😁😁😁 To paraphrase Amis in the book above, I'm better off pretending to be M.
Anyway, thanks for that one - thanks for them all, of course - it was very funny.
The Playboy interview was excellent. Playboy used to do really good interviews. That one about seducing women is, well, yes, it is a bit tongue in cheek, but some of it is very true - not for seducing women, just behaviours in general.
How James Bond Destroyed My Husband
By Mrs. Ian Fleming, as told to Leslie Hannon (Ladies’ Home Journal, Oct. 1966)
Ian Fleming wrote the most successful spy stories of our time. His books and movies made millions. Now, his widow discloses a plot from real life: how this dashing, brilliant man was actually haunted by the success of his fictional hero and finally driven to a premature death.
Somerset Maugham once said to me when the James Bond myth grew to threatening proportions that the public would henceforth refuse to leave my husband alone, and that Ian would feel himself driven to satisfy his public. Maugham was certainly proved right.
Sometimes I hated James Bond. Ian should certainly not have written the last book. I implored him to rest. The doctors warned him time and again. It was far too much strain for a man who had suffered a bad coronary attack.
I said. “Other writers don't feel driven to publish a book every year.” He didn’t need the money. But with publishers, film-makers, the press and the public all seemingly insatiable, the writing of the next Bond fantasy, and then the next, became a compulsion. Bond was his Frankenstein's monster.
Ian died at 56. His constitution was unequal to the pace and to the burden of to cope with the never-ending demands. No one knew this better than he did. He was an impossible patient. He flatly refused to slow down even to a normal living pace; he wanted “something wonderful” and exciting to happen every day. I suppose it was almost deliberately suicidal.
I was very surprised when my husband wrote his first book—I thought I had married the foreign editor of the Sunday Times of London—but it now seems he told many of his men friends that he always intended to write the greatest spy story ever written. He never told me that because he thought I would not be interested. He knew I never read thrillers, and disliked anything more violent than Agatha Christie.
He said jokingly later that he had written Casino Royale—that's the first Bond thriller, all about gambling and torture—to take his mind off getting married in his forties. It was Ian's first marriage (he had been a close friend of my first husband. Lord O’Neill, who was killed in action in Italy). I think he said this because I declined to have the book dedicated to me. I didn't care for the torture scenes.
I have never been a James Bond addict. I did read all the books, usually in rough manuscript, but I get them mixed up. All the girls with the funny names—I can remember some of them: Pussy Galore, Honeychile, Domino—and the wicked villains—Drax, Goldfinger and company. But Ian invented only one real character—James Bond; the heroines and villains did not come to life.
I find James Bond a bit of a bore. I don't think I'd have him as a dinner guest more than once. No sense of humor. No conversation.
The world's appetite for the Bond books—I think more than 20 million have been sold—we both found bewildering and unreal. It appears that in an age of anti-hero fiction, there was a vacuum to be filled. I am sure now that this accounts for the phenomenal success.
Women like to read of supermen, and men like to identify themselves with adventure and success. It is perhaps a Walter Mitty-ish dream to have a happy interlude with a lovely girl with no subsequent complications.
With his beautiful girls, his special cigarettes and whiskey, expensive cars and clothes, Bond is a reaction to the passing vogue for the grubby have-not anti-hero in current novels, and in the “kitchen-sink” theater. It is the revolt against the latter that accounts for Noel Coward's renewed popularity, and the same applies to books.
In my view, novels and plays are surely for pleasure and an escape from daily life. If they must contain a sociological message, Charles Dickens did it best: with narrative excitement, comedy and humanity.
I doubt, though, if the wife of any writer can be objective about her husband’s work. Ian once showed me a chapter where, I think, James Bond is pursued by thousands of sharks. I said I thought it would have been much more exciting if there had been only one shark. After that, he didn't show me any of his work for a long time.
I think, in fairness, that the worst person to give a writer advice is his wife. She is too close to it, on a different level.
Ian had a friend, a lawyer called Duff Dunbar, who could say to him: “What's that humorless bore James Bond going to do this year!” But I couldn't have said it. Ian would always let Noel Coward tease him. Noel was our neighbor—both in England and Jamaica—so we saw a good deal of him. In fact, the first house we bought after our marriage was Noel’s old house in Kent—the one called The White Cliffs.
When we married, in 1951, I had no expectation of the remarkable events ahead. Ian Fleming was a very handsome and talented person. Tall and athletic. Somewhat aloof. He had been a brilliant success in a Top Secret job in Royal Navy Intelligence during the war, and after the war Lord Kemsley asked him to create a foreign service for his prestige paper, the Sunday Times. Ian had earlier written reports for Reuters news agency—I remember he covered the great spy trials in Moscow in the ’30s—but his work at the time of our marriage was mostly managerial. I was interested in newspapers, and delighted for him to be, simply, a newspaper executive. There was enough money. We had a house in London and a seaside cottage in Kent. Ian had already built Goldeneye, his beach house in Jamaica.
Ian was a melancholic, and needed much solitude. I have a photograph of him with his three brothers. Their father, Major Valentine Fleming, D.S.O., a member of Parliament, was killed in in the First World War. In the picture, three boys are smiling at the Camera and there's one looking saturnine. This was Ian. He was different. I don't think he was a very easy child.
Most people found him astonishingly difficult to talk to. Very remote, reserved, and full of charm when he wished to be. A difficult and unusual character. He was always a very restless figure. He started by going to the officers’ training school at Sandhurst, but he never really wanted to go into the Army. He studied hard in French and German to get into the Diplomatic Service, and just failed. He tried both banking and stockbroking before the war.
He created James Bond at Goldeneye. We went there for two months in 1951, and that's too long a time just for sunbathing. He established the working pattern he was to maintain rigidly until the end. With all his restlessness, he was a man who enjoyed a set routine. Orange juice was put out for him at 7:30 A.M. so that he could drink it before early swimming. He would ring for his shaving water, which was brought to him by his housekeeper Violet. He would tell her what kind of eggs be wanted for breakfast. We had paw-paw and guava jelly and wonderful coffee. Then he would bang away on the typewriter from 9:30 to 11:30, when we took to the sea with masks and spear guns. When it was dark, he would correct what he had written in the morning. He would spend a long time at the railing of the cliff garden, staring out to sea, smoking continuously. He enjoyed the melancholy beauty of tropical nights. We went to bed early.
He was very humble about that first book, and he was amazed when it was accepted by Jonathan Cape, the London publisher. He had shown it to a friend of ours, the poet William Plomer, who reads for Cape’s. Plomer greatly encouraged him, and helped him by toning down some of the passages.
Things are so jumbled already in the public mind—all the books and articles about Ian— that it is wearying at times to try to keep the record straight. But the legend that James Bond was an instant success, an overnight sensation, is entirely wrong. Casino Royale sold about 3,000 copies, no more, and, alas, Ian sold the film rights for £300. The picture will be screened soon, with Peter Sellers and other big stars, and I expect that, like all the other Fleming films, it will make millions. But not for the Flemings.
Another interesting misconception is that Ian’s character treated women in a hard-boiled way. Bond actually marries in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and has a most sentimental romance in the subsequent novel. The film producers have very successfully parodied the books, but the ever-increasing number of glamour girls per yard of film has little to do with the original novels.
Another thing that makes me angry is the repeated statement that Ian was a snob. He was most emphatically not a snob. Apparently my husband’s preference for good food rather than bad, fast cars rather than slow, pretty girls rather than ugly is snobbish. It could as soon be said of those who prefer classical music to swinging, or great art to posters.
The reviewers of the Bond books insisted Ian was a snob. He was something quite different—a perfectionist. No one knew this better than I, since I was in charge of the housekeeping. Books had to be totally free of dust; food, though simple, had to perfectly cooked. Fishcakes were one of his favorite dishes—and a perfect fishcake is awfully difficult.
He demanded the same standards in all the Bond paraphernalia—cars, revolvers, women, drinks. The exact measures of gin, vodka, and Lillet in a deep champagne glass, Bond’s famous cocktail—that was Ian talking. Eggs had to be boiled for exactly 3 1/3 minutes.
Standards have fallen so low in England today that we will pay large sums for blunt scissors, leaking shoes, dirty accommodation, tough meat, watery vegetables and bad service—and any insistence of standards is apparently called “snobbish.”
Ian was permanently disappointed in modern England. He thought that England was rotten—perhaps “rotting” would be more accurate—and that there was no longer a sense of adventure and excitement. He found these things in America, which he enjoyed enormously—except for the food, which, he used to say, was all frozen.
I don’t think, though, that Ian would have stayed in America any longer than he stayed anywhere else. One of the keynotes of his character—and, of course, it’s typical of James Bond, too—was not staying anywhere very long.
Ian could make a hotel bedroom into a home in 10 minutes. He would first unpack what he called “traveler’s joy,” which was a large bottle of bourbon. Then he would put out his typewriter and the books he had chosen to read. He would ring the bell for some ice, and he would be as happy and relaxed as other people feel in their homes. The next day, we would be off in the Thunderbird, roaring over foreign roads with his foot on the accelerator.
I realize that this sounds like a vignette from one of the Bond thrillers. In my memory, there isn’t an exact day, or month, or even year when I became aware that James Bond was taking over our lives. It happened over a dozen years, imperceptibly at first; then, when the paperback presses really began to pour, and the films appeared, it gathered the destructive speed of an avalanche.
In the press and television interviews, which he loathed, people increasingly compared Ian to Bond. He tried to be accommodating by making jokes about himself and Bond both liking scrambled eggs and cotton shirts. He had given Bond an Eton education like his own—he even gave him fluency in French and German, his own extra languages. Bond’s father, in the fiction, died when the boy was 11; Ian had lost his father at nine.
I discussed with Cyril Connolly, the English critic, if anyone had invented a character and then become like the character; a prisoner of his own creation. Cyril said nothing to allay my fears. This is what happened: As Ian became identified with James Bond, he somehow became more like the James Bond he had invented. I think that he was writing about the way he would have liked life to be, except that out of nerve and humility about his writing he would put in more sadism than he ever meant. He didn't like killing—even killing fish in Jamaica. Unlike me—I rather enjoyed it.
I noticed that he became more self-conscious about his cigarette holders, his clothes, and what he drank. He started to fret about the plot for next year’s novel, just as Somerset Maugham said he would. He enjoyed the money—we were both extravagant—but the Bond thing was something much stronger than the urge for money. It was making him very much more restless. He was running away from himself, I suppose. I don’t know what he was running after: new countries, new people, new experiences.
[Continued in the next post]
[Continued from the previous post]
Everything that Bond did in the books had to be exactly right, and Ian absorbed this intensive search for detail more and more into his life. I am ashamed to say I know nothing about ballistics, but there was unending conversation about guns. He learned that a certain gin was considered by experts to be the purest spirit available, and for a while he would insist on that brand for his Martinis. He discovered a malt whiskey one could get only at London’s Army & Navy Stores. He became a devoted reader of Which?, the British consumers’ magazine that analyzes products, and he would purchase things it recommended. But Ian knew very little about wine. He liked to drink any red wine, especially Chianti. He called it “infuriator”—the Navy's name for it.
The quest for detail could become complicated. Ian asked me once to tell him the ideal measurements for a woman. I didn’t know, exactly, except that I thought their hips were wider than their breasts. I remember reeling off some statistics, and he put these into the book. Later some infatuated secretary in New York said, “They’re the same as mine!” Ian found out that she had enormous shoulder blades sticking out at the back. He was horrified.
Ian took a lot of trouble over the names of the girls in the hooks. Pussy and the rest. But, as far as I know, they meant nothing at all. He sensibly didn't have anything to do with the people who played these parts m the films. It didn't really interest him what they did with the pictures. He did feel that an unknown should play James Bond, and I know he liked Sean Connery, but they did not see much of each other.
In living some part of his real life through Bond's fictional adventures, Ian could express certain feelings deeply rooted in his personality. I think it’s in From Russia With Love that he wrote an epitaph for someone's tombstone: “This man died from living too much.” Ian himself overdid everything in life. He wanted exaggerated effects all the time.
I remember once that he took our son Caspar out when he was only six and let him eat as many oysters as he liked. He said Caspar was very sick and would never look at an oyster again, which was an economy for the future.
Ian was a Romantic. Bond represented financial escape from dullness and sameness into a dream world. Ian couldn’t bear the thought of returning home in the evenings to what he would describe as “the smell of cooking and babies.” He detested perambulators and everyday married life.
He could not visualize old age. “You’ll never get me into a bathchair,” he used to say. There was a time when he told everyone he couldn't imagine being 40. He liked everything to be at its best, at the peak, so therefore he was not particularly fond of children or old people.
He was a man who liked to have heroes. His addiction to fantasy made him a very poor judge of people. Some of his geese were geese, not swans.
At home, Ian liked me to invite perhaps one or two men to dinner. He didn’t want wives to come. He would say that if interesting men came to dinner I would talk to them all the time and he would have to sit with their wives. On the whole, his relationships with women were very short. He didn’t wish to be involved with them. He enjoyed the male society of the golf club. I'm certain he was happier there than anywhere else.
Ian was a man who had great zest and an ability to interest people in what was interesting him. He would talk with enormous enthusiasm. If we had a publisher to dinner, he would tell him how to run the publishing business; if it was a politician, Ian would tell him how to govern the country.
He didn’t care for the conversation at dinner parties I gave for friends in London. He liked talking “shop.” When everyone was being frivolous, he would complain that facts were never discussed. I said there were no facts in his books—the whole thing was fantasy—so it was a perennial family argument.
Ian enjoyed antique shops. He was a person with natural good taste, certainly in interior decoration, in furniture, but not the arts. He didn't like the opera, or the ballet, and he loathed the theater. He was bored by the theater, but he very much enjoyed the cinema. We tended to think that films weren’t as good as they used to be—we were of that age.
I think Ian could have probably excelled at many things, if the Bond business had not swept him away. He had genuine flair. When he was only 21 he decided to collect first editions of original thought since the beginning of the 19th century. I have the collection now, about 300 volumes, at our country place in Wiltshire. It’s mostly scientific—like the first book on the submarine—but it also contains first editions of T.S. Eliot, Aldous Huxley, and others. Several American universities are interested in purchasing the library. There’s nothing Ian would have liked more than for an American university to have it. He totally admired American ability to take an original idea and turn it to practical use.
He could have written other books—good books. I tried to encourage him to branch out. He did write three non-Bond books, one of them a first-rate documentary on diamond smuggling. Another book, on the Arab state of Kuwait, has never been published.
Also, quite outside the Bond imagery, Ian’s favorite reading was The Times Literary Supplement. For years, he kept alive The Book Collector—a highly expert quarterly devoted to bibliography. The estate still publishes it.
