Before Bond: The Long Road To Bring 007 To The Big Screen

Features
by Oliver Lyttelton
October 5, 2012 12:00 PM
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3. The Birth Of Bond

After the war, Fleming joined the Kelmley newspaper group, who owned, among others, the Sunday Times, overseeing their network of foreign correspondents as well as writing articles for the paper. One condition was that he would take three months holiday every year in Jamaica where he'd built his new home, and where Ann Charteris (whose husband had died in the war, and who'd since married Viscount Rothermere, the chairman of Associated Newspapers, who she'd been sleeping with at the same time as Fleming before the war) would continue to visit him to continue their affair. She gave birth to a stillborn daughter by Fleming in 1948, and finally divorced Rothermere in 1951, marrying Fleming the following year. Not that that stopped their extramarital dabblings: Ann had a long affair with Hugh Gaitskell, the leader of the Labour party (the British opposition party), and Fleming romanced Blanche Blackwell in Jamaica, whose son Chris would go on to found Island Records.

Fleming had talked about writing a spy novel since the war, but finally settled down to start work in February 1952, to distract himself from his upcoming nuptials with Ann. His central character was inspired by a number of real-life figures: his beloved older brother Peter (who'd served as a spy during the war and was married to "Brief Encounter" star Celia Johnson); the amazingly named spy Conrad O'Brien-French, who Fleming had met while skiing; commando Patrick Dalzel-Job, who'd been a member of 30 Assault Unit; MI6 agent Biffy Dunderdale; adventurer, author and aristocrat Fitzroy Maclean; and playboy double agent Dusan Popov. The name, James Bond, however, came from an American ornithologist who was an expert on the birds of the Caribbean.

As for the plot of the first novel, "Casino Royale," which revolved around an attempt to bankrupt Le Chiffre, the paymaster of a trade union controlled by Soviet counterintelligence organization SMERSH, in a high stakes game of baccarat, it too was inspired by a real incident. Supposedly Fleming had accompanied Admiral Godfrey on a trip to Portugal during the war, and claimed he had been "cleaned out" by a German agent, something that Godfrey later disputed. "Casino Royale" was published in Britiain on April 13, 1953, with the first print run selling out in a month, although its success wasn't at first mirrored in the U.S., the book selling only 4,000 copies when it was published in 1954.

4. Bond On TV

Despite the book flopping in the U.S. initially, it came to the attention of CBS, who bought the rights to turn it into an episode of their new anthology series "Climax Mystery Theater." Scripted by Anthony Ellis and Alfred Hitchcock collaborator Charles Bennett ("The 39 Steps," "Sabotage"), the 48-minute live broadcast saw 007 become Jimmy Bond, an American agent working for Combined Intelligence, while his American colleague Felix Leiter became Brit Clarence Leiter. American actor Barry Nelson (who'd later play the hotel manager who interviews Jack Nicholson in "The Shining") became the first actor to play Bond, while in a perfect piece of casting, character actor favorite Peter Lorre played villain Le Chiffre.

Few paid much attention to the broadcast, but as the books gathered more of a following, CBS became keen for another try, and four years later, hired Fleming to write a series of outlines for 32 episodes over two years of a James Bond series. Plans never developed much further, however, and Fleming turned four of these outlines -- "From A View To A Kill," "For Your Eyes Only," "Risico" and "The Hildebrand Rarity" -- into short stories, compiled in the anthology "For Your Eyes Only" (a fifth story was an odd, action-free homage to W. Somerset Maugham, which would lend its title to the 22nd Bond film, "Quantum of Solace").

This wasn't Fleming's first flirtation with the small screen, however: in 1956, he'd teamed up with producer Henry Morgenthau III to write a script for a TV series called "Commander Jamaica," about a British agent in the West Indies named James Gunn, who faces off against a sinister Chinese adversary. Again, it never came to anything, but Fleming was never one to waste material, and James Gunn would later resurface under a very different guise...
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1 Comment

  • rotch | October 5, 2012 4:23 PMReply

    great piece, great writing. thank you.

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