Nov 15

thanks for the “M”-ories

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diamondsI read the Bond books aged roughly 10-14, starting with Diamonds are Forever, which was the only one in my parents’ house. This was also the first film I saw — birthday outing, my 11th birthday: three schoolfriends and me plus mum, who lied brazenly to the ticket-taker about our ages (she was an excellent and useful liar). I definitely remember discussing Felix Leiter with Dad. who seemed to enjoy the fact that this was a character who appeared in several books, and had a hook for a hand (also for a foot, presumably, but this wasn’t mentioned). Between them, they helped me source several more: some from Ian, an old work colleague of dad’s based in Devon (our family staying with his family for a working summer, as dad was lecturing at slapton field centre); and another from another family friend, Joan Tate, who i wrote about here a while back. Ian I remember throwing open a great cupboard full of books, stacked three deep on makeshift shelves, a fact I found amazing (who shelves books three deep!!?), while Joan — who was an active local liberal politician with three very counter-cultural radical student kids — gave me a mini-lecture, to signal her disapproval of this fascist nonsense (as a consequence I got to keep the book). I bought a few myself — I still own half a dozen, bcz I am terrible abt getting rid of books, “just in case” — but looked the rest out wherever I could find them.

casinoI’ve tried to find the covers from the versions I read, and noted below is — as best as I can manage — what I recall from the books without re-reading, sometimes across 40+ years. As will quickly be evident, my memory is rather teen-shaped, and not entirely reliable. I discussed this post with a friend a couple of nights back, sister among three brothers, also from a politically radical family. She said they all read Bond and loved him age c.11-14: and astutely pointed out that there was a natural identification with an agent who is basically pushed out into harm’s way by grown-ups who don’t really care what happens to him. The licence to kill is really more of a “licence to be killed and we’re not bothered” — hence his endlessly needy rules-busting and etc.

Casino Royale (1953)
moonrakerThis is the one I’ve re-read most recently, mainly bcz it’s easily the best. JAMES BOND’S bosses are arseholes who don’t really care about him and make slimy deals with his foes while he’s fighting them, physical violence hurts and is horrible to witness, the ppl you meet and possibly like are entirely treacherous, “The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning… Bond undressed and took a cold shower. Then he lit his seventieth cigarette of the day”. Two foolish Bulgarian agents in red and blue plastic hats tinker with their instructions setting off a bomb, and blow themselves up (leaving tatters of flesh in a nearby tree). Bond pretends to be ill to get out of having his spine blown silently off at the blackjack table, hurling his chair backwards so that it snatches the silent bamboo-housed gun out of the assassin’s hand. The Chiffre attempts to gweld him with a carpet beater, but is assassinated in turns by Moscow Central, for being unreliable. Vesper Lynd takes pills rather than marry confess all to JB.

Live and Let Die (1954)
russiaSet in Harlem and the Caribbean iirc: JAMES BOND captured in a circular booth that can spin round and deliver him to the villains. But this is in the film, so I may have recalled it from there. Felix Leiter is tossed into a tub of sharks — and to be honest the main thing I remember is that the copy I read of this was (a) the only hardback, without a just jacket, and (b) had someone’s pencil sketch of a lonely beach scene drawn onto one of the endpapers. I also remember MAD magazine’s parody of the (early 70s) film for its quaint and quasi-racist handling of characters and context. The book is unlikely to be very much better in this regard — but was possibly original in its time for noting that MI6 might soon run up against a sophisticated black crime operation, however cartoonishly portrayed.

Moonraker (1955)
noOne of the last I read, so I always assumed it was a bit crap cz IF was running out of steam. Actually it’s one of the earliest. HUGO DRAX né GRAF VON DRACHE is a sekrit nazi building a private spacerocket/missile. JAMES BOND spots he’s a wrong un when he catchers him cheating at cards by means of PERIPHERAL VISION and a polished cigarette case, and has him chucked out of his club. I liked the idea of PERIPHERAL VISION a lot, and spent some time trying to enhance my own (as I have no memory for cards, esp.bridge, I was never able to re-purpose this in the direction of EVIL: also it never really manifested, as I already wore glasses).

