In our time, no books, no films, have enjoyed such a dazzling international success as the James Bond stories. But the impact was not instantaneous. When Casino Royale appeared in 1953 the reviews were good, but three American publishers rejected the book and sales were mediocre, which was a sore disappointment to Bond's unabashedly self-promoting author, Ian Fleming, then forty-three years old.
By the spring of 1966 the thirteen Bond novels had been translated into twenty-six different langauges and had sold more than forty-five million copies. The movie versions of Doctor No; From Russia With Love; Goldfinger; and Thunderball had been seen by some one hundred million people and were in fact among the most profitable ever produced. Bond has spawned a flock of imitators, including Matt Helm, Quiller, and Boysie Oakes. More than two hundred commercial products, ranging from men's toiletries to bubble gum, have been authorized to carry the official Bond trademark. Only recently, after a fantastic run, has the boom in Bond begun to slump. Or has it? Kingsley Amis, an honest devotee, has been commissioned to continue the adventures of Fleming's hero. A new Bond, Colonel Sun, has been published recently, and is already a best-seller in England.
The success of Bond is all the more intriguing because Ian Fleming was such an appalling writer. He had no sense of place that scratched deeper than Sunday-supplement travel articles or route maps, a much-favored device. His celebrated use of insider's facts and O.K. brand names, especially about gunmanship and the international high life, has been faulted again and again. Eric Ambler and Graham Greene (in his entertainments) have written vastly superior spy stories, and when Fleming ventured into the American underworld, he begged comparison with Mickey Spillane, not with such original stylists as Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. He had a resoundingly tin ear, as witness a Harlem Negro talking, vintage 1954 (Live and Let Die) :
Yuh done look okay yoself, honeychile . . . an' dat's da troof. But Ah mus' spressify dat yuh stays close up tuh me an keeps yo eyes offn dat low-down trash'n his hot pants. ‘N Ah may say . . . dat ef Ah ketches yuh makin’ up tah dat dope Ah'll jist nacherlly whup do hide off'n yo sweet ass.
Or, as an example of the recurring American gangster, Sol “Horror” Horowitz (The Spy Who Loved Me):
The lady's right. You didn't ought to of spilled that java, Sluggsy. But ya see, lady, that's why they call him Sluggsy, on account he's smart with the hardware.
As Fleming was almost totally without the ability to create character through distinctive action or dialogue, he generally fell back on villains who are physically grotesque. So Mr. Big has “a great football of a head, twice the normal size and very nearly round,” hairless, with no eyebrows and no eyelashes, the eyes bulging slightly and the irises golden round black pupils. Doctor No's head “was elongated and tapered from a round, completely bald skull down to a sharp chin so that the impression was of a reversed rain drop—or rather oildrop, for the skin was of a deep almost translucent yellow.”
Each Bond novel, except for The Spy Who Loved Me, follows an unswerving formula, though the sequence of steps is sometimes shuffled through the introduction of flashbacks:
- Bond, bored by inactivity, is summoned by M for a mission.
- Bond and villain confront each other tentatively.
- A sexy woman is introduced and seduced by Bond. If she is in cahoots with villain, she will find Bond irresistible and come over to his side.
- Villain captures Bond and punishes him (torture, usually), then reveals his diabolical scheme. “As you will never get out of this alive . . .” or, “It is rare that I have the opportunity to talk to a man of your intelligence. . . .”
- Bond escapes, triumphs over villain, destroying his vile plot.
- Bond and sexy woman are now allowed their long-delayed tryst.
This basic formula is usually tarted-up by two devices:
- We, the unwashed, are granted a seemingly knowledgeable, insider's peek at a glamorous industry or institution—say, diamond or gold smuggling; the Royal College of Arms; Blades, and other elegant clubs. This makes for long chapters of all but unbroken exposition, rather like fawning magazine articles.
- We are taken on a Fleming guided tour of an exotic locale: Las Vegas, Japan, the West Indies. This also makes for lengthy, insufferably knowing expository exchanges, rather thinly disguised travel notes, as, for example, when Tiger Tanaka educates Bond to Japanese mores (You Only Live Twice).
Not surprisingly, considering Fleming's boyish frame of mind, competitive games figure prominently in the Bond mythology, as do chases in snob cars or along model railways. The deadly card game, Bond against the villain, is another repeated set piece (Casino Royale, Moonraker, Goldfinger).
