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"Widow to a Legend": Ann Fleming Speaks

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#1 Revelator



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Posted 25 April 2016 - 10:01 PM

The following interview with Ann Fleming was originally conducted on television by Pierre Berton and then transcribed and published in his book The Cool Crazy Committed World of the Sixties [1966]. It's one of the few major interviews with Fleming's widow and shows that Berton was either good at his research or a Bond fan himself. Enjoy!






“I thought I was marrying the Foreign Editor of the Sunday Times.


She had no idea, of course, back in 1952, that she was marrying into the great cult of the Sixties. James Bond had not yet been invented, and her new husband—her third—was a journalist and an ex-Naval Intelligence man of impeccable background (Eton and Sandhurst) who collected rare first editions, enjoyed spearfishing, cards, and golf, and had a place in Jamaica where he spent two months of every year.


But the marriage had come only after a period of shattering personal complexity for both of them. Her first husband, Lord O’Neill, was killed in action in 1944. Her second, Lord Rothermere, the press baron, divorced her in 1952, naming Fleming as co-respondent. They were married at once, he for the very first time. Marriage, Ian Fleming was to write later, “is a very painful thing at the age of forty-four, so to take my mind off the whole business, I sat down and wrote a novel.” Its title: Casino Royale. Unknown to either of them, the seeds of the cult were germinating.


Of the Anne Fleming of these days, it has been written that “she provokes extreme reactions, like a wasp provokes panic. Her friends adore her. Others, intimidated by what they consider to be her ruthless vitality, are more reserved in their response.” Among those who adored her were: Lady Diana Duff Cooper, Somerset Maugham, Cecil Beaton, Noel Coward, Cyril Connolly, Evelyn Waugh, and Sir Frederick Ashton. Her legendary literary dinner parties—“gastronomic sessions combined with intellectual punishment”—were scarcely part of Ian Fleming’s world. He shunned them, preferring bridge at the Portland Club. The diners, in their turn, paid him and his work little heed.


It was a little more than a year after Fleming’s death (queues for Goldfinger encircling Leicester Square) that on visiting London, in November, 1965, I thought of inviting the author’s widow to talk to me on television. She had been in seclusion, but I had heard that she was disturbed, if not a little embittered, over the red tape that had enmeshed his literary estate. She agreed to come down to the Westbury Hotel and appear before the cameras.


At fifty-six, I found her a still-handsome woman. She must once have been very striking indeed. It is possible to perceive the steel within her, but this does not mean she is not charming. Behind the wall of reserve, behind the very British tendency to hold herself in check, there emerges the driest of wits. She answered all my questions readily enough but, as the transcript shows, without a great deal of elaboration. I began, of course, by asking her opinion of James Bond.


MRS. FLEMING: I’m ashamed to say I never was a Bond addict.

PIERRE: You never were? Why not?

MRS. FLEMING: I thought he had very little sense of humour.

PIERRE: James Bond?

MRS. FLEMING: Very little sense of humour.

PIERRE: He’s not the sort of person you would have invited to dinner had he been real?

MRS. FLEMING: I don’t think more than once.

PIERRE: In spite of his known love for good food and fine wines? Things like that. Not much of a conversationalist?

MRS. FLEMING: I think I always get James Bond and Ian Fleming mixed up, and I think he did in the end, more and more with every book that be wrote.

PIERRE: Did he become a prisoner of his creation?

MRS. FLEMING: I think so. I remember consulting Cyril Connolly about that. I said: “Has any author invented a character that has got hypnotized by it and become like it?” And he said: “This has happened frequently. I’m very sorry for you.”

PIERRE: In what way did your husband become a prisoner of his character?

MRS. FLEMING: Well, when he was getting ill, and I was imploring him to stop writing the book, I spoke to Somerset Maugham about it, and Maugham said: “He’ll never be able to rest now because the public won’t let him, and he won’t really want not to satisfy his public.”

PIERRE: He’d had one serious heart attack, hadn’t be, before his death?

MRS. FLEMING: He had a very serious one six years ago.

PIERRE: But this didn’t stop him?

MRS. FLEMING: It didn’t stop him writing. But he should have stopped playing golf and he should have stopped drinking, but he wouldn’t stop either…

PIERRE: Did he know that his years were numbered, at this point?

MRS. FLEMING: If he’d been sensible they needn’t have been.

PIERRE: Then he must really have enjoyed writing the Bond books, or he wouldn’t have kept on.

MRS. FLEMING: I think he enjoyed it enormously. He enjoyed all the research he did in the months before he went to Jamaica and settled down to write, and then he used to get through the book, the plot, and come home and correct it for the next six months.

PIERRE: Were you much involved with these books yourself? Did he talk to you when he was writing them?

MRS. FLEMING: Well, he started by talking to me about them, but be stopped because, I remember—I think it’s the book where two thousand sharks are eating someone—I said: “I think it would be much more exciting if there was only one shark; it’s worse.” This was supposed to be the wrong kind of criticism. But I understand, from talking to other writers’ wives, that it’s far better not to discuss books at home.

PIERRE: You’ve been asked this question, I’m sure. In what ways did Ian Fleming resemble James Bond? For instance, was he the gourmet that James Bond was supposed to be?

MRS. FLEMING: Well, he was very fond of scrambled eggs, probably you know from reading the books. I don’t think he liked very elaborate meals; I think he liked rather simple things extremely well-cooked. He was very fussy that his boiled eggs should always be just three and a half minutes. That was Bond.

PIERRE: Was he fussy about wines?

MRS. FLEMING: No. He liked any kind of red wine. He called it “infuriator.” That’s what they call cheap red wine in the Navy. I don’t think he minded very much what sort of red wine it was.

