Sunday, August 29, 2010

007 In Depth: The Battles for Bond

Ian Fleming always hoped his novels would be made into films, but it took several false starts before they were. The messiness of those false starts eventually led to the courtroom.

In June 1961, there were three separate production teams trying to get James Bond films off the ground. All would eventually succeed in doing so. One was Maribar, a company set up by the American actor, director and producer Gregory Ratoff. He had bought a six-month option on Casino Royale in 1954, and after that option ran out had bought the full rights to the novel. After his death in December 1960, the rights were bought by Charles Feldman.

Also trying to make a Bond film at this time was Irish producer Kevin McClory, who in 1959 had gone into partnership with Ian Fleming and his friend Ivar Bryce, forming a company called Xanadu and working with several others. By June 1961 Fleming and Bryce had severed ties with him, but McClory believed he still had the right to film Thunderball, a Bond storyline that he had helped create.

The third group, and the newest on the scene, was Lowndes Productions. This was a company due to be set up by producers Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli and Harry Saltzman (perhaps named after Lowndes Cottage, where Saltzman had once lived in London).

The full story of how these three projects evolved and interacted with each other has never been told. Broccoli and Saltzman’s efforts to bring Bond to the screen have been very well documented, as they were the overall victors. In 2007, Robert Sellers published The Battle for Bond, which focused on Kevin McClory’s struggles to make a Bond film, with the attempts of Broccoli, Saltzman, Ratoff and Feldman reduced to side-players in that story. The attempts to film Casino Royale between 1954 and 1966 have yet to receive in-depth analysis. Despite the James Bond series being the most successful film franchise of all time and there being a mass of material about it, there is no full-length book or documentary that looks in total at the story of how Ian Fleming’s novels came to be filmed.

This is not such an analysis, but I hope to show with the use of archive material why it is worth looking in closer detail at all three of the projects. I think one notable gap in the current knowledge is precisely when the individual players in each found out about the others, how they found out, what they felt about the situation and how they reacted to it. In the 1950s and early ’60s, it would have been unimaginable that James Bond would go on to sustain global success for several decades and feature in over 20 feature films. Armed with today’s knowledge, it may seem that Ian Fleming sold the rights to his novels in an unwise way, but he didn’t realize how problematic it might be if films or TV programmes of his work were made by separate companies. Fleming did not write his novels as strictly sequential and interlinked stories: with a few exceptions, they worked well as standalone thrillers. This may have given him the impression that in selling the rights to different novels he was selling off entirely separate properties. But it was the glue that bound them all together – James Bond – that would become the most valuable asset to everyone involved.

When Fleming became involved in plans to make a Bond film with Kevin McClory and Ivar Bryce in 1959, he did not fully consider the implications of his having sold the rights to his first novel to Gregory Ratoff four years earlier. Instead, he promised McClory and Bryce the right to make the first full-length Bond feature film, with a treatment for it written by him.1

It seems unlikely that Ratoff would have been aware of this new deal, as it would have had a serious impact on his work on Casino Royale, which he was still trying to get made, in partnership with Twentieth Century-Fox. As I discussed in a previous article, in January 1956 The New York Times announced that Ratoff’s company would film Casino Royale in England, San Remo and Estoril, with the action of the novel transplanted to the Second World War. The same article revealed that Ian Fleming had himself written an adaptation of the novel, but that Ratoff intended to hire a well-known screenwriter instead.

Despite this, Fleming collaborated with McClory in his attempt to make a James Bond film, and they were both quoted in the Daily Express in connection with it. The Express had a close relationship with Fleming: it had been serializing the Bond novels since April 1956 and had been running comic strip adaptations of them since July 1958. On June 11 1959, the Express published an article titled ‘Who do you think fits the part of James Bond?’, which featured a friendly disagreement between McClory and Fleming as to who should be cast in the part:
‘James Bond, the tough action hero who has made £30,000 for author Ian Fleming in six best-sellers, is to be brought to the screen in a British film.
But last night author Ian Fleming was not satisfied with the star selected to play his hero: Trevor Howard. Which is likely to cause complications for producer Kevin McClory, who is keen for Howard to have the part…’2
This was a more intriguing way of letting it be known that the film was forthcoming than a simple announcement. McClory gave the argument for Howard, who he felt looked as though he had ‘lived it up’ enough to be convincing as Bond. Fleming then provided the knock-down to this:
‘Howard is not my idea of Bond, not by a long way. It is nothing personal against him. I think he is a very fine actor. But don’t you think he’s a bit old to be Bond?’3
Howard (pictured) was 43 at the time, and Fleming stated that Bond was in his early thirties, adding:
‘I wonder how many people who follow the James Bond strip in the Daily Express would see Howard as that character. Not many, I bet.’4
Fleming said he felt that Peter Finch was ‘nearer to it’. When it was pointed out to him that Finch was just a year younger than Howard, he reconsidered, saying:
‘I would be happier if the part could be given to a young, unknown actor, with established stars playing the other roles.