A recurring character in the Bond adventures is the American Felix Leiter, once with the CIA, later with Pinkerton's. Leiter, an impossibly stupid and hearty fellow, is cut from the same cloth as the cold-war comic strip heroes Buzz Sawyer and Steve Canyon. A born gee-whiz, gung-ho type.
If Fleming's sense of character is feeble and his powers of invention limited, the sadism and heated sex I was led to expect turned out to be tepid. A roll-call of Bond's girls yields Vesper Lynd, Solitaire, Gala Brand, Tiffany Case, Honey-chile Rider, Pussy Galore, Domino Vitali, Kissy Suzuki, Mary Goodnight. As the perfume-brand labels indicate, the girls are clockwork objects rather than people. The composite Bond girl, as Kingsley Amis has already noted, can be distinguished by her beautiful firm breasts, each, I might add, with its pointed stigma of desire. The Bond girls are healthy, outdoor types, but they are not all perfectly made. Take Honeychile Rider, for instance: café au lait skin, ash blonde hair, naked on first meeting except for a wide leather belt round her waist with a hunting knife in a leather sheath, she suffers from a badly broken nose, smashed crooked like a boxer's. Then there's the question of Honeychile's behind, which was “almost as firm and rounded as a boy's”—a description which brought Fleming a letter from Noel Coward. “I was slightly shocked,” Coward wrote, “by the lascivious announcement that Honeychile's bottom was like a boy's. I know that we are all becoming progressively more broad-minded nowadays but really, old chap, what could you have been thinking of?”
Descriptions of clad Bond girls tend to focus on undergarments. Jill Masterson, on first encounter in Goldfinger, is naked except for a black bra and briefs. Tatiana, in From Russia, With Love, is discovered “wearing nothing but the black ribbon round her neck and black silk stockings rolled above her knees.” Not that I object to a word of it. After all, sexy, unfailingly available girls are a legitimate and most enjoyable convention of thrillers and spy stories. If I find Fleming's politics distasteful (more about this, later), his occasional flirtation with ideas embarrassing, I am happy to say that I am in accord with him in admiring firm, thrusting, beautiful breasts.
Unlike Harold Robbins, Ian Fleming does not actually linger overlong on sexual description. Or perversion. He is seldom as brutalized as Mickey Spillane is page after page. If anything, he's something of a prude. The closest he comes to obscenity is “—you” in Dr. No. Mind you, this fastidiousness is followed hard by a detailed description of a Negro punishing a girl by squeezing her Mound of Venus between his thumb and forefinger, until his knuckles go white with the pressure. “She's Love Moun' be sore long after ma face done get healed.” Other, more exquisite tortures of women follow in further adventures, usually enforced when the girls are deliciously nude, but James Bond's language never degenerates beyond an uncharacteristic imprecation in You Only Live Twice. “Freddie Uncle Charlie Katie,” he says, meaning fuck, I take it.
The Bond novels are not so much sexy as they are boyishly smutty. James Bond's aunt, for instance, lives “in the quaintly named hamlet of Pett Bottom.” There's a girl called Kissy and another named Pussy. Not one of the Bond girls, however, lubricates as sexily as does Tracy's Lancia Flaminia Zagato Spyder, “a low white two-seater . . . [with] . . . a sexy boom from its twin exhausts.”
Ian Fleming was frightened of women. “Some,” he wrote, “respond to the whip, some to the kiss. . . .” A woman, he felt, should be an illusion; and he was deeply upset by their bodily functions. Once, in Capri, according to his biographer, John Pearson, Fleming disowned a girl he had liked the looks of after she retired for a few moments behind a rock. “He had,” a former girl friend told Pearson, “a remarkable phobia about bodily things. . . . I'm certain he would never have tied a cut finger for me. I feel he would also have preferred me not to eat and drink as well.” Fleming once told Barbara Grigg of the London Evening Standard that “women simply are not clean—absolutely filthy, the whole lot of them. Englishwomen simply do not wash and scrub enough.” So, added to the image of James Bond, never traveling without an armory of electronic devices, the latest in computerized death-dealing gadgetry, one now suspects that his fastidious creator also lugged an old-fashioned douche bag with him everywhere.
James Bond is well worth looking at in juxtaposition to his inventor, Ian Fleming.
In Casino Royale, Bond, staked by British Intelligence, plays a deadly game of baccarat at Royale-les-Eaux with Le Chiffre of SMERSH, and wins a phenomenal sum, thereby depriving the USSR of its budget for subversion in France. This adventure, Fleming was fond of saying, was based on a wartime trip to Lisbon with Admiral Godfrey of Naval Intelligence. At the casino, Fleming said, he engaged in a baccarat battle with a group of Nazis, hoping to strike a blow at the German economy. Alas, he lost.
