First published 50 years ago, this month.
The Playboy interview: Ian Fleming
Since Edgar Allan Poe invented the modern detective story with “The Murders
in the Rue Morgue,” expert practitioners of the form have known huge
audiences and heavy material rewards. In this procession, the late Ian
Fleming, creator of James Bond, secret agent non-pareil, will long hold a
prominent place. His publishers have sold 30,000,000 copies of his 12 books
in 12 years – give or take a couple of million. There are few literate
communities in the world, from Hong Kong to Helsinki, in which he is not
being read today. Even those who read only Yiddish or Siamese need not be
deprived of the pleasure of his literary company – though Fleming himself,
at the age of 56, died of a heart attack late last summer, not the first he
had had. He had known for some time that he had little prospect of a long
life. Yet even in the four hours between the onset of the attack and his
death in a Canterbury hospital, he managed to maintain the image of urbanity
that distinguished him: En route to the emergency ward, he told the
ambulance attendants that he was sorry to have had to trouble them. It was
something that most Englishmen of his class would have said, almost pro
forma, but it was also very James Bond. There is no doubt that his own
character, and the one he had created, were intricately interleaved in
Despite, or perhaps in part because of, his enormous popularity, the
literary establishment took little notice of Fleming during his lifetime,
and not much more at his death. In general, their judgement of his worth may
prove to have been deficient, for he may still be read when novelists
presently of some stature have been forgotten. He had an original view; he
was an innovator. His central device, the wildly improbable story set
against a meticulously detailed and somehow believable background, was
vastly entertaining; and his redoubtable, implacable, indestructible
protagonist, though some thought him strangely flat in character, may well
be not so much the child of this century as of the next.
Several months before his death, Fleming consented to our request for an
extended and exclusive interview. Our interviewer says of their meeting: “He
invited me to pick him up for lunch at his London office in Mitre Court, a
byway between Fleet Street and the Inns of Court, which is to say, between
the worlds of British law and journalism. The reception room was presided
over by a pleasant and serene woman whose manner was not unlike M’s Miss
Moneypenny in the Bond books. She showed me into his inner office, a
sedately elegant study draped and carpeted in wine red, neatly stacked with
galley proofs and immaculately furnished with a gilt-framed mirror, brass
penholder, ashtray, cigarette lighter and crimson letter boxes. A black
Homburg, a tightly furled umbrella and a dark-blue Burberry raincoat hung
from hooks on the back of the door.
“As I entered, Fleming rose from behind a massive leather-topped desk to
usher me to a chair – a tall man, lean, tending to be florid, wearing a
navy-blue suit of typical British cut marked by one eccentricity: cuffs on
the sleeves; light-blue shirt and black-and-white polka-dot bow tie, knotted
with offhanded Churchillian looseness. We exchanged pleasantries. He was
suave, amused, sardonic – but one sensed that he was kind. More than others,
the Englishman reflects his station in life with his air, attitude and
speech, and one versed in these matters could place Fleming instantly – and
accurately – as Eton and Sandhurst, inherited money, government service,
world travel, social assurance. He hadn’t married until he was 43. Mrs.
Fleming was Anne Geraldine Charteris, former wife of Lord O’Neill and of
Lord Rothermere, owner of London’s Daily Mail.
“After a few minutes of amenities, we left his office and repaired next door
to El Vino’s, a venerable Fleet Street grog shop where one may drink from
the wood instead of the bottle. I felt like having a whiskey and water, but
in deference to my companion’s standing as a gourmet, decided instead on an
amontillado. His own choice rather shook me: brandy and ginger ale.
Afterward we went for lunch to the White Tower, a deservedly reputable
London restaurant where we shared a superb meal with excellent wine, and
talked of what came into our heads, for rapport; we were the last to leave
the place, at around three o’clock. We declared our mutual ease and made
another date for ten days hence in Mitre Court, where we concluded the
PLAYBOY: It is the belief of some psychologists that neurosis is a necessary
concomitant of the creative drive. As a creative writer, do you agree?
FLEMING: I think that’s perfectly true. I think that to be a creative writer
or a creative anything else, you’ve got to be neurotic. I certainly am in
many respects. I’m not really quite certain how, but I am. I’m rather
melancholic and probably slightly maniacal as well. It’s rather an involved
subject, and I’m afraid my interest in it does not go deeper than the
realisation that the premise does apply to myself. Possibly it all began
with an overprivileged childhood.
PLAYBOY: According to published biographies, your well-to-do family had high
hopes of launching you on a distinguished career in the military. After
putting you through Britain’s exclusive Sandhurst Academy they learned of
your last-minute decision, upon receiving your commission, to “pack it in.”
What made you change your mind?
FLEMING: I didn’t take up my commission after Sandhurst simply because they
had suddenly decided to mechanise the army, and a lot of my pals and I
decided that we didn’t want to be glorified garage hands, and that the great
days of the cavalry regiments were passing, or shortly would be ended
forever – no more polo, no more pigsticking and all that jazz. So a lot of
us, having taken our commissions, just gave them up. I was born in 1908;
this would have been around 1925, and disillusionment of that kind – and
kinds more severe – was common then, as you know. My mother was infuriated.