PIERRE: Did he invent that cocktail that James Bond drank, with vodka shaken up, not stirred?

MRS. FLEMING: As far as I know this he invented completely.

PIERRE: I wonder if this wasn’t a bit of the Walter Mitty in Ian Fleming? If this wasn’t a projection of his dreams?

MRS. FLEMING: I am sure it was. I think he very much enjoyed being in the Naval Intelligence during the war. What he did there he wouldn’t have dreamt of telling me. Nor was it possible to find out because John Pearson, who’s writing Ian’s life, is finding it quite impossible to get anyone in Naval Intelligence to tell him anything at all. But I think this was a projection of that, and a projection of a way of life which he thought was ceasing to exist He didn’t care for a sedentary existence. He liked traveling and he liked adventure.

PIERRE: How did the Bond idea come about? I would be interested to know, for instance, if you knew he was going to write spy thrillers before he actually sat down and wrote the first one—Casino Royale.

MRS. FLEMING: I hadn’t the remotest idea. 1 thought I was marrying the Foreign Editor of the Sunday Times.

PIERRE: Did anybody know?

MRS. FLEMING: He told about five of my best friends and three of his that he intended to write the greatest spy story in the world. But he never mentioned it to me.

PIERRE: He was right, wasn’t he?

MRS. FLEMING: He was right.

PIERRE: He wrote once, himself, towards the end of his life, that “the gimmickry grew like bindweed.” This was all the business of the guns, the cars, and the very special products that surround James Bond. Were you aware of this?

MRS. FLEMING: Well, he got very excited by this. He took enormous trouble over the book jackets, which I think are extremely good.

PIERRE: Yes, they are. I remember half-way through the series he changed guns because, apparently, the gun that Bond was using originally wasn’t a very good gun. Were you involved in this?

MRS. FLEMING: I’m ashamed to say I’m so uninterested in ballistics that a lot of this used to pass me by. But there were unending conversations about guns, certainly.

PIERRE: At what point did you actually read the Bond books? Or have you read them all?

MRS. FLEMING: I have. But I get them a bit mixed up in my mind sometimes. But I have read them all. I read them, usually in Jamaica, when they were first in manuscript.

PIERRE: What were his working habits?

MRS. FLEMING: Well, six weeks in Jamaica to two months when be used to get it all down on paper. In the next six months, he used to obviously go over it, all over it all over again, elaborately; and it was shown to William Plomer, that charming writer, who used to read for him in Cape’s. William, I think, used to take out some of the more exaggerated effects.

PIERRE: Oh they toned him down a bit, did they?

MRS. FLEMING: Sometimes, yes.

PIERRE: There was a legend around, I don’t know whether it’s true or not, that the reason Bond was made into a gourmet was that he was eating so many scrambled eggs that somebody said: “Look, this isn’t proper for a secret agent. In fact, it would identify him too easily, a man who always eats scrambled eggs. Vary the menu.” Have you heard that story?

MRS. FLEMING: I think I have. I think it must have been William.

PIERRE: The same man?

MRS. FLEMING: I think so, yes.

PIERRE: How long would he write during a day? What were his work habits?

MRS. FLEMING: Well, in Jamaica it fitted in very well, because one can’t sit in the sun all day and do nothing—at least neither of us could. So he would have breakfast about eight—having swum before breakfast—and then he would type for three hours. Then he would reread that in the evening.

PIERRE: Not a bad existence.

MRS. FLEMING: He found it perfect.

PIERRE: Why would you say, then, that this contributed to his heart attack?

MRS. FLEMING: Well, because after his heart attack we had a steep staircase down to the beach there, very steep, about forty steps, which he should never have walked up and down. And he got pains whenever he went underwater swimming. And he should have given up all these things and golf, and he wouldn’t give them up at all.

PIERRE: There’s a great deal of golf and skin-diving in his books. These were a part of your husband’s life.

MRS. FLEMING: Yes, that’s it.

PIERRE: Your husband was also a gambler. In Casino Royale, Bond was very expert in gambling.

MRS. FLEMING: I never thought he was a real gambler in the serious sense of the word. He was Scottish, you know, and fairly careful. If he did gamble, he was rather good and usually won, but not for the enormous stakes you’d expect James Bond to play for.

PIERRE: But talking of gambling and talking of money, let’s talk about the estate. This is surely one of the largest literary estates in history—with the motion picture rights and everything else.

MRS. FLEMING: I think it is. From time to time Ian said if we left England we would be very, very, very rich, indeed, and I said: “I can’t bear leaving England so we won’t.” And he didn’t want to. Of course, Somerset Maugham’s estate was huge because he left England and went to France. But we stayed here, and then at a given moment the taxation was going to be so tremendous he sold the book royalties.

PIERRE: He sold all his royalties in the future?

MRS. FLEMING: All the book royalties forever and ever, keeping forty-nine per cent of the shares—a minority share, so that the estate gets a tax dividend whenever they choose to declare it, which isn’t a fortune, really. Taxation being what it is.

PIERRE: Do you personally get much money out of the Bond estate?

MRS. FLEMING: Well, it will probably take another three or four years to settle at the present rate. I’ve no idea. But there’s not very much at the moment.

PIERRE: Are you bitter about this? I’ve heard that you were.

MRS. FLEMING: I think if it’s there I might as well have some of it.

PIERRE: And you can’t get at it?

MRS. FLEMING: Not at the moment

PIERRE: Why does it take so long?

MRS. FLEMING: Estate Office, estate duty. I think they’re trying to work out estate duties on any films that may be made in the future, which seems to me rather hard.