Otherwise I am keen on the project. The film will not be an adaptation of one of my books. I am writing an original screenplay for it.’5
The authorship and ownership of the resulting story would later be a matter of much more serious disagreement between Fleming and McClory, but for now they had succeeded in stoking a ‘controversy’ over who should play Bond in a national newspaper, and as a result readers wrote in with their own choices, some of which were printed in the paper’s letters page of June 15 1959: picks included Richard Burton, Michael Craig and Richard Todd.6

Peter Finch, British-born but Australian, and now best known for his role as the deranged news anchorman Howard Beale in 1976’s Network, may seem an unusual actor for Fleming to have picked, but in the ’50s he was a leading man and his latest film, which had been released by Rank in Britain in January, was Operation Amsterdam, a thriller about commandos trying to secure a stock of diamonds during the Second World War, with a key scene featuring a spectacular bank raid.

McClory, Fleming and Bryce continued with their plans, for the time being. On June 28 1960, The Times published an article titled ‘Big American Film Plan For England’, which began:
‘Mr. Spyros P. Skouras announced at a meeting in London yesterday that 20th Century-Fox Film Corporation, of which he is president, has decided to make almost the whole of seven films in Britain and to release 12 British films now in the course of being prepared. The cost, placed at $20m., was estimated as probably being higher than it would be if the same programme were to be carried out in Hollywood, where the corporation’s normal output of films will not be reduced as a result of the work now to be done in Britain.’7
The article detailed some of the proposed films:
‘Of the British films to be released by 20th Century-Fox, Casino Royal (sic), based on a novel by Mr. Ian Fleming, will have a cast including both the recent interpreters of the character of Oscar Wilde – Mr. Robert Morley and Mr. Peter Finch…’8
This was news of Gregory Ratoff’s production, and it has several intriguing aspects. Firstly, it shows that Ratoff was not only still trying to make Casino Royale as late as 1960, but also that he had enough interest from Twentieth Century-Fox for its president to include it in its future roster and announce it to the press.

The two actors named are also interesting. To be announced in this way by Skouras, one would imagine they had both committed themselves to the film. They may even have signed contracts. Finch, of course, had been Fleming’s pick for James Bond the previous year. Was his involvement coincidence, or had Ratoff or Skouras read the article in the Daily Express? If so, what did they make of the fact that there was another Bond film in production, and one that Fleming was promoting? Had they snatched Finch from under the rival production’s noses – and had he committed to being the first film Bond? In a further ironic twist, Finch had played the lead in The Trials of Oscar Wilde, which had opened in cinemas the previous month. That film was made by Warwick Films, and was co-produced by Cubby Broccoli, who had yet to enter the Bond fray. Ratoff had directed his own film, Oscar Wilde, starring Robert Morley as the playwright, which had also been released the previous month. It is unclear whether Ratoff was considering the avuncular Morley (pictured) for the part of M, Le Chiffre or another character.

The news that Twentieth Century-Fox was planning to release Casino Royale was also reported in The Los Angeles Times, on July 7 1960, mentioning Ratoff as the director and Finch as the star.9 McClory read it and was furious. He had been told that his company had the right to make the first Bond film. He confronted Bryce, and the acrimony spiralled towards litigation.10

On December 14 1960 Gregory Ratoff died, and his widow subsequently sold the rights to Casino Royale to his former agent, Charles K Feldman (pictured). But within months of securing the full film rights to the novel, Feldman was leapfrogged: in June 1961, it was announced in the press that some new players had entered the arena:
‘The remarkable James Bond thrillers are to be filmed at last.

This will be splendid news for the several millions fans – which includes President Kennedy – of Ian Fleming’s blood curdlers.

They have been bought by English producer Harry Saltzman, who produced “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning”, and Albert “Cubby” Broccoli.

“Actors are falling over themselves to play Bond,” Saltzman says. “Cary Grant, David Niven, Trevor Howard, James Mason, all are interested. But I want to use an unknown…”’11
 In July, The New York Times filled in some of the details:
‘WHOLESALE LOT: In the frenetic business of acquiring properties for the movies, it is standard procedure for a company to buy a book, play or script in competition with others. But it is extremely rare for a producer to snag practically all of an author’s works for filming. Such was the case the other day when the independent production team of Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli, in association with United Artists, bought no fewer than seven novels by Ian Fleming, British newspaper man, to be made under the Saltzman-Broccoli corporate banner of Lowndes Productions for U.A. release.’12
Broccoli and Saltzman would soon settle on a different name for their company, Eon Productions, although Saltzman would later form his own production company called Lowndes independently of Broccoli, with which he made such films as The IPCRESS File and Battle of Britain. The article said that the first of the films would be filmed in England and the West Indies that autumn, that it was likely to be Dr No, and that they were in negotiations with Wolf Mankowitz to write the script.

