Saturday 5 September 2020

Ian Fleming's early literary appearances

Some of the works containing appearances by Ian Fleming

When he came to write the James Bond books, Ian Fleming frequently named his characters after his friends and acquaintances, and sometimes even gave the people he knew walk-on parts. In On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1963), for example, Irma Bunt points out to Bond the presence, in Piz Gloria's restaurant, of Lady Daphne Straight, an old girlfriend of Fleming's, and her husband Whitney, as well as Ursula Andress, fresh from her appearance in the film of Dr No (1962). Ian Fleming was not alone in this habit, and, even before the birth of Bond, had had the same treatment, appearing as a character in fiction and other literary works.

Ian Fleming's first literary cameo was in Public Faces, a 1932 novel by Harold Nicholson. The story, set a few years in the future, follows the tribulations of government ministers and their staff as they deal with a developing crisis and the threat of world war. (The nature of the crisis is somewhat different from the circumstances of the Second World War, but, with the story taking place in 1939, the novel was in many ways prophetic.) Ian Fleming appears towards the end of the novel as himself - a journalist at Reuters ("What's his name? Hemming? Oh, yes, I know, young Fleming") - and has a small, if unseen, role in ensuring world peace.

Alaric Jacob, a colleague of Ian Fleming's at Reuters, gave Fleming his second walk-on part. Scenes from a Bourgeois Life, published in 1949, is Jacob's part-fictionalised autobiography and a polemic on post-war Britain (he bemoans the growth of the suburbs and the rise of the nouveau riche, among other things). His account of his time at Reuters, or Telenews, as it is called in the book, includes a portrait of Fleming, who, in the book is goes by the name of Hugo Dropmore. In his recently published Ian Fleming: the Notes, John Pearson comments on the quotability of Jacob's character study. He's not wrong: it's full of zingers: 

"Hugo Dropmore was a cross between Mr Darcy and the hero of a book by Stephen McKenna" (a novelist whose characters tended to come from upper-class circles); 
"He looked like a young actor who has never toured, but started right in the West End"; 
"He seemed to know something about everything; but if a subject arose on which he was not informed, he would own it at once, and it no longer seemed to matter;" 
"His good taste was such that you never observed what he was up to until it was too late." 

I could go on. These have more than the ring of truth, but I can't imagine Ian Fleming being particularly displeased with the characterisation. The choice of pseudonym is interesting. Dropmore Press was the name of a small publishing house owned by newspaper baron James Kemsley. Ian Fleming was involved with Dropmore from 1949. I don't know whether or not Alaric Jacob based the name Hugo Dropmore on this, but the coincidence is striking.

Over the years, Ian Fleming developed a deep friendship with writer Noël Coward. Fleming had leased a beachside home at St Margaret's Bay in Kent from Coward, and the playwright was an early guest at Fleming's Jamaican home, Goldeneye, famously labelling it 'Goldeneye, Nose and Throat' on account of its resemblance to a hospital (ironically, a leading brand of eye medicine in Jamaica at the time was Golden Eye Lotion). The two became neighbours of sorts when Coward himself came to live in Jamaica. As Fleming discovered, the only problem with being friends with a playwright is that one can end up as a character in a play. This is precisely what happened to Fleming - twice.

Volcano, written in 1957, is a play set in the fictional South Sea island of Samolo, standing in for Jamaica. It focuses on six individuals, whose relationships are tested by marriage breakdowns and infidelities during the eruption of the local volcano. Early on, we discover that Adela Shelley, a widow and resident of the island, had had an affair with Guy Littleton, who has flown in from London with his wife Melissa. Coward based Adela on Blanche Blackwell, a neighbour of Coward's in Jamaica, while Guy and Melissa were a thinly disguised Ian and Ann Fleming. The play, while set far away from Jamaica, painted a picture that Ian and others would have recognised, fictionalising the real-life affair between Blanche and Ian and giving voice to the sort of feelings that Ann had expressed about Blanche, Ian and Jamaica itself. 