PIERRE: You mean they’ve really got to guess? They don’t know what this estate is worth? It depends on how successful the films are?

MRS. FLEMING: The films are taken up one after the other. The film people would stop taking them up if they stop being a success. At the moment they are so successful that this is very improbable.

PIERRE: Do you own the rights yourself, or does the estate own the rights to the Bond books?

MRS. FLEMING: Well, the books and the films are quite separate. The films go straight to the estate and the royalties go to a man called Jock Campbell, the chairman of an enormous concern called Booker Brothers.

PIERRE: They bought the rights from your husband?


PIERRE: But there’s forty-nine per cent of that left. Is that willed to you?

MRS. FLEMING: Forty-nine per cent of the shares go to the estate. Left all in a trust.

PIERRE: Have you any say over what happens?

MRS. FLEMING: I’m always trying to have more say than I ought to have now I’ve pulled myself together. I didn’t take much interest to begin with. Then I started fighting about it.

PIERRE: I read the other day that Kingsley Amis, who’s a great Bond expert, has been asked to continue your husband’s character, James Bond, in a new series of books. How do you feel about that?

MRS. FLEMING: Well, I was very angry because I know Kingsley fairly well. I thought he might have rung me up and asked me what I thought about it. And I also thought Sir Jock Campbell, whom I know, might also have rung me up and said: “What do you feel?” Whereas in fact they were pretty well ahead signing up when I heard about it.

PIERRE: You tried to stop it?

MRS. FLEMING: And with some aid, it’s been stopped at the moment.

PIERRE: Is this your doing or somebody else’s?

MRS. FLEMING: I was rather helped by uninvoked aid.

PIERRE: Why don’t you want the Bond character to continue?

MRS. FLEM1NG: It’s emotional at the moment, naturally. I feel rather emotional about it. I’m sure it couldn’t come off.

PIERRE: It’s never come off in the past. Sherlock Holmes…Fu Manchu really couldn’t have been continued.

MRS. FLEMING: No, well John Pearson, who’s writing Ian’s life and had all the letters from his office, found a very funny letter from Ian to Mrs. Sax Rohmer who had written to Ian asking if he’d continue Dr. Fu Manchu. I have never seen this letter, but I understand that Ian wrote a very funny reply—saying that he did not think this could ever be done.

PIERRE: Mrs. Fleming, somebody wrote that the violence in the James Bond books was part of the strange decadence that affects Britain today. Would you agree with that?

MRS. FLEMING: Oh, I do hope you’re not right. It’s a very difficult question, isn’t it?


MRS. FLEMING: Isn’t there a great deal of violence in America?

PIERRE: Yes, there is. Maybe it’s part of the strange decadence that affects the world, if indeed the world is faced by decadence.

MRS. FLEMING: I don’t know if it’s decadence. It’s a tremendous period of change…readjustment…newly educated people. I mean, vast masses of people are now educated. Look at Africa.

PIERRE: Tell me, would you have liked your husband to have written books other than the spy thrillers?

MRS. FLEMING: Yes. He wanted to write the life of a woman whose name I can’t remember. She shoved out all the brothels in Paris. She was a French cabinet minister. He wanted to write her life, but he then got so occupied. [The woman's name was Marthe Richard]

PIERRE: He once said, in the last interview with him, that if he had enough concentration, he could have written a book comparable to War and Peace. Is this possible?

MRS. FLEMING: I’m very surprised to hear that he said it. No, I’m sure he couldn’t

PIERRE: But do you think he had a sneaking feeling that he should write something else than spy books—or was he satisfied with this?

MRS. FLEMING: Well, he was very full of humility about it, at the beginning; and be was tremendously pleased and very excited when the first book was accepted. He didn’t expect it to be.

PIERRE: And, indeed, it didn’t do very well at the beginning.

MRS. FLEMING: I don’t think it did. I don’t think it sold very many. I don’t remember how many. He was overwhelmed by this rolling-stone success.

PIERRE: When did that happen? When were you aware suddenly that there was a kind of a mania going on about James Bond?

MRS. FLEMING: When you live with some growing legend, you’re never conscious of a particular moment. As far as the sales of Pan Books were concerned, it was after the first film. I think the director of the first film, Terence Young, was brilliant in that he managed to get ‘U’ certificates so that everybody could take their children, and he took out this hero-masochism a lot and made it a joke.

PIERRE: Did your husband take himself seriously?

MRS. FLEMING: He didn’t take Bond seriously, no, he didn’t.

PIERRE: He didn’t even like him, he said once.

MRS. FLEMING: I think he probably grew to think of him as a sort of Frankenstein’s monster at the end.

PIERRE: You have a reputation for holding literary salons. In fact, I think that this is part and parcel of your life, isn’t it? You have a great many literary friends.

MRS. FLEMING: I enjoy literary friends, yes—very much.

PIERRE: Malcolm Muggeridge is one, isn’t he?

MRS. FLEMING: I haven’t seen Malcolm for a long time. I bitterly resent what he wrote about Ian. I don’t know if you happened to see it. It was quite awful. I have not seen Malcolm since then.

PIERRE: I was wondering what your other friends thought of Bond?

MRS. FLEMING: Well, Malcolm was really Ian’s friend—well, both our friend, but particularly Ian’s—so I thought it was not a very kind way to behave. I think he resents all success.

PIERRE: When you had these literary salons, did your husband attend?

MRS. FLEMING: Not often; but then a literary friend of mine called Peter Quennell, who’s written a good deal about Byron, you know, says it’s rather boring to be at a dinner party where everybody’s works are discussed except your own. Then there was a moment about three or four years ago when the highbrows got interested in Ian, which pleased Ian. He got reviews from a lot of them. Then, of course, Cyril Connolly wrote that parody which was brilliant.

