The voice of Ian Fleming

When I was a kid one of the things that struck me about the James Bond books was how authoritative Ian Fleming was as an author. The books are full of incidental details that don’t much matter to telling the story but convey a sense of Fleming really knowing what he was talking about.

Probably this came about as he was naturally curious about things but also, as a journalist, he probably liked to dive in deep. However authoritative his writing was though, he frequently messed up. Don’t rely upon Fleming for information about guns, for instance. There are numerous examples of him going wrong there. And however much detail he may have provided about Bond’s cars, they don’t always make sense.

But whether always correct or not, these details helped portray James Bond as worldly wise.

When it came to the films I think they gave Fleming’s voice to Bond himself. Some of those prejudices are already there in Bond, but the films really magnify this aspect of Bond’s character – and sometimes overdo it.

In From Russia With Love we get “Red wine with fish. Well, that should have told me something”, but in Goldfinger that aspect of Bond is really ratchetted up.

When he and M dine with Colonel Smithers the latter mentions the disappointing brandy.

“What’s the matter with it?”, asks M.

“I’d say it was a 30 year old finé indifferently blended, Sir,..with an overdose of Bons Bois”, comes Bond’s response.

By the time of Moonraker, like many other things, it’s rather overdone:

Q: It’s a highly toxic nerve gas that has no effect on animals.

Bond: May I see the formula? It’s the chemical formula of a plant. Orchidae nigra. A very rare orchid indeed.

The more recent films, including No Time to Die, have taken situations and dialogue from the later books. They certainly use more of Fleming’s material that other films.

But Bond is no longer the no-it-all from the earlier films. And I’d argue they have dispensed with the voice of Ian Fleming in doing so.

David Leigh founded The James Bond Dossier in 2002. A fan of 007 since the age of 8, he is also author of The Complete Guide to the Drinks of James Bond. You can order a copy here if you don't own it already.

One Response to “The voice of Ian Fleming”

  • Bill Koenig

    There’s a stage direction in, I think, the Octopussy script

    (Ever the Expert)