During his evening at Blades with M in Moonraker, James Bond observes the starched collar and cuffs on the uniform of the waitress, whose skirt brushes on his arm, and reminisces for a moment.
He recalled a pre-war establishment in Paris where the girls were dressed with the same exciting severity. Until they turned round and showed their backs. He smiled to himself.
The Marthe Richards law had changed all that.
What we have here is another Ian Fleming reference to something in his (and Bond’s) lifetime. France – Paris in particular – had been known for its brothels. In 1946, a law was passed banning prostitution and closing all the country’s brothels.
This wasn’t the first time Fleming had made reference to this event. In Casino Royale, in giving the background of Le Chiffre, it is mentioned that the SMERSH paymaster had used union funds to purchase a chain of brothels in January of 1946.
Fate rebuked him with terrifying swiftness.
Barely three months later, on 13 April, there was passed in France Law No. 46685 entitled Loi Tendant à la Fermeture des Maisons de Tolérance et au Renforcement de la Lutte contre le Proxénétisme.
That sentence translated to English is roughly “the draft law to the closure of brothels and strengthening the fight against trafficking in women.” This law was also known as La loi Marthe Richard after its initiator. The law was passed on April 13th, 1946, as Fleming notes. The story is a fairly interesting one, as the New York Times points out:
The Loi Marthe Richard was morally impeccable, but its initiator turned out to be very peccable indeed. Her real name was not Richard, she had no right to public office as she was a British citizen, she did join the Résistance very late in the day, undoubtedly to mask her earlier collaboration, and – best of all – she had herself been a hooker since her teens.
The life of Marthe Richard was a very interesting one, indeed. An early woman airplane pilot, WWI spy, prostitute, widow, politician, her life was made into a movie even before the events of 1946.
As usual, even the tiniest of background references placed in the novels by Fleming can yield fascinating sub-stories which really add context and flavor to the Bond novels.