My father had been killed in the First War, and my mother felt responsible
for imposing discipline on me and on my three brothers, who were all doing
splendidly. She insisted that I must do something, something respectable,
and so I opted for the Foreign Office. I went abroad to learn languages. I
went to the University of Geneva and the University of Munich. I don’t think
of myself as a linguist, but I know French and German very well, because one
must if one has any serious inclination toward the Foreign Office. You have
to have French and German first-class and one other language partially,
which in my case was Russian. My languages are all that remain to me of my
PLAYBOY: Apart from enabling you to sprinkle your James Bond books with
foreign terms and bits of conversation, have they proved valuable to you?
FLEMING: They are a tremendous extension of one’s life generally, whereas
all the other stuff I’ve learned – algebra and trigonometry and all that –
I’ve completely forgotten, and as far as I know, none of it was ever of any
use to me at all, in any case. But having languages is a tremendous help.
You’ve got to live abroad for two years at least to learn a language. When I
came home, I took the Foreign Office examination, but I passed seventh and
there were only five vacancies, and that was that.
So I started looking around for work that would fit in with what talents and
abilities I possessed. All I had done up to that time, aside from a great
deal of studying, had been to begin collecting. I had decided, after
concerning myself with first editions for a time, that I would collect books
that signalised a right-angle turn in the world’s thought on any particular
subject, a book of permanent value in the history of the world. I began to
think through every human activity, from art to sports and physics and
whatnot, and with the help of a great friend of mine who is still my
bookseller, we got out a tremendous list of the great books of the world
since 1800, which we arbitrarily decided to make the starting date. They go
from Karl Marx’ Das Kapital to Ely Culbertson’s first book on contract
bridge, which changed the bridge-playing world – books on everything, the
invention of mechanical devices of every kind, of the miner’s lamp, radar,
billiards, every kind of subject. This collection gradually got up to about
two thousand volumes, all first editions, all in the best possible state,
and today it is one of the most valuable private collections in the world.
It was considered of such importance that the Bodleian Library at Oxford
cared for it during the War. It’s now in storage waiting for us to get into
the house we’re building near Oxford, where I can have a proper library,
which I’ve never had before. Incidentally, mixed up with that, I later
bought a small magazine, The Book Collector, which is now probably the
leading bibliographical magazine in the world.
PLAYBOY: You were saying you were looking for a job.
FLEMING: Yes – and finally I found one. Because a man called Sir Roderick
Jones, who was chairman of Reuter’s, was a friend of my mother’s, I went
into Reuter’s, the great international news agency. I stayed with them for
three years and had the most exciting time of my life, because in those days
news-agency work was like a gigantic football match, and Reuter’s and the
Associated Press, of America, were a part of the Allied Agency group, and
there were freebooters such as United Press and International News who were
trying to break into our territories all around the world. We had some
superb battles in Germany and Russia, and so on, and it was all highly
enjoyable. It was in Reuter’s that I learned to write fast and, above all,
to be accurate, because in Reuter’s if you weren’t accurate you were fired,
and that was the end of that.
PLAYBOY: Would you do all this again?
FLEMING: Well, the world being as it was in the 1930s, I would do the same
as I did then. But today, with the world as it is now, I must say, I really
don’t know what I’d do. I’d travel enormously, find some sort of job that
would take me round the world, and round and round and round it, and I
should think I would probably go back to newspaper work – as a TV newsman, I
should think; rather a different article from his counterpart of a few
decades ago, although the effort is the same. Nowadays, of course, one’s so
hamstrung by trade unions and that sort of thing that some of the fun’s gone
out of the game. In those days the paper came first, the story came first,
you were out to beat hell out of the opposition, and the pay and the hours
of work meant nothing. Of course, for that one must be young and strong and,
I suppose, romantic; it’s a different matter if one’s fifty-six and has a
wife and child.
PLAYBOY: What took you from journalism into Naval Intelligence?
FLEMING: Well, when I left Reuter’s, I did a period in The City [London’s
business and financial district] as a partner in the firm of Rowe and
Pitman’s, one of the great English stockbroking firms, extremely nice
fellows. It was a very pleasant sort of City club – they’re still great
friends of mine today – but I got rather fed up, and The Times gave me a
special correspondent’s job to go to Moscow on a trade mission. When I came
back from that in about March or April of 1939, suddenly I began to hear
funny little questions being asked about me; friends would tell me that
so-and-so had been asking about where had I been, what did I know, and so
on. This turned out to be a quiet casing for a job in Naval Intelligence:
and the reason was that because, of all people, the governor of the Bank of
England and the head of Baring Brothers, a very big merchant-banking firm in
The City, had been asked to find a man of about my age with good languages
and some knowledge of The City, which in fact I hadn’t got at all. In any
case, it ended with a luncheon at the Carlton Hotel, with the Director of
Naval Intelligence, Admiral J.H. Godfrey, still my warm friend, and a couple
of other very quiet characters in plain clothes, and I suddenly found myself
in the Admiralty with an honorary rank of lieutenant in the Royal Naval
Volunteer Reserve, and put down as Personal Assistant to the Director of
Naval Intelligence. I stayed in that job throughout the War.
PLAYBOY: What were your duties?
FLEMING: My job got me right into the inside of everything, including all
the most secret affairs. I couldn’t possibly have had a more exciting or
interesting War. Of course, it’s my experience in Naval Intelligence, and
what I learned about secret operations of one sort or another, that finally
led me to write