There seem to be vast misconceptions about the Fleming estate. Everyone assumes that because the Bond books and films obviously earned a great deal I must be a very rich woman. I wish I were! The picture is very complicated. A horde of lawyers is involved, and the tax authorities have not behaved very well. It’s my belief that my husband was not well advised in business matters and at times, I get frightfully aggressive about it. It will be a long time before the estate is settled, and there will be no fortune for anyone. I have just been reading Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, and the criticism Dickens makes of the law in the case of “Jarndyce vs Jarndyce” is just as true today.
I don’t think Ian understood his will. It is a legal mumbo-jumbo trust giving unending power to all sorts of people. This year, for instance, I got £4,000 ($11,200) subject to tax, which cannot be considered a fortune.
Ian sold a majority interest in all his book royalties to a London investment company for a lump sum and, since he died within six months, most of the money he got went to the government. He accepted a hard-and-fast fee of £25,000 for each of the Sean Connery films and, of course, they have made millions at the box office. The tax authorities are even trying to claim tax now on any future films that may be made.
The screening of the first film, Dr. No, and its instant world-wide success, increased the business pressures manifold on my husband, and he was in no condition to stand any extra strain at all. When you have that kind of success, you ought to have enormously good secretaries and lawyers to build a whole defensive mechanism between yourself and the world. I don’t think this was arranged very successfully.
The sadness, the tragedy of it all, was that, because of his increasingly poor health, Ian was not able to enjoy the great success he had earned. James Bond gave with one hand, and took away with the other.
I'll never forget the premiere of the first film. Ian enjoyed the limelight—most honest persons would admit they do—but he hated crowds, and he was already very ill. There was a big party afterward. I knew that standing about with a lot of people would bring on his heart pains. He would take out his white pills and try to take them without anyone seeing. For me, it was a question of trying to get him home and into bed as soon as possible. Of course, the party was given for “James Bond” and they didn't want James Bond to go home. It was a tug-of-war.
The premiere of the second film, From Russia With Love, also was not a happy occasion. Ian was awfully ill. It was a terrible ordeal for him to sign autographs, and for me to try to rescue him from the fans. Our nice Dr. Beal and his wife were in the audience, in case anything happened.
Ian seemed a little better at the supper party. He had won £300 at the Le Touquet casino and, in one of his James Bond gestures, he spent it all on caviar. It was an extravagance, but it gave him pleasure, which was all that mattered.
I am certain it was the threat of a big lawsuit that brought on his heart attack in the first instance. I have talked to doctors about it. They say that women are not troubled by lawsuits, but they are a source of great distress to men. It was a suit for plagiarism concerning Thunderball brought against Ian by some of his early associates. It was pending for a long time, and it worried him very much. It was a very confused arrangement, in which nothing had been written down in black and white. Ian thought he was dealing with a great friend. It was all resolved in one of those immensely complicated legal verdicts.
I used to call Ian the “oldest Beatle”; his success bad the same quality as that fabulous “pop” group—in both cases something indefinable appealed to public fancy, and was immediately fastened onto by those who batten on exploiting original talent. Not that I hold it against them, but trying to preserve an ill man from the press, the film and television worlds was a nightmare experience. To them, Ian was a property promising golden dividends, while I wished above all to prolong his life.
After his first illness, we all made every possible attempt to get him to take things easier, but he would say that he would sooner die than be an invalid. The doctors implored him to stop smoking, but he wouldn’t give up cigarettes. He used to get his cigarettes especially made at Morland’s, in Grosvenor Square—the same kind James Bond smokes in the novels—but then he switched to a popular English brand. I think he smoked about 60 or 70 cigarettes a day.
He would not stop doing anything. He didn't stop drinking—but, of course, if you've got this kind of bad heart it helps lessen the pains (by increasing the circulation) if you drink whiskey.
At Goldeneye, Ian would still go skin diving, even though it brought on his pains. He would not cut down his golf, no matter what the weather. I think he felt happiest when he could drive his Thunderbird straight to the golf course. The day he became fatally ill was a Sunday. We were at our country home, about 60 miles from London. He had a cold, and I took his temperature. It was 100. I said, “You can't play golf today.” And he said, “I couldn't possibly spend Sunday in the depths of the country with nothing to do.” So he played golf in the rain, drove to London in wet clothes, got a fever and brought back the heart trouble. He was then in bed for the next four or five months until he died.
Afterward The Times and other important journals discussed Ian’s life and work with proper candor and proper respect, but, in some quarters, it seemed that he still had to pay a price for being identified with the sensationally successful Mr. Bond. Fleet Street does not generally relish success. The British press has also behaved shamefully recently by printing obituaries of Evelyn Waugh and books on Somerset Maugham written by embittered or ignorant people.
In Ian's case, the outstanding example of betrayed friendship was Malcolm Muggeridge, who wrote venomously in Esquire magazine, and in the London Observer. Since Malcolm had frequently been our guest, it, was a shock to me. I do not speak to him now.
Ian’s reserve didn't, allow him to make friends easily. Like many Englishmen, he had a small circle of close men friends. John Pearson, who has now written the official biography of my husband, took a lot of trouble to talk to those who knew Ian, but it was not easy for John, as he had not known Ian well.
Ian’s two greatest friends were not in the club world, one being Robert Harling, the editor of House and Garden; the other being William Plomer. Ian would lunch with them, and sometimes Cyril Connolly or Alan Ross, the editor of London Magazine. Though none these could remotely be described as dull men, Ian always said he loved bores; possibly he was thinking of the Philistine golf world, which he said was restful compared to the crackling conversation of London dinner parties. I remember him leaving an embassy dinner party directly after we left the dining room, bidding good-night to the ambassadress with the words: “I have said everything I have to say to everyone in this room.”
I suppose the spy racket will continue while there is a market for it. The company which owns the Fleming royalties has commissioned Kingsley Amis, the author of Lucky Jim, to carry on the series. I have the right of veto. It seems particularly ludicrous that Kingsley should attempt this; James Bond exact opposite of his Lucky Jim. In the past, all efforts to continue series like Bulldog Drummond and Sherlock Holmes failed. I think the plan neither right nor sensible.
Poor Lady Ann, trying to sugarcoat her statements in the public regarding her husband, despite of them having a conflicted relationship/marriage.
But deep inside, I think she really loved Ian though, but let's admit it, the letters found in the archives years ago, and all of that couldn't hide the truth that she's sometimes annoyed by him, showing the faults in their relationship, in this interview, it's different from how she interacted with Ian through the letters found showing their conflicted banter.
Reading these interviews from her, makes me believe it more that indeed, Ian was a terrible person who couldn't understand the real essence of human life (not fond of children and elderlies, and not fond of family life), of course no one could tell it better than Lady Ann Fleming herself, even though there's a hint of sugarcoating in her statements, based on her descriptions of him, no one could hide the truth or even denying that he, indeed was not a nice person to hang out with, one that couldn't be look upon as a source of inspiration and enthusiasm when you're finding a motivation on how to make your life more meaningful, because he didn't set a good example.
I believe this statement, and this mark the ultimate representation of who Fleming was (to me, at least), because these words came from his wife herself, more than any others, this is the one I believe the most, even though Ann Fleming wasn't 100% of being honest here, but the way she constructed every of her words shows it.
But one thing is for sure, she might've enjoyed and appreciated the film version of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, as it captured the novel very perfectly.
Thanks for this, @Revelator
An exceptional piece, which attempts to right some misconceptions, yes, some of her own making. Thanks for this.
Mrs. Ian Fleming: Widow to a Legend (The Cool Crazy Committed World of the Sixties, by Pierre Berton, 1966)
“I thought I was marrying the Foreign Editor of the Sunday Times.”
She had no idea, of course, back in 1952, that she was marrying into the great cult of the Sixties. James Bond had not yet been invented, and her new husband—her third—was a journalist and an ex-Naval Intelligence man of impeccable background (Eton and Sandhurst) who collected rare first editions, enjoyed spearfishing, cards, and golf, and had a place in Jamaica where he spent two months of every year.
But the marriage had come only after a period of shattering personal complexity for both of them. Her first husband, Lord O’Neill, was killed in action in 1944. Her second, Lord Rothermere, the press baron, divorced her in 1952, naming Fleming as co-respondent. They were married at once, he for the very first time. Marriage, Ian Fleming was to write later, “is a very painful thing at the age of forty-four, so to take my mind off the whole business, I sat down and wrote a novel.” Its title: Casino Royale. Unknown to either of them, the seeds of the cult were germinating.
Of the Anne Fleming of these days, it has been written that “she provokes extreme reactions, like a wasp provokes panic. Her friends adore her. Others, intimidated by what they consider to be her ruthless vitality, are more reserved in their response.” Among those who adored her were: Lady Diana Duff Cooper, Somerset Maugham, Cecil Beaton, Noel Coward, Cyril Connolly, Evelyn Waugh, and Sir Frederick Ashton. Her legendary literary dinner parties—“gastronomic sessions combined with intellectual punishment”—were scarcely part of Ian Fleming’s world. He shunned them, preferring bridge at the Portland Club. The diners, in their turn, paid him and his work little heed.
It was a little more than a year after Fleming’s death (queues for Goldfinger encircling Leicester Square) that on visiting London, in November, 1965, I thought of inviting the author’s widow to talk to me on television. She had been in seclusion, but I had heard that she was disturbed, if not a little embittered, over the red tape that had enmeshed his literary estate. She agreed to come down to the Westbury Hotel and appear before the cameras.
At fifty-six, I found her a still-handsome woman. She must once have been very striking indeed. It is possible to perceive the steel within her, but this does not mean she is not charming. Behind the wall of reserve, behind the very British tendency to hold herself in check, there emerges the driest of wits. She answered all my questions readily enough but, as the transcript shows, without a great deal of elaboration. I began, of course, by asking her opinion of James Bond.
MRS. FLEMING: I’m ashamed to say I never was a Bond addict.
PIERRE: You never were? Why not?
MRS. FLEMING: I thought he had very little sense of humour.
PIERRE: James Bond?
MRS. FLEMING: Very little sense of humour.
PIERRE: He’s not the sort of person you would have invited to dinner had he been real?
MRS. FLEMING: I don’t think more than once.
PIERRE: In spite of his known love for good food and fine wines? Things like that. Not much of a conversationalist?
MRS. FLEMING: I think I always get James Bond and Ian Fleming mixed up, and I think he did in the end, more and more with every book that be wrote.
PIERRE: Did he become a prisoner of his creation?
MRS. FLEMING: I think so. I remember consulting Cyril Connolly about that. I said: “Has any author invented a character that has got hypnotized by it and become like it?” And he said: “This has happened frequently. I’m very sorry for you.”
PIERRE: In what way did your husband become a prisoner of his character?
MRS. FLEMING: Well, when he was getting ill, and I was imploring him to stop writing the book, I spoke to Somerset Maugham about it, and Maugham said: “He’ll never be able to rest now because the public won’t let him, and he won’t really want not to satisfy his public.”
PIERRE: He’d had one serious heart attack, hadn’t be, before his death?
MRS. FLEMING: He had a very serious one six years ago.
PIERRE: But this didn’t stop him?
MRS. FLEMING: It didn’t stop him writing. But he should have stopped playing golf and he should have stopped drinking, but he wouldn’t stop either…
PIERRE: Did he know that his years were numbered, at this point?
MRS. FLEMING: If he’d been sensible they needn’t have been.
PIERRE: Then he must really have enjoyed writing the Bond books, or he wouldn’t have kept on.
MRS. FLEMING: I think he enjoyed it enormously. He enjoyed all the research he did in the months before he went to Jamaica and settled down to write, and then he used to get through the book, the plot, and come home and correct it for the next six months.
PIERRE: Were you much involved with these books yourself? Did he talk to you when he was writing them?
MRS. FLEMING: Well, he started by talking to me about them, but be stopped because, I remember—I think it’s the book where two thousand sharks are eating someone—I said: “I think it would be much more exciting if there was only one shark; it’s worse.” This was supposed to be the wrong kind of criticism. But I understand, from talking to other writers’ wives, that it’s far better not to discuss books at home.
PIERRE: You’ve been asked this question, I’m sure. In what ways did Ian Fleming resemble James Bond? For instance, was he the gourmet that James Bond was supposed to be?
MRS. FLEMING: Well, he was very fond of scrambled eggs, probably you know from reading the books. I don’t think he liked very elaborate meals; I think he liked rather simple things extremely well-cooked. He was very fussy that his boiled eggs should always be just three and a half minutes. That was Bond.
PIERRE: Was he fussy about wines?
MRS. FLEMING: No. He liked any kind of red wine. He called it “infuriator.” That’s what they call cheap red wine in the Navy. I don’t think he minded very much what sort of red wine it was.
PIERRE: Did he invent that cocktail that James Bond drank, with vodka shaken up, not stirred?
MRS. FLEMING: As far as I know this he invented completely.
PIERRE: I wonder if this wasn’t a bit of the Walter Mitty in Ian Fleming? If this wasn’t a projection of his dreams?
MRS. FLEMING: I am sure it was. I think he very much enjoyed being in the Naval Intelligence during the war. What he did there he wouldn’t have dreamt of telling me. Nor was it possible to find out because John Pearson, who’s writing Ian’s life, is finding it quite impossible to get anyone in Naval Intelligence to tell him anything at all. But I think this was a projection of that, and a projection of a way of life which he thought was ceasing to exist He didn’t care for a sedentary existence. He liked traveling and he liked adventure.
PIERRE: How did the Bond idea come about? I would be interested to know, for instance, if you knew he was going to write spy thrillers before he actually sat down and wrote the first one—Casino Royale.
MRS. FLEMING: I hadn’t the remotest idea. 1 thought I was marrying the Foreign Editor of the Sunday Times.
PIERRE: Did anybody know?
MRS. FLEMING: He told about five of my best friends and three of his that he intended to write the greatest spy story in the world. But he never mentioned it to me.
PIERRE: He was right, wasn’t he?
MRS. FLEMING: He was right.
PIERRE: He wrote once, himself, towards the end of his life, that “the gimmickry grew like bindweed.” This was all the business of the guns, the cars, and the very special products that surround James Bond. Were you aware of this?
MRS. FLEMING: Well, he got very excited by this. He took enormous trouble over the book jackets, which I think are extremely good.
PIERRE: Yes, they are. I remember half-way through the series he changed guns because, apparently, the gun that Bond was using originally wasn’t a very good gun. Were you involved in this?
MRS. FLEMING: I’m ashamed to say I’m so uninterested in ballistics that a lot of this used to pass me by. But there were unending conversations about guns, certainly.
