Re: Ian Fleming on Crime and Spy Fiction (and non-fiction!)

Books of the Year (The Sunday Times)

Dec. 27, 1959:

Pirates and Predators By Col. R. Meinertzhagen, (Oliver & Boyd. 70s.)

This is rather a cheat. Pirates and Predators is not the most interesting book I read in 1959, but I am using it as a peg to introduce Colonel Meinertzhagen’s writing to a wider public, because his Kenya Diary, 1902-1906 (surely the flattest title of 1958?) was by far the most exciting autobiography I have read since the war.

Pirates and Predators is a book for “the naturalist who has everything.” It consists of highly personal and often bloodthirsty notes, with plenty of illustrations, of the chief gangsters among birds, divided by Colonel Meinertzhagen into professionals (hawks and owls) and amateurs (certain passerines, storks, herons, cormorants, gulls, etc.). The whole book adds up to a study of violence among birds.

Colonel Meinertzhagen was once more famous as a spy than as a naturalist, and there is a thrilling passage in T. E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom giving an account of one of Meinertzhagen’s most famous exploits—the planting of a false set of General Allenby’s plans on the Turks; and there is a quality of acute and highly intelligent observation in all his writing. He also has totally uninhibited views on everything from birds to humans and, on the first page of Pirates and Predators, he lets fly, typically, with “The greatest vermin of all is Man himself.” Just the stuff for the feather-pates in the featherbeds of today!

Dec. 25, 1960:

After the Shoals of Capricorn, South Latitude and Isle of Cloves, it has been a long wait for Dr. F. D. Ommanney’s fourth travel book Eastern Windows (Longmans), but he continues to write as beautifully, shrewdly and surprisingly as ever and, as usual, one can almost warm one’s hands at his zest for living.

For Thrillophiles, two crackerjack Westerners by something of a mystery man, Evan Evans, who was killed at Cassino—Song of the Whip and Montana Kid (Penguin).

Dec. 24, 1961:

My happiest discovery has been two real-life adventure stories by William Travis, a very odd fellow indeed who lives in the Seychelles—Shark for Sale and Beyond the Reefs— extremely intelligent, well written, out-of-this-world books which, for some incredible reason, have escaped the reviewers. George Allen and Unwin should put their shoulders behind this potentially best-selling writer.

Thrillers: The Wrong Side of the Sky by Gavin Lyall (Hodder & Stoughton); News of Murder by Anthony Lejeune (Macdonald); Season of Assassins by Geoffrey Wagner (Quadriga)—each for a different reason.

Dec. 23, 1962:

It has been a good year for the kind of thrillers I enjoy. The Hour of Maximum Danger, by James Barlow (Hamish Hamilton), was only spoilt for me by the author's use of the word “toilets” after having run the gamut of most of the Lady Chatterley words. The Ipcress File, by Len Deighton (Hodder & Stoughton), was a brilliant firework, but rather too “scatty” for my taste. I don’t think thrillers should be “funny.”

Outstanding were Eric Ambler’s The Light of Day (Heinemann), full of vintage Amblerisms and a perfect example of the European thriller. Equally notable, in the transatlantic vein, was The Only Girl in the Game, by the ever reliable John MacDonald (Robert Hale).

Both these books, totally different in idiom, do what I think a thriller should do—see you through a train or aeroplane journey and provide temporary escape if you are ill.


Re: Ian Fleming on Crime and Spy Fiction (and non-fiction!)

Gary Powers and the Big Lie (Sunday Times, March 11, 1962)

by Ian Fleming

I have strong views about the Powers Case. It will go down to history, I think, as one of the classical espionage cases, classical in the sense of its majestic mishandling. I have nothing against Powers himself. He wasn’t a spy, he was just an extremely good pilot employed to operate an espionage device, one of the finest ever invented, a high-altitude photographical reconnaissance aircraft called the U2.

In connection with this aircraft, which in fact was nothing but a very good “Spy in the Sky,” I have the impression that Americans can lie more safely in their beds today, and Englishmen, too, because of the intelligence brought back by planes of the U2 class piloted by young daredevils such as Powers. These planes, I believe, brought back target information whose possession by America, more voluminous and more accurate than could have been obtained by a million ground spies—if one could have got them in there and out again, which one couldn’t—has made it as possible as any other factor for America to negotiate from strength with Russia—to be able to tell Russia, or perhaps just to leak it discreetly, that in the case of a mass blast-off of I.C.B.M.s by Russia the sources of the attack and other military objectives in the U.S.S.R. could be devastated within minutes, bringing her, however much damage she might do to America and England, militarily to her knees.

So let us take off our hats to the Spy in the Sky and move on to what went wrong in the case of Powers.

Everyone knows that a spy gets paid danger-money for doing a very dangerous job. He knows that if he is caught he is going to get tortured in his most sensitive parts—and, believe me, it is those things the professional spy thinks of far more than of death itself—and then he is going to be killed. It has been so ever since the man from the opposition crept under the tent flap in the desert and listened to the plans of the enemy tribal chiefs and then, with luck, ran all night with the news, to where the camp fires of his own side were burning away in the hills. It has gone on like that through all history, and it is one of the most exciting of all human adventure stories—the single man, in the darkness, facing death alone for the sake of the great mass of his own countrymen.

But the essence of the game—for, in a way, it is a tremendous game—is that, if the spy is caught, and whatever truth is tortured out of him, he is totally disavowed by his own side. Spying is a dirty business, why I have never quite understood. But the convention has always been maintained. If you are in uniform, you are okay. If you’re in civilian clothes you’re a pariah. Smith? Never heard of him, and Bang! You’re dead.

Now every country in the world employs spies and always has done. Nowadays the big corporations employ them also, to spy on the other fellows' plans and designs—but that is another story. And it is total hypocrisy for any country to adopt a holier-than-thou attitude, to get on a high horse if they catch one of the other fellow’s spies. They’re damned glad they caught him, and the chief of the Red secret service chuckles at the discomfiture of the chief of the Purple secret service, and that’s that.

But in the Powers case things went badly wrong. Powers was in fact a skilled pilot and not a spy—though he probably got plenty of security briefing and knew what he was in for, as he confessed straight away to the Russians, in accepting the huge sums of danger money. What went badly wrong was the handling of the case by the American Government (and here let me say that I am discussing this espionage case purely as a writer of spy thrillers. Let’s keep politics out of it. We in England made almighty fools of ourselves sending a middle-aged romantic called Crabbe out on a ten-mile underwater swim in Portland Bay to examine a Russian cruiser of the Sverdlov class. The only good thing that came out of that mess was that we kept our mouths shut and stuck to our story that we’d hardly ever heard of a man called Crabbe.)

What happened in the Powers case? The Russians broke the story first, though presumably the C.I.A. knew, or guessed, that something bad had happened to Powers (I am told, by the way, that two or perhaps three other U2 planes had been lost before this one, though in these cases the pilot had either been killed or taken his death pill). The next move was with America, and now was the time for The Big Lie.

This is how I, or rather M., the fictional head of the secret service in my James Bond stories, would have handled it. He would have said, through our Foreign Office, as follows, “Thank you very much indeed. One of our experimental aircraft is indeed missing from our Turkish base and your description of the pilot fits in with a man who escaped yesterday from detention at that base. This man Powers is a most unreliable person who has a girl friend in Paris (to explain the foreign currency Powers carried) and he hijacked our plane with the object, presumably, of flying to her. You are quite correct to hold him in detention, and he must clearly suffer all the rigours of Soviet law in the circumstances. Please return our plane and equipment in due course. Sorry you’ve been troubled. P.S.: Powers suffers from hallucinations and delusions of grandeur. Pay no attention to them.”

Or something like that—bland, courteous, firm, but throwing Powers cold-bloodedly to the dogs. After all, it was against a contingency like that that he had been paid several thousand dollars a month. That was danger money. He was expendable. Expend him!

Instead, what happened? Endless havering by the State Department, lies, half-truths and finally admissions from on high that led at least in part to the total collapse of the Summit meeting in Paris. If The Big Lie had been spoken, and stuck to, it would have been in the true traditions of espionage. The democratisation of espionage has muddied the ancient stream that dates back to the man crawling under the tent flap to spy in the sheikhs. Just look at the trouble it caused!

And, just by the way, I don’t for a moment believe that Powers was shot down at 68,000 feet by Russian rockets. I believe it was sabotage at the Turkish base—delayed action bombs in the tail section. Turkey is a bit too close to Bulgaria for comfort. And the Bulgars are the best bomb technicians in the world.

Finally, as an Englishman, I sincerely hope that a U3 is already flying and that a U4 is on the drawing-board. But may they be backed by the Big Lie as well as by young chauffeurs like Powers. This mess wasn’t Powers’s fault, or his plane’s—least of all that of Allen Dulles. It was the fault of the men who think that espionage is a dirty word. It isn’t. It has got to be done well, that’s all—from the Powers of this world, all the way up to the Presidents and the Prime Ministers.


