It was during the great mid-century cocktail revival that young Ian Fleming came into his own as the gadabout and Bond vivant we know him as. And it’s likely that, as a man heavily influenced not just by British adventure writers like John Buchan, but also American detective novel writers like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, creator of the Philip Marlowe series and one of Fleming’s literary icons (Fleming even interviewed him for the BBC in 1958; the interview is the only known recording of Chandler’s voice, which the BBC radio producers described as “”slurred with whisky”), their drinking habits and those of their characters would have rubbed off on Commander Fleming. In the 2013 novel The Ian Fleming Files: Operation Parsifal by Damian Stevenson, a based-on-real-events novel about Fleming himself having wartime adventures that would inspire the adventures of James Bond, Fleming meets with his aging mentor Alfred Dillwyn “Dilly” Knox, who takes Fleming to The Eight Belles Pub.
The famous Savoy Hotel is first mentioned in the James Bond canon in Fleming’s 1956 novel Diamonds are Forever, when M reveals to 007 that one of his targets, a diamond importer by the name of Rufus B. Saye, lives at the Savoy. Bond himself, of course, never needs to stay at the Savoy; he lives in London, after all, and no hotel maid service, no matter how distinguished could compete with the services of Bond’s own attendant, May, his “Scottish treasure.” For Ian Fleming himself, however, and for many of Great Britain’s intelligence workers, The Savoy was one of the most important spots in all of London during World War II. Not just because of it’s historic and highly regarded bar; but also because it had its own power supply, which meant that even during power outages caused by German bombing, the Savoy could continue to operate.
This is part two of a two-part post about Ian Fleming, Lucky Luciano, and the unbelievable role both men played in the Allied invasion of Sicily during World War II. Follow this link to read part one.
On September 29, 1939, Admiral John Godfrey, Britain’s director of naval intelligence, issued a document comparing wartime deception of an enemy with fishing. “The Trout Fisher casts patiently all day. He frequently changes his venue and his lures. If he has frightened a fish he may ‘give the water a rest for half-an-hour,’ but his main endeavour, viz. to attract fish by something he sends out from his boat, is incessant.” According to historian and author Ben McIntyre, and now accepted largely as fact by most everyone, the memo was signed off on by Admiral Godfrey but was written by Godfrey’s assistant, Ian Fleming. Fleming hadn’t been working for Naval Intelligence very long at the time the memo was issued, having only come on as a full-time employee in August of 1939, at which time he was given the codename 17F.
This is part one of a two-part post about Ian Fleming, Lucky Luciano, and the unbelievable role both men played in the Allied invasion of Sicily during World War II. Follow this link to read part two.
Beyond Risico, James Bond’s forays into Italy are often little more than passthroughs. Bond spends more time in Italy in the movies — most notably Moonraker, with the motorized amphibious gondola and the infamous pigeon double take, and the last big scene in 2006’s Casino Royale. But Roger Moore usually stuck to champagne, and Daniel Craig was too busy punching people and chasing after Vesper Lynd to take very much time out for drinking. Back in the novels, John Gardner takes Bond on an Italian road trip in 1986’s Nobody Lives Forever. It’s a fun adventure that sees a price put on the head of James Bond by a resurgent SPECTRE, which had been revived in Gardner’s earlier book, For Special Services, in 1982 under the leadership of Blofeld’s daughter (and which involves a fantasy village straight out of Diamonds are Forever and a plot to take over NORAD using ice cream that is straight out of, well, a much wackier series than James Bond is usually thought to be). As Bond spends most of the time in cars and on the run from a rogue’s gallery of hitmen and mercenaries, there’s precious little Italian flavor to the book.
“The room was sumptuous with those over-masculine trappings which, together with briar pipes and wire-haired terriers, spell luxury in France. Everything was brass-studded leather and polished mahogany. The curtains and carpets were in royal blue. The waiters wore striped waistcoats and green baize aprons. Bond ordered an Americano and examined the sprinkling of over-dressed customers, mostly from Paris he guessed, who sat talking with focus and vivacity, creating that theatrically clubbable atmosphere of l’heure de l’aperitif.” – Casino Royale, Chapter 5
A Dozen Books that Made Me Who I Am, for Better or for Worse
They say if you want to write well, you need to be well-read, and while I may be deficient on a pile of classics and must-reads so vast that it seems hopeless to ever tackle it, I do try to do my homework, especially when it comes to the style of writing I’ve elected as my primary mode of creative expression: non-fiction. Specifically, journalism, dispatches, and accounts. In an effort to spread the good word and sell the books of a bunch of dead people (and a few live ones), I’ve compiled a woefully uncomprehensive list of a dozen of my favorite collections of literary journalism from a dozen writers I count as my favorite and most influential. Dozens more are lined up behind them, so I reckon this is just the first of what will potentially be several installments.
It’s become popular in recent years for authors to write stories with the high concept of, “What if James Bond creator Ian Fleming had real-life James Bond adventures?” There have been several books published by several different authors using this as a premise, and two made-for-television movies (the most recent one airing on Sky in the UK and BBCA in the United States in February 2014). Certainly Fleming’s biography lends itself to such supposition. He was, after all, a notorious womanizer and drinker, a gadabout of the first degree from a well-heeled family that circulated in the rarefied airs of British society. And it’s true that he was a member of British Naval Intelligence during the Second World War and rightly earned a reputation for cunning and original planning (but no cunning plans as cunning as a fox that’s just been made professor of cunning at Oxford University).
Oh yeah, I forgot that I never finished reviewing all the Bond books by Ian Fleming. In a way, that in itself is a fitting review of the final of Fleming’s influential adventures starring international pop culture icon James Bond. There is nothing about The Man with the Golden Gun that I would call bad. But there sure is a lot of it — as in all of it — that I would call unmemorable. Fleming was dying (some people say he even died before he finished, and what remained was polished off by his long-time friend Kingsley Amis). He was sick of Bond. But he’d had the bad fortune of ending the previous, and one of the best, Bond books on a cliffhanger, as he had taken to doing with most of the stories once he realized this was going to be his career. Well, this, and spokesman for cigarette holders.
After the critical and popular misfire of The Spy Who Loved Me — A literary experiment that was noble in intention but fell apart in execution — the pressure was on Ian Fleming to deliver a top notch Bond adventure to make up for things. At the same time, it’s obvious that Fleming was beyond the point of wanting to crank out another by the numbers book. He was going to have to find a way to work within the expectations people had of what a James Bond book would deliver to them, but find ways to tweak and alter the formula where he could. The result was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, regarded by many — if not, indeed, most — people as the finest Bond adventure Fleming ever wrote. For most of its pages, it is an exceptionally well executed but formulaic Bond adventure. The twist comes near the end, which leaves Bond an emotionally shattered man, cradling the body of his dead wife.
After a worthwhile idea (exploring the effect on a normal person’s life when they come into contact with James Bond) that turned into the savagely crummy The Spy Who Loved Me, Ian Fleming had a lot to make up for. The trick for the author was finding something unique to do with the long-lived character of James Bond while still fulfilling the basic expectations of the Bond formula. Unfortunately for Fleming, as with many authors, musicians, and movie makers, when you strike upon a successful franchise you either make more or less the same thing over or over — variations upon a theme — and have people talk about how your work has become stale and formulaic or you make a radical change in the work and listen to people complain about how things changed and the author has turned his back on the essence of what made the series successful. After the dismal The Spy Who Loved Me, it would have been fair to write Fleming and Bond off as having dried up. No one could have expected that Fleming would bounce back with the best book in the series.