An aged tanker of around ten thousand tons deadweight was secured alongside the top of the T. It stood well out of the water, its deck perhaps twelve feet above the quay. The tanker was called Blanche, and the Ant of Antwerp showed at her stern.
DR. NO Chapter 19
The men from the SS Blanche would have dug him out.
DR. NO Chapter 20
Throughout his writings, Ian Fleming would include the names of his friends (and sometimes enemies) in his books.
This one makes me laugh. Blanche is a reference to Blanche Blackwell his (intimate) friend in Jamaica. Describing the fictional ship as An aged tanker of around ten thousand tons deadweight was, as Mathew Parker notes, “a sign that their relationship had reached the point of affectionate teasing”.
When Ian Fleming introduces us to SPECTRE in Thunderball, we get our most detailed listing of the organization and how it is structured.
Fleming says there are 20 full members under Blofeld, with six three-man sections plus experts Kotze and Maslov.
There is one item of confusion for me, Fleming says there were 20 men (not counting Blofeld) in attendance for the briefing behind the facade of F.I.R.C.O., but we learn that No. 1, Largo, is already on location in the Bahamas.
The twenty men who looked up the long table at this man and waited patiently for him to speak were a curious mixture of national types. But they had certain characteristics in common. They were all in the thirty-to-forty age-group, they all looked extremely fit, and nearly all of them—there were two who were different—had quick, hard, predatory eyes, the eyes of the wolves and the hawks that prey upon the herd. The two who were different were both scientists with scientists’ other-worldly eyes—Kotze, the East German physicist who had come over to the West five years before and had exchanged his secrets for a modest pension and retirement in Switzerland, and Maslov, formerly Kandinsky, the Polish electronics expert who, in 1956, had resigned as head of the radio research department of Philips AG of Eindhoven and had then disappeared into obscurity. The other eighteen men consisted of cells of three (Blofeld accepted the Communist triangle system for security reasons) from six national groups and, within these groups, from six of the world’s great criminal and subversive organizations. There were three Sicilians from the top echelon of the Unione Siciliano, the Mafia; three Corsican Frenchmen from the Union Corse, the secret society contemporary with and similar to the Mafia that runs nearly all organized crime in France; three former members of SMERSH, the Soviet organization for the execution of traitors and enemies of the State that had been disbanded on the orders of Khrushchev in 1958 and replaced by the Special Executive Department of the M.W.D.; three of the top surviving members of the former Sonderdienst of the Gestapo; three tough Yugoslav operatives who had resigned from Marshal Tito’s Secret Police, and three highland Turks (the Turks of the plains are no good) formerly members of Blofeld’s RAHIR and subsequently responsible for KRYSTAL, the important Middle Eastern pipeline whose outlet is Beirut.
Here is the breakdown of men, as best as I can determine:
#7 Marius Domingue
#12 Pierre Borraud (executed)
#1 Emilio Largo
#? Fidelio Sciacca
Russian (SMERSH) Section
#10 Strelik (executed on Disco)
German (Gestapo) Section
#? Bruno Bayer
#6 (Kills Lippe)
Yugoslav (Tito’s) Section
#17? (exposes Domino)
#5 Kotze (East German Physicist)
#18 Maslov/Kandinsky (Polish Electronics Expert)
Sub-Operator G (Count Lippe)
When James Bond deals Sir Hugo Drax the Culbertson hand in their card match at Blades in Moonraker, Bond lets Drax know that he is defeated in an understated, yet powerful gesture.
Morphy, the great chess player, had a terrible habit. He would never raise his eyes from the game until he knew his opponent could not escape defeat. Then he would slowly lift his great head and gaze curiously at the man across the board. His opponent would feel the gaze and would slowly, humbly raise his eyes to meet Morphy’s. At that moment he would know that it was no good continuing the game. The eyes of Morphy said so. There was nothing left but surrender.
Now, like Morphy, Bond lifted his head and looked straight into Drax’s eyes. Then he slowly drew out the queen of diamonds and placed it on the table. Without waiting for Meyer to play he followed it, deliberately, with the 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, and the two winning clubs.
Then he spoke. “That’s all, Drax,” he said quietly, and sat slowly back in his chair.
Paul Morphy (1837-1884) was sort of the Bobby Fischer of the 19th century, an American chess prodigy who suffered from mental illness. Born in New Orleans, Morphy learned to play chess as a boy simply by watching others play. He studied law, and never considered himself a “professional” chess. There was no official world champion of chess at that time, but after defeating all of the top American and European players (with the exception of Howard Staunton, who avoided Morphy, knowing he could lose to the younger man.) he was widely considered the world’s best chess player at the age of 21.
He reduced his playing schedule quite drastically after that, and officially retired from the game in 1863 at the age of 26 to focus on his law career, which never really got of the ground. He died of a stroke at the age of 47 in 1884.
Interestingly, in the limited research I did, I found no references to the above staredown tactic Fleming mentions.
Fifty years ago today, the world lost the creator of James Bond, Ian Fleming.
Fleming suffered a fatal heart attack and died at the age of 56. When I was growing up, and read the Bond novels for the first time, and would read the short bio on the back of the paperbacks I had at the time, I thought 56 years was a pretty good lifespan.