Note: You can read more about the Powers-U2 incident at Wikipedia and the BBC. Fleming was completely wrong about the cause of the plane's crash. The U2 was indeed brought down by an S-75 Dvina surface-to-air missile. The Soviets already knew about the U2 flights and were expecting Powers to show up.

The Americans attempted an elaborate cover-up and pretended the U2 was actually a NASA weather research plane. But they did this under the impression that Powers had died and his plane was destroyed. Khrushchev delayed revealing the truth to entrap and embarrass the Americans. He succeeded. Eisenhower found himself in the dilemma--admitting responsibility for the U-2 flight would sour the Four Powers summit in Paris, but denying it would indicate to the press and Congress that he did not control his own administration. Fleming kept politics out of his article, but domestic pressure played a large part in forcing Eisenhower's hand.

I could go into more detail, but that would get in the way of wishing all my fellow Fleming-fans a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I'll be back with more Fleming in early January. Until then, Happy Holidays!


Re: Ian Fleming on Crime and Spy Fiction (and non-fiction!)

Revelator wrote:

I could go into more detail, but that would get in the way of wishing all my fellow Fleming-fans a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I'll be back with more Fleming in early January. Until then, Happy Holidays!

And a belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year (well that's still to come) to you also.

I've been reading these excerpts for ages and wanted to say thanks as they are more than interesting and an enjoyable read.  The one I was most interested in was 'The Tragic Spy' (The Spy's Bedside Book) as this is the only book I have read you have listed.  To be totally honest, as much as I enjoyed it some of the stories went over my head.  I'll give it another go and take more time.  It's a great looking book though - I bought this from the Folio Society years ago and is beautifully illustrated.

Interesting thoughts on Raymond Chandler as well.  I read 'The Big Sleep' years ago which was enjoyable and the film was equally as good - what's not to like that has a well written plot, a great story and a cast with Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Dorothy Malone among others.  Talk about on screen chemistry with Bogart and Bacall - that's as good as it gets in my view.  'Our Man in Havana' is on its way so I'm looking forward to that and once again interesting to read Fleming's comments.  I haven't read any of Eric Ambler's work but I will get 'The Mask of Dimitrios' simply because Bond is reading this on the plane in one of Fleming's novels.  I hope I got that right, if not please correct me. 

Finally, it's a shame Fleming died in 1964 as I would have loved to have known what his thoughts would have been on 'The Human Factor' by Graham Greene.  From what I've been told that book is the closest comparison as to what life is really like working at MI6.  That I also thought was an excellent novel. 

Thanks again and look forward to the next excerpt.  ajb007/smile  ajb007/martini

"Everyone knows rock n' roll attained perfection in 1974; It's a scientific fact". -  Homer J Simpson

(previously aka OGG007)


Re: Ian Fleming on Crime and Spy Fiction (and non-fiction!)

Thanks OGG007! Glad you've been enjoying the posts.

OGG007 wrote:

I haven't read any of Eric Ambler's work but I will get 'The Mask of Dimitrios' simply because Bond is reading this on the plane in one of Fleming's novels.  I hope I got that right, if not please correct me.

That's correct. Mask is a classic and I'm sure you'll enjoy it. Almost all of Ambler's pre-war thrillers are excellent and worth reading. The same goes for Chandler's post-Big Sleep novels.

Finally, it's a shame Fleming died in 1964 as I would have loved to have known what his thoughts would have been on 'The Human Factor' by Graham Greene.  From what I've been told that book is the closest comparison as to what life is really like working at MI6.

He might have reacted as he did to Le Carre's The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, which he discussed with ex-CIA chief Allen Dulles (https://www.ajb007.co.uk/topic/47497/ia … -spycraft/):

FLEMING: We've had very interesting book published in England which I see is now on sale here, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. It's a very, very fine spy story.

DULLES: I've read it. I got an advance copy of it. [Playfully] But I thought somebody was invading your field a little bit. You're having some competition there, aren't you?

FLEMING: I don't object to that. Because first of all, I admire this book very much. It’s very well written. But of course, the only trouble about this is, it’s taking the “mickey” out of the spy business.

DULLES [Laughing]: Explain that a little bit. I'd like to get you to explain that.

FLEMING: Well, none of us wants to do it. I mean, none of us professional writers about spies want this to happen. We want the romance—at least I do; I’m talking for myself—I want the romance and the fun and the fantasy to go on. If you reduced the whole thing to police daywork or ordinary secret-service daywork, it would bore the reader to tears.

DULLES: Well, I didn't think this did.

FLEMING: No, no. It didn't. It was well done. But what he does to the spy story is to take the fun out of it. This is a serious, a most depressing, book. I mean, it's a book that one reads with great respect, but it isn't a book I would take an airplane journey. Because it wouldn’t take my mind off the airplane. It might even increase my fears and nervousness—

DULLES: I didn't even know you had any!

Thanks again and look forward to the next excerpt.

You're very welcome, it should arrive tomorrow!


Re: Ian Fleming on Crime and Spy Fiction (and non-fiction!)

Girl’s Best Friend (Sunday Times, Dec. 09, 1956)

Diamond. By Emily Hahn. (Weidenfeld & Nicolson.18s.)

By Ian Fleming

I am one of those people who actually buy books. I think I have done this all my life because I like bookshops and booksellers, and I certainly used to like all the books I bought which, up to the war, were 90 per cent. fiction.

After the war I started buying books again, but the proportion of fiction dropped very rapidly. I don’t think it was because I was getting older, I think it was because novels became increasingly introspective and “difficult” and stopped having plots. Instead I read more stories of travel and adventure and reportage. In these there are no wastes of introspective dialogue and none of those contrived psychological situations which I, the hero, would have solved in the first chapter by emigrating to Canada and getting away from the dreadful woman.

So books like Diamond have become my escape-reading where, before the war, I would have bought, apart from the obvious ones, the latest T. F. Powys, Liam O’Flaherty or A. E. Coppard. Of course, the technique of reportage has improved out of all knowledge. Miss Emily Hahn is a graduate of the New Yorker Profile school, which has for thirty years been turning out the best contemporary history. She also holds degrees in mining engineering and mineralogy, which explains American advertisements describing Diamond as “the sparkling new book by the world’s most beautiful mining engineer.”

Miss Hahn’s story is not the whole history of the diamond. The Indian and Brazilian fields are barely mentioned. It is the story of the great diamond fields and mines of Africa where the first diamond was found in 1866 or 1867—by the Boer child who picked up the pretty pebble. The rush was slow in developing and expert geologists who scouted the Kimberley veld poured typically professional cold water on the myth of the pretty pebbles.

One of these, a. Mr. J. R. Gregory, representing a London diamond firm, reported dogmatically that the veld was not diamondiferous. The few stones that had been picked up, he announced, were brought to the locality in the crops of ostriches. His firm, without wondering where the ostrich had found the diamonds in the first place, accepted the expertise and dropped all interest in the veld. A year later the rush was on. And then came the great diamond names—Barnato, Belt, Joel, Dunkels, Robinson, Wernher, and, finally, the Oppenheimers, who head the industry today.

Emily Hahn examines them all with a sharp, neat pen. She quotes the music-hall lyrics about them at the tum of the century when the South African millionaires were collectively known as “Piggy.” “Piggy will pay, pay, pay!” the ladies of the chorus caroled blithely as they went through their dance routines.

She tells the story of the discovery of the Cullinan—a great heavy chunk of blue-white diamond so big that the finder could not close his hand over it—and of that other huge stone found a few years ago in the Premier mine that somehow got into the crusher and was pulverised. She writes about the early prospectors, IDB, and about Hannay, the man who “made” diamonds.

All the hot romance surrounding the hard, cold stone is in this book. The writing is clear, humorous, excited. This, to me, is the perfect literature of escape.


Re: Ian Fleming on Crime and Spy Fiction (and non-fiction!)

Introduction to Herbert Yardley's The Education of a Poker Player (1957)

If it were possible to have worse laws than our sex laws they would be the laws that regulate gambling...To deal only with what is relevant to this brief note, while twenty million adults gamble on the football pools each week, ten million on horse-racing and five million on premium bonds, playing poker for money, a legal game over half the world including most of the British Commonwealth, is illegal. And really illegal. The Hamilton, a respectable private London card club, found this out in a police action which effectively warned the whole of England off the game. In 1945, at Bow Street, it cost them £500. The grounds for this action? That poker is not a game of skill! Of course an old woman who marks her football coupon and wins £70,000 for her shilling bet has done nothing but study football form for 50 years. No luck in that little gamble! Moreover, she and the other 20 million experts bring in £22 million a year to the Exchequer while the poker player brings in nothing. So the pools are legal and poker isn’t. Balderdash, and hypocritical balderdash at that, to the power of n.