Goldeneye is also alluded to in the play. Guy and Melissa are staying at 'Le Tellier's beach house'. Melissa tells Adela: 

"Guy loves it because of the lagoon and the reef; he spends most of the day under water spearing those unfortunate fish...Mr Le Tellier must be a rather Spartan type, the furniture is so unforgiving. He built the house by himself, didn't he?"
Perhaps fortunately for Ian and Ann, the play was never publicly performed until 2000, although it did have a rehearsed reading in 1989, with Judi Dench in the role of Adela and her husband, Michael Williams, in the role of Guy. The play was performed again in 2012, with Judi's daughter Finty taking a role.  

Reading the play, I was reminded of 'Quantum of Solace', Ian Fleming's short story, published in 1960, which deals with the breakdown of a relationship. Though the tale was inspired most directly by 'His Excellency', a short story by Somerset Maugham, its themes could easily have been drawn from Coward's play. 

Noël Coward returned to the subject of love and lust in Samolo in his 1960 novel Pomp and Circumstance, a comical tale set against the backdrop of an impending royal visit. Ian Fleming once again proved inspirational, spawning a character called Bunny Colville, whose roving eye leads to all sorts of complications among Samolan high society. Bunny's tropical house, incidentally, has the hallmarks of Goldeneye: an uncomfortable house that overlooks a coral beach (accessed via concrete steps), a large living room, and the general appearance of an austere and over-masculine barrack. 

Since his death, Ian Fleming has made further appearances in novels, for instance in William Boyd's Any Human Heart. But it is worth returning to his earliest appearances - written by people who knew him best. 


Coward, N, 1960 Pomp and Circumstance, Heinemann

Coward, N, 2018 Collected Plays: Nine (introduced by Barry Day), Bloomsbury

Jacob, A, 1949 Scenes from a Bourgeois Life, Secker and Warburg

Lycett, A, 1995 Ian Fleming: The Man Behind James Bond, Turner

Nicolson, H, 1944 Public Faces, Penguin

Saturday 30 May 2020

Ian Fleming: The Notes - some questions

May saw the publication by Queen Anne Press of John Pearson's Ian Fleming - The Notes, literally a volume of the notes that John Pearson wrote up after his interviews while preparing his biography of Ian Fleming, published in 1966. John Pearson has called it a book about writing a book, but it is more than that. Packed with candid reflections by those who knew Ian Fleming that didn't necessarily appear in the biography, as well as John Pearson's initial thoughts and queries, the book is, in essence, the reading between the lines. 

The book is a perfect companion to the 1966 biography, adding detail and putting people, events, and places into better context. There are aspects, too, notably Fleming's wartime experiences, that evidently could not be properly addressed by John Pearson, but have since been examined more fully by subsequent accounts by Andrew Lycett, Nicholas Rankin, Henry Hemming and others. The book also alluded to other points of interest, mainly relating to Ian Fleming's writing, that don't appear to have been followed up in John Pearson's or subsequent biographies, but are nevertheless very intriguing. If anyone can supply any answers to my questions raised by these matters, I'd be extremely grateful.

001. Ian Fleming had once said to fellow author Eric Ambler that he (Fleming) had written some 250 television scripts while in the US. Presumably Ambler meant television treatments, of which we know of ten or so, some of which were recycled by Fleming for short stories or have now seen the light of day in Anthony Horowitz's continuation Bond novels. I'm assuming that 250 scripts is a gross exaggeration or that the number was misremembered by Ambler. But is there a chance that Fleming wrote many more than those we know about?

002. Hugh Vivian-Smith told John Pearson that, while at City stockbrokers Rowe & Pitman, Ian Fleming contributed to the firm's newsletters. Do these newsletters exist still in the company's archives? Can they be accessed?

003. John Pearson makes a note to himself that among the items of Fleming's writing to dig out is an adaption of One Arabian Night, a television script by Sydney Carroll for Cary Grant. Does this piece of writing exist? If so, what form of adaptation does it take - a novel, a short story?