PIERRE: At what point did you actually read the Bond books? Or have you read them all?
MRS. FLEMING: I have. But I get them a bit mixed up in my mind sometimes. But I have read them all. I read them, usually in Jamaica, when they were first in manuscript.
PIERRE: What were his working habits?
MRS. FLEMING: Well, six weeks in Jamaica to two months when be used to get it all down on paper. In the next six months, he used to obviously go over it, all over it all over again, elaborately; and it was shown to William Plomer, that charming writer, who used to read for him in Cape’s. William, I think, used to take out some of the more exaggerated effects.
PIERRE: Oh they toned him down a bit, did they?
MRS. FLEMING: Sometimes, yes.
PIERRE: There was a legend around, I don’t know whether it’s true or not, that the reason Bond was made into a gourmet was that he was eating so many scrambled eggs that somebody said: “Look, this isn’t proper for a secret agent. In fact, it would identify him too easily, a man who always eats scrambled eggs. Vary the menu.” Have you heard that story?
MRS. FLEMING: I think I have. I think it must have been William.
PIERRE: The same man?
MRS. FLEMING: I think so, yes.
PIERRE: How long would he write during a day? What were his work habits?
MRS. FLEMING: Well, in Jamaica it fitted in very well, because one can’t sit in the sun all day and do nothing—at least neither of us could. So he would have breakfast about eight—having swum before breakfast—and then he would type for three hours. Then he would reread that in the evening.
PIERRE: Not a bad existence.
MRS. FLEMING: He found it perfect.
PIERRE: Why would you say, then, that this contributed to his heart attack?
MRS. FLEMING: Well, because after his heart attack we had a steep staircase down to the beach there, very steep, about forty steps, which he should never have walked up and down. And he got pains whenever he went underwater swimming. And he should have given up all these things and golf, and he wouldn’t give them up at all.
PIERRE: There’s a great deal of golf and skin-diving in his books. These were a part of your husband’s life.
MRS. FLEMING: Yes, that’s it.
PIERRE: Your husband was also a gambler. In Casino Royale, Bond was very expert in gambling.
MRS. FLEMING: I never thought he was a real gambler in the serious sense of the word. He was Scottish, you know, and fairly careful. If he did gamble, he was rather good and usually won, but not for the enormous stakes you’d expect James Bond to play for.
PIERRE: But talking of gambling and talking of money, let’s talk about the estate. This is surely one of the largest literary estates in history—with the motion picture rights and everything else.
MRS. FLEMING: I think it is. From time to time Ian said if we left England we would be very, very, very rich, indeed, and I said: “I can’t bear leaving England so we won’t.” And he didn’t want to. Of course, Somerset Maugham’s estate was huge because he left England and went to France. But we stayed here, and then at a given moment the taxation was going to be so tremendous he sold the book royalties.
PIERRE: He sold all his royalties in the future?
MRS. FLEMING: All the book royalties forever and ever, keeping forty-nine per cent of the shares—a minority share, so that the estate gets a tax dividend whenever they choose to declare it, which isn’t a fortune, really. Taxation being what it is.
PIERRE: Do you personally get much money out of the Bond estate?
MRS. FLEMING: Well, it will probably take another three or four years to settle at the present rate. I’ve no idea. But there’s not very much at the moment.
PIERRE: Are you bitter about this? I’ve heard that you were.
MRS. FLEMING: I think if it’s there I might as well have some of it.
PIERRE: And you can’t get at it?
MRS. FLEMING: Not at the moment.
PIERRE: Why does it take so long?
MRS. FLEMING: Estate Office, estate duty. I think they’re trying to work out estate duties on any films that may be made in the future, which seems to me rather hard.
PIERRE: You mean they’ve really got to guess? They don’t know what this estate is worth? It depends on how successful the films are?
MRS. FLEMING: The films are taken up one after the other. The film people would stop taking them up if they stop being a success. At the moment they are so successful that this is very improbable.
PIERRE: Do you own the rights yourself, or does the estate own the rights to the Bond books?
MRS. FLEMING: Well, the books and the films are quite separate. The films go straight to the estate and the royalties go to a man called Jock Campbell, the chairman of an enormous concern called Booker Brothers.
PIERRE: They bought the rights from your husband?
MRS. FLEMING: Yes.
PIERRE: But there’s forty-nine per cent of that left. Is that willed to you?
MRS. FLEMING: Forty-nine per cent of the shares go to the estate. Left all in a trust.
PIERRE: Have you any say over what happens?
MRS. FLEMING: I’m always trying to have more say than I ought to have now I’ve pulled myself together. I didn’t take much interest to begin with. Then I started fighting about it.
PIERRE: I read the other day that Kingsley Amis, who’s a great Bond expert, has been asked to continue your husband’s character, James Bond, in a new series of books. How do you feel about that?
MRS. FLEMING: Well, I was very angry because I know Kingsley fairly well. I thought he might have rung me up and asked me what I thought about it. And I also thought Sir Jock Campbell, whom I know, might also have rung me up and said: “What do you feel?” Whereas in fact they were pretty well ahead signing up when I heard about it.
PIERRE: You tried to stop it?
MRS. FLEMING: And with some aid, it’s been stopped at the moment.
PIERRE: Is this your doing or somebody else’s?
MRS. FLEMING: I was rather helped by uninvoked aid.
PIERRE: Why don’t you want the Bond character to continue?
MRS. FLEM1NG: It’s emotional at the moment, naturally. I feel rather emotional about it. I’m sure it couldn’t come off.
PIERRE: It’s never come off in the past. Sherlock Holmes…Fu Manchu really couldn’t have been continued.
MRS. FLEMING: No, well John Pearson, who’s writing Ian’s life and had all the letters from his office, found a very funny letter from Ian to Mrs. Sax Rohmer who had written to Ian asking if he’d continue Dr. Fu Manchu. I have never seen this letter, but I understand that Ian wrote a very funny reply—saying that he did not think this could ever be done.
PIERRE: Mrs. Fleming, somebody wrote that the violence in the James Bond books was part of the strange decadence that affects Britain today. Would you agree with that?
MRS. FLEMING: Oh, I do hope you’re not right. It’s a very difficult question, isn’t it?
MRS. FLEMING: Isn’t there a great deal of violence in America?
PIERRE: Yes, there is. Maybe it’s part of the strange decadence that affects the world, if indeed the world is faced by decadence.
MRS. FLEMING: I don’t know if it’s decadence. It’s a tremendous period of change…readjustment…newly educated people. I mean, vast masses of people are now educated. Look at Africa.
PIERRE: Tell me, would you have liked your husband to have written books other than the spy thrillers?
MRS. FLEMING: Yes. He wanted to write the life of a woman whose name I can’t remember [Marthe Richard]. She shoved out all the brothels in Paris. She was a French cabinet minister. He wanted to write her life, but he then got so occupied.
PIERRE: He once said, in the last interview with him, that if he had enough concentration, he could have written a book comparable to War and Peace. Is this possible?
MRS. FLEMING: I’m very surprised to hear that he said it. No, I’m sure he couldn’t.
PIERRE: But do you think he had a sneaking feeling that he should write something else than spy books—or was he satisfied with this?
MRS. FLEMING: Well, he was very full of humility about it, at the beginning; and be was tremendously pleased and very excited when the first book was accepted. He didn’t expect it to be.
PIERRE: And, indeed, it didn’t do very well at the beginning.
MRS. FLEMING: I don’t think it did. I don’t think it sold very many. I don’t remember how many. He was overwhelmed by this rolling-stone success.
PIERRE: When did that happen? When were you aware suddenly that there was a kind of a mania going on about James Bond?
MRS. FLEMING: When you live with some growing legend, you’re never conscious of a particular moment. As far as the sales of Pan Books were concerned, it was after the first film. I think the director of the first film, Terence Young, was brilliant in that he managed to get ‘U’ certificates so that everybody could take their children, and he took out this hero-masochism a lot and made it a joke.
PIERRE: Did your husband take himself seriously?
MRS. FLEMING: He didn’t take Bond seriously, no, he didn’t.
PIERRE: He didn’t even like him, he said once.
MRS. FLEMING: I think he probably grew to think of him as a sort of Frankenstein’s monster at the end.
PIERRE: You have a reputation for holding literary salons. In fact, I think that this is part and parcel of your life, isn’t it? You have a great many literary friends.
MRS. FLEMING: I enjoy literary friends, yes—very much.
PIERRE: Malcolm Muggeridge is one, isn’t he?
MRS. FLEMING: I haven’t seen Malcolm for a long time. I bitterly resent what he wrote about Ian. I don’t know if you happened to see it. It was quite awful. I have not seen Malcolm since then.
PIERRE: I was wondering what your other friends thought of Bond?
MRS. FLEMING: Well, Malcolm was really Ian’s friend—well, both our friend, but particularly Ian’s—so I thought it was not a very kind way to behave. I think he resents all success.
PIERRE: When you had these literary salons, did your husband attend?
MRS. FLEMING: Not often; but then a literary friend of mine called Peter Quennell, who’s written a good deal about Byron, you know, says it’s rather boring to be at a dinner party where everybody’s works are discussed except your own. Then there was a moment about three or four years ago when the highbrows got interested in Ian, which pleased Ian. He got reviews from a lot of them. Then, of course, Cyril Connolly wrote that parody which was brilliant.
PIERRE: What did he think of the Bond parodies?
MRS. FLEMING: He enjoyed them very much.
PIERRE: But Bond was not a subject of literary discussion at your salon?
MRS. FLEMING: Not, I’m afraid, until he became a success. I now think that phenomenal success interests everybody, whether they are highbrows or lowbrows.
PIERRE: It is interesting that the highbrows did not take over Bond until he became part of the social fabric. I suppose it became fashionable to pay attention to him then.
MRS. FLEMING: He became a figure one could no longer deny.
PIERRE: Are you astonished by the whole Bond business? There are Bond sweat shirts out, Bond magazines, guns…all sorts of different things.
MRS. FLEMING: Well, the lady who did my hair early this morning asked if I’d seen the James Bond car. I haven’t.
PIERRE: You don’t get involved much, then, in this sort of thing?
MRS. FLEMING: Well, I’m just intending to write to the merchandising people. I’d like them to send some of them free, perhaps, to give as Christmas presents.
PIERRE: Who owns the merchandising rights?
MRS. FLEMING: I believe one-third goes to the film people, one-third to Jock Campbell’s company, and one-third I believe to Ian’s estate.
PIERRE: So in the end you may benefit from this?
MRS. FLEMING: I think so.
PIERRE: When it’s all settled.
MRS. FLEMING: I’m just about to write and ask if I couldn’t be told about it.
PIERRE: It would be nice to know, wouldn’t it?
MRS. FLEMING: Wouldn’t it!
PIERRE: Don’t you feel out of things?
MRS. FLEMING: Well, I was too unhappy for a long time to care; but now I’ve got frightfully aggressive about it.
PIERRE: How does all this affect your thirteen-year-old son?
MRS. FLEMING: I try to keep him out of it, because I think all father images shouldn’t overshadow a child’s life. I think he’d better make his own life. He’s terribly interested in Egyptology and antiquities at the moment.
PIERRE: Are the Ian Fleming books in his school library?
MRS. FLEMING: He was asked about that. He was asked to write why they weren’t when he was ten. I was a little surprised. He was offered ten pounds to write fifty words. He said: “I can say it in three and I don’t want ten pounds. They’re too sexy.”
PIERRE: Since the Westbury Hotel, from where we’re broadcasting, is on Bond Street, it occurs to me to ask if it has any connection at all with James Bond; or if your husband was at all interested in the fact that there was a street named after his character?
MRS. FLEMING: Suddenly he was, after Bond became such a success. He played golf with a man who works in the College of Heralds office, so he found out all about the name. It was called after some family that apparently live in Somerset. I believe there was an original Bond who was a well-known clubman. Ian then got very interested and found out what the family motto was: “The World Is Not Enough.” He was longing to adopt it for himself. It wouldn’t have been a bad motto for him really.
Many thanks, @Revelator, as ever.
The Violent World of James Bond
Ken Ferguson Talks to the Man Who Created the World’s Most Famous Secret Agent (Photoplay, November 1962)
Three Blind men shuffle along a hot sunny pavement rattling money boxes. From an adjacent club, a smartly-dressed man walks towards his parked car. As he opens the door death strikes swiftly from the silencers of the three blind men—and his body falls, riddled with bullets.
And for secret agent James Bond, number 007, another dangerous assignment has begun.
This is the opening scene of Dr. No, the first film in a series based on the exploits of Ian Fleming’s spry hero—James Bond. Bond himself is the conventional tall, dark and handsome hero, a man of sophistication with a passion for adventure and beautiful women.
The success of Fleming’s stories, all intelligently written, full of detail and highly intriguing plots, lies in the fact that they are laden with the two greatest selling commodities in fiction—sex and violence.
Bond lives and revels in a violent world filled with bizarre characters and outrageously seductive women.
The aim of every writer is to get the reader to hurry on to the next page. Fleming does this brilliantly.
I went to meet Fleming at his London office. dominated by a large desk and with paintings of beautiful women adorning the walls. The women were all reproductions of the front covers of Fleming’s books.
Fleming himself is a tall, strikingly handsome man in his fifties. His greying hair adds to his distinguished looks.
He sat behind the large desk, smoking a special brand of cigarette, and occasionally glancing at the weather outside, wishing no doubt he was back in Jamaica, where he writes most of his books.
“I spend a few months every year out there,” he said. “It’s much easier to concentrate. The sun shines more often too.”
It was in Jamaica that James Bond was born in the vivid imagination of Ian Fleming.
“In 1946,” said Fleming, “I built a house on the north shore, and arranged my life so that I could spend at least two months of the winter there. For the first six years 1 found plenty to do—underwater swimming, for instance, which I adore, getting to know the island and its people. Well, I’d just about explored my little reef and apart from this I was about to get married, which quite frankly scared the life out of me. I had created for myself a vacuum which needed to be filled by plunging myself into creative work.
“I needed something to relieve the tensions set up by my forthcoming marriage. So one day I decided to sit down and write a book.”
Combining his own thrilling adventures during his days with the Naval Intelligence Division with his own vivid and colourful imagination, Fleming gave birth to James Bond in the pages of Casino Royale.
In this adventure, set in a small French resort, Bond came face to face with his first master-crook, Le Chiffre, at the gambling tables. Le Chiffre was a notorious gambler and a member of the secret society known as SMERSH.
Bond’s plan was to beat him heavily at the tables so as to reduce his funds.
“The idea for the story was based on an actual incident that happened to me,” said Fleming.
