[Continued from the previous post]
Fleming: Do you have to make little notes about, say, a good name, if you see a good name above a shop?
Simenon: No, I never do that. Until last year I used telephone directories. I have 180 or 200 phone books from all over the world and I used them. Then I had some trouble with that. So now I use the Littré (French dictionary). That’s wonderful. You see, almost all French names come from common nouns and trade names—Boulanger the baker, Maréchal and so on. So if you take words from the Littré and somebody happens to have the same name, they can’t say anything.
Fleming: Like Mr. John Butcher, Mr. Sam Baker—yes, I see.
(Simenon takes one of the great red volumes of the Littré from the shelf behind him.)
Simenon: Here, I can open it at any page and you’ll find it full of possible names. I get hundreds of names. (Simenon draws from his desk a four-sheet folder covered in columns of names.) Look, that’s just for one novel. I make this list and then choose my names from it. I use perhaps only ten of these names.
Young (to Fleming): Where do you get your names from?
Fleming: Well, I get a lot of mine motoring—if I pass through a village street anywhere abroad and I see a good name outside a shop.
Simenon: That was Balzac’s way. All his names came from shops.
Fleming: I found particularly in German Switzerland some very good villains’ names. I saw one wonderful villain’s name, but I can’t use it. Unfortunately it was the name of a very respectable builder. It’s getting more and more difficult to find villains.
Simenon: Ah yes. In America there’s only the Cubans left now. Even the Chinese you can’t touch.
Fleming: Of course, you don’t have villains like I have villains. My villains are so black and, as you know, people aren’t really like that. I make them like that. I generally give them a heavy moustache because I dislike moustaches. But I find it more and more difficult to find good villains. I used the Russians marvelously for four or five books; but now, you see, I think we ought to have peace with the Russians, so I’ve had to stop ragging them. I’ve had to invent an international organisation.
Young: The last time I saw her, Madame Simenon let drop a very stimulating remark. We were talking about women or something and she said, “Oh well, if Mr. Fleming has had half as much experience of women as my husband, I’m sure he will be able to talk, very well on that subject.”
Simenon (exploding with laughter): Oh well, you know all my secrets, do you?
Young: So perhaps we can ask now to what extent life enters into your art in that respect,
Fleming: Well, Mr. Simenon is sixty years old and I’m only fifty-five, so he’s got the advantage of five years!
Mme Simenon: It depends a bit on the age at which you started!
Fleming: Yes. I remember trying to tempt my governess once, but I failed. No, I think I make my heroines entirely out of my head and instead of making them too beautiful I try to give them some little peculiarity—a slight limp or something of that sort to make them slightly more true to life, because one’s girlfriends are never perfect. They’ve always got some little thing, so I try to give them something: they are, I admit, inclined to be over-luscious.
Simenon: And people are very seldom in love with a very beautiful woman. A beautiful woman is something to put in a theatre or to make a movie about, but you don’t like to have them in your drawing room or in bed.
Fleming: I talked to an oculist about that, and he said just the same thing. I asked him if he’d ever seen a pair of perfect eyes. And he said yes, he had once, in a woman, and he said they were totally dull. He said it was quite extraordinary, they looked cold and lifeless, and yet he said they were a really beautiful, perfect pair of eyes.
Simenon: And look at the movies, for example. They have to have people with exactly the same two halves of the head: yet such people are not attractive in life at all.
Fleming: Not to me, not at all. Elizabeth Taylor…
Simenon: What we consider in a woman is beautiful is just the little difference! So the more little difference they have, the more chance they have to catch a man. It’s the same with the eyes; a little difference can be attractive.
Mme Simenon: Yes, we call it in French une coquetterie dans l’oeil. It means eyes which are not crossed but just a little, little bit out of alignment. My daughter has it. It gives so much life to her eyes.
Fleming: Very good. Of course that particularly applies to teeth. I can’t understand what the film-makers are doing. They find a girl and the first thing they do is to saw off all her teeth and put caps on. I mean, how dull can you be?
Simenon: It is perhaps because on the film a little irregularity gives a wrong idea of the girl.
Fleming: Now, about Maigret. Where did Maigret, the man himself, come from? Can you remember?
Simenon: Not at all. I wrote the first novel about Maigret not knowing at all that it would be a series. He was a character for one book, so I didn’t care. He just came into my mind.
Fleming: How old is Maigret now?
Simenon: He has no age. In my novels he is still about fifty-three. When I started thirty years ago he was forty-five. I would like to age so slowly. It would be wonderful. Because when I started I was twenty-five and he’s still fifty-three.
Fleming: Bond’s still in the middle thirties. Unfortunately, I’ve had to write his obituary in the next book—oh, the news of his death is exaggerated—but I’ve had to give certain facts that get him to about thirty-eight or thirty-nine. But I’ve had the greatest difficulty in keeping him down. Do you suppose you’ll go on writing about Maigret?
Simenon: Very seldom. You know at first I wrote eighteen Maigret books in a row just to learn my trade, to know how to write a novel, and then I stopped and I said, “Never any more.” And then I wrote just plain novels. But seven years later, I got so many letters from readers that I started again for the fun of it. And between two novels there’s too much time doing nothing. So I decided about once a year or so to write a Maigret. Partly through sentiment and partly as an exercise.
Fleming: Your ambition really is to write the great novel?
Simenon: Not big literary—just plain novel.
Fleming: You don’t want to write a War and Peace?
Simenon: Not at all.
Fleming: Well, I’ve no ambitions at all to write a novel. When I’ve finished writing James Bond I don’t think I shall write any more. I’m getting very close to the end of my tether, too.
Simenon: It would be very difficult for me to live without writing.
Fleming: Yes, I dare say it would be for me.
Simenon: When I stay two months without writing I get almost sick. I lose confidence in myself; I am a man without roots. I feel completely loose.
Mme Simenon: Lost.
Simenon: Yes, lost.
Fleming: Do you feel that as you write you improve? Because if you didn’t improve in some tiny way, you’d get disconsolate, too. You must feel that you are writing better, don’t you?
Simenon: I am not very ambitious, but on each novel I have the feeling that I learn something new, or that I reach a little goal a bit further ahead than the last one. But the question for me is to try to have less artificial story, and less adventure, fewer conventional ideas—to go instead a little deeper under the skin of the man. That’s my goal, but in a way it’s an impossible one. I can't be God, so…
Fleming: Yes. But do you find you need to meet a lot of people, do you need to move about a lot in order to see more of life, to write more about life?
Simenon: Not any more. I see very few people now; I use my memories of the people I have met. I see them now from far away. And I learn more about people from my children than from people who come here. Each child teaches you so much.
Fleming: And renews you too, presumably, because you can see a lot of your own youth in it.
Simenon: For me the complete novelist is the one who makes the full round of life. I mean that at twenty, for instance, he gives the ideas of life of a boy of twenty and at thirty you can keep the same character, the same situation, and then have a completely different book. At forty the same—and at fifty, sixty and seventy. That’s why Goethe’s such a big man; because he made the full round.
Fleming: Yes. Goethe, I think, was the only homme complet in history. You can’t fault him. Psychologists say that most geniuses are suffering from some kind of physical inferiority or physical defect. I mean Beethoven was deaf and so on. But they’ve never been able to find anything wrong with Goethe. He was healthy, he lived a full life, his sex life was normal, he covered an enormous range of interest—even the pollination of flowers.
Simenon: …and he studied the eye too, and everything.
Fleming: You do read some other books then—not novels, but technical books?
Simenon: Yes, especially medical books. That’s my hobby. I take five or six medical reviews every week.
Fleming: Have you ever been to the Far East?
Simenon: I was in India—but not further than India, because I came from New Zealand and Australia. Before the war when I was travelling a lot I was tempted to go to Japan and China, but I didn’t go because I felt it would not be honest to go just for three or four months. It takes a full year or two to start to understand them. Then I decided to wait until I had enough time to spare—and now I’m still waiting. I went to Russia in 1932. Not to Moscow, but all through the south from Odessa.
Fleming: Is there anywhere in the world you would still like to go to?
Simenon: Everywhere and nowhere, you know.
Fleming: I like se deplacer; I like movement. I even like being in the Montreux Palace. I look out of my window and I see these stupid boats and these idiotic tourists going back over the Simplon…
Simenon: That reminds me of the story of Van Johnson, the film actor. A very nice boy.
Mme. Simenon: He came to Switzerland at the time all the other Hollywood stars were coming here and he stayed one week, two weeks, three weeks, a month. Then all of a sudden we saw him in Cannes. So we asked him if he’d decided where he was going to settle in Switzerland. “NOT in Switzerland; I’m taking the next plane back to Hollywood,” he said. We asked him why. He said: “Well, at first the quiet was wonderful. I’d wake up in the morning and I’d see the lake and the mountains and they seemed just perfect. Beautiful. But then they started getting closer and closer and closer. And one morning I found them at the foot of my bed—and I got OUT.”
[To be concluded in the next post.]
[Continued from previous post]
Fleming: M. Simenon—have you ever written a play?
Simenon: No. I wrote a play from one of my novels.
Fleming: And was it ever produced?
Simenon: Yes, in France, in England, and America—but that was fourteen years ago. But you know I am not tempted by the theatre. For one reason. I consider it as being something so completely different. It’s the same as if you ask a painter if he wants to make a sculpture. Painting is the size of nature: sculpture is greater than natural size. It’s the same with the theatre. The novel is plain life, it’s natural life. But the theatre needs to be greater than life-size. I’ve spent all my life looking at people from the same level, so…
Fleming: And films? Have you ever thought about writing films?
Simenon: I never cared about that. My wife sells the rights and I never even see the producer or the actors.
Fleming: No, I’m not interested in the least. They consult me, and I give them my ideas, perhaps, at a lunch, but that’s all.
Simenon: I don’t even go to see the films of my books.
Fleming: Have you ever seen any of your television series in England?
Simenon: They came with two and showed me them, and I was quite satisfied.
Fleming: I think they are well done.
Simenon: Very well done.
Fleming: The character’s good.
Simenon: Very good. Rupert Davies. He came here and saw us.
Fleming: He’s thought to be very good in England.
Simenon: But of course, everybody when he reads a book has his own idea of the character. That’s why books with illustrations are always bad, because the illustrations never correspond with what is in the mind of the reader.
Mme. Simenon: That’s one reason why one needs to be more difficult about Maigret than James Bond, because you describe Bond, but my husband never really describes Maigret. I went through all the Maigret books and I tried to make an identica, but you cannot do one. You can read every Maigret that he’s written and you never know whether his hair is red or brown, or the color of his eyes. People think that he’s stocky, but actually he’s tall—that was mentioned in just one book. Maigret has no age, so if he matures ten years in forty years it doesn’t matter. When my husband created Maigret, he was already, then, ageless and timeless. It was an unconscious feat of creation, whereas I think that when you created Bond you had a precise image of him.
Fleming: Quite. One thing would interest me to know. I’m a collector of rare editions, a bibliophile. Which is the rarest of Monsieur Simenon’s books? The smallest edition, for instance?
Mme. Simenon: The smallest edition is not a novel. It’s called Le Roman de l’Homme and it was published afterwards in a very limited edition in France.
Simenon: We keep it a little confidential, actually. Of course, from a bibliophile’s point of view the rarest of my books is Le Pont des Arches—my first book, which I wrote at the age of sixteen. It’s now completely disappeared, except that I have one copy here. I wrote it when I thought I was going to be a humorist. But they didn’t understand it—because of the humour.
Mme. Simenon: Actually, it’s been republished.
Fleming: That doesn’t count from a bibliophile’s point of view.
(A servant comes in with whisky and soda for everyone except M. Simenon who has a glass of iced tea.)
Mme. Simenon: Tell me, Mr. Fleming, why did you have such a bad review of your last book in Newsweek?
Fleming: Did I really? I had a wonderful review in the Herald Tribune—he compared with Shakespeare and heaven knows what all; tremendous stuff. But The New York Times! Anthony Boucher has always hated my books.
Simenon: He hates my books too.
Fleming: Do you pay much attention to your reviews, M. Simenon?
Simenon: No, my wife sometimes shows me one or two and that’s all. I don’t read them.
Fleming: Actually, I’m as interested in my bad reviews as I am in my good ones. Occasionally one gets someone who really sees the point and then, of course, one is delighted. But the bad reviews interest me just as much because very often they deal with a legitimate complaint, which I am very interested to read. I regard my oeuvres in a very humble fashion.
Simenon: So do I!
Fleming: So I really don’t mind if somebody gives me a kick in the pants. I think I deserve it anyway. If you go out into the market-place, you must expect plenty of tomatoes among the roses.
A fascinating read. Fleming and Simenon - so different, yet so alike at the same time. Particularly interesting when they discuss the ageing of their characters through the years.
Another great post, thanks again @Revelator
Fascinating is certainly the word to use. Excellent and valued work. Thanks @Revelator
I concur, fascinating is the word. Thank you, @Revelator
And thank you gentlemen, for reading these long pieces! The Simenon conversation is especially fun because it's two writers discussing the nuts and bolts of writing. Fleming's interest in book covers is well documented in The Man With the Golden Typewriter. He took great interest in the packaging and promotion of his books, whereas Simenon's philosophy was "crank-it-out-and-start-the-next-one"... which might explain why Simenon wrote nearly 500 books and Fleming a mere 16.
Incidentally, Simenon "exploding with laughter" after his wife refers to his "experience of women" makes more sense if you know Simenon was a notorious womanizer who claimed to have slept with 10,000 women! His son John said the figure was "realistic,” and claimed the vast majority of the women were prostitutes: “There is nothing extraordinary in having sex once a day. People recommend now to live to be old you have to have sex at least three to four times a week. That is not that much less than what he was computing and if you think [he would] go in the brothel, spend half an hour and then come back it is not so far-fetched in terms of numbers and in terms of what it actually meant...I was raised knowing that that was something that he would do. I knew he would and that was fine. It was not an issue because it didn’t detract from his fatherly duties and husbandly duties either.” Simenon and his wife separated less than a year after Fleming's visit, though not because brothel-creeping.