PIERRE: What did he think of the Bond parodies?

MRS. FLEMING: He enjoyed them very much.

PIERRE: But Bond was not a subject of literary discussion at your salon?

MRS. FLEMING: Not, I’m afraid, until he became a success. I now think that phenomenal success interests everybody, whether they are highbrows or lowbrows.

PIERRE: It is interesting that the highbrows did not take over Bond until he became part of the social fabric. I suppose it became fashionable to pay attention to him then.

MRS. FLEMING: He became a figure one could no longer deny.

PIERRE: Are you astonished by the whole Bond business? There are Bond sweat shirts out, Bond magazines, guns…all sorts of different things.

MRS. FLEMING: Well, the lady who did my hair early this morning asked if I’d seen the James Bond car. I haven’t.

PIERRE: You don’t get involved much, then, in this sort of thing?

MRS. FLEMING: Well, I’m just intending to write to the merchandising people. I’d like them to send some of them free, perhaps, to give as Christmas presents.

PIERRE: Who owns the merchandising rights’?

MRS. FLEMING: I believe one-third goes to the film people, one-third to Jock Campbell’s company, and one-third I believe to Ian’s estate.

PIERRE: So in the end you may benefit from this?

MRS. FLEMING: I think so.

PIERRE: When it’s all settled.

MRS. FLEMING: I’m just about to write and ask if I couldn’t be told about it.

PIERRE: It would be nice to know, wouldn’t it?

MRS. FLEMING: Wouldn’t it!

PIERRE: Don’t you feel out of things’?

MRS. FLEMING: Well, I was too unhappy for a long time to care; but now I’ve got frightfully aggressive about it.

PIERRE: How does all this affect your thirteen-year-old son?

MRS. FLEMING: I try to keep him out of it, because I think all father images shouldn’t overshadow a child’s life. I think he’d better make his own life. He’s terribly interested in Egyptology and antiquities at the moment.

PIERRE: Are the Ian Fleming books in his school library?

MRS. FLEMING: He was asked about that. He was asked to write why they weren’t when he was ten. I was a little surprised. He was offered ten pounds to write fifty words. He said: “I can say it in three and I don’t want ten pounds. They’re too sexy.”

PIERRE: Since the Westbury Hotel, from where we’re broadcasting, is on Bond Street, it occurs to me to ask if it has any connection at all with James Bond; or if your husband was at all interested in the fact that there was a street named after his character?

MRS. FLEMING: Suddenly he was, after Bond became such a success. He played golf with a man who works in the College of Heralds office, so he found out all about the name. It was called after some family that apparently live in Somerset. I believe there was an origina1 Bond who was a well-known clubman. Ian then got very interested and found out what the family motto was: “The World Is Not Enough.” He was longing to adopt it for himself. It wouldn’t have been a bad motto for him really.

Edited by Revelator, 25 April 2016 - 10:19 PM.

#2 glidrose


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Posted 26 April 2016 - 12:17 AM

It's one of the few major interviews with Fleming's widow and shows that Berton was either good at his research or a Bond fan himself.
"At fifty-six, I found her a still-handsome woman."


Ann Fleming was born in 1913. So in 1965 she would have been fifty-two, not fifty-six. Pierre Berton himself was only fifty-five. Given his extensive writing career, you'd think he'd know what a dangling modifier is.




Or how unintentionally funny stilted writing is. Not unless of course Ann Fleming was lesbian. If so, wonder how she got on with the "still-handsome woman."


Otherwise a fascinating article. Thanks for posting.

#3 Major Tallon

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Posted 26 April 2016 - 01:41 AM

Brilliant, Revelator!  Thanks so much for posting.

#4 Dustin



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Posted 26 April 2016 - 07:36 AM

Thank you for sharing this article, Revelator! This is indeed a fascinating read, particularly the detail of the Fu-Manchu offer.

As for Ann Fleming...

There are numerous legends about her, most of them not fit for retelling, that's why they get spread over the internet. This article is one of the rare chances to get a tiny glimpse on her character based on her own words.

#5 ggl



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Posted 26 April 2016 - 04:36 PM

Really interesting, thanks for this!

#6 Single-O-Seven



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Posted 26 April 2016 - 05:27 PM

Great stuff! An excellent post. I love when things like this pop up/get discovered. It really enriches these forums.

#7 Revelator



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Posted 27 April 2016 - 10:58 PM

As for Ann Fleming...

There are numerous legends about her, most of them not fit for retelling, that's why they get spread over the internet. This article is one of the rare chances to get a tiny glimpse on her character based on her own words.

Definitely. Ann frequently seems like an off-putting figure, but here we have a chance to see Bond through her eyes. Some have thought that her behavior toward Amis was that of a rhymes-with-witch, but here we learn that the continuation novel was planned relatively soon after Fleming's death and that neither Amis, whom she says she knew well, nor Jock Campbell bothered to even tell her about the project. You can see how that might have soured her reaction.


Ann's only other known interview was given to Ladies Home Journal. I'm now attempting to track it down.

#8 Dustin



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Posted 27 April 2016 - 11:19 PM

Very much so. My impression is with proper communication she might have been a good deal more open to the idea of Amis picking up Bond. Also I get the feeling there was a gap between the Fleming family and her.

#9 Revelator



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Posted 28 April 2016 - 09:35 PM

Good news! I found the Ladies Home Journal interview (from Oct. 1966) and it's reprinted below. Ann repeats several facts, and sometimes even their phrasing, from the earlier interview, but this is a far more in-depth piece and has many more personal touches and details. And it's definitely got a snappier title...