It looked like James Bond was in a new set of hands, and that they held all the cards. But neither Charles Feldman or Kevin McClory would fold that easily...

Note: Since writing this article, I have unearthed Ben Hecht's 1964 drafts of Casino Royale. For more information on that, please go here.


1. pp25-26, The Battle for Bond, Robert Sellers (Tomahawk Press, 2008 edition).
2, 3, 4, 5. ‘Who do you think fits the part of James Bond?’ by John Lambert and Peter Evans, Daily Express, June 11 1959.
6. ‘The Rush To Cast James Bond’, Daily Express, June 15 1959.
7, 8. ‘Big American Film Plan For England’, The Times, June 28 1960.
9. ‘Hamilton Leads in ‘Act One’ Race’, The Los Angeles Times, July 7 1960.
10. pp86-87, Sellers.
11. ‘A Rush To Be James Bond’, Sydney Morning Herald, June 25 1961.
12. ‘Passing Picture Scene’ by A.H. Weiler, The New York Times, July 16 1961.

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

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.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

007 In Depth: Sean Connery interviews excerpted

Sean Connery is 80 today. Over the years he has given several interviews, but is often rather guarded in them. Here are excerpts from three that I found revealing and interesting. They’re from 1964, 1982 and 1983.
‘He joined the Royal Navy when only 15 “because I had some romantic notion about what it would be like to sail around the world. Actually I never got any farther than the Mediterranean, and then didn’t go ashore,” Sean told me. He still has two reminders of his service: a tattoo on each forearm, one saying “Mum and Dad” and the other, “Scotland Forever”. He had signed up for seven years but was through after three. “I was temperamentally unsuited for the service,” Sean admitted. “I disliked the authority to the extent that I got ulcers and a medical discharge. I considered my three years in the Navy a waste of time and energy!” Connery readily admits that his enormous temper used to get him into trouble. Looking at his powerfully built, 6-foot-2-inch frame and tremendous hands, I could imagine what would happen to the recipient of his anger. “But I don’t lose my temper very often any more, although I still get upset at little things…” Connery’s idea of fun and relaxation is typified by his preference for motorcycles, Levi’s, and black-leather jackets… While Connery enjoys spending money – which is not surprising, considering he has had it only a short time – he refused to comply with such customary Hollywood status symbols as a chauffeured limousine offered him by the studio. “I used to be a truck driver,” he commented. “What would I be doing with a chauffeur?”… Today Sean’s agents demand – and get – $400,000 for his services. Sean’s own independence was evident when he refused to accept the lead in “Marnie” until he had read the script. “Even Cary Grant doesn’t ask to read a Hitchcock script,” he was told. “Well, I’m not Cary Grant,” Connery snapped back. ”If you want me in the movie, send me a script.” They did.’1
‘Connery is still lean and spare, suntanned from the swimming and golfing he puts in at his Marbella home. His hair is greying and he does not disguise the fact that it has long since departed from the top of his head. The toupee which he used in later Bond films will only appear during his return to James Bond in Never Say Never Again, now being filmed… Connery is at present filming in warmer climes. Never Say Never Again, loosely based on Ian Fleming’s Thunderball, has locations in the south of France and the Bahamas. He explains his return to Bond casually as a sudden thought that it would be interesting to take the character up again after 13 years. Another Bond film, Octopussy, with Connery’s successor, Roger Moore, is being completed. “I will be the same Bond as before, but 13 years older,” says Connery. “At 52 I think it is still OK to play him – if I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t do it. We weren’t intending to get into a race with the other Bond, and we will probably be finished some time after them.” … Now that Connery has shown his versatility as a film actor, will he contemplate a return to theatre? He is interested in the thought of directing a play, but not of staying in a run for six months or more. “I have spent too much time as a member of an audience looking at plays to want to go on stage again. After the Bond, where I’ll be motorcycling, swimming underwater, riding and fighting, there’s a film of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I’ll be the Green Knight and there are masses of sword fights. By 1983 I hope I will have some time for a rest.”2
‘Now for a few questions about sex. Connery is known to resent too-direct questions about his personal life, but he doesn’t flinch. First, how did he discover the facts of life? “Oh well, where I was born they were all messing around from the ages of seven and eight onwards in this big tenement building. It was impossible not to discover the facts of life. And there’s a great puritan streak in Scotland which of course immediately intrigued the children – you wanted to know all about what was so terrible.” Can you remember your first experience of a woman? “The decisive encounter was – we used to have air-raid shelters underground because the war was still on, I expect they’re all filled in now – and I was walking along and was followed by an ATS woman and I was what, 14 years old I suppose, just left school. We ended up down in the air-raid shelters. A lot of things started in those shelters. This one was full of water, I remember, with planks and duckboards to walk on…”
What’s good about getting older? “I can’t think of too many things, actually. A Muslim Moroccan friend of my wife’s says the thing to do is to acquire wisdom, that the real pleasure of getting older is to become wiser. I have flashes of what I take to be wisdom, but on the whole I don’t seem to learn a great deal. I went through that phase of the I Ching, Ouspensky’s In Search Of The Miraculous, Gurdjieff, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, you know. At the end of the day, it’s not dissimilar to what’s in the Bible.” Life’s been good to him, on the whole. Has he had to pay a price, has he known any extreme unhappiness? “No, I think the job has given me a chance to play out the fantasies, the kind of stuff which might well otherwise build up inside. When I was young I was very anxious and tense, though. My ulcers started at 16. But acting released this. I never want to go back to that again.”’3


