The Reasoning Behind the Robert Markham Pseudonym for Colonel Sun?

Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 7,579MI6 Agent
edited April 2020 in James Bond Literature
As literary James Bond fans we're all aware of the use of the Robert Markham pseudonym for Kingsley Amis's sole Bond novel Colonel Sun (1968). It was the first James Bond continuation novel published after Ian Fleming's death in 1964. As such, there was reportedly a plan by Glidrose, then the literary copyright holders in the James Bond property, to have several famous authors each write a separate Bond novel of their own under the same pseudonym. After the suggested name of George Glidrose was rejected as unmarketable by the Glidrose board they settled on Robert Markham instead as a more suitable pseudonym.

As we know, Amis's Colonel Sun was ultimately the only Bond novel produced under the pseudonym and the plan to have other authors write under that name also was presumably scrapped altogether. It's been said that disappointing sales and adverse critical notices served to put an end to any plans of continuing with the Robert Markham umbrella pseudonym. The literary Bond was not to return properly until 1981 and the publication of John Gardner's Licence Renewed.

The purpose of this thread is to further explore the reasoning behind the use of the Robert Markham pseudonym. I've been reading up on all of the available primary and secondary sources that exist on this very early piece of Bond continuation history and the reasoning seems at best self-contradictory. For example, how can we square the circle of the Robert Markham pseudonym being used on the cover of Colonel Sun first and paperback editions while at the same time letting it be known that Kingsley Amis was the actual author in marketing materials and even on the cover of US paperbacks of the novel? Why not just market the novel as solely by Kingsley Amis from the start. Amis was one of the biggest names in British post-war literature so why not trade off his very famous name instead of diluting things down by adding the confusion of the Markham pseudonym into the mix?

From interviews with Amis we know that there were at least two reasons for the use of the pseudonym. One was being able to market the books more easily as part of an ongoing series with several authors sharing the Robert Markham umbrella pseudonym. (I actually dispute how this would have made marketing the books any easier but as the umbrella pseudonym idea never came to pass I suppose it's more of a moot point).

The other reason given was that it would easily separate Colonel Sun from Amis's own more serious fiction. Amis already had form in this area as his non-fiction The Book of Bond or Every Man His Own 007 (1965) had been written under the Bill Tanner pseudonym. Of course The James Bond Dossier had earlier appeared under his own name. The use of 'Robert Markham' would in effect be the pseudonym equivalent of author Graham Greene using the "An Entertainment" tag to separate his thrillers from his more serious literary novels. This second reason was perhaps the real driving force behind the use of the Markham pseudonym in the first place and was of course completely Amis-centric. It was also not necessarily something other authors would have demanded or even politely requested as part of their contract when writing the new Bond novel.

Despite not being so well known a reason among literary Bond fans it also suggests that had Amis not first been approached a pseudonym might never have been used at all. For example, if James Leasor had accepted the offer to write a Bond novel before Amis it's much more likely he'd have written under his own name (as a notable thriller writer of the time) than under Glidrose's umbrella pseudonym. In other words, it appears to me that the umbrella pseudonym rumour may well have been peddled by Amis and possibly Glidrose as cover for Amis's early foray into genre fiction and away from his own more serious work. The pseudonym therefore acted as a sort of dividing line in Amis's fiction. This is further backed up by the fact that the novel's original full title was (one imagines for the avoidance of doubt from the Amis reader) Colonel Sun: A James Bond Adventure. Perhaps complicating matters, however, is the fact that Amis continued to write genre fiction under his own name in some of the novels that followed Colonel Sun.

With all of the aforementioned in mind, some questions jump out at me from my reading of the various primary and secondary sources available:

1. What was the true reasoning behind the use of the Robert Markham pseudonym for Kingsley Amis's Colonel Sun?
2. Did the use of the Robert Markham pseudonym actually hurt the sales for the novel as well as damage the book critically in reviews? It also opened up a weak area for Ann Fleming to be able to exploit in her unpublished polemical Sunday Telegraph review of the novel, not ultimately printed for fear of libel.
3. Was the Robert Markham umbrella pseudonym just a rumoured idea from Glidrose or was it a true part of their plan for marketing a series of continuation Bond novels under different authors? Or was the umbrella pseudonym just a smoke screen devised by Glidrose and Amis as cover for him to "have his cake and eat it" thus setting Colonel Sun apart from his more serious literary work? Or did the pseudonym in fact serve to kill the two birds with the one stone?
4. As a side question does anyone here know the exact makeup of the Glidrose board at the time of Colonel Sun? I know Peter Fleming was on the board, along with Jock Campbell (later Lord Campbell) and I think Lord Goodman. I think Ian Fleming's agent Peter Janson-Smith was also a member, or at least he certainly was later on. Ann Fleming was made an honorary member of the board at the insistence of Peter Fleming.

