Archive for the ‘Book’ Category

One of my favourite films – maybe even my favourite film – is The Ipcress File, based on the novel by Len Deighton. At some point I’ll probably write an appreciation of it here. But if you aren’t familiar with either the film or the book, then all you really need to know for now is that the central character is a kind of anti-Bond, a cultured working class soldier who is coerced into spying for his country under threat of imprisonment, owing to some dodgy dealings he got caught for whilst stationed in Germany.

Given the disparity between James Bond and Deighton’s spy (unnamed in his novels but called ‘Harry Palmer’ in his screen incarnation), I was therefore delightfully surprised when Amazon proffered a new Len Deighton work as a recommendation: James Bond: My Long and Eventful Search for His Father. This short work of non-fiction, only available as an e-book, actually concerns another disparity, the one between the “stuffed shirt” James Bond that Ian Fleming first described in Casino Royale and the character we know from the movies. Some people have attributed the movie Bond to Kevin McClory, a man Deighton describes as Fleming’s “nemesis”.

McClory, a forceful Irish patriot who nonetheless served with the British forces in World War 2, had a fairly admirable history in the film industry and offered to bring Bond to the cinema. McClory and Fleming seem to have been chalk and cheese in nearly every respect, except that they were both “cursed with a measure of ambition so large and all-consuming that no achievement could satisfy it”. The seemingly easy-going Deighton appears to have enjoyed both men’s company, which makes him remarkably well-placed to tell his tale in a fairly even-handed way. Fleming comes across as a rather withdrawn fantasist, an “inscrutable titanium product of an over-disciplined upbringing” who actually hated writing. By contrast, the outgoing McClory was remarkably ill-disciplined, a gambler, and always late for meetings. Despite a career in the Navy, Fleming did not love the ocean and was rather afraid of some of its inhabitants, whereas McClory loved the ocean a great deal – this despite having spent two weeks in a lifeboat, watching friends die, after being torpedoed by a German U-Boat during the war. When McClory insisted that a new Bond film needed a long underwater sequence Fleming was extremely doubtful.

The seeds of conflict were therefore sown early on. However, whilst McClory certainly did have a big influence on the screen Bond that people know and love, Deighton makes clear that ultimately the story of Bond is bigger than just these two men. The film industry is just that – an industry – and before a movie on the Bond scale reaches the screen, a very large number of people have had an input. Even at the level of the writing it becomes difficult to know who did what, and Deighton cites the old adage that “a screenplay isn’t written; it’s rewritten” (often by multiple authors). Sadly, Fleming, McClory, and various others became embroiled in copyright litigation and the stress of this almost certainly contributed to Fleming’s early death (though the heavy smoking and drinking in the face of doctors’ warnings didn’t help). Neither did legal action do much for McClory or producer Harry Saltzman. Both had squandered their millions by the time they died.

My only disappointment with Deighton’s tale is that it was so short. He has taken a story of film industry machinations and turned it into a rattling good yarn. I would happily have read more.