“I was flying to Washington in 1941 with my chief for secret talks there just before America entered the war. Our plane stopped for an overnight stay in Lisbon. We were told that the place was full of German secret agents, and that the chief and his two assistants gambled heavily at one of the casinos out of town. I decided to gamble my £50 against them hoping to win heavily and reduce their funds. Unfortunately I lost the £50 and suffered a most humiliating experience.”
We then talked about the series of films that are being planned and adapted from his books—the already made Dr. No, which will be followed by From Russia With Love, Diamonds Are Forever, Goldfinger, Live And Let Die, Moonraker, and possibly, if it can be adapted for the screen, The Spy That Loved Me.
“You know,” said Fleming, “I have always wanted the Bond stories to be made into films. But I didn’t have much faith in film producers. Then I received an extremely attractive offer from Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli. I’d seen Saltzman’s Saturday Night And Sunday Morning and Broccoli’s The Trials of Oscar Wilde and was very impressed. We discussed the project and I found them to be very intelligent chaps. I put my faith in them.”
“And have you seen their translation of Dr. No?” I asked.
“Yes, I have. And I enjoyed it immensely. This chap, Sean Connery, is damn good. When I first met him I thought he was a bit on the large side and rugged. But he looks and moves very well indeed which, of course, is important. Intelligent sort of chap too. I think he makes a very good James Bond.”
James Bond proved to be the casting plum of the year and, as one might have imagined, a number of top stars were fighting for the part.
“Names like Cary Grant, James Mason and David Niven were mentioned,” said Fleming, “but after long chats with the producers we decided to go for a fresh face. Mr. Connery is certainly not new, but his face isn’t as identified as those of Grant, Mason, Niven, and so on. It was a gamble but I think it has paid off extremely well. The parts have been wonderfully cast, beautiful women, interesting villains.”
I took Fleming up on the amount of sadism he packs into his stories.
“Bond is subjected to the most horrible tortures,” I said.
“Yes, he is,” Fleming said. “But then Bulldog Drummond had to go through the mill before he got his man. Only in Drummond’s day, to be hit over the head with a cricket stump was extremely violent, and no doubt uncomfortable for poor Mr. Drummond. But today it’s rather laughable, isn’t it? Our methods of causing physical pain today are very different.”
No doubt if Bond were struck over the head with a cricket stump, his only physical discomfort would be a slight headache.
“My big problem now is thinking up original plots,” continued Fleming. “I always like to take my readers to exciting places and I like them to meet exciting people involved in an intriguing plot. I have never written about a place I haven’t myself visited. I like to absorb the atmosphere before I begin to write.”
Fleming tells me that it takes him about eight weeks to actually write a novel, but it takes a year to prepare, research, write and finally check the page proofs.
“I check those proofs over and over again,” smiled Fleming. “I’ve been embarrassed occasionally by my readers who’ve taken the trouble to write in and tell me that I have made a mistake.”
“I notice in your books you write in great detail. How do you get most of your information?” I asked.
“Well, what I don’t know myself other people usually do. I have a few friends who give me tremendous help when I’m stuck. Of course, the danger lies in over-doing it. One can easily bore the reader, so I don’t try to force it too much. Sometimes I do go on a bit. For instance, in Goldfinger I devoted three entire chapters to a game of golf. I expected to be inundated with letters from readers not interested in the game, but there were no complaints.”
Fleming has no intention of retiring James Bond. His latest novel, to be published next year, is the longest one yet.
“It gives me enormous pleasure writing a Bond story,” smiled Fleming, “and it is also an extremely profitable way of passing the time.”
Now that Bond has finally come to the screen, the tan dark handsome hero should acquire countless other fans who will, I’m sure, warm to his exciting adventures.
And, Mr. Fleming hopes, rush out and buy the other books.
Notes: As you might have guessed, I ran out of print interviews with Fleming three weeks ago. But during the course of this thread I learned of the existence of two more magazine interviews, in the UK version of [i]Photoplay[/i] and in [i]Modern Woman[/i] (Dec. 1963). Thanks to a very kind fellow researcher and collector I've obtained a copy of the first interview and present it below. If anyone can help with [i]Modern Woman[/i], let me know!
Fleming's oft-told anecdote about gambling against Nazis, which inspired [i]Casino Royale[/i], was in fact heavily embellished. As Andrew Lycett writes:
After dinner the second night, Ian wanted to play at the casino, a favourite pre-war pursuit which he had recently been denied. It was a sombre and uneventful evening in a dim-lit building. His fellow gamblers were Portuguese businessmen in suits, the stakes were not particularly high, and Ian lost. As he was leaving the gaming tables, he turned to Godfrey and, with a touch of imaginative genius, tried to invest the drab proceedings with some spurious glamour: “What if those men had been German secret service agents, and suppose we had cleaned them out of their money; now that would have been exciting.”
Regarding the rest of the interview, two points stand out.
First, the projected order of the Bond films: DN, FRWL, DAF, GF, LALD, MR, and maybe TSWLM!
If this was accurate and had been followed through, film history would have been much different! DAF would have been the third Bond movie for instance. But the publication of OHMSS and YOLT, plus the deal struck with McClory for TB, obviously changed things, since the producers would have been more interested in adapting the newer books. Mention of TSWLM also casts doubt on Fleming banning any adaptation that wasn't title-only.
Secondly, this interview reinforces what many other past interviews have--that Fleming was actually very pleased with Connery. Even Fleming's wife and mistress affirmed this, which leads me to believe that the Fleming's supposed unease with Connery was a fabrication of filmland (quite likely from Terence Young, who enjoyed gossip and s**tstirring and was known for stretching the truth).
Another hit, @Revelator, much gratitude as ever
I particularly enjoyed your own thoughts at the end, which align very much with my own - most of which I've posted here over the years- especially on the TSWLM title-only story which I've always felt was just that, a story.
I hope you find that other interview and a lot more besides.
amongst other benefits, this collection of interviews is going to make a great resource for fact checking for years to come!
I was going to suggest maybe the reviews for Fleming's new novel had not yet come in when he gave this interview and he would change his mind later. But I see The Spy Who Loved Me was published in April 1962 and this interview is November so he wouldve already seen all the reactions. Theres still the question of why the PAN paperback didnt come out til 1967 after Fleming's death (and after the Man with the Golden Gun), and the same with comic strip adaptation.
Thanks very much for your comments gentlemen! I suspect our knowledge of the Bond films will change quite a bit after researchers gain full access to the EON archives (whenever that will be). The Taschen book had some access, but it was very much an official book. All other Bond film books rely on oral history, which isn't reliable, considering the usual lapses of memory and varying truthfulness of the interviewees (Hollywood interviews are notoriously self-serving).
Regarding TWSLM's republication, in April 1962 Fleming wrote to Michael Howard at Cape: "I would like this book of mine to have as short a life as possible, and the subject of this letter is to ask you to co-operate. In particular I would like there to be no reprints after your present edition is exhausted, and I would ask that it not be offered to Pan Books through whom, presumably, it would reach a more junior audience than your hard cover edition."
Lycett writes that after Fleming's death "the Fleming backlist was exploited for all its worth: after the idea of issuing The Spy Who Loved Me in paperback arose, Hugh Fisher, one of the title’s trustees, was unhappy about appearing to ignore Ian’s express wish that it should be assigned to the literary scrapheap. When Peter Janson-Smith, as Ian’s agent, produced solid evidence that Ian had not meant what he said, Fisher nevertheless felt duty bound to resign."
I'd love to know what the solid evidence was, but that's another mystery. As to the film rights of TSWLM, I think when Broccoli and Saltzman made their deal in 1961, they made sure to option (or have first opportunity to option) all future Bond novels. Anything else would have been bad business and leave open the possibility of an outside producer snapping up the rights, which is what had happened to CR and TB--a situation the producers dreaded, as shown by their efforts to regain those rights.
EON exercises strict control over the film rights to past, present, and future Bond novels, regardless of their content, author, or cinematic viability. As Michael G. Wilson revealed in 1989, the books are “encumbered by us. No one can option those books to anyone but us for perpetuity.” So there was no way EON would leave the film rights to TSWLM available, regardless of Fleming's possible misgivings.
Interesting point about the prospective running order of the early Bond films. I feel as if Fleming might just be embellishing his own sentiments - that DAF would make a good and easy adaptation - the American settings, for instance - although the suggestion TSWLM would be one for adaptation surprises simply because it is so different to every other Bond novel. I thought Fleming stipulated that any adaptation of this novel could only use the character of James Bond and the title. This interview's mentioning doesn't seem to follow that, other than "if it can be adapted for the screen."
Introductory note: Many of you are familiar with the discussion between Raymond Chandler and Ian Fleming broadcast by the BBC in 1958. It exists as 24 minute audio recording and is notable for being the only recording of Chandler's voice and one of four surviving recordings of Fleming's.
What you might not know is that over a third of the discussion was cut before broadcast, partly because of content, mostly to fit the 20 minute time slot. The excised material no longer exists on audio but can be found on a transcript in the BBC Archives. Thanks to the great kindness of a fellow researcher and collector, I can now share the full conversation with you.
I have assembled what follows from the uncorrected BBC transcript, made from a telediphone transcription of the unedited program; a partial transcript of the broadcast printed in Five Dials No. 7; and an online recording of the broadcast, which I have used to check the transcripts.
The BBC's transcriber was slightly flummoxed by Fleming's drawl and Chandler's mumbling and majorly flummoxed whenever they talked over each other, so a few areas of the transcript are garbled or missing words. I have therefore used "[...]" in areas where the transcriber was unable to take down everything they heard and left a gap that could not be checked against the audio.
A Conversation Between Raymond Chandler and Ian Fleming
The men behind Philip Marlowe and James Bond discuss some differences between English and American thrillers and compare their own latest books, Playback and Dr. No.
Recorded June 26, 1958. Transmitted July 10, 1958, BBC Home Service, 10:25-10:45 PM.
Title: English and American Thrillers Playback and Dr. No
IAN FLEMING: Well, the first thing I suppose Ray, really, is to define what we’re supposed to be talking about. I think the title of what we’re supposed to be talking about is English and American thrillers. First thing is, what is a thriller? In my mind of course, you don’t write thrillers and I do.
RAYMOND CHANDLER: I do too.
IF: I don’t call yours thrillers. Yours are novels.
RC: Other people call them thrillers.
IF: I know. I think it’s wrong.
IF: I mean, you write novels of suspense like Simenon does and Eric Ambler does perhaps, but in which violence is the background, just as love might be in the ordinary or straight kind of novel...
RC: Well, in America, a thriller, or a mystery story writer as we call them, is slightly below the salt. [Laughs]
IF: Well, I suppose thriller writing is very below the salt really...
RC: You can write a very lousy long historical novel full of sex and it can be a bestseller and be treated respectfully. But a very good thriller writer, who writes far, far better, just gets a little paragraph of course.
IF: Yes, I know. That’s very true.
RC: Mostly. There’s no attempt to judge him as a writer.
IF: Well, I don’t know—I suppose. But you yourself are judged as a writer, and Dashiell Hammett was, I think . . .
RC: Yes, but how long did it take me? You starve to death for ten years before your publisher knows you’re any good. [Laughs]
IF: Yes, of course. Your first story is now a very valuable first edition…[from] Black Mask magazine. What is it called, do you remember?
RC: The first story?
IF: Yes, the first published story was the—wasn’t it [in] the Black Mask?
RC: Some have been republished and I don’t think—perhaps it has. It was called “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot.” It took me five months to write and I rewrote it, and I rewrote it and I rewrote it and I got 180 dollars for it.
IF: That was jolly good money in those days.
RC: One cent a word.
IF: One cent a word.
RC: Yes, it was 18,000 words long.
IF: That was very good money I should have thought.
RC: […] Good money! You can’t live on that sort of thing.
IF: Well now, what’s your current sort of rate—a dollar a word?
RC: Oh, I can’t exactly tell you by the word but I get about 2,000 dollars—1,000 pounds […] and 5,000 in America.
RC: That’s for a book.
RC: These were novelettes.
IF: Yes. Where do you get your material? Nearly always a Californian setting, isn’t it? Has it ever not been a Californian setting?
RC: Well, I lived many years in Los Angeles, and Los Angeles had never been written about. California had been written about, [in] a book called Ramona—a lot of sentimental slop. But nobody in my time had tried to write about a Los Angeles background in any sort of realistic way. Of course now, half the writers in America live in California. [Laughs]
IF: Nathanael West did, I think, didn’t he?
RC: Yes, but he came along much, much later.
IF: Yes, that’s quite true.
RC: He wrote a wonderful book called Day of the Locusts. And then he wrote another book about Hollywood. Very very clever but a little disorganized. […] No, he got killed.
IF: Yes, he did. Of course Scott Fitzgerald up to a point used the West Coast, didn’t he?
RC: No, no.
IF: He is all the East?
RC: He did write a book [The Last Tycoon] about Hollywood, but Hollywood is not California—it’s not Los Angeles.
IF: …His last unfinished novel was about California—about Hollywood, wasn’t it?
RC: Yes, and it might have turned out to be the Hollywood novel if he’d left out the nonsense about the girl. But the actual talk about movie-making is very good.
IF: Yes, well of course he was a writer. As far as my material is concerned I’m afraid I just get mine by going to places and taking down copious notes because I can’t remember anything.
RC: Yes, but you’re an experienced journalist.
IF: I think that’s probably the answer. I mean, I learnt by writing…
RC: You can go to Las Vegas and you can get Las Vegas in a few days, except the iced water. [Laughs]
IF: Oh yes, you complained about one of the meals James Bond ordered in Las Vegas. I described the meal and I didn’t get in the waitress bringing the iced water as the first thing…
RC: That amused me because that’s the first thing that happens in an American restaurant—
IF: I kick myself…
RC: —is a glass of iced water, put down by the waitress or the busboy—
IF: I kicked myself when you told me that.
RC: —the busboy is comparable to a [i]commis[/i] here.
IF: Yes, because I rather pride myself on trying to get these details right, and that was a very bad break.
RC: But I don’t think any English writer has ever got as many right as you have.
IF: Well, it’s laborious work.
RC: I mean, that stuff in Harlem was wonderful.
IF: Was it?
RC: I thought it was, and also in St. Petersburg.
IF: I rather liked St. Petersburg.
RC: I don’t think any American writer could have done it more accurately.
IF: But they didn’t like it down in St. Petersburg, they got very angry—
RC: —Nothing to do with the quality of the writing.
IF: Well, that’s fine. They didn’t like these elderly folk being described as they were though.
RC: No, that’s the way they are. Just people dying in the sun.
IF: Yes, I know—we’ve got it a bit, I suppose. Torquay, Bournemouth, we have that sort of world too—retired people, sunshine.
