Sunday, 19 April 2015

How Ann Fleming was kept awake by Three Blind Mice

In a letter to Clarissa Avon (Countess of Avon), written at Goldeneye on 16th February 1964, Ann Fleming wrote, “A new garage at end of garden has a juke box which plays from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m., especially a loud syncopated version of 'Three Blind Mice'”. A few days later, on the 22nd February, Ann wrote to Evelyn Waugh, mentioning the music.
“A new 'gas station' at garden gate possessed of infernal machine called 'sound system'. It relays calypso from 9 p.m. To 3 a.m. Special favourite being a syncopated version of 'Three Blind Mice'.”
The references to 'Three Blind Mice' are interesting, given that a calypso version of the nursery rhyme featured in the soundtrack of Dr No, released in 1962. The song, actually titled 'Kingston Calypso', was composed by Monty Norman and performed by the Jamaican band, Byron Lee and the Dragonaires. In the film, the music accompanies the three blind beggars – in fact assassins sent by Dr No – on their way to kill Strangways. Was this the song that disturbed Ann Fleming so much?


It's possible. The soundtrack album was a chart hit, and Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, thanks in part to the success of Dr No, were billed as 'Jamaica's no. 1 band', and doubtless their music was heard across the island.

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On the other hand, if Ann Fleming had been hearing the Dr No album, it would seem curious that she doesn't mention it or reflect on the irony of being kept awake by the music of a film based on her husband's novel (although any lack of recognition is understandable, given that she failed to find the film gripping during a preview in 1962). Moreover, 'Kingston Calypso' was never released as a single or included on any of the band's albums that had been released by early 1964, and so opportunities for recordings of the track to be heard in isolation were limited (unless the version that Ann heard was a cover).

A more likely candidate is 'Three Blind Mice' by Prince Buster (Cecil Bustamente Campbell), who was a pioneer of ska music in Jamaica in the early 1960s. His version of 'Three Blind Mice', which appeared on the B-side of the single 'Spider and Fly' in 1963, is a ska track and much more in keeping with the syncopated sound heard by Ann Fleming.


Ska and Dr No seem a world apart, but Ann Fleming's letters reveal something of a connection. Monty Norman's 'Kingston Calypso', inspired by the film's more or less faithful portrayal of the three blind beggars in Ian Fleming's novel, was among the first of a number of Jamaican versions of 'Three Blind Mice', and helped to give the nursery rhyme a particular place in Jamaican culture.


Amory, M, 1985 The letters of Ann Fleming, Collins Harvill

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