1. Sean Connery – The Private Life of the Amazing “James Bond” by Robert Peel, The News and Tribune, Jefferson City, Missouri, 2 August 1964.
2. Up the mountain without a stuntman by Clare Colvin, The Times, 20 October 1982.
3. Sex, sadism and... shrewdness by Duncan Fallowell, The Times, 16 December 1983.

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

007 In Depth: Is there a lost Casino Royale film adaptation written by Ian Fleming?

When Daniel Craig made his debut as James Bond in Casino Royale in 2006, a circle was closed: Ian Fleming’s first novel had finally been filmed by EON Productions. The full story of the attempts to film this book has not been looked at in great detail by cinema historians, perhaps because the film that was released in late 1966, starring David Niven and Peter Sellers, was a self-indulgent and messy parody of the EON Bond films. But the early plans for the film – which predated the existence of EON – were to make a straight thriller, and the developments over the years are, I think, worth looking at more closely.

From the start of his career as a novelist, Fleming was keen for his books to be adapted into films. The first serious bites both came in May 1954, when Gregory Ratoff (pictured) bought a six-month film option on Casino Royale, which had been published the previous year. Just a week later, CBS bought the TV rights. CBS was quick off the mark with its new property, and on October 21 1954 broadcast an hour-long performance of Casino Royale as an episode in its Climax! series, with Barry Nelson playing American agent ‘Jimmy Bond’ and Peter Lorre playing the villain, Le Chiffre.1

This was the first on-screen incarnation of Fleming’s character, but it was a one-off for television and made little impact. A Hollywood feature film might be another matter entirely, and Gregory Ratoff was therefore a much more promising prospect. The Russian-born American was a well-established and eclectic actor, writer, producer and director. He had directed Intermezzo, Ingrid Bergman’s first Hollywood film, played a leading role in The Forbidden Territory and much more besides. The six months of his option on Casino Royale came to an end with no film in production, but in March 1955 Ratoff converted his option and bought the full rights to the novel, which he held until his death in December 1960.2

The development of Casino Royale between 1955 and 1960 is rarely examined, perhaps because no film was produced in that time. But not for want of trying by Gregory Ratoff. On January 8 1956, The New York Times reported on Ratoff’s newly formed independent production company, Maribar, which he had set up in partnership with Michael Garrison, an actor-turned-agent who would go on to create the TV series The Wild Wild West. The article mentioned that the company was working on two projects: an adaptation of Sylvia Regan’s 1953 play The Fifth Season, which Ratoff had recently directed on Broadway, and Casino Royale:
‘The company also has acquired rights to “Casino Royale”, a novel by Ian Fleming, and the plan is to film it in CinemaScope and color this summer in England, Estoril in Spain and San Remo. Twentieth Century-Fox is slated to release this feature, too.

Although the author has written an adaptation, Mr Ratoff, who is now in Paris, is negotiating with a “noted scenarist, as well as with two well-known stars to play the leads,” Mr Garrison said. “Casino Royale”, he explained, “may be described as a World War II spy story, set partially in the gambling casino of the title and dealing with a search for stolen Government secrets which take the principals through such colorful places as Estoril and San Remo.”’3
This article offers several intriguing pieces of information. One is simply that, ten months after he had bought the rights to the book, Ratoff was serious enough about making the film to be announcing the project in The New York Times and, apparently, negotiating with well-known actors and a scriptwriter. Another is that he had apparently also decided on which locations in which to film. Ratoff knew the Italian port of San Remo well, having filmed Operation X, starring Edward G Robinson, there in 1950. Estoril is in Portugal, not Spain, and is a very interesting location to have chosen, as Ian Fleming’s visit there in May 1941 had been an inspiration for the novel. Fleming mentioned this incident many times – here he is discussing it with his editor William Plomer in a radio interview from 1962:
‘William Plomer: Well now, could you pinpoint for us one of the adventures in your books which you actually experienced yourself?