With age however, it is clear to me that the world lost Mr Fleming way too early. When Ian Fleming died, the literary James Bond died with him. Yes, there have been a series of continuation novels, some of which are well written and entertaining. But they all lack the Ian Fleming sweep and flow. No matter how much the authors attempt to imitate his style, they are unsuccessful.
For one, none of the follow-up authors had actual experience in espionage, as Fleming did, which gave him the background to authentically pen these tales, slightly dramatized, of course. He was the one who had cigarettes made for him, he liked and drove the vintage cars, he had the liquor and food experiences, he saw the places he wrote about. In many ways he was writing his own inner monologue, which no one else has access to. His journalistic background taught him to be concise, descriptive, and keep the reader hooked.
All of that experience was lost when Fleming passed away, far too young.
Ian Fleming lived life on his own terms. While some of that likely contributed to his early demise, it can never be said that he didn’t live life to the full. He worked out an arrangement that so that his employer allowed him three months in the middle of each winter to go to his cottage in the tropics. He further worked out that he really only worked three days in his London office, before heading to his “weekend” home. He drank and smoked and womanized, played golf and cards, and generally did what he pleased. The wealth of his family enabled some of this lifestyle naturally, but he also charted his own course, and become wildly successful in his own endeavors.
He counted among his acquaintances the likes of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, who was an admirer of the Bond novels. Kennedy and Fleming actually had quite a bit in common which likely explains the connection they had. Both were born into wealthy families with an overpowering patriarch. Both lived much of their lives in the shadow of their older brother, who set high standards of achievement. Both turned to sports in their teens to set their own marks. Both had very strong mothers who continued to bear influence on them throughout their lives, but which also likely caused them issues in their (numerous) relationships with women. Both came of age during WWII, Fleming at British Naval Intelligence and Kennedy, able to finally join the US Navy through its Office of Naval Intelligence and become a Lieutenant, served heroically in the Pacific, winning a Purple Heart medal after his exploits in command of PT 109.
Fleming and Kennedy both really matured in the 1950’s, Kennedy in the political world, rising through the US Senate, and Fleming in the newspaper business, becoming the powerful foreign manager of the Sunday Times and with the Bond novels. They both really reached their peak in the early 1960’s, with Kennedy becoming President and Fleming becoming a household name with the Bond novels. They both died within a year of each other, Kennedy at the hands of an assassin in November 1963, and Fleming at the grip of the Iron Crab on August 12th, 1964.
When Fleming died, the premiere of Goldfinger in the UK was still a month away. While he had visited the set of that movie, he never got to see the finished product, which was what really catapulted James Bond into worldwide super-stardom.
When people go to see James Bond movies today, do the majority of them even know about Ian Fleming? I doubt it. To them, James Bond is just that British spy who uses gadgets and a quick wit to take down villains and save the world (and the girl). When people watched the 2006 version of Casino Royale, which was actually a pretty faithful, if modernized adaptation of Fleming’s first novel, where they even aware that the martini, the torture scene, the anguished treachery of Vesper were all conceived 54 years prior?
The Fleming Bond novels give us a glimpse into a world that is no longer here. As I’ve gone through the process of “deconstructing” the writing and references of Ian Fleming, it only makes me appreciate his work even more. So many details within the books are likely lost on modern readers. It has been my goal to explain as many of these as possible so as to bring the 1950’s world of James Bond and Ian Fleming to the modern reader in as much context as is possible.
Would James Bond have continued had Fleming lived another 10, 20 years? I think so. Perhaps not on the same rate, but there would’ve been more exploits of James Bond. Fleming was continually writing notes and snippets of content. We’ve seen intriguing glimpses of notes about a Greek named Zographos who speaks to Bond about gamblers. At the same time, the tone of the last few Bond novels was significantly influenced by Fleming’s ailing health. You Only Live Twice reads like a journey of a man attempting to put his life in some sort of perspective. Fleming even includes an obituary of James Bond, perhaps in anticipation of his own pending demise. Had his health been better, perhaps these novels are totally different. What would The Man With The Golden Gun had looked like if Fleming was able to give it his usual thorough edits and rewrites? We’ll never know, and perhaps the fact that we lost Mr Fleming at the point in which we did has contributed in a way to the vast and lasting success the series has enjoyed.
Much of the world of the past fifty years would be unrecognizable to Ian Fleming. The views of the world have changed on so many topics. Think of all that has happened. The riots for equality and freedom across the globe. Man has walked on the moon. The hippie generation. An American President resigns his office. The nuclear arms races. The continuation of the Cold War right up to the point in which the Soviet Union collapses. AIDS. Ian Fleming wrote a book on Kuwait, which did not meet the approval of the Kuwait Oil Company which had commissioned the work; A war was fought over Kuwait in the 1990’s. The rise of computers and the internet. All of these things have happened since Ian Fleming passed away. What would he have thought of these things?
Fifty years seem like a long time. It isn’t. Younger readers take note; time goes by quickly. If you take anything from the life of Ian Fleming, it should be that each day is meant to be lived to the full.