Review: Ian Fleming’s James Bond Letters

October saw the publication of The Man With The Golden Typewriter: Ian Fleming’s James Bond Letters edited by the author’s nephew, Fergus. Here we take a look at what to expect from the book.

The Man With The Golden Typewriter

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During the last few years there have been a number of books about Ian Fleming, each with a slightly different focus. Whether it is because it is only relatively recently that he has been taken seriously as a writer or some other reason, each adds to our knowledge of Ian Fleming’s achievements, his character, and his foibles.

In particular, two new books published last year to coincide with the release of SPECTRE help us understand much more about what Fleming was like as a person. Previously I covered Robert Harling’s memoir of Fleming, a close friend who first met him while at Naval Intelligence.

In the other, The Man With The Golden Typewriter: Ian Fleming’s James Bond Letters, Fergus Fleming selected a huge variety of his uncle’s correspondence related to James Bond.

Mainly presented chronologically, the letters give a sense of him as a person, particularly his sense of humour. He often liked to joke with his friends and as he received fan mail would deal with praise and criticism alike with a self deprecating humour that is not at all obvious from reading the James Bond books.

Starting with his attempts at getting Casino Royale published Fleming becomes increasingly sure of himself as time goes on. But despite his initial insecurities, Fleming had firm ideas about how to promote his books from the word go and never backward in making clear his wishes.

Intriguingly, in one letter Ernest Cuneo proposed a gun duel in a hall of mirrors. Although unused in the books it is reminiscent of Scaramanga’s funhouse in the film version of The Man With The Golden Gun. Perhaps simply coincidence though. The letters also reveal Fleming’s dealings with the television and movie industries as he pushed to get 007 onto the screen, including his meetings with Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.

Fleming was also reluctant to allow his or Bond’s names to be used to endorse any products. And when Courtelle did gain permission to use Bond in the clothing adverts, Fleming was a little miffed.

Firstly, he considered their offer of a single item of clothing patronising, which he rightly considered rather less than generous. But he also dismissed their suggestion that James Bond wears Savile Row suits “which he doesn’t”. And he also didn’t want the company to say Bond used their products, but suggested that “people like James Bond” did.

For me, some of the most interesting letters were those between Fleming and various experts he consulted. These include gun expert Geoffrey Boothroyd, who recommended Bond ditch his Beretta, and Aubrey Forshaw who provided advice on the details of Bond’s Bentley Continental.

Also, in a letter to Dr GRCD Gibson regarding Bond’s Aston Martin in Goldfinger, Fleming writes that referring to the car as a DB Mark III would have read “a bit too stuffily”. In the book he refers to it, incorrectly, as a DB III. He also reveals in this letter that he had been thinking about a story based around the motor racing world. Fast forward to 2015 and Anthony Horowitz’s Trigger Mortis, which incorporates Fleming’s unpublished short story.

Fleming also corresponded with Aubrey Forshaw of Pan Books about the details of Bond’s Bentley found in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. After receiving one letter from Forshaw, in which he made a number of suggestions to the spec mentioned in Thunderball, Fleming asked him to suggest some exact real-life specifications he could use.

Forshaw did exactly that, much of which made it into the text of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. And those elements that did not can still perhaps be taken as the true spec of Bond’s “locomotive”.

The Man With The Golden Typewriter: Ian Fleming’s James Bond Letters is available from Amazon UK and Amazon.com.

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