Actually, John Pearson writes, “It was a decidedly dismal evening at the casino—only a handful of Portuguese were present, the stakes were low, the croupiers were bored.” Fleming whispered to the unimpressed Admiral, “Just suppose those fellows were German agents—what a coup it would be if we cleaned them out entirely.”
Fleming had other imaginative notions while serving the British Naval Intelligence during the war, among them the idea of sinking a great block of concrete with men inside it in the English Channel, just before the Dieppe raid, to keep watch on the harbor with periscopes. Or of freezing clouds, mooring them along the coast of southern England, and using them as platforms for anti-aircraft guns.
Fleming's trip with Admiral Godfrey did not terminate in Lisbon, but carried on to New York. Armed for the occasion with a small commando fighting knife and a fountain pen with a cyanide cartridge, as well as his Old Etonian tie, Fleming (with the Admiral) was supposed to slip into New York anonymously. “But as they went ashore from the flying boat,” Pearson writes, “press photographers. began to crowd around them. Although they soon realized that it was the elegant, sweet-smelling figure of Madame Schiaparelli which was attracting the cameras, the damage was done. That evening the chief of British Naval Intelligence was to be seen in the background of all the press photographs of the famous French couturiere arriving in New York.”
Fleming said he wrote his first novel, Casino Royale, at Golden-eye, his Jamaica home, in 1952, to “take his mind off the shock of getting married at the age of forty-three.” It seems possible that the inspiration for his villain, Le Chiffre, was The Great Beast 666, necromancer Aleister Crowley, who, like Mussolini, had the whites of his eyes completely visible around the iris. Crowley, incidentally, was also the model for the first novel by Fleming's literary hero, Somerset Maugham.
M, also initially introduced in Casino Royale, was arguably a composite figure based on Admiral Godfrey and Sir Robert Menzies, Eton and the Life Guards. M remains an obstinately unsympathetic figure even to Bond admirers. “. . . It may be obvious,” Kingsley Amis has written, “why M's frosty, damnably clear eyes are damnably clear. No thought is taking place behind them.” John Pearson writes of Bond's relationship with M, “never has such cool ingratitude produced such utter loyalty.” If Bond's father-figure of a villain, Le Chiffre, threatens him with castration in his first adventure, then Bond, last time out (The Man With The Golden Gun) is discovered brainwashed in the opening pages and attempts to assassinate M, the unpermissive M. “In particular,” Amis writes, “M disapproves of Bond's ‘womanizing,’ though he never says so directly, and would evidently prefer him not to form a permanent attachment either. He barely conceals his glee at the news that Bond is after all not going to marry Tiffany Case. This is perhaps more the attitude of a doting mother than a father.”
A really perceptive observation, for Fleming, as a boy, was frightened of his stern and demanding mother and did in fact call her M.
Pearson Writes in The Life of Ian Fleming:
Apart from Le Chiffre, M, and Vesper Lynd, the minor characters in Casino Royale are the merest shadows with names attached. The only other character who matters is Ian Fleming himself. For James Bond is not really a character in this book. He is a mouthpiece for the man who inhabits him, a dummy for him to hang his clothes on, a zombie to perform the dreams of violence and daring which fascinate his creator. It is only because Fleming holds so little of himself back, because he talks and dreams so freely through the device of James Bond, that the book has such readability. Casino Royale is really an experiment in the autobiography of dreams.
Without a doubt Fleming's dream conception of himself was James Bond, gay adventurer, two-fisted soldier of fortune, and ever the complete gentleman.
Bond renounces his occasionally vast gambling gains, donating his winnings to a service widows' fund; he is self-mocking about his heroics, avoids publicity, and once offered a knighthood, in The Man With The Golden Gun, he turns it down bashfully because, “He has never been a public figure and did not wish to become one . . . there was one thing above all he treasured. His privacy. His anonymity.” In this Bond parts company sharply with his creator. Ian Fleming was a chap with his eye always resolutely on the main chance.
“Most authors, particularly when they begin,” Pearson writes dryly, “leave details of publication to their agents or to the goodwill of the publisher.” Not so Fleming, who instantly submitted a plan for “Advertising and Promotion” to his publisher, Jonathan Cape. Copies of Casino Royale were ready by March 1953. Without delay, Fleming wrote a letter to the editors of all Lord Kemsley's provincial newspapers, sending it off with an autographed copy of his book. “Dr. Jekyll has written this blatant thriller in his spare time, and it may amuse you. If you don't think it too puerile for Sheffield or Stockport, Macclesfield, Middlesborough, Blackburn, etc., it would be wonderful if you would hand a copy with a pair of tongs to your reviewer.”