RC: Yes, retired farmers from Ohio and Indiana and so forth and they just go down there, I don’t know what they do there.
IF: I find it, I don’t know if you do, extremely difficult to write about villains. Villains I find extremely difficult people to put my finger on. You can often find heroes wandering around life. You meet them and come across them and plenty of heroines of course. But a really good solid villain is a very difficult person to build up, I think.
RC: I don’t think I ever in my own mind think anybody’s a villain.
IF: No, that comes out in the books. But you’ve had some quite tough, villainous people there.
RC: Yes, they exist.
IF: This man Brandon [?] in your book…he must have been a villain before you settled down—
RC: No, I wouldn’t say so, I would only say that he was a businessman racketeer.
IF: He handles himself well in that book I thought. He handled that scene in the nightclub well, when the girl’s head—
RC: Well, you know all-out big racketeers nowadays are businessmen. […]
IF: […] I suppose the FBI have got some pretty smart lawyers of their own to get round—to outsmart the gangsters’ lawyers.
RC: […] They have some very smart people…
IF: I see they had another killing last week in New York. One of these men connected with that dock union man—what’s his name?
RC: Albert Anastasia?
IF: Anastasia, yes. How’s a killing like that arranged?
RC: Very simply. You want me to describe how it’s done?
IF: Yes, yes.
RC: Well, first of all the syndicate has to decide if he must be killed, and they don’t want to kill people.
RC: It’s bad business nowadays.
RC: When they make the decision they telephone to a couple of chaps in, say, Minneapolis, who run a hardware store or something or other and have a respectful business front. These chaps come along to New York and they’re given their instructions and they’re given a photograph of the man and told what’s known about him. And when they get on the plane, if they have to get on the plane—
IF: In Minneapolis?
RC: They’re given guns…No, not in Minneapolis. After they get their instructions. They’re given guns—now, these guns are not defaced in any way, but they are guns that have passed through so many hands that the present owners can never be traced. The company could [only] say the first purchaser.
So they go to where the man lives, they get an apartment or a room across the street from him, and they study him for days and days and days until they know just exactly when he goes out and when he comes home, what he does. And when they’re ready, they simply walk up to him and shoot him. And they have to have a crash car—Bugsy Siegel was a great man for the crash car. The crash car is in case a police car should come down the street, and it accidentally on purpose smashes the police car…
IF: Yes, I see what you mean.
RC: …so they get away. They get back on the plane and go home and that’s all there is to it.
IF: They drop the guns at the spot, do they?
RC: They always drop the guns, yes.
IF: And wear gloves?
RC: How many fingerprints have ever been taken off guns?
IF: Yes, quite.
RC: If you hold ’em by the butt...
IF: Yes, that’s quite true. Of course they always appear to be taken off in books, but I suspect that, because by filing the material on the butt and scraping it well you make a rough surface that won’t take any prints at all.
RC: No, and butts aren’t made that way. They’re made to be rough.
IF: Yes, quite true. How much do they get paid for that, each?
RC: Ten thousand.
IF: Ten thousand each?
RC: Yes, if it’s an important man. That’s small money to a syndicate.
IF: Yes. And then they go back to their jobs in hardware stores in Minneapolis?
RC: Yes. It’s quite impersonal.
IF: They don’t mind one way or the other—
RC: They don’t care anything about the man, they don’t care if he’s dead or alive. It’s just a job to them. Of course they have to be a certain sort of people, or they wouldn’t do it. They’re not like us. We wouldn’t do it.
IF: No. Difficult thing to imagine doing.
RC: Well, I’ve known people I’d like to shoot.
IF: For instance? Anybody in England?
RC: No, not in England.
IF: What do you want to shoot them for?
RC: I just thought they were better dead. [Laughs]
IF: But what sort of things have they done wrong, these people…?
RC: …Just rotten.
RC: My doctor, who is a neurologist—a neuro-surgeon—thinks we made a great mistake to [get rid of] capital punishment.
IF: He does?
RC: He thinks there are certain people there is no logical reason to keep alive.
IF: No, quite.
RC: A sex offender or a sex murderer in a mental hospital—a criminal mental hospital. Eventually they will let him off because they are so overcrowded. They will do it all over again.
IF: Yes, it’s quite true, it’s happened here.
RC: Yes, it happens everywhere.
IF: Yes it does.
RC: On the other hand that’s a very difficult decision to take.
IF: It is. Rather nicer for the government to take it than oneself for instance.
RC: Well, as a matter of fact you know, there are eleven states in the United States that do not have capital punishment, and they are much more dreaded by hoodlums than those that have.
IF: They are?
RC: The chances of being convicted […] in California are about one in five, chances of being executed are about one in fifty. Whereas in Michigan they give you a life sentence—[if] it’s a life sentence you might be there 25 or 40 years.
IF: But again to go back to villains. Of course, the difficulty is in writing about a man such as the people you describe is to be certain oneself—and to be able to persuade the reader—that the man is not to be pitied for being a sick man. It’s difficult to depict somebody who really is tough without being a psychopath.
RC: Well, it’s almost impossible to imagine an absolutely bad man who is not a psychopath.
IF: It is, know. And then you see, you create pity for him at once. It’s difficult, and that’s what I mean about villains. They’re very difficult people to build up.
RC: Well, he may have his very human side. He may be very kind to his family, but in his business—illegitimate—he may be quite ruthless.
IF: One’s got to know these people, you can’t invent them.
RC: [Pause] You don’t find anyone really that’s all bad. Except the low class hoodlums.
RC: And they don’t seem to be human beings at all.
IF: No, there are a class of people in Mexico called [i]Capungos[/i] who kill for about 15 mil-réis, which is about 25 shillings, and I should think they are just about as low as you can get in that particular class.
RC: I imagine they have no brains and no imagination.
IF: No, no imagination. Now do you think so far as heroes are concerned…your hero, Philip Marlowe, is a real hero. He behaves in a heroic fashion. My leading character, James Bond, I never intended to be a hero. I intended him to be a sort of blunt instrument wielded by a government department who would get into bizarre and fantastic situations and more or less shoot his way out of them or get out of them one way or another. But of course he’s always referred to as my hero, but I don’t see him as a hero myself. I think he’s on the whole—
RC: You ought to.
IF: —a rather unattractive man. "You ought to," I know. I’d certainly write about him with more feeling and more kindness probably.
RC: I think you did in Casino Royale.
IF: Do you?
IF: Well, I—yes, he had some emotions at the end, when the girl died.
RC: That’s all right. A man in his job can’t afford tender emotions.
IF: Well, that’s what I feel.
RC: He feels them but he has to quell them.
IF: Yes. On the other hand Philip Marlowe feels them and speaks about them.
RC: He’s always confused.
IF: He is, is he? [Laughs]
RC: [Laughs] He’s like me.
IF: But for instance, I’ve managed to get hold of an advance copy of your last book, the one that’s just coming out—Playback—and I was very interested by this passage talking about violence and toughness and so on and so forth. It seems to me very well put. He’s gone into this girl’s bedroom having overheard her conversation as a blackmailer.
[Fleming reads from the book] She brought out a small automatic up from her side. I looked at it. “Oh guns”, I said, “Don’t scare me with guns. I’ve lived with ’em all my life, I’ve teethed on an old Derringer, single shots, the kind the riverboat gamblers used to carry. As I got older I graduated to a lightweight sporting rifle, then a 303 target rifle and so on. I once made a bull at 900 yards at open sight. In case you don’t know, the whole target looks the size of a postage stamp at 900 yards.” “A fascinating career,” she said. “Guns never settle anything,” I said. “They’re just a fast curtain to a bad second act.”
[Laughs] I think that’s well put! But you see that is a far more sensible point of view than the one which I put forward in my books, where people are shooting each other so much and so often that you often need a programme to tell who is in the act and who is a spectator.
[Continued from previous post]
RC: Why do you always have to have a torture scene?
IF: Well…do I always? Yes, let me think now…maybe you’re right.
RC: Well, every one that I’ve read.
IF: Really? I suppose I was brought up on Dr. Fu Manchu and thrillers of that kind and somehow always, even in Bulldog Drummond and so on, the hero at the end gets in the grips of the villain and he suffers; either he’s slugged or something happens to him…
RC: Well, next time, try brainwashing. Probably worse than torture.
IF: I think it is, yes. I don’t like that, that’s too serious. [Laughs] No I agree, I think it’s a weakness. On the other hand, I think this so-called hero of mine has a good time. He beats the villain in the end and gets the girl and he serves his government well. But in the process of that he’s got to suffer something in return for this success. I mean, what do you do, dock him something on his income tax?
RC: [Laughs] It’s enough suffering for him to find out that the girl was a counter-spy.
IF: Yes. But that came, of course, right at the end. I don’t know…
RC: All right. You’re having your hero beaten up a little, because usually when you put yourself in dangerous situations, that can happen.
IA: It can.
RC: But these elaborate torture scenes that you work out…[Laughs]…they’re so elaborate!
IA: I’ve heard about that…I’ve really tired of the fact that the hero in other people’s thrillers gets a bang on the head with a revolver butt and he’s perfectly happy afterwards—just a bump on his head. Well, I think my chap ought to suffer more—
RC: That’s one of my faults—they recover too quickly. I know what it is to be banged on the head with a revolver butt. The first thing you do is vomit.
IF: It is, is it?
IF: Yeah. Well, there you are. You see, that’s already getting violent and unattractive and so on. The truth is like that, you see. It goes on in North Africa now, and Morocco and so on. It was just the sort of thing going on during the war and they used to have these ingenious tortures. There was one called passer á la mandoline, which some of our agents had to go through. Well—it’s true life. These things happen. Villains are villainous. They invent villainous tortures.
RC: Well, there’s one beauty the Nazis had. They had a machine that broke your knuckles one by one. There you are. That sort of thing [has happened] ever since the Inquisition.
IA: Tortures existed, and while there’s certainly criticism of my books that it comes in too often, I think my so-called hero has got to suffer before he gets his prize at the end of the book.
RC: Well, he’s got to suffer a little, that’s true, but…
IF: Not too much. Well, he doesn’t get hurt in the next book which I’ve just written. Much.
RC: Have you?
RC: What’s it called?
IF: It’s called Goldfinger.
RC: How can you write so many books with all the other things you do?
IF: Well I sit down…and I have two months off in Jamaica every year. That’s in my contract with the Sunday Times, and I sit down and I write a book every year during those two months, and then I bring it back.
RC: I can’t write a book in two months.
IF: But then you write better books than I do.
RC: That may be or may be not, but I still can’t write a book in two months. The fastest book I ever wrote, I wrote in three months.
IF: Simenon writes them in about a week or ten days.
RC: Mm-hmm. And so could Erle Stanley Gardner.
RC: In fact, Edgar Wallace…You know the story about Edgar Wallace going to Hollywood, and they asked him if he would write an original story for a screenplay. And they expected him to take about six weeks. This was on a Friday and he was back on Monday with it finished.
IF: Let’s hope they paid him for the whole six weeks.
RC: I think it was a flat sum.
IF: I’m glad to hear it. I find I’ve just been reading The Four Just Men series [by Edgar Wallace] again—just by chance. I do find they date terrifically of course, these thriller writers, so-called. Don’t you find that, when you look back on some of the old masters? E. Phillips Oppenheim and so on. The slang and the situations and the things that people eat and drink and their clothes and so on; motor cars and everything, the speed they move at—you know if a motor car goes at 40 miles an hour, everybody’s gasping with excitement.
RC: Don’t you find that about all fiction written a generation ago?
IF: Well, I don’t find it about the Russians for instance, because they don’t use so many contemporary things, so to speak. […] Individuals, persons, conversations between people, examination of people’s psychology of something, which of course is a permanent…
RC: But don’t you agree that the technical ability of quite ordinary writers today, ordinary successful writers, is far ahead of the technical ability of what we regard as classics.
IA: I quite agree. I remember the number of words they used to use. I happened to read a book not so very long ago by Henry James. There were enormous sentences and semicolons and commas and relative clauses, running down the whole page.
RC: And Tennyson—it’s worthwhile to stick it out.
IF: Yes—but you see, it’s hard going.
RC: I know, but you have to give something to it. Nowadays, you know, you’re not supposed to give anything to a book. It’s supposed to give you everything.
IF: Yes, quite so.
RC: In those days, of course, people had very few amusements. They had more patience. More time.
IF: Yes, they did.
RC: They had no radio, no television, and no cinema.
IF: Not many appointments, not many appointments.
RC: Walks in the country—about all they had. And reading. Playing the piano and singing silly songs around it, I remember it in my boyhood—it was like that.
IF: Yes. That’s what drove you to write your first sort of story for the Black Mask magazine, that atmosphere?
RC: No, it didn’t. I was an intellectual snob when I was a young man in London. I wrote very highbrow stuff. It took me about twenty-five years to get over it.
IF: Yes. I remember the first thing I wrote was published in Horizon, Cyril Connolly’s famous magazine. But your man, your hero Philip Marlowe—is he based more or less on yourself, so to speak? I see a certain…in fact, I see a distinct relationship between you and Philip Marlowe.
RC: Oh, not deliberately. If so, it just happens.
IF: One writes what one knows of course. My chap, I suppose he’s got some foibles that I’ve got, but I wouldn’t have said he had any relation to the person I think I am, but there it is.
RC: Can you play baccarat as well as he can?
IF: Not as well, no. I’d like to be able to. I love it. I love gambling.
RC: Takes almost unlimited money, doesn’t it?
IF: Well, I don’t know about unlimited. Depends if you can build yourself up some capital while you’re having some lucky play to begin with, and then play with the casino’s money from then on. I’m not a gambler in the sense that I can gamble when I’ve got no money left and say “take my house, take my car, take…”
RC: I don’t enjoy gambling at all. It’s the only vice I don’t possess.
IF: Oh, come, come. There are plenty left, aren’t there?
RC: Well, it is the only vice I don’t possess. I have no interest in gambling.
IF: No. Well, good for you. Would you say there are any basic differences between the English and the American thriller?
RC: Oh yes. Except for a few exceptions—I shouldn’t say “except for a few exceptions,” it’s a bad tautology isn’t it?—like yourself, and there are a few, the American thriller is much faster paced.
IF: Yes. We’ve got into a rather “tea and muffins” school of writing here, I think. The policemen are much too nice and always drinking cups of tea, and inspectors puff away at pipes and the whole thing goes on in a rather sort of quiet atmosphere in some little village somewhere in England.
RC: The policemen aren’t so darned nice here after all. I notice they’re getting smaller but they’re getting tougher. I know a five-time loser [who’s] just written a book, published by Secker & Warburg. His name is Frank Norn [?] and what he could tell you about the police would curl your hair.
