Sunday 25 March 2012

From the pages of the Gleaner

In Ian Fleming's The Man with the Golden Gun (1965), we learn that Jamaica's Daily Gleaner is one of James Bond's favourite newspapers (presumably along with the Daily Express), and he buys a copy when he arrives in Kingston on route to Havana. In Bond's earlier Caribbean adventures, Fleming only adds passing references to the Gleaner, but in The Man with the Golden Gun, we have a lot more detail.

The edition Bond purchases can be dated to the 28th January 1964 or one of two days later. This date is provided by the reference in chapter 4 to French president Charles de Gaulle's recognition of Communist China, which happened on the 27th January. According to Fleming's description, the front page of Bond's edition is taken up with coverage of new laws preventing the consumption, sale and cultivation of marijuana. Fleming notes that de Gaulle's recognition of Red China appears well down the page.

In this case, Fleming was not being entirely accurate. A trawl through the archives of the Daily Gleaner reveals that the front page headline on the 28th January read: 'FRANCE RECOGNIZES RED CHINA'. There is no reference to drug laws. The story continued to be headline news the day after. The main headline on the front page was, 'FRANCE, RED CHINA DISPUTE POLICY'. Again, there was no mention of drug laws. De Gaulle slides from the front page after the 29th January, but there are no front-page references to drug laws over the following few days either.

There are two aspects of the Daily Gleaner that Fleming did record relatively accurately. One was the style of the paper's daily horoscope. Bond reads: 'CHEER UP! Today will bring you a pleasant surprise...' John Griswold gives Bond's birthday as 11th November, and on the 29th January 1964, his horoscope read: ACCEPTANCE: If there's any sacrifices to be made, it seems that you will have to make them.'

Fleming also captured the style of property auction notices rather well. Turning to the back page, Bond sees an advertisement for an auction of a property in Love Lane, Savannah La Mar. The auctioneers mentioned – the C D Alexander Co. Ltd of 77 Harbour Street – actually existed. A notice on the back page of the Gleaner dated 27th January 1964 began:

at our offices, 77 Harbour Street, Kingston
On Friday the 14th February 1964 at 10.30 a.m.
UNDER POWERS OF SALE contained in a Mortgage:-

and ends with the name of the auctioneers, C D Alexander Co. Ltd, and their telephone number, 24897 (Fleming has an earlier phone number, 4897).


Griswold, J, 2006 Ian Fleming's James Bond: Annotations and Chronologies for Ian Fleming's Bond Stories, Author House

Saturday 17 March 2012

Pulp fiction cover art and James Bond

The news that Ian Fleming's James Bond books from April will be published by Vintage – a stable-mate of Fleming's original publisher, Jonathan Cape – raises some interesting questions, not least with regard to cover design. Will Vintage return to the original covers or have covers derived from them, or use different designs altogether?

I recently read Gary Lovisi's excellent book, Dames, Dolls and Delinquents: a collector's guide to sexy pulp fiction paperbacks (2009, Krause Publications), and was reminded of the variation in cover design in the 1950s. In particular, the early US paperback editions of Fleming's first four novels look rather similar to some of the pulp fiction covers shown in Lovisi's book.

The resemblance, of course, was deliberate, as Casino Royale (retitled You Asked For It), published by Popular Library, and Live and Let Die, Moonraker (retitled Too Hot To Handle), and Diamonds Are Forever, published by Perma Books, were marketed to appeal to their publishers' core pulp-fiction reading demographic.

Let's look first at Casino Royale. Its new title, You Asked for It (1955), fits perfectly within the library of contemporaneous pulp-fiction titles, such as You've Had Your Chance (1951) and Take It And Like It (1951). The cover, too, showing Bond in the background smoothly fixing himself a drink, and a cool but sensual Vesper Lynd in the foreground, follows the conventions of pulp-fiction, as we can see when we compare it to, say, Blonde Hellcat (1954). Lovisi would probably place the Bond novel in his category of 'deadly femmes fatales', not least given the tagline: 'She played a man's game with a woman's weapons'. The cover artist is unknown, although Art Scott suggests that it's the work of Ray Johnson, who drew a number of covers for Popular Library.

Unhappy at the title change, Ian Fleming switched publishers to Perma Books. Live and Let Die (1956), the first of the Perma books, kept its title – it fits the usual range of pulp-fiction titles reasonably well – and had a cover, showing Bond and a chained-up Solitaire in Mr Big's lair, that is likely to have appealed to pulp-fiction readers. Indeed, the artist, James Meese, regularly drew covers for pulp fiction, among them Homicide Hussy (1955).