Which brings me, after the smoke has cleared, to this book. It is a book whose publication in London I am proud to have fathered. The circumstances were these. Knowing that I love cards, a friend sent me a cutting from an American magazine that handsomely ‘trailed’ The Education of a Poker Player with some of the late Mr Yardley’s most intriguing hands. I at once sent to America for the book, was delighted with it and gave some copies away for Christmas. The next time I talked to my publishers, Messrs Jonathan Cape, I urged them to publish the book here. They demurred. No one in the British Isles played poker. It would not do well. I said that the book contained only a dozen pages of instruction—brilliant instruction—and that the rest was a hatful of some of the finest gambling stories I had ever read. It didn’t matter that the game was poker. These were wonderful, thrilling stories about cards. The book would certainly become a gambling classic. English card players would read it and love it. The book had zest, blood, sex, and a tough, wry humour reminiscent of Raymond Chandler. It was sharply, tautly written. It would be a bestseller—well, anyway, it would look very well on the backlist. The mention of this holy word in publishing was, I think, the clincher. Cape’s readers, that sapient, humorous, receptive duet, read the book. Yes, it was certainly all that I had said. Perhaps, if I would write a preface...I said I would and here it is and here is the book that Mr Yardley wrote.

Myself, as fine writers phrase it, I am not a good poker player. I drink and smoke and enjoy the game too much. You shouldn’t do any of these things if you want to win at poker. Poker is a cold-hearted, deadly game that breaks and bankrupts men today just as, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, écarté, backgammon, ombre and faro bankrupted our rakehelly ancestors. The last time I played poker, I lost more than I could afford in rich brassy company in a house at Sunningdale in what is now known as ‘The Canasta Belt’. These people would introduce variations which I was mocked for not understanding. In the end, numb with martinis and false bonhomie, I pretended I understood the intricacies of ‘Minnie Everley’. I remember the name but not the variation. It was named in memory of one of the Everley sisters, who in Chicago at the turn of the century kept the finest brothel America had ever known. The chamber pots were of solid gold and the sisters paraded their girls through the town, be-feathered and be-flounced, in open landaus, every Sunday morning when the bells were ringing and the quality of Chicago were on the streets and making for the churches. I learned all this afterwards. At the time and in the name of Minnie, I played a ragged, brash game that cost me dear. I was fleeced and deserved to be. I would not have been fleeced if I had read Mr Yardley's book and if I had, above all, digested the card-playing philosophy which lies behind his stories and his instruction. Every fine card player I have ever known has this philosophy, but I will caution you that very few fine card players are the sort of people you and I would like to play with. It’s not fun playing against cold-hearted butchers, however soft their words, and as you read about them in these gay, smoke-filled pages I think you will often feel a chill of apprehension. But it will be an authentic chill. That is why, not as a poker player, but as a writer of thrillers, I can recommend this book to every consenting adult card player in Great Britain.


Note: Herbert Yardley led a fascinating life and wore many hats: spy, father of American cryptography, whistle-blower (in his book The American Black Chamber), Hollywood scriptwriter, playboy, agent for hire by Canada and China, and accused traitor. For more, consult the article "Gambling with his Life" at Artistic Licence Renewed. For even more, consult "The Many Lives of Herbert O. Yardley," uploaded by the National Security Ageny.  And for a lot more, there's the 2004 book The Reader of Gentlemen's Mail: Herbert O. Yardley and the Birth of American Codebreaking, by David Kahn.

Perhaps it's not a surprise that a professional code-breaker and man of mercenary motives should turn out to one of the "cold-hearted butchers" gifted at poker. Neither Fleming nor Bond fit that description, which is partly why poker doesn't fit in their world. I wish someone had told the filmmakers that in 2006.


Re: Ian Fleming on Crime and Spy Fiction (and non-fiction!)

An Open Letter to The Transport Minister
(Copy to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and all borough and county councils). (Daily Graphic, Sept. 18, 1952)

By Frank Gray [Ian Fleming]

Dear Mr. Lennox Boyd —

With road casualties mounting towards the quarter of a million a year mark, there is genteel heart-searching in the public prints and a new coat of paint for the zebras.

The cosy fiction that “BLANKTOWN WELCOMES CAREFUL DRIVERS” no more stems the tide of and shattered limbs and lives than do the other polite admonitions and mild scolds which greet the hasting family saloon on its merry way to that last rendezvous.

                                             4,000 a week

It seems that so long as “MAJOR ROAD AHEAD” remains our most strident warning alike of a dangerous crossroad with a notorious death-roll and of a fairly innocent intersection, the price of myosis and well-bred understatement will continue to be about 4,000 casualties every week. (Five hundred casualties a day on our railways or air services would cause a bit of a stir!)

Even the compelling Black Widow poster, a most notable attempt by the authorities to make us think about keeping death off the roads, was the subject of so much squeamish clamour from our sensitive citizens that it was replaced by those folksy extortions, seen but not perceived, to do something about sudden death, civil defence, the Lord Mayor's fund, or making fish-cakes out of barracuda—one never reads far enough to find out which.

                                              Raise Voice

Are good manners more valuable than all these lives and all this misery? Is it not time to borrow a little emphasis from abroad and let our road-safety signs raise their voices a trifle?

In America, at black spots which have caused many deaths, there are skull and crossbones signs with the previous year’s casualty total inscribed above.
Different towns and districts and even private concerns have their own campaigns and slogans, the latter often on two or three hoardings some twenty yards apart, building up to a punch-line.

Here are some of them:


Wrecks or cars are left at dangerous corners with “HE DIDN'T MEAN TO” inscribed above them, and garages put out signs like this: “DANGEROUS CORNER...SLOW DOWN...WE'LL FIX YOUR WRECK...IF YOU DON'T.”


                                             At holidays




I admit these signs are strident, vulgar and ugly. But I really believe they’ll make the road-hog in his juggernaut and the motorcyclist trying to break through the sound barrier remember that he is aiming a loaded gun from the moment he leaves the garage—and that goes for the havering, crown-of-the-road, pride-of-the-family saloon, too.

                                              Try Again

Incidentally, “BLANKTOWN WELCOMES CAREFUL DRIVERS” was the fragrant thought (and the waste of paint) or another government.

I hope you’ll agree, Mr. Lennox-Boyd, that something more Winstonian should now be tried.

P.S. An afterthought—please declare illegal all stickers, celluloid canaries, pendant doilies and notices saying “KEEP OFF MY TAIL” on the windows of motor-cars. They obscure the vision, they are cheaply ostentatious and they diminish one’s love of one’s neighbour.

Fleming fans will of course recognize "the poignant 'DEATH IS SO PERMANENT'" as the title of chapter 24 in Diamonds Are Forever.

Detail-oriented readers might also recognize that this article doesn't actually have anything to do with the title of this thread, but I couldn't resist sharing it with you.

If you're curious why Fleming appeared under a pseudonym, Andrew Lycett has the details:

When not working on his book and his publishing interests [in 1952], Ian occupied himself with literary trivia...Another article burning a hole in his drawer concerned road safety. During his late-summer visit to the Bryces in the United States in 1950 he had become fascinated with the apocalyptic vision portrayed in the road signs. Americans were not afraid to suggest that car accidents led to deaths...On his return to Gray’s Inn Road, he asked Rodney Campbell, the New York correspondent of the Sunday Times, to do some further research which Ian used to write an article, "Death is so Permanent." But the Sunday Times editor, Harry Hodson, was not impressed by Ian’s efforts. "I don’t think it quite makes the grade," he told Ian stiffly.

Nearly two years later Ian rediscovered the text and decided that the most certain way of having it published was to enlist the support of his chairman. On 17 September he submitted it to Lord Kemsley with a polite covering note. The very next day, it was printed as a full-page spread in the Kemsley group’s tabloid, the Daily Graphic. His article had become "An Open Letter to the Transport Minister." It listed some of the crassest of Campbell’s American road-safety signs – for example, "The Smaller the Child, the Bigger the Accident" – and suggested they should be copied in Britain...[though] he provided no evidence that the American way of doing things led to fewer road accidents...Although Ian had signed his original letter with his own name, in the Daily Graphic he became Frank Gray, an unaccustomed pseudonym.


Re: Ian Fleming on Crime and Spy Fiction (and non-fiction!)

The Secrets of Interpol (Sunday Times, Sept. 4, 1955)

From IAN FLEMING, Special Representative of The Sunday Times

ISTANBUL, Saturday.

The Twenty-fourth General Assembly of the International Criminal Police Commission, generally known as “Interpol,” opens here on Monday. Through the courtesy of the United Kingdom delegate, Sir Ronald Howe, Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, I shall be able to report on some of its deliberations.

Interpol is the longest arm of the law: with the major exception of the Iron Curtain countries, it reaches all round the world. Its object is to counter the growing internationalism in crime and to abolish national frontiers in pursuit of the criminal. From its modest foundation in 1923 in Vienna, Interpol has continued to expand. Today it is firmly established in fifty-two countries, and the murderer, counterfeiter or smuggler can hardly find safe refuge on the face of the earth from the deadly hand of the central Interpol radio station near Paris.

