Read my article on Ben Hecht’s Casino Royale in today’s Sunday Telegraph – and keep an eye on the Telegraph’s website, as an extended version of the article will be going online shortly.
EDIT: The full article is now online here.
‘The creation of real life intelligence operative and old Etonian Ian Fleming, Bond borrowed his 007 title from Dr John Dee. The 16th century British secret agent used the code for his messages to Queen Elizabeth I. The two zeros meant “for your eyes only”...’1
BBC News, November 22 2002
‘At the outbreak of war, the Beast found himself caught up in further intrigue as the occult and espionage worlds collided. Ian Fleming, working for naval intelligence in MI5, contacted him with an outlandish plan to lure Rudolf Hess to Britain by using mystical enchantments and astrology…’2
The Daily Telegraph, May 30 2009
‘Behind every great James Bond thriller there is a great Bond girl. The actress Eva Green is winning plaudits for her sultry portrayal of Vesper Lynd in the new film of Ian Fleming’s 1953 novel Casino Royale. But was this exotic femme fatale just a product of the author’s imagination?
As a noted womaniser who had worked in Naval Intelligence during the Second World War, Fleming had plenty of personal experiences upon which to draw. He also enjoyed a cocktail called the Vesper. But more importantly, in the years immediately before writing Casino Royale, he had been regularly seeing a woman named Christine Granville.
She was really the Countess Krystyna Skarbek. When she was born, half-Jewish, in Warsaw on a stormy night, her father, an impoverished count, gave her the pet name “Vespérale”…’3
The Times, November 18, 2006
‘The story of beautiful wartime spy Christine Granville, who was Ian Fleming’s lover and the inspiration for the James Bond character Vesper Lynd, is to be made into a major film…’4
The Daily Mail, February 27, 2009
‘I asked him if he now wished to publicly name the faker of the poem, but he said he was not ready. He was still happy, though, for me to use the old formula, that it was faked by “A very clever man who enjoys his quiet fun”, and he winked as he said it! Yes, he was a likeable rogue. But he was trapped by his very likeability. Over the years he had kept up the bluff with so many people that he found it hard to disentangle himself, as I found out when I later wrote to him. He was, by then, unwilling to commit himself in writing, instead he wrote letters full of teasing, enigmatic clues.
Finally in October 1997 I wrote to him and asked him to stop the fooling and write a candid letter fit for publication. Sadly the reply that came back read “I have an ulcer on my right eye and have great difficulty in writing at present. Please let the matter drop.” I did and there was never to be a further chance. Within a short while I learned that he was dead.’7Harris himself died in 2004. He also wrote that McCormick told him that the starting point for his books was usually the Kemsley newspaper library, which contained cuttings dating back to the Victorian era: ‘Other newspapers, he advised, held similar archives. They saved him a journey and a search at Colindale.’8 This technique can be seen in 17F: dozens of newspaper articles are cited and often quoted at length. These make the book seem more authoritative and give McCormick lots of genuine sources to footnote, helping to disguise the fabrications woven around them.
‘This immensely ugly old diabolist and self-advertiser had thrown himself into certain more unsavoury areas of the occult with a gusto that must have appealed to Fleming, and when the interrogators from British Intelligence began trying to make sense of the neurotic and highly superstitious Hess [Fleming] got the idea that Crowley might be able to help and tracked him down to a place near Torquay, where he was living harmlessly on his own and writing patriotic poetry to encourage the war effort.’9According to Pearson, Crowley wrote a letter to the Director of Naval Intelligence offering to help, but nothing came of it:
‘It is a pity that this had to be one of Fleming’s bright ideas which never came off: understandably, there was hilarity in the department at the idea of the Great Beast 666 doing his bit for Britain.’10Pearson deals with this episode in four paragraphs. McCormick took the ingredients of it – Fleming, Hess, Crowley and the occult – to invent an entirely new story. In his version, Fleming didn’t merely get the idea to approach Crowley after Hess had landed: Hess’ arrival in Scotland was itself the result of an elaborate operation hatched by Fleming to lure him to Britain by means of forged astrological charts. McCormick larded his story with details about meetings in Portugal and Switzerland, Hess’ ‘chief astrological adviser Ernst Schulte-Strathaus’ and the like, with footnotes referring to letters sent to him by several parties, and in one case saying ‘See German Intelligence Personnel Records’, with no indication as to where those might be.
