“The reason it breaks so badly in half as a book,” he said, “is because I had to more or less graft the first half of the book onto my film idea in order to bring it up to the necessary length.”
He proposed a short biography of Marthe Richard, a prostitute who had spied for France in Word War I. During World War II, she spied for her country again, this time as a brothel keeper, and was awarded the Légion d’honneur. After the war, she became a politician and, as poacher turned gamekeeper, introduced the law that closed the brothels down. It was known as La Loi de Marthe Richard. La Loi Marthe Richard is mentioned in Casino Royale as the reason why the villain Le Chiffre has lost the Soviet money he had invested in brothels and needs to win it back at the tables. However, Curtis Brown persuaded Fleming that a biography of Marthe Richard was not a commercial idea.
Fleming was now seen as the heir to Eric Ambler and Ambler helped Ian with the business side of Bond, putting him in touch with accountants and lawyers who created trust funds and other tax shelters. By then, Bond books were appearing in foreign languages and Peter Janson-Smith, who dealt with foreign rights at Curtis Brown, set up independently as Fleming’s agent.
On his way to Jamaica to work on From Russia With Love, Ian met Truman Capote, who amused him with tales about his recent trip to Russia. He came to stay at Goldeneye. Meanwhile one of Fleming’s correspondents got the first interview with Burgess and Maclean in Moscow.
Without Ann again that winter, Ian met Blanche Blackwell, a wealthy divorcee who said she thought he was the rudest man she had ever met. Nevertheless, she was physically attracted to him and invited him to her house for drinks. Later, they swam together at Goldeneye. Although he mentioned Blanche in his letters to Ann, he wrote mainly about the time he spent with Noël Coward and other homosexual friends.
In Nassau to write a piece for the Sunday Times, Ian was invited to visit the flamingo sanctuary on the island of Inagua – which became Dr No’s hideaway Crab Key. A naturalist from the Audubon Society briefed him on guano, the dung of the cormorant used for fertilizer that was the source of Dr No’s wealth. They even travelled around the island on a strange swamp-buggy that could have inspired Dr No’s monster.
Diamonds Are Forever got good reviews. Fleming was particularly pleased with the one Raymond Chandler wrote for the Sunday Times. After Chandler’s death in 1959, Fleming published their correspondence. However, his habit of using friends' names now became cause for complaint. A relative by marriage, Arthur “Boofy” Gore, later the Earl of Arran, objected to his nickname appearing in Diamonds Are Forever, particularly as Leiter says, in this description: “Kidd’s a pretty boy. His friends call him “Boofy”. Probably shacks up with Wint. Some of these homos make the worst killers.”
Suffering from sciatica, Fleming went off to Enton Hall, a health farm which made an appearance in Thunderball. Then he took Ann to the next Interpol Conference in Vienna. They stayed with Antony and Rachel Terry, two old friends from his Naval Intelligence days who told him about Emma Wolff, an ugly NKVD agent with dyed red hair. Wolff was the model for Rosa Klebb in From Russia With Love. By the time they returned to London, Ian was suffering from kidney stones and had to take morphine to still the pain. He took consolation in the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who died at the age of forty-four. Ian was already forty-eight. He complained to Chandler that his muse was “in a bad way” and his literary powers were stretched to their limits.
Fleming played bridge for money and gambled in the casinos in Nassau, basing his story “Quantum of Solace” there. In the Bahamas he met former Harvard football star, John “Shipwreck” Sims Kelly, who knew everyone from the Duke of Windsor to Ernest Hemingway and introduced Ian to Aristotle Onassis. Ian also spent time with Ivar Bryce, who now lived an international lifestyle. His home-from-home was Schloss Mittersill, a sports club for the super-rich near Kitzbühel which became the model for Piz Gloria, Ernst Blofeld’s alpine research facility in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. At this louche establishment, Fleming indulged his passion for women and black lingerie, and met the wife of Prince Alex Hohenlohe, former showgirl Patricia Wilder who was known universally as Honeychile. He used the name for the heroine of his next book, Dr No. Meanwhile, Ann began an affair with Labour Party leader Hugh Gaitskell.