This jokey little note, properly read, was an order from the bridge to the chaps on the lower-deck, for Fleming was a known intimate of Lord Kemsley as well as foreign news manager of the Sunday Times, then the Kemsley flagship, so to speak.
Fleming also astutely sent a copy of his novel to Somerset Maugham, who replied, “It goes with a swing from the first page to the last and is really thrilling all through. . . . You really managed to get the tension to the highest possible pitch.” If James Bond would have cherished such a private tribute from an old man, Ian Fleming immediately grasped its commercial potential, and wrote back, “Dear Willie, I have just got your letter. When I am seventy-nine shall I waste my time reading such a book and taking the trouble to write to the author in my own hand? I pray so, but I doubt it. I am even more flattered and impressed after catching a glimpse of the empestered life you lead at Cap Ferrat, deluged with fan mail, besieged by the press, inundated with bumpf of one sort or another. . . . Is it bad literary manners to ask if my publishers may quote from your letter? Please advise me—as a ‘pa-rain,’ not as a favor to me and my publishers.”
Maugham replied, “Please don't use what I said about your book to advertise it.”
As the sales of Casino Royale were disappointing, Fleming turned to writing the influential Atticus gossip column in the Sunday Times, which provided him with a convenient platform to flatter those whose favors he sought. After Lord Kemsley refused to run a Sunday Times Portrait Gallery puff of Lord Beaverbrook on his seventy-sixth birthday, he did allow Fleming, following some special pleading, to celebrate Beaverbrook in his column. “History will have to decide whether he or Northcliffe was the greatest newspaperman of this half century. In the sense that he combines rare journalistic flair, the rare quality of wonder . . . with courage and vitality . . . the verdict may quite possibly go to Lord Beaverbrook. . . .”
Beaverbrook, who had an insatiable appetite for flattery, bought the serial rights to the next Bond novel and later ran a Bond comic strip in the Daily Express, with the upshot that James Bond, once only a Times reader, began to take the Express as well.
Once Macmillan undertook to publish Casino Royale in America, Fleming's self-advertisement campaign accelerated. He wrote to a friend asking him to influence Walter Winchell into plugging the book. He wrote to Iva Patcevitch, saying, “If you can possibly give it a shove in Vogue or elsewhere, Anna and I will allow you to play canasta against us, which should be ample reward.” He also wrote to Fleur Cowles and Margaret Case. “You will soon be fed up with this book as I have sent copies around to all our friends asking them to give it a hand in America, which is a very barefaced way to go on. . . . I know Harry Luce won't be bothered with it, or Clare, but if you could somehow prevail upon Time to give it a review you would be an angel.”
In 1955, the sales of his books still dragging, Fleming met Raymond Chandler at a dinner party. At the time, Chandler was an old and broken man, incoherent with drink. “He was very nice to me,” Fleming wrote, “and said he liked my first book, Casino Royale, but he didn't really want to talk about anything except the loss of his wife, about which he expressed himself with a nakedness that embarrassed me while endearing him to me.”
If the battered old writer, whom Fleming professed to admire, was tragically self-absorbed, he was, all the same, instantly sent a copy of Fleming's forthcoming Live and Let Die. “A few days later,” Pearson writes, “Chandler telephoned Fleming to say how much he had enjoyed it, and went on to ask the author—vaguely, perhaps—if he would care for him to endorse the book for the benefit of his publishers—the kind of thing he was always refusing to do in the United States and a subject on which, in his published letters, he displays such ferocious cynicism. ‘Rather unattractively,’ Fleming wrote later, ‘I took him up on his suggestion.’”
Chandler was as good as his word, Pearson goes on to say, “although it sounds as if it was rather a struggle. On May 25 he wrote pathetically to Fleming apologizing for taking so long—‘in fact, lately I have had a very difficult time reading at all.’” But a week later he came through for Fleming, his blurb beginning, “Ian Fleming is probably the most forceful and driving writer of what I suppose still must be called thrillers in England. . . .” (Emphasis mine.) Chandler's letter of praise ended, somewhat ambiguously, “If this is any good to you, would you like me to have it engraved on a slab of gold?”