‘When Hess himself enacted Peter Fleming’s fictitious ploy, no doubt it secretly delighted Ian, but the sheer coincidence of The Flying Visit narrative and Hess’s arrival must at the same time have been somewhat embarrassing for him.And we have come full circle, back to the incident in John Pearson’s biography from which McCormick seems to have developed the entire story. McCormick footnoted his quotes from Delmer and Peter Fleming to issues of The Times from September 1969. I looked them up, and found that McCormick had omitted a rather salient fact: both Delmer and Peter Fleming had written about this incident in terms of dismissing an earlier telling of it. By none other than Donald McCormick.
However, there is no evidence that the brothers colluded in Ian’s secret operation. Peter Fleming stated long afterwards that Ian had not told him about ‘this idea’, which he described as ‘a new legend about my brother’. On the other hand, Sefton Delmer, who knew Ian Fleming well and had worked with him, commented: ‘As an idea, inducing Hess to fly to England by means of astrological hocus-pocus – and the bait of the Duke of Hamilton – was something that might have appealed to Ian Fleming, or even to have been conceived by him. I am quite ready to believe that.’
Later, anxious to stress that he had no knowledge of any such plans and, by implication, denying that his own novel had any connection with them, Peter Fleming affirmed that he did not believe ‘the elaborate ruses were ever carried out, or even planned’. None the less the undisputed fact remains that Fleming was anxious, once Hess had landed, to follow up his own hunches on the best way to handle him. He not only begged the authorities to allow Aleister Crowley to interview Hess, he even managed to persuade Crowley to offer his services for this purpose. Unfortunately the offer was not taken up…’11
‘It is all too pat and does not fit the fact that the flight on May 10 was not Hess’s first attempt to fly to Britain.’12Peter Fleming said that Ian had never mentioned the idea to him, and indeed called it ‘a new legend about my brother’ – ie a legend created by Donald McCormick. Three days later, Peter wrote a letter to The Times explaining in greater detail why he thought the story was nonsense:
‘Sir, -- I agree with Mr. Sefton Delmer that the idea of decoying the Deputy Führer of the Third Reich, with the aid of astrology, to rendez-vous with a Duke in Scotland during the opening phase of the German offensive in Europe in May 1940 was one that my late brother, Ian, might well have conceived. But he did not conceive it, nor do I believe that the elaborate ruses described by Mr. Deacon in his History of the British Secret Service were ever carried out, or even planned…’13Peter Fleming went on to explain that because he had written The Flying Visit, he thought it highly unlikely his brother would have neglected to mention to him that he had been involved with such a similar real-life event later on in the war. Peter did not mention, for security reasons, that he had himself been an important figure in deception operations during the war, so there was no question that Ian would not have trusted him with such information.
‘Did Dee really sign his name this way? A painstaking search through many, many Dee signatures has convinced this writer that he did not. His real signature took many forms, but looks more like a whirlwind than a 007.This is a good description of McCormick’s technique: alongside genuine material correctly sourced, he added elements he had invented, citing fictitious but authoritative-sounding sources. Much of 17F is recycled material from his earlier works, sometimes barely repackaged and often only tenuously linked to Ian Fleming. His account of the failed plan to block the Danube in 1940 is the same as the one he gave in The Silent War: A History of Western Naval Intelligence, published under the pseudonym Richard Deacon in 1988, with hardly a word changed. There is some justification for that: Fleming was heavily involved in that operation, so it makes some sense to recap his research. But in many cases McCormick repeated material from his previous books that had nothing whatsoever to do with Ian Fleming, and simply repackaged them with Fleming now playing a central role in the incidents in question.
Yet even this writer has fallen for that non-fact. Deacon footnotes works of natural philosopher Robert Hooke (1635-1703), including his Posthumous Works presented to Sir Isaac Newton (which does actually exist) and an alleged work called An Ingenious Cryptographical System, which, though quoted in several scholarly and non-scholarly works since, and listed in two of them as being among the “Gwydir Papers, Manuscript Collection,” seems not to exist at all.
