Friday, 13 November 2015

What James Bond Wears


The Man with the Golden Typewriter – Ian Fleming’s James Bond Letters, edited by Fergus Fleming


published 2015


 
 
Bond Fleming Courtelle
 


Letter from Ian Fleming to Michael Howard [an editorial director at Fleming’s publisher]
 
16th August 1961
 
My dear Michael,

Many thanks for your letter yesterday about the new Courtelle advertisement.

I don’t really mind these but they rather annoyed me by writing a patronizing letter offering me one sweater, one pair of slacks, or indeed any one object from their collection instead of begging me to come in and take my pick of their stuff – which I naturally wouldn’t have done but which would have sounded rather handsomer.

In fact I would like them to invite me round some Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon to have a look at all this stuff I am sponsoring. I have absolutely no idea what it looks like.

In the present copy I don’t think they should suggest that Bond wears suits from Savile Row, which he doesn’t, or actually Courtelle shirts, etc etc, though I don’t mind them saying that people like James Bond wear these things.


[from Ian Fleming]
 
 
commentary: So far as James Bond goes, I am by no means a fan or an expert. I read all the books many many years ago, and saw a couple of the early films, and that’s it. But, I loved this book more than most I have read this year: it was wonderful, I couldn’t put it down.

Fergus Fleming is Ian’s nephew, and he collected and edited these letters, most of which deal with some aspect of the James Bond books to a greater or lesser degree. (It’s not clear how many other letters there are that were not considered for this collection.) So the book starts with Fleming hesitantly sitting down to write a thriller that he hopes might get a publisher, and ends with his death in 1964. The letters are grouped into chapters, each chapter dealing with one of the books (one letter appears twice, which I think might be an editing error).

But of course we find out about other aspects of his life: his brittle, chancy marriage – it is clear that he and Ann love each other but don’t really get on, and both of them apparently have affairs. Fleming lives part of the year at Goldeneye – his house in Jamaica, where Noel Coward is a close neighbour. He writes a book a year, from Casino Royale to The Man With the Golden Gun (not quite finished). We watch as he becomes successful, famous, rich – and as James Bond becomes a phenomenon.

Fleming sounds like a very old-school kind of British gent, and comes over very well: he sounds delightful. He takes endless care and pains in answering his fans, whether they are correcting details in the books, criticizing the stories, or just writing fan letters – the letters in reply are often very funny. He is fascinated by the details of guns and cars, and very anxious to get them right in the books. He is always very interested in book jackets, in details of marketing and publicity, in sales figures and reprints.

I was astonished to find that Napoleon Solo, The Man From UNCLE, was a creation of Fleming’s – he relinquished the rights in him in order to pursue the filming of the Bond novels. In the first few years of the books’ publication, various ideas of film and TV rights come up, but nothing is ever quite right, or they don’t work out. Eventually yet another production proposal comes along, with not much pedigree, and Fleming is rather dubious – but this time he is about to hit gold.

It’s an absolutely fascinating story, and the collection is beautifully produced and edited and footnoted. A most satisfying read, and made me want to read the Bond novels again – though at the end you think that Fleming was probably deeper than these letters make him seem, and there is a lot the reader still doesn’t know… I also now want to read a biography of him.

Even from my long-ago reading of the books I knew that Bond’s shirts are made of Sea Island cotton, whatever that is, not Courtelle.


****** Dear Vicki/Skiourophile reminded me in the comments below of the website The Suits of James Bond, a truly remarkable place that all fans should visit. This link takes you to a page spelling out what shirts and suits Bond would be wearing in the books.

A Bond villain from the film of Thunderball featured in this entry on a book by Fleming’s rival, Len Deighton - also from the suits of James Bond site.























22 comments:

  1. Moira, I have never read as much about Ian Fleming as I have about his famous creation. I suppose, that sort of thing happens with fictional characters larger than their creators, though in this case Fleming deserves his share of glory. You have veered me in the direction of this collection of Fleming's letters; the question is when. Thanks, Moira.

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  2. I so enjoyed the collection, Prashant, and it made me think a lot about how iconic James Bond has become, and what a strange fate that is for a fictional character. He is like Sherlock Holmes...

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  3. Do you know the blog http://thesuitsofjamesbond.com/? A really very wonderful obsession.

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    1. Yes! That's where I got the Emilio Largo I mention above. And now you make me realize that I need to link to this site above, and will go and do so.

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  4. Oh, Moira, this sounds absolutely fabulous! What an interesting look at Fleming (and his creations)! I've always thought that letters are such a good way to get to know a person; makes me wonder what will happen as more and more people give them up for email...

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    1. I loved it Margot, and think you might too, for all kinds of interesting reasons. For example there are a number of letters discussing differences between US and UK slang, which I KNOW you would love!

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  5. Interesting, but I'll stick firmly with the early Fleming books I have.

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  6. I am a Bond fan on the page on film but I remember thinking Connery had odd cuffs in his films - turns out that the Turnball & Asser turnover cuff was a big deal at the time - go figure! There is a great scene in the Craig film of CASINO ROYALE in which he wears his first ever tailored tex which is played beautifully - you should watch the film just for that Moira!

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    1. You are definitely tempting me - the collected letters did make me think I'd like to watch more of the films.... and I do love a clothes detail, naturally...

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    2. Definitely tux by the way (or rather 'dinner jacket') not tex ...

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    3. I understood Sergio, & thought it was probably spies' code...

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  7. Moira: Whenever I think of Bond, James Bond, I think of him in a tuxedo. I am surprised the ad did not have him rescuing the damsel while elegantly clad in a tux. I think the time is right for a new thriller hero to wear a tuxedo by choice.

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    1. It would be quite revolutionary and subversive now I think, when we expect heroes to wear jeans and tshirts.

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  8. Fascinating. The comments finally made me find out where the US term tuxedo came from - Tuxedo Park in the Hudson Valley where the likes of William Waldorf Astor stayed and on which Emily Post based her etiquette books. But what I really meant to say was that I once bought from Harrods, at great expense, a white Sea Island cotton shirt for work and always felt extra confident in it. It no longer fits and is rather dated but I still have it.

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    1. What interesting details, thanks. So Sea Island cotton is just very high quality cotton?

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    2. Yes, I think so. Grown in relatively small quantities and has a long staple or fibre, which helps make it soft and fine. Apparently. I'm no technician!

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  9. This book sounds interesting, I had not heard of it. We are big James Bond fans. Especially the films. All the Sean Connery ones, most of the Pierce Brosnan films, one each of the earlier actors in the role, and all the Daniel Craig, although I did not particularly like his 2nd one. And we won't see the newest one until it is on Blu-Ray.

    I am planning to reread the books. (Don't know when, but I have copies of all the books.) I re-read Casino Royale after the first Daniel Craig film and was surprised to see how closely the film followed the movie. Both were really good.

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    1. Oh that's interesting - I assumed the films had left the books far behind. I think I will start at the beginning and read them all, and perhaps watch some of the films.

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