(Counterpoint: Penetrating Comments on Life And Living, Writers and Writing By 63 Leading Authors, Critics, and Playwrights, by Roy Newquist, 1964; interview conducted Oct. 1963)
In 1952 James Bond was born—full-grown, suave, dashing, with a taste for fine food, women, and liquor. Since then he has become a giant in the world of contemporary letters, changing little from the day of his spectacular birth, though claiming an ever-widening audience. Perhaps no single character in the loosely-defined area of the suspense novel has captured a market so boldly and held it with such consistency. (Sherlock Holmes is the only counterpart that springs to mind, but he was a sleuth, not an adventurer, and we never did really know whether or not Mr. Holmes ate, drank, or bedded down.)
In speaking to Ian Fleming, the creator of the fabulous James Bond, the first natural question would be the origin of Mr. Bond. Who is he?
Well, it's almost entirely imagination, but of course I used various people I’d known during the war, spies and commandos and so on, because working in Naval Intelligence one came across these people quite a lot. And I didn't want him [Bond] to be a glamorous figure at all. I wanted him to be an extremely uninteresting man to whom extraordinary things happen, and that’s why I chose the very dull name “James Bond,” which when you come to think of it is a very dull name, instead of calling him "Peregrine Caruthers" or something even more romantic.
Now the name James Bond I borrowed, without his approval, from a very famous American ornithologist James Bond, who wrote Birds Of the West Indies—which is one of my bibles and remains one of my bibles when I’m out writing in Jamaica, where I write every year—and I thought “well, that’s a jolly dull name, let’s use that one.”
And so the character, which in the first book was a fairly simple straightforward one, has gradually become encrusted with mannerisms and belongings and perhaps individual characteristics and so forth simply in the writing of the stories. But I think if you’ve read the books you’ll find that there’s absolutely no discussion anywhere of Bond’s character—some of his mannerisms of course—but no character study in depth, excerpt perhaps by the Russian secret service, the KGB, which goes into him fairly closely in a book called From Russia, With Love. But I, the author, make no comment really about James Bond, whether he’s a moral person or immoral person or anything of that sort. Just straightforward, quickly-paced stories.
Do you think you’ve put any of your own personality into him?
I couldn’t possibly be James Bond. First of all, he’s got much more guts than I have. He’s also considerably more handsome and he eats rather more richly than I could possibly manage to do. As to quirks and tastes, likes and dislikes, bits of me probably creep in. But not important bits.
The only real criticism of your books that I’ve come across made some reference to the fact that “James Bond novels are studies in sex, snobbery, and sadism.”
I don’t think they are studies in anything, not even in those quite proper ingredients of a thriller. Sex, of course, enters all interesting books and all interesting lives. As to snobbery, I wonder how much it isn’t a very common motivation, perhaps a spur. Wouldn’t all of us like to eat better, stay in better hotels, drive faster motor-cars, write better books? James Bond is lucky; his life is both cushioned and exciting. As for sadism—frankly, the old-fashioned way of beating spies with baseball bats and truncheons became obsolete during the last war. It’s quite permissible to give them a rougher time than we did in more gentlemanly days. But as to “studies in sex, snobbery, and sadism,” I’m certain they are nothing I attempt, want to attempt, or could do properly should I attempt them.
In considering both the character of James Bond, and the general pace of your novels, can you think of any writers who have influenced you?
Two splendid American writers, the great masters of the modern thriller, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. I was influenced by these writers, by their extremely good style and the breadth and ingeniousness of their stories. I suppose, if I were to examine the problem in depth, I’d go back to my childhood and find some roots of interest in E. Phillips Oppenheim and Sax Rohmer. Perhaps they played an important part.
In creating the situations in which Bond finds himself, do you pay a great deal of attention to the authenticity of background?
Yes, I do. I don’t think I’ve ever written about a part of the world which I myself haven’t visited. But you see, I was a reporter for a long time. I have a reporter’s eye and sense of locality, and I add to this by taking notes and buying road maps wherever I happen to be.
Could you describe the ascent of James Bond on bestseller lists?
Well I can’t really imagine [how], because the sales of the books [have] just gone on progressively upward. Actually today I was just getting the sales of my softcover books from America, the New American Library, and also from Pan books in England, and it is an absolutely steady progression, taking a sudden leap in the past two years, both in England and America. That’s partly because of the fact of the first film being made and now the second—Dr. No was the first one, which did very well—and of course the paperback publishers took advantage of the films to increase their prints. I see that my total American sales have gone up to something over eight million—that’s over 10 books I think—and in England about six and a half million, which probably represents more or less the population difference between our two countries. The only interesting point, at least which interests me very much, is that an Englishman should have been chosen by the Americans as a popular hero, because I don’t think it very often happens.
I think there are a few twists that make James Bond seem very American. Likes and dislikes, brand of cigarettes, and his rather full sex life.
There is some American detail. Of course, three or four of the books are set in and around America, and there’s a subsidiary hero, an American named Felix Leiter who’s with the CIA and later with a detective agency.
Of course I get into trouble with my Americanisms. People write in and say I’ve got things wrong here and there. Recently, in fact, I got an assistant librarian at Yale who helps me out if I have an American scene. I pass the book over to him, and he very kindly goes through it and suggests where the American language could be improved, or some of the other usage improved. So I try and get everything correct—it annoys me as much as it must annoy Americans to find America so badly depicted in English books and similarly the mistakes about England made by American writers. It’s irritating, and one as an author really ought to do one’s best to try to get the lingo more or less correct. Particularly the sort of gangster language of which we have an exaggerated idea over here, due largely perhaps to Damon Runyon. But of course gangster language changes with the times, just like beat language, and it’s very difficult indeed, if one isn’t living for instance in America, to keep up with it. But as I say, I do my best, and I’m pleased to find that too many Americans don’t complain.
I still have a feeling that throughout your stories you use Bond, or other characters, to take verbal potshots at certain people or institutions you, as a person, have negative feelings about. Are you aware of this?
Now, I have potshots at a lot of things, including things like American food, which I think is over-frozen, or any [other] kind of food. Quirks I may have I very often put in the mouth of one of my characters. And I unashamedly rag on the Russians because even now they’re up to their old tricks. Only a few months ago we had that big spy case in Stuttgart in West Germany where a Russian assassin, sent by their Secret Service, confessed to the murder of at least two West Germans with a liquid cyanide water pistol, which he fired in their faces when they were going upstairs, so when they fell dead immediately from the effects of the cyanide no trace of it were found on them, and the verdict in fact in both these cases was “heart failure.” So all that’s pretty ingenious, and if the Russians go on doing that sort of thing I’ll have to go on ragging them about it. Much as I think it would be a good thing if we turned off the whole espionage heat and saved us all a lot of money. But still that’s neither here nor there.
Do you think you’ll ever tire of James Bond?
Unfortunately, it isn’t a matter of tiring of James Bond. It’s a question of running out of inventiveness. One can’t go on forever having blondes and guns and so forth in the same old mixture. I do try to find a different milieu for each story and a very different plot. I hate the idea of short-weighting my audience by giving them the same stuff all over again. In fact, I should be too bored to write it myself.
Somerset Maugham, who is a great friend of mine, once said: “Ian, I’m very amused by your stories, but your great trouble will be in running out of invention.” I think that’s probably correct, so how long it will keep going I just don’t know. When I feel the situation slipping, I’ll simply stop writing James Bond stories.
Last year—in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service—I finally became annoyed with your disposal of a heroine I liked. Bond actually married her, then pffht—she was dead. How important is his bachelorhood?
Well, James Bond can’t really be married. He couldn’t settle down, I think. His wife would be very irritated with his constantly going abroad, she’d want to change all his friends and his way of life, and Bond would worry about the measles epidemic back home and his own faithfulness and—no, it can’t be done.
This same problem faced Raymond Chandler. In the last book he started to write, just before he died, he was going to have Marlowe marry a French countess. Well, he was very amusing when he told me about this, about how it really would be the end of Marlowe because she’d change all his habits and friends, he’d take to the bottle, and between her wealth and his faults the personality of Marlowe would be quashed. So in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service I took the easy way out. Tracy is no more.
To turn away from James Bond for a bit. Your career obviously started long before James Bond took it over. Could you outline it?
Well I didn’t start writing James Bond until 1952, [when] I think the first book came out, and before then—mark you, you’ll find this in Who’s Who—I’d been at Eton and Sandhurst and then I went into Reuters, which is a big international news agency and had a great deal of fun there for three or four years. Then I went into the City to try and make some money, but I wasn’t very good at just plain making money, although the city of London is a wonderful club to be a member of, and great fun.
And then I went back to Moscow, where I had worked for Reuters for some time, for the Times of London in the beginning of 1939. And from there I was more or less drafted straight into Naval Intelligence, although normally I would have gone into the army, but they wanted somebody with languages and an alleged knowledge of the city. And I found myself there, where I remained assistant to the director of Naval Intelligence, two directors actually, throughout the war until I was demobilized. Then Lord Kemsley, who owned the Sunday Times and a very big string of provincial newspapers, asked me to come along and organize his foreign service, which of course was great fun to do, and I did that until about two years ago. I was Foreign Manager of the Sunday Times and I’m still on the Sunday Times editorial board, but of course journalism is now completely subsidiary to running the James Bond factory.
You’ve more or less incorporated, haven’t you?
I’ve had to. I am a company, and it’s perfectly legitimate, but it’s the only way to keep all ends straight and to save money from the tax people. However, I am British, and proud of being British, and I’m not going to dodge fair payment by making a dash for Switzerland or one of the other tax paradises. I’ll continue to divide my time between England and Jamaica and save a bit less. But even if the tax thing wasn’t in the picture, I’d have to have a company. There are always too many Bond projects at hand.
In the realm of theory, when you’re writing the Bond stories, do you feel any definite obligation to the hero you’ve created, the situations you employ, the public for which you’re writing?
I think I find more of an obligation to myself. I write the sort of books that I, personally, would like to read if somebody else would write them for me. They’re the sort of books to while away an airplane journey or a plane journey, or if one was ill in bed, the sort of things to take one’s mind off one’s troubles. And I from the very beginning have set out to try and entertain and stimulate the reader through all his senses, even down to his taste buds and the meals that are eaten and so forth, which I find entertains people. Previously you’ll find in books the hero has a meal but you never know what he eats. And certainly in English detective stories people are always just drinking interminable cups of tea or pints of beer and that’s the end of it. It amuses me to put together good food and things I happen to like myself for James Bond to eat them for me.
As far as locations and logic are concerned, I think we have discussed these before. I try to make everything credible, as related to what I know about the rather improbable world of espionage and the parts of the world I’ve visited. A glaring inaccuracy, or a stretching of plausibility, would bother me more than it would any reader.
Again, theory: What advice would you give the talented youngster who is seriously concerned with making a career of writing?
Well, I would tell him to write more or less as he speaks. To try to get an accurate ear for the spoken word and not, so to speak, put on a top hat when he sits down at his typewriter. He must not think that literature has to be literary. I talked over this very subject with Georges Simenon not too long ago, and he made the same point -- not that we should write in a less literate manner, but that we should avoid pretentiousness. This may be an oversimplification, but I’d tell the youngster to learn to type well and to avoid literary myths.
In looking at literature and theater at the moment, what do you find that you most admire, and what do you most deplore?
I’ve gotten very tired of this “kitchen sink” period and in fact I haven’t seen any of the kitchen sink plays nor read any of the kitchen sink books, with the exception of Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim, which I thought was amusing enough but not all that shakes. And I must admit that the sort of boiled cabbage school bores me to tears. It isn’t necessary to wallow in filth to know what filth is. Things go altogether too far when filth is viewed as beauty and obscenity becomes accepted communication. The world is drab enough, and sometimes horrifying enough, without having this desolation monopolize our theater, books, and films.
I’m even old fashioned enough to disagree with the findings of the Lady Chatterly case. I think it would have been much better not to push that work out into the world, though I dare say the world will digest it and get used to it as it’s absorbed Miller’s erotic excursions to the tropics. We’ll take any four-letter word without a flinch, and I suppose that those words will ultimately lose their shock, then their meaning. I think that they rather strike an attitude on the page, however, and I refuse to use them.
I’m rather glad that there is, I think, a return to what I might call romantic writing—a sort of story with a beginning, a middle, and an end seems to be returning to favor, and this should be good for everyone.
Note: An 11 minute audio excerpt from this interview can be heard here. Comparing the audio to the printed interview, I noticed several differences. Though Newquist never changed the meaning of Fleming's words, he changed quite a few of the words themselves and rephrased various sentences during the transcription process.
With that in mind, I have restored Fleming's original words and phrasing whenever possible. The process remains incomplete, since only an excerpt of the original audio is available and the complete copy is either lost or unlisted. Nevertheless, this interview can be regarded as reliable, if not perfectly exact.
Excellent work, @Revelator nice to hear the Master as well as read him.
One can’t go on forever having blondes and guns and so forth in the same old mixture.
It's funny that the people in this article look at women as only blondes 😅, that's in my view.
This same problem faced Raymond Chandler. In the last book he started to write, just before he died, he was going to have Marlowe marry a French countess. Well, he was very amusing when he told me about this, about how it really would be the end of Marlowe because she’d change all his habits and friends, he’d take to the bottle and between her wealth and his faults the personality of Marlowe would be quashed.
What's the fascination about French countesses?😅, I know one thing is for sure for these men, they find them wealthy......
Excellent article but in my view, some parts of it didn't aged well 😅.
Great job @Revelator 👍
Thanks, and Merry Christmas!. Approximately half of the Bond women are blondes (see below), which is less than I expected. I think upper/upper middle class American/European men in the 1950s would have ranked a French countess very high as fantasy partner. To Bond's credit he's not interested in Tracy's wealth and turns down Draco's dowry.
Bond Girl Hair Colors:
Black hair: Vesper, Solitaire, Tilly Masterton, Pussy Galore, Kissy Suzuki, Domino ("the glint of a mask with a fan of dark hair streaming out behind")
Brown: Gala Brand ("auburn"), Tatiana Romanova ("fine dark brown silken hair"), Vivienne Michel,
Blonde: Tiffany Case, Honey ("ash blonde"), Jill Masterton, Mary Ann Russell, Judy Havelock, Baum, Liz Krest ("ash blonde"), Tracy di Vicenzo, Mary Goodnight
The lady Philip Marlowe marries, Linda Loring, isn't a French countess though. She's a rich American.
Many thanks as ever, @Revelator
But was she Blonde?