IF: I don’t mean all of them.
RC: No—I wouldn’t mean all of them in the United States either. But a pornographic bookseller in Soho pays 200 pounds a week to the police.
IF: Do they read his books?
IF: Does he give them his books to read?
RC: I don’t know, that didn’t come into the conversation.
IF: Now of course you’ve got the private-eye tradition which we haven’t got so much over here because our private detectives are on the whole just ordinary little people who go and follow married couples around and try to catch them out.
RC: Same as they are in America…
IF: Yes, but they’re written up to be much more.
RC: Oh, well…A private eye is a catalyst, he’s the man who resolves the situation. He doesn’t exist in real life. Unless you can make him seem real. [Pause] He doesn’t make any money either.
IF: Marlowe seems real to me—I mean, I visualize him quite clearly.
RC: Oh, I know, but that’s because I’ve known him so long. He’s not real as a specimen, as a private detective.
IF: I suppose the same thing applies to secret service agents. I’ve known quite a number of them, and on the whole they’re very quiet, peace-loving people whom you might meet in the street, sit next to them in your club, in fact two or three do sit next to me in my club…
RC: They must have an immense interior courage though.
IF: They must, because it’s a dull job and they get no thanks for it and they get no medals and their wives have a dreary time. […] Supposing we’ve got some man in an Embassy working under cover or something, and his wife has to sit there and watch other people being promoted while the usual is going on. [The wife] of the Assistant Naval Attache or something like that. It’s pretty bad on the wives too, they have a hard time, apart from the danger and all that still occurs.
RC: The wives of policemen don’t have a very good time in America.
IF: They don’t?
RC: The policemen get shot every once in a while.
IF: Yes, of course you shoot much more than we do over here.
RC: Well, they carry guns. Although I’ve known a police captain in La Jolla who carried a gun for 28 years and never used it, except when required to on the police pistol range to qualify. He never shot a man with it.
IF: I was had up in America going 96 miles an hour last year in a Studillac, which is a rather favorite car of mine—it’s a combined Studebaker and Cadillac—and I was taken along to the Sheriff’s office by this speed cop, and we got more or less friendly and then he showed his gun.
And I said “Have you ever let this off in anger?” and he said “I wouldn’t think of doing so.” He said, “The number of forms we have to fill up for every time we let off a gun is so dreadful. I might throw it at somebody but I’d certainly not fire it.” He was a wonderful chap.
On the wall of the Sheriff’s office—before I finally paid my twenty dollars and got away from it all—were a couple of poker work mottos written up, and the first one said, “God look down and bless this house.” And below was one saying, “Politicians never die, they only smell that way.” He was a real Sheriff that fellow. [Laughs]
RC: There are some very tough cops in America. On the east side of Los Angeles they’ll shoot at the drop of a hat—they really will. They’ll beat up a drunk and if a bystander protests they’ll drag him into an alley and beat him up.
IF: Why are they so tough, particularly there?
RC: Because they are in a tough district.
IF: Yes, the east side of Los Angeles. Why is that particularly tough, the east side of Los Angeles?
RC: Why is any district particularly tough? It usually gets tough as a result of the people who live there.
IF: Yes, thank you. I suppose we shall all start writing about juvenile delinquents before long; there see to be plenty of them about. But the thought bores me completely.
RC: No, I shan’t.
IF: Nor shall I.
RC: I shan’t. I don’t know the answer. What’s the use writing if you don’t know the answer?
IF: I know. Well—the answer is the break-up of the home, of course. The mother and the father—
IF: You don’t think so?
RC: No—not in America.
IF: I think it is here; the mother going out to work you know, there’s no home, no proper home for the boys.
RC: Surely in America they come from two classes: the very poor and those who come from rather rich families. Parents are always on the go and they give the boys plenty of pocket money, or the girls as the case may be. And they’re bored, they don’t know what to do with their lives.
IF: On the other hand, of course, you’ve got these big mixed races—the Puerto Ricans, and the whole of the Negro section. Harlem now is very, very tough. I think I’m right in saying—aren’t I?—that there are very few Americans who’d think of going down there in New York at night—a white American. Is that true?
RC: Oh, or Central Park. [It] runs these gangs.
RC: But you know, there was a wave of burglaries with vandalism in Atlanta, Georgia, a couple of years ago. And when they finally found out who was doing it, they were all sons of very well-to-do people.
RC: They broke into houses, stole, destroyed all sorts of things. It was a thrill. That’s all. They do it, as they say, for “tricks.”
IF: Well, we seem to be talking all the more about real crime than fictional crime. Are you planning any kind of a new book now? You’ve got this one coming out today.
RC: Well, I’ve got myself in a bad spot now.
IF: In what way?
RC: A fellow has to get married.
IF: Oh, I was going to ask you about that…this woman—
RC: It’s going to be a struggle.
IF: He is—Marlowe’s going to get married, is he?
RC: Yes, but there’s going to be an awful struggle, because she’s not going to like him sticking to his rather seedy profession, as she’d consider it, and he is not at all going to like the way she wants to live, in an expensive house in Palm Springs with a lot of freeloaders coming in all the time. So, it’s going to be a struggle, it might end in divorce, I don’t know.
IF: Oh golly. You wouldn’t like to go and kill her off perhaps?
RC: Kill her?
RC: Oh no, she’s too nice.
IF: She is, is she? Linda, isn’t it?
RC: Yes, much too nice to kill off.
IF: Ah. Oh well. Well, I don’t think my fellow is going to get married.
RC: Of course if I had Marlowe killed off it would solve a lot of problems. I wouldn’t have to write any more books about him. [Laughs]
IF: Well you’ve always meant to write a play anyway, haven’t you?
RC: Oh yes, I want to write a play.
RC: I want to write a play about [Lucky] Luciano, if he’ll let me.
IF: Yes, that’s because your visit to Luciano was so fascinating the other day?
RC: I think there’s a play in that.
IF: Yes. He must be a remarkable man. You feel he’s really been badly done by?
RC: Absolutely so. I’m quite sure of it.
IF: Extraordinary, the way he’s become, sort of, a type name for the criminal—like all these other people, in the old days of Bugsy Siegel and so on. But Luciano seems to be living a very sort of quiet life down there.
RC: Well, he has to.
IF: Yes. He’s got a medicinal supplies factory or something of that sort, hasn’t he?
RC: Medical furniture—hospital furniture. He was outside the law, from the time when everybody was—during the bootlegging era. He ran gambling places and as Americans will gamble and they’ll find places to gamble—I could find places right on Sunset Boulevard—there’s gambling houses.
IF: Yes. But why was Lucky Luciano made such a particular target?
RC: Well, he was a pretty big man in his line. It was good publicity.
RC: And he was rather defenceless. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the gangs put him up.
IF: Yes, as a target.
RC: Happens so often, you know. To have a scapegoat.
IF: I was in Rome about ten days ago and I gather there are over 2,000 deported Italian American gangsters hanging around Italy, not knowing what to do. Must be quite a job for the Italian police having to keep tabs on them the whole time.
RC: Well, they don’t have to have deported Italian American gangsters in Naples—practically everybody there is half a gangster.
IF: Yes, I know, it’s increased the gangster population fairly considerably.
What we’ve talked about really are the basic ingredients of thrillers. One could write almost a couple of books on what we’ve been talking about. The Luciano situation is one, and a detailed story of one of these gang killings you’ve described—the man coming down from Minneapolis—is another one.
But I wonder what the basic ingredients of a good thriller really are. Of course, you should have pace; it should start on the first page and carry you right through. And I think you’ve got to have violence, I think you’ve got to have a certain amount of sex, you’ve got have a basic plot, people have got to want to know what’s going to happen by the end of it.
RC: Yes, I agree. There has to be an element of mystery, in fact there has to be a mysterious situation. The detective doesn’t know what it’s all about, he knows that there’s something strange about it, but he doesn’t know just what it’s all about. It seems to me that the real mystery is not who killed Sir John in his study, but what the situation really was, what the people were after, what sort of people they were.
IF: That’s exactly what you write about. Of course you develop your characters very much more than I do, and the thriller element it seems to me in your books is in the people, the character building, and to a considerable extent in the dialogue, which of course I think is some of the finest dialogue written in any prose today. And I think basically we’re both of us to a certain extent humorists too. Both of us rather like to bring in…
RC: That’s true.
IF: Which possibly might not come out at first sight, but we like making funny jokes.
RC: A solemn thriller is really rather a bore.
IF: Yes, and there’s something very seedy about it. You see, a man like Mickey Spillane, was a man without any humor and [with] a lot of unattractive characteristics as well—and I tried reading a few of his books but there’s something very seedy and sort of smelly about them to me, I found.
RC: To me also. Me also.
IF: Yes, it’s funny, it comes right through the writing…
RC: It had a tremendous appeal to the armed services. Probably the greatest thing done for masturbation in the last twenty years. [Laughs]
IF: But what happened [Laughs] to Mickey Spillane since? He hasn’t written a book for ten years, has he?
RC: Well, I told you. He’s joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
IF: Oh, so you did, yes.
RC: Which is a sort of Holy Roller sect. Very sincere in themselves but terribly ignorant—primitive—in their religious ideas. They seem so to me. But I’m not a religious person really. Well I was, once.
IF: Yes…yes. Do you think that it was remorse for what he’d accomplished in his books that suddenly decided him—
RC: No. I don’t think it was that at all. I don’t think he had any remorse. Some ideal got hold of him. He’s obviously a man of very superficial emotions.
IF: Yes. In fact a rather simple character all together. I wonder what started him off writing at all.
RC: I don’t know either.
IF: Incidentally, there’s a wonderful article in this month’s number of the London Magazine called “Mrs. Handy’s Writing Mill”; you ought to get a hold of that. It’s about a woman on the west coast who creates best-seller writers. She created [James] Jones, [who wrote] From Here to Eternity. Taught him how to write and made him write the book, sat over him while he did it. And now she’s got a sort of farm and writers come to her and get turned into best-seller writers. It’s a fascinating little article—you ought to read that.
RC: It may be a fascinating article but the whole idea is disgusting to me as a writer.
IF: That’s what the man who wrote the article says. That it’s an extraordinary proceeding. When you go there—supposing I went to her, I should be put down first of all to writing out pages and pages of Hemingway, straight out of the book, copying them down, to get me into the habit of writing like a good writer, so to speak.
And then her theory is that in everybody there is a book of some sort, if only they can write—automatically write or write automatically—if their own ideas are sufficiently interesting, or their own experiences, to produce a best seller. And this man writes three or four books that are in the best seller list in America now, that have been turned out by Mrs. Handy’s Writing Mill.
RC: Hmm…well, I don’t think that means very much in our business. If the book is long enough and dirty enough it can very easily become a best seller, but it must be long and it must be sexy.
IF: That applies in America of course, you do have these huge books, don’t you? I can’t carry them around, they weigh too much. But why is this? Is it value for money, do you think the Americans like getting these big books?
RC: I don’t know. I don’t know at all.
IF: They’re double our length.
RC: Americans are not book buyers. Book renters, not book buyers, and a lot of them of course don’t read books at all. They just read magazines, newspapers, or look at television.
IF: Yes, that applies to a certain extent here, of course.
RC: But—no, it’s worse there because television goes on from six o’clock in the morning till two o’clock the next morning. And you have the choice around Los Angeles, where I live, of ten channels.
IF: Ghastly. I’ve got a television set but I’ve only once looked at it.
RC: […] Is yours the BBC?
IF: Yes, it doesn’t get the commercials.
RC: Well, that’s all right. I’ve got a long cord that switches off the sound when the commercial comes on. You see the chap, you see his mouth going on but can’t hear a word he says. [Laughs]
IF: But I find that television is simply an additional appointment in the day. All right, Raymond Chandler is appearing on television at 6:30. Well, it means I’ve got to get back from my office and meet Chandler on television at 6:30. It’s an additional chore, it seems to me.
RC: Well, that would be a waste of time—but I like watching Wimbledon.
IF: Yes, it’s very good for sports. However, look here, we’d better be getting back to our subject…
RC: It is very good for some dramatic plays. BBC did [i]The Caine Mutiny[/i] court martial—I thought it was marvelous.
IF: Didn’t see it.
RC: Couple of Sundays ago. I think it was the best thing I ever saw on television.
IF: As good as that? Well, that’s a good plug for the BBC anyway. Have you got any particularly favourite thriller writers, Ray? People you automatically buy more or less blind?
RC: No. I don’t have to buy them. They send them to me free.
IF: They do?
RC: The publishers do.
IF: You’re lucky. I got one free the other day, which I haven’t read, which sounds rather exciting. It’s going to be published by Arthur Barker in August and I got an advanced proof copy, unrevised and confidential.
RC: We don’t have those bound proofs in America.
IF: Well, I think his is rather a departure here. But Arthur Barker obviously thinks very highly of this fellow. He’s called Kenneth Royce—My Turn to Die—and it’s coming out in August and certainly the first page is good. I can tell you that much. Then I’ve just bought The Taste of Ashes by Howard Browne, which looks good.
RC: I guess he’s improving quite a lot. Must be.
IF: He wrote a book called Thin Air before, I don’t know if you’ve read that.
IF: Well, it’s very good. And then another one called Operator I’ve just bought, haven’t read yet. […] It’s by a man who wrote a very good one called The Big Bite, which was a wonderful blackmail story published last year—Charles Williams. Very good indeed.
RC: I couldn’t read it—made me nervous.
IF: It did?
RC: I remember the book, but I couldn’t read it—made me too damn nervous.
IF: Oh, that’s the finest thing you could say about it—to the writer. I think the whole object of a thriller is to make you nervous.
RC: I don’t like that edge-of-the-chair writing.
IF: You don’t? You always says you like mine but perhaps…
RC: No—it isn’t just that.
IF: Isn’t it?
IF: Well—I think it is. Then there’s this, Norman Lewis’ The Volcanoes Above Us, which is really more a novel than a thriller, but I found it had most of the ingredients of a thriller to read. There’s mystery and very tight hard writing—wonderful book. He writes very well, Norman Lewis—he’s got an extraordinary visual eye. Photography is one of his main hobbies I think, and he’s got this astonishingly clear eye for detail and situation. Very remarkable man.
RC: Did you read a book called Knock and Wait a While?
IF: No, I didn’t.
RC: An American writer whose name I forget. It’s an intelligence agent story and I thought it was very real.
IF: I’ll write that down. Get hold of it.
RC: His assignment was to prevent a Russian girl from being kidnapped aboard a Russian ship and taken back to Russia.
IF: Knock and Wait a While.