By Mrs. Ian Fleming, as told to Leslie Hannon


Ian Fleming wrote the most successful spy stories of our time. His books and movies made millions. Now, his widow discloses a plot from real life: how this dashing, brilliant man was actually haunted by the success of his fictional hero and finally driven to a premature death.


Somerset Maugham once said to me when the James Bond myth grew to threatening proportions that the public would henceforth refuse to leave my husband alone, and that Ian would feel himself driven to satisfy his public. Maugham was certainly proved right.


Sometimes I hated James Bond. Ian should certainly not have written the last book. I implored him to rest. The doctors warned him time and again. It was far too much strain for a man who had suffered a bad coronary attack.


I said. “Other writers don't feel driven to publish a book every year.” He didn’t need the money. But with publishers, film-makers, the press and the public all seemingly insatiable, the writing of the next Bond fantasy, and then the next, became a compulsion. Bond was his Frankenstein's monster.


Ian died at 56. His constitution was unequal to the pace and to the burden of to cope with the never-ending demands. No one knew this better than he did. He was an impossible patient. He flatly refused to slow down even to a normal living pace; he wanted “something wonderful” and exciting to happen every day. I suppose it was almost deliberately suicidal.


I was very surprised when my husband wrote his first book—I thought I had married the foreign editor of the Sunday Times of London—but it now seems he told many of his men friends that he always intended to write the greatest spy story ever written. He never told me that because he thought I would not be interested. He knew I never read thrillers, and disliked anything more violent than Agatha Christie.


He said jokingly later that he had written Casino Royale—that's the first Bond thriller, all about gambling and torture,· to take his mind off getting married in his forties. It was Ian's first marriage (he had been a close friend of my first husband. Lord O’Neill, who was killed in action in Italy). I think he said this because I declined to have the book dedicated to me. I didn't care for the torture scenes.


I have never been a James Bond addict. I did read all the books, usually in rough manuscript, but I get them mixed up. All the girls with the funny name—I can remember some of them: Pussy Galore, Honeychile, Domino—and the wicked villains—Drax, Goldfinger and Co. But Ian invented only one real character—James Bond; the heroines and villains did not come to life.


I find James Bond a bit of a bore. I don't think I'd have him as a dinner guest more than once. No sense of humor. No conversation.


The world's appetite for the Bond books—I think more than 20 million have been sold-we both found bewildering and unreal. It appears that in an age of anti-hero fiction, there was a vacuum to be filled. I am sure now that this accounts for the phenomenal success.


Women like to read of supermen, and men like to identify themselves with adventure and success. It is perhaps a Walter Mitty-ish dream to have a happy interlude with a lovely girl with no subsequent complications.


With his beautiful girls, his special cigarettes and whiskey, expensive cars and clothes, Bond is a reaction to the passing vogue for the grubby have-not anti-hero in current novels, and in the “kitchen-sink” theater. It is the revolt against the latter that accounts for Noel Coward's renewed popularity, and the same applies to books.


In my view, novels and plays are marriage surely for pleasure and an escape from daily life. If they must contain a sociological message, Charles Dickens did it best: with narrative excitement, comedy and humanity.


I doubt, though, if the wife of any writer can be objective about her husband’s work. Ian once showed me a chapter where, I think, James Bond is pursued by thousands of sharks. I said I thought it would have been much more exciting if there had been only one shark. After that, he didn't show me any of his work for a long time.


I think, in fairness, that the worst person to give a writer advice is his wife. She is too dose to it, on a different level.


Ian had a friend, a lawyer called Duff Dunbar, who could say to him: “What's that humorless bore James Bond going to do this year!” But I couldn't have said it. Ian would always let Noel Coward tease him. Noel was our neighbor—both in England and Jamaica—so we saw a good deal of him. In fact, the first house we bought after our marriage was Noel’s old house in Kent—the one called The White Cliffs.


When we married, in 1951, I had no expectation of the remarkable events ahead. Ian Fleming was a very handsome and talented person. Tall and athletic. Somewhat aloof. He had been a brilliant success in a Top Secret job in Royal Navy Intelligence during the war, and after the war Lord Kemsley asked him to create a foreign service for his prestige paper, the Sunday Times. Ian had earlier written reports for Reuters news agency—I remember he covered the great spy trials in Moscow in the ’30’s—but his work at the time of our marriage was mostly managerial. I was interested in newspapers, and delighted for him to be, simply, a newspaper executive. There was enough money. We had a house in London and a seaside cottage in Kent. Ian had already built Goldeneye, his beach house in Jamaica.


Ian was a melancholic, and needed much solitude. I have a photograph of him with his three brothers. Their father, Major Valentine Fleming, D.S.O., a member of Parliament, was killed in in the First World War. In the picture, three boys are smiling at the Camera and there's one looking saturnine. This was Ian. He was different. I don't think he was a very easy child.


Most people found him astonishingly difficult to talk to. Very remote, reserved, and full of charm when he wished to be. A difficult and unusual character. He was always a very restless figure. He started by going to the officers’ training school at Sandhurst, but he never really wanted to go into the Army. He studied hard in French and German to get into the Diplomatic Service, and just failed. He tried both banking and stockbroking before the war.


He created James Bond at Goldeneye. We went there for two months in 1951, and that's too long a time just for sunbathing. He established the working pattern he was to maintain rigidly until the end. With all his restlessness, he was a man who enjoyed a set routine. Orange juice was put out for him at 7:30 A.M. so that he could drink it before early swimming. He would ring for his shaving water, which was brought to him by his housekeeper Violet. He would tell her what kind of eggs be wanted for breakfast. We had paw-paw and guava jelly and wonderful coffee. Then he would bang away on the typewriter from 9:30 to 11:30, when we took to the sea with masks and spear guns. When it was dark, he would correct what he had written in the morning. He would spend a long time at the railing of the cliff garden, staring out to sea, smoking continuously. He enjoyed the melancholy beauty of tropical nights. We went to bed early.