Can't remember, I haven't read Chandler in a while. She's in "The Long Goodbye", very briefly and unseen though important in "Playback", and "Poodle Springs".
Thank you for the correction--it's been a while since I've gone through Chandler and I definitely need to re-read him. Perhaps Fleming retroactively misremembered Marlowe's wife after he wrote OHMSS.
Ian Fleming Talking…1964—and James Bond gets his 13th assignment
by John Cruesemann (Daily Express, Jan. 2, 1964)
In Who’s Who he lists his output as “various novels of suspense,” which might mean anything. Until you come to look at his name again: Ian Fleming, creator of the most enviable hero of our day—James Bond.
In two weeks’ time Fleming flies off to Jamaica to start on Novel No. 13. And last night he talked easily about Bond and himself for, unlike many writers who have become bored with their creations, Fleming still likes Bond a lot.
“I’ve written for 12 years now,” he said. “Of course, one is getting rather old for blondes and guns.” (Fleming is 55.) “The trouble with my kind of writing is that action must be constant. And that requires invention.”
How was Bond invented in the first place?
“He just came out of thin air. There he was: a compound of secret agents and commando types I had met during the war.” From 1939 to 1945 Ian Fleming was Personal Assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence, rising to Commander R.N.V.R.
“The odd thing about Bond is that I didn’t think of him as a ‘character’ at all. I didn’t mean him to have any characteristics except to be a blunt instrument in the hands of Government. But over the years he has become a character largely exaggerated in the public mind.
“The paradox is I made him rather anonymous. Quite deliberately. This has enabled people to identify themselves with him.
“People have simply put their own overcoats on James Bond and built him into what they admire. In my books I don’t actually describe him at all.
“There are all sorts of popular notions. Bond is a gourmet. In fact he just happens to have a good meal now and then, like most of us enjoyed for two days last week.
“He very seldom drinks wine, an occasional glass of very good champagne. That doesn’t make him a wine snob though. Basically he is a hard liquor man.”
Fleming lit another cigarette—“I would like to smoke less, I’ve got a box that holds only 10 cigarettes. The answer I found was to refill it rapidly”—then he went on—
“There is this business about Bond being fastidious over clothes. His shoes, for instance. In fact I’ve never mentioned them, except to say he doesn’t like laces. Any more than he likes buttons. He’s fond of black silk knitted ties, I agree. But there is no snobbery about his clothes.”
I pointed out that two Bond films have stamped an image—Sean Connery. Is he as Fleming conceived the character?
“Yes. I believe he is. He’s good, you know. One thing I put my foot down about when they planned the first film was to choose an unknown actor who wasn’t yet typed.”
Was there anything of Bond in himself? “Nothing. Except that we both happen to like short-sleeved shirts. And I’ve been to all the places he has—so that I can describe them.
“And during the war I got mixed up in a lot of light hearted things.” Which sounds a typical bit of English under-statement, until Fleming smartly pointed out: “Bond is Scottish. On both sides, as I shall explain in my next book.”
Where actually did he get his name?
“Well, there again, I wanted the flattest name possible. One of my ‘bibles’ in Jamaica is a book called Birds of the West Indies by James Bond. That sounded all right to me.
“Two years ago the real Mrs. James Bond wrote to me rather pulling my leg. Her husband is a distinguished American ornithologist, a splendid chap, I believe.”
Fleming continued: “I take a lot from life—plots I mean. They are bizarre, but they are made up of real things.
“Espionage is like an iceberg. So much more is hidden beneath the waves. The trouble is espionage always goes one better than a plot I can think up myself.”
Bond’s attitude towards his girl friends has been criticised as unchivalrous.
“Oh, nonsense,” was the loyal reply. “Everybody complains he leaves the girl behind in some place like Mexico. But he has to get back to headquarter in London, you see. After all he is on a job.”
Now in reverse Fleming is off to his head-quarters in the West Indies. “I can’t put Bond into retirement. Oh, it’s all been a tremendous lark. I never look back on the past: I have no regrets. I am happily married.”
He paused thoughtfully: “It’s just a question of knowing what Bond does next.”
Note: So what on earth did Fleming mean when he said "Bond is Scottish. On both sides, as I shall explain in my next book." How could he explain this, since in the previous book he gave Bond a Swiss mother? Did he have a brain fart and temporarily forget that? As for The Man with the Golden Gun, Bond ironically calls himself a "Scottish peasant," but that's it. What Fleming meant remains a mystery.
The penultimate paragraph of this interview contains two lies by the way. The first is Fleming's claim to be "happily married." In reality his marriage to Ann was under horrible strain. "I fear that since the rise of James Bond you do not care for a personality that in any way can compete with yours," she wrote to him. "If you were well and we were both younger our marriage would be over; but I love you and want to look after you, and grind my teeth when you smoke, and am pleased when you refrain from the deadly gin after whisky, and because of these things I think it would be worth your while to put yourself out a little to do things with me and for me."
He responded "But for my love for you and Caspar I would welcome the freedom which you threaten me with. It has all been getting worse and worse...Either we survive it or we don't. There is no one else in my life. There is a whole cohort in yours. I am lonely, jealous and ill. Leave me my pleasures as I leave you yours. Above all, have compassion."
The second lie was “I can’t put Bond into retirement." As Fleming's letters made clear he intended TMWTGG to be his final Bond book. He had often toyed with the idea of dropping Bond before, but now--with his ill health and decreasing interest in reading or writing fiction--the threat rang true. As he wrote to his close friend and unofficial editor William Plomer: "I feel totally ‘remis’ though not yet up to correcting my stupid book – or rather the last 3rd of it, but I shall get down to it next week and then you & I will plan whether to publish in 1965 or give it another year’s working over so that we can go out with a bang instead of a whimper."
That's one if the least interesting interviews, not because of the inaccuracies you present @Revelator but because it reads so dully. Fleming's responses have the echo of a man tired of the world he's created, rather like the facts you present. Is this because he knows his days are limited, I wonder, and he simply cannot be bothered with self-promotion? The letters you quote later on do back up this interpretation, a sort of carelessness about his existence and career.
"I feel totally ‘remis’ though not yet up to correcting my stupid book – or rather the last 3rd of it, but I shall get down to it next week and then you & I will plan whether to publish in 1965 or give it another year’s working over so that we can go out with a bang instead of a whimper."
we've often discussed how finished Man with the Golden Gun was when Fleming passed. Here he says its just the last third he still needs to correct, implying the first two thirds were what he intended to publish. I wonder where precisely that dividing line is in the book? seems to me the book starts getting sketchy after Scaramanga hires "Mark Hazard", when the scene shifts to his hotel, which is barely halfway.
Then again if he's considering taking a whole extra year to edit it, maybe he was dissatisfied with so much of it he knew merely fleshing out the sentences wasn't going to save it
It seems that Fleming was able to correct at least part of the last third, since he added (in his own handwriting) the final paragraph to the typescript. Fleming's letter to Plomer was from May 10, 1964, and the typescript was sent to Fleming on June 25.
I agree that Fleming must have been dissatisfied with the book, since taking an extra year for edits was something he'd never done before. He knew he'd written it at half-power (literally, since doctor's orders had cut his writing time in half), and if this was to be the last Bond novel it needed to be a special one.
You can’t ask for more!
By Rene MacColl (Daily Express, February 24, 1964)
When I met Raymond Burr in Hollywood, I kept almost calling him Perry Mason. And when I met Ian Fleming at Oracabessa today it was difficult not to address him as James Bond.
Fleming is a man who deliberately set about plotting the good life which he now so abundantly enjoys.
It is a life he richly deserves, thanks to his prodigious dedication to hard work and the fantastic imagination which has so far produced 12 books chronicling the adventures of the entirely unstoppable Secret Agent No. 007.
The 12th Bond, You Only Live Twice, which is to be serialized in the Daily Express next week, is set in Tokyo.
“Bit of a lucky coincidence really,” remarked Fleming, with a huge, crumpled smile as he smoked his favourite brand of English cigarette from a small-sized filter-holder.
“The Olympic Games are being held there this year and the topicality might help the sales quite a bit.”
If any author could afford to do without fortuitous help in the sales of his books it is surely Fleming.
So far the Bonds have sold 20,000,000 copies in 23 different languages and No 11, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, is still, after several weeks, in the American best-seller lists, a rare achievement for a thriller.
At the moment the granite-faced Fleming, with his prominent, high-bridged nose and wavy, greying hair, is at work on No. 13, The Man With the Golden Gun, set, like his Doctor No, right here in Jamaica.
“I’ve done about 30,000 words on it,” said Fleming, “but it should by now have been 50,000. I seem to be slowing up a bit—I used to regularly do 1,500 words a day.
“But I didn’t go abroad last year and that’s a handicap. I should travel regularly in order to recharge the batteries.”
Fleming, lanky and sunburned in his trunks and sandals, had come in from swimming. This is a wonderful spot, a 27-acre hide-out he has named “Golden Eye,” 2½ hours’ drive east from Montego Bay along the north coast of Jamaica.
Fleming maintains that he planned the house and garden in his head while still working at the Admiralty in the last year of the war.
Down below is his private beach. From it “The Commander,” as he is known thereabouts, delights in underwater swimming.
Fleming led me into his bedroom where he keeps his triangular working desk. This he has fitted into a corner so that all he can see if he glances up from his typewriter are the blank, whitewashed walls, an old-fashioned lamp with a shade made of “jippa jappa” palm leaf, and the jackets of all 12 of his previous best-sellers as encouragement.
I asked Fleming about the remarkable expertise he shows in all manner of fields. How was the homework done?
“Well,” he said, “they are nearly always subjects in which I’m already interested, such as sharks. And then I always study the best authorities on the particular subject.”
He has no intention of ever abandoning Bond. “When you’ve got hold of a serial character like him it would be a great mistake to let him go,” he says.
“I like to generate a sense of urgency, of almost intolerable excitement. The essence of a thriller is that you have to try and force the reader to turn the next page.
“I really don’t see why Bond should drink miserable cups of tea and dreary half-pints of beer. I insist on seeing to it that the man enjoys only the best.”
“I don’t write to a pattern. I have no priority on the basic things—sex, money, fast cars, luxury living, and so forth. I never write coolly—I get terribly excited myself.”
Fleming has a coloured housekeeper named Violet, who has been with him for 18 years, He has a cook, a housemaid, a gardener, and a gardener’s boy.
He detests such run-of-the-mill food as roast mutton, pudding, and custard. Instead, he and his delightful wife go in for such Jamaican delicacies as curried goat.
Other offerings at the Fleming table—where I enjoyed an excellent lunch—include such exotica as salmagundi (a mixture of raw herring, onions, and spices), salt fish, ackee—a local fruit which, while delicious when ripe is a violent poison if eaten too early—fresh limes, grapefruit, and pawpaws from the garden. And the great legion of fish brought to the Fleming beach by fishermen in their canoes.
Fleming keeps on his desk a loose-leaf “book of golden words,” phrases and ideas which he notes as he goes along.
Among the current ones are: “Mr. Szasz” (Szasz, he feels, would make a splendid villain’s name), “My enemy’s enemy is my friend” (a Bulgarian proverb), and “You won’t have a lover if you don’t love,” which is pure Fleming.
He told me: “One can only be grateful for the talent that came out of the air, and to one’s capacity for hard, concentrated effort. I am perhaps the smallest and most profitable one-man factory in the world.
“If I chose to leave England and live somewhere like Switzerland I could be a millionaire.
“I don’t want yachts, racehorses, or a Rolls-Royce. I want my family and my friends and good health and to have a small treadmill with a temperature of 80 degrees in the shade and in the sea, to come to every year for two months.
“And to be able to work there and look at the flowers and birds and fish, and somehow to give pleasure, whether innocent or illicit, to people in their millions. Well, you can’t ask for more.”
“I don’t write to a pattern. I have no priority on the basic things—sex, money, fast cars, luxury living, and so forth. I never write coolly—I get terribly excited myself.”
These are brilliant. Most of the continuation authors could do with reading these sentences. For me, only Gardner in a few novels and Amis & Deaver periodically in theirs have achieved this. Often I find the reading a trawl. But never with Fleming, where the pages fairly flutter past my fingertips.
Towards the end Fleming's self depreciation kicks in again.
A Redbook Dialogue: Allen Dulles and Ian Fleming (Redbook, June 1964)
Allen Dulles has served in diplomatic, legal and intelligence posts under eight presidents, beginning with Woodrow Wilson. Now retired, his last post was Director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Ian Fleming, prolific author of chilling spy stories, is a former foreign correspondent, and also served as personal assistant to Britain’s Director of Naval Intelligence during World War II.
It is a raw, rainy day. Allen Dulles and Ian Fleming arrive a few moments apart, Dulles first, accompanied by his publisher’s representatives, then Fleming, who is staying in the hotel where the dialogue is to be held. Fleming is also accompanied by a publisher’s representative. Dulles removes his hat and coat, then his rubbers, revealing feet shod in soft bedroom slippers. “I am allergic to wearing shoes indoors,” he says. “I hope no one cares. I believe in being comfortable.”
There is a brief hubbub in the hotel suite as Dulles and Fleming, old acquaintances, greet each other, as coffee is ordered, as appointments are made and as, one by one, the publisher’s representatives, leaving copies of Fleming’s and Dulles’ books, make their farewells. Continuing their small talk. Dulles and Fleming establish themselves in comfortable chairs.
MR. DULLES: Are you staying in this hotel?
MR. FLEMING: Yes, I am.
DULLES: I always did. As long as Uncle Sam was paying the bill. Now my old law office, you know, has a suite in a hotel nearby, so now I use that. It’s excellent.
FLEMING [Sounding like his discriminating fictional hero, James Bond]: It’s a good, quiet hotel, without pretensions. But the big hotels, the good hotels, are all gone.
DULLES: Of course, Claridge’s is the best hotel in the world. [Indicating the microphone] Is this thing on?
MODERATOR: It’s on.
DULLES [Laughing]: Well, I don’t want to advertise or slander anybody at the moment—not without knowing I’m doing it
FLEMING: Well, come on. Let’s get this over with, Allen.
DULLES [Humorously]: Give me a chance to get my breath! Now, what do you want to talk about? I wrote down a few ideas...
FLEMING: Well, I’ve got a few in my head. I think the thing to do is to make it as merry as possible.