004. Al Hart, Ian Fleming's editor at the publishers Macmillans, recounted a story that Ian Fleming had told Princess Margaret. The story was about a traveller that had arrived at a castle. He is welcomed in by the owner and stays the night. While in bed, the traveller is visited by a beautiful woman who sleeps with him. In the morning, the guest says to his host that he's sorry he didn't meant the host's wife. His host tells him that, to his great sorrow, his wife is a leper. This story sounds remarkably like 'The Visitor', a short story by Roald Dahl that was published in Playboy in 1965. In his interview with John Pearson, Roald Dahl said that Fleming came up with several story ideas, but the only one that Dahl took was 'Lamb to the Slaughter'. Might there in fact have been more, 'The Visitor' being one, or did Fleming take the story from Dahl before it was published?

005. Finally, the volume reminded me that John Pearson assisted Ian Fleming with his 'Atticus' column at the Sunday Times and on occasion wrote some of the copy. The dates of Fleming's tenure as Atticus remains a little fuzzy, and it's not always clear which entries he was responsible for. To the powers that be, would it be possible to have an edited volume of Ian Fleming's 'Atticus' containing a selection of his best or most interesting pieces (like this or this) and a precise chronology? 

Whatever the answers to these questions, Ian Fleming - The Notes is fascinating read and an essential addition to the Fleming scholar's library. 

Sunday 24 May 2020

No Time To Die in the Gleaner

Back in 2013, during the 40th anniversary of the release of Live and Let Die (1973), I trawled through the archives of the Gleaner, probably Jamaica's best-known newspaper which James Bond reads from time to time in the novels, to find out how the newspaper covered the filming of Roger Moore's first Bond film, much of which was set on the island. 

The previous year, I delved into the Gleaner's archives to find out how the paper covered the filming of Sean Connery's first outing as Bond, Dr No (1962).  

Last year, Eon Productions returned to Jamaica to begin filming on Daniel Craig's final Bond effort (probably), No Time To Die. How did the coverage compare with that for Live and Let Die and Dr No? Did the presence of the film crew generate as much interest? Did James Bond still have a place in Jamaica's cultural environment? Once again, I took a look through the archives. 

The day after Eon's press conference to at Ian Fleming's former winter home, Goldeneye, James Bond was on the front page of the Gleaner on 26th April 2019. '007 comes home', ran the headline, with the article beginning with the familiar phrase: 'We've been expecting you, Mr Bond.' There was more inside the paper, with the item about the event taking up almost half a page. Apart from reporting what was revealed at the press conference, the article focused on the impact that the filming would have on the local economy; it was expected, the paper reported, that the filming would be mean employment for nearly a thousand Jamaicans, gaining work as extras, film crew and in support services, such as accommodation and transportation.

The Gleaner, 26th April 2019
The following day, the Gleaner published another photo of the launch event, this time of Daniel Craig, Naomi Harris and director Cary Joji Fukunaga being interviewed. 

In its entertainment pages on 15th May 2019, the Gleaner reported that Daniel Craig had been injured during filming in Portland at the eastern end of the island. The paper's coveraged remained positive, however, stating that such injuries are par for the course. The article also spoke to Jamaican radio celebrity Nikki Z, who, it was reported, might share some screentime with Daniel Craig in the film. Recounting her experience filming on set, she praised the way that the film had represented African-Americans: 'It wasn't something where you saw a lot of us "Europeaned" out.' Nikki Z continued: 'You saw so much culture from what I was involved in, it made me feel proud.'

The Gleaner returned to Bond on 26th June 2019. Kimberley Small reported on the release of a behind-the-scenes look at the filming in Jamaica. Though not a trailer, the video, accompanied by a 'groovy dancehall rhythm', was hugely welcomed, especially coming after a string of negative events, including news of a peeping tom in the women's toilets at Pinewood, and an explosion at the studio. The article also highlighted the incongruous appearance of Heineken, rather than Red Stripe beer in the Jamaican scenes. However, the article concluded that fans will nevertheless be getting 'giddy with excitement, to see their beloved MI5 (sic) agent having a romp on the Caribbean shoreline.'  

