Dress Down Sunday: OHMSS by Ian Fleming - part 2

published 1963

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

James Bond Book 11




[James Bond meets his host for the first time at Piz Gloria]

‘Now, shall we settle down here' – the Count waved towards his desk - 'or shall we go outside? You see' - he gestured at his brown body -' I am a heliotrope, a sun-worshipper. So much so that I have had to have these lenses devised for me. Otherwise, the ultraviolet rays, at this altitude...' He left the phrase unfinished.

'I haven't seen that kind of lens before. After all, I can leave the books here and fetch them if we need them for reference. I have the case pretty clear in my mind. And' -Bond smiled chummily - 'it would be nice to go back to the fog with something of a sunburn.'


Bond had equipped himself at Lillywhites with clothing he thought would be both appropriate and sensible. He had avoided the modern elasticized vorlage trousers and had chosen the more comfortable but old-fashioned type of ski-trouser in a smooth cloth. Above these he wore an aged black wind-cheater that he used for golf, over his usual white sea-island cotton shirt. He had wisely reinforced this outfit with long and ugly cotton and wool pants and vests. He had conspicuously brand-new ski-boots with powerful ankle-straps. He said, 'Then I'd better take off my sweater.' He did so and followed the Count out on to the veranda.


The Count lay back again in his upholstered aluminium chaise-longue. Bond drew up a light chair made of similar materials. He placed it also facing the sun, but at an angle so that he could watch the Count's face.

commentary: Following on from the first entry on this book on Friday.

‘Vorlage’ is a mode of skiing,(‘leaning forward from the ankles usually without lifting the heels from the skis’), and vorlage trousers, apparently, had tapered legs and elastic under the foot.

Bond fans have picked this description of Bond clothes apart – where did the sweater come from? People have tried to do a linkup, but really – a windcheater is not a sweater, and a zip top jersey is not the same thing as a jacket.

I think by this time Fleming was rather tired and in ill-health, and was so successful that people didn’t edit him enough – in the engrossing collection of his letters there are endless mentions of line edits, but on one page alone of this book there is
The shock of the wind-horn’s scream had automatically cut out ‘George’.
With absolutely no indication of who or what George is, and also this:
It was then… that it happened
The worst kind of thrillerese, along with the later
Absolute certitude that this was going to be a night to remember.
When he’s planning his activities in the chalet, he mentions a female co-conspirator before he has actually recruited her – I think the line might be a mistake.

And there are far, far too many exclamation marks.

But still – what a great book.

I was thinking about the differences between Bond and his competitors. I love Len Deighton’s books, and from a distance his books can look similar to Fleming’s, but close up you would never mistake them for each other. (And I say this from a given that I like both authors very much.) Deighton, btw, says that Fleming was very kind and gracious with him – although Fleming did have his doubts about the Harry-Palmer-style hero.

On the opening page of OHMSS, a beach is described as ‘the longest beach in the north of France’: now, this is an imaginary town, Fleming made it up for Casino Royale and moved it slightly for this book, so why bother with the boast? But it’s such a Fleming-ish line – something is the best, and now you know all about it: it’s informative you see. Then, Deighton and Le Carre are always full of tradecraft, those little ways and means that spies get on with their investigations – Bond doesn’t bother with that (it’s surprising he wasn’t killed years ago), and at most leaves traps to see if his room has been searched (which we already know about from Enid Blyton, thanks) and in this book uses his urine as invisible ink (Enid Blyton used orange juice).

We find out that Bond abhors shoelaces, and that the Loire is his favourite river. We get some info on M’s private life and finances, and we are told that he has a great dislike of beatniks, and there is a nice mention of Nero Wolfe.

It is boastful, and informative, and really rather endearing.

The warm underwear is from an advert from the NYPL, much earlier than the date of the book. Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon jumps out of bed and puts on his union suit – great favourite blogpost.

The ski outfit, from the NYPL, is a French fashion plate, and is from 1921, but much smarter than Bond’s shabby-sounding clothes. I already complained about them in the entry on Goldfinger, where – at least there is consistency – he wore them for golf. ‘…Sounds seedy and rather disreputable’ I said. Yes.

The four ski-ers are from a Lillywhites catalogue – trying out the dry ski slope. I really DON’T think this venerable UK company would have supplied Bond with a nasty windcheater.


  1. Such an interesting point about the editing, Moira. Shows you that even the most successful writers need a good editor. And you make an interesting point, too, about the character information we get. I think that makes them a little more real. And even when he got it wrong, Fleming did focus a lot on clothes!

    1. I know! It was somewhat unexpected: when I started reading the books this year I wasn't sure if there'd be enough clothes, but he had a real eye for and interest in what people wear...

  2. Ditto my comment on yesterday's post!

  3. I remember George MacDonald Fraser saying that he never allowed anyone to edit his novels. The end result might be rubbish, but it was HIS rubbish. I suppose that at some point an author's personal tics and cliches blur into personal style (Fleming is very fond of his !!!!!) although it's hard to say exactly when.

    If I remember, even as far back as the first book, Bond talks about letting other people doing the boring spywork, whilst he strikes a blow against the wicked SMERSH. In so many ways he is the linear descendant of Clubland heroes such as Bulldog Drummond, it's just that Fleming realised that a post-WWII hero needed some measure of realism. It's not much, but just enough. I once talked to someone who, whlst not being a spy, had a government job where he occasionally came into contact with intelligence officers. They had once talked about John LeCarre's fiction, and he was told that the writer was seen as pretty inaccurate and unrealistic in genuine spy circles. If that's right, it does make you wonder exactly who is the most realistic spy writer is, if any of them...?

    1. It is an interesting question, and one that we assume the spy authorities have no interest in answering! So far as I can tell, le Carre didn't work as a spy for very long... and Deighton and Fleming don't seem to have room in their careers for much personal experience. I do love the rumour that Brit secret service liked Le C's picture of them and started using some of his terminology, which he had made up... Same story with Puzo and the Godfather, allegedly.

  4. I read that in the '70s real-life policmen loved THE SWEENEY, not because it was realistic but because it portrayed them as they would have liked to have been. I'll bet that a lot of lawyers who grew up in the '60s secretly dreamt of being Perry Mason, whilst Vets who grew up in the '70s/'80s can't have avoided the influence of James Herriot I suspect that Books/TV/Movies bleed into real-life more than we suspect.

    1. Yes! The Guardian used to have a feature where they asked a real-life [insert career] to watch a TV programme about a fictional [career] and write about it. They once asked a pathologist to talk about some crime drama, and she very charmingly said [words to the effect of] 'the ones in the programme have a much nicer office and lab than any real-life pathologist would have, ours are always dreary holes in the basement, tucked away. But that's not a criticism of the programme in the slightest - I loved it that the TV people had a big shiny lab with a huge sign, so we SHOULD have that, I wish we had a neon arrow pointing to our path dept.' Very endearing.

  5. I do look forward to reading this book, but I have 5 more to go before I get there. You are very close to the end.

    1. I know! I am quite delaying it because I don't want to get to the end.


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