DULLES: Oh, I agree with you.
FLEMING: If we can avoid being dull…
DULLES [Playfully]: Well, then, let me give you a tip. A few nights ago I was sitting around after a dinner party, and there happened to be three or four ladies about, and I was talking to them. I said I was coming up here to have this talk with you, and they were all fascinated. And then they started talking about your books, and they said, “You know, the only trouble with Ian Fleming’s women is that they’re sort of one-purpose women. We don’t object to the one purpose,” they said, “but we’d like to have a book sometime where there is long-lasting love, where the woman not only participates actively in the operations but comes out as a heroine with some sort of character to her.” I give you [Twinkling] that tip.
FLEMING [With mock gravity]: Thank you, Allen. …Well, there have been such women in espionage. They may have existed. But as you know, women spies are difficult people. I mean, they’re emotional. They get involved; and you can’t really control a woman’s emotions to the same extent that you can control a man’s, assuming he’s a normal man. I mean it’s very difficult to say to a woman, “Come on—you must go and make love to So-and-so.” How does one know she’s not going to fall in love? And then where are you?
DULLES: That’s often happened. But some women spies have been very good. You know the history of Mata Hari.
FLEMING [With dislike]: She was a hopeless girl!
DULLES: She was very useful, though. She did get information. Women certainly have a part to play in intelligence. And then I’ve found too, on the analytical side of intelligence—even in order of battle—I’ve found women extremely good. Meticulously careful! You have that in England too. You remember that marvelous—don’t you?—that gal who analyzes the photographs?
FLEMING: Yes, yes. Marvelous! You’re right! I've forgotten her name… [Referring to aerial photographs taken from a man-made satellite] “Spy in the Sky.”
DULLES: “Spy in the Sky.” Yes.
FLEMING: Quite right! I don’t know your staff breakdown, but I suppose there are a good many women…
DULLES: A great many. They are excellent. Men often are impatient of details. And in intelligence you’ve got to be very careful. Say you have fifteen or twenty reports about the make-up of a certain Soviet army group, and you have all kinds of little pieces to put together like a jigsaw puzzle. What is the true strength of this particular group? How many divisions are there in it? And where are they positioned? And so forth. You give a gal the raw material and I would say that most of the time she’ll be doing it better, if she’s well trained, than a man.
FLEMING: Well, I grant you that. That’s perfectly true. What I meant was that the old-fashioned idea of a female spy, a girl going to bed with a man to find out secrets, that went out with Edgar Wallace…
DULLES [Humorously, still not agreeing]: But Mata Hari got, I would say, a good deal of valuable information from her association with high French officials. She was extremely useful.
FLEMING: Yes. But how does one do it? All right; one is in bed with Mata Hari! And she says [Acting it out]: “Darling, do tell me about that Howitzer that you just developed.” And you say, “Oh, well, my dear, it’s part of a gun,” and so forth, “and it fires quite a big shell.” And she says, “How big, exactly? How many millimeters?” One simply can’t believe that conversation!
DULLES [Amused]: You know, I think it was a London daily that published a most marvelous letter from some gal, going back to the Profumo case—just asking, “At what stage during the amorous dalliance did Christine pop the question about giving the bomb to the Russians?”
FLEMING: That’s it, you see, really…
DULLES: Well, the point is that you establish certain connections which can be used otherwise than in bed. They were enamored of Mata Hari. Some of those men who were enamored, they would see her all the time…
FLEMING: Yes. Well, you’ll be amused when you see my next film, From Russia With Love.
DULLES: That’s the book of yours I like best of all.
FLEMING: Well, it’s great fun. I like it the best too, as a matter of fact. And I think there you have a perfectly reasonable operation by a woman. I mean, the whole operation is quite straightforward. She doesn’t have to ask about howitzers or missiles or anything of that sort. She has a definite job—to make the man fall in love with her, and I must say it’s a lark, this bloody film; you must see it, Allen.
DULLES [Still teasing a little]: I will. I will. But—well, there you have it—your point. She falls in love herself. She turns out to be a very nice girl. But in some of your other books—that’s what some of your women readers complain of—they would like to have you idealize a woman a little more than you do. What is your ideal woman, Ian?
FLEMING: The woman one sees from the top of a bus. We’ve got those double-decker buses in London. Perhaps on a gusty, rainy day, and you're going along on the top, which I rather enjoy doing…You might see half a dozen ideal women from the top of a bus, you know.
FLEMING [More seriously]: I think I very much like the WREN type of woman. Or—what’s the name of your women’s naval service?—the WAVES. I like the fact that they seem to want to please, to make one happy. Rather like, you know—if you’ve ever been to Japan; there’s a desire to please among Orientals which I find very pleasant after living in the harsh West. [Pausing] But I think it’s very difficult to say. Because in the end, one ends up marrying entirely the opposite of what one thinks, you know, which I have done.
DULLES: But haven’t you noticed, in a great many cases, after death or a divorce, the next wife will have certain traits very similar to those of the first?
FLEMING: That’s probably true, yes.
DULLES: I’ve seen it again and again.
FLEMING: You know, wives, marriage…The whole business of marriage…It’s a ridiculous institution, really.
DULLES [Laughing]: I’m not supposed to assent to all of this.
FLEMING [Continuing seriously]: I think anybody who has a happy marriage…Well, both of them are heroes! I mean, both parties of a marriage, a successful marriage, have got to be heroes. Because I think marriage is the most difficult thing in life. I mean, Allen, your job in CIA was nothing—
DULLES [Humorously]: I grant that.
FLEMING: —absolutely nothing compared to creating a happy marriage! My golly, it requires intelligence! It requires understanding, it requires intuition, it requires sensitivity, far beyond anything your staff could ever have produced.
DULLES [Again laughing]: That sounds very different from James Bond!
FLEMING: Well, I am different. Oh, Lord, yes. Just as I suspect you are different from a lot of the spies you’ve employed.
DULLES [Comfortably]: Well, I’m supposed to look like a professor.
FLEMING: A genial professor, yes… But tell me, Allen, how do you like being, so to speak, in retirement? After giving up your tremendous job.
DULLES: Well, one never likes it, really. You adjust yourself to it. I made one big mistake. I thought I was going to be bored when I left, so I took on a good deal more than I can do. I’m on quite a number of boards, and I’m up here—
FLEMING: What kind of boards?
DULLES: Investment companies, things of that kind. They think I know what’s going to happen in the world, you know, and I may be useful. And I've written, you know, this book, The Craft of Intelligence, and have two or three more books in the works. And they keep me running around, the publishers. I thought you wrote a book, you know, gave it to the publishers and they did the rest. But they’re after you all the time. I'm traveling all over the country.
FLEMING: Well, particularly in America—you’re required to do too much of this editing, over here.
DULLES [Referring to the dialogue]: What I’m talking about is promotion. This is promotion, isn’t it?
FLEMING: I suppose it is. Yes…When was it we met, Allen? You gave a dinner, I recall. Four years ago, was it?
DULLES: It was longer. Six or seven years. And we met [Dryly, very casually]—you remember that man, head of one of your unspeakable—I mean unmentionable—British agencies?
FLEMING [Remembering with pleasure]: That’s right! And we sat around…We got…Oh, we had great fun!
DULLES: He's still going strong, isn't he?
FLEMING: Yes, he is. Nice chap.
DULLES: Was that about the time you met President Kennedy?
FLEMING: No, no, I met him later. It was in the spring, about March—before he was elected President. I was visiting an old friend, and I was driving along through Washington one day with his wife—a charming person; and there we saw two people on the street and she said, “Oh, there’s Jack and Jackie Kennedy!” And so we pulled up, and she said, “How are you?” and so on—she’s a great friend of theirs—and, “Do you know Mr. Ian Fleming?” And Jack Kennedy said, “Not the Ian Fleming!” Of course, this is the sort of thing that any author, you know—this is just what we love! You know [Playing it out] “The Allen Dulles!” [Dulles laughs] And I sort of blushed and said, “Well, I’m the chap who writes the books.” And they said, “Oh, you must come to dinner tonight,” and so on and so forth. And we went to dinner and we had great fun; and since then—I mean, we became friends, and I always sent the Kennedys my books. And, of course, he did me a fantastically good turn in America by saying they liked my books.
DULLES: Well, I can testify to that. Because I got one of your books from Mrs. Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy; and then I sent her the next two…
FLEMING [Sadly, almost inaudibly]: A lot of adventure went out of the world when he died.
DULLES: It did. It did. And lightness and quickness…
FLEMING: He was an extraordinary man. It just hit us like a sledge hammer in England.
DULLES [Quietly]: He was—he was extraordinary...In any case, that was when we met the first time, you and I, at that dinner. And then you were kind enough to begin introducing some of our CIA people into your books. In subordinate positions, of course. I say this very politely, you understand.
FLEMING [Also more lightly]: Yes…Well, I’ve brought you into my next book also. Comparing you favorably with your successor, who, I have said, is a much more difficult man to get on with—from the British, of course, point of view.
DULLES: I hope not too difficult. Because I’m supporting him in every way I can.
FLEMING: Well, in the book he's under jurisdiction of the defense council. And he’s very worried about the leaks in England—about the Vassall and Profumo cases, and so forth. Discovering that Vassal, a highly trusted man, had for six years been leaking information to the Soviet—that was quite a thing.
DULLES: Well, we’ve had our own leaks in this country too. I’ve always been very cautious about criticizing. Faced with what we have to cope with in the Soviet system, we’re all going to have spies in our midst. But what we’re doing now—and I hope sometime you can emphasize the fact—is strengthening our counterintelligence. Counterintelligence is getting very, very much better than it was ten, fifteen years ago.
FLEMING: I’m very glad to hear that.
DULLES: And now we’re picking them up.
DULLES: And the fact that you are finding enemy agents in Great Britain too ought not to be a subject for too much criticism. That you have them, that's damned bad. But you are finding them. And we’ve been finding them here too. But, you know, I think we exchange them too rapidly. I was very much opposed to the exchange of Egorov and his wife before trial. You remember—Ivan D. Egorov, the fellow in the UN who was running a network here…
FLEMING: That’s right…
DULLES: …and we let him go home? Some in his network will he tried, but the chief fellow had been exchanged! I thought we ought to have tried him first—then if you want to exchange him, all right.
FLEMING: Quite. But was that for Powers? Or for whom?
DULLES: No. Egorov and his wife were exchanged for a Fulbright scholar. He was arrested over there in 1961. And for a Roman Catholic priest who’d been held since 1940.
FLEMING: Oh, of course. I remember.
DULLES: I agreed to the Powers exchange. I agreed because, after all, we got value for value there. And Abel—Colonel Rudolf Abel, who had been posing as a lowly photographer in Brooklyn—I don't think Abel was ever going to talk! You remember, up to that point the Soviets had taken the position that they had no responsibility for him. And so we also won the point that in his exchange we had an admission by the Soviet that he was their spy.
FLEMING: But what’s annoying to me, Allen, is the fact that we work in a democracy and they work in a police state. And nobody makes trouble in their newspapers, Pravda and Izvestia, when they get into espionage trouble.
DULLES: No. It’s never mentioned.
FLEMING: Never! But my Lord, you or I, your country or mine, they’ve only got to sense trouble and the thing makes banner headlines all over the place.
DULLES: Even more so here than in England. You at least have the Official Secrets Act.
FLEMING: How is it you don’t have it?
DULLES: Well, you see, our Constitution is such that that might be deemed impairment of freedom of the press, which is constitutionally guaranteed. I’ve often discussed this question with the Department of Justice—when I was Director. But they always told me that in their view—and I’m a lawyer too, and understand their position—under our constitutional provisions, we probably couldn't have a National Secrets Act.
FLEMING: Well, I don’t know how the hell you operate without it, Allen.
DULLES: We do have espionage laws.
FLEMING: Yes. But, you see, you’ve some terrible leaks, particularly in some of your scientific publications, as you know.
DULLES: Oh, yes, that’s true. In my book I tried to attack that. And then there was a Polish defector, the Polish military attaché here, who defected from the Polish Embassy in Washington. Well, he wrote a book—Really, the subject of that book is how pleasant it is to spy in the United States! A delightful land for spies! Of course, if they get caught, they can get the extreme penalty.
[Continued in next post]
FLEMING [Worriedly]: No. It is difficult, that. I mean, I’ve seen things in the press—I’m only on the fringe of these affairs nowadays—but the enemy’s got imagination, and I’ve seen things put out by some of your absolutely top columnists that put my hair on end!
DULLES [Laughing ruefully]: They aged me a good deal too in the days when I was Director.
FLEMING: I’ll bet they did.
DULLES: I mean really did. Sometimes it was ignorance, in the sense that the writers did not realize the importance of what they were telling. Take when we were trying to develop defenses against the Soviet missiles—that is, from the point of view of intelligence—finding out where they were shooting, what success they had, and so forth. I’m not disclosing any secrets now, but there was that radar we had near the Iron Curtain. It was very important. You had to place your radar within reasonable distance of where the missiles were being tried to know what was happening. Well, that was all disclosed! Now, that didn’t do anybody any good. That certainly wasn’t a bit of information the American public had to have to supervise their government. And the enemy wasn’t raising the issue. And it was all disclosed in our newspapers; and it put the countries where the radars were in a very difficult position.
FLEMING: Well, I think you’ve got your problems and we’ve got ours, and I don’t know what you feel are the main security risks in your country. But I think perversions, sexual perversions—the possibility of blackmail by the enemy of people in important positions—is probably one of the biggest troubles. And they’re so difficult for us to find out.
FLEMING [Continuing]: …because there’s a sort of trade union among those people, which makes it difficult…
DULLES: Oh, yes.
FLEMING: I mean, if you and Fleming: I mean, if you and I happened to love girls in mackintoshes, we would get together! We would say, you know [Secretively, acting it out] “Look quickly there! There’s a girl in a mackintosh!” [Dulles laughs]
FLEMING [Continuing seriously]: But the enemy finds out, and it seems to me that is one of the greatest risks. Now, take this Vassal case we had. It’s so difficult to spot them! He seemed perfectly ordinary, a perfectly ordinary man…And for six years he was working for the enemy because he was afraid he’d he exposed.
DULLES: Well, I think in your country—and I ought to be very careful about any criticism—that maybe you’re a little slow over there in adopting tactics and techniques that might be helpful in finding out. Naturally, you desire to protect everybody’s rights, and so do we.
