Thursday, August 26, 2010

007 In Depth: Waugh Bonds

Unlike most thriller-writers of his day, Ian Fleming moved in literary circles. He counted among his friends Somerset Maugham, Noël Coward, Cyril Connolly and several other famous writers. Some of these friendships had been forged during the Second World War or through his work for The Sunday Times, while others stemmed from his wife Ann (pictured), who he married in 1952 after she divorced her second husband, the press magnate Esmond Harmsworth, the 2nd Viscount Rothermere.

During her marriage to Harmsworth, Ann had made her home ‘the leading politico-literary salon in London’.1 After marrying Fleming – and partly as a result of marrying him – she became a close friend of Evelyn Waugh (pictured), the author of Brideshead Revisited, A Handful of Dust, Decline and Fall and many other novels. In 1973, Ann Fleming contributed an essay on her friendship with him to the book Evelyn Waugh and his World, edited by David Pryce-Jones (Weidenfeld & Nicholson), which was printed in The Times a few weeks ahead of the book’s publication.2 It’s a fascinating essay, because it is not just revealing about Waugh, but also the life Ann and Ian Fleming had together.

She opens her essay with an account of how her friendship with Evelyn Waugh began. When she married Ian in March 1952, she was feeling fragile at having followed her heart but broken ‘laws and vows’ in the process. She was also worried about how her friends, family, and society as a whole would react to her new marriage. It was then that she received her first letter from Waugh:
‘It contained a sheet of Victorian Valentine writing paper liberally decorated with bells, doves and cherubs, and one short sentence, “I rejoice in your escape from the arms of Esmond.”’3
Mystified by this, she wrote to ask for clarification. Waugh, who was a staunch Catholic, explained that because Esmond Rotheremere had been divorced previously, he felt that she had been living in sin with him. But now – despite her divorcing Rothermere – she was in a state of grace. The strange logic of this aside, Ann Fleming appreciated the sentiment and the two soon became close friends, meeting and corresponding regularly until Waugh’s death in 1966. They shared a sometimes cruel but very dry wit, and delighted in gossiping about their friends and acquaintances to each other between exchanging bon mots. They often dined at The Ritz, Waugh’s favourite restaurant, which he always referred to as ‘Marble Halls’. It was a relationship, Ann wrote, that gave ‘nothing but joy’:
‘Evelyn affected a grave demeanour of manner, he seldom laughed aloud, and a smile was very rewarding. He was a great comedian, and at moments one was reminded of Charlie Chaplin, the little man, the figure of fun. It is difficult for me to understand why so many feared him – perhaps he could not resist attacking pretension and all forms of cowardice. And it must be admitted that sometimes he just liked to attack.’4

If Waugh felt that someone were dull or talking nonsense, Ann Fleming reveals, he would simply ‘stare horribly at them’, his blue eyes growing rounder and his stare more intense, before saying in a loud aside to her: ‘Still time to go to Marble Halls’. Ann was surprised that this simple trick disconcerted anyone Waugh tried it on, and wondered if he had perfected the stare in the mirror. Waugh could also be shockingly inappropriate:
‘On one occasion, the Waughs called upon me to commiserate on a child of mine who had recently died at the age of six weeks. Advance news from White’s Club informed me that Evelyn was saying, “I shall make funny faces at her to console her.” This news was ill-received, and Laura, seeing that something was amiss, said, “When Evelyn is in one of his bad moods, we send him to a witch in Somerset who spits at him.”’5
In his letters to Ann, Waugh was also unsparing:
‘Much of the abuse and disdain in his correspondence was devoted to my friends, Peter Quennell, Lucian Freud, Stephen Spender, Alistair Forbes. Except for Cyril Connolly, for whom there were undertones of affection, they were known collectively as the “Fuddy Duddies”.’6
Although she doesn’t mention it, many of these same Fuddy Duddies had an equivocal attitude towards her husband’s novels. In his biography of Fleming, John Pearson discusses Fleming’s growing insecurities about his creation:
‘Of all the disappointments and frustrations which seemed to converge on Fleming in the spring of 1955, possibly the worst was the growing suspicion that he was making a fool of himself over James Bond. Previously he had not felt this: the excellent reviews, the enthusiasm of important friends like Maugham and Plomer had seemed sufficient safeguard against ridicule – no one laughs at success. But after Moonraker was published and America showed such resounding indifference to the exploits of James Bond his creator was bitten by the conviction that, apart from a few loyal friends, no one – or at any rate no one who mattered, and this included Anne and her circle – took his writing very seriously. On one occasion he had arrived back at Victoria Square to find Cyril Connolly giving an exemptore reading from the latest exploits of James Bond to a full-scale gathering of Anne’s friends. It was very funny; and Fleming was the only one who did not laugh.’7
Ann (she dropped the ‘e’ on Ian’s suggestion) did not wholly approve of the Bond novels herself, as she revealed in a letter to Waugh describing her life with Ian at their second home in Jamaica, Goldeneye:
‘I love scratching away with my paintbrush while Ian hammers out his pornography next door and we are both very sad but there seems no alternative.’8
On another occasion, she complained that Ian had bought a painting for their son Caspar ‘with his pornography money’.9