Fleming was also able to find uses for a burnt-out prime minister. In November 1956, twelve days after the Suez cease-fire, it was announced that Prime Minister Anthony Eden was ill from the effects of severe overstrain. It became necessary to find a secluded spot where Eden could recuperate, and so Alan Lennox-Boyd, then Secretary of State for Colonial Affairs and a friend of the Flemings, approached Ian Fleming about Goldeneye, his home in Jamaica. Fleming, flattered by the choice, neglected to say there were only iron bedsteads at Goldeneye, there was no hot water in the shower, and there was no bathroom, but there were bush rats in the roof. He did not advise Lennox-Boyd that Noel Coward's home nearby, or Sir William Stephenson's, would have been far more commodious for an ailing man. He did not even say that the Prime Minister would be without a telephone at Goldeneye. “The myth of Goldeneye was about to enter history,” John Pearson writes, “it was too much to expect its creator to upset it.”
Sir Anthony and Lady Eden set off for Goldeneye and Fleming sat back in Kent to write to Macmillan. “I hope that the Eden's visit to Goldeneye has done something to my American sales. Here there have been full-page spreads of the property, including Violet emptying ashtrays and heaven knows what-all. It has really been a splendid week and greatly increased the value of the property until Anne started talking to reporters about barracuda, the hardness of the beds, and curried goat. Now some papers treat the place as if it was a hovel and others as if it was the millionaire home of some particularly disgusting millionaire tax dodger. . . .” Two weeks later the bush rats caught up with Fleming. The London Evening Standard reported that Sir Anthony, troubled by rats during the night, had organized a hunt. Fleming, distressed, wrote to a friend, “The greatly increased rental value was brought down sharply by a completely dreamed-up report to the effect that Goldeneye was overrun by rats and that the Edens and the detectives had spent the whole night chasing them. . . .”
The Prime Minister's stay at Goldeneye brought Fleming to the attention of a public far wider than his books had so far managed for him. It was now, Pearson writes, that Fleming's public began to change. “Up to then he had been ‘the Peter Cheyney of the carriage trade’. . . . After Eden's visit . . . many people were interested . . . (and) . . . began to read him. After five long years the ‘best-seller stakes’ had begun in earnest . . . if Fleming with his flair for self-promotion had planned the whole thing himself it could hardly have been better done.”
Commander James Bond, CMG, RNVR, springs from a long line of secret service agents and club-land heroes, including William Le Queux's incomparable Duckworth Drew:
Before I could utter aught save a muffled curse, I was flung head first into an empty piano case, the heavy lid of which was instantly closed on me . . . I had been tricked!
Sapper's Bulldog Drummond; and John Buchan's Richard Hannay:
He began to snort now and his breath came heavily. “You infernal cad,” I said in good round English. “I'm going to knock the stuffing out of you,” but he didn't understand what I was saying.
Bond, whose double-O prefix in the Secret Service gives him a license to kill, sees himself as a “gay soldier of fortune,” without personal animosity against England's enemies:
This was merely his job—as it was the job of a pest control officer to kill rats. He was the public executioner appointed by M to represent the community. . . .
But he is distressed by an England where carrots have become all the fashion, and the government, at home and abroad, “doesn't show teeth any more—only gums.” The trouble is that while he risks his neck abroad, ungrateful England continues to deteriorate. Typical is a “foxy, pimpled” young taxi driver whom Bond encounters on a visit home. The young man slowly runs a comb through both sides of his duck-tail haircut before starting his car:
The play with the comb, Bond guessed, was to assert to Bond that the driver was really only taking him and his money as a favor. It was typical of the cheap self-assertiveness of young labor since the war. This youth, thought Bond, makes about twenty pounds a week, despises his parents and would like to be Tommy Steele. It's not his fault. He was born into the buyers' market of the Welfare State. . . .
Duckworth Drew, Drummond, Hannay, carried with them on their adventures abroad an innate conviction of the British gentleman's superiority in all matters, a mystique acknowledged by wogs everywhere. Not so James Bond, who in his penultimate adventure, You Only Live Twice, must sit through the humiliating criticism of Tiger Tanaka, Head of the Japanese secret service, who tells Bond that the British have not only lost a great empire, they have seemed almost anxious to throw it away, stage-managing, at Suez, one of the most pitiful bungles in the history of the world:
. . . Furthermore, your governments have shown themselves successively incapable of ruling and have handed over effective control of the country to the trade unions, who appear dedicated to the principle of doing less and less work for more money . . . sapping at ever-increasing speed the moral fiber of the British, a quality the world once so much admired. In its place we now see a vacuous, aimless horde of seekers-after-pleasure, gambling at the pools and bingo, whining at the weather and the declining fortunes of the country. . . .
