Ian Fleming biography by Nicholas Shakespeare

Nicholas Shakespeare's long-awaited biography of Ian Fleming (Ian Fleming: The Complete Man) is now listed on Amazon with a release date of October 5, 2023. Shakespeare was afforded greater access to the Fleming archive than any of his predecessors, including Andrew Lycett. Hopefully this will be the definitive biography and offer us a few new tidbits of the great writer.

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Comments

  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 35,950Chief of Staff

    Sacrilege, I know, but this time I think I will resist acquiring yet another Fleming biography.

  • Westward_DriftWestward_Drift Posts: 3,080MI6 Agent

    Fleming, by Shakespeare? Didn't we already do this Barbel? LOL.

    On a serious note, I will wait for reviews to see if enough new content is present.

  • RevelatorRevelator Posts: 541MI6 Agent

    I'm more excited about this book than about any of the new continuation novels. In one of his last interviews John Pearson was very enthusiastic about Shakespeare being Fleming's latest biographer. Excellent as Pearson and Lycett's biographies were, they weren't definitive: Pearson was writing too soon after Fleming's death to openly cover everything, and Lycett let his interest in Fleming's social world overwhelm his book. Neither biographer connected Fleming's books to his life in sufficient depth.

    The fact that Shakespeare's book has "unprecedented access to the Fleming family papers," and will take advantage of all the discoveries and developments that have occurred in the 28 years after Lycett's bio, makes it a must-buy for me. The publisher's page is here. Even the cover looks good:


  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 35,950Chief of Staff

    I don't think I need yet another Fleming biography, as I said above (yes, I know the "Commandos" book isn't properly a bio). "You Only Live Once", by Fleming's friend Ivar Bryce, is there in two different editions owing to legal action by ... guess who? (No prizes)

  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 3,872MI6 Agent
    edited May 2023

    @Revelator said:

    Excellent as Pearson and Lycett's biographies were, they weren't definitive: Pearson was writing too soon after Fleming's death to openly cover everything, and Lycett let his interest in Fleming's social world overwhelm his book. Neither biographer connected Fleming's books to his life in sufficient depth.

    _____________________________________________

    I thought Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born: Ian Fleming's Jamaica was excellent for this angle, but did skew towards explaining mostly the adventures set in Jamaica. both OHMSS and Octopussy made more sense once I learned what was going on in Fleming's life at that time, and I didnt get any of that context from Pearson's bio. Still haven't read Lycett's bio even though I can see it from here sitting on my shelf, the several hundred pages preceding Casino Royale intimidate me.

    @Barbel I don't see Goldeneye there in your collection! That Man with the Golden Pen I do have, sitting right beside me, in a pile of oddball Bond related vintage paperbacks

  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 35,950Chief of Staff

    @caractacus potts Nope, don't have that one - I had drawn my line for Fleming biographies by that time.

  • RevelatorRevelator Posts: 541MI6 Agent

    Sell off Gant and McCormick and you'll have room for Parker and Shakespeare!

  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 35,950Chief of Staff

    😂😂😂

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,549MI6 Agent
    edited May 2023

    As I understand it the Gant one largely copied Pearson's Fleming biography and much of the McCormick one was a figment of the author's imagination. I'm expecting the Nicholas Shakespeare biography of Fleming to be much more valuable. It'll be interesting to see which new sources and information he's uncovered in his research. I'm really looking forward to this book.

    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 35,950Chief of Staff

    Yes, you're both right, both of those books are very poor- though I'm still not selling them!

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,549MI6 Agent

    No, I wouldn't sell them either. I don't have the McCormick book as yet though it's probably not even worth buying at this point given how it's been discredited by Jeremy Duns's sterling research.

    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • The Domino EffectThe Domino Effect Posts: 3,631MI6 Agent

    Don't Forget The Man With The Golden Typewriter - the letters of Ian Fleming edited by Fergus Fleming. It provides another insight of Ian Fleming through his correspondence. Highly recommended. I have - and have read - all of those mentioned above, for better and for worse. None is definitive, but several together provide what I believe to be a good portrait of Fleming. I am hoping that the Bard's latest folio will be all in one volume!

  • 00-Agent00-Agent CaliforniaPosts: 453MI6 Agent

    I wish I had Barbels restraint! I know I don’t need another Fleming biography, but I just heard about this book and I am already planning on getting it.

    "A blunt instrument wielded by a Government department. Hard, ruthless, sardonic, fatalistic. He likes gambling, golf, fast motor cars. All his movements are relaxed and economical". Ian Fleming
  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,549MI6 Agent

    It seems I suffer from the same ailment. Book buying and self-restraint is something that is foreign to me.

    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 35,950Chief of Staff

    Apologies for the delay. Yes, we most certainly have done that one! 😃😃😃

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,549MI6 Agent

    When you think about it Ian Fleming has went from not being "in the Shakespeare stakes" to a Shakespeare writing an authorised biography of him. His critical stock has certainly risen over the years and it's great to see.

    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 3,872MI6 Agent

    yes now he's got Shakespeare working for him!

    thatll show everybody who's top dog in English literature

  • Westward_DriftWestward_Drift Posts: 3,080MI6 Agent

    So much so Fleming's writings are now being edited and rewritten like Shakespeare over the centuries. Nahum Tate's King Lear springs to mind.

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,549MI6 Agent

    Many of Shakespeare's plays were themselves inspired by previous plays and histories. I suppose that's art - one thing influences another and so on until the end of time. I'm not in favour of Fleming's novels being edited though, but there it is.

    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • RevelatorRevelator Posts: 541MI6 Agent

    Indeed! I suppose the difference is that today most people who care about Shakespeare would be horrified if Tate's version was reinstated and supplanted the original. IFP hasn't grasped that the same applies to Fleming.

