Tuesday 23 January 2018

Atticus and the origin of Bond's winning bridge hand

A while ago, I described how Ian Fleming’s Atticus column in the Sunday Times, which he wrote from 1953 to 1956, provided him with material for the Bond novels. The reverse was also true. Occasionally, ideas that appeared in the Bond novels would also crop up again in Atticus.

Take Moonraker, for example. In the epic bridge game between James Bond and Hugo Drax, Bond wins by means of the redoubled grand slam, beating Drax with a combination of trumps and diamonds. 

Dwight D Eisenhower, US President from 1953 to 1961, won a game of bridge with a similar hand. In Atticus of June 19th, 1955 (two months after the publication of Moonraker), we’re told that Eisenhower, a brilliant bridge player, who liked to play trumps as an opening lead, won a famous game just before the end of the Second World War against fellow US army generals Gruenther, Clark and Moses. The hand was redoubled, and Eisenhower prevailed with a grand slam in diamonds. Coincidence, or the source of the game between Bond and Drax?

Later in Moonraker, we learn that Drax owns a Mercedes 300 S, ‘the sports model with the disappearing hood’, and painted white in honour of the famous Mercedes victories at Le Mans and Nürburgring.
Cover artwork of the first edition of Moonraker (Cape, 1955)

Atticus mentions a similar model on July 3rd, 1955. In the piece, Atticus reported that American journalist John Bentley (‘the best American writer on fast motoring’) considered that Le Mans had lost its purpose, which was to provide a testing ground for production vehicles. Instead, limited-production cars and prototypes were permitted, and ‘the true spirit of Le Mans vanished.’ 

The Mercedes 300 SLR is mentioned as a case in point. This model is similar to Drax’s car, but, we’re told, its air-brakes are relocated behind the centres of gravity and pressure, which steady the car on racing turns and mininise tail slides, but ‘would be useless’ on normal highways. The piece is accompanied by a photograph of a white Mercedes 300 SLR driven by Pierre Levegh (who tragically lost his life at Le Mans the previous month). The piece has only a tangential connection to Moonraker, but it nevertheless draws on Fleming’s fascination of motor racing that informed passages of the Bond novel.

Atticus gave Ian Fleming the opportunity to research and read up on subjects that would prove useful for the Bond books, but Fleming also turned to the Bond books for material for his later writing.

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