Moonraker followed, also in 1956, but like Casino Royale suffered a title change. The new title, Too Hot To Handle, was again typical pulp fiction. There are a number of similar-in-spirit titles among those selected by Lovisi for his 'Bad girl delinquents' category, such as As Bad As They Come (1959) and The Wayward Ones (1954). The cover, though, drawn by pulp-fiction artist Lou Marchetti, better fits Lovisi's 'Women in peril' category, as the cover for The Double Shuffle (1954) shows.

The final Perma Bond novel was Diamonds Are Forever (1957). This time there was no title change. Perhaps like Live and Let Die the title was consistent with pulp-fiction convention, as was the suitably brutal cover, by William Rose, which showed a women struggling to prevent a man from stealing her diamonds from around her neck. But Fleming was still unhappy with the Moonraker paperback and switched publishers again, this time to Signet.

The marketing of the early Bond paperbacks in the US tells us much about how Fleming's novels were regarded. Given Fleming's pacy, sparse writing style, which was modelled to some extent on American hard-boiled thrillers, particularly those of Raymond Chandler, it is little wonder that US publishers felt that the natural home of the Bond novels was in the world of pulp fiction.

Acknowledgement: Non-Bond covers taken from Lovisi, G, 2009 Dames, Dolls and Delingquents: a collector's guide to sexy pulp fiction paperbacks, Krause Publishing

Friday 9 March 2012

The blue plaques guide to Ian Fleming and James Bond

Explore the streets of Britain's towns and cities and it won't be long before you see an inscribed circular blue plaque on the wall of a building. These commemorate a connection between the building and a famous or otherwise notable individual. Perhaps the person was born there, or lived there, or possibly the building was the place where something was invented or a book written.

There are two plaques dedicated to Ian Fleming, and a number of others commemorated people who are connected to the world of Ian Fleming and James Bond. Let's take a virtual tour around the UK (in a virtual Aston Martin DB5, naturally) and have a look at some of them.

We'll start our tour outside the Duck Inn in Pett Bottom, near Canterbury, Kent. According to the plaque, this was where, in 1964, Fleming wrote You Only Live Twice. Fleming actually wrote the novel in January and February 1963 at Goldeneye, Jamaica, but the inn does have a Bond connection. The inn's mentioned in Bond obituary in the novel and is near the home of Bond's aunt, Charmian.

Photo by shirokazan

As we're close to Canterbury, we can visit the city itself and find St Radigund's Street. A plaque marks the site of a former coachworks and the place where, in 1921-2, Count Louis Zborowski 'constructed two Chitty Chitty Bang Bang racing cars', which would inspire Fleming's adventures about the magical car. While we're in Kent, we might as well visit the coastal town of Deal, some 20km ESE of Canterbury, and go to Middle Street, the home of Carry On star Charles Hawtrey, who played Charles Bind Oh Oh – Oh in the Bond spoof, Carry On Spying.

Sticking to the coast, let's drive south-west to Eastbourne and to St John's Road to find the home of Cyril Connolly, journalist and critic, and author of 'Bond Strikes Camp', a James Bond parody first published in the London Magazine in 1962. Climbing back into the Aston, we'll motor a short distance around the coast to Littlehampton and stop off for some refreshments at The Marine public house. A blue plaque records that members of the 30 Assault Unit frequented the place during the Second World War. Just 40km away in Southsea, Portsmouth, a blue plaque in Castle Road marks the birth place of Peter Sellers, who played Evelyn Tremble (and James Bond) in Casino Royale (1967).

We'll come off the coast road now and head north-west to Horfield, in Bristol. Cary Grant, who discussed taking the role of James Bond with Cubby Broccoli in 1961, was born in a house on Hughenden Road in 1904. Then, as the plaque reads, he was known as Archibald Alec Leach. Now let's head north briefly before driving across the Severn Crossing into Wales. After a quick motor west on the M4 motorway, we reach Cardiff. We'll find Palace Road and the home, marked by a plaque, of Roald Dahl, an acquaintance of Fleming's and the screenwriter of You Only Live Twice (1967) and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968).

We'll continue westwards and head to Milford Haven, on the way stopping briefly at the Belgrave Hotel in Tenby, which, according to the plaque, was the birthplace of artist Augustus John, who painted Fleming's mother, Eve, and sketched Fleming during the war. At Milford Haven, we'll take the ferry to Rosslare, Ireland, and from there drive to Waterford. A blue plaque in Peter Street records that Raymond Chandler, who became a friend of Fleming, and whose Marlowe novels influenced the style of the Bond books, resided at the home of his uncle here during his childhood summers in the late 19th century.

