Sunday 23 September 2012

Bond's origins continue to create debate.....

It's true that Deighton and Fleming met, mind...
A couple of interesting articles in this weekend's media about the origins of the Bond story which, in the fifth decade since the first film's release, is still a subject of some debate among authors and Bond experts like friend of this blog Jeremy Duns. Who inspired the character of James Bond? Was it one person, or a composite of many? The jury's still out.

The latest contribution in print is a new book by historial Sophie Jackson in which she makes the claim that Forest Yeo-Thomas - working under a wartime pseudonym of the White Rabbit - was the main inspiration for Ian Fleming's unfogettable spy character.

Her book reveals a link to Fleming and Yeo-Thomas in declassified archives: a memo from May 1945 in which Fleming, who also worked in intelligence during the war, briefs colleagues on White Rabbit and his escape from the Nazis. The book claims that this is the first time a documented connection can be made (Yeo-Thomas worked for the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and Fleming in the Naval Intelligence Division).

The book also draws out some similarities in the characters of Yeo-Thomas and Bond, as well as echoes of the escapades of the real life and fictional spy. Together, the article claims, this is strong evidence for Yeo-Thomas being one of the main influences on the make0up of Bond; indeed, Jackson claims, some of Yeo-Thomas' wartime experiences appear as elements of some of the early Bond stories.

The evidence? Yeo-Thomas had found himself having tea with Klaus Barbie on a train. Yeo-Thomas was wanted but, as he was fluent in French, he engaged Barbie in conversation and pretended that he was a supporter of the German occupation.

At the end of the meal he was uncertain whether the German had twigged who he was. But he managed to get away safely when the train reached Paris. The encounter has echoes of a scene from the novel, From Russia, With Love, in which James Bond is on the Orient Express and has dinner with an enemy agent, who is pretending to be an ally. Coincidence, or inspiration?

A couple of weeks earlier, in the Daily Mail, the paper reported on another potential source of the Bond myth. The book collection of Sir Fitzroy Maclean, former Conservative MP and diplomat, was sold at auction and among them were first editions of many of the Bond novels. A friend of Fleming, Maclean was an ambassador in Soviet Russia - witnessing show trials - and in wartime was Churchill's liaison with partisan leader Tito in Yugoslavia.

I guess you take your money and make your choice about which origin myth has the most credence.

America's Vanity Fair carries an interesting article about the hitherto little unknown background in US wartime intelligence of Harry Saltzman, Bond producer and also of course the producer of the 'Harry Palmer' films of Deighton's books. The indication is that records found by his daughter suggest Harry Saltzman was a U.S. intelligence officer working on some pretty secret stuff which - she believes - is still pretty sensitive. The conclusion his daughter draws is that at some point she thinks her father and Ian Fleming must have worked together in Europe. This motif is also backed up by the article's author, David Kamp, who believes that it was actually very likely that Saltzman and Fleming met and worked together.

It's tempting to think that in putting Bond and Harry Palmer in front of excited audiences in the 'sixties, Saltzman was drawing on his own wartime experiences. Did he meet, one wonders, a Blofeld, in wartime Europe?


  1. In the 50th anniversary of the release of Dr No, it is all the talk of Bond, and the Troika-Fleming,Broccoli and Saltzman, and not how the Bond name came about. It is interesting to note that reportedly Saltzman gave his first name to the screen character who played the"No Name" Deighton novel character, and Michael Caine gave the second name-hence the name "Harry Palmer".
    While discussing Bond and the phenomenal success of Fleming's creation, it is not the origin of the name which is discussed, but the plot and the character with an identifiable name which Fleming created and which has become so legendary; Fleming is hence widely known. Could you think of "Wuthering Heights" the immortal classic of Emily Bronte with a character with "No Name" instead of Heathcliff?
    That was a serious flaw in Ipcress File, which was fine as a book for a time, and the film for a time. There after?

  2. Simon, you're absolutely correct to highlight the global impact of the Bond franchise this year - in terms of brand, you're right, James Bond has a much clearer connection with a broad swathe of the public. So in terms of global impact, Fleming's character is the archetype spy, sure. I'm not sure the 'spy with no name' is necessarily a flaw - it works within the books; but clearly it was an impediment to creating a global brand. But, maybe that's not necessarily the goal of the books.

  3. It was a flaw, as who are we discussing today as the main character in Ipcress File- "Harry Palmer", the name given to the character by two outsiders! Deighton did not give that name. This was what we discussed in our coffee shop meeting soon after we watched the film within days of its release, having read the book before.