FLEMING: That’s quite true.
DULLES: Now, I found that what they call the lie detector, is extraordinarily effective in that field. It was perfectly fantastic.
FLEMING: Did you?
DULLES: Not that you ever convict by this alone. We don’t. But, I mean, we get on to them. You use the polygraph and you get traces, and then you’re able to follow these traces, and you get a confession nine times out of ten.
FLEMING: We don’t use it—the lie detector—so much, do we?
DULLES: Not so much, but there have been some talks about it.
FLEMING: But doesn’t that come under your ruling here against eavesdropping? I was reading something about that in one your newspapers. Surely a lie detector is a maximum form of eavesdropping! I mean, it’s eavesdropping on somebody’s subconscious!
DULLES: This is different. That man knows that he’s taking the test. As a matter of fact, I always made it a rule in our shop that you didn’t have to take the lie-detector test. [Pausing] But it’s perfectly true that if you refused to do it, we were pretty anxious to know why. And it didn’t help you in getting a job if you refused to take the test. [Jovially] I never took it because they couldn’t throw me out anyway, so I thought it just as well not to take it. But I’ve often wanted to since—just to see how it works. I think maybe I’ll ask them to give it to me now.
FLEMING: It would be interesting for me to give it to you—to see if I could put my finger on some of your secrets. It would be rather fun to try.
DULLES [Laughing]: You might try. I don’t think we’ve got time this morning, though. [Continuing thoughtfully] The thing is, in intelligence and counterintelligence you have to be careful—you can trip on anything. It’s a critical business.
FLEMING: It’s all-out war! People who raise questions about ethics, moral standards, that sort of thing, just don’t understand what it’s about. I mean the head of the CIA and his opposite number in in this case Semichastney, head of Soviet State Security—they are absolutely like two commanders in chief in the field! I mean, all right—you see the traffic in the streets and everything’s quiet and orderly here. But those two men have been locked in deadly combat—for years!
DULLES: Yes. It goes on just the same, that combat. But I think our people are coming to realize this, and to realize how much we accomplish. Of course, we’ve got a very different problem now from what we had ten or fifteen years ago. For example, I've always been fascinated by Khrushchev’s actions and attitudes. There seems to be something of the shock treatment idea in his actions. You know—surprise them; do something when they don’t expect it! Take the timing of the Belgrade conference of unaligned states. That was the time Khrushchev took to unilaterally break the test ban agreement—oral agreement, the so-called gentleman’s agreement. You would have thought that this was the one time he wouldn’t have done it. Because all those unaligned states were so interested in banning the bomb. But he did. And he took the blame. He just stood up and said, “I'm going to start testing tomorrow!” And he did.
FLEMING: I shall be sorry when Khrushchev goes. I find him sympathetic. I mean, he’s an enemy, an enemy politician, but he’s interesting; a devil we’re beginning to know. It’s a hell of a start.
DULLES: He’s got a sense of humor.
FLEMING: Yes. He’s got a sense of humor.
DULLES: Do you remember that story when I met him at the White House?
FLEMING: Remind me of it.
DULLES [Smiling]: Well, when Khrushchev was over here in the fall of 1959—you remember, he went around the States and complained that we wouldn't let him go to Disneyland, and all that—remember?
DULLES: There was a big dinner at the White House. And I was there, J. Edgar Hoover was there—there were about sixty to seventy people there, quite a big dinner given by the President. And as I went along the line to be introduced to Khrushchev, Khrushchev turned to the interpreter and said something; and then the interpreter said, “Oh, he says he knows you; he reads your reports.”
FLEMING [Grinning]: That’s marvelous.
DULLES: Well, you know a reception line isn’t a place where you can stop and argue, so I just shook hands and went on. But after dinner, when the men were in that small room next to the dining room having their cigars and cognac and so forth, Dick Nixon came up and said, “Have you had a good talk with Khrushchev?” I said, “No, I just had a word or two as we went along the line.” He said, “Well, come on up,” and he introduced me. And Khrushchev repeated, “Oh, yes, as I told you, I know you well. I read your reports.” “Well,” I answered, “I hope you come by them honestly and legally." And he said, “You know we do. We all have the same agents. The agents report to me and they report to you. We all read the same reports.” [Laughs]
FLEMING: That’s terribly funny. And of course, there’s a modicum of truth in that story. I mean the spy is a money-maker in the end—at least, a lot of them are in it simply for money—and of course, as we know, a lot of them deal with both sides.
DULLES: I’ve found that the money-maker is the least dependable type of spy.
DULLES: Sometimes money is important. I can think of a number of cases where a man wanted to keep up a certain social position and got in debt or something of the kind; then money plays a role. And as you say, you get people with some sort of problem, and the enemy gets at them and blackmails them into espionage. But there are also the ideological fellows, those who go into it because they really want to serve their country. By and large I’ve found that if you get an ideological fellow, you’re much safer.
FLEMING: Well, and there are the romantics, the adventurers. The ones who like the excitement...
DULLES: Yes, like James Bond, the hero of your books.
FLEMING: Well, he is more a commando type. He likes adventure.
DULLES: Yes, but he’s working for his government. He’s got patriotic feeling. He’s part of the Service. That’s something I tried to build up when I was the Director—esprit de corps; the fact that we had a fine group of people who had high standards and were part of the team.
FLEMING: Well, in spite of James Bond—who represents the romance and adventure of the game—my books are meant to entertain! It’s a fact that an awful lot of intelligence work is not flamboyant at all.
DULLES: That's true. The man in my shop in the old days who was largely responsible, I think, for one of the greatest intelligence coups—getting, in 1956, the secret speech of Khrushchev, in which he denounced Stalin to the Twentieth Party Congress—was doing that kind of job. And that coup had effects all around the world. It hit the Communist parties, you know, like a bombshell; it broke up some of the parties. It contributed to the Hungarian uprising. The finding of that speech was the result of very sophisticated work. You see, we knew the speech had been written down. It was much too long and detailed to have been made extemporaneously, even by Khrushchev, who is famous for long, extemporaneous speeches. We knew that it had been given a very limited circulation to the heads of some of the Communist parties abroad. Now, where could you get it?
DULLES: And we in CIA took no credit for it. We gave it to the State Department. We spent weeks analyzing—bringing in all the experts to make sure we hadn’t got a forgery, because there are an awful lot of forgeries and a lot of paper mills, people who turn out completely worthless stuff…
FLEMING: Yes, and double-agent stuff, useless stuff which they sell to both sides.
DULLES: Yes. But finally we got the unanimous view of the experts that this could not be false. There were items in it that no person other than Khrushchev could know. It was a great coup! And that cost us practically nothing.
FLEMING: There you are! As you say, the great stuff generally doesn’t cost a lot of money. It’s the small stuff, the swindles, that cost.
DULLES: Well, due to closer collaboration among the services of the Free World, one has been able to cut that down a good deal too. Because some of those people would sell to two or three allied services too, you see, and as soon as you began to compare notes you saw you were being “had.” [Laughs] You were buying the same goods, just mimeographed on different paper.
FLEMING: Whereas the best agents, the real professionals, quietly do their jobs and generally seem very unimpressive.
DULLES: That's sometimes a great problem. It’s no secret that wives who don’t know what their husbands are doing sometimes wonder why they don’t do better.
FLEMING: Yes, you get a man who's perhaps got the job of agricultural attaché; maybe in Moscow or somewhere of that sort. Of course his wife is very worried that from the point of view of his social standing he goes on being agricultural attaché year after year and never gets any promotion. And as for the embassy parties—he’s probably not even invited, because he’s not high enough on the protocol. This is very difficult vis-à-vis the other wives. She can’t say to the other wives, “Joe’s in the Secret Service, you know,” and hear them answer, “Oh, my gosh, is he really!” So Joe goes on as the agricultural attaché, never getting anywhere; and though he may be doing extraordinary work, this means nothing to the wife, and similarly to the children as they grow up. [Acting the question out] “Why is Pa still agricultural attaché?”
DULLES: Sometimes, you know, the wife has to be let in on the secret—perhaps officially—to explain why her husband doesn’t get on. And some of the foreigners begin to ask questions too! “Why, Mr. So-and-so is an awfully smart fellow! Why does he stay on as Secretary of the Legation for five years while younger people who are obviously not nearly as intelligent or clever are moving on?”
FLEMING: Yes, it’s a real problem. But of course, these covers are generally penetrated fairly quickly. A good thing, too. You know, we had a very, very good spy whose job was in the Latin countries—in Italy, largely, and in Paris. When he went over he was a Commander of the Navy, which was his cover. And everybody said, “Oh, here’s dear old—” let’s call him Joe—“Here's dear old Joe from the English Secret Service!” And people used to come out of the masonry and out of the cabinets, you know, and say, “Thank God, at last we know whom we can go and tell things to.” Actually, it’s very important to have one or two people who are known spies.
DULLES: You know, I had an interesting example of that when I arrived in Switzerland two days after the invasion in North Africa. I barely got in, because the frontier was closed. You remember, when Hitler moved down at the time our troops landed in Africa in November, 1942. Well, I arrived in Switzerland. I just barely made it. They threatened me with arrest at the frontier, but I got in. And the next day there was an editorial in the Journal de Genève, an excellent paper, that said I had arrived, and that though I had come as a mere attaché or special assistant in the legation, really I was the special representative of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Well, I thought my career there was fixed; I thought I was “blown”! And I said to myself, “Well, let's accept this.” I had denied, of course, that I was anything special, but the more you deny something, the more they believe it. And the result was, as you say, that a lot of people came to me, thinking that I was a special representative of Roosevelt, and it was very helpful. A lot of crooks came in, but there were a lot of extraordinary people too. And often they came to me after they'd tried to get to other secret· service men and couldn't find them.
FLEMING: Quite. Exactly. It’s good to have an occasional chap above the surface. But then you have to keep your operations especially careful.
DULLES: Yes, yes. You know, the Swiss blackout was one of the things that helped me tremendously.
FLEMING: Was it?
DULLES: You could do things at night. Switzerland was a hotbed of international agents. I don’t think there was any infra-red camera or anything of that kind. So one was able to have meetings at night with all kinds of people, do a great many things I never could have done without the blackout.
FLEMING: Are you going to write that period of your life?
DULLES: I hope to, yes. It's almost time. There’s a little of in my current book.
FLEMING: Yes. Of course, your government being much easier on all this publication than ours is...
DULLES: May I question that?
FLEMING: Well, you have had some books that went too far. We spoke of one earlier, and we agreed—But we’ve had very interesting book published in England which I see is now on sale here, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. It’s a very, very fine spy story.
DULLES: I’ve read it. I got an advance copy of it. [Playfully] But I thought somebody was invading your field a little bit. You’re having some competition there, aren't you?
FLEMING: I don’t object to that. Because first of all, I admire this book very much. It’s very well written. But of course, the only trouble about this is, it’s taking the “mickey” out of the spy business.
DULLES [Laughing]: Explain that a little bit. I’d like to get you to explain that.
FLEMING: Well, none of us wants to do it. I mean, none of us professional writers about spies want this to happen. We want the romance—at least I do; I’m talking for myself—I want the romance and the fun and the fantasy to go on. If you reduced the whole thing to police daywork or ordinary secret-service daywork, it would bore the reader to tears.
DULLES: Well, I didn’t think this did.
FLEMING: No, no. It didn’t. It was well done. But what he does to the spy story is to take the fun out of it. This is a serious, a most depressing, book. I mean, it’s a book that one reads with great respect, but it isn’t a book I would take an airplane journey. Because it wouldn’t take my mind off the airplane. It might even increase my fears and nervousness—
DULLES: I didn’t even know you had any!
FLEMING [Dryly]: Well done, Allen. Now, I’ve got to go now, Allen—
DULLES: Can’t we put in a word—I would like to put in a word about my book here.
FLEMING: Yes, come on.
DULLES: Have you had a chance to look at it?
FLEMING: No, Allen. I haven’t seen it yet. It hasn’t appeared in England yet. I’ll buy a copy here.
DULLES: Oh, no. You’re going to get an American copy. I’ll give it to you.
FLEMING: How much does it cost—four ninety-five?
DULLES: Yes, but I’ll give it to you. I can’t take money. [Fleming laughs]
MODERATOR: We have one for you.
FLEMING: Oh, hooray!
DULLES [Deliberately]: Well, The Craft of Intelligence is the first effort here to really describe in a book the purposes and objectives of an intelligence service and how it operates, insofar as it can be told. And [Humorously, to the moderator] when you reproduce this dialogue, I want something on the book, because that’s—Well, I'm here to see Ian Fleming, but I’m also here to promote my book.
FLEMING: Hear! Hear! I think the thing to do is to end the dialogue on the sort of lines, “All you’ve got to do is read about it in Allen’s The Craft of Intelligence and the latest Ian Fleming!
Thanks, @Revelator. Great reading.
By Ken Purdy (Playboy, Dec. 1964)
Since Edgar Allan Poe invented the modern detective story with “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” expert practitioners of the form have known huge audiences and heavy material rewards. In this procession, the late Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, secret agent nonpareil, will long hold a prominent place. His publishers have sold 30,000,000 copies of his 12 books in 12 years—give or take a couple of million. There are few literate communities in the world, from Hong Kong to Helsinki, in which he is not being read today. Even those who read only Yiddish or Siamese need not be deprived of the pleasure of his literary company—though Fleming himself, at the age of 56, died of a heart attack late last summer, not the first he had had. He had known for some time that he had little prospect of a long life. Yet even in the four hours between the onset of the attack and his death in a Canterbury hospital, he managed to maintain the image of urbanity that distinguished him: En route to the emergency ward, he told the ambulance attendants that he was sorry to have had to trouble them. It was something that most Englishmen of his class would have said, almost pro forma, but it was also very James Bond. There is no doubt that his own character, and the one he had created, were intricately interleaved in Fleming’s mind.
Despite, or perhaps in part because of, his enormous popularity, the literary establishment took little notice of Fleming during his lifetime, and not much more at his death. In general, their judgment of his worth may prove to have been deficient, for he may still be read when novelists presently of some stature have been forgotten. He had an original view; he was an innovator. His central device, the wildly improbable story set against a meticulously detailed and somehow believable background, was vastly entertaining; and his redoubtable, implacable, indestructible protagonist, though some thought him strangely flat in character, may well be not so much the child of this century as of the next.