He was very humble about that first book, and he was amazed when it was accepted by Jonathan Cape, the London publisher. He had shown it to a friend of ours, the poet William Plomer, who reads for Cape’s. Plomer greatly encouraged him, and helped him by toning down some of the passages.


Things are so jumbled already in the public mind—all the books and articles about Ian—t that it is wearying at times to try to keep the record straight. But the legend that James Bond was an instant success, an overnight sensation, is entirely wrong. Casino Royale sold about 3,000 copies, no more, and, alas, Ian sold the film right", for £300. The picture will be screened soon, with Peter Sellers and other big stars, and I expect that, like all the other Fleming films, it will make millions. But not for the Flemings.


Another interesting misconception is that Ian’s character treated women in a hard-boiled way. Bond actually marries in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and has a most sentimental romance in the subsequent novel. The film producers have very successfully parodied the books, but the ever-increasing number of glamour girls per yard of film has little to do with the original novels.


Another thing that makes me angry is the repeated statement that Ian was a snob. He was most emphatically not a snob. Apparently my husband’s preference for good food rather than bad, fast cars rather than slow, pretty girls rather than ugly is snobbish. It could as soon be said of those who prefer classical music to swinging, or great art to posters.


The reviewers of the Bond books insisted Ian was a snob. He was something quite different—a perfectionist. No one knew this better than I, since I was in charge of the housekeeping. Books had to be totally free of dust; food, though simple, had to perfectly cooked.  Fishcakes were one of his favorite dishes—and a perfect fishcake is awfully difficult.


He demanded the same standards in all the Bond paraphernalia—cars, revolvers, women, drinks. The exact measures of gin, vodka, and Lillet in a deep champagne glass, Bond’s famous cocktail—that was Ian talking. Eggs had to be boiled for exactly 3 1/3 minutes.


Standards have fallen so low in England today that we will pay large sums for blunt scissors, leaking shoes, dirty accommodation, tough meat, watery vegetables and bad service—and any insistence of standards is apparently called “snobbish.”


Ian was permanently disappointed in modern England. He thought that England was rotten—perhaps “rotting” would be more accurate—and that there was no longer a sense of adventure and excitement. He found these things in America, which he enjoyed enormously—except for the food, which, he used to say, was all frozen.


I don’t think, though, that Ian would have stayed in America any longer than he stayed anywhere else. One of the keynotes of his character—and, of course, it’s typical of James Bond, too—was not staying anywhere very long.


Ian could make a hotel bedroom into a home in 10 minutes. He would first unpack what he called “traveler’s joy,” which was a large bottle of bourbon. Then he would put out his typewriter and the books he had chosen to read. He would ring the bell for some ice, and he would be as happy and relaxed as other people feel in their homes. The next day, we would be off in the Thunderbird, roaring over foreign roads with his foot on the accelerator.


I realize that this sounds like a vignette from one of the Bond thrillers. In my memory, there isn’t an exact day, or month, or even year when I became aware that James Bond was taking over our lives. It happened over a dozen years, imperceptibly at first; then, when the paperback presses really began to pour, and the films appeared, it gathered the destructive speed of an avalanche.


In the press and television interviews, which he loathed, people increasingly compared Ian to Bond. He tried to be accommodating by making jokes about himself and Bond both liking scrambled eggs and cotton shirts. He had given Bond an Eton education like his own—he even gave him fluency in French and German, his own extra languages. Bond’s father, in the fiction, died when the boy was 11; Ian had lost his father at nine.


I discussed with Cyril ·Connolly, the English critic, if anyone had invented a character and then become like the character; a prisoner of his own creation. Cyril said nothing to allay my fears. This is what happened: As Ian became identified with James Bond, he somehow became more like the James Bond he had invented. I think that he was writing about the way he would have liked life to be, except that out of nerve and humility about his writing he would put in more sadism than he ever meant. He didn't like killing—even killing fish in Jamaica. Unlike me—I rather enjoyed it.


I noticed that he became more self-conscious about his cigarette holders, his clothes, and what he drank. He started to fret about the plot for next year’s novel, just as Somerset Maugham said he would. He enjoyed the money—we were both extravagant—but the Bond thing was something much stronger than the urge for money. It was making him very much more restless. He was running away from himself, I suppose. I don’t know what he was running after: new countries, new people, new experiences.


Everything that Bond did in the books had to be exactly right, and Ian absorbed this intensive search for detail more and more into his life. I am ashamed to say I know nothing about ballistics, but there was unending conversation about guns. He learned that a certain gin was considered by experts to be the purest spirit available, and for a while he would insist on that brand for his Martinis. He discovered a malt whiskey one could get only at London’s Army & Navy Stores. He became a devoted reader of Which?, the British consumers’ magazine that analyzes products, and he would purchase things it recommended. But Ian knew very little about wine. He liked to drink any red wine, especially Chianti. He called it “infuriator”—the Navy's name for it.


The quest for detail could become complicated. Ian asked me once to tell him the ideal measurements for a woman. I didn't know, exactly, except that I thought their hips were wider than their breasts. I remember reeling off some statistics, and he put these into the book. Later some infatuated secretary in New York said, “They’re the same as mine!” Ian found out that she had enormous shoulder blades sticking out at the back. He was horrified.