In 1956, Fleming was commissioned to write the pilot for an American TV series starring secret agent Commander James Gunn. The villain would be a Dr No and a part was written for Ian’s friend, Jamaican swimming champion Barrington Roper. But Fleming’s script was rejected. The Roper character reappeared in Dr No.
A gun enthusiast from Glasgow named Geoffrey Boothroyd wrote to Fleming, complaining that the .25 Beretta Bond used in the first four books was a “ladies’ gun”; he recommended a .38 Smith & Wesson Centennial Airweight, carried in a Berns Martin triple-draw holster. These sentiments appear in the mouth of Major Boothroyd, the departmental armourer in Dr No. Meanwhile, Ian began turning up the collar of his overcoat. He was being sucked into the role of James Bond.
Macmillan in the US were delighted with manuscript for From Russia With Love and began promoting Diamonds Are Forever. CIA chief Richard Helms picked up a copy of Live and Let Die. Impressed, he contacted Roger Hollis, head of MI5, and asked about Ian Fleming. Hollis claimed never to have heard of Fleming. However, he was soon to come to the attention of the security service. When Anthony Eden resigned due to “ill health” after the Suez fiasco, he went to Goldeneye to recuperate. Blanche was on hand to help with the arrangements. When Ann heard about this, she assumed that Ian had been unfaithful, giving Blanche no further reason to resist. Unperturbed, Ian appropriated the story from his failed TV pilot and was getting on with Dr No.
When From Russia With Love came out, Fleming was in Tangiers interviewing, for the Sunday Times, a real-life spy about a diamond scam. His publishers were now claiming that Fleming had sold over a million copies in English, and he was translated into a dozen languages. However, several reviewers concluded that, after his murderous run-in with Rosa Klebb on the last page of the book, they might have seen the last of James Bond. He was, however, resurrected in Dr No.
Despite Fleming's misgivings, the Daily Express began publishing Casino Royale as a cartoon strip. Fleming published a non-fiction account of the diamond scam he had learnt about in Tangiers as The Diamond Smugglers. This trod on the toes of his brother-in-law Hugo Charteris, who covered the same ground in his book Picnic at Porokorro. By then Fleming's marriage had broken down to the point where he was seen lunging drunkenly at women at parties. Nevertheless, Rank made an offer for the film rights of The Diamond Smugglers.
Fleming planned another non-fiction book off the back of another proposed series for the Sunday Times called, tentatively, “Round the World in Eight Adventures”. Meanwhile, he returned to Goldeneye – and Blanche – to write Goldfinger.
Back in England, Ian began playing golf with Blanche’s brother, John Blackwell, who provided advice for the golf match Bond plays against Auric Goldfinger. They played at Sandwich where the short, tight sixth was known as “The Maiden”. This became “The Virgin” in the book, where Blackwell got a namecheck – but as a supplier of heroin. A more crucial namecheck went to Blackwell’s cousin who was married to the modernist architect Erno Goldfinger. When the book was published, he threatened to sue. Ian suggested the publishers insert an erratum slip changing the name to “Goldprick” thoughout.
Now that James Bond was proving a hit with the public, the critics sharpened their knives and tore into Dr No. Everything from snobbery to sadism was cited. Chandler gave the book a good review in the Sunday Times, but then Fleming had commissioned him to interview Lucky Luciano on Capri, all expenses paid.
Ducking the controversy, which soon spread to the US, Fleming headed to the Seychelles for the first of his globe-trotting “Eight Adventures”. Another short story, “The Hildebrand Rarity”, is set there and his article, along with a little lobbying on behalf of the islands led the Seychelles to become one of the leading long-haul destinations.
Fleming was in Rome on his way home when he heard that an offer had been made on the movie rights for Dr No. He journeyed onward to Venice, where he intended to have a second honeymoon with Ann, travelling on board the Laguna Express, which appears in his short story “Risico”. To help Ann get to know the city, Ian gave her a copy of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice.
Negotiations for the Dr No movie were put on hold when CBS proposed a thirteen-part James Bond series. This fell through. However, an omnibus edition of James Bond adventures, scheduled to come out with the TV series, survived.
