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.