Ian Fleming: Well, the gambling scene in my first book is more or less a blown up version of what happened to me during the war, because I was flying to Washington with my chief, the Director of Naval Intelligence, and we came down at Lisbon and were told that if we wanted to go and meet some German secret agents, they were always gambling in the Casino at Estoril in the evening. So we went along and my chief didn’t understand the game of chemin de fer they were playing. I explained it to him and then it crossed my mind to have a bash at the Germans who were sitting around, and see if I couldn’t reduce their secret service funds. Unfortunately, I sat down and after three bancos my travel money had completely disappeared. Now that, greatly exaggerated, was the kernel of James Bond’s great gamble against Le Chiffre in which he took Le Chiffre to the cleaners.’4
As The New York Times’ article mentioned England as another filming location and the Second World War for the setting, it seems that the idea at this point may have been to cleave the film adaptation of Casino Royale more closely to Fleming’s own wartime experiences, rather than make a modern-day Bond adventure, or one with an American agent as its hero, as CBS had done in 1954.

But most intriguing of all is the mention that Ratoff was negotiating with a scriptwriter even though ‘the author has written an adaptation’. The idea that Ian Fleming wrote a film adaptation for Casino Royale has, to my knowledge, never been revealed elsewhere. Could it be true? On the one hand, articles such as this, even when in newspapers as respected as The New York Times, often contain inaccuracies – the location of Estoril, for instance – and the grand plans discussed in them do not always come to fruition. Ratoff, after all, never filmed Casino Royale. On the other hand, the information about Fleming having written an adaptation was not being used to build up the film, because Michael Garrison was quoted as saying that they were choosing not to use it, but were instead in negotiations with a ‘noted scenarist’. Garrison appears to have been promoting the idea that a well-known screenwriter’s work would be used rather than the adaptation by the then relatively unknown Fleming, so even if he were unscrupulous there doesn’t seem to be anything he could have gained from inventing the idea that Fleming had written an adaptation. If Fleming hadn’t done so, Garrison could simply have said that they were looking for a noted scenarist to write the screenplay and that would have had precisely the same promotional effect. In the context, then, it seems a peculiar and unlikely thing to invent.

Fleming had also already written a film adaptation of his own work, and would do again. In 1955, The Rank Organisation had optioned his third Bond novel, Moonraker, but had failed to develop it. Frustrated by his dealings with Rank’s script department, Fleming had written his own screenplay of the novel.5  Two years later, Rank paid £12,500 for the film rights to Fleming’s non-fiction book The Diamond Smugglers, which collected a series of articles he had written for The Sunday Times. According to an article in the trade publication The Bookseller, Rank ‘commissioned Ian Fleming to prepare the film treatment’.6 Fleming apparently told Rank that he would provide them with a ‘full story outline’ for a further £1,000, but would not be able to bind himself to writing ‘the master scene script’ or to be available in England for consultations.7

The rights to The Diamond Smugglers were later bought by the producer George Willoughby, who it seems had Fleming’s treatment. In a letter to John Collard in 1965, Willoughby wrote:
‘Fleming himself wrote for the Rank Organisation a film treatment on this subject and although he used the name of John Blaize for the hero, his treatment had, nevertheless, very little to do with the actual articles he wrote for the “Sunday Times”.’8
Willoughby added that for the film he was planning, ‘our basic story would be based mainly on the treatment written by Ian Fleming himself’.9

Neither Fleming’s screenplay of Moonraker or his treatment for The Diamond Smugglers have yet come to light. Could it be that there is also an undiscovered film adaptation of Casino Royale from the 50s, written by Ian Fleming? If so, what could it be like? Is it set in the 1950s, like the novel, or based on his experiences during the war? And how might it differ from the James Bond films we know and love? These questions remain unanswered – for now, at least.

Note: This article was modified on January 14 2011 to reflect new information. Since writing it, I have unearthed Ben Hecht's 1964 drafts of Casino Royale. For more information on that, please go here.


1. pp264-265, Ian Fleming by Andrew Lycett, Phoenix, 1996.
2. p268, Lycett.
3. By Way of Report, A.H. Weiler, The New York Times, January 8 1956.
4. ‘The Writer Speaks’, Ian Fleming and William Plomer, 1962, courtesy the Archives and Special Collections, Durham University Library.
5. p276, Lycett.
6. p1808 The Bookseller, Compendium of Issues 2698-2714, Publishers’ Association, Booksellers Association of Great Britain and Ireland, 1957.
7. p317, Lycett.
8, 9. Letter from George Willoughby to John Collard, June 21 1965, courtesy of the Collard family. For more about the long-running attempts to make a feature film of The Diamond Smugglers, please see my article in The Sunday Times of March 7 2010: How Ian Fleming's book on gems was neglected.

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

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

007 In Depth: William Plomer interviews Ian Fleming, 1962

On 5 October 1962, the first James Bond film, Dr No, had its world premiere in London. Since then, the Bond films have become the most successful cinema series of all time, and they were directly responsible for the ‘spy-mania’ of the Sixties. But James Bond was a household name long before Dr No was made into a film. Fleming’s novels had already sold millions of copies internationally, were reviewed and debated in the world’s leading newspapers, and were imitated, parodied and had even been turned into a successful comic strip. Fleming was a major force in spy fiction, and an enormous influence on several other thriller-writers, prior to October 1962.

