Sunday, 28 June 2015

Ian Fleming's alternative Quantum of Solace

What does Quantum of Solace mean? In Ian Fleming's story of that name, written in 1958 and published in For Your Eyes Only in 1960, the Governor of the Bahamas tells James Bond that relationships can survive many things, infidelity, money problems, criminal activities, and so on, so long as there was some degree of basic humanity between partners. He calls this the Law of the Quantum of Solace. If the humanity of one partner towards the other has gone, then there is no Quantum of Solace, or amount of comfort, and the relationship cannot survive.

Fleming was pleased with his phrase, and it appeared again in Thrilling Cities (1963). This time, however, Quantum of Solace had a different meaning.

In the late 1950s, Britain's high-earners were feeling the squeeze from the government's tax burden. In fact, the level of tax had been falling after the Second World War, only rising again during the 1970s (the top rate hitting 83% in latter part of the decade). But still, the level of tax in the late 1950s, particularly the top rate, was regarded as punitive.

Playwright and Ian Fleming's friend, Noël Coward, was among those who left the country to become tax exiles. Coward took up residence in Switzerland in 1958 at Les Avants, and in 1963 was looking to make a formal arrangements with the Swiss government with regard to his tax liabilities. “It will mean my financial life will be far less complicated,” he wrote in his diary in November that year.

Ian Fleming sympathised with Noël Coward's plight. When Fleming explored Geneva in the summer of 1960 as part of his Thrilling Cities tour for the Sunday Times, he visited his friend, and in his subsequent piece on the city, complained about the UK's tax regime that was driving the great and the good out of England.

Cover of first edition of Thrilling Cities (1963)
In the piece, Fleming proposed that tax relief be given to those who, through their artistic and creative endeavours, and as judged by an independent tribunal, have contributed in a significant way to the pleasure of the nation's citizens. Potential recipients of this tax relief might include actors, writers, musicians, sports people, and even politicians. The measure would encourage creativity and keep creative ability in the country.

Fleming called this proposed amendment to the tax laws “the Quantum of Solace Clause,” being, presumably, the amount of comfort that British artists and creative people give to their fellow citizens.

It is curious that just four months after his story 'Quantum of Solace' was published in book form, Fleming would mention the phrase again, but with a new meaning and without reference to its original use. Possibly he felt that his fine-sounding phrase deserved wider application, and so wished to dissociate it to a certain extent from his short story. Or possibly the use of the phrase was a subtle means of giving the original story – and For Your Eyes Only – a bit of publicity.

In any case, his piece on Geneva was not the first time that Ian Fleming had alluded to the perceived unfairness of the tax system. In his piece, 'If I were Prime Minister,' published in the Spectator in October 1959, Fleming attributed tax-dodging, expense accounts, and other “fiscal chicanery” to taxation, and called for, among other things, a reduction in income tax. Fifty-six years on, as politicians and commentators wrestle with the issue of tax avoidance, Ian Fleming's views continue to resonate.


Clark, T and Dilnot, A, nd, Long term trends in British taxation and spending, Institute for Fiscal Studies Briefing Note No. 25
Fleming, I, 1963 Thrilling Cities, Cape
Gilbert, J, 2012 Ian Fleming: The Bibliography, Queen Anne Press
Payn, G and Morley, S, 1998 The Noel Coward Diaries, Phoenix Giant

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