Fleming was now fifty and feeling unwell. His doctors told him to cut down on cigarettes – he was still smoking sixty a day. He headed back Goldeneye alone to complete a book of five short Bond stories published as For Your Eyes Only in 1960. But after he mentioned Blanche in his letters, Ann joined him in Jamaica.
The critics rounded, once again, this time on Goldfinger, but it raced to the top of the bestsellers’ list. Meanwhile, the Sunday Times, which had long been losing money, was sold to Lord Thomson. Fleming was retained for his editorial ideas and the occasional feature, and he began to spend more time working on the Book Collector.
Ivar Bryce set up a film studio on the Bahamas with one-time producer Kevin McClory to take advantage of tax breaks there and Fleming was called in to write a screenplay from a plot outline provided by Ernie Cuneo. This would become Thunderball. In the early Bond novels, the enemy had been SMERSH, a contraction of Smert Shpionam – Russian for “Death to Spies” and the name of a Soviet intelligence agency founded in 1943. But Fleming was convinced that the Cold War might end while the film was in production, so SMERSH with SPECTRE as the villain of the piece. The acronym SPECTRE stood for the Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion. It was a fictional criminal organization made up of ex-members of SMERSH, the Mafia, the Gestapo and Peking’s Black Tong.
Fleming completed a sixty-seven-page treatment before returning to London, where he was swamped with film offers. He went on to the continent, travelling into East Germany with an old intelligence colleague. Then he travelled to Hong Kong and Macao, ostensibly for the Sunday Times but actually researching exotic backgrounds for Bond books. Moving on to Tokyo, he was introduced by one of his correspondents, a hard-drinking Australian named Richard Hughes, to journalist Torao Saito, known as “Tiger” who took him to a geisha house. This features in You Only Live Twice. Hughes becomes Dikko Henderson, Australia’s man in Tokyo, and Saito Tiger Tanaka, head of the Japanese Secret Service. The book was also dedicated to “Richard Hughes and Torao Saito, But for whom etc.…”
Fleming returned to Jamaica to write another Bond book – Thunderball – which was dedicated to “Ernest Cuneo, Muse”. Ian was in Washington later that year where he dined with presidential hopeful John F. Kennedy, who was impressed with Fleming’s ideas of how to handle Fidel Castro, the new dictator of Cuba. Kennedy put From Russia With Love among his top ten books in Life magazine. Overnight, Fleming became the biggest-selling thriller writer in the US. It was later said that Kennedy was reading a Bond book the night before he was assassinated. So, it is said, was his assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.
Fleming now retired from his job at the Sunday Times, but continued to write his “Eight Adventures” series – now called “Thrilling Cities” – for the paper. In Hamburg, he enthused about the sex industry before moving on to Berlin where he crossed the Wall. In Switzerland, he dined with Charlie Chaplin, helping to secure the serialization rights to Chaplin’s memoirs for the Sunday Times. Then in Naples, he had tea with Lucky Luciano. Returning to England, he crashed his Thunderbird into an ice-cream van.
In Beirut, Fleming discussed his old friend Kim Philby, a suspected Soviet spy, with the local SIS head. Soon after, Philby defected. Fleming moved on to Kuwait, where he had been commissioned to write a book, State of Excitement. After reading the manuscript, the Kuwait Oil Company expressed their disapproval and it was never published.
Next came The Spy Who Loved Me, written from the point of view of the heroine, a young Canadian woman named Vivienne Michel. Fleming said it was the easiest thing he ever wrote. Again he toyed with the idea of killing off Bond, but decided not to.
Seeing an advance copy of the novel Thunderball, Kevin McClory claimed it was based on the film scripts he and others had been working on and sued for breach of copyright. Soon after this, at the age of fifty-three, Fleming had a heart attack. In hospital he wrote a bedtime story for his son Caspar, which became Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
It was then that a Canadian producer based in London, Harry Saltzman, and an American émigré, Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli, teamed up. They signed a deal with United Artists for six Bond movies. The first was to have been Thunderball, but due to legal problems they went ahead with Dr No instead.