The Gleaner, 26th June 2019
An article on 25th July 2019 reported on the resurgence of the Jamaican film industry, thanks in part to the presence of the 'Bond 25' crew in the country. The article stated that the film had resulted in 400 jobs for Jamaicans. 

On 5th January, the Gleaner ran through the list of big cinema releases expected in 2020. Accompanied by a photo of Daniel Craig, the piece noted that Bond 25, now called No Time To Die, was scheduled for release in April. Since then, of course, Covid-19 arrived. January's piece won't be the end of the Gleaner's coverage, but for now everything is on hold. 

Comparing the coverage in 2019 with that for Dr No and Live and Let Die, it is striking how similar it is. For all three films, the Gleaner reflected interest in the jobs that the filming would generate, and the duration and location of the filming. Ian Fleming, who created James Bond at Goldeneye, was not forgotten either. 

What is different, though, is the more critical look at how Jamaica is being represented in No Time To Die. When the film crew touched down in April, they arrived in a very different country to that in 1962, when Jamaica had just become independent, and to a lesser extent in 1972, when the legacy of colonial rule (which never fully disappears) still cast a long shadow. One thing is certain, however: James Bond retains the power to generate headlines in Jamaica. 

Sunday 12 April 2020

From The Property of a Lady to Octopussy: Snowman's Art of Carl Fabergé

This Easter, my thoughts turn to one man - James Bond and the part that a 'suberb green-gold Imperial Easter egg by Carl Fabergé' played in the film of Octopussy (1983). The egg and the auction in which it (or, rather, a fake) is sold are, of course, taken from Ian Fleming's short story, 'The Property of a Lady'.

Writing the story, Fleming turned to Kenneth Snowman's The Art of Carl Fabergé for inspiration and information. The 'Property of a Lady' of the story is a 'terrestrial globe designed in 1917 by Carl Fabergé'. This fictional piece is based on two separate works. One of them is an Easter egg in the form of a clock, which was never produced, but exists as a watercolour design. This was reproduced in Snowman's volume and also accompanied Fleming's story in The Ivory Hammer, Sotherby's yearbook in which the story was first published. The other is a miniature terrestrial globe, an early work that Fleming mentions in his story and is described in Snowman's volume (which Fleming also references).

Perhaps to acknowledge Kenneth Snowman's help in Fleming's research, the art expert himself appears as a character in the story. 

Kenneth Snowman's volume was also a sourcebook for the film's screenwriters (Richard Maibaum and George MacDonald Fraser) and prop-makers. 

During his briefing with M, with art expert Jim Fanning in attendance, James Bond is handed an auction catalogue, turned to the page in which egg, known as 'The Property of a Lady', is described. One can just about make out the text, which begins: '[Imperial] Easter Egg, known as the Coronation Egg, by Carl Fabergé. Presented to Her Imperial Highness the Tsarina Feodorovna by the Tsar Nicholas II in the year 1897.' The prop egg is indeed based on the real Coronation Egg (right down to the model of the imperial state coach), and the introductory words in the catalogue are taken almost verbatim from the entry for the Coronation Egg in Kenneth Snowman's volume: 'Coronation Egg. Presented to Alexandra Feodorovna by Nicholas II. Dated 1897.'

Much of the remaining part of the catalogue entry is based on Kenneth Snowman's text, but his description is also used in the film's dialogue. At the auction, the auctioneer describes the egg as: 'A superb green-gold lmperial Easter egg by Carl Fabergé. Enamelled in translucent green, enclosed by gold laurel-leaf trellis. Set with blue sapphires and four petalled gold flowers with diamonds.' Compare this to Kenneth Snowman's text: 'This superb red gold Egg, enamelled translucent lime yellow on an engraved field, is enclosed by a green gold laurel leaf trellis work cage.' 