Any help in providing your thoughts on these specific questions or on anything else that occurs to you on this topic would be greatly appreciated! :)
"The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).


  • ThunderpussyThunderpussy Behind you !Posts: 63,696MI6 Agent
    Unfortunately I can't any facts to the question, only my own opinions. I understand the pseudonym
    So other writers could all use the same name, as that's been done before. My own guess would be
    That Kingsley Ami's was already a very famous author so didn't want the humiliation if it hadn't been
    A success ? Also he was a bit more left wing politically from Fleming, so he may have thought he'd
    Have gotten some harsher reviews because of that from the right wing press ?
    "I've been informed that there ARE a couple of QAnon supporters who are fairly regular posters in AJB."
  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 30,801Chief of Staff
    the avoidance of doubt from the Anus reader

    I'm sure you'll get to the... bottom of it, SM.

    More seriously, I've nothing to add to what's been said above. I've read, presumably, the same sources over the years and would only repeat the same comments.
  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 3,850MI6 Agent
    I can only presume the sales figures were low so plans for further novels were binned.

    I believe it was the roaring success of Christopher Wood’s adaptions of TSWLM and MR which spurred the John Gardner continuation novels. It’s a pity really, because I would have loved to have read further adaptions of the movies by Wood, I thought his writing mirrored Fleming’s more than any other author.

    Incidentally, as a bookseller of 40 years before retirement, Colonel Sun was probably the lowest seller of any Bond novel in my shop.
    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • Sir MilesSir Miles The Wrong Side Of The WardrobePosts: 25,129Chief of Staff
    Incidentally, as a bookseller of 40 years before retirement, Colonel Sun was probably the lowest seller of any Bond novel in my shop.

    Would that have had anything to do with the fact that the novel was out of print for decades?

    It was years before I even knew the book existed and I’d gone round many franchised bookshops and various ‘independent’ ones too - they’d either never heard of it or couldn’t get a copy :#
    In the end I had to ‘hire’ a specialist to source a copy for me :o these were pre-internet days :(

    It was worth the wait as, in my opinion, it’s the best non-Fleming Bond novel -{


    Anyway - apologies at derailing the this excellent Barbel says, I’ve probably read all the same articles as yourself.
    YNWA 96
  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 3,850MI6 Agent
    No, because 99% of my stock was secondhand, and I always had a couple of copies of the Pan paperback in the “spy” section but they rarely sold. Quality didn’t always follow sales potential, I sold more Nick Carter than Bond!

    Best selling Bond for me were the movie cover versions of the books, they were always popular. Bond sales died down throughout the 90,s and only really picked up again when CR was released.

    Going back on topic I never got my hands on a hardcover 1st edition of Colonel Sun, but had all the Fleming ones at various stages.
    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • ThunderpussyThunderpussy Behind you !Posts: 63,696MI6 Agent
    :)) Hey don't go knocking Nick Carter, I
    Read loads of those, when looking for
    Bond books ! ;)
    "I've been informed that there ARE a couple of QAnon supporters who are fairly regular posters in AJB."
  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 3,850MI6 Agent
    I would never knock Nick Carter, I made a lot of money out of him :))

    Some of the covers were really good, too.
    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 2,186MI6 Agent
    Today they just market the books as "...writing as Ian Fleming", sometimes in bigger text than the actual authors name.
    The text on the front cover of Trigger Mortis for example is a bit misleading.
    But maybe in 1968, Flemings death was so recent and much publicized they couldnt do that, so had to make up new name?

    Christopher Wood's The Spy Who Loved Me on the other hand just had his name even smaller than the books serial number.
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