June 13, 2012

FOR YOUR SHELF ONLY: RAYMOND BENSON

For Your Shelf Only continues! Spy Vibe recently talked with Jon Gilbert, rare book dealer and author of Ian Fleming: The Bibliography. Our chat began a new series on Spy Vibe, offering fellow collectors and fans of spy novels a chance to share their experiences and some of their prized books. 

Our first guest is Raymond Benson, author of over 25 books, including The Black Stiletto and tie-in stories for Metal Gear Solid and Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell. He is also one of the six writers in the world chosen to write official James Bond continuation novels. As a lad, I read his pieces in Bondage Magazine, coveted his James Bond Bedside Companion, and I now enjoy his movie features in Cinema Retro. Raymond, thank you for visiting the Spy Vibe lair!


Many of us grew up collecting Ian Fleming and other spy books, usually used paperbacks found in second hand shops. When did you start reading spy fiction? Did you collect as a kid? And as a Bond author, have you collected rare Ian Fleming editions? I discovered Bond around the time Goldfinger was released (1964), so the readily available books in the U.S. were the classic Signet paperbacks, so I quickly got those (adding to them as the additional titles came out) and still own the same set today. I didn't seriously collect the collectible stuff until the early 1980s, around the time I started researching and writing The James Bond Bedside Companion. By the mid-80s I had a complete set of Fleming UK first editions, but I have since sold them. I was always more interested in the literary collectibles as opposed to the film ephemera. 

Some collectors of rare editions are interested in the investment aspects. Did you collect your Fleming first editions through dealers or hunting for bargains at bookshops? Were you able to sell the collection at a profit? I used a dealer I knew, although I found a handful of them when I was in the UK in 1982 researching the James Bond Bedside Companion and bought them from a shop. I certainly sold them for a profit, and I imagine that if I had hung on to them, they'd be worth even more now.

What are your all-time favorite cover designs? The Richard Chopping designs are my favorites, of course, with From Russia With Love the top one. [Below image: Spy Vibers can find From Russia With Love and other Bond rarities at James Bond First Editions]
I just picked up a signed UK 1st edition of your book, The Man With the Red Tattoo. I was drawn to the story because I lived in Japan for many years. Do you keep rare editions of your own books? Yes, I try to get every edition of my own titles, foreign and otherwise, but it's not easy. Ian Fleming Publications doesn't always get copies of foreign editions, so I have to seek them out elsewhere. I suppose the UK editions of my titles are getting to be somewhat collectible, but the real gems are the UK hardcover of Tomorrow Never Dies and the first printing of Zero Minus Ten[Below image: Spy Vibers can find Zero Minus Ten and other Benson rarities at James Bond First Editions]

How do you track down those rare editions of your own books? It would be interesting to hear about which countries are included in your collection. In many cases, the country/publisher in question would send a few copies to Ian Fleming Publications, and then they would send me a sample copy. But not every publisher did that, so it was a case of someone making me aware of a particular title. I'm confident that I don't have all the various foreign editions of my books!
What do you remember about being at Ian Fleming's own writing desk at Goldeneye? Was that an inspiring journey? When I first sat at the desk I swear I went into some kind of trance. We were there to take my picture for publicity reasons, as it was recently announced I was the new Bond author. I remember the photographer saying, "Raymond! Raymond! Earth to Raymond!"

Could you glean anything about Fleming's personality or writing habits from sitting at his work space? Not really, it had been "cleaned up" and was simply a desk with a lamp and potted plant on it when I was there.

Are there books you still look for? Did you collect pulp novels or magazines in preparation for The Black Stiletto? I don't really collect that stuff anymore. And, no, nothing really contributed to The Black Stiletto other than whatever has been in my head for decades. I do, however, enjoy the pulp novels of the 30s, 40s, 50s, and the lurid paperback covers associated with them are cool. Most of the pulps I read were of the crime novel type-- James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, Jim Thompson...

As I said, I sold off the real collectible Fleming items, so all I have now are the commercial editions of the Bond books. If you saw the recent WGN TV interview with me, you will have seen on my wall a collage of signed Bond actor photos... I do have several signed items on my walls from various film directors and musicians. [Spy Vibers can also see Raymond play the James Bond Theme on his piano in the interview!] 

Richard Avedon said that his autograph collecting was a way to express his desire to be part of the professional world of the imagination. When did you start to collect signatures? Probably in the 1970s.

Who is in your collection? Which pieces do you treasure most?

Mostly film and music related. The most treasured one is Stanley Kubrick. Other directors I have are Woody Allen, David Lynch, Ingmar Bergman. In music: John Lennon, Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull, Yes members, Neil Young, Philip Glass, John Barry, Robert Wyatt. Writers: Ian Fleming, Harold Pinter, Ruth Rendell, Stephen King, Isaac Asimov, Stan Lee. [Below: set design for Kubrick's Dr Strangelove by Sir Ken Adam]


Did you get to meet Bergman? He's at the top of my list, along with Woody Allen and Fellini. I missed meeting Bergman by 5 minutes. I was in Sweden and we were by the Royal Theatre in Stockholm, where Bergman often directed plays. I said I wanted to go inside, so I did, and I asked someone facetiously, not expecting anything, "Is Ingmar Bergman here?" and they replied "You missed him by 5 minutes." ! [Raymond's tribute to Bergman at Cinema Retro]

In terms of James Bond signatures, which cast and crew do you have? I've got Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, Mie Hama, Akiko Wakabayashi, Richard Kiel, and John Cleese.

Did you find your various autographs at auctions or shops, or were you able to meet many people in person? Most were in person, although a few (like Kubrick) were got from reputable dealers. 

Are there autographs you still want to find? I want Ennio Morricone, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, The Marx Brothers, and Alfred Hitchcock.


Collectors all have moments when they stretch their budgets to pick up a cool treasure that crosses their path. What are the most valuable items that have ever been on your shelf or wall? Probably John Lennon's signed first edition of In His Own Write, also signed by Brian Epstein. [Cover photo shoot above]

It sounds like you collect less than you did in the past. Was that a process of conserving space, funds, and time? All three!


Thanks again to Raymond for joining us. For more information about Raymond Benson, please visit his websiteYou can find Raymond Benson's books and other spy treasures in Spy Vibe's secure Amazon StoreStay tuned for another edition of For Your Shelf Only. Series links: Jon Gilbert, Raymond BensonJeremy Duns, Peter LorenzDavid FosterRob MallowsRoger Langley, Craig Arthur, Fleming Short, Matt Sherman. 


Check out Spy Vibe's classic 2009 article, Set For Adventure, where we joined forces with Lee Pfeiffer, Jeremy Duns, Stephen Bissette, and others to look at the best set designs from spy entertainment. More about Spy Vibe creator Agent J at Jason Whiton.

1 comment:

  1. Just found your blog. Excellent stuff. I had a major nostalgia attack looking at some of the old Bond covers. You might be interested in a piece on Billion Dollar Brain I did on my blog.

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