Ian Fleming’s James Bond Letters
The Man with the Golden Typewriter contains the story of Ian Fleming’s life as a writer – told here for the first time by the author himself – in a selection of correspondence sourced by his nephew Fergus Fleming from collections around the world.
The letters give a unique insight into how Fleming created spy fiction’s most compelling hero. With the most recent film just launched and referring to many of Ian Fleming’s works, this book reveals more about the man who wrote the world-famous novels and what inspired him. A must read for James Bond fans, but also a great document of its time. It tells the story from the very first Bond book with a modest print run, to the readers taking James Bond to their heart, and Bond becoming a world-wide phenomenon when Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman bought the film rights … the rest is history.
On 16 August 1952, Ian Fleming wrote to his wife, Ann, ‘My love, This is only a tiny letter to try out my new typewriter and to see if it will write golden words since it is made of gold’. He had bought the gold-plated typewriter as a present to himself for finishing his first novel, Casino Royale. It marked in glamorous style the arrival of James Bond, agent 007, and the start of a career that saw Fleming become one of the world’s most celebrated thriller writers. And he did write golden words. Before his death in 1964 he produced fourteen bestselling Bond books, two works of non-fiction and the famous children’s story Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang.
Fleming’s output was matched by an equally energetic flow of letters. He wrote constantly, to his wife, publisher, editors, fans, friends and critics, charting 007’s progress with correspondence that ranged from badgering Jonathan Cape about his quota of free copies – a coin was tossed; Fleming lost – to apologising for having mistaken a certain brand of perfume and for equipping Bond with the wrong kind of gun. His letters also reflect his friendships with contemporaries such as Raymond Chandler, Noël Coward and Somerset Maugham.
Both Kennedy brothers were fans of Fleming’s novels and President J.F. Kennedy publicly endorsed his books, in 1962 Fleming responded to a letter by Bobby Kennedy:
“Thank you very much for your charming note of June 1st, and I am delighted to take this opportunity to thank Kennedys everywhere for the electric effect their commendation has had on my sales in America. … I am most amused to learn that I have been selected by the Russians as part of America’s strong right hand!”
Fergus Fleming, an author in his own right, says: “It was fascinating to read his correspondence. He died when I was five and I only knew him second-hand. He has often been portrayed as a variation on James Bond. So it was a revelation to see what the real man was like, in his own words.”
The book includes a letter to Mrs James Bond in Pasadena in which he apologises for using her husband’s name in his novels. “At that time one of my bibles was, and still is, ‘Birds of the West Indies’ by James Bond, and it struck me that this name, brief, unromantic and yet very masculine, was just what I needed….”.
In 1961 Fleming wrote about the progress of the first Bond movie, Dr No:
“…the man they have chosen for Bond, Sean Connery, is a real charmer – fairly unknown but a good actor and the right looks and physique.”
There is also a full chapter of correspondence with the man, who effectively became James Bond’s armourer, the gun expert Geoffrey Boothroyd. He made contact with Fleming to tell him that a .25 Beretta was a terrible choice of gun for a man with a ‘licence to kill’: “I particularly dislike a man who comes into contact with all sorts of formidable people using a .25 Beretta. This sort of gun is really a lady’s gun, and not a really nice lady at that.”
Careful viewers of the latest Bond film, will have noticed that Madeleine Swann talks about having used a Beretta as a child when fighting off an intruder – there are many more references in the letters which will make you realise that the Bond we see on screen now still has a lot of the characteristics Fleming wanted him to have all these years ago.
Fleming also mentioned SPECTRE in a letter to the editor of the Sunday Times, in which he complains about some inaccuracies in a book review of On her Majesty’s Secret Service and ends the letter with: “Could it be, Sir, that as sub-cell of SPECTRE is building up in your literary department?”
Fergus Fleming is Ian Fleming’s nephew. He is also the author of several other non- fiction books including Barrow’s Boys, Killing Dragons and Ninety Degrees North.
The Man with the Golden Typewriter is published by Bloomsbury Publishing – Hardback £25.00, eBook £21.99 and available online.
(Images courtesy of The Ian Fleming Estate)