Pay attention, 007! Bloomsbury have published your creator’s letters.
Letters? You must be joking.
I never joke about his work, 007.
Emails, texts, tweets?
No, 007, letters, fully fledged, beautifully written correspondence with publishers, proof readers, and his public, with you as the principle subject.
I’m flattered. What’s it called?
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN TYPEWRITER. It contains a selection of letters that charts the progress of his literary career from a January holiday in Jamaica to a September memorial service in London, spanning a dozen years.
This opusculum, to use one of Fleming’s favourite words, has been arranged in seventeen chapters covering your published case files.
Opusculum? Sounds like a SPECTRE torture chamber.
It actually means a small or minor literary work. Each of these letters is indeed a literary work, full of candour, style, and flourish that has sustained his reputation and popularity.
Seventeen chapters you say? That’s three too many. Fleming only published fourteen volumes of James Bond adventures.
That’s true, and only thirteen chapters carry the title of a James Bond volume, the omission being Octopussy.
So what about the outstanding four chapter titles?
These concern specific personal correspondence between Ernest Cuneo, an American friend from WW II days, the gun specialist, Geoffrey Boothroyd, fellow thriller writer, Raymond Chandler and Yale librarian, Herman W. Liebert, who was appalled by the language Fleming made his American characters use.
So Liebert elocuted Leiter?
I doubt there is such a word as elocuted, 007, but yes, Liebert improved Felix’s idiom and in fact all the American characters in the latter books.
He would probably have had to get an Antipodean equivalent if he had proceeded with a Bond Downunder.
Obviously you’re referring to the letter Fleming wrote to an Australian fan, Ian McKenzie of Newcastle on September 2, 1954 which contained the paragraph: “I have wonderful memories of Australia as a result of having served briefly at our Pacific Fleet Headquarters in “The Daily Half Mile(sic) in Sydney, and I hope one day I shall come back and bring James Bond and his Biretta (sic) with me in search of trouble and just that one, final, fatal Australian blonde.”Australia would have made for a “bonza” Bond location, especially for a movie.
Which brings me to Fleming’s first forays into filmdom. In a letter dated January 1, 1954, Sir Alexander Korda, doyen of British film production, waxed enthusiastic about Live and Let Die, to which Fleming replied a week later that his next book, Moonraker, might be more to his liking “as it is an expansion of a film story I’ve had in my mind since the war.”
Later that year, in a letter dated April 9 and addressed to Somerset Maugham, Fleming relates how he eavesdropped on Orson Welles(sic) at an airport buffet and learned of his opinion on wide screen cinema – ‘a hopeless shape for an intelligent producer.’ And by the way, his first reader, William Plomer, in May of that year, was not pleased with the title Moonraker, suggesting Hell is here instead!
Did you see the film they made of it? Hell was certainly there!
Noel Coward ‘this is to inform you that I have read Dr No from cover to cover and thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it.’ There was however an admonition of Fleming’s description that the heroine, Honeychile Rider’s bottom was like a boy’s! “I know that we are all becoming progressively more broad-minded nowadays”, he chided, “but really old chap what could you have been thinking of?”
Coward went on to consider ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE ‘far and away the best you have done yet’ but again chastises Fleming for choking a certain immutable rule of chemin de fer.
Noel Coward, Raymond Chandler, Somerset Maugham – quite a literary cavalcade of correspondents.
Yes. And the fan mail is quite enlightening as well. Not to mention the to and fro between Fleming and his publishers. Fleming in a letter to Michael Howard of Jonathan Cape asks him to look up the word bezants – a medieval term for a gold coin.
This book is a literary equivalent of a bezant – priceless, peerless and a depository of the past practice of letter writing. It’s funny, astute, honest and you don’t have to be a James Bond nut to enjoy it.
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN TYPEWRITER. Ian Fleming’s James Bond Letters edited by Fergus Fleming is published by Bloomsbury.