Richard Hannay, to be sure, would have knocked the stuffing out of just such a jabbering Jap. Hannay, in his thumping, roseate time, could boast that in peace and war, by God, there was nothing to beat the British Secret Service, but poor James Bond could not make the same claim without appearing ludicrous even to himself.
If once British commanders sallied forth jauntily to plant the flag here, there, and everywhere, or to put down infernally caddish natives, today they come with order books for Schweppes. Duckworth Drew, Drummond, and Hannay, were all Great Britons: Bond's a Little Englander.
James Bond is a meaningless fantasy cutout unless he is tacked to the canvas of diminishing England. After the war, Sir Harold Nicolson wrote in his diary, he feared his way of life was coming to an end; he and his wife, Victoria Sackville-West, would have to walk and live a “Woolworth life.” Already, in 1941, it was difficult to find a sufficient number of gardeners to tend to Sissinghurst, and the Travellers' Club had become a battered caravanserai inhabited only by “the scum of the lower London clubs.”
In 1945, Labor swept into office with the cry, “We are the masters now.” Ten years later, in Fleming/ Bond's time, the last and possibly the most docile of the British colonies, the indigenous lower-middle and working-class, rebelled again, this time demanding not free medical care and pension schemes, already torn from the state by their elders, but a commanding voice in the arts and letters. Briefly, a new style in architecture. So we had Osborne, Amis, Braine, Sillitoe, and Wesker, among others.
The gentlemen's England, where everyone knew his place in the natural order, the England which Sir Harold Nicolson, Bobbety [the 5th Marquess of Salisbury], Chips [Sir Henry Channon], and Booty [the Earl of Arran], had been educated to govern, was indeed a war victim. Come Ian Fleming we are no longer dealing with gentlemen, but with a parody-gentleman. Look at it this way: Sir Harold Nicolson collected books because he cherished them; Ian Fleming amassed first editions because, with Britain's place unsure and the pound declining, he grasped their market value. Similarly, if the cry of God, King, and Empire, was now laughable, it was also, providing the packaging was sufficiently shrewd, very, very salable.
Little England's increasingly humiliating status has spawned a blinkered romanticism on the Left and on the Right. On the Left, it has given us CND (the touching assumption that it matters morally to the world whether or not England gives up the Bomb unilaterally) and anti-Americanism. On the Right, there is the decidedly more expensive fantasy that this offshore island can still confront the world as Great Britain. If the brutal facts, the familiar facts, are that England has been unable to adjust to its shriveled island status, largely because of antiquated industry, economic mismanagement, a fusty civil service, and reactionary trade unions, then the comforting right-wing pot-dream is that virtuous Albion is beset by disruptive Communists within and foreign devils and conspirators without.
Largely, this is what James Bond is about.
Bond's most pernicious enemies head, or work for, hidden international conspiracies, usually SMERSH or SPECTRE. SMERSH, first described in Casino Royale, is the conjunction of two Russian words: “Smyert Shpionam,” meaning roughly. “Death to Spies.” It was, in 1953, under the personal direction of Beria, with headquarters in Leningrad and a sub-station in Moscow, and ranked above MVD (formerly NKVD).
SPECTRE is The Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion, a private enterprise for private profit, and its founder and chairman is Ernst Stavro Blofeld. SPECTRE's headquarters are in Paris, on the Boulevard Haussmann. Not the Avenue d'Iena, the richest street in Paris, Fleming writes, because “too many of the landlords and tenants in the Avenue d'lena have names ending in ‘esou,’ ‘ovitch,’ ‘ski,’ and ‘stein,’ and these are sometimes not the ending of respectable names.” If you stopped at SPECTRE's headquarters, at 136 bis Boulevard Haussmann, you would find a discreetly glittering brass plate, that says FIRCO and, underneath, Fraternité Internationale de la Résistance Contre l'Oppression. FIRCO's stated aim is to keep alive the ideals that flourished during the last war among members of all resistance groups. It was most active during International Refugee Year.