Diamonds Are Forever (1956)
goldfingerMainly what I recall is an early scene with scorpions fighting, a snitch being assaulted in a mud bath by having boiling mud poured on him, and a lightning sketch from IF of the history of Las Vegas, a town invented by the MAFIA (in this case some fellows called the SPANGLED GANG). Felix Leiter makes a brief appearance (see above). Great Pan!

From Russia, with Love (1957)
ThunderballLow-level Russian agents get hot and bothered filming JAMES BOND and Natasha Romanov [that name can’t be right] having sex on a big bed. The evil heavy is Irish, hence a traitor to the West, called RED BUTTONS [also can’t be right]: he also gives himself away by drinking red wine with fish (though I possibly remember this mainly from the film): “I may drink red wine with fish but you’re the one on your knees, Mr Bond”. As I myself prefer red wine with fish,I probably use this catchphrase too often myself. The head of SMERSH [short for DEATH TO SPIES in Russian!] is an ugly lesbian called Rosa Klebb, who is in love with Natasha and has poisoned knives concealed in her shoes.

Dr No (1958)
spyJAMES BOND finds himself in bed with a GIANT MILLIPEDE: “What if it wants to nestle in the nice warm crevices!” He leaps from his bed and smashes it with an espadrille. Swims to the perilous quay with his new pal Quarrell, a local fisherman, where they encounter a terrible dragon (= a jeep with a flame-thrower. Quarrell is black and therefore dies v quickly and horribly (tho Bond does right by him by pouring sand into his dead eyes). Then he HONEYCHILE RIDER, who is white but gone native and thus able to look after herself. DR JULIUS NO is a halfbreed with pincers for hands, thus EVIL, who lives in a lair and has cornered the world market in GUANO [a commodity fleefully explained by IF]. Bond crawls through a red hot tunnel of insects and scorpions and buries No in guaNO oh NO. IF owned a house in Jamaica called Goldeneye, and does get across a feel for the Caribbean (not that I’ve ever been).

Goldfinger (1959)
serviceThe villain is called AURIC GOLDFINGER. Cheating at golf via BONDGIRL ONE (Tilly Masterson or her sister): as punishment for being suborned, BONDGIRL ONE is painted all over gold. Which in science will not kill you but in a Bond book (and film) will. Goldfinger’s minion is a Korean adept of karate, and IF’s info includes a mini-history of same (much of it likely made up: it was relatively new to the west in the 50s and 60s). PUSSY GALORE hates men and favours women bcz men are all rapey arseholes. At Fort Knox, soldiers and a baby lie slumped on the tarmac, pinkish flecks of foam round their mouths. GF and/or his Korean minion are sucked out of a broken airplane window (more made-up science). PG, life saved and Bond-curious, wears nothing but a jumper, decent by half an inch.

Thunderball (1961)
twiceFirst appearance of ERNST STAVRO BLOFELD [not real name] and (possibly) RESPECT SPECTRE in the books. Bomb narrative. The paperback copy I had — borrowed, see above — had a naked back with two bullet holes in it, that went through to the title page. Oddly enough I was at school with some Blofelds.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1962)
goldenHad a nice map on the cover and JAMES BOND is barely in it. The narrator is a woman who begins with a story of having sex (not with JB) in one of the theatre boxes of an old-school cinema, and being thrown out by a furious manager.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963)
sunA brainwashed JAMES BOND returns from Japan and attempts assassinate M, who is saved by a — rather dangerous sounding — plate glass screen installed which hurtles down when M steps on a concealed floor button [note: this is misremembered, it’s actually the start of Man w/Golden Gun]. End-papers include a Who’s Who entry for Commander JB where we learn he was orphaned and went to Eton.

You Only Live Twice (1964)
Title from a haiku written by JAMES BOND. The head of the Japanese Secret Service is called Tiger Tanaka — he shoes him round the security facilitiers, where he learns that the martial arts students teach themselves to retract their testicles to safety by massaging the relevant area. Fleming likes to throw unexpected or exotic facts into his stories. He also totally makes stuff up to fvck with the reader. The villain is DOCTOR GUNTHER SHATTERHAND: he has contructed an evil “ farewell garden” open to the Japanese public, in which citizens can wander and choose horrible ways to suicide (dangerous beasts, poisonous plants, profiteroles fumaroles): it is built on a volcano, with hilarious results. Bond disables this, loses his memory and marries a pretty peasant fishergirl, who reads up on sex stuff in a “ pillow book” the local priest gives her.