Now, reaching the next stop on our tour involved a long haul to Edinburgh. Not sure of the best route – possibly a drive up to Belfast in Northern Ireland, then a ferry to Troon in Scotland, before heading to Edinburgh. Actually, we need to find Fountainbridge, and the birthplace of Sean Connery, 'Oscar winning actor, international film star', according to the plaque. No mention of Bond, though.

OK, let's head back south. Keeping to the A1 more or less all the way, we eventually reach Borehamwood in north London. A blue plaque in Malden Road, 'honours Sir Roger Moore KBE, distinguished actor who starred in The Saint television series (1962-9) and feature films Crossplot (1969) and The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970) made at Elstree Studios.' Hmm, no mention of Bond here either. Oh well, on to west London and Teddington. Sir Noël Coward, actor, playwright, songwriter – and friend and Jamaican neighbour of Fleming – was born in Waldegrave Road. Skirting round the south and east of central London brings us to Hackney. A plaque in Mandeville Street records the site of the school that Anthony Newley attended (Newley, of course, being famous for, among many other things, writing the lyrics to 'Goldfinger').

Almost at the end of our tour now as we take the Aston at a gentle pace into central London. A plaque in Chesterfield Street, Mayfair marks the home of Somerset Maugham, novelist, Fleming's friend and inspiration for the short story, 'Quantum of Solace'. We began the tour with Ian Fleming, and we'll end it with Ian Fleming as we pull up at 22 Ebury Street, Belgravia, exit the car, and marvel at the blue plaque on the building:

Photo by Gwynhafyr

Saturday 3 March 2012

James Bond traits expressed in Johnny English Reborn

I watched Rowan Atkinson's spy spoof Johnny English Reborn the other day. Very good, I thought, and funnier than its predecessor. As with the Austin Powers series, the film's principal reference is James Bond. Here are the Bondian traits or memes I spotted.

The titles contain elements of typical Maurice Binder titles, notably silhouetted dancing girls and Johnny English posing with a gun in the manner of Roger Moore in the titles of The Spy Who Loved Me onwards.

Incidental music not long after the start of the film is strongly reminiscent of the James Bond theme.

There is a scene in the equivalent of Q's lab. A range of fun but ludicrous gadgets are tested (including a modified Rolls Royce), and overseeing operations is Quartermaine, a name that sounds like quartermaster, of which Q is an abbreviation. And just to make the reference absolutely clear, Quartermaine, channelling the spirit of Desmond Llewelyn, says to English, 'Try not to meddle, English.'

After making a quip about working 'for Her Majesty's Secret Service', English enters a casino – wearing black tie, naturally.

Soon after, there is an exciting chase scene as English attempts to apprehend a henchman connected with Vortex, a group of mysterious assassins. The chase involves free-running or parkour, which is a nod to the free-running scene in Casino Royale. This is followed by a boat chase, which is a staple of Bond films, among them From Russia With Love, Live and Let Die, The World Is Not Enough and Quantum of Solace.

Goldfinger is referenced by way of an updating of the revolving number plates on Bond's Aston Martin, and also a golf match between English and another individual connected with Vortex. In addition, the Rolls Royce is voice-operated, and responds to commands with a female voice with a slight German accent, recalling Bond's BMW in Tomorrow Never Dies.

And speaking of cars, an Aston Martin DBS (Bond's vehicle in Casino Royale) makes an appearance, driven by fellow MI7 agent (and old Etonian), Ambrose, played by Dominic West.

The final act of the film is set in a mountain-top fortress in the Swiss Alps. One cannot help but think of Blofeld's Swiss headquarters, Piz Gloria, in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The narrative leads to English parachuting from the fortress, which recalls The Spy Who Loved Me, and a cable-car fight, which brings to mind Moonraker.

These are the main Bondian references I noticed. I'm sure there are many more, and references aren't just limited to Bond films. For example, there is more than a hint of Where Eagles Dare in both the Swiss fortress and the cable-car fight, while Johnny English's time in the Tibetan monastery alludes to the much parodied monastery scene in Rambo III. The backstory of English's failed mission in Mozambique (shades of Bond's mission in Madagascar in Casino Royale here) induces a nervous tic in English's eye, which recalls Herbert Lom's Chief Inspector Dreyfus in the Pink Panther films. And the title has more of Jason Bourne in it than Bond.

Reviewing the Bond films referenced, the films of Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig seem to provide the main targets for parody. This contrasts with, say, the Austin Powers series, which has a greater emphasis on the films of Sean Connery. It is said that one's favourite Bond is the Bond one grew up with, and so the difference between the two series may reflect the writers' particular era of Bond-film watching. It helps too that veteran Bond scribes, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, are among the writers of Johnny English Reborn. That said, non-Connery Bond films outnumber Connery Bond films by almost four to one, and so the amount of non-Connery Bond material potentially available for parody is much greater.