But from the beginning, his novels had divided opinion – even before publication, in fact. Michael S. Howard, who was one of the founders and later became the managing director of Fleming’s publisher, Jonathan Cape, was initially against publishing the first James Bond novel, Casino Royale:
‘(Fleming) went busily to work, devising headlines for the chapters and ideas for the jacket. To discuss these we met, towards the end of that October (1952), for the first time since the Popski dinner, and I enjoyed his enthusiastic interest in the technicalities of production. I did not tell him that the book itself had repelled me, and caused me sleepless nights. It had troubled me to be associated with its publication, for I thought its cynical brutality, unrelieved by humour, revealed a sadistic fantasy which was deeply shocking; and that the book would do discredit to the list. But in this I was alone; and although my conscience was uneasy I had accepted the majority opinion, especially William’s judgement, and withdrawn my protests.’1
Howard’s reaction may seem quaint, but Casino Royale was a very dark novel for 1952. James Bond considers Vesper Lynd in the following terms, for example:
‘He found her companionship easy and unexacting. There was something enigmatic about her which was a constant stimulus. She gave little of her real personality away and he felt that however long they were together there would always be a private room inside her which he could never invade. She was thoughtful and full of consideration without being slavish and without compromising her arrogant spirit. And now he knew that she was profoundly, excitingly sensual, but that the conquest of her body, because of the central privacy in her, would each time have the sweet tang of rape. Loving her physically would each time be a thrilling voyage without the anticlimax of arrival. She would surrender herself avidly, he thought, and greedily enjoy all the intimacies of the bed without ever allowing herself to be possessed.’2
This passage makes difficult reading even in 2010. The novel also features a long scene in which Bond has his genitals whipped with a carpet-beater. Fleming’s brother-in-law, Hugo Charteris, felt that the concluding chapters of the book contained ‘the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen in print – torture such as Japs and Huns eschewed as not cricket’.3

Michael Howard wrote that, despite his concerns over Casino Royale, he accepted the majority opinion in Jonathan Cape, ‘especially William’s judgement’. William was William Plomer (right), one of Ian Fleming’s closest friends, and perhaps the man who affected his career more than anyone else. Plomer was born to English parents in South Africa, where he started his career as a writer. His first novel, Turbott Wolfe, caused a sensation on its publication in 1925, as it dealt with inter-racial marriage, making him famous in South Africa. It was published in Britain by Leonard Woolf’s Hogarth Press, and gained him a fan in Ian Fleming, who wrote to Plomer directly to say how much he had enjoyed the novel. Plomer replied from Japan, and when he moved to London in 1929 looked up Fleming. It was the start of a friendship that would last until Fleming’s death over three decades later.

Plomer wrote librettos, including that of Benjamin Britten’s The Prodigal Son, as well as poetry, biography, memoir, stories for children, essays and reviews. In 1933, he submitted a volume of short stories to Jonathan Cape. The firm’s resident reader and adviser, Edward Garnett, advised publishing it but warned that it would probably not make much money:
‘Plomer is certainly about the most original and keenest mind of the younger generation… He is emphatically in the minority, i.e. of the section of writers, the real intelligentsia, the unconventional critical-minded literary artist whom the British Public in general don’t like, and therefore only buy in restricted quantities. He is a Left-winger in popularity, i.e. what D.H. Lawrence was to Hugh Walpole, and Cape mustn’t expect more than a quiet rise in sales, even after Plomer’s The Case is Altered was “Chosen by The Book Society”. Of course he ought to have gained “The Book of the Month” years ago – as far as original literary excellence goes. But he is too unconventional and keen.’4
Cape published Plomer’s book, and following Garnett’s death in 1937, he took over his job at the firm. The war interrupted this, and Plomer worked alongside Fleming in Naval Intelligence for the duration of it, before returning to his job at Cape.

On the face of it, this ‘critical-minded literary artist’ seems an unlikely champion for James Bond. His friendship with Fleming was clearly a factor in it, but perhaps his unconventionality also allowed him to see something in Casino Royale that Michael Howard had not. Plomer felt that many of the submissions Cape was receiving were ‘safe, genteel, and a bit dull’5, so it is perhaps not surprising that when, during lunch at the Ivy on May 12 1952, Ian Fleming revealed to him that he had written a book, he was intrigued.