Convalescing in Provence, Fleming became a friend of artist Graham Sutherland. Once back in London, he suggested his friend David Niven to play James Bond. When it was suggested that Niven was too old and – as an established Hollywood star – too expensive, Fleming opted for Roger Moore, then playing The Saint on TV. Fleming objected to the choice of Sean Connery – “that fucking truck driver,” he called him after Connery’s role in the 1957 B-movie Hell Drivers. But he changed his mind when female friends assured him that Connery had “it”. Otherwise Fleming limited his role in the film to finding locations. However, Fleming’s old friend Reginald Maudling at the Colonial Office refused permission to use Government House in Jamaica as the governor was portrayed as an idiot in the book and his secretary a spy.
Ian recommended that they use Blanche’s son Chris Blackwell as location manager for the movie. Blackwell also advised on authentic Jamaican music for the soundtrack and went on to found Island Records, which introduced Bob Marley to the world.
At the Sunday Times, Fleming had commissioned a series of articles on the Seven Deadly Sins. These were collected into a book with an introduction by Ian. He also wrote an introduction to a new edition of All Night at Mr Stanyhurst’s by Hugh Edwards and the short story “The Living Daylights” which appeared in the first edition of the Sunday Times colour supplement. In it, the female Russian assassin was based on his half-sister Amaryllis, his mother’s daughter by Augustus John.
Back in Jamaica, he set to work on On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, with Bond adopting the identity of Hilary Bray – the name of the man who had succeeded Fleming in the stockbroking firm in the City. The “Rouge Dragon Pursuivant”, the son of a friend at the College of Arms, while doing the genealogical research for the book, discovered that the Bonds of Peckham had the family motto “The world is not enough”, though the research is ascribed to the Griffon Or Pursuivant in the novel. The motto would become the title of a Bond movie. As it was, the Rouge Dragon was not amused to see the name of his heraldic office used in the manuscript, so Fleming changed it to the fanciful Sable Basilisk on the grounds that the mythical basilisk looks like a dragon and his friend lived in Basil Street.
The book contains the story of a man given a peerage for “political and public services, i.e. charities and party funds, who wants to call himself Lord Bentley Royal after a village in Essex. However, it is explained to him that the word “Royal” can only be used by the reigning family. The College of Arms mischievously pointed out that the title “Lord Bentley Common” was available. The same story had been told about Lord Kemsley when he lived in Farnham; and it also drew on Fleming’s visit to St Moritz the previous year.
Bond had made Fleming so famous that he was asked to comment on real-life intelligence matters such as the return of spy-plane pilot Gary Powers who had been shot down over the Soviet Union two years earlier. He also had a taste of danger when he visited the set of Dr No at Rolling River, with Ann, Peter Quennell and Stephen Spender, while the scene where Ursula Andress emerges from the sea was being filmed. In the scene, shots are fired. Fleming and his guest were found later cowering spreadeagled on the sand.
In the press, Fleming dismissed his Bond books as “adolescent” with no social significance. However, when The Spy Who Loved Me was savaged by the critics, he defended it, saying that he was trying to examine Bond from the heroine’s point of view, showing that he was no hero and little better than the criminals he came up against. Nevertheless, he contacted Cape and asked them not to reprint the book, or publish a paperback edition. The Soviets also took Fleming’s creation seriously. An article in the government newspaper Izvestia condemned Bond as a tool of American propaganda.
While sitting for a portrait by engineer-turned-artist Amherst Villiers, Fleming was introduced to racing driver Graham Hill and listened with interest to their conversations about cars. But his life was slowing down. He worked just two days a week and spent most of his time playing bridge or golf. He presented the “James Bond All Purpose Grand Challenge Vase” to the Old Etonian Golfing Society. It was a chamber pot.
To get away from the strains of his marriage, Fleming took a trip alone to Jamaica in July 1963, where he began work on “Octopussy” – taking the name from a boat that Blanche had presented to Goldeneye. He wrote the introduction to the biography of Sir William Stephenson, The Quiet Canadian, then headed to Japan to research his next Bond book, You Only Live Twice, with Dick Hughes and Torao Saito.