Several months before his death, Fleming consented to our request for an extended and exclusive interview. Our interviewer says of their meeting:
“He invited me to pick him up for lunch at his London office in Mitre Court, a byway between Fleet Street and the Inns of Court, which is to say, between the worlds of British law and journalism. The reception room was presided over by a pleasant and serene woman whose manner was not unlike M’s Miss Moneypenny in the Bond books. She showed me into his inner office, a sedately elegant study draped and carpeted in wine red, neatly stacked with galley proofs and immaculately furnished with a gilt-framed mirror, brass penholder, ashtray, cigarette lighter and crimson letter boxes. A black Hamburg, a tightly furled umbrella and a dark-blue Burberry raincoat hung from hooks on the back of the door.
“As I entered, Fleming rose from behind a massive leather-topped desk to usher me to a chair—a tall man, lean, tending to be florid, wearing a navy-blue suit of typical British cut marked by one eccentricity: cuffs on the sleeves; light-blue shirt and black-and-white polka-dot bow tie, knotted with offhanded Churchillian looseness. We exchanged pleasantries. He was suave, amused, sardonic—but one sensed that he was kind. More than others, the Englishman reflects his station in life with his air, attitude and speech, and one versed in these matters could place Fleming instantly—and accurately—as Eton and Sandhurst, inherited money, government service, world travel, social assurance. He hadn’t married until he was 43. Mrs. Fleming was Anne Geraldine Charteris, former wife of Lord O’Neill and of Lord Rothermere, owner of London’s Daily Mail.
“After a few minutes of amenities, we left his office and repaired next door to El Vino’s, a venerable Fleet Street grog shop where one may drink from the wood instead of the bottle. I felt like having a whiskey and water, but in deference to my companion’s standing as a gourmet, decided instead on an amontillado. His own choice rather shook me: brandy and ginger ale. Afterward we went for lunch to the White Tower, a deservedly reputable London restaurant where we shared a superb meal with excellent wine, and talked of what came into our heads, for rapport; we were the last to leave the place, at around three o’clock. We declared our mutual ease and made another date for ten days hence in Mitre Court, where we concluded the interview.”
Playboy: It is the belief of some psychologists that neurosis is a necessary concomitant of the creative drive. As a creative writer, do you agree?
Fleming: I think that’s perfectly true. I think that to be a creative writer or a creative anything else, you’ve got to be neurotic. I certainly am in many respects. I’m not really quite certain how, but I am. I’m rather melancholic and probably slightly maniacal as well. It’s rather an involved subject, and I’m afraid my interest in it does not go deeper than the realization that the premise does apply to myself. Possibly it all began with an overprivileged childhood.
Playboy: According to published biographies, your well-to-do family had high hopes of launching you on a distinguished career in the military. After putting you through Britain’s exclusive Sandhurst Academy they learned of your last-minute decision, upon receiving your commission, to “pack it in.” What made you change your mind?
Fleming: I didn’t take up my commission after Sandhurst simply because they had suddenly decided to mechanize the army, and a lot of my pals and I decided that we didn’t want to be glorified garage hands, and that the great days of the cavalry regiments were passing, or shortly would be ended forever—no more polo, no more pigsticking and all that jazz. So a lot of us, having taken our commissions, just gave them up. I was born in 1908; this would have been around 1925, and disillusionment of that kind—and kinds more severe—was common then, as you know. My mother was infuriated. My father had been killed in the First War, and my mother felt responsible for imposing discipline on me and on my three brothers, who were all doing splendidly. She insisted that I must do something, something respectable, and so I opted for the Foreign Office. I went abroad to learn languages. I went to the University of Geneva and the University of Munich. I don’t think of myself as a linguist, but I know French and German very well, because one must if one has any serious inclination toward the Foreign Office. You have to have French and German first-class and one other language partially, which in my case was Russian. My languages are all that remain to me of my original education.
Playboy: Apart from enabling you to sprinkle your James Bond books with foreign terms and bits of conversation, have they proved valuable to you?
Fleming: They are a tremendous extension of one’s life generally, whereas all the other stuff I’ve learned—algebra and trigonometry and all that—I’ve completely forgotten, and as far as I know, none of it was ever of any use to me at all, in any case. But having languages is a tremendous help. You’ve got to live abroad for two years at least to learn a language. When I came home, I took the Foreign Office examination, but I passed seventh and there were only five vacancies, and that was that.
So I started looking around for work that would fit in with what talents and abilities I possessed. All I had done up to that time, aside from a great deal of studying, had been to begin collecting. I had decided, after concerning myself with first editions for a time, that I would collect books that signalized a right-angle turn in the world’s thought on any particular subject, a book of permanent value in the history of the world. I began to think through every human activity, from art to sports and physics and whatnot, and with the help of a great friend of mine who is still my bookseller, we got out a tremendous list of the great books of the world since 1800, which we arbitrarily decided to make the starting date.
They go from Karl Marx’s Das Kapital to Ely Culbertson’s first book on contract bridge, which changed the bridge-playing world—books on everything, the invention of mechanical devices of every kind, of the miner’s lamp, radar, billiards, every kind of subject. This collection gradually got up to about two thousand volumes, all first editions, all in the best possible state, and today it is one of the most valuable private collections in the world. It was considered of such importance that the Bodleian Library at Oxford cared for it during the War. It’s now in storage waiting for us to get into the house we’re building near Oxford, where I can have a proper library, which I’ve never had before. Incidentally, mixed up with that, I later bought a small magazine, The Book Collector, which is now probably the leading bibliographical magazine in the world.
Playboy: You were saying you were looking for a job.
Fleming: Yes—and finally I found one. Because a man called Sir Roderick Jones, who was chairman of Reuter’s, was a friend of my mother’s, I went into Reuter’s, the great international news agency. I stayed with them for three years and had the most exciting time of my life, because in those days news-agency work was like a gigantic football match, and Reuter’s and the Associated Press, of America, were a part of the Allied Agency group, and there were freebooters such as United Press and International News who were trying to break into our territories all around the world. We had some superb battles in Germany and Russia, and so on, and it was all highly enjoyable. It was in Reuter’s that I learned to write fast and, above all, to be accurate, because in Reuter’s if you weren’t accurate you were fired, and that was the end of that.
Playboy: Would you do all this again?
Fleming: Well, the world being as it was in the 1930s, I would do the same as I did then. But today, with the world as it is now, I must say, I really don’t know what I’d do. I’d travel enormously, find some sort of job that would take me round the world, and round and round and round it, and I should think I would probably go back to newspaper work—as a TV newsman, I should think; rather a different article from his counterpart of a few decades ago, although the effort is the same. Nowadays, of course, one’s so hamstrung by trade unions and that sort of thing that some of the fun’s gone out of the game. In those days the paper came first, the story came first, you were out to beat hell out of the opposition, and the pay and the hours of work meant nothing. Of course, for that one must be young and strong and, I suppose, romantic; it’s a different matter if one’s fifty-six and has a wife and child.
Playboy: What took you from journalism into Naval Intelligence?
Fleming: Well, when I left Reuter’s, I did a period in The City [London’s business and financial district] as a partner in the firm of Rowe and Pitman’s, one of the great English stockbroking firms, extremely nice fellows. It was a very pleasant sort of City club—they’re still great friends of mine today—but I got rather fed up, and The Times gave me a special correspondent’s job to go to Moscow on a trade mission. When I came back from that in about March or April of 1939, suddenly I began to hear funny little questions being asked about me; friends would tell me that so-and-so had been asking about where had I been, what did I know, and so on.
This turned out to be a quiet casing for a job in Naval Intelligence; and the reason was that because, of all people, the governor of the Bank of England and the head of Baring Brothers, a very big merchant-banking firm in The City, had been asked to find a man of about my age with good languages and some knowledge of The City, which in fact I hadn’t got at all. In any case, it ended with a luncheon at the Carlton Hotel, with the Director of Naval Intelligence, Admiral J.H. Godfrey, still my warm friend, and a couple of other very quiet characters in plain clothes, and I suddenly found myself in the Admiralty with an honorary rank of lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, and put down as Personal Assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence. I stayed in that job throughout the War.
Playboy: What were your duties?
Fleming: My job got me right into the inside of everything, including all the most secret affairs. I couldn’t possibly have had a more exciting or interesting War. Of course, it’s my experience in Naval Intelligence, and what I learned about secret operations of one sort or another, that finally led me to write about them—in a highly bowdlerized way—with James Bond as the central figure.
Playboy: Did you really settle on the name James Bond, as reported, because you’d been reading a book by a man of that name, and you thought it sounded “suitably flat and colorless”?
Fleming: Yes, that’s absolutely so. It was James Bond’s Birds of the West Indies, a famous ornithological work, and I wanted my hero to be entirely an anonymous instrument and to let the action of the book carry him along. I didn’t believe in the heroic Bulldog Drummond types. I mean, rather, I didn’t believe they could any longer exist in literature. I wanted this man more or less to follow the pattern of Raymond Chandler’s or Dashiell Hammett’s heroes—believable people, believable heroes.
Playboy: One reviewer has written of Bond, “He is the bad guy who smoulders in every good citizen.” Do you agree?
Fleming: I don’t think that he is necessarily a good guy or a bad guy. Who is? He’s got his vices and very few perceptible virtues except patriotism and courage, which are probably not virtues anyway. He’s certainly got little in the way of politics, but I should think what politics he has are just a little bit left of center. And he’s got little culture. He’s a man of action, and he reads books on golf, and so on—when he reads anything. I quite agree that he’s not a person of much social attractiveness. But then, I didn’t intend for him to be a particularly likable person. He’s a cipher, a blunt instrument in the hands of government.
Playboy: You’ve been quoted as saying that you don’t like Bond personally. Is that true?
Fleming: Well, I’ve lived with him for about twelve years now, and we’ve been getting into deeper and deeper trouble together. So I’ve come to have a certain sympathy with what is going to happen to him, whatever that may be.
Playboy: Do you sometimes feel that you are Bond, and Bond is Fleming?
Fleming: No, Bond is a highly romanticized version of anybody, but certainly not I, and I certainly couldn’t keep up with him; I couldn’t have even at his age, which is, and has always been, in the middle thirties. He’s a sort of amalgam of romantic tough guys, dressed up in 20th century clothes, using 20th century language. I think he’s slightly more true to the type of modern hero, to the commandos of the last War, and so on, and to some of the secret-service men I’ve met, than to any of the rather cardboardy heroes of the ancient thrillers.
Playboy: Do you consider his sexual prowess, and his ruthless way with women, to be true to life—even among commandos and secret-service men?
Fleming: Naturally not; but we live in a violent age. Seduction has, to a marked extent, replaced courtship. The direct, flat approach is not the exception; it is the standard. James Bond is a healthy, violent, noncerebral man in his middle thirties, and a creature of his era. I wouldn’t say he’s particularly typical of our times, but he is certainly of the times. Bond’s detached; he’s disengaged. But he’s a believable man—around whom I try to weave a great web of excitement and fantasy. In that, at least, we have very little in common. Of course, there are similarities, since one writes only of what one knows, and some of the quirks and characteristics that I give Bond are ones that I know about. When I make him smoke certain cigarettes, for example, it’s because I do so myself, and I know what these things taste like, and I have no shame in giving them free advertising.
Playboy: Including the gold-ringed cigarettes of Balkan and Turkish tobacco mixed for Bond by Morland’s of Grosvenor Street?
Fleming: Certainly. Why not?
Playboy: Isn’t that a rather injudiciously conspicuous brand for a secret agent to be smoking?
Fleming: Of course it is. No self-respecting agent would use such things. He’d smoke Players or Chesterfields. But the readers enjoy such idiosyncrasies, and they accept them—because they don’t stop to think about it. The secrecy of my secret agent is pretty transparent, if you think about it even briefly. But the pace, the pace of the narrative gets one by these nasty little corners. It’s a sleight-of-hand operation. It’s overpowering the reader. You take him along at such a rate, you interest him so deeply in the narrative that he isn’t jolted by these incongruities. I suppose I do it to demonstrate that I can do it.
[Continued in the next post]
Playboy: Why do you pay so much attention to minutiae in your books?
Fleming: The main reason is that these things excite and interest me. I’m observant, I think, and when I walk down the street or when I go into a room, I observe things and remember them very accurately. It amuses me to use my powers of observation in my books and at the same time to tell people what my favorite objects are, and my favorite foods and liquors and scents, and so on. Exact details of individual private lives and private tastes are extremely interesting to me. I think that even the way in which a man shaves in the morning is well worth recording. The more we have of this kind of detailed stuff laid down around a character, the more interested we are in him.
I make notes of such details constantly; I write down my thoughts and comments and I note menus, and so forth. I’ve just written down something I picked up in Istanbul the other day: “Now there is no more shade.” This is a Turkish expression, used when a great sultan, like Mustafa Kemal, dies. The general cry of the people was “Now there is no more shade,” which is rather an expressive way of saying now there is nothing to protect us, now that the great man has gone. I write things like that down and often use them later on in my books.
Playboy: Of course, you have research done for you as well.
Fleming: Yes, but generally only after I’ve written the book. After I’ve finished a book I realize that I’ve been rather vague or thin on some topic or other, and then I go to the right man and try to get the true gen out of him and then rewrite that particular area.
Playboy: Are you interested in the skills of individual specialists? Would you, for example, go out of your way to meet Chic Gaylord of New York, who makes custom-tailored revolver and pistol holsters for the New York City police and the FBI?
Fleming: Quite honestly, the whole question of expertise in these matters bores me. Obviously, I want to know the facts. If a Gaylord holster is better than a Berns-Martin, I want to know about it, but there my interest rather ends. However, I’m not a bad shot; in fact, I shot for Sandhurst against West Point at one time. And just to see that my hand isn’t trembling too much, I like to have a shot at a tin can or something now and again.
Playboy: How about hunting game?