Plomer liked Casino Royale and recommended it be published, but he met with resistance from his colleagues: not just from Michael Howard, but from Jonathan Cape himself. Cape didn’t like thrillers, and rarely published them. He also didn’t think Casino Royale was very good, but Ian Fleming had another ‘in’ as well as Plomer: his elder brother Peter (above) was one of the country’s best-known travel writers, and was published by Jonathan Cape. He had also been one of the company’s editorial aides since 1946. With entreaties from both Plomer and Peter Fleming, Cape reluctantly agreed to publish Casino Royale, but he was far from happy about it, telling another author, Frank Pakenham, that ‘Peter’s little brother’ had written a book that was ‘not up to scratch’ but that he would publish it ‘because he’s Peter’s brother’.6 According to Michael Howard, Jonathan Cape never read another James Bond novel after Casino Royale.7

Fleming’s first novel sold moderately well and, due to his position at The Sunday Times, was reviewed in all the right places. In fact, that was one of the oddities about Fleming’s novels. Just as Jonathan Cape didn’t like thrillers, neither did many of those in Britain’s literary establishment. But Ian Fleming had loved thrillers since his days at Eton, devouring books by Sapper and E Phillips Oppenheim. He had continued to read thrillers into adulthood, and although he had dabbled in poetry it was a thriller he ended up writing. His influences were his boyhood reading, American writers like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, and the new generation of thriller-writers such as Peter Cheyney and Dennis Wheatley, the latter of whom he knew. Wheatley was one of Britain’s best-selling writers, but while his novels were advertized and serialized in newspapers, they were rarely reviewed. By virtue of being published by Jonathan Cape, and through his considerable network of friends, family and acquaintances in literary circles and high society, Fleming was taken a great deal more seriously. The Times Literary Supplement called Casino Royale ‘both exciting and extremely civilized’, while The Sunday Times, Fleming’s own paper, said he was ‘the best new English thriller-writer since Ambler’.

The subsequent Bond novels sold better than Casino Royale, and in 1958 The Daily Express started adapting them into comic strips. The same year, Fleming became a talking point in the literary world when he was attacked as vulgar by the critic Bernard Bergonzi, and accused of being a purveyor of ‘sex, snobbery and sadism’ by Paul Johnson in The New Statesman 8. This was part of a backlash against Fleming, perhaps partly as a result of his having been launched in establishment circles: other thrillers may have had a lot more of all three of those elements in them, but they didn’t make any claims to being literature. Some people didn’t want Fleming seated at the high table – one could argue that they were the snobs, not he, but that their snobbery concerned the world of books, rather than clothes or food.

Despite these brickbats, or perhaps partly because of them, the Bond novels became more successful, and when it came to review Goldfinger, the seventh book in the series, in March 1959, The Times noted that:
‘A new novel by Mr. Ian Fleming is becoming something of an event, since James Bond has now established himself at the head of his profession, a secret service agent who indeed plays for England but who has much in common with the highly sexed “private eye” on the other side of the Atlantic.’9
James Bond was on a roll, and nothing could stop him. Fleming settled into his routine of writing his books in Goldeneye, his holiday home in Jamaica, and receiving editorial encouragement and criticisms from ‘my gentle Reader William Plomer’ (as he wrote in the dedication of Goldfinger). Plomer had always been Fleming’s champion and supporter behind the scenes, but in 1962 he briefly stepped into the limelight, when he interviewed Fleming for a radio programme. I’m currently trying to locate a recording of this but I have been provided with a copy of the complete transcript, which is held with Plomer’s papers at Durham University, and which makes for fascinating reading.

The interview was part of a series of programmes titled ‘The Writer Speaks’, which had been produced by The New American Library – Fleming’s paperback publisher in the United States. Other writers interviewed for the series included Norman Mailer, Ayn Rand, Irving Stone, Erskine Caldwell, James Jones, CP Snow, Theodore Jones and Gore Vidal. The intention seems to have been for these interviews to have been offered free of charge to any radio station that wanted them, but it’s not clear if any took up the offer in this case: it may never have been broadcast. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s a rather cosy chat, and it covers a lot of familiar ground. Fleming tells the story of his visit to Estoril during the war that inspired the plot of Casino Royale, mentions the influence of Chandler and Hammett on his writing and says he started writing novels ‘to take his mind off the prospect of getting married’10. But some of his remarks are more revealing, and often amusing. When asked by Plomer where the best place in the United States would be for a rendezvous with a spy, he offers either the traditional park or a crowded public swimming pool, or this unusual solution:
‘I once had this discussion with Raymond Chandler and he said that, supposing it were a beautiful spy as opposed to a rather dull spy, the place to take her would be to the Rainbow Room at the top of the Rockefeller Center because he said that was a very attractive place to meet anyway, and also almost entirely used by out-of-town Americans and tourists, so that one would be unlikely to run into a friend or an acquaintance.’11
Plomer also raises the question of Paul Johnson's damning review of Dr No in The New Statesman four years earlier:
‘William Plomer: Do you think your books are studies in sex, snobbery and sadism?