In Tokyo, he visited the bar where Soviet spy Richard Sorge had picked up secrets from Nazi expatriates during World War II. He immersed himself in Japanese culture and was particularly interested in the girls who dived for pearls, traditionally naked. When Bond goes missing in the book, M writes his obituary for The Times. In it Fleming spoofed himself, saying: “The inevitable publicity, particularly in the foreign Press, accorded some of these adventures, made him, much against his will, something of a public figure, with the inevitable result that a series of popular books came to be written around him by a personal friend and former colleague of James Bond. If the quality of these books, or their degree of veracity, had been any higher, the author would certainly have been prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act.”
Indeed, in 1959, when interest was first being shown in making a film of a James Bond novel, clearance was sought from the Foreign Office. A reply, signed by Frederick Hoyar-Millar, said that “there are no security objections to any of the books about James Bond which have been published” and that “there would be no objections to any film or television broadcast based on material in them”.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was well received. At the same time Cyril Connolly’s homosexual spoof Bond Strikes Camp came out in the London Magazine. With the defection of Kim Philby, it became increasingly clear that the world of espionage was gay, so Connolly has Bond dressed in drag, penetrating the “Homintern” to unmask a traitor, who turns out to be M. Far from being displeased, Fleming was delighted by the parody, even making slight amendments to the manuscript before publication.
Ian visited Istanbul to watch the filming of From Russia With Love, returning to London in time to see the downfall of his friend, Defence Minister John Profumo, who had been caught sharing a young mistress with a Russian spy. Life, it seemed, was imitating fiction. He had lunch with Allen Dulles who had recently retired as head of the CIA. After Dulles embarked on a career as an author and recommended the Bond books to a gathering of the American Booksellers’ Association, Fleming dubbed him 008.
Oxford University established a James Bond Club, while two editors of the Harvard Lampoon wrote a seventy-page spoof called Alligator. Then Fleming received the final accolade – an appearance on the BBC radio programme Desert Island Discs.
He wrote the short story “The Property of a Lady” for Sotheby’s house magazine The Ivory Hammer. Meanwhile forty-four volumes from his book collection went on display at the exhibition “Printing and the Mind of Man”, by far the largest contribution from a private individual.
In 19XX Fleming drove to Switzerland to interview Georges Simenon for the Sunday Times, then gave a terrified Blanche a high-speed tour of the haunts of his youth in his new Studebaker Avanti. Back in London, the court case over the rights in Thunderball began. In the end, McClory won the movie rights, while Fleming held on to the rights in the novel, which is now accredited as “based on a screen treatment by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, and Ian Fleming”. John Betjemen wrote to commiserate over the judgment. He put Fleming, he said, in the same class as Conan Doyle, P.G. Wodehouse, T.S. Eliot, Henry Moore and Evelyn Waugh.
Although Fleming was now in constant pain from angina, he took off for Jamaica again that winter to write The Man With The Golden Gun. The villain’s name Scaramanga was taken from a contemporary at Eton. These days, Goldeneye was not as peaceful as it had been. A garage had opened nearby with a sound system which often blared out the reggae version of “Three Blind Mice” that had been released on Chris Blackwell’s Island label following its use on the soundtrack of Dr No.
Among the visitors that winter were Professor Northcote Parkinson, author of Parkinson’s Law, and the real James Bond – the American ornithologist whose name Fleming had appropriated. Fleming also agreed to write the guidebook Ian Fleming’s Jamaica for André Deutsch, but in the end only contributed the introduction.
Despite his doctors’ advice, Fleming refused to give up drinking and smoking. With acute pains in his chest, he was admitted to hospital suffering from pulmonary embolism – a blood clot in the lung. Although he recovered enough to return home, all those who saw him could tell that death was near.
On 11 August 1964, after lunch at the golf club and dinner at a hotel with a friend, Ian collapsed and was rushed to hospital. At 1.30 the following morning, he was pronounced dead. By then, he had written twelve novels and one book of short stories, selling over thirty million copies. Two films – Dr No and From Russia With Love – had already been made and two more – Goldfinger and Thunderball – were in production. Another book of short stories, containing “Octopussy”, “The Living Daylights” and “The Property of a Lady” would be published in 1966. There would be more Bond books by other writers, more movies, and a Bond-related merchandise range from toys and games to clothes and toiletries. Further books and films are expected. Fleming may be dead, but his creation seems fit enough to live for ever.