Every year the police chiefs of the member States meet to coordinate new methods of detection so as to keep ahead of the constantly improving science and ingenuity of the criminal, and every stock “Commissaire: from the detective fiction of the world is today arriving in this romantic city by air and sea and, more appropriately, by Orient Express.

On Monday, under the presidency of the formidable Monsieur F. F. Louwage, O.B.E., Inspector-General of the Belgian Ministry of Justice and President of the I.C.P.C. since 1946, there will begin a week of conferences on the major aspects of  modern crime. These are some of them:

Drug Smuggling

First, the General Secretariat will present a report on the Illicit Drug Traffic, notably in opium, cannabis, morphine and cocaine. The Secretariat will report that Lebanon remains one of the principal supply centres for opium; that the Chinese, followed by the French and Italians, are still the chief traffickers in opium and that the amount of opium seized in 1954 increased by nearly 250 per cent, over 1953.

As to cocaine, it will be no news to the delegates from the American Narcotics Bureau that the United States remains the chief target of traffickers and that Cuba has developed into an important entrepôt for the Bolivian suppliers, and it will only confirm their suspicions that Italy, with its channels into American gangland, remains the chief European centre for the cocaine traffic.

The report gives details of certain cases in which the I.C.P.C. played a decisive role. Typical is the capture of about 330 kgs. of opium, hashish and morphine-base, and the twelve arrests effected as a result of co-operation , through the I.C.P.C, of the American Narcotics Bureau with the police forces of Greece, Lebanon Turkey and Syria. This is one of the biggest hauls since the war.

Scotland Yard's Concern

The conference will leave this realm of high drama and depravity to listen to some suggestions by Sir Ronald Howe for tightening up the policing of air traffic.

Apart from the flight of criminals, the smuggling of gold bars, diamonds and drugs by air has, in different parts of the world, become a serious problem, as has the security at airports of legitimate air freight such as bullion, precious stones and banknotes.
These problems are complicated by the speed with which a criminal can cross the world—perhaps before his crime has been discovered; by the ease with which privately chartered planes can land in a pretended, emergency at unguarded airfields, and by the vast expanse of aerodromes themselves.

Counterfeit Cheques

Mr. J. W. Kallenborn, the great authority on forgeries and head of the I.C.P.C. office at The Hague, will next raise the whole subject of cheque forgeries which, particularly with the increased use of travelers’ cheques, is becoming vastly more important than the counterfeiting of currency. Mr. Kallenborn’s recommendation is that a standard form of cheque should be adopted for each country and that an attempt should be made to make cheque forms as inviolable to counterfeiters as most currencies now are. He will even mention cases of cheque forgers printing cheque forms of their own design and drawn on imaginary banks, knowing that these can be passed through bank employees already confused by the present multiplicity of shapes, sizes and designs. Even before the war, counterfeit cheques yielded far greater returns than counterfeit notes and Mr. Kallenborn will quote some fabulous achievements, including in 1931, the cashing of a forged cheque for the then majestic sum of 3,007,000 French francs, the full story of which I would very much like to know.

Bank Robbery

Mr. Kallenborn’s plea will be supported by Dr. Giuseppe Dosi, head of the National Central Bureau in Rome, who will discuss the general relationship between policing and banking. He will detail the most modern methods of bank robbers (those who have seen the French film “Rififi” will have little to learn from them), including the latest electric drills, oxy-hydrogen blowpipes and the like, and he will make the unqualified statement that there is no such thing as a perfectly secure underground vault, safe or metal container, which can be depended on to protect its contents unless supplemented by a permanent guard or regular inspection. The dictum of Dr. Dosi is: “The degree of safety of any safe is inversely proportional to the time available to the safe-breakers.”

Crime and Disease

The nature of delinquency invariably takes up a great deal of the time of each General Assembly. Next week Dr. J. F. de Echalecu Y Canino, Professor of Criminal Psychology and of Neuropsychiatry of the Direccion General de Seguridad, Madrid, will re-affirm the theory that the more serious types of crime have their ultimate origin in the region of the cortical and the sub-cortical layers, and that nearly all crime is a bio-sociological phenomenon.

On the same line of country, Professor Castroverde Y Cabrera of Cuba will urge that health statistics should invariably accompany crime statistics in the dossier of a criminal because of the close connection between disease and crime. The painful stimulus of disease, he will say, provokes the individual to extremes of action and, since all extremes of action are anti-social, to crimes.

The Australian delegation will come back to earth with some hard facts about the migration of criminals, with particular reference to certain groups of “new Australians” who have settled in Australia since the war. Among them are Europeans whose crimes indicate that the perpetrators were trained in their nefarious activities in their mother countries, and the Australian police will make a plea for timely warning of the arrival of these undesirable migrants.

Since certain of the member States may be very happy to ship such people off to the other side of the world, I am doubtful that they will achieve more than airy promises.

The Face of Crime

However, the Australian police may make progress with their plan for coding the visual identification of the human being, which is basically an extension of the finger-print system to cover the human face. There is nothing new in the use of a “Portrait Parlé” such as “John Brown. 50 years. 5 ft. 9 in. Brown hair. Blue eyes. Low forehead. Straight nose. Wide straight mouth. Round chin and double neck cords,” but the Australians would codify this particular description into “John Brown. A4, D2, E3, R3, G4, H4, H2, I2, L13, M10, U41” which will certainly have attractions for the Radio Communications Branch of the I.C.P.C. Their documentation contains the complete catalogue of Portrait Parlé descriptions, from which I am interested to note that there are fourteen official face shapes from “pyramid” to “flabby”; seventeen nose peculiarities from “lump on tip” to “dilated nostrils” and five splendid eyelids described as: “hooded bags under eyes, blear-eyed, crying eyelids” and “reversed lower lids.” I also observe that violet eyes do not exist, but that green eyes do, and that “soup-strainer moustache” is officialese.

Radio Security

On problems of communication, the General Secretariat will make a plea for better radio discipline, and Inspector Sanjuan of Madrid will demand a secure cypher for all Interpol transmissions. He will preface his request with a short history of the secrecy of communications beginning with a method which was new to me. Apparently the first means of secret communication was to shave the head of a slave and write the message in indelible ink on his bald pate. Once the hair had grown to a reasonable length, the slave would be sent out on his journey and at his destination the hair would be shaved off again and the message read. This strikes me as more ingenious than those bits of paper modern heroes are always swallowing.

Forged Finger-prints

Amongst other subjects to be dealt with will be some highly technical proposals by Professor Charles Sannie, head of the Criminal Identity Department of the Paris Prefecture de Police, for an extension of the Bertillion finger-print system. His object is to defeat forged finger-prints—an ingenious invention of the modern criminal by which he actually profits from the accuracy of the finger-print system.

As an example. Professor Sannie will mention the case of a prisoner in gaol who impressed his prints on a piece of glass and gave the glass to someone else. This second party left it on the scene of a burglary which was committed while the owner or the prints had the best possible alibi of being himself in prison. He will also mention the moulding of false finger-prints on to rubber finger-stalls and other ingenious gambits.

Child and Bogeyman

Perhaps the most important but least technical discourse will be given by the President of the I.C.P.C. himself. Monsieur Louwage will discuss aspects of juvenile delinquency, and it is pleasant to record that in urging police all over the world to avoid becoming “bogeymen,” he will quote as the desirable attitude the firmness but friendliness of the London “Bobby,” and the success with which he gains the confidence and affection of youth. There will be nothing particularly new in what Monsieur Louwage has to say, but his words will certainly not be amiss in a conference of the chief bogeymen from fifty-two very different countries.


Note: As you may have guessed, this report was written a week before Fleming's report on "The Great Riot of Istanbul." Next week I'll bring you Fleming's report on the actual proceedings of the conference, written after the riot.

Last edited by Revelator (22nd Feb 2019 22:24)


Re: Ian Fleming on Crime and Spy Fiction (and non-fiction!)

Delinquents and Smugglers (Sunday Times, Sept. 18, 1955)

From IAN FLEMING, Special Representative of The Sunday Times at the International Police Conference

ISTANBUL, Saturday.

Despite the respective resignation and dismissal of its joint hosts, the Turkish Minister of the Interior and the Istanbul Chief of Police, the Twenty-fourth General Assembly of the International Police Commission tactfully averted its gaze from the surrounding shame and chaos, completed its labours and on Wednesday, discreetly thankful, took to its heels. Thanks to the heroic efforts of the secretariat much was achieved and many criminal loopholes have been blocked. But the most solid achievement was not in the final minutes of the assembly but in the public and private airing of the problems and cases of the police chiefs from 52 different countries.

