Even before it became the name of perhaps the most famous criminal organization in fiction in the novel Thunderball, Ian Fleming liked the word “spectre”.

This interesting little word, according to Collins English Dictionary can be defined thusly:

spectre (ˈspɛktəor specter

n

1. (Alternative Belief Systems) a ghost; phantom; apparition
2. a mental image of something unpleasant or menacing: the spectre of redundancy.

The usage of the word had declined and actually reached its lowest point during the time that Fleming started using it:

As you can see, it has increased somewhat in use since that time.

Here are some instances in which Fleming used it prior to Thunderball, when it became the abbreviation for the SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion. 

Here are some examples of its use:

Live and Let Die:

The great grey football of a head under the hurricane lamp looked like an elemental, a malignant spectre from the centre of the earth, as it hung in mid air, the golden eyes blazing steadily, the great body in shadow.

Diamonds Are Forever:

Spectreville. The Spectre Range. In total throughout the book there are 11 mentions of the two of these.

From Russia With Love:

Kronsteen…had sweated away a pound of weight in the last two hours and ten minutes, and the spectre of a false move still had one hand at his throat.

The decoding machine which is the MacGuffin of the novel is called a Spektor. (17 mentions)

Goldfinger:

Bond walked slowly up to the putt, knocking Goldfinger’s ball away. Come on, you bloody fool! But the spectre of the big swing – from an almost certain one up to a possible one down – made Bond wish the ball into the hole instead of tapping it in.

Despite the chart above, I don’t actually know how commonly this word was used in every day language. From here, it seems like a rather obscure word, which Fleming liked the sound, sight and meaning of, and enjoyed using it whenever he could, even a variation on the word in Spektor. He also used the variations Spectral and Spectrally on occasion. (also meaning ghostly)

Live and Let Die:

All through the centre of the state, the moss lent a dead, spectral feeling to the landscape.

Most of the tanks were dark, but in some a tiny strip of electric light glimmered spectrally and glinted on little fountains of bubbles…

…in the grey valleys they caught the light of the moon and waved spectrally

From Russia With Love:

The spectral eye of the nightlight cast its deep velvet sheen over the little room.

You Only Live Twice:

The poisons listed fall into six main categories: Deliriant. Symptoms: spectral illusions…

When the novel Thunderball came out, and all the controversy and eventual court case surrounding it, one of the items at issue was the criminal organization of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. and who actually came up with it. Kevin McClory claimed that he did and even later named his company Spectre Associates Inc.

From the outside, it would seem that Fleming had an affinity for the word, especially with his creation of the Spektor in From Russia With Love, and it would seem reasonable that it was a creation of Flemings. Eventually, McClory was awarded the film rights to all of Thunderball, including S.P.E.C.T.R.E and Ernst Stavro Blofeld while Fleming retained the literary rights to these.

2 thoughts on “Spectre Before S.P.E.C.T.R.E.

  1. I’m very glad someone has finally done the work of going through the books to document just how often Fleming used the word. Perhaps McClory devised the idea of an organization like SPECTRE, but it was clearly Fleming who devised the name. It would be way too much of a coincidence for McClory (who as Fleming accurately noted was full of blarney) to have hit upon a word that Fleming was plainly besotted with. If I remember correctly, “The Battle For Bond,” which otherwise paints Fleming in very negative light, also suggests that he came up with the name.

    Thank you by the way for maintaining this incredible site. Griswold’s book was extremely informative, but your well-researched images make the material truly come alive. Browsing the site is the nearest equivalent to watching a Bond film set in Fleming’s era–it brings back a now vanished world.

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