RC: I think his name’s Steele but I’m not positive. [The author was William Rawles Weeks]
IF: And who was this man James Anthony Phillips you were mentioning to me?
RC: James Atlee—A-T-L-Double E.
IF: James Atlee Phillips. You said he was one of the most remarkable mystery writers in America, and I’m ashamed to say I’ve never heard of him.
RC: Well, I think he’s a darned good writer by any standard.
IF: What’s he written? This book Pagoda you mentioned?
RC: Pagoda, Suitable for Framing, The Deadly Mermaid, and he wrote one called The Shivering Chorus Girls, which I never could get hold of.
IF: That’s the trouble. I believe there’s some very good thrillers that publishers let get out of print and vanish off the scene. I’m sure in publishers’ lists there are a lot of very good thrillers tucked away that will be forgotten and ought to be brought out, and flushed out again. There aren’t enough good thrillers for me. I like reading them in aeroplanes and trains. The kind of books to pass the time with. They make no demand…
RC: There are a great many thriller writers in America who write directly for the paperbacks because they don’t have to share a royalty with the publisher.
RC: But they are short-sighted in a way. Because a publisher can make a much better deal for them, if they are any good. And there’s no prestige.
IF: No, there isn’t.
RC: They have finally begun to notice them in the papers, but there’s no prestige and they’ll print an additional, say 80,000 copies of paperbacks—well, then the thing dies.
IF: I see John MacDonald, who’s a great favourite of mine, he wrote A Bullet for Cinderella and several others—
RC: —Did you read his book about the multiple crash on the highway?
RC: Oh—that’s wonderful.
IF: It is? But he’s a marvelous writer and I think he keeps up his extraordinary good standard…
RC: Very prolific too.
IF: Very prolific.
RC: Must be an energetic chap. He lives in Mexico.
IF: Does he?
RC: He sent me his latest book but I can’t find it.
IF: He’s a very adept writer. Well anyway Ray, that’s more or less covered our points—I think we’ve probably gone off track a good deal, but thrillers are—
RC: —They can always cut it if they don’t want it.
IF: Anyway, thanks, Ray. It’s been nice to see you again.
RC: Well, it’d be silly of me to say that. I love to see you always.
There's much more content there, as you say. Thanks!
Edit- @Revelator you might want to check out the very first Imaginary Conversation, which was on this very subject.
Marvellous piece of work @Revelator ! 😀
Thanks as always for your feedback gentlemen (and for reminding me of the very first imaginary conversation!).
As a sort of after-dinner mint, here are Fleming's comments on the BBC discussion, from his tribute to Chandler published in London Magazine (Dec. 1, 1959):
Chandler and I were booked to give a 20-minute broadcast for the BBC on ‘The Art of Writing Thrillers’. When the day came, it was very difficult to get him to the studio and when I went to pick him up at about eleven in the morning his voice was slurred with whisky.
However, the broadcast went off all right because I kept out of the act and concentrated on leading him along with endless questions. Many of Chandler’s replies had to be erased from the tape and, in particular, I remember that, in discussing Mickie Spillane and his retreat to expiate his “guilt” into the arms of the Seventh Day Adventists, Chandler commented “in a way, it’s a shame. That boy was the greatest aid to solitary sin (he used a blunt word for it) in literature.” Later he apologized to the two pretty girls in the control room and one of them said, “It’s quite all right, Mr. Chandler, we hear much worse things than that.”
The writers went off to lunch afterward. It was the last time Fleming saw or heard from Chandler.
😂😂😂 You've got to love him!
Note: This week brings another treat—the complete Desert Island Discs interview with Fleming. Only nine minutes of the audio survive, but thanks to the kindness of a fellow researcher and collector I can now share the full transcript with you. The interview was recorded in approximately 10 segments. Four were retakes, and though Fleming's answers were usually identical I've included a few answers from the original takes. There are a one or two bits where the transcriber was unable to catch what was said, and these are indicated with "[...]"
Desert Island Discs
Transcribed from a Telediphone Recording from Talks/General Division—Sound. 12th June, 1963
ROY PLOMLEY: How do you do ladies and gentlemen? Our castaway this week is a best-selling author. He is the author of the James Bond books, the ingenious thrillers about a British secret agent who’s licensed to kill. It’s Ian Fleming. Mr. Fleming, what effect do you think solitude would have on you?
IAN FLEMING: I think I would enjoy it very much. I’m rather solitary by nature, and I’ve always wanted to live on a desert island.
PLOMLEY: You’ve have no particular worry?
FLEMING: Not that I know of, unless I got an abscess in my tooth, or stumped my toe on a scorpion fish.
PLOMLEY: What would you be happiest to get away from?
PLOMLEY: Mm. Does music play much [of a] part in your life?
FLEMING: No, very little indeed. I’m afraid this is a very light-hearted selection.
[Take 1: No, it doesn’t really. I only play gramophone records—sort of sentimental light ones for entertaining myself—in the evening with a drink or two.]
PLOMLEY: You’ve never studied music? You don’t play an instrument?
FLEMING: No, and I avoid concerts like the plague.
PLOMLEY: From what point of view did you pick your records? Are you looking back? Are you looking hopefully forward to the future? Is it mood music? What is it?
FLEMING: Well, I think it’s mostly mood music. It’s evocative of various times in my life and of er—girlfriends.
[Take 1: Well, I think it’s probably mood music. I think if one was on a desert island, you’d want to recall memories, possibly of girlfriends in one’s past and I’m afraid there’s certainly nothing very serious in my selection.]
PLOMLEY: What’s the first one?
FLEMING: The first is by Jack Smith, the famous Whispering Baritone, and this is a sentimental memory of my public school, Eton. He was a tremendous favourite with all of us there.
PLOMLEY: And what’s he singing?
FLEMING: He’s singing “Cecilia.”
PLOMLEY: “Does Your Mother Know You’re Out Cecilia?.” Whispering Jack Smith. What’s your second choice?
FLEMING: The second choice is The Revellers, another old, very old favourite of my generation, singing “Dinah.” They were a wonderful quartet and this recalls my period at Sandhurst.
PLOMLEY: The Revellers singing “Dinah.” Mr. Fleming, where were you born?
FLEMING: I was born in London.
PLOMLEY: You told us you went to Eton. I believe your main distinction there was in athletics.
FLEMING: Yes, it was. I’m afraid I wasn’t terribly good at my books.
PLOMLEY: Victor Ludorum twice and public school hurdles. And then Sandhurst?
FLEMING: Yes, I went to Sandhurst, with the idea of going into the Army, and into the Black Watch incidentally, but then it was decided to mechanise the Army and me and a lot of my friends decided we didn’t want to be—what we thought then would be—large scale garage mechanics.
FLEMING: So I had a go at the Diplomatic and learnt my languages for it, and I passed in seventh, but there were only five vacancies, so I decided not to have another go, but to go straight in and start earning some money. So I joined Reuters, which was the nearest thing to the diplomatic in a way, because I could use my languages, German and French and Russian, and I had a wonderful time at Reuters. I was a correspondent in Moscow and Berlin and all over the place, and of course I learnt there the sort of good straightforward—or at any rate straightforward—writing style everyone wants to have if they’re going to write books.
PLOMLEY: How long did you stay with them?
FLEMING: I stayed with them for three years, but then I wanted to earn some more money, and Reuters wasn’t very keen on paying large sums in those days—I’ve no doubt they’re much better now—and so I went into the City, but I didn’t get on very well there, because I’m not very good at making money as such.
PLOMLEY: How do you mean?
FLEMING: Well, I mean just pure making money. I must do something that entertains me; if it makes money at the same time, well that’s all the better for me.
PLOMLEY: Yes. Well, then the war came along, and you joined the Navy and became personal assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence. Well, this led, not surprisingly, to some rather violent action I believe.
FLEMING: Well, not so much that, really. It was a very interesting life. I took part in the Dieppe raid, which was a very bloody affair, and I had some exciting adventures round the world, and all together I couldn’t have had a more interesting war, if one can have a interesting war.
[Take 1: Well, a certain amount you know, but then I was deskbound in the Admiralty for a great deal of it, but I went on the Dieppe raid and one or two forays around the world, and I really had a wonderful war, as far as one can have an wonderful war.]
PLOMLEY: And presumably your Naval Intelligence experience provided some useful source material for your later books.
FLEMING: Yes, it taught one what one could say in writing thrillers and what one couldn’t say. And of course it taught you really how the intelligence machine does work. I can’t say that of course I tell that exactly in my books, because they’re fiction and the whole thing is much larger than life, but as I said, at least it tells you what mistakes not to make.
PLOMLEY: And when the war ended?
FLEMING: Then I went to the Sunday Times, to the Kemsley newspapers and I became their foreign manager. They didn’t have a foreign department in those days, and it was my job to place correspondents all round the world and look after their welfare and see that they write plenty of intelligent stuff.
PLOMLEY: Yes. And you had that post until quite recently?
FLEMING: Yes, until Roy Thompson took over the group, and now I’m still mixed up with them vaguely as a so-called editorial advisor.
PLOMLEY: Well, let’s have your third record. What next?
FLEMING: My third record is Edith Piaff, the famous Parisian chanteuse, singing “La Vie En Rose,” which again has sentimental associations for me.
PLOMLEY: Edith Piaff singing “La Vie En Rose.” Now your book. You’ve written now what—11 James Bond books?
FLEMING: Well, there’s actually twelve, because the next one has just gone to my publishers.
PLOMLEY: Yes, that’s one a year.
FLEMING: That's one a year.
PLOMLEY: So the first one then, what, 1950—
FLEMING: ’52, written in ’51 I suppose. Yes.
PLOMLEY: Had you had this character growing in mind for a long time?
FLEMING: No, I can’t say I had really. He sort of developed when I was just on the edge of getting married, and I was frenzied at the prospect of this great step in my life, after having been a bachelor for so long, and I really wanted to take my mind of the agony [Laughter] so I decided to sit down and write a book.
PLOMLEY: Yes. Is Bond based on any particular person or combination of persons?
FLEMING: No, not really. He’s sort of mixture, a fictional mixture of commandos and secret service agents that I met during the war, but of course entirely fictionalised.
PLOMLEY: Yes. Is there much of you in it?
FLEMING: I hope not. People do connect me with James Bond, simply because I happen to like scrambled eggs and short-sleeved shirts, and some of the things that James Bond does, but I certainly haven’t got his guts nor his very lively appetites.
PLOMLEY: Now the first James Bond book was an immediate success.
FLEMING: Yes it was.
PLOMLEY: How long do these books take you to write?
FLEMING: Six weeks to two months, the actual writing, but I never correct as I go along, I try and get pace into the narrative by sitting straight down at the typewriter, but then of course I do two or three months correction afterwards, and then one has to correct the proofs and so on, so it takes about a year all together, let’s say.
PLOMLEY: Are you a systematic worker? Can you work so many hours a day, regularly?
FLEMING: Yes, I find I have to. I work for about three hours in the morning and one hour in the evening, and I find that unless I stick to a routine, if I just wait for genius to arrive from the skies, it just doesn’t arrive; I just get on with the work.
PLOMLEY: You write these books always at your vacation home in Jamaica—
PLOMLEY: Do you look forward to writing a new one every year?
FLEMING: Well I don’t really unless I’ve got it firmly fixed in my mind. And of course this is a very bad period for me, this time of the year, because I’m trying to work out the next adventure of James Bond, which has got to be written in January or February, and of course I’m always rather in despair thinking I’m not going to have enough book to write.
PLOMLEY: Yes. There’s been a cumulative rise in sales since the first book.
FLEMING: I think there has, with the exception of the last one, let’s say last year’s one, which was The Spy Who Loved Me, when I tried to break away from my normal formula, but the readers were so furious that James Bond didn’t appear until about three quarters of the way through, and that it was written ostensibly by a girl—
PLOMLEY: In the first person.
FLEMING: —That I must confess it wasn’t a success, and it took quite a beating from the critics.
PLOMLEY: And now the books are being made into films.
FLEMING: Yes, they’ve made Dr. No already and it’s been a tremendous success in England, and even more of a success I think in America, where it’s opened several weeks ago and it’s breaking records. They’re now doing From Russia With Love and I went out to see them in Istanbul with the unit at work and I was tremendously impressed with the casting and the way the script had been written, and I think it’s going to be an equal success.
PLOMLEY: They’re going to do the whole James Bond catalogue.
FLEMING: They’ve got an option on doing all the books, yes. One after another.
PLOMLEY: Well, let’s have Record 4. What are we going to have next?
FLEMING: That’s the Ink Spots’ “If I Didn’t Care,” which is the first record that made them famous in 1944, and I’m devoted to the Ink Spots, all their records, and I play them constantly, every week.
[To be continued in the next post]
PLOMLEY: The Ink Spots’ “If I Didn’t Care.” 11 best sellers in 11 years and very profitable film sales. Now on the face of it, that looks like unmixed success, but some of the press notices haven’t been all that glowing. They’ve accused you of being sadistic and [including] too much sex. Taking the charge of sadism first, your torture scenes are pretty beastly in some of the books.
FLEMING: Well, I don’t know how many you’ve read, but they’re nothing to…what they really are in real life, and I think the old days of the hero getting a crack over the head with the cricket stump have rather gone out and we’ve all been considerably wiser since the last war, and I’ve tried to bring verisimilitude into these books—and it’s certainly true that the critics have occasionally found them pretty strong meat.
PLOMLEY: What effect do you think these scenes have on the average reader? Are they going to give him unhealthy ideas? Is this vicarious violence a harmless way of sublimating aggressive tendencies?
FLEMING: Well, I think that’s a way of putting it. I was brought up on what they used to call fourpenny horrors and I can’t remember that any of the excitements of the sort of […] Chinamen, and horrible Germans and so on and so forth, ever did me any harm. All history is sex and violence, and I think it’s ridiculous to go on writing thrillers in the old Bulldog Drummond--John Buchan way, when life has come on so fast past this.
PLOMLEY: Yes. Well, sex—Bond is a non-stop womanizer and he takes his sex where he finds it, almost as casually as he takes a drink.
FLEMING: Well, he has one girl per book approximately and that’s one a year. He’s a bachelor and he moves around the world pretty rapidly, and I don’t see any great harm in that myself.
PLOMLEY: He’s unusually fortunate in meeting these lovely and cooperative girls.
FLEMING: Yes, I envy him.
PLOMLEY: The last Bond book has achieved a new importance. It’s been issued in a handsome limited edition at three guineas a copy. Is this a sign of Bond in High Society, in top people literature?
FLEMING: I don’t think so really. I think it was just the publisher’s idea and apparently they managed to sell all the copies so it can’t have gone far wrong.