In its adaptation of Ian Fleming's 'The Property of a Lady', Octopussy is remarkably faithful, not only to the short story itself, but also to its source material.  

Monday 23 March 2020

Le Touquet: The final model for Royale-les-Eaux

Back in 2015, I explored the possible inspirations for the fictional seaside resort of Royale-les-Eaux, introduced in the first James Bond novel, Casino Royale (1953) and revisited in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1963). I noted that the location had shifted between novels, being first on the Côte Picarde on the south side of the Somme estuary before moving north to the Côte d'Opale in Pas-de-Calais.

A trip last year to explore the French locations in Goldfinger (1959) took me first to Le Touquet, from where James Bond begins his pursuit of the gold-obsessed villain. The idea that Royale-les-Eaux is based, at least in part, on Le Touquet is not new. Jon Gilbert, for example, suggests as much in his 2012 volume, Ian Fleming: The Bibliography. However, a few days on Le Touquet's beach brought home to me just how closely some aspects of the fictional town, as described in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, were modelled on the French resort. 

Take the swimming pool mentioned by Ian Fleming in the opening chapter of the novel: 'Music, one of those lilting accordion waltzes, blared from the loudspeakers around the Olympic-sized piscine.' Le Touquet's beach-side piscine was certainly large enough to qualify as 'Olympic-sized' and could well have been what Fleming (a frequent visitor to the resort) had in mind as he wrote those words. 

The swimming pool, Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, in 1965

Ian Fleming then descibes three childrens' play areas on the beach of Royale-les-Eaux: Joie de Vivre, Helio and Azur. Today, there are six children's play areas on Paris-Plage, among them Joie de Vivre and Helio Plage. Whether these existed in Fleming's day, I can't be certain, but clearly Fleming had not conjured up the names purely from his own imagination.

Then there is the length of the promenade at Royale-les-Eaux: a full five miles, which is pretty much the length of the beach of Le Touquet-Paris Plage. 

While Ian Fleming did not base Royale-les-Eaux entirely on Le Touquet (Trouville and Forges-les-Eaux, I think, were equally important sources of inspiration), the descriptions of the fictional town, in its later incarnation, owed much to the resort. If you were to look at images of Le Touquet in the 1960s, then you could well be looking at how Ian Fleming pictured his creation and the opening scenes of one his finest novels.     

Sunday 8 March 2020

Ian Fleming, the conservationist

Ian Fleming seems an unlikely champion of animal rights, but the evidence is there in his writing. That he was an animal-lover is clear from his heartfelt descriptions of animals, particularly birds and fish, in his James Bond novels. Scotland's red deer were also close to his heart. 
Red deer hind (image: Charles J Sharp / CC BY-SA (
In his 'Atticus' column, published in the Sunday Times on 7th November 1954, Ian Fleming lamented the cruel and unnecessary killing of deer during the winter months, when the onset of snows forced the animals to lower pastures. There, Fleming told his readers, the stags and hinds made easy targets for farmers and poachers, 'who slaughter and wound them with whatever weapons they can muster.'

Fleming went on to refer to a parliamentary White Paper on the issue, which, while setting out the sad facts, had evidently failed to put a halt to the annual dispatch of deer. 'Eight months of cruelty to these beautiful animals has once again set in,' he concluded.

Unlike his brother Peter, Ian Fleming was no country-sports enthusiast. Once, as a boy, Ian was taken grouse-shooting near Glencoe in Scotland by his father Valentine, but he didn't enjoy the experience. On another occasion, at Black Mount also near Glencoe, Ian (aged 16) shot a stag, but he never made a habit of it, preferring to listen to records than going 'out of doors killing something.' 

Given Ian Fleming's concern for red deer, the depiction of a stag (itself presumably a nod to the stag shown on the Fleming family crest) on top of the gateway to James Bond's Scottish home in Skyfall (2012) seems entirely fitting. 

