Author: Ian Fleming
Publication date: 26th March 1956
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Cover artist: Richard Chopping
Fleming had been working with Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham on a film project, and when it fell through Fleming turned the material he had into Thunderball.
Once published he found himself in court and subsequently lost the case in favour of McClory and Whittington. The result of the case is that all copies of the book since state that “The story is based on a Screen Treatment by K. McClory, J. Whittingham, and the author” and McClory was left with the film rights.
This time Bond finds himself in the Bahamas on the tail of SPECTRE, the SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion, who have kidnapped two nuclear warheads and are holding the west to ransom. As well as the West Indies setting, the book includes Bond’s stay at a health farm and Fleming’s love of the ocean. The book should be read in conjunction with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice.
What we say
Based on the screenplay for an aborted film project, Thunderball is notable for introducing SPECTRE to the series. The book is the first in what is sometimes known as the “Blofeld trilogy”.
After hijacking an experimental plane with two atomic bombs, SPECTRE attempts to blackmail the West into paying a large ransom. It is a great story, which still has resonance today, but landed Ian Fleming in trouble. Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham had also contributed to the screenplay on which he had based Thunderball.
Although McClory and Whittingham were unable to prevent publication, they sued Fleming for plagiarism. The stress of the 1963 court case caused Fleming to have a heart attack and instead the two parties reached a settlement. Subsequent editions of Thunderball acknowledge McClory and Whittingham’s contribution to the film scripts. The court battle is thought to be a contributing factor to his death at the age of 56, but of course he smoked and drank heavily.
McClory was also awarded the movie rights to Thunderball, which caused the case to rumble on for years. Although Eon Productions teamed up with McClory for the film, McClory later used his rights to the film scripts to make Never Say Never Again and continued to threaten another Bond film until his death in 2006.
It was finally ended in 2013 when EON Productions obtained the full rights to Thunderball from McClory’s heirs.
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