James Bond book 9, the 8th full-length novel
[Count Lippe] was extremely handsome – a dark bronzed woman-killer with a neat moustache above the sort of callous mouth women kiss in their dreams.
He was an athletic-looking six foot, dressed in the sort of casually well-cut beige herring-bone tweed that suggests Anderson and Sheppard. He wore a white silk shirt and a dark red polka-dot tie, and the soft dark brown V-necked sweater looked like vicuna. Bond summed him up as a good-looking bastard who got all the women he wanted and probably lived on them—and lived well.
[Patricia] was an athletic-looking girl whom Bond would have casually associated with tennis, or skating, or show-jumping. She had the sort of firm, compact figure that always attracted him and a fresh open-air type of prettiness that would have been commonplace but for a wide, rather passionate mouth and a hint of authority that would be a challenge to men. She was dressed in a feminine version of the white smock worn by Mr. Wain, and it was clear from the undisguised curves of her breasts and hips that she had little on underneath it. Bond asked her if she didn't get bored. What did she do with her time off?
commentary: After the placesaver of the short story collection For Your Eyes Only (did a blogpost on Quantum of Solace recently) it’s back to the proper books, which suit Fleming and Bond much better, without any doubt. But actually this one still isn’t a full return: Thunderball has a very strange and difficult history, and the lawsuits went on for years.
Briefly: Fleming was very keen for there to be Bond films, and it is hard looking back from the other end to see how difficult it was to achieve this - it seems very surprising but he was working away at it and trying to sell film rights for years. He had complex agent-ing arrangements, he wondered if TV was the way to go, or a different series character. In the midst of all this, a film producer told him that none of the books to date was really suitable: what was needed was a brand new treatment, a plot and story designed for a filmscript. Four people (apparently) were involved in what came next: Ian Fleming, his friend Ivar Bryce, producer Kevin McClory and writer Jack Whittingham came up with an idea for an adventure involving an underwater shenanigans around the Bahamas.
Nothing came of the film (at that time) and Fleming needed a new book, and took parts of the plot and turned it into the novel we are considering now. McClory tried to get an injunction to stop the book being distributed – that failed, but a subsequent court case did give him certain rights over the story and book. That didn’t stop the lawsuits, which went on for years.
The eventual producers of the Bond films we know didn’t want to mess with Thunderball while the court cases were ongoing, and so (apparently almost randomly) Fleming suggested Dr No.
When Thunderball did come to be made, McClory had the right to be involved in the production, which he took up, and also the rights to a ‘remake but not sequel’ – which is where that odd, non-canon, Never Say Never Again came from in 1983.
The whole story is strange and twisting and actually fascinating and sad. There is a whole book just on the case – The Battle For Bond by Robert Sellers, a book that the Fleming estate attacked, forcing the pulping of one edition. Most of my information comes from a riveting and highly recommended piece by Len Deighton called James Bond: My Long and Eventful Search for his Father, some of which is in an introduction to the Sellers book. Are you keeping up with this? – I am the least likely person to be explaining this, but I did find it riveting.
Whatever the ins and outs, I found this one odd and think I could have guessed there was something strange about its genesis. For a start there is a terrific opening third (one I remembered well over the years) featuring Bond in a duel of wits at a health farm, Shrublands. Those wits aren’t up to much: Bond tries to do some research in an easily overheard phone conversation in a public phone booth, alerting the enemy. But it’s good knockabout stuff: the problem being that it has only the most tenuous connection with the rest of the book. The man he defeats, Count Lippe, described above, is vital to the wicked Thunderball plan, and as a result the plan is delayed by several days. That’s it.
My favourite line here is when Bond has left the health farm with its tiresome regime: that night he
[scores] a most satisfactory left and right of Spaghetti Bolognese and Chianti at Lucien’s in Brighton and of Miss Patricia Fearing [the masseuse above] on the squab seats from her bubble car high up on the Downs.The glamour is almost too bright for the reader’s eyes. Although she has been massaging him with special mink-covered gloves:
Earlier on, Bond was seen to be
executing a passable Veronica- which doesn’t mean that he killed off a random young woman: it’s a matador’s move, and the only way that he could save Patricia from the path of an oncoming car.
There’s something very English about this section, along with the cool young man whose ambition in life would be to become Tommy Steele. I enjoyed it all hugely, but was then ready to head off for the Bahamas as the real plot began… More later this week.
The man in the suit is a young-ish Laurence Olivier, and he is wearing Anderson and Sheppard tweed.
The young woman is advertising modern spa-wear from balneospauniforms.com. My first thought was to find a still from a Carry On film for Patricia, but I decided to give her some respect. And there weren’t any good pictures anyway, disappointingly.