Ian took a lot of trouble over the names of the girls in the hooks. Pussy, and the rest. But, as far as I know, they meant nothing at all. He sensibly didn't have anything to do with the people who played these parts m the films. It didn't really interest him what they did with the pictures. He did feel that an unknown should play James Bond, and I know he liked Sean Connery, but they did not see much of each other.


In living some part of his real life through Bond's fictional adventures, Ian could express certain feelings deeply rooted in his personality. I think it’s in From Russia With Love that he wrote an epitaph for someone's tombstone: “This man died from living too much.” Ian himself overdid everything in life. He wanted exaggerated effects all the time.


I remember once that he took our son Caspar out when he was only six and let him eat as many oysters as he liked. He said Caspar was very sick and would never look at an oyster again, which was an economy for the future.


Ian was a Romantic. Bond represented financial escape from dullness and sameness into a dream world. Ian couldn’t bear the thought of returning home in the evenings to what he would describe as “the smell of cooking and babies.” He detested perambulators and everyday married life.


He could not visualize old age. “You’ll never get me into a bathchair,” he used to say. There was a time when he told everyone he couldn't imagine being 40. He liked everything to be at its best, at the peak, so therefore he was not particularly fond of children or old people.


He was a man who liked to have heroes. His addiction to fantasy made him a very poor judge of people. Some of his geese were geese, not swans.


At home, Ian liked me to invite perhaps one or two men to dinner. He didn’t want wives to come. He would say that if interesting men came to dinner, I would talk to them all the time and he would have to sit with their wives. On the whole, his relationships with women were very short. He didn’t wish to be involved with them. He enjoyed the male society of the golf club. I'm certain he was happier there than anywhere else.


Ian was a man who had great zest and an ability to interest people in what was interesting him. He would talk with enormous enthusiasm. If we had a publisher to dinner, he would tell him how to run the publishing business; if it was a politician, Ian would ten him how to govern the country.


He didn’t care for the conversation at dinner parties I gave for friends in London. He liked talking “shop.” When everyone was being frivolous, he would complain that facts were never discussed. I said there were no facts in his books—the whole thing was fantasy—so it was a perennial family argument.


Ian enjoyed antique shops. He was a person with natural good taste, certainly in interior decoration, in furniture, but not the arts. He didn't like the opera, or the ballet, and he loathed the theater. He was bored by the theater, but he very much enjoyed the cinema. We tended to think that films weren’t as good as they used to be—we were of that age.


I think Ian could have probably excelled at many things, if the Bond business had not swept him away. He had genuine flair. When he was only 21 he decided to collect first editions of original thought since the beginning of the 19th century. I have the collection now, about 300 volumes, at our country place in Wiltshire. It’s mostly scientific—like the first book on the submarine—but it also contains first editions of T.S. Eliot, Aldous Huxley, and others. Several American universities are interested in purchasing the library. There’s nothing Ian would have liked more than for an American university to have it. He totally admired American ability to take an original idea and turn it to practical use.


He could have written other books—good books. I tried to encourage him to branch out. He did write three non-Bond books, one of them a first-rate documentary on diamond smuggling. Another book, on the Arab state of Kuwait, has never been published.


Also, quite outside the Bond imagery, Ian’s favorite reading was The Times Literary Supplement. For years, he kept alive The Book Collector—a highly expert quarterly devoted to bibliography. The estate still publishes it.


There seem to be vast misconceptions about the Fleming estate. Everyone assumes that because the Bond books and films obviously earned a great deal I must be a very rich woman. I wish I were! The picture is very complicated. A horde of lawyers is involved, and the tax authorities have not behaved very well. It’s my belief that my husband was not well advised in business matters and at times, I get frightfully aggressive about it. It will be a long time before the estate is settled, and there will be no fortune for anyone. I have just been reading Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, and the criticism Dickens makes of the law in the case of “Jarndyce vs Jarndyce” is just as true today.


I don’t think Ian understood his will. It is a legal mumbo-jumbo trust giving unending power to all sorts of people. This year, for instance, I got £4,000 ($11,200) subject to tax, which cannot be considered a fortune.


Ian sold a majority interest in all his book royalties to a London investment company for a lump sum and, since he died within six months, most of the money he got went to the government. He accepted a hard-and-fast fee of £25,000 for each of the Sean Connery films and, of course, they have made millions at the box office. The tax authorities are even trying to claim tax now on any future films that may be made.


The screening of the first film, Dr. No, and its instant world-wide success, increased the business pressures manifold on my husband, and he was in no condition to stand any extra strain at all. When you have that kind of success, you ought to have enormously good secretaries and lawyers to build a whole defensive mechanism between yourself and the world. I don’t think this was arranged very successfully.


The sadness, the tragedy of it all, was that, because of his increasingly poor health, Ian was not able to enjoy the great success he had earned. James Bond gave with one hand, and took away with the other.


I'll never forget the premiere of the first film. Ian enjoyed the limelight—most honest persons would admit they do—but he hated crowds, and he was already very ill. There was a big party afterward. I knew that standing about with a lot of people would bring on his heart pains. He would take out his white pills and try to take them without anyone seeing. For me, it was a question of trying to get him home and into bed as soon as possible. Of course, the party was given for “James Bond” and they didn't want James Bond to go home. It was a tug-of-war.


The premiere of the second film, From Russia With Love, also was not a happy occasion. Ian was awfully ill. It was a terrible ordeal for him to sign autographs, and for me to try to rescue him from the fans. Our nice Dr. Beal and his wife were in the audience, in case anything happened.


Ian seemed a little better at the supper party. He had won £300 at the Le Touquet casino and, in one of his James Bond gestures, he spent it all on caviar. It was an extravagance, but it gave him pleasure, which was all that mattered.