SMERSH and SPECTRE are both inclined to secret congresses, usually called to plot the political or financial ruin or even the physical destruction of the freedom-loving West. As secret organizations go, SMERSH is growth stuff. As described in Casino Royale, in 1953, it was “believed to consist of only a few hundred operatives of very high quality,” but only two years later, as set out in From Russia, With Love, SMERSH employed a total of forty thousand men and women. Its headquarters had also moved from Leningrad to a rather posh setup in Moscow, which I take to be a sign of favor. In Goldfinger, there is a SMERSH-inspired secret congress of America's leading mobsters brought together with the object of sacking Fort Knox. The initial covert meeting of SPECTRE, elaborately described in Thunderball, reveals a conspiracy to steal two atomic weapons from a NATO airplane and then threaten the British Prime Minister with the nuclear destruction of a major city unless a ransom of 100 million pounds sterling is forthcoming. SPECTRE next conspires against England in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Blofeld, the organization's evil genius, has retired to a Swiss plateau and hypnotized some lovely British girls, infecting them with deadly crop and livestock diseases which they are to carry back to England, spreading pestilence.
Foreign conspiracy. In an earlier time, John Buchan, 1st Lord Tweedsmuir of Elsfield, Governor-General of Canada, and author of The Thirty-Nine Steps and four other Richard Hannay novels, was also obsessed with vile plots against Albion, but felt no need to equivocate. We are barely into the Thirty-Nine Steps, when we are introduced to Scudder, the brave and good spy, whom Hannay takes to be “a sharp, restless fellow, who always wanted to get down to the roots of things.” Scudder tells Hannay that behind all the governments and the armies there was a big subterranean movement going on, engineered by a very dangerous people. Most of them were the sort of educated anarchists that make revolutions, but beside them there were financiers who were playing for money. It suited the books of both classes of conspirators to set Europe by the ears:
When I asked Why, he said that the anarchist lot thought it would give them their chance . . . they looked to see a new world emerge. The capitalists would . . . make fortunes by buying up the wreckage. Capital, he said, had no conscience and no fatherland. Besides, the Jew was behind it, and the Jew hated Russia worse than hell.
“Do you wonder?” he cried. “For three hundred years they have been persecuted, and this is the return match for the pogroms. The Jew is everywhere, but you have to go far down the backstairs to find him. Take any big Teutonic business concern. If you have dealings with it the first man you meet is Prince von und zu Something, an elegant young man who talks Eton-and-Harrow English. But he cuts no ice. If your business is big, you get behind him and find a prognathous Westphalian with a retreating brow and the manners of a hog. . . . But if you're on the biggest kind of job and are bound to get to the real boss, ten to one you are brought up against a little white-faced Jew in a bathchair with an eye like a rattlesnake. Yes, sir, he is the man who is ruling the world just now, and he has his knife in the Empire of the Tzar, because his aunt was outraged and his father flogged in some one-horse location on the Volga.”
The clear progenitor of these conspiracies against England is the notorious anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which first appeared in Western Europe in 1920 and had, by 1930, been circulated through the world in millions of copies. The Protocols had been used to incite massacres of Jews during the Russian civil war, being especially helpful in fomenting the pogrom at Kishinev in Bessarabia in 1903. From Russia, the Protocols traveled to Nazi Germany. Recently, they were serialized in a Cairo newspaper.
The history of the Protocols, and just how they were tortuously evolved from another forgery, Dialogue aux Enfers entre Montesquieu. et Machival, by a French lawyer called Maurice Joly, in 1864, has already been definitively traced by Norman Cohn in his Warrant For Genocide; and so I will limit myself to brief comments here.
Editions of the Protocols are often preceded by an earlier invention, The Rabbi's Speech, that could easily serve as a model for later dissertations on the glories of power and evil as revealed to James Bond by Auric Goldfinger, Sir Hugo Drax (Moonraker), and Blofeld. Like Auric Goldfinger, the Rabbi believes gold is the strength, the recompense, the sum of everything man fears and craves. “The day,” he says, “when we shall have made ourselves the sole possessors of all the gold in the world, the real power will be in our hands.” Like Sir Hugo Drax, the Rabbi understands the need for market manipulation. “The surest means of attaining [power] is to have supreme control over all industrial, financial, and commercial operations. . . .” SMERSH would envy the Rabbi's political acumen. “So far as possible we must talk to the proletariat. . . . We will drive them to upheavals, to revolutions; and each of these catastrophes marks a big step forward for our . . . sole aim—world domination.”