The Man with the Golden Gun (1965)
Real name The Man with the Golden Gun and Three Nipples, since this is how many Scaramanga has. On stage a naked girl writhes round a glistening giant leather hand. This is literally all I remember, I was 13 shut up.

Colonel Sun (1968) [by Robert Markham aka Kingsley bloody Amis]
M is kidnapped! His real name is Admiral Sir Miles Messerby (or Messervy?). The Bondgirl is blonde, long-legged for a Greek [in JAMES BOND’s critical and prejudiced opinion], and has an unusually shaped [see previous bracket] pubic triangle, wide but not deep. JB kills CS by stabbing him in the heart but CS doesn’t die before he hisses some final mot, bon or not I forget, in Bond’s face.

Notes on cover designs: — from five different unified design packages, the paintings (as per Diamonds), which are very much of the pulp style and heritage, the striking item(s) (as per Casino, Thunderball, Spy, Service and Twice, the girl (as per Russia), the bunch of associated stuff (as per Moonraker, No, Finger and Gun) and whatever Sun fits into, as a non-Fleming addition. I recall my art teacher commenting on the excellent of the striking item series — he was a curious and interesting fellow, but that’s probably a different story. I liked the “bunch of stuff” series best, though (judging by its presence on the net) it’s somewhat out of favour currently.


  1. 1
    lonepilgrim on 18 Nov 2015 #

    I read all of these (apart from ‘Colonel Sun’) at a similar age and probably around the same time and I have few memories of them.
    I seem to recall that Drax’s cunning plan in Moonraker was for all his henchmen to have crew cuts and shaggy beards (proto-hipsters) so that after carrying out their evil deed they would shave their beards and become unrecognisable which seemed implausible to me even as a kid.
    In The ‘Spy who loved me’ there was a baddie with alopecia who therefore had no nasal hair and a permanently runny nose.
    At the back of the Pan versions there were plugs for travel guides written by Fleming (or possibly another) that promised to reveal sordid details of ‘the flesh-pots of Egypt’ which both tantalised and bewildered me as an adolescent.

  2. 2
    Mark M on 19 Nov 2015 #

    I read most of them as a kid, although possibly not Casino Royale and maybe Thunderball. Definitely From Russia, With Love and Live And Let Die, which I read a number of times. My parents’ copies were mostly the ‘striking items’ editions, from which I particularly remember The Spy Who Loved Me, which I was baffled by when I read it because of a) the female narrator and b) it takes so long to get to Bond. We had a hardback of For Your Eyes Only.

    I think the only one I’ve read as an adult is Diamonds Are Forever, which I bought after we’d seen a Fleming exhibition at the Imperial War Museum. I was expecting it to be a bit racist, but not THAT racist. Jesus.

    (There’s a good radio version of You Only Live Twice currently available on the iPlayer).

  3. 3
    Mark M on 19 Nov 2015 #

    Also, I eventually read Colonel Sun, but resisted it for a long time because it didn’t look like a Bond book and I didn’t like the idea of non-Fleming writer. I didn’t think much of it when I finally did read it.

    And also: MAD’s film spoofs were a fairly crucial part of my cinema education. I’ve still got the Network one, which really does do the job of the whole movie pretty effectively in five pages or so.

    And and also: my knowledge of Ian Fleming beyond the books came from a best-of-Private Eye that my parents had, which had this one-page Booker/Rushton biography of him.

  4. 4
    Andy on 19 Nov 2015 #

    @1 Re: Drax’s masterplan: isn’t it COMEDY MOUSTACHES, on the basis that everyone remembers an elaborate handlebar but not the face behind it?

  5. 5
    enitharmon on 19 Nov 2015 #

    I always enjoyed the books far more than the films (it’s been all downhill since Goldfinger!) Probably I prefer the slightly seedy, fly-blown fifties ambience of the books to the glitz and glamour of the film. They are imperialist, misogynistic, homophobic, disabled-ist (note how the villains almost always have some deformity) but they are very well-written and enjoyable tosh. I never read Colonel Sun or any other non-Fleming sequels because I can’t help feeling that the series should die with the author.