In February 1955, Waugh visited the Flemings in Jamaica and, bizarrely, ended up helping Ian out with Diamonds Are Forever, which he was then working on:
‘Despite our efforts, boredom set in, for Goldeneye afforded little of the human material so necessary to the author. (Waugh) was sent to Kingston, to an acquaintance whose living-room was furnished with a bar adorned with all glasses which were engraved with doubtful jokes. The visit was a happy idea. A Catholic bishop was lured to cocktails, he became very drunk, fell off the bar stool and lost his ring. Evelyn returned to Goldeneye much stimulated by the horrors of Kingston. For the remaining days he spent with us, he amused himself by forcing Ian to rewrite all the current Bond love scenes over and over again. “An author”, he decreed, “must be in a state of lustful excitement when writing of love.” Ian was not allowed a drink until he was judged to have been in the right mood.’10
In August 1964, Ian Fleming died. Ann was grief-stricken, but while the Bond novels had been beneath her when Ian was alive, after his death she felt that they were beneath everyone else. When the board of Fleming’s literary estate Glidrose, headed by Ian’s brother Peter, suggested that new James Bond novels be written by other authors, Ann strongly objected to the idea. ‘No one understands why I am distressed,’ she wrote to Waugh in October 1965. ‘Though I do not admire ‘Bond’ he was Ian’s creation and should not be commercialised to this extent.’11

She was particularly upset because the idea was to employ Kingsley Amis to write the first ‘continuation’ Bond novel, and she disapproved of his politics. Despite her objections Amis’ Colonel Sun, written under the pseudoynm ‘Robert Markham’, was published in April 1968. Invited by The Sunday Telegraph to review the book, Ann Fleming wrote a condemnation both of Amis and those who had overruled her on the idea for the project:
‘Since the exploiters hope Colonel Sun will be the first of a new and successful series, they may find themselves exploited. Amis will slip Lucky Jim into Bond’s clothing, we shall have a petit bourgeois red-brick Bond, he will resent the authority of M., then the discipline of the Secret Service, and end as Philby Bond selling his country to SPECTRE.’12
The Sunday Telegraph decided not to run the review. But despite her grief and increasing bitterness, her friendship with Waugh always offered her comfort:
‘When Ian died, Evelyn’s letters showed compassion and understanding; a more sensitive and kinder friend one could not wish for. If any of our acquaintance became a widower, however unlikely a suitor, a postcard would arrive, advising against matrimony. One reads, “I see Osbert Lancaster is bereaved, it would be most imprudent to marry him.”’13
But Waugh was now dying himself, and was distressed at the state of the world, and in particular the Catholic Church:
‘The change in the Mass upset him dreadfully, and so did the Pope’s visit to America. With a return to the old levity, knowing that my son Caspar has a weakness for fire-arms, he wrote offering him a bribe if he would go to New York to shoot the Pope.’14
Sadly, Caspar Fleming became increasingly obsessed with fire-arms, and took his own life in 1975. Ann, grief-stricken once more, died of cancer in 1981. Her essay on Evelyn Waugh is a rare glimpse into her life with Ian Fleming, and the circumstances and society within which he shaped one of the most famous characters in popular fiction.


1. p171, Ian Fleming by Andrew Lycett, Phoenix, 1996.
2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 13, 14. Yours affec: Evelyn by Anne Fleming, The Times, September 22, 1973.
7. p283, The Life of Ian Fleming by John Pearson, Companion Book Club, 1966.
8. p169, The Letters of Ann Fleming, edited by Mark Amory, Collins Harvill, 1985.
9. p216, Amory.
11, 12. p449, Lycett.

This is part of 007 In Depth, a series of articles on Ian Fleming and James Bond.


  1. Ann seemed to hate Bond and at the same time enjoy the money. Shame she sold all of Flemings work to the Lilly. Intresting look at Ann Jeremy. I always feel sorry for Ian Fleming when I hear of the tale of him coming home to find his Wife and friends taking the mickey out of his work. Another great post.

  2. Thanks, Nicholas. I think her essay is interesting in that it shows another, rather more sensitive side of her - albeit it one with enough of a stiff upper lip to tell anecdotes about her miscarriage.

    But yes, I think that some of the writers Waugh identified as 'Fuddy Duddies' showed a peculiar sort of passive-aggression towards Fleming. On the surface, they were often jolly with him and praised his work and were happy to be associated. But then they also resented him, because they were snobs about thrillers and couldn't see that there is a difference between form and content. Fleming knew there was, and had seen how Chandler had (after some time) become not just accepted but lauded by the literary establishment. But I think some of Anne's friends felt that Fleming was writing tosh, and I think they couldn't help making him aware that, when it came down to it, he wasn't quite at their level. But then not that many people are reading Peter Quennell or even Cyril Connolly's books these days, so I wonder if they were as clever as they thought they were.

  3. Good point about Ann's miscarriage. You jogged my memory about a bit in the Lycett Biography about Fleming coming into another patients room and bursting into tears on her bed beside himself.

    So Fleming really looked up to Raymond Chandler. Thrillers are looked at differently now thank goodness. And your right Fleming's work has had the final say. I dont think a day goes by without something being comapred to Bond.

  4. Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Jeremy; Waugh was a rather odd man, but he did seem to show genuine affection towards the Flemings when it was needed most.

    Perhaps he needs a co-author credit on Diamonds Are Forever, then? ;-)