The twenty-four protocols purport to be made up of lectures delivered to the Jewish secret government, the Elders of Zion, on how to achieve world-domination. Tangled and contradictory, the main idea is that the Jews, spreading confusion and terror, will eventually take over the globe. Like SPECTRE, they will use liberalism as a front. Like Mr. Big (Live and Let Die), they will foster discontent and unrest. The common people will be directed to overthrow their rulers and then a despot will be put in power. As there are more evil than good men in the world, force—the Elders have concluded—is the only sure means of government. Underground railways—a big feature in all versions of the Protocols—will be constructed in major cities, so that the Elders could counter any organized rebellion by blowing capital cities to smithereens—a recurring threat in the Bond novels.
In fact the more one scrutinizes the serpentine plots in Ian Fleming's novels, the more it would seem that the Elders are in conspiracy against England. Not only are they threatening to blow up London, but they would seize the largest store of the world's gold, back disruptive labor disputes, run dope into the country, and infect British crops and livestock with deadly pests.
Which brings me to two final points. It is possible to explain the initial success of the Bond novels in that if they came at a time when vicious anti-Semitism and neo-Fascist xenophobia were no longer acceptable in England, then a real need as well as a large audience for such reading matter still existed. It was Fleming's most brilliant stroke to present himself not as an old-fashioned, frothing woghater, but as an ostensibly civilized voice who offered sanitized racialism instead. The Bond novels not only satisfy Little Englanders who believe they have been undone by dastardly foreign plotters, but pander to their continuing notion of self-importance. So when the Head of SMERSH, Colonel General Grubozaboyshikov, known as “G,” summons a high level conference to announce that it has become necessary to inflict an act of terrorism aimed at the heart of the Intelligence apparat of the West, it is (on the advice of General Vozdvishensky) the British Secret Service that he chooses:
. . . I think we all have respect for [England's] Intelligence Service,” General Vozdvishensky looked around the table. There were grudging nods from everyone present, including General G. “. . . Their Secret Service . . . agents are good. They pay them little money. . . . They are rarely awarded a decoration until they retire. And yet these men and women continue to do this dangerous work. It is curious. It is perhaps the Public School and University tradition. The love of adventure. But it is odd they play this game so well, for they are not natural conspirators.
Kingsley Amis writes that “To use foreigners as villains is a convention older than our literature. It's not in itself a symptom of intolerance about foreigners. . . .”
Amis's approach is so good-natured, so ostensibly reasonable, that to protest no, no, is to seem an entirely humorless left-wing nag, a Hampstead harpie. I am not, God help me, suing for that boring office. I do not object to the use of foreigners per se as villains. I am even willing to waive moral objections to a writer in whose fictions no Englishman ever does wrong and only Jewy or black or yellow men fill the villain's role. However, even in novels whose primary purpose is to entertain, I am entitled to ask for a modicum of plausibility. And so, while I would grudgingly agree with Amis that there is nothing wrong in choosing foreigners for villains, I must add that it is—in the context of contemporary England—an inaccuracy. A most outrageous inaccuracy. After all, even on the narrow squalid level of Intelligence, the most sensational betrayals have come from men who, to quote General G of SMERSH, were so admirably suited to their work by dint of their Public School and University traditions: Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, and Kim Philby. It should be added, hastily added, that none of these three men, contrary to the Fleming style, was an ogre or sold out for gold. Rightly or wrongly, they acted on political principle. And their real value to the KBG (a final insult) was not their British information, but the American secrets they were a party to.
Kingsley Amis and I, the people he drinks with, the people I drink with, are neither anti-Semitic nor color prejudiced, however divergent their politics. We circulate in a sheltered society. Not so my children, which brings me to my primary motive for writing this essay.
The minority man, as Norman Mailer has astutely pointed out, grows up with a double-image of himself, his own and society's. My boys are crazy about the James Bond movies, they identify with 007, as yet unaware that they have been cast as the villains of the dramas. As a boy I was brought up to revere John Buchan, then Lord Tweedsmuir, Governor-General of Canada. Before he came to speak at Junior Red Cross Prize Day, we were told that he stood for the ultimate British virtues. Fair play, clean living, gentlemanly conduct. We were not forewarned that he was also an ignorant, nasty-minded anti-Semite. I discovered this for myself, reading The Thirty-Nine Steps. As badly as I wanted to identify with Richard Hannay, two-fisted soldier of fortune, I couldn't without betraying myself. My grandfather, pace Buchan, went in fear of being flogged in some one-horse location on the Volga, which was why we were in Canada. However, I owe to Buchan the image of my grandfather as a little white-faced Jew with an eye like a rattlesnake. It is an image I briefly responded to, alas, if only because Hannay, so obviously on the side of the good, accepted it without question. This, possibly, is why I've grown up to loathe Buchan, Fleming, and their sort.