Tuesday 18 February 2020

Interviews about James Bond – a review of two recent books

Books in which the authors talk to people about James Bond are like buses. You wait ages for one, then two show up at once. The first to arrive, slightly ahead of the second, is The Many Lives of James Bond: How the Creators of 007 Have Decoded the Superspy, by Mark Edlitz. The second is Nobody Does it Better: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of James Bond, by Mark A Altman and Edward Gross.

Mark Edlitz’s book is the slimmer of the two, but is no less interesting or insightful. The book contains interviews conducted by the author with individuals who in one way or another have created incarnations of James Bond or otherwise interpreted the character. In the book, you’ll find interviews with film directors (such as Martin Campbell), writers of Bond stories (Anthony Horowitz and Mike Grell), illustrators (among them John McLusky and Dan Goozee), computer game designers (Glen A Schofield), and, in a series of particularly absorbing interviews, people who have actually been Bond in some way, including Corey Burton (James Bond Jr), Dietmar Wunder (the German voice of Daniel Craig) and Simon Vance (audiobook reader). 

These are fascinating interviews. We get a wonderful sense of the craft required to create aspects of James Bond and the professionalism of the individuals concerned. Take the author’s interview with Jany Temime, for example. We learn that the clothes worn by Daniel Craig’s Bond when he arrives at Skyfall in the film of the same name were designed to evoke the gentleman farmer, as befitting the owner of a country pile, while Bond’s scarf was based on that worn by Field Marshal Montgomery. I’ll never look at the costumes in the films in quite the same way again.

And we get the definitive answer to a question that until now as never been fully resolved: are the lyrics to Thunderball about James Bond or the villain? Lyricist Don Black is unequivocal: James Bond. (I still feel, though, that they suit the villain better. I’d also like to add that the word ‘thunderball’ isn’t entirely meaningless, as is usually implied – it refers to the mushroom cloud created by an atomic bomb.)

Returning to the book, what is less successful, I feel, is the author’s attempt to gain insight through these interviews about the character of James Bond himself and find out what makes Bond tick. Questions about what motivates Bond (which Bond? There have been so many), whether Bond would still be Bond were he not a spy and other, similar questions, though philosophically interesting to an extent, seem tacked-on, while the answers are somewhat unconvincing.

Nevertheless, the book is a page-turner and deserves a place in every Bond fan’s bookshelf.

Altman and Gross’s effort is a somewhat different beast. Within the sizable tome (over 700 pages), the authors have assembled a comprehensive selection of quotations from many of the people connected with the James Bond films. Much of the content is based on interviews conducted by the authors, but the book includes material taken from other sources.

Arranged by film, including the two non-EON productions, the book takes a look the scriptwriting, casting, filming, publicity and reception of each release through the eyes of the people who were involved – directors, producers, actors, screenwriters and so on. The authors also talk to critics and popular culture commentators, who place the films in context and offer views on the impact that the films have had on them and society more generally in subsequent years.

The authors provide some linking text, but most passages are without any introduction or commentary. While this certainly gives readers a sense of that the views expressed are uncensored and ‘from the horse’s mouth’, the approach taken does present some difficulties. The historian, for example, might bemoan the lack of dates and sources. Which passages are taken from original interviews and which are reproduced second-hand? What are the dates of the quotations? Are they contemporary with the events being described or were they said years later? If the latter, might there be an issue with reliability? Sometimes we are presented with contradictory statements and, even after reading the various passages, remain none-the-wiser about the truth. (Were George Lazenby and Peter Hunt on speaking terms during the filming of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or not? It seems we will never know.)

More serious is the absence of editorial intervention where what has been said is just plain wrong. Terence Young’s assertion that Ian Fleming died during a swim, hinting heavily that he committed suicide, is factually incorrect and should have been challenged by the authors, at least by way of a footnote. 

All that said, the book is an invaluable sourcebook of views and facts from the people who were closest to the production of the Bond films. The authors are to be congratulated for assembling such a useful resource. This is a book designed to be savoured, to dip in and out of, ideally with a vodka martini by one’s side.