Fleming: No, I’m not keen on killing things, except to eat them. We have big bush rats in Jamaica, and one time when I’d lent the place for a bit to Anthony Eden, he couldn’t sleep, they made such a racket scurrying about, and a number of them had to be shot by his private detective, which I didn’t like. But to go back to the matter of expertise, I’ve been pestiferated ever since Sports Illustrated ran that article about Bond’s weapons; you saw it, I’m sure—the one which told how I’d been persuaded to take Bond’s .25 Beretta away from him and make him use a 7.65mm Walther instead. That idea had originated with Geoffrey Boothroyd, a genuine expert, and since the article appeared I’ve had hundreds of letters from weapon maniacs—and they are maniacs; they’re terrifying—and Boothroyd gets all those letters sent on to him. I never look at them; he deals with them himself or he doesn’t. I wouldn’t dream of attempting it. I’m just not sufficiently expert.
Playboy: Speaking of firearms, does it amuse you that your imaginative device of Bond’s permissive double-0 prefix—licensing him to kill—should be taken so seriously by your readers when, in fact, any intelligence agent may find it necessary to kill in the line of duty, and to that extent might be considered to have the right to do so?
Fleming: Well, though this was purely a fictional device to make Bond’s particular job more interesting, the double-0 prefix is not so entirely invented as all that. I pinched the idea from the fact that, in the Admiralty, at the beginning of the War, all top-secret signals had the double-0 prefix. This was changed subsequently for the usual security reasons, but it stuck in my mind and I borrowed it for Bond and he got stuck with it.
Playboy: Is there, in your opinion, any such thing as the proverbial perfect murder?
Fleming: Well, no technique, I should think, is more deadly and efficient than that employed by the gunmen of what its proprietors so amusingly call the Cosa Nostra in America, where a man may be sent all the way from Detroit to kill another man sitting in a bar in New York and walk away with no demonstrable connection with him. That is a near-perfect type of killing—the sort of killing that the secret services do, particularly the Russians, who’ve been pretty keen on it in West Germany. Their latest gimmick, the cyanide gas pistol, which is more or less a water pistol filled with liquid cyanide, is a particularly good stunt, because a man can be killed while, say, climbing stairs, and when he’s found, the cyanide has dissipated and leaves no trace. It’s natural to assume that he has had a heart failure climbing the stairs.
But you’ve got to have a lot of nerve for that sort of thing, and whatever it is that enables a good killer to function also seems to defeat him in the end. The killer’s spirit begins to fail, he gets the seed of death within himself. As I wrote in one of my books, From Russia with Love, the trouble with a lot of hired assassins such as the Russians use is that they feel rather badly when they’ve killed five or six people, and ultimately get soft or give themselves up, or they take to drugs or drink. It would be interesting to conduct an inquiry to determine who was the greatest assassin in history—who was, or who is. I have no particular candidate. But they all do grow a sort of bug inside them after a bit.
Playboy: You’ve been criticized for being “obsessed” with violence in your books. Do you feel the charge is justified?
Fleming: The simple fact is that, like all fictional heroes who find a tremendous popular acceptance, Bond must reflect his own time. We live in a violent era, perhaps the most violent man has known. In our last War, thirty million people were killed. Of these, some six million were simply slaughtered, and most brutally. I hear it said that I invent fiendish cruelties and tortures to which Bond is subjected. But no one who knows, as I know, the things that were done to captured secret agents in the last War says this. No one says it who knows what went on in Algeria.
Playboy: You said a moment ago that professional assassins “grow a sort of bug inside them after a bit.” Does that include Bond?
Fleming: Yes, it does disturb Bond to kill people, even though he continues to get away with it—just as he continues to get away with driving conspicuous motorcars.
Playboy: In recent books you’ve had him driving a supercharged Bentley. Why did you pick this particular car for him?
Fleming: I probably chose the supercharged Bentley because Amherst Villiers was and is a great friend of mine, and I knew something about it from my friendship with him. I put Bond into a Bentley simply because I like him to use dashing, interesting things.
Playboy: Do you share his taste for exotic cars?
Fleming: Yes. I’d like to have a supercharged Bentley myself, but nowadays—I’m fifty-six, after all—I like a car I can leave out in the street all night and which will start at once in the morning and still go a hundred miles an hour when you want it to and yet give a fairly comfortable ride. I can’t be bothered with a car that needs tuning, or one that will give me a lot of trouble and expenditure. So I’ve had a Thunderbird for six years, and it’s done me very well. In fact, I have two of them, the good two-seater and the less-good four-seater. I leave them both in the street, and when I get in and press the starter, off they go, which doesn’t happen to a lot of motorcars.
Now, the Studebaker supercharged Avanti is the same thing. It will start as soon as you get out in the morning; it has a very nice, sexy exhaust note and will do well over a hundred and has got really tremendous acceleration and much better, tighter road holding and steering than the Thunderbird. Excellent disk brakes, too. I’ve cut a good deal of time off the run between London and Sandwich in the Avanti, on braking power alone. So I’m very pleased with it for the time being.
Playboy: Unlike Bond, you say you are bored by guns, and you don’t drive an exotic vintage car. Do you share, at least, his passion for casino gambling?
Fleming: I do like to gamble. I play bridge for what might be called serious stakes. I like chemin de fer. I play at clubs here in London, private clubs. And I may go to Le Touquet, places like that on the Continent. I like to think that I am reasonably competent at the gaming tables—we all think so, I suppose—but still, I win as much as I lose, or a bit more. I like that, which I suppose demonstrates that I am not a true compulsive gambler, because the compulsive gambler doesn’t care much whether he wins or loses. He is interested primarily in the “action.” I remember one occasion on which I very much wanted to win. I was on my way to America with the Director of Naval Intelligence, Admiral Godfrey. We were in Estoril in Portugal, and while we were waiting for transport, we killed some time in the casino. While there, I recognized some German agents, and I thought it would be a brilliant coup to play with them, break them, take their money. Instead, of course, they took mine. Most embarrassing. This incident appears in Casino Royale, my first book—but, of course, Bond does not lose. In fact, he totally and coldly vanquishes his opponent.
[Continued—and concluded—in the next post]
Playboy: Casino Royale, and all of the other Bond books, have been written at your home in Jamaica. How did you happen to pick the West Indies as a creative hideaway?
Fleming: I first went to Jamaica on a Naval Intelligence assignment around 1942 to meet with my American opposite numbers from the Office of Naval Intelligence to see if we could do something about the U-boat sinkings in the Caribbean. I stayed in the good old Myrtle Bank Hotel, and it poured every day—and I loved every minute of it. I’d never been in the tropics before and I thought they were wonderful, as I suppose any Scotsman would. I was determined that at the end of the War I’d come back and find a plot and build a house and live in it whenever I could. It’s worked out like that. When I went back in 1946, I borrowed a car from a man called Sir William Stevenson, who was chief of our intelligence service in the States during the War; he had a house in Jamaica and I went round and finally I found this disused donkeys’ racecourse by the sea. I bought the racecourse and I built on it a square of a house which I had designed while I was working in the Admiralty during the last two or three years of the War, looking forward to something more pleasant than the V-1s and V-2s. And I go there every year during January and February and a bit of March, and the whole thing’s been a great success. It’s by a little banana port called Oracabessa, and the house is called Goldeneye, a name I chose.
Fleming: I had happened to be reading Reflections in a Golden Eye by Carson McCullers, and I’d been involved in an operation called Goldeneye during the War: the defense of Gibraltar, supposing that the Spaniards had decided to attack it; and I was deeply involved in the planning of countermeasures which would have been taken in that event. Anyway, I called my place Goldeneye. The alternative choice was Shamelady, which is the Jamaican name for the sensitive plant, the one which curls up when the leaves are touched. When I and a friend inspected the plot, we looked over the edge of the cliff, and there was the most beautiful naked Negress bathing in the waves, so I thought that Shamelady would be a good name for it—the whole thirty acres were covered with the plant—but it would have been a little bit too fancy. In any event, the house has been a great success. As you said, I have written all my books there.
Playboy: Do you spend most of your time there at the typewriter?
Fleming: By no means. I get up with the birds, which is about half past seven, because they wake one up, and then I go and bathe in the ocean before breakfast. We don’t have to wear a swimsuit there, because it’s so private; my wife and I bathe and swim a hundred yards or so and come back and have a marvelous proper breakfast with some splendid scrambled eggs made by my housekeeper, who’s particularly good at them, and then I sit out in the garden to get a sunburn until about ten. Only then do I set to work. I sit in my bedroom and type about fifteen hundred words straightaway, without looking back on what I wrote the day before. I have more or less thought out what I’m going to write, and, in any case, even if I make a lot of mistakes, I think, well, hell, when the book’s finished I can change it all. I think the main thing is to write fast and cursively in order to get narrative speed.
Then, about quarter past twelve, I chuck that and go down, with a snorkel and a spear, around the reefs looking for lobsters or whatever there may be, sometimes find them, sometimes don’t, and then I come back, I have a couple of pink gins, and we have a very good lunch, ordinary Jamaican food, and I have a siesta from about half past two until four. Then I sit again in the garden for about an hour or so, have another swim, and then I spend from six to seven—the dusk comes very suddenly in Jamaica; at six o’clock it suddenly gets very dark—doing another five hundred words. I then number the pages, of which by that time there are about seven, put them away in a folder, and have a couple of powerful drinks, then dinner, occasionally a game of Scrabble with my wife—at which she thinks she is very much better than I am, but I know I’m the best—and straight off to bed and into a dead sleep.
Playboy: And you return to England in March with a completed manuscript?
Fleming: Except for minor revisions, yes.
Playboy: How do you spend the rest of the year?
Fleming: Commuting between London—where we have a very nice little house—and the country, where I keep a small but comfortable flat on Pegwell Bay in Sandwich; that’s in Kent. I work the “Fleming Two-Day Week,” which means that I try to spend at least four days and five nights in the country and only two nights up in London, because I don’t like big towns. Generally I come up on Monday night and I go down again to Sandwich on Thursday morning, with any luck.
Playboy: What do you do with your time in the country?
Fleming: Well, I get up late, about half past eight or nine, have breakfast, coffee and a boiled egg—three and a half minutes, not three and two thirds, like James Bond. I read newspapers and deal with a certain amount of mail and then I go off to the golf course; the one I play on is in Sandwich—the Royal St. George—a course known to a great many Americans, and one that Bobby Jones and all the great men have played; Jack Nicklaus won the Gold Vase on that course three or four years ago. And I meet some friends there and we have a drink or two and lunch and then I go out and play a tough game of golf for fairly high stakes, foursomes generally, not American four-ball, but each pair hitting the ball in turn. And we laugh a lot and it’s great fun. Then I go back home in the evening and sit down and have a couple of very powerful bourbons and waters with ice and read awhile, and then I have whatever my wife has decided to cook for me and I go straight off to bed.
Playboy: And when you’re in London?
Fleming: In London we have, as I said, a very nice little house—but it hasn’t got any trees around it, which I would like, and I would prefer to live higher up, somewhere like Hampstead, on the heights above London, with birds and trees and a bit of garden. But my wife, who likes to entertain, feels that this would be too far from the House of Commons for our friends to come, and altogether too suburban. In any case, I get up in the morning about the same time as in the country, have the same breakfast, and at about half past ten I drive to my office, where my secretary has the mail ready for me, which I cope with and then dictate a few letters. Then I correct some proofs or go over whatever I happen to be working on at the moment and have lunch with a friend—always a male friend; I don’t like having lunch with women—and perhaps I go to my club, Boodles, or the Turf, where I sit by myself and read in that highly civilized privacy which is the great thing about some English clubs. In the afternoon I have more or less the same routine correcting proofs. I go home and have three large drinks and then we either stay in for dinner or have people in, or go out; but more often we have dinner together and go to bed.
Playboy: Your books were often among those at the bedside of President Kennedy, who publicly declared himself an enthusiastic Bond fan. He was even said to have considered Bond his favorite fictional character. Did he ever tell you why?
Fleming: No, he didn’t. In any case, I don’t think Bond was President Kennedy’s favorite fictional character; I think he was his favorite adventure character. But I think perhaps that Bond’s sort of patriotic derring-do was in keeping with the president’s own concept of endurance and courage and grace under pressure, and so on. Strangely enough, many politicians seem to like my books, I think perhaps because politicians like solutions, with everything properly tied up at the end. Politicians always hope for neat solutions, you know, but so rarely can they find them.
Playboy: Do you have other admirers among world figures of major stature?
Fleming: I don’t know, really. For one, I don’t believe Mr. Khrushchev is one of my readers, and we haven’t met. I do have among my memorabilia a short typewritten note from Joseph Stalin, signed in his hand and, I think, typed by him as well, saying that he is sorry, but he must decline to be interviewed.
Playboy: It was Stalin who organized SMERSH, the Soviet counterpart of the Gestapo, which served as Bond’s adversary in several of your earlier books. What made you decide to abandon it in Thunderball for the ideologically unaligned gang of international conspirators which you call SPECTRE?
Fleming: I closed down SMERSH, although I was devoted to the good old apparat, because, first of all, Khrushchev did in fact disband SMERSH himself, although its operations are still carried out by a subsection of the K.G.B., the Russian secret service. But in that book—I think it was Thunderball that I was writing at the time of the proposed summit meeting—I thought well, it’s no good going on if we’re going to make friends with the Russians. I know them, I like them personally, as anyone would, as anyone would like the Chinese if he knew them. I thought, I don’t want to go on ragging them like this. So I invented SPECTRE as an international crime organization which contained elements of SMERSH and the Gestapo and the Mafia—the cozy old Cosa Nostra—which, of course, is a much more elastic fictional device than SMERSH, which was no fictional device, but the real thing. But that was really the reason I did it, so as not to rag the Russians too much. But if they go on squeezing off cyanide pistols in people’s faces, I may have to make them cosa mia again.
Playboy: Mystery writer Raymond Chandler has said of you, “He writes more correctly, neatly, concisely and vividly than most of our ‘serious’ novelists.” On the other hand, New York Times critic Anthony Boucher has said that in his view you write “monumentally badly.” Do you have any comment on these contrasting appraisals?
Fleming: I dare say Ray Chandler said that because he was a friend of mine. As for Anthony Boucher, he’s never liked my books, and it shows what a good reviewer he is that he says so. Others, happily—such as Cyril Connolly—think otherwise. There is no doubt, however, that I—and even Anthony Boucher—should write better. There is no top limit to writing well. I try to write neatly and concisely and vividly because I think that’s the way to write, but I think a large amount of that comes, as I said earlier, from my training as a fast-writing journalist, under circumstances in which you damned well had to be neat and correct and concise and vivid. I’m afraid I think Reuter’s training was much more valuable to me than all the reading in English literature I did at Eton or in Geneva or wherever.