Here, without committing Governments, and without the befogging intrusions of national sentiment, embarrassing topics could be discussed on the technical level. Thus the head of the Australian delegation could talk over piracy from the Pacific pearling grounds with the Police Chief of Tokyo, the head of the Egyptian Sureté could raise with the Inspector-General of Police of Tel Aviv the increased drug traffic from the Arab countries, and Mr. Donald Fish, B.O.A.C. chief security officer, could offer private advice to the director of the new Delhi intelligence bureau on certain ingenious ruses used for concealing gold bars in aircraft.


Unofficial pooling of experience and knowledge is far more important and practical than the adoption of joint resolutions by representatives of 52 different countries with widely varying customs and legal systems. For example, juvenile delinquency sounds an easy topic to discuss. Everyone agrees that there should be less of it. But no resolution will cover even the words “juvenile” and “delinquency” as applied to, say, India, Scotland and Norway, let alone the other 49 States.

What about the criminal status of juvenile homosexuality, for instance? When you come to statistics, how do you explain that as against an international norm of 17 per cent., the percentage of crime committed by juveniles is 0.5 per cent. in Denmark and 44.5 per cent. in Scotland? In fact, the age of puberty—much later in Denmark—comes in as well as the differences in criminal law and the relative stringency of Scottish courts, and perhaps the Irish element in Glasgow. That is an example of the difficulty of codifying crime and therefore of codifying methods of prevention.

Illicit Gold

On the other hand, on a matter like gold-smuggling Interpol can be of real value, and it is probable that India, which is the chief target for the traffic, as America is for narcotic smugglers, will get real co-operation as a result of the remarkable facts her delegation laid before the assembly. It seems that she is being deluged with illicit gold. During 1954 nearly 40,000 ounces, valued at about £6 million, were seized by customs and police in 229 cases, involving 236 foreign nationals, and the delegation admitted that this haul can represent only a fraction of the illegal imports. Apparently it is coming in from all the gold-producing countries of the world— from Australia by steamship via Macao, Hongkong and Singapore; from Africa by fast lugger via Egypt, Syria and the Persian Gulf; from America by air via London, France, Switzerland and the Middle East. All this represents one of the most fabulous criminal networks in history, and the many Interpol States involved will now co-operate to crush it.

Other smaller points of interest that came up in discussion include the following. The U.S. Customs are particularly troubled by diamond-smuggling from Belgium and by the smuggling of watches and watch-movements from Switzerland. Regarding the latter. Dr. Grassberger, from Vienna, where next year’s Interpol conference will take place, observed that it is better to get real smuggled Swiss watches than counterfeit ones. For the past two years an Austrian gang have been running a side-line to the smuggling of watch-movements: they put cheap watch-movements in formerly discarded watch-cases, forge famous names on the dials and smuggle these too.

The United Nations delegate reported an interesting technical process for discovering the geographical origin of smuggled narcotics. The U.N. Narcotics Division has discovered that by alkaloid and spectrographic analysis the nature of the soil in which captured opium was grown, and thus its country of origin, can be determined, greatly facilitating the pursuit back down the pipe-line.

Policing Air Routes

Sir Ronald Howe, deputy commissioner at Scotland Yard, presented the common-sense view of the Metropolitan Police and the Home Office on many recommendations where a conservative voice was needed. For instance on the occasion when the delegate from Chile suggested that your finger-prints should be verified before you could cash a cheque! As chairman of the sub-committee on policing the air routes, he fought for the rights and comforts of the passenger, and as a result we may see a simplification of the dreadful embarkation and disembarkation cards and a check to the practice in some countries of depriving the transit passenger of his passport during overnight stops.

(Incidentally I found unanimity among the senior delegates that Sir Ronald should be invited to become President of Interpol when M. Louwage of Belgium in due course resigns. This will be a great tribute to the prestige abroad of Scotland Yard.)

The corridors of the ornate Chalet Palace where the meetings were held were a splendid listening post. Here the Chief of Police of Thailand told me of the two elephants which form his riot squad. “Very effective against small villages,” he explained. Mr. Charles Siragusa, head of the U.S. Bureau of Narcotics, explained his methods for “leaning on” Lucky Luciano, the famous American gangster who was deported from America and now lives in Naples. “He won't explain how he happens to stay so rich,” said Mr. Siragusa; “so my Italian police friends have interpreted this as withholding information from them and have put him on parole. That means that he may not consort with criminals and has to be indoors by 11 o’clock every night. One day soon he will happen to talk to a waiter with a police record or get home a few minutes late and will find himself in gaol. That is what we call ‘leaning on’ someone.”

The Director of the Paris Sureté talked of the iron-clad conspiracy of silence among the Dominici family. The Australian delegate complained of the expense of the Petrov case, which has not only left Australia with the burden of keeping Petrov alive but has meant the abstention of Russia from Australian wool sales for over a year. The famous Professor Soedermann, from Sweden, told me of a hitherto unpublicised plot to kill Hitler in 1942, and so on.

Ignorance is Bliss

The one police chief who has been sadly missed this year is the delegate from Burma. Last year at Rome the assembly was discussing sex crimes, and one by one delegates from the major Western powers reeled off their formidable and grisly statistics. Finally the Burmese delegate diffidently climbed to the rostrum. “I must apologise to the assembly,” he said, “for I have no statistics on this subject. We are a backward nation and have no sex-crimes. But as our civilisation catches up with those of the distinguished delegates who have been speaking I hope we may do better. Next year I will try to bring some good statistics on this matter.” Perhaps this year he was ashamed to come back still empty-handed.

Last edited by Revelator (2nd Mar 2019 00:02)


Re: Ian Fleming on Crime and Spy Fiction (and non-fiction!)

Gangs C0ck a Snook at Interpol (Sunday Times, June 10, 1956)

By IAN FLEMING, The Sunday Times Special Representative

VIENNA, Saturday.

Allegorical  figures representing industry, thrift, invention and wisdom look down on the police chiefs of 55 countries gathered in the Academy of Sciences here for the 25th assembly of the International Police Commission. The dark goddesses of sex, greed and narcotics would have been more appropriate witnesses.

The international drug traffic, gold smuggling, counterfeiting and prostitution are on the agenda, but much (too much) of this meeting will be occupied with a revision of Interpol’s statutes and with the election of a new president. Sir Ronald Howe, deputy commissioner of Scotland Yard, would have taken the place of the veteran M. Louwage of Belgium, but Sir Ronald is retiring to join a firm of merchant bankers, and M. Erie Ros, Stockholm’s chief of police, is likely to be elected.

Austrian Teddy-boys

Just as last year the criminal elements of Istanbul cocked a snook at Interpol by smashing up the city around the delegates, so, this year, have Austrian Teddy-boys shown their disdain by raiding the police museum at Graz and taking the pick of the modern revolver exhibits. These teen-age gangsters are known here as “halb-starke”—the half-strength ones—and their uniform is shiny leather jackets, shoes with two-inch soles and long greasy hair. The public is terrified.

A more attractive criminal element is the band of desperadoes who act as guides through the Iron Curtain. Their expert knowledge of safe routes through the minefields has so exasperated the Russians that they are moving the Hungarian curtain fringe a mile back. A conducted tour through the Hungarian Iron Curtain is cheap. I have been offered, and reluctantly rejected, a one-way passage for £2.

Greatest Safe-breaker

Vienna has a peculiar affinity with the mythos of crime. Over 100 years ago, a Viennese; Hans Gross, the first scientific criminologist, wrote his “Criminal Investigation,” and it remains the bible of the modern detective. Interpol itself was founded here in 1933, and today Vienna is the home of the greatest safe-breaker in the world—Joseph Bieraaus, who plies his trade as a locksmith.

His is a name to conjure with in the strongbox world, and he earns rich fees from the great safe-making firms. When the invasion of Britain was being planned he was asked if he could open the safes of the Bank of England and the Mint. On promising that he could, he was promoted sergeant and remained peacefully “on call.”

Then, of course, we have Nicholas Borrisov, alias Benno Blum, the original model for the Third Man, Harry Lime, who has opened his own cafe. Vienna is just the place for Interpol to meet.

Interpol, with its 250,000 card archives, seems to be increasing its cunning. Since its last meeting it has helped to come down on diamond smuggling from Africa, it has developed a new electronic method for detecting cheque forgeries and it has had some amazing successes against the drug traffic.

Drug “Shuttle-service”

One of the drug cases is interesting, because the gang used doctored cars—two Jaguars, two Buicks and a Fiat. Their own car body builder welded dummy crossbars to the chassis, capable of hiding away on each car up to 441 lb. of opium—a fortune’s worth. For two years these cars ran a regular shuttle-service between the Middle East and Marseilles. Then the police seized them all except the leader, a Lebanese “K,” who escaped.

Perhaps this summer, as you take your tryptique into some frontier office, that travel-stained Jaguar with the swarthy man and pretty girl which edged in just in front will be the redoubtable “K” with his latest girl, and perhaps if you follow their car to the next petrol station your keen eyes will notice that their tank takes only half as much petrol as your Jaguar does. Interpol in Vienna puts ideas into your head.


