird, and wrote in another, dated July 1960, that “Thunderbird thundered into an ice-cream van.” Occasionally Ann abbreviated Thunderbird to T-B or Thunderb., but generally continued to use the name until Ian's death in 1964.

This was not Ann's only pet name for Ian Fleming. Inevitably, Ann's names began to reflect Ian's burgeoning success with James Bond. During her stay at Goldeneye early in 1961, Ann mentioned in a letter to Evelyn Waugh that she “found a giant octopus” and “fetched Thunderball expecting him to collect it.” Curiously, a month earlier in letter to Waugh, Ann wrote, “I shall refuse to be moss on a thunderball,” evidently playing on the expression 'a rolling stone gathers no moss.'

It is little wonder that the title of Ian's ninth Bond novel had been on her mind; at the time Ann wrote to Evelyn Waugh, she had been living with Thunderball well over a year. In early 1960, Ian wrote his first draft of the novel, which was based on film scripts written in 1959. The novel was to be published in March 1961.

With Ian Fleming's increasing success and fame, particularly following President Kennedy's inclusion of From Russia, With Love in his top ten books in 1961 and the cinematic release of Dr No in 1962, came another pet name. In a letter to Evelyn Waugh dated February 1964, Ann wrote, “At least I have persuaded Bond to give his public a rest,” and later that month, wrote again to Waugh to say that, “The Gleaner newspaper gave a luncheon party for Beatle Bond.” The names reflected the view, expressed by Ian Fleming himself as well as others, that there was much of Fleming in Bond, while Beatle Bond acknowledged the coincidence of two cultural phenomena – Beatlemania and Bondmania.

Meant as private jokes between close friends, Ann Fleming's pet names for Ian Fleming chart changing preoccupations and cultural events and offer a fascinating insight into Ann's attitude towards Ian's interests and the rise of the James Bond phenomenon.

Amory, M (ed.), 1985 The Letters of Ann Fleming, Collins Harvill
Fleming, I, 1958 Automobilia, The Spectator April 1958

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