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,549MI6 Agent

    IFP have received the advance proof copy. It looks like quite a tome!


    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,107MI6 Agent

    Bloody hell - a brick !

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,549MI6 Agent

    It should be on wheels like those Stephen King books (after Alan Partridge).

    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • The Red KindThe Red Kind EnglandPosts: 3,078MI6 Agent

    One wonders if IFP have edited and removed passages from his life that might offend some new readers to his world...😤

    "Any of the opposition around..?"
  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,549MI6 Agent

    One would certainly hope not - only a "warts and all" approach could provide us with The Complete Man.

    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • RevelatorRevelator Posts: 541MI6 Agent

    The Sunday Times has published a review, by Max Hastings. Some excerpts:

    James Bond is the world’s best-known spy hero — but the life of 007’s creator was more like a triumph of failure

    Ian Fleming was the most globally influential British writer of the 20th century. You disagree, citing Waugh, Orwell and Uncle Tom Cobley? In Nome, Alaska, or Ulan Bator hardly a sledge dog has heard of Orwell, but the entire population knows James Bond.

    Yet his creator spent the first 44 years of his life amassing a remarkable record of failures. He left Eton prematurely, fled from Sandhurst, flunked the Foreign Office exam and threw up a promising journalistic career to become an unhappy stockbroker.

    While a whizz with women, he seemed incapable of sustaining a relationship. When once he did so, with his Swiss lover Monique Panchaud de Bottens, he was forced to break off their engagement because his appalling mother, Eve, gave her the thumbs-down.

    ...The psychiatrist Joshua Bierer, who knew Ian Fleming in their shared Munich youth, asserted that he was of a type that, if he had not found a role in which to excel, “would have led to the gutter, a mental hospital or prison”. Noël Coward said: “Ian, darling, you’re just a beautiful bitch.”

    ...Nicholas Shakespeare, who wrote the definitive study of Bruce Chatwin, has compiled a monumental record of Fleming’s life: every lover, friendship and (almost) round of golf. The completeness of the book is beyond doubt, although its subject was a heroically incomplete human being.

    ...Shakespeare convincingly shows that Fleming, like many romantics and adventurers, found a personal fulfilment in wartime. But I cannot accept his claim that his man became an important player in the intelligence community and was mistreated by being denied a decoration in 1945. Evidence from both war and peace suggests that while many people found Fleming entertaining, few took him seriously.

    Until, that is, he became a global bestseller. How did he do it? How did he, in the last 12 years of an abbreviated life, invent a world-conquering superhero, boosted latterly by the terrific movies of Harry Saltzman, Cubby Broccoli and Sean Connery, which added jokes to the humour-free stories?

    First, the flipside of Fleming’s delusional make-up was that his narratives were suffused with absolute belief in his ludicrous plots and characters. Next, he was a descriptive writer of the highest gifts. From Russia with Love, especially, still reads superbly. When I research real Russian spies, I am struck by how well Fleming caught the spirit and language of such brutes. And Bond, like the entirely comparable Sherlock Holmes, suspends our disbelief to seem capable of single-handedly saving the Empire.

    His creator conveyed a sense of authority, even omniscience, that was often spurious — for instance, about guns — but fooled most of us. He wrote as a supposed gourmet, but the food at Goldeneye was notoriously awful. Fleming’s fantasy club, Blades, hardly sounds inviting when such arch-villains as Hugo Drax were members, although I suppose that is likewise true of White’s.

    Fleming brought to his tales immense experience of women, although whether he really liked them, as distinct from enjoying sex, is debatable. His 1952 marriage to Ann Charteris, a social lioness with a predator’s taste for human raw meat, brought misery to both.

    ...The last lines of Shakespeare’s book describe how, after Fleming’s 1964 death from a heart attack, aged only 56, a friend discovered the pages of a new, unfinished Bond story and excitedly showed them to his widow. Who promptly chucked them on the fire.

    Shakespeare leaves no future biographer much to discover. Fleming’s place in history is assured. But after viewing his train wreck of a life, no sane person could envy Thunderballs, as Cyril Connolly and Ann Fleming sadistically mocked him.

  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 35,950Chief of Staff

    Thanks as ever, @Revelator. I may change my mind about this one....

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,549MI6 Agent
    edited October 2023

    I'm excited for this book and I've pre-ordered it. I read some of the extracts from the new Fleming biography in The Times last week and the part about Ann Fleming throwing the supposed new Bond manuscript in the fire made me wince. I'm not sure if this really was a lost Bond manuscript or not but it does show Ann's callous nature when it came to "Ian's booby", James Bond. She's not what I would call a delightful woman.

    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • RevelatorRevelator Posts: 541MI6 Agent
    edited October 2023

    I saw the Facebook discussion on the burnt manuscript and agree with you and Raymond Benson that the lost document was probably not an unknown Bond adventure but an early draft of an already published one. I've heard that Goldfinger originally began life as several short stories, so perhaps one of those was burnt. Or perhaps one of the fragments mentioned in Pearson's biography. But it's highly unlikely Fleming would have written an entire novel no one knew about.

    Ann isn't easy to like, but it's possible to understand her dislike of Bond. She loved her husband and blamed Bond for coming between them and hastening Ian's death. One can't argue with her about that.

    I'm hoping Shakespeare's biography proves definitive. Pearson was an excellent writer who knew his subject but was constrained by having to write an official biography with Ann looking over his shoulder. Lycett had more freedom of content and length but sometimes got bogged down in detailing Fleming's social world and acquaintances. And neither book has enough of the sort of literary criticism one expects from a truly great biography of a writer--the sort of criticism that closely examines the ties between a writer's work and his life and deepens our understand of the former.

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,107MI6 Agent

    This certainly feels like it will be worth a read. Thanks for the edited review @Revelator

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