Fleming later wrote that his first Interpol conference, in Istanbul, "was great fun" and "by scraping together fragments from official papers and speeches and tying them up with informed gossip, I was able to write two long dispatches on 'The Secrets of Interpol' whose success was assisted by the Istanbul riots which took place conveniently over that week-end and on which I was able to give a scoop to my paper.

"The next year I went again to the conference, this time at Vienna, but my 'revelations' of the year before had put the police chiefs on their guard and, on this occasion, I was only able to produce a pretty thin three-quarters of a column. The learned papers read by the police chiefs had been more rigorously censored than before and were more carefully guarded, and the gossip dried up in my presence.

"I skipped the next year’s meeting in Lisbon, and that was the end of my acquaintanceship with Interpol."


Re: Ian Fleming on Crime and Spy Fiction (and non-fiction!)

Mudscape with Figures (The Spectator, August 5, 1955)

By Ian Fleming

Some people are frightened by silence and some by noise. To some people the anonymous bulge at the hip is more frightening than the gun in the hand, and all one can say is that different people thrill to different stimuli, and that those who like The Turn of the Screw may not be worried by, for instance, The Cat and the Canary.

Only the greatest authors make the pulses of all of us beat faster, and they do this by marrying the atmosphere of suspense into horrible acts. Poe, Stevenson and M.R. James used to frighten me most, and now Maugham, Ambler, Simenon, Chandler, and Graham Greene can still raise the fur on my back when they want to. Their heroes are credible and their villains terrify with a real "blackness." Their situations are fraught with doom, and the threat of doom, and, above all, they have pace. When one chapter is done, we reach out for the next. Each chapter is a wave to be jumped as we race with exhilaration behind the hero like a water-skier behind a fast motor-boat.

Too many writers in this genre (and I think Erskine Childers, on whose The Riddle of the Sands these remarks are hinged, was one of them) forget that, although this may sound a contradiction in terms, speed is essential to a novel of suspense, and while detail is important to create an atmosphere of reality, it can be laid on so thick as to become a Sargasso Sea on which the motor-boat bogs down and the skier founders.

The reader is quite happy to share the pillow-fantasies of the author as long as he is provided with sufficient landmarks to help him relate the author’s world more or less to his own, and a straining after verisimilitude with maps and diagrams should be avoided except in detective stories aimed at the off-beta mind.

Even more wearying are "recaps," and those leaden passages where the hero reviews what he has achieved or ploddingly surveys what remains to be done. These exasperate the reader who, if there is to be any rumination, is quite happy to do it himself. When the author drags his feet with this space-filling device he is sacrificing momentum which it will take him much brisk writing to recapture.

These reflections, stale news through they may be to the mainliner in thrillers, come to me after rereading The Riddle of the Sands after an absence of very many years, and they force me to the conclusion that doom-laden silence and long-drawn-out suspense are not enough to confirm the tradition that Erskine Childers, romantic and remarkable man that he must have been, is also one of the father-figures of the thriller.

The opening of the story--the factual documentation in the preface and the splendid Lady Windermere’s Fan atmosphere of the first chapters--is superb.

At once you are ensconced in bachelor chambers off St. James’s at the beginning of the century. All the trappings of the Age of Certainty gather around you as you read. Although the author does not say so, a coal fire seems to roar in the brass grate; there is a glass of whisky beside your chair and, remembering Mr. Cecil Beaton’s Edwardian décors, you notice that the soda-water syphon beside it is of blue glass. The smoke from your cheroot curls up towards the ceiling and your button-boots are carefully crossed at the ankles on the red-leather-topped fender so as not to disturb the crease of those spongebag trousers. On a mahogany bookrest above your lap The Riddle of the Sands is held open by at well-manicured finger.

Shall you go with Carruthers to Cowes or accompany him to the grouse-moor? It is the fag-end of the London season of 1903. You are bored, and it is all Mayfair to a hock-and-seltzer that the fates have got you in their sights and that you are going to start to pay for your fat sins just over the page.

Thus, in the dressing-room, so to speak, you and Carruthers are all ready to start the hurdle race. You are still ready when you get into the small boat in a God-forsaken corner of the East German coast, and you are even more hungry for the starter’s gun when you set sail to meet the villains. Then, to my, mind, for the next 95,000 words there is anticlimax.

This is a book of great renown; and it is not from a desire to destroy idols or a tendency to denigration that this review--now that, after the statutory fifty years, The Riddle of the Sands has entered the public domain--is becoming almost too much of an autopsy. But those villains! With the best will in the world I could not feel that the lives of the heroes (and therefore of my own) were in the least way endangered by them.

Dollmann, villain No. 1, is a "traitor" from the Royal Navy, whose presence among the clucking channels and glistening mudbanks of the Frisian Islands is never satisfactorily explained. His job was "spying at Chatham, the blackguard," and the German High Command, even in 1903 when the book was first published, was crazy to employ him on what amounts to operational research. He never does anything villainous. Before the story opens, he foxes hero No. 1 into running himself on a mudbank, but at the end, when any good villain with his back to the wall would show his teeth, he collapses like a pricked balloon and finally disappears lamely overboard just after "we came to the bar of the Schild and had to turn south off that twisty bit of beating between Rottum and Bosch Fat." His harshest words are "You pigheaded young marplots!" and his "blackness" is further betrayed by the beauty and purity of his daughter, with whom hero No. 1 falls in love (it is always a bad idea for the hero to fall in love with the villain’s daughter. We are left wondering what sort of children they will have.)

Von Bruning, villain No. 2, is frankly a hero to the author, and is presented as such; and No.3, Boehme, though at first he exudes a delicious scent of Peter Lorre, forfeits respect by running away across the mud and leaving one of his gumboots in the hands of hero No. 2.

The plot is that the heroes want to discover what the villains are up to, and, in a small, flat-bottomed boat, they wander amongst the Frisian Islands (and two maps, two charts and a set of tide-tables won't convince me that they don’t wander aimlessly) trying to find out.

This kind of plot makes an excellent framework for that classic "hurdle race" thriller formula, in which the hero (despite his Fleet-Foot Shoes with Tru-Temper Spikes and Kumfi-Krutch Athletic Supporter) comes a series of ghastly croppers before he breasts the tape.

Unfortunately, in The Riddle of the Sands there are no hurdles and only two homely mishaps (both of the heroes’ own devising)--a second grounding on a mudbank, from which the heroes refloat on the rising tide, and the loss of the anchor chain, which they salvage without difficulty.

The end of the 100,000 word quest through the low-lying October mists is a hasty, rather muddled scramble which leaves two villains, two heroes and the heroine more or less in the air, and the small boat sailing off to England with the answer to the riddle. Before 1914 this prize must have provided a satisfactory fall of the curtain, but since then two German wars have clanged about our heads and today our applause is rather patronising.

The reason why The Riddle of the Sands will always be read is due alone to its beautifully sustained atmosphere. This adds poetry, and the real mystery of wide, fog-girt silence and the lost-child crying of seagulls, to a finely written log-book of a small-boat holiday upon which the author has grafted a handful of "extras" and two "messages"--the threat of Germany and the need for England to "be prepared."

To my mind it is now republished exactly where it belongs--in the Mariner's Library. Here, a thriller by atmosphere alone, it stands alongside twenty-eight thrillers of the other school--thrillers where the action on the stage thrills, and the threatening sea-noises are left to the orchestra pit.



Readers with long memories might remember that I posted this article a few years ago, but no collection of Fleming's literary journalism is complete without it, since "Mudscape" is one of his best and most sustained critical essays.

We already knew Ambler, Simenon, Chandler, and Greene, were influences on Fleming, but it's good to hear we was also influenced by Poe, Stevenson and M R. James. What Fleming praises in these authors are his own qualities as a thriller-writer. "Above all" he values pace and in a thrilling metaphor says "each chapter is a wave to be jumped as we race with exhilaration behind the hero like a water-skier." Pace is of great value in the Bond books, since it's used to hustle the reader past implausibilities and plot defects.

Fleming's counsel against getting bogged down in detail might sound hypocritical, but Fleming had to convince his readers of far wilder events and characters than the comparatively realistic Childers. And Fleming certainly took his own advice in avoiding "leaden" recaps. He kept his books short.

Predictably, Fleming is most entranced (and seeks to entrance the reader) by details of clothing and furnishings ("you notice that the soda-water syphon beside it is of blue glass"), down to the hero's spongebag trousers of the hero. As many have stated, he was sometimes more interested in things than people, but his interest was deep and sensual.

Fleming's biggest complaint against Childers involves his villains. Fleming's own, full of "blackness," are among his greatest strengths, and it is no coincidence that the weakest Bond books are those with the least substantial villains. We also have an amusing namecheck of the "delicious" Peter Lorre, who had already played LeChiffre by the time Fleming penned this article.

"It is always a bad idea for the hero to fall in love with the villain’s daughter. We are left wondering what sort of children they will have." Is this why Draco was made so loveable ally? And why Tracy was killed so soon after the wedding? I jest.


