November 27, 2015


Exclusive Interview: Fergus Fleming. One of the highlights of the summer was spending time with writer Fergus Fleming (Ian Fleming's nephew) and hearing about his new anthology of his uncle's James Bond-related letters. The Man With the Golden Typewriter contains numerous unpublished letters by Ian Fleming, which have been sourced from the Fleming Archive, the Cape Archive and private collections from around the world. I've been waiting eagerly for his book for many years and am so excited to see Fergus completing the task and keeping the project within the family. Bloomsbury kindly sponsored a contest here last month and three lucky readers won signed editions of the book. Fergus stopped by the Spy Vibe lair this week to chat about the project and about his uncle, Ian Fleming. Welcome, Fergus!

I’m curious to hear about your own and the family’s perception of Ian as a man. What was he like in person and as an uncle?

I have no personal recollection of Ian – he died when I was five – but I believe he was much liked in the family. Those who knew him remember his sense of fun, his kindness (apparently he was very good with children) and the glamour of seeing a Ford Thunderbird parked outside their house. But above all, they recall his generosity. If you were down on your luck Ian would give you his last penny.

All the same, I’m not sure my father thought much of Ian’s books at the time. He made my mother wrap The Spy Who Loved Me in brown paper lest she be seen reading such a scurrilous tract in public. Ian was so delighted when he heard of this that he used her name, Charmian, for Bond’s aunt. 

Authors often reveal more about themselves in writing and through correspondences. Did Ian’s letters show sides of his personality that expanded your perception of him?

Ian addressed matters in a straightforward fashion, but liked to finish on an upbeat note. It was a characteristic he shared with his brothers Richard and Peter, so no surprises there. Perhaps most revealing was that he didn’t fit the popular image. He has acquired a reputation for being a flesh and blood version of James Bond: suave, troubled, hard-living and with a touch of cruelty. Maybe he was. But his letters show a decent man: hard-working, consistently courteous and with an eye to making a living the best way he knew – from his words.

Ian’s travel and thriller writing is filled with sensory observations. Were you able to witness his attention to such detail in person or through his letters?

Ian’s mind moved to a different space when he was writing books – he concentrated on the story, the colour and making the pages turn. This doesn’t come across in the letters, though a lot of ancillary Bond detail does.

Your book examines the creation of each of the Bond novels. How do the letters reveal Ian’s effort’s to shape the character over time?

While some critics described Bond as a cardboard figure, Ian thought of him more as a blunt instrument. I think he has greater depth than either description allows. But Ian certainly worried how to keep the books fresh. He succeeded in doing so and seemed to enjoy the pressure. Two of his most vivid books – OHMSS and YOLT – were written after his heart attack in 1961 when, to use his own words, ‘the tomb yawned.’

The one character who can be described as having a literary progression is Blofeld, to whom Ian gave his own birthday, and who he killed off in his penultimate novel. Make of that what you will!

Did the letters reveal any plans for James Bond projects that were never realized?

Nothing specific that I can recall. He did drop a vague hint that he might send Bond to Australia, but maybe that was just a politeness to an Australian fan.

Ian perhaps showed a bit of a rebellious nature through his tastes in music, his life in Jamaica, and by rejecting tradition at various times in his life. He (to a lesser degree), peter, and you all became travel writers. How would you describe what may be a family trend to embrace ethnic cultures and non-traditional experiences?

Yes, Ian was rebellious but he railed against aspects of British society rather than Britain itself.  While deeply patriotic he deplored falseness, hypocrisy and all attempts to standardise life.

As to any similarity between myself, Ian and Peter, I would say only that we seem to enjoy words, the telling of a tale and have an affinity for the unusual. 

If you’re interested in Ian’s musical preferences he wrote to one fan –with reference to Diamonds Are Forever - that he often played George Feyer’s VOX 500 piano album, ‘Echoes in Paris’. 

I’m fascinated by the final years of Ian’s life (I’d love to write a film for Geoffrey Rush in the role). Although Ian seemed thick-skinned enough to push Bond into success, he also seemed heavily weathered by personal and professional circumstances in the end. What do his letters reveal about this period? Did you have a sense of him in person during that time?

He was very ill towards the end, and some of his letters give a hint that he was struggling. But he continued to write as best he could and refused to be an invalid. When he attended his mother’s funeral in 1964 (only a few weeks before others would gather for his own) he was told the doctors wouldn’t like him asking for a gin and tonic. ‘Fuck the doctors,’ he replied.

Geoffrey Rush is an interesting thought!

Ian's early books seemed to stem from a well-established tradition of thrillers. Did you notice elements in his books that reflected signs of change in post-war Britain? 

I wouldn’t say Ian’s novels relied on an established tradition. Or if they did, then he adapted it to suit the times. He was the first to do so many things that are now part and parcel of modern thrillerdom.

His early attempts at fiction owe a debt to German-language writers of the 1920s. He was a self-confessed admirer of Leo Perutz and quite likely would have encountered the works of Joseph Roth and Stefan Zweig. It could be argued that his novels carry a trace of their fatalism. But although he read omnivorously I believe he was influenced more by real life than fiction. Apart from his period at Naval Intelligence, he observed, lived with, and was brought up in, a world of such physical intrigue and colour that our current emphasis on digital espionage looks pallid by comparison. 

Have you heard if Ian had any impressions about TV series like The Avengers or Danger Man?

Ian’s letters reveal very little about his TV habits. He was keen to have Bond adapted for the small screen, and on one occasion he succeeded: during the 1950s  ‘Jimmy Bond’ made a brief appearance in Casino Royale. But he put this ambition aside when the large screen loomed.

I would be so curious to see an exhibit of artifacts from Ian’s life. What happened to his record collection? Are items like his cigarette holder archived?

Very few of Ian’s possessions seem to have survived.

What upcoming projects are next on the horizon for you or from Ian Fleming Publications?

Ian Fleming Publications works hard to promote Ian’s literary legacy. And that is all I am at liberty to divulge!

Thank you, Fergus. We will look forward to future announcements! Spy Vibers can order The Man With the Golden Typewriter: Ian Fleming's James Bond Letters at AmazonUK and Amazon. Selected related posts: Fleming's TypewriterRare FlemingFleming's MusicIan Fleming's JapanIan Fleming: Wicked GrinIan Fleming MemorialThai Bond DesignBond vs Modernism, The Goldfinger VariationsDouble 007 Book DesignsDouble 007 designs IIrare Ian Fleming editionBook Design DopplegangersTurkish Bond designErno Goldfinger, Ian Fleming CatalogJon Gilbert interview, Double 007 Designs, Fleming's Royal gold typewriterDavid Tennant Reads Chitty Chitty Bang BangSpy Vibe's Ian Fleming archive on Pinterest. Enjoy!

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