Yet for one who has studied much of the Dee material which has become available after 1968, Deacon’s book reads like a blurred, excited rehashing of ideas slightly out of focus and in the service of someone else’s ego: he footnotes here and there as if for kicks, referring to letters and legend one can find no record of, but weaving a story that is almost plausible…’17
‘Howe told me: ‘As a long shot I gave her Fleming’s address, as I felt sure he would be interested in her – as a fascinating personality certainly and maybe as a correspondent somewhere or other.’’18McCormick did not provide a date or any other reference for this quote, so we have to take it on trust that he accurately recalled Howe’s words – and that Howe even said any such a thing at all. McCormick claimed that Fleming was interested in Granville, and quotes a letter from Ian Fleming to Howe about her:
‘She literally shines with all the qualities and splendours of a fictitious character. How rarely one finds such types.’19A letter by Fleming! If true, compelling evidence of a connection, at least. But it is not shown in the book. McCormick instead footnoted this quote, writing that the letter had been shown to him personally, and had been dated 12 May 1947. He did not reveal the current whereabouts of the letter, again leaving readers with just his word that it ever existed.
‘Then there are the colourful spies like Sorge, the brilliant, luxury-loving German who worked for Russia in Tokio, and girls like Christine Granville who was murdered by a love-crazed ship’s steward in a Kensington hotel in March 1952, after a fabulous record in wartime espionage for which she earned the George Medal.’21Granville was well-known, and Fleming knew of her, but there is no evidence anywhere other than in Donald McCormick’s book that Ian Fleming ever even met her, let alone had an affair with her. Considering the access that both John Pearson and Andrew Lycett had, and the thoroughness of their research, one would have expected them to have mentioned a connection with such a well-known woman. All the more so, as someone Ian Fleming did have an affair with was Blanche Blackwell. Pearson didn’t mention this at all in his biography, perhaps because Ian’s widow Ann was still alive at the time he was writing, as was Blackwell. Writing in 1996, long after all the parties were dead, Andrew Lycett revealed the affair and the extent of it. But he didn’t mention Christine Granville once. Writing in 1993, McCormick devoted a whole chapter to the supposed affair with Granville, his only evidence for which was oral testimony from a friend of Granville’s who has never been identified elsewhere and a letter from Fleming to Edward Howe never seen anywhere else. But Blanche Blackwell isn’t mentioned once in the book.
‘Further inquiries established the fact that Christine Granville was born on a stormy night and that her father gave her the nickname of ‘Vespérale’, or, as he himself explained, ‘qui a rapport au soir claret vespérale.’22McCormick provided a footnote for this, citing Madeleine Masson’s 1975 biography Christine: A Search for Christine Granville, but he didn’t provide the corresponding page number. There was a very good reason for that: that particular piece of information didn’t in fact appear anywhere in Masson’s book. Instead, Masson noted:
‘Count Jerzy was relieved when his daughter Krystyna, Christine, born in 1915, seemed to have inherited his own good looks.So the one piece of information McCormick gave that compellingly suggested Granville was the model for Vesper is not in the book McCormick claimed as his source for it. And instead, that book contradicts McCormick’s account, saying that her father nicknamed her Happiness and Star. And while vesper can refer to the evening star, that isn’t what McCormick wrote, and ‘Star’ is not a nickname one gives for being born on a stormy night.
From the start there was a complete rapport between father and daughter. He called her his ‘Happiness’ and his ‘Star’.’23
‘Once it became known that my researches might become the basis for a film, a tide of new information about Christine alerted me to the fact that there were lacunae in my book that would need further digging and verification.’ 25Chief among these lacunae was Granville’s SOE file, which had been declassified in 2003, the contents of which Masson discussed and quoted, and Donald McCormick’s claim that Granville had an affair with Ian Fleming, which Masson discussed at some length. She also mentioned the idea that Granville might have been the model for Vesper, noting their supposed similarities in appearance and that she tells Bond her name is the result of her being born on a stormy evening:
‘In fact, Countess Krystyna Skarbek was born on a stormy night, and her father, Count Jerzy Skarbek, had given his baby daughter the nickname Vespérale or, as he explained, ‘like the evening star’.
One of the many biographies of Fleming – Donald McCormick’s – majors on his affair with Christine. I cannot confirm that Fleming used Christine as the model for Vesper Lynd but there is a real passion in Fleming’s novel and his account of Vesper’s beauty and character adds up to a fair description of Christine.’ 26
‘I was marched smartly across the dark, snow-covered parade ground and shown into an office where a man dressed in civilian clothes awaited me. He wasn’t a civilian, though, because he said, “I am Captain Morelius.” He had watchful grey eyes and a gun in a holster under his jacket. “You will come with me.”’