I am certain it was the threat of a big lawsuit that brought on his heart attack in the first instance. I have talked to doctors about it. They say that women are not troubled by lawsuits, but they are a source of great distress to men. It was a suit for plagiarism concerning Thunderball brought against Ian by some of his early associates. It was pending for a long time, and it worried him very much. It was a very confused arrangement, in which nothing had been written down in black and white. Ian thought he was dealing with a great friend. It was all resolved in one of those immensely complicated legal verdicts.


I used to call Ian the “oldest Beatle”; his success bad the same quality as that fabulous “pop” group—in both cases something indefinable appealed to public fancy, and was immediately fastened onto by those who batten on exploiting original talent. Not that I hold it against them, but trying to preserve an ill man from the press, the film and television worlds was a nightmare experience. To them, Ian was a property promising golden dividends, while I wished above all to prolong his life.


After his first illness, we all made every possible attempt to get him to take things easier, but he would say that he would sooner die than be an invalid. The doctors implored him to stop smoking, but he wouldn’t give up cigarettes. He used to get his cigarettes especially made at Morland’s, in Grosvenor Square—the same kind James Bond smokes in the novels—but then he switched to a popular English brand. I think he smoked about 60 or 70 cigarettes a day.


He would not stop doing anything. He didn't stop drinking—but, of course, if you've got this kind of bad heart it helps lessen the pains (by increasing the circulation) if you drink whiskey.


At Goldeneye, Ian would still go skin diving, even though it brought On his pains. He would not cut down his golf, no matter what the weather. I think he felt happiest when he could drive his Thunderbird straight to the golf course. The day he became fatally ill was a Sunday. We were at our country home, about 60 miles from London. He had a cold, and I took his temperature. It was 100. I said, “You can't play golf today.” And he said, “I couldn't possibly spend Sunday in the depths of the country with nothing to do.” So he played golf in the rain, drove to London in wet clothes, got a fever and brought back the heart trouble. He was then in bed for the next four or five months until he died.


Afterward The Times and other important journals discussed Ian’s life and work with proper candor and proper respect, but, in some quarters, it seemed that he still had to pay a price for being identified with the sensationally successful Mr. Bond. Fleet Street does not generally relish success. The British press has also behaved shamefully recently by printing obituaries of Evelyn Waugh and books on Somerset Maugham written by embittered or ignorant people.


In Ian's case, the outstanding example of betrayed friendship was Malcolm Muggeridge, who wrote venomously in Esquire magazine, and in the London Observer. Since Malcolm had frequently been our guest, it, was a shock to me. I do not speak to him now.


Ian’s reserve didn't, allow him to make friends easily. Like many Englishmen, he had a small circle of close men friends. John Pearson, who has now written the official biography of my husband, took a lot of trouble to talk to those who knew Ian, but it was not easy for John, as he had not known Ian well.


Ian’s two greatest friends were not in the club world, one being Robert Harling, the editor of House and Garden; the other being William Plomer. Ian would lunch with them, and sometimes Cyril Connolly or Alan Ross, the editor of London Magazine. Though none these could remotely be described as dull men, Ian always said he loved bores; possibly he was thinking of the Philistine golf world, which he said was restful compared to the crackling conversation of London dinner parties. I remember him leaving an embassy dinner party directly after we left the dining room, bidding good-night to the ambassadress with the words: “I have said everything I have to say to everyone in this room.”


I suppose the spy racket will continue while there is a market for it. The company which owns the Fleming royalties has commissioned Kingsley Amis, the author of Lucky Jim, to carry on the series. I have the right of veto. It seems particularly ludicrous that Kingsley should attempt this; James Bond exact opposite of his Lucky Jim.  In the past, all efforts to continue series like Bulldog Drummond and Sherlock Holmes failed. I think the plan neither right nor sensible.

Edited by Revelator, 28 April 2016 - 09:45 PM.

#10 Revelator



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Posted 28 April 2016 - 10:17 PM

Some brief notes on the piece above:

* It's sobering to know The Man With the Golden Gun contributed to Fleming's death!

* Ann continues to come across as more sympathetic. It's evident that she resented Bond for changing her husband's character and ultimately killing him. She loved her Ian for who he was, and his career as a writer was something she hadn't bargained on. Her distaste for Bond is also explained by a simple fact that she wasn't a fan of thrillers in general.

* That said, I cheered when Ann defended the Bond books against the charges of snobbery and of treating women roughly. She even cited Bond's romance with Kissy in YOLT!

* How amusing to see the vehemently anti-American praise the Yanks when interviewed by them...

* The personal details--Fleming's hotel routine, his love of fishcakes, treating Caspar to oysters--are touching. The evidence of how Fleming was changed by Bond is slightlydisturbing.

* Further debunking of the myth that Fleming disliked movies...

* I can vouch for Ann's praise of Bleak House. One of the greatest of all novels, even if you don't like Dickens. "Jarndyce vs Jarndyce" is also a good metaphor for Kevin McClory's life.

* Ann's public appearance during this period seem intended to drawing attention to her financial situation by embarrassing the those with the cash. Today the Fleming estate is of course doing quite well, in the hands of Peter Fleming's descendants.

* Further evidence that Fleming actually liked Connery's Bond!

* The "great friend" Ann sarcastically mentions is Ivar Bryce.

* Malcom Muggeridge was despicable for more reasons than spitting on Fleming's grave. He made an ass of himself during the controversy over Monty Python's Life of Brian and his other idiocies are detailed by the great Clive James.

* Ann's comment about Bond and Sherlock Holmes continuation novels was obviously short-sighted...

#11 Major Tallon

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Posted 29 April 2016 - 01:35 AM

Another brilliant post, Revelator!  Thanks so much for finding and posting these.