PLOMLEY: I mentioned some British criticism in the British press of the books. There’s another quote from a Russian paper that I think is rather more serious, and it accuses the James Bond books of being violently anti-Russian and it does seem justified. Invariably your villains are a pretty deep-dyed bunch of Russian thugs, and at a time when Anglo-Soviet relations are rather important, is this a responsible attitude?
FLEMING: Well, it’s all very fine, but these are fiction and one’s got to have an enemy. In the old days there used to be the Chinese and the Germans and various other nationalities, and when you come to think of some of the cases of about Russian espionage, there was one quite recently in Stuttgart, where a man had been sent by the Russians and had successfully murdered three West Germans, with a cyanide gas pistol. Well, if they will go on playing that sort of trick they mustn’t expect to be completely white-washed.
PLOMLEY: Mm. Still, you will admit that Bond is something of a deep-dyed thug himself.
FLEMING: Oh yes, certainly. He has to be or he couldn’t defeat the other deep-dyed thugs. It’s a world of thuggery.
PLOMLEY: Let’s have record No. 5.
FLEMING: No. 5 is Rosemary Clooney—“This Old House.” It makes a very fine noise this record, and I’m devoted to it and I’m also devoted to Rosemary Clooney’s appearance on the sleeve; and I assume I should be allowed the sleeves as well as the records, so that she can act as a pin-up girl on the nearest palm-tree.
PLOMLEY: Rosemary Clooney, “This Old House.” All your books Mr. Fleming show tremendous attention to detail. You’ve obviously done a great deal of background research. Have you ever slipped up at all in any of the James Bond books?
FLEMING: Yes, I’m afraid I do from time to time. I take a lot of trouble not to, but inevitably things slip past my publishers. [Take 1: Oh constantly. It's actually terrifying the number of mistakes I make, because I try to be accurate]
For instance in the last book the girl goes into a bar in the Casino and orders half a bottle of Pol Roger champagne. Well, it just turns out that Pol Roger is the one champagne firm that doesn’t turn out half bottles.
PLOMLEY: Good Lord.
FLEMING: And again, some friend commented on the fact that when Bond drives up to his headquarters in Regent’s Park and smells the smell of burning leaves and realises that summer has come to an end, I was making a mistake because Regent’s Park is now a smokeless zone. Well, that’s very helpful but I find that other people make mistakes. Shakespeare for instance had clocks chiming in ancient Rome, and other people have made errors of one kind or another—
PLOMLEY: Yes, somebody always writes in and tells them.
FLEMING: Yes, it’s very helpful of them and I try to correct them in later editions.
PLOMLEY: How much longer do you think you can keep Bond going? Is he a job for life?
FLEMING: Well, I don’t know, it just depends on how much more I can go on following his adventures.
[Take 1: Well, it just depends on how long my puff lasts, so to speak. It’s a question of invention.]
PLOMLEY: You don’t feel that he’s keeping you from more serious writing?
FLEMING: No, I’m not in the Shakespeare stakes, I’ve got no ambitions.
PLOMLEY: You do an occasional major piece of reporting. You went round the world for the Sunday Times quite recently.
FLEMING: Yes, that was a series called Thrilling Cities, which is coming out as a book in October.
PLOMLEY: Have you anything more like that lined up?
FLEMING: If I found something very exciting I’d love to do it you know, but again it’s a question of how much you can crush into the week, and I’ve invented the Fleming two-day week and I’m trying to stick to it.
PLOMLEY: Right. Record 6 now.
FLEMING: Record 6 is “A Summer Place” by Billie Vaughan, and I just happen to like this, because I think it’s a wonderful piece of light orchestration.
PLOMLEY: Billie Vaughan and his orchestra playing Max Steiner’s "Theme from A Summer Place.” Mr. Fleming, would you be an efficient castaway on this island?
FLEMING: I think I might be. I love underwater swimming and if I could make a spear out of a piece of bamboo, and get some sort of covering for my eyes, I think I could keep myself alive. I’ve always like the idea of building a house of palm-thatch and so on and keeping the scorpions away with a big ditch round it.
PLOMLEY: Could you build a craft?
FLEMING: Well, one could always build some sort of craft. How seaworthy it’d be I’ve no idea.
PLOMLEY: Well, how’s your navigation? Would you try to get away?
FLEMING: Very bad indeed. I’d cast myself loose if I wanted to find a dentist somewhere, but that’s as far as I could go, I think.
PLOMLEY: Record No. 7 now.
FLEMING: That’s the old Anton Karas, at his zither, playing the Harry Lyme theme. I enjoy the record because it’s rather a thriller writer’s record and it’s evocative of Vienna, which I’ve always enjoyed.
PLOMLEY: Anton Karas, the Harry Lyme theme. Now we come to your last one Mr. Fleming. What have you chosen for the end?
FLEMING: The last record is Joe Carr playing “Darktown Strutters’ Ball,” and this is just a splendid hell-raiser, when I want to wake the echoes and feel perhaps slightly lonely.
PLOMLEY: Joe “Fingers” Carr, “Darktown Strutters’ Ball.” We’ve heard your eight records Mr. Fleming. If you could take only one of this eight, which would it be?
FLEMING: Well, that’s a very difficult question, but I think on the whole I choose the last one, Joe “Fingers” Carr, because he makes this tremendous racket that would keep the ghosts away, and it would cheer me up if I was—as I say—if I was feeling rather gloomy.
PLOMLEY: And you’re allowed to take one luxury with you. What are you choosing?
FLEMING: If I couldn’t take my wife, I’d have a typewriter with plenty of ribbons and paper.
PLOMLEY: For what? More James Bond books?
FLEMING: Well, that we’d have to see, what there was to write about on the island.
PLOMLEY: All right, and one book to take with you, apart from the Bible and Shakespeare.
FLEMING: Well, this is perhaps the only sort of serious note in this programme, because in fact I’d probably take War and Peace, which I’ve never read but in German, because I enjoy the German language and I could both practice my German and read War and Peace at the same time.
PLOMLEY: Right. And thank you Ian Fleming for letting us hear your choice of Desert Island Discs.
FLEMING: Well, it’s been great fun and I hope it wasn’t too lighthearted.
PLOMLEY: Goodbye everyone.
That was very enjoyable. Some of his choices come as no surprise (the Piaf song, of course, and the "Harry Lime Theme"). He nicely edits his own life story, as anyone would, and naturally glosses over his war experiences. Many thanks!
And thank you for following and commenting on this thread!
Fleming's taste in music seems fairly typical for someone of his age and background. Light jazz/pop from his youth (“Cecilia” & "Dinah"); some continental class with Edith Piaff ("La Vie en Rose," which appears in CR and DAF); the Ink Spots (mentioned in TSWLM and TB); easy listening favorites ("A Summer Place" & "The Third Man Theme"); and the sort of '50s pop that adults liked before rock'n'roll (Rosemary Clooney and Joe "Fingers" Carr). I'm guessing Fleming was not into rock or rock'n'roll. Disappointing perhaps, but I can't say I'm into hip-hop or much of the music being made nowadays.
Here are all the song mentions from the novels:
CR Ch. 14 ‘LA VIE EN ROSE?’
"In the far corner, a trio, consisting of a piano, an electric guitar and drums, was playing ‘La Vie en Rose’ with muted sweetness."
DAF Ch. 5
"He examined the other side and, skipping 'La Vie en Rose' because it had memories for him, put the needle down at the beginning of 'Avril au Portugal'."
TB Ch. 20
"In the background to Leiter’s voice there was a medley of soft noises—the high, constant whine of a generator overlaid by the muted background of canned music—the Ink Spots singing 'I love coffee, I love tea’."
TSWLM Ch. 2
"WOKO announced forty minutes of ‘Music To Kiss By’ and suddenly there were the Ink Spots singing ‘Someone’s Rockin’ my Dream Boat’ and I was back on the River Thames and it was five summers ago and we were drifting down past Kings Eyot in a punt and there was Windsor Castle in the distance and Derek was paddling while I worked the portable. We only had ten records, but whenever it came to be the turn of the Ink Spots’ LP and the record got to ‘Dream Boat’, Derek would always plead, ‘Play it again, Viv,’ and I would have to go down on my knees and find the place with the needle."
" ‘Only a Paper Doll, for Me to Call My Own’—the Ink Spots again! I could hear the deep bass of ‘Hoppy’ Jones and the sweet soprano counterpoint of Bill Kenny, so piercingly sweet that it tore at the heartstrings. And underneath, the deep pulse-beat of Charlie Fuqua’s guitar."
Solid work there, saved me doing it! To continue the (pun intended) theme, how about "Marion" from DN? Bond clearly knows it, because he actually sings it when he first meets Honey and she's singing it! (In the film, it is of course replaced by "Under The Mango Tree")
Background to Bond (The Motor, August 21, 1963)
Special Investigator D.B. Tubbs Grills 007’s Creator Ian Fleming
You can’t read a book about Secret Service agent 007 James Bond without being aware that he is fond of fast cars, which is not surprising because Ian Fleming likes them, too. He has been devoted to motorcars all his life, from the first car he owned, an old khaki-coloured Standard with the Union Jack radiator badge, down to his present Studebaker Avanti. The Bond-Fleming firm have an especial affection for Bentleys, which they are apt to make up as they go along, like the “Mark II Continental that some rich idiot had married to a telegraph pole” in Thunderball. You may remember that Bond got Mulliners to rebuild it as a two-seater and “fitted new clockwork—the Mark IV engine with 9.2 compression”. Strictly non-catalogue, but not as fictional as The Saint’s Hirondelle.
This Bentley thing of Fleming’s goes back at least to Le Mans 1930. As a young man he covered that race for Reuters, getting to know the Bentley teams quite well—not the drivers so much as the mechanics in the pits. The great tear-up between the green cars and the Mercedes made a great impression on him, so that the theme continually recurs in the Bond books, where, out of reminiscent piety, superchargers are apt to howl when strictly they shouldn’t. A year or so later Fleming covered the Alpine for Reuters, this time from the best place of all, for he went as passenger with Donald Healey in the 4 1/2 Invicta that won its class. So the firm has respectable Vintage roots, and an orthodox preference for Bentleys of the old style—a feeling reinforced by Fleming’s life-long friendship with Amherst Villiers, who developed the Blower cars for Birkin, and is now in charge of the Moon Project at the Douglas Aircraft Corporation. Letters pass to and fro on Bentley lore, not untinged perhaps with hindsight and wishful thinking. Other motoring matters are vetted by a London friend who undoubtedly knows his stuff, but is apt to get coshed by the plot. Hence errors like the “new set of racing Michelins” and the loud hiss of vacuum brakes.
Fleming, like Bond, likes large cars. He is not attracted to the smoothery of an S2 or E-type, but he wants something that will carry him far and fast across the Continent with lots of luggage. The car must stand out in all weathers because there is no garage, it must start at once, and give no trouble. The first two-sealer Thunderbird. which Fleming met in the States, filled the bill. It was, he says, a splendid touring car. The paint and chromium bred for American climatic extremes never tarnished, and the car did not so much as blow a lamp bulb in six years; by no means a sports car extra sec like a Ferrari—but not soft and suburbanized like the later four-seaters.
The Avanti, one might say, came by post. Pinched in New York State for doing 97 m.p.h. in a 50 limit, Fleming put the cause of his conviction, a Studebaker Special with Cadillac engine, into a novel. In this book, Diamonds are Forever, Felix Leiter explains the “Studillac” to Bond, adding that “You couldn’t have anything better than this body. Designed by that Frenchman, Raymond Loewy. Best designer in the world. But it’s a bit too advanced for the American market…” So one day Fleming had a letter from Loewy, saying thank you for the few kind words and asking whether he had tried an Avanti. He hadn’t, but he had a trial run and wrote to Amherst Villiers. Villiers said go ahead, so he ordered one.
The Avanti, says Fleming, is “a bomb of a motorcar. European roadholding and disc brakes. It has cut my drive from London to Sandwich by 20 minutes, just on those brakes. And the tremendous rattle of the exhaust note as that big supercharged V-8 engine goes through maximum torque makes you feel young again. In fact, the torque is so tremendous you have to be careful not to bum the rubber off your tyres. At around 5,000 dollars the Avanti is very cheap in the States, and at £2,810 it is not dear here. Little things about it are silly: the cheap little door handles come off, and the rear vision is farcical. Tiny rear mirror. I’ve fitted a bigger one.”
The Kentish roast was infested with villains until James Bond cleaned it up. Drax’s murdering Mercedes and Goldfinger’s solid gold Rolls have gone, and the dreadful Korean is dead; but on A2 and A20 you still see his “repainted sky-blue Ford Popular with large yellow ears scurrying along the crown of the road,” and tirelessly meet “that infallible badge of the bad driver, a hat clamped firmly on the centre of his head.”
Ian Fleming profits by observation. He knows about bowler hats. He knows that sooner or later if there are two women in a car they will look into each other’s eyes, and if there are four women the front two will turn right round. He has learned to mistrust dollies, tigers, steering-wheel cosies and string-back gloves. He suspects that packets of tissue on the rear shelf are a car-snob affectation hailing from the U.S.A., and though an ardent Scot he is maddened by Ecosse plates. He is now against badges of every kind. “I used to have quite a collection of foreign ones, pleasant reminders of trips abroad, but the whole thing got out of hand. Besides they don’t go on a modem car. Any badge would spoil the lines of the Avanti, so I’ve taken them all down.” It was quite a proud moment, he says, when he passed his advanced driver’s test, “but would you believe it, people have started putting their I.A.M. badge on the back. So I’ve taken that down, too.”
The expertise in the Bond books, though sometimes shaky in detail, is mostly first hand, and the motoring bits have a solid background, despite the surface cracks. Ian Fleming knows about underwater swimming because he dived with Cousteau in the Mediterranean galley days, he has the rifle-shooting patter because he used to shoot for Sandhurst. He was never in the Secret Service but he was in Naval Intelligence during the war “and such friends as I still have in Intelligence forgive what James Bond does because they say I’m their best recruiting agent.” Each bit of expertise brings the story back to earth. “The Bond books are sheer fantasy, but when you read that Bond wears a Rolex Oyster or Saxone golf shoes, you believe in him more as a person.” And when he borrows a DB3 you envy him as well.
Before we parted I wondered whether Mr. Bond, always a keen courting type, ever went courting in cars. “Perhaps,” said Ian Fleming, “but I doubt it. Bond likes always to keep both hands on the wheel.”
Note: this image and the previous one are from a separate publication, Sporting Motorist (April, 1963).
I wish to thank the fellow researcher and collector who kindly sent me this article. Watch for another next week!
That’s a great article, thanks posting @Revelator
Seconded. Thanks @Revelator.
Thanks for that