Re: Ian Fleming on Crime and Spy Fiction (and non-fiction!)

Mountaineering Downwards (Time and Tide, January 2, 1954)

By Ian Fleming

British Caving: An Introduction to Speleology
Members of the Cave Research Group, Routledge and Kegan Paul. 35s.

"Down in a deep dark hole sat an old cow chewing a beanstalk." Irreverently the dummy hexameter jingled through my head as I digested this weighty tome on a subject which should surely not be taken quite so seriously. ‘The Science of Speleology!’ The sport of exploring caves really cannot be rated a science any more than mountaineering (Montophily?) or treasure-hunting (Thesauromania?). It is true that the science of geology is involved, also physics and geophysics, biology (‘biospeleology’ to the potholers if you please!), palaeontology and so forth. But these can also be part of mountaineering and even of treasure-hunting. Somehow these underground mountaineers have been persuaded to take themselves very seriously indeed and this tome is one of the results.

I am sorry that the Reverend Cecil Cullingford, the editor, did not fight shy of the project. He is the author of that cheerful and expert little handbook Exploring Caves which deals with the sport at exactly the right level, as an entertaining pastime with undertones of romance and adventure. Now he treats us to a volume so comprehensive that the only subject connected with caves that is omitted (or avoided) is the psychology of speleologists—why people like exploring caves—which would have been far more interesting than the sections on meteorology, mammalogy and gravimetric surveying.

Personally I should guess the whole business has something to do with a return to the womb. Certainly there is a touch of infantilism involved, as one may learn from the commonsense chapter on "Caving Code and Ethics" in which the writer criticises the speleologist’s love of secrecy and the jealousy with which he keeps his caves to himself, barring and locking them from others with the result that ‘the relationship between the potholer and the ordinary country folk is now in danger’. Then:

"The manners of some of them are deplorable. At the village Saturday night dance they argue with the doorkeeper about the price of admission, or steal in when no one is looking. One party even stole in to a dance by an unattended door and were dancing in spiked boots, wearing their safety helmets!"

Stalactites are stolen from caves and gypsum flowers and cave pearls "have been filched in their hundreds from near Settle".

But enough of deflating these excellent people. The best amongst them are incredibly brave expert mountaineers responsible for bringing to light a great deal of archaeological and cultural interest and who, in this scholarly though pompous work, remind us that our forebears lived in these caves, fighting for possession with sabre-toothed tigers, cave-lions, hippopotami, wolves, bears, rhinoceri, leopards and even mammoths. It is a thrilling and romantic sport that makes the skin crawl and the spine tingle and for those who enjoy it or who wish to become expert, and even for those who don’t know a spelunca from a hole in the ground, this book contains all the hard facts and some very beautiful photographs. I just wish that cavers wouldn’t call themselves speleologists.


Re: Ian Fleming on Crime and Spy Fiction (and non-fiction!)

Wonders of the Deep (Sunday Times, Oct. 28, 1956)

By Ian Fleming

I have become very leery of “underwater” books. The best one was Cousteau’s The Silent World and little but trash has followed. There are three aspects of submarine literature which particularly offend—the general archness of the writing (some of those translations from the French are excruciating), the dreadful jokiness, in which Haas painfully excels, and the bare-faced cheating of the reader about the perils of the deep, heightened by trick photography.

There are sea myths still to be explored—the mile-deep battles between sounding whales and giant squids, with eyes a foot in diameter, is one that particularly attracts me—but anyone who writes with bated pen about octopuses, shark, barracuda or the manta ray is a bluffer.

Two books before me offer reassuring evidence that the literature is settling down. Above all, they are factual. James Dugan received his underwater education from Cousteau. He helped with both the book and the film of The Silent World, and his The Great Iron Ship qualifies him as one of the finest research workers in romantic fact. His Man Explores The Sea (Hamish Hamilton. 30s.) is a history of undersea exploration from Alexander the Great's diving-bell to the bathyscaphe. It is a long book, splendidly illustrated, and it contains more excitement and adventure than any book I have read this year.

There are accounts of the great underwater treasure troves; the most dramatic incidents in the evolution of the submarine; the development of underwater photography (A catalogue sent to a South American amateur diver was returned with the notation “Undeliverable. Addressee eaten by a crocodile”); scientific underwater research on fish, minerals and oil; the great discoveries in undersea archaeology and gripping tales of underwater sabotage. Here is a sample:

There appeared before me out of nowhere a large white form. It had arms and legs, heavy and puffed like pillows. It had a dome-shaped head and a white eye. It was a Japanese diver wearing white burlap overalls over his diving dress to offer a less-attractive surface to octopi. He stayed there for two minutes watching my line strain, then he disappeared. He was going off to let me die, fouled in the kelp. I was hopelessly lost; with a tremendous effort I got to my feet. There, right behind me, with a knife in his hand, was the Jap diver. He was cutting my lines…

It is a thrilling and, with the exception of an occasional unnecessary note of farce, admirably written book which will be given for many Christmases to come to anyone who has put on goggles and gazed into this other world.


The Collins Pocket Guide to the Undersea World (Collins 21s.) is exactly what it says, and Ley Kenyon is to be congratulated on producing a really comprehensive and attractively written handbook on the sport of skin diving. There is everything here, with splendid photographs and drawings, and I am unable to fault it for common sense and basic general knowledge.


Re: Ian Fleming on Crime and Spy Fiction (and non-fiction!)

Full Fathom Five (Sunday Times, April 17, 1960)

Captain Cousteau’s Underwater Treasury. By Jacques-Yves Cousteau & James Dugan. (Hamish Hamilton. 30s.)

By Ian Fleming

Swimming is really an extremely dull activity unless you are showing off to the spectators or competing at it. Swimming in the sea is just as dull as going for a walk in the middle of a snowfield or a desert. There is nothing to look at or occupy your mind, and you go on, automatically moving your limbs, until you are tired and it is time to go back.

Around 1942 Jacques Cousteau and his happy band of comrades altered all this. It was he who taught the common man to look under the sea as he swam, and, suddenly, swimming became interesting. Interest and curiosity, the act of focusing one’s eyes, and mind, have results you do not expect. I suppose I can swim for pleasure about half a mile before I get bored and therefore tired, but, with a mask on, and if the underwater territory is a new one, it is almost impossible for me to stop swimming. A mile or two is nothing, and I have a feeling that if I were to visit the Great Barrier Reef, I wouldn’t stop until a mud fish or a giant clam got me.

Cousteau, unhonoured and scantily sung, has put man back under the sea where he came from, and, from what the scientists say, he has done this by chance just at the moment in history when anyway we are being driven back into the oceans in search of more food and raw materials.

I am sure he never meant to cause this world-wide revolution, though, being the extraordinary man he is, he would certainly have been a pioneer in something. What first inspired him might, be expressed in the words of Thomas Fuller: “He goes a great voyage that goes to the bottom of the sea.”


Unfortunately, Cousteau writes far too little about his experiences. I doubt if The Silent World would ever have got written but for James Dugan, who somehow squeezed the book out of him. Cousteau just has not got patience for writing, and he is totally uninterested in the paraphernalia of fame. Fortunately, James Dugan keeps on at him, and one day we shall get his second volume of biography, the fantastic tale of his last ten years in the Indian Ocean, the Seychelles, prospecting for oil for the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (most successfully, I understand), plumbing the great ocean deeps, and other thrilling exploits of which we read only scraps in the newspapers.

But now James Dugan, who I am sure again did most of the work, has made him put together in this thick and beautifully illustrated volume more than sixty of his favourite underwater adventure stories from all literature. Everything is here—sharks, octopuses, treasure, submarine battles, exploration, archaeology, the glorious beauty of the coral reefs. Everyone who has ever put on an underwater mask will enjoy this fat, rich anthology, and if any teacher is looking for a wonderful source for reading aloud to boys—and girls, for that matter—of from ten to over twenty, then this, and especially now, on the threshold of the Ocean Age, is the book for him.


Re: Ian Fleming on Crime and Spy Fiction (and non-fiction!)

Great reading, thanks Revelator.


Re: Ian Fleming on Crime and Spy Fiction (and non-fiction!)

You're very welcome! I have plenty more up my sleeve (or is it Fleming's?).


Re: Ian Fleming on Crime and Spy Fiction (and non-fiction!)

Glad to hear it. And I'm also glad to be reading your thoughts on Elvis, too, on another site.

(No, not

but the real thing)


Re: Ian Fleming on Crime and Spy Fiction (and non-fiction!)

Barbel wrote:

Glad to hear it. And I'm also glad to be reading your thoughts on Elvis, too in another site.

I've mostly stopped posting at FECC, but I am a regular commenter on Elvis at the Steve Hoffman music forum.


Re: Ian Fleming on Crime and Spy Fiction (and non-fiction!)

Which is much preferable. Love that site!


