Sunday, 7 February 2016

James Bond in Allen Dulles' Great Spy Stories from Fiction

Allen Dulles, director of the CIA from 1953 to 1961, has a special place in James Bond lore. Dulles was keen to meet Ian Fleming after being persuaded  by Jacqueline Kennedy to read the James Bond books, and a few years after that began an enduring friendship with Fleming after they met for dinner in London (subjects discussed at the dinner table included the U-2 surveillance aircraft). Fleming subsequently mentioned Dulles in his books, in Bond has among his reading Dulles' classic book of tradecraft, The Craft of Intelligence (1963). (Bond himself is a subject of discussion in Dulles' book, which must have made Bond question his effectiveness as a secret agent.)

Dulles continued to pay tribute to Fleming in another of his books, Great Spy Stories from Fiction (Collins, 1969), an anthology of spy stories by, among many others, Len Deighton, Eric Ambler, Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, John Le Carré, and, of course, Ian Fleming. Dulles' recollections of Fleming introduced an extract from the first Bond book Dulles read, From Russia, with Love. Bond is not confined to this section, however, and looms large throughout the volume.

In his introduction to the Bond extract (chapter 28: La Tricoteuse, renamed here as 'The End of James'), Dulles explains how Fleming anticipated changes in public interest (for example from straight spy stories to adventures that featured international criminal organisations), why Bond bears little resemblance to real spies, why the CIA was always on the look-out for agents with Bond's qualities in spite of this, and how Bond's gadgets inspired the CIA's own inventions.

There are more references to Bond in other parts of the anthology. Allen Dulles, in his foreword to the volume, identifies the essential elements common to many spy stories, singling out From Russia, with Love as a novel that comprises most of them, including the quest, reaching the target, and the chase. The introduction to a section on 'the mysterious East' considers that you cannot write about the East if you haven't been there, and cites James Bond as a jet-set agent, having visited Tokyo in You Only Live Twice. A section on 'gimmickry' is inevitably introduced with a reference to Bond's trick attaché case in From Russia, with Love.

The section in which the James Bond excerpt appears is entitled, 'Some losers'. The public, Dulles argues, expects its fictional heroes to best the enemy and be winners. So when those heroes lose the battle, it's a shock for the readers, especially when one of the losers is James Bond, the most popular of all the modern fictional spies, according to Dulles.

The inclusion of James Bond in this anthology of spy fiction reflects Allen Dulles' love of the Bond books, as well as his friendship with Ian Fleming. The frequent references to Bond, however, is testament to the significant, even predominant, place that Fleming's creation had in spy fiction and popular culture by the late 1960s. No anthology or discussion of spy fiction would be complete without Bond.


  1. Fleming and Dulles also engaged in a mutual interview that was reprinted in Redbook. A copy of the CIA's own copy can be read here:
    The article is of additional interest because it's the only time Fleming mentions John le Carre.

    1. Brilliant! Thanks for sharing the link. Wonderful stuff.


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