Ian Fleming: Well, I don’t think they are studies in any of those quite proper ingredients of a thriller. Sex, of course, comes into all interesting books and into interesting lives. As to snobbery. I think that’s pretty good nonsense, really. In fact, we’d all of us like to eat better, stay in better hotels, wear better clothes, drive faster motor-cars, and so on, and it amuses me that my hero does most of these things. As for sadism, well, I think the old-fashioned way of beating up a spy with a baseball bat has gone out with the last war, and I think it’s permissible to give him a rather tougher time than we used to in the old-fashioned days before the war.’12
Plomer also asks Fleming if he has any idea of how many books he has sold to date, to which Fleming replies:
‘Well, that’s a very difficult thing to discover because they’ve been published in about thirty foreign languages. But I should say that my sales in England over my last ten or eleven books would be around two or three million, and in America I think they’re certainly that and possibly more. I think they may well be up to four million because they’ve gone into the New American Library paperback edition and been very smartly dressed up and seem to be selling like hot cakes in the States.’13
This seems to be a rather obvious puff, so it may be that if the programme was not broadcast it was because it was felt to be a little too clearly promotional material. But it’s revealing nevertheless, because this interview was conducted before the first Bond film had been released, and the numbers are huge. The sales figures in the States were probably partly the result of an article about John F Kennedy’s reading habits that had appeared in Life in March, 1961, in which the president had listed From Russia, With Love as one of his 10 favourite books.14 Plomer asks Fleming how he had met the Kennedies:
‘Well, it was rather interesting. About a year before Mr Kennedy became President, I was staying in Washington with a friend of mine and she was driving me through, it was a Sunday morning, and she was driving me through Washington down to Georgetown and there were two people walking along the street and she said, “Oh, there are my friends Jack and Jackie,” and they were indeed very close friends of hers, and she stopped and they talked. And she said, “Do you know Ian Fleming?” And Jack Kennedy said, “Not the Ian Fleming?” Of course that was a very exciting thing for him to say and it turned out that they were both great fans of my books, as indeed is Robert Kennedy, the Attorney General, and they invited me to dinner that night with my friend, and we had great fun discussing the books and from then on I’ve always sent copies of them direct and personally to him before they’re published over here.’15
‘I think that was an historic encounter,’ Plomer replies. Fleming told his tale masterfully, but he did not mention the name of his friend. This wasn’t simply tact: to do so would have ruined the story, as the friend was Marion ‘Oatsie’ Leiter, whose surname Fleming had given James Bond’s friend in the CIA, Felix Leiter. Leiter had introduced Kennedy to the Bond novels, and had just stopped off at the Kennedies’ house to ask if she could bring Fleming to dinner that evening. They weren’t in, but on the drive away she and Fleming happened to see them walking on the street.16 But that wouldn’t have made as good an anecdote as JFK saying ‘Not the Ian Fleming?’

And it is perhaps the keen publicist that lurked beneath the drawling upper-class English veneer that helped catapult Ian Fleming’s thrillers to global success. In an interview in 1964, John le Carré said that for his first two novels he had ‘remained an anonymous and contented civil servant who reckoned on producing a book a year for a fairly small readership, and going on doing an honest and unspectacular job’17. Fleming was much more ambitious. He had realized very early on in his writing career that selling subsidiary rights, and particularly television and film rights, would be the key to financial security, and he had pursued them relentlessly. At the time of his interview with William Plomer for ‘The Writer Speaks’, those ambitions were finally coming to fruition, as the following exchange shows:
‘William Plomer: You know people often think your books ought to be films. Am I not right in thinking that the first film based on one of your books has just been made?

Ian Fleming: Yes, it has. It was filmed mostly in Jamaica this last winter. And it’s been done by United Artists through a subsidiary of theirs over here called EON Productions, and it’s been produced by the producer of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which was a very great success both here and in America.

Plomer: Have you seen a preview of your film?

Fleming: Yes, I have. I’ve seen the rough cut and I must say I think they’ve certainly managed to hit it off very well. They’ve got a very good star as James Bond, a man called Sean Connery, a Scotsman, who weight-lifts in Scotland and boxed for the navy and a very good Shakespearean actor and so on, and they’ve got plenty of excitement and gunplay and what-all in the film and I think it’ll probably be a very great success.

Plomer: Well, let’s hope it will be the first of a succession of films.’18
And the rest, as they say, is history.

With many thanks to Caroline Craggs, Mike Harkness and Denise Condron of the Archives and Special Collections, Durham University Library.

1, 4, 5, 7. All quotes are from Jonathan Cape, Publisher by Michael Spencer Howard, Penguin, 1971
2. From Chapter 23, Casino Royale by Ian Fleming, Jonathan Cape, 1953.
3, 6, 16. All quotes and information from Ian Fleming by Andrew Lycett, Phoenix, 1996.
8. The Case of Mr Fleming by Bernard Bergonzi, in The Twentieth Century, March 1958; and Sex, snobbery and sadism by Paul Johnson, in The New Statesman, 5 April 1958.
9. From The Times, March 26, 1959.
10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 18. All quotes from ‘The Writer Speaks’, Ian Fleming and William Plomer, 1962, courtesy the Archives and Special Collections, Durham University Library.
14. The President’s Voracious Reading Habits, by Hugh Sidey, in Life, March 17, 1961.
17. John le Carré Brings Realism To Spy Fiction, Matinee Highlights, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, broadcast May 30, 1964.