Re: Ian Fleming on Crime and Spy Fiction (and non-fiction!)

Revelator wrote:
Barbel wrote:

Glad to hear it. And I'm also glad to be reading your thoughts on Elvis, too in another site.

I've mostly stopped posting at FECC, but I am a regular commenter on Elvis at the Steve Hoffman music forum.

That sounds interesting. Do you have a link to these sites/posts by any chance?  ajb007/smile

Writer/Director @ The Bondologist Blog (TBB)
Twitter: @Dragonpol 
'Like' TBB on FB: TBB Update Page
"The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).


Re: Ian Fleming on Crime and Spy Fiction (and non-fiction!)

No T-R-O-U-B-L-E, here you go:


https://www.elvis-collectors.com/forum/ … 0ccdba9e06


Re: Ian Fleming on Crime and Spy Fiction (and non-fiction!)

Thank you very much, Barbel. I'll be sure to check those out. I'm no Elvis expert (more of an MJ fan) but I enjoy his music and have a few CDs and books on him. I think my favourite song of his is his last, 'Way Down'.  ajb007/martini

Writer/Director @ The Bondologist Blog (TBB)
Twitter: @Dragonpol 
'Like' TBB on FB: TBB Update Page
"The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).


Re: Ian Fleming on Crime and Spy Fiction (and non-fiction!)

Partner! You Have Triumphed My Ace… (Daily Graphic, Sept. 28, 1949)

By I.L.F. [Ian Lancaster Fleming]

       Did you know that “trump” was originally “triumph”? Did you know that spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs were originally swords, cups, coins and staves, representing the nobility, the clergy, tradesmen, and peasants—the main social classes of the Middle Ages?

    Have you reflected that not even the French Revolution or the Communists succeeded in replacing the kings and queens in the pack with other symbols, and were you aware that Wild Bill Hickock shot all the pips out of a ten of spades at twelve paces?

    Not me, and I still don’t know the rules of “Canasta,” the new card game which is sweeping America on the heels of gin rummy, after reading The Complete Card Player, by Albert Ostrow (The Bodley Head, 15s.). Nor do I know the latest contract bridge rules and I don’t know the odds for drawing a card at “chemin de fer.” These are serious lapses in an American card encyclopaedia “which should challenge Hoyle as the general reference book.”

    But if you want to play Bimbo high-low at poker, Blind Hookey, Cedarhurst Gin, Clobberyash, Double-dummy with a widow, Idiot’s Delight, Oh Pshaw, Seven-toed Pete or Stealing the Old Man’s Bundle—this is the book for you.


Re: Ian Fleming on Crime and Spy Fiction (and non-fiction!)

The White Cheat (Sunday Times, November 2, 1947)

Gamesmanship. By Stephen Potter. (Rupert Hart-Davis. 6s.)

By Ian Fleming

On the analogy of white lies, this little book is an aid to the white cheat, hereafter referred to as a “gamesman.” We have all met gamesmen and perhaps been defeated by their gamesmanship. It has fallen to Mr. Potter to be their first champion, the first chronicler of their “ploys” and, who knows, perhaps the subversive guide towards a new golden age in British sport when Ryder Cups, Ashes and the goblets of Wimbledon, Henley and the Olympics will all come home again.

After some introductory remarks on the history and origin of gamesmanship, the author proceeds to the “flurry” ploy, of which the basic axiom is “the first muscle stiffened (in the opponent) is the first point gained.”

His description of preparations for leaving home in the opponent’s car en route for the tennis courts is a workmanlike summary of the “primary hampers” which all of us have experienced at the hands of gamesmen. (There is a helpful “Sketch Plan to show specimen wrong route from Maida Vale to Dulwich Covered Courts.”) While touching on “clothesmanship” and “stakesmanship” the author sounds a note of warning against the counter-gamesman, and readers will be wise to draw wider conclusions than are suggested by the single example, the “Frith-Morteroy Counter.”

Reading on, it will seem to many gamesmen that the “Jack Rivers opening” is weak. I prefer the more deadly “Huntercombe” variant (not mentioned by Potter) which goes like this. On the first tee: Gamesman: “I say, did you see that article of Cotton’s in the ‘Lancet’?” Opponent: “No, what did he say?” Gamesman: “Well it seems you breathe in on your upswing and out on the downswing, and the point is I’m sure he’s wrong. I do just the opposite. Let’s see what we really do during this round and we can write in a letter shooting him down.”

Potter is on firmer ground in his remarks on “Basic Fluke Play” and I concur when he states categorically that there are only eighteen ways of saying “Bad luck”; but many will think that his chapters on Brinkmanship, Clubmanship, etc., are amateurish and even naive, and readers will have little faith in his rudimentary advice to card players. (He does not even touch on “Voice Control” in husband and wife partnerships at the bridge table!)

I have said enough to show that, though not definitive, Potter on Gamesmanship is a Christmas “must” for partners and opponents and for anonymous despatch to “that woman” at the Bridge club. Colonel Frank Wilson’s diagrams and illustrations, particularly his anatomical chart of the golfer’s stance on the putting green (show to opponent in the third week) are in the best tradition of English Sporting Prints.


Re: Ian Fleming on Crime and Spy Fiction (and non-fiction!)

Bestsellers in America: “Beautiful, Beautiful Books” (Sunday Times, Sept. 18, 1949)

By Ian Fleming

The decline in the Faculty of Attention is neither new nor peculiar to America (Wordsworth remarked upon it in the preface to the Lyrical Ballads nearly 150 years ago), but America has developed to a finer art than we the technique of attracting without actually engaging attention. Hollywood, the Tabloids, the Comics, the Shiny magazines, the Digests, Radio and “Video” provide a daily dish of premasticated pulp which is rapidly conditioning the American palate away from any mental fare whose absorption requires an effort. (Hollywood is filming The Forsyte Saga under the title of That Forsyte Gal because “Saga” is considered a “difficult” word.)

In order to sell their 15s. novels (the standard price), American book-factories (as opposed to reputable publishers ) tempt the reluctant reader’s appetite by pressure-salesmanship of brightly wrappered sop-stuff—the title of this report is from a well-known blurb—with the result that writers and readers “with teeth in them are a rapidly dying race in America.”

James Marquand, for instance, has at last produced that bedtime story in swansdown prose towards which some of his recent work has, alas, been hinting. Point of No Return, which has led the fiction bestsellers for months past, is an agreeable meander through the life and pale loves of a character who closely resembles that American comic ineffectual, Mr. Milquetoast. These are harsh words, but from a sincere admirer of H. M. Pulham, Esq. and So Little Time.

Leading the general list is Cheaper by the Dozen (coming from Heinemann on October 10), a most engaging piece of real-life whimsy which describes the methods used to educate the 12 children of Mr. Gilbreth, an American consulting engineer and efficiency expert. Written by two of his children, it comes in much the same package as The Egg and I, which sold a million in America last year and has since done very well over here. Some religious books are being widely read, and there are many popular pink pills for pale psyches, such as Peace of Soul, Peace of Mind, The Mature Mind and How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.

It is sad to have to predict that admirers of John O’Hara’s Appointment in Samarra and Butterfield 8 will find themselves disappointed with The Rage to Live, the wearisome chronicle of a Pennsylvania family with a viper named Grace Caldwell in its bosom. This windy saga is not redeemed by extreme coarseness in parts, and it has the worst contrived ending of any novel I can remember.

Another casualty is Marc Brandel, whose adult and macabre Ides of Summer found him a discriminating English public last year. The Barriers Between is full of the turgid ruminations of a sensitive ex-G.I., whose heavy drinking in Mexico is too much for his sensitive stomach.

It is pleasant to be able to record that English authors continue in handsome demand. Mr. Churchill’s Their Finest Hour still outstrips all domestic war memoirs published this year and qualifies him for his newest laurels as chief literary dollar-earner for England (and top scrivener, for Sir Stafford!). George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four is also having a phenomenal success. Featured by Life and then by The Reader’s Digest, this brilliant book is more than repeating its reception in England. Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate is a best-seller, as was her The Pursuit of Love, despite the unfamiliar idiom and cliquishness of this comedy of lost manners. Spencer Chapman’s The Jungle is Neutral is proving an excellent corrective to the American popular theory that we never fought the Japanese.

Finally, a book which will do much for our battered self-esteem, Our English Heritage, by Gerald Johnson. Mr. Commager, in The New York Times, concludes a review which would make all England blush with the words: “Every nation inherits a good part of its culture and its institutions. The United States has been fortunate because its inheritance comes from a nation whose peculiar contribution to civilisation has been integrity of character.”


Note: The Hollywood film of The Forsyte Saga was eventually titled That Forsyte Woman. Released in 1949, it starred Errol Flynn, Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, and Robert Young.

I haven't read H. M. Pulham, Esq. (or anything else by the now-forgotten John P. Marquand), but I can recommend the film version, directed by the great King Vidor and starring the brainy and beautiful Hedy Lamarr.