March 12, 2013


The era of the 'mix tape' may have evolved into that of the 'playlist', but people have been sharing their cultural tastes for generations, passing along small glimpses into their personality and times. Similarly, the top-ten lists come flooding in every new year, as do those desert island picks. This week on Spy Vibe, we look at the musical world of Ian Fleming. Series links: Noel Coward,Whispering Jack SmithHawaiian GuitarJoe Fingers Carr.

On August 6th, 1963, Ian Fleming made an appearance on the BBC's Desert Island Dics, where Roy Plomley interviewed him about the creation of James Bond and about his writing routine. As part of the show's format, Fleming also shared his his favorite records that he would choose as his desert island picks. One of the first he highlighted was Cecilia by Whispering Jack Smith. Image below of Ian Fleming during his Eton years.

Whispering Jack Smith was born Jacob Schmidt in New York City in 1899. While serving in the American Expeditionary Forces in France during World War I, he was in a gas assault at the battle of Saint-Mihiel. He sustained permanent damage to the throat resulting in a soft whispering voice, which later became his trademark as a singer. He changed his name to Jack Smith after the war and worked as a club singer and song seller for Irving Berlin Music for $100 week. By 1926 TD Kemp had landed him a gig at The Strand for $650 a week. Rave reviews in the trade magazines brought Smith further dates in England and Europe. Smith soon became a sensation through the 1920s and 1930s. Prone to melancholy and drink, Whispering Jack's career slowly eroded into obscurity. He died in 1952, leaving behind about 100 cherished recordings. Ian Fleming became interested in Whispering Jack Smith during that initial breakthrough period in Europe. Fleming mentioned later in life that his favorite tune during his time as a student at Eton (1921-1926) was Smith's Celilia

The song was light and charming and had a hint of the kind of innuendo that must have appealed to Fleming's "red-blooded" instincts. Cecilia was in fact Smith's first recording, made for Victor on September 15th, 1925. For you collectors out there, the matrix number was BVE-33383 and the label description read 'Male vocal solo, with piano." The song was also released later by Decca. Below is Fleming's schoolboy favorite, Cecilia. Smith Whispering Jack history here. Full lyrics here.

Now, little Miss Cecilia Green,
A little over sweet sixteen,
But the cutest flapper that you've ever seen;
When the fellows pass her by,
She will always wink her eye,
And when she talks to them, when she walks with them,
This is what they all cry:
Does your mother know you're out, Cecilia?
Does she know that I'm about to steal ya?
Oh my, when I look in your eyes,
 Something tells me you and I should get together!
How about a little kiss, Cecilia?
Just a kiss you'll never miss, Cecilia,
Why do we two keep on wasting time?
Oh, Cecilia, say that you'll be mine!

have a spy novella coming out soon! Stay tuned for more info. Did you know that Spy Vibe has a Pinterest page? You can see collections of images of Ian Fleming's life, dynamic vintage action, cliffhanger serials, Japanese designs from the 20s, vintage mystery novels, and more! Ian Fleming board here.

Check Spy Vibe for recent posts about 1960s espionage writers, Spy Vibe's discovery of a rare Ian Fleming serialization, my review of SKYFALL, 007 at the Intnl Spy Museum, Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot, new Beatles bio from Mark Lewisohn, tributes to Donald Richie and Tony Sheridan, the Les Vampires serial on Blu-ray, Lucy Fleming, The Beatles first record session, Ian Fleming's desert island interview, new Ian Fleming book designs, FantomasSpy SmasherBarbarella tv show, British spy comics, Piper Gates retro designs, Cinema Retro, and more. 

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