    The Spy Who Loved Me was an aberration, an experiment that Fleming deplored, and only published after his death as a cash-in. It should, IMHO, have been left unpublished according to the author’s wishes. The Man With The Golden Gun is a bit of a runt, the product of Fleming’s final illness and rough at the edges as it was never properly edited.

  6. 6
    Ed on 19 Nov 2015 #

    “I was at school with some Blofelds.”

    So was Fleming, IIRC. Didn’t he use the names of bullies at his school for his villains?

    Although I think the magnificently named Admiral the Hon. Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax was a friend, not an enemy.

  7. 7
    Ed on 19 Nov 2015 #

    So in fact it turns out that Fleming and Blofeld were good friends.

    The son of the “original” Blofeld is the cricket commentator Henry Blofeld: http://www.livingnorth.com/northeast/people-places/my-dear-old-thing

    I think my source for my misinformation may have been the D**** M***, predictably.

  8. 8

    To be strictly accurate my Blofelds were actually called Blofield. One of them was a massive Patti Smith fan

    Extract from Diamonds Are Forever (which I am now re-reading):
    [Tiffany Case, meeting Bond:] “‘Take a seat and enjoy the music. Best light record ever made.'”
    “Bond walked over to the gramophone and picked up the record. It was George Feyer with rhythm accompaniment. He looked at the number and memorised it. It was Vox 500.”

    1956 was a long time ago.

  9. 9
    Andrew Farrell on 19 Nov 2015 #

    #7 I’m not sure that “Blofeld’s son says so” is a peerless citation!

  10. 10
    Andy M on 19 Nov 2015 #

    I, too, am currently re-reading DaF. Bond has just been wowed by the decadent presence of a 17″ television in his Vegas hotel room.

  11. 11
    koganbot on 21 Nov 2015 #

    Hoping that “fleefully” is not a typo.

    Gotta go.

  12. 12
    Kit on 25 Nov 2015 #

    “The Spy Who Loved Me was an aberration, an experiment that Fleming deplored, and only published after his death as a cash-in. It should, IMHO, have been left unpublished according to the author’s wishes.”

    IMHO, it was published while Fleming was alive, the subsequent two novels were also published while he was alive, and the unusual tone and female-sympathetic sexual politics make it the best, or at least the most interesting, of the novels.

  13. 13
    Mark M on 26 Nov 2015 #

    Re5/12: The internet says in essence you’re both right: The Spy Who Loved Me was published in Fleming’s lifetime (1962) – I was surprised to read Rosie suggesting otherwise. But, this is the bit I didn’t know, IF got very cold feet AFTER the book had come out in hardback, and tried to suppress his rather random outing. So the first UK paperback was indeed posthumous.

    I’m rather in favour of the fact that Fleming tried something so bizarre, and feel he was a wimp for not sticking by it.

  14. 14

    LRB essay on Bond and Fleming (subscription only I’m afraid): http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n23/christian-lorentzen/bang-bang-kiss-kiss

    It spends too much time on the film — which is exactly as bad as all the others — but has interesting snippets about Fleming, quickly bored of writing Bond (bcz Bond is a boring thug) and in real life an obsessive lecturing idiot about how to make a martini. The writer slightly miscues the Noel Coward story abt Honeychile Rider’s excellent boy-like bottom — NC was teasingly (fake)shocked not by the description, but by the fact that Bond was so didactically excited that HR’s bum was the correct shape (i.e. like a boy’s), and announces (to himself) that ALL girls should have arses this shape. (i.e. the LRB piece only quotes Coward and not the relevant passage from Dr No).

    Good to learn that Jonathan Cape — the founder of the publishing firm — carried on putting the books out but disliked them and never read any after Casino Royale.

    I wrote up my reread of Diamonds are Forever here: http://freakytrigger.co.uk/ft/2015/11/revisiting-spectreville
    one-sentence version = dude can write sentences, far less action and far more showy-off research/description than you’d expect, and the underlying motor is a fantasy Brit empire which would order commerce and race more kindly than the modern world (south africa, the US) have achieved — bond being policeman of this fantasy rather than exemplar (M is one of its kindly architects)

  15. 15
    Mark G on 1 Dec 2015 #

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