Playboy: You have said that you write unashamedly for money. Is that true?
Fleming: Yes, it is. I do write for money—but also for pleasure. I’m very glad that people say kind things about my books—because, naturally, if they didn’t say so, I shouldn’t make any money, and consequently I shouldn’t enjoy the writing so much. I think that communicating enjoyment is certainly a very good achievement, even in the fairly modest seam of literature that comprises thriller writing. But it’s true that I write below my ultimate capacity—or at least I think I probably do. If I really settled down and decided to write a War and Peace among thrillers, if I shut myself up and decided to do this and nothing else, I dare say I might bring it off, if such a thing is possible. There’s a great deal of violence and sex in all great novels, so I dare say if I tried to do it in the modern vein I might conceivably succeed.
But I’m more interested in action than in cerebration, and I should think that the great War and Peace thriller would be more likely to be written by a man like Graham Greene or Georges Simenon, because either of them would do it more truthfully and accurately than I ever could. I enjoy exaggeration and things larger than life. It amuses me to have a villain with a great bulbous head, whereas, as you know, they’re generally little people with nothing at all extraordinary-looking about them. Then, too, I’m afraid I shouldn’t be able to write in sufficient depth to make this hypothetical thriller stand up as a classic.
Playboy: Why not?
Fleming: I’m too interested in surface things, and I’m too interested in maintaining a fast pace, in writing at speed. I’m afraid I shouldn’t have the patience to delve into the necessary psychological introspection and historical background. But in the end, I must say, I’m very happy writing as I do. And I greatly enjoy knowing that other people, quite intelligent people, find my books amusing and entertaining. But I’m not really surprised, because they entertain and amuse me, too.
Ian Fleming’s Last Interview: How to Take Any Woman…James Bond Style!
By Alain Ayache (Saga: The Magazine for Men, July 1965)
You don't have to be a spy—or look like Sean Connery—to make love to the woman you want. Here, the creator of James Bond bares 007 seduction secrets.
Editors' Note: In the summer of 1964, French journalist Alain Ayache interviewed Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond. Fleming agreed to sit for another interview at a later date in Switzerland. But Fleming died in September [sic], 1964. Ayache went over his notes carefully and decided to release them unedited, in Ian Fleming's own words. Here in a SAGA exclusive, is Ian Fleming on the subject closest to James Bond's heart.
Seduction is an art that must be practiced casually in order to obtain the best results. No sentimentalism. A seducer such as James Bond takes very careful aim each time he spots a quarry to be certain of success. A setback would be as fatal to him as if he had shot at and missed an adversary, Beretta in hand.
Thus he must follow a rigorous training program. Statistics prove that 81.6 percent of all females considered beautiful, elegant or simply attractive, notice, first of all, a man's glance. They read it like an open book. Everything is in the glance. Harden it until it is metallic. The look that you use must be fiery, rapid and searching—but it must never rest on the object of your desire more than several fractions of a second.
The first quality that strikes a woman, according to men like James Bond, is an impression of virility. A woman doesn't have to feel that you have noticed her; it is she who must notice you. A man must undress a woman with his gaze, but for a woman, a simple, rapid glance suffices to decide whether or not you are “her type.”
James Bond, a man who loves a fast seduction, does not behave with women the way most men would. Women, being the way they are, love to be intrigued. This is no great secret, but there are different ways of taking advantage of this weakness.
The most effective method, on meeting a woman for the first time, is to affect an air of preoccupation. Pay only the slightest attention to the hand she offers you; just enough so that you will not appear impolite, and just little enough so that for an instant she will think you are a cad!
Avoid compliments—leave such banalities to those men devoid of sex appeal.
Use your metallic gaze; your power to stir emotion is gone if you allow a sentimental stare to take its place. Women sensitive to the virile charm of a James Bond (and believe me, there is some of this charm in all of us!) love to meet men who are hard, implacable and solid—men who are direct.
It is also important not to leap at the first word pronounced by the woman as soon as she has been introduced to you. On the contrary, let several seconds pass, as if you were very occupied in making some private plans, or plotting the details of how you were going to meet her the next day!
Don't waste your effectiveness by recounting in great detail your trips abroad, even if they are true. Just pass over them by saying things like, “Jamaica to me meant a broken arm!” And if she insists on having more details, pretend that you didn't hear her and pass on to another subject.
At a party, never stay with the same group; don't hesitate to move away, to stay by yourself in a corner—but in a corner where everyone can see you. Don't appear to enjoy yourself too much. Where others break out laughing, be satisfied just to smile to your right and your left—it's more esthetic.
Never readjust your tie; women definitely consider this gesture as indicative of indecision and timidity! Instead, in order to impress them favorably, put your hand in your pants pocket, or rub your chin with it. These details may seem insignificant to many of you, but you'll find that you are wrong.
It is not advisable to lacquer your hair; I would recommend this only for those men who ordinarily comb their hair straight back. For the others, it's better to cultivate a rebellious lock, one that’s never quite in place, but hangs slightly over the forehead.
In nightclubs, restaurants, and other public places, it's always useful if certain waiters, bartenders or members of the staff know “who you are,” without, of course, knowing too much about you.
Don't waste time in trying to “make yourself interesting.” Don't feel that you must show your little social talents by doing card tricks, or by telling “the latest funny story.” In order to seduce, you must observe a certain silence. Women of the world often equate a quiet man with a “man who knows more than he wants to say.”
While someone else is giving what he believes to be a brilliant demonstration of his talents, you must bring your smile into play, to the right and the left, with your most ironic air.
When she asks your opinion on some question with which you would be expected to be familiar, don't grasp at the opportunity like a drowning man reaching for a life preserver. Tug at your ear a bit, and then reply, without making too much of your knowledge. Nothing bores a pretty woman more than a man who wants to tell her everything he knows.
Don't hesitate to show your boredom if people around you are discussing an uninteresting subject. There will be at least one person of the opposite sex who will share your feeling.
Don't ever be the one who leaves a party last. I think it useful to mention that there is a means of departure you can use that will leave behind an “odd impression.” All you have to do is buy a watch with a bell alarm, which you can set to ring at the chosen moment. This will not fail to intrigue those around you!
It will happen, probably, that you will feel like dancing. I recommend strongly to all those who think that they have James Bond blood in their veins, never to dance just for the sake of dancing! You must choose useful dances, dances that will permit you to improve your advantage, and to know where you stand in relation to your partner.
Slow dances are recommended, of course. I suggest that you not make excessive use of them, however; a slow dance is like alcohol, capable of playing bad tricks on you if you are not accustomed to it. Avoid the childish cheek-to-cheek stuff. Squeezing your partner against you is okay, but it won't get you anywhere—even if you sense that she has a strong attraction to you. The most important thing is to make sure of the complicity of the woman you're dancing with, but not to abuse the circumstances.
Avoid talking about her; act as if you weren't familiar with refined manners. But don't be completely silent, and don't stare her straight in the eyes. Dances, slow ones especially, have nothing in common with the moment of truth at a bullfight! You might, if need be, permit yourself to catch a lock of her hair in your hand, if it happens to be long enough.
If she responds to your appeals, cut her off abruptly. Don't ask her for the following dance. Find some pretext for disappearing. Return half an hour later, and without saying a word to her, take her by the hand, lead her onto the floor, and dance with her.
Then simply say: “Do you plan to stay here all evening?”
It is probable that she will reply, “No.”
Then, “My car is in front of the door, let's go have a drink somewhere else. Go on out, I'll rejoin you in three minutes.”
It is necessary that in all these things your behavior conveys a certain disdain for other people—without exaggeration, however. Women like strong men, but not brutes.
As soon as you are in the car, turn on the radio. You will inevitably hit on some popular record. Feign an irritated expression and change the station until you find some classical music, a Beethoven symphony, for example. Your companion will regard you again with more attention and curiosity!
When she shows signs of tenderness, don't press her hands in yours. It may be very disagreeable to hold back, but don't, under any circumstances, allow yourself to hold her hand!
If you order a second drink, don't ask for just anything. Give the bartender the recipe for your special cocktail. Make sure it's one that will take even him by surprise—even if it makes you gag to drink it.
You will once more have scored a point.
If you go into a nightclub or a discotheque, don't commit the fatal error of all beginners—don't take a table. Strategically, choose the bar; you're then sure of seeing everything, and nothing will hamper you in moving about quickly.
If, on entering, you see a woman of remarkable beauty, don't rush; you will get ahead of her desires, because to convince her of them, you will first have to catch her glance. Patience.
Others will rush out to ask her to dance.
She will refuse.
And then, probably after several refusals, she will by chance dance with someone.
Don't get panicky. You haven't lost the game yet.
You should take the wise precaution, even though you're chomping at the bit, not to ask any other woman to dance. Inevitably, the beautiful female you lust after will pass in front of you while dancing with her escort. The floors of nightclubs, it is well known, are very small.
With a simple gesture of your index finger, you ask her for the next dance.
With a nod of the head, she will tell you, “yes.”
Take care to choose a moment when her escort has his back to you. This “yes” that she gives you with a nod of her head is worth more than hours of chatter. When you dance with her the following dance, she will be already three-quarters conquered.
You will stick in her mind as the man who had the courage to ask her in spite of her escort. She will remember that you were not the first to approach her. As you know, women hate to submit to just any man—above all, to the first one who comes along.
You must avoid the common pitches habitually used in nightclubs; be content to improve your advantage by declaring with a detached air, “I know at least five different men around me who would be delighted to dance with you.” She will reply that these types do not interest her.
“What is your type of man, then?” you ask.
She will probably twist her lip a bit, and then, word by word, she will automatically paint a picture that down to the color of the hair will resemble you.
At that point you squeeze her a little harder in your arms, embracing her but saying nothing. All this you can achieve without the slightest difficulty and with considerable pleasure.
I definitely advise, to the James Bond that sleeps in the hearts of all of you, to remain silent for periods of at least 30 seconds. A silence so prolonged will make your partner think about you.
If you want to avoid disappointing her, don't propose a walk through the park, hand-in-hand. This type of woman expects action from you. Don't forget that in her mind you are “a man apart.” You must practice feigning indifference. This approach will often get surprising results, particularly if the woman you are dancing or talking with is convinced that you “have a weakness for her.”
It is never necessary to give to women the impression that they have chosen you, but rather that you have conquered them.
Never forget that all women are available, or more exactly, all are ready to be swept off their feet. Some love to speak of it as their “one fault,” in which case it is only necessary to give them the impression that they are conquered. It's that simple! If she thinks that you are an exceptional type, she will also think that she is an exceptional woman!
It is necessary, if you are one of those men who like a quick seduction, that you get into the habit of discerning at first glance the woman who will not refuse to dance with you, or who wants to talk with you. This might appear difficult at first. Actually, there's nothing to it.
Men, in general, lack audacity—or often confuse audacity with haste.
Everything about you must breathe CLASS!
As I see it, a man of class in women's eyes is, above all, a man who one realizes will not be easy to handle, a man who must live at the burning pace of a sports car in a 24-hour endurance race.
It won't get you anywhere to brag of your money, your qualities, or your connections. Women have a horror of being “put on.”
Some of my recommendations will not be effective for some men.
It is absolutely necessary that the reader of this article measure at least 5'9". He must be thin. Age is not so important, but he shouldn't be past 60. He must have a nonchalant, blasé appearance. His presence should inspire respect from other men. He must appear elegant, but at the same time a little careless of his appearance—and, above all, he must make of the conquest of women in general as noble a sport as golf! He must avoid wearing showy cuff-links, and especially rounded shirt collars. He must pay attention to the way he knots his tie, and his shoes by preference should be square-toed.
I know that these details will appear silly to those whose goal in life is not necessarily seduction. But my advice is directed to those who do not want to waste time approaching a woman when they have no chance of success!
It is necessary to avoid swaggering, rubbing your hands together in satisfaction, talking in a loud voice, leering lecherously and telling coarse jokes. And also knowing how to dance too well.
There is no perfect man on this earth, and a woman will want you to have a few faults, a few gaps that she can try to fill.
You would do well to try, one evening, sending an old, trusted friend on ahead of you—one whom you know thinks a lot of you. You plan to arrive a half-hour after him. He will have had time to spread, by way of flattering remarks about you, such an interest in your eventual presence that you, and no one else, will be able to satisfy it.
All successes, like all delicate operations, must be prepared for conscientiously. It won't be love at first sight if you don't plan it beforehand.
What about the importance of a man’s profession in the eyes of a woman?
It is obvious that an unattached man doesn't place much importance on the profession of his female companion, as long as she is beautiful. It's not the same for a woman.
If you meet a woman who asks you, “What do you do for a living?”, don't reply immediately; take time for reflection. Then say, “Is it so important?”
She will probably insist. You have by your hesitation excited her curiosity.
Don't tell her you're a spy—she won't believe you. On the contrary, say to her, “I'd prefer that we talk about other things. My profession is nothing very noble, and fortunately it keeps me out of the limelight.”
You will then see a smile appear on her face. If she is intelligent, she will read between the lines that you are someone “special,” and as she will have probably just read some mystery thriller, she will imagine that you are one of these shadowy heroes whom it will be useless to pester with questions!
If pressed further, remember that women will not want, in most cases, to go out with a floorwalker, a clerk or a hairdresser even if he appeals to her. She will prefer a popular novelist, a mystery writer, a journalist, an explorer, a deep-sea diver, an airline pilot, a photographer, a stunt flyer, a croupier, or even a man who somehow or other is “mixed up” in counterespionage!
Don't disappoint her!
Don't commit the gross mistake of telling her your real profession! What is she looking for, after all?
A dream? Escape?
Then be generous. Give it to her!
😁😁😁 His tongue firmly in his cheek, Fleming shows that he can be more obviously humourous than usual. Kingsley Amis was clearly influenced by this in his "The Book Of Bond". I was encouraged since I'm over 5'9" but immediately brought back down since I'm also over 60.
People are aging much better nowadays than in Fleming's time--you still have a chance!
I'm 5'10" and under 50, so there's a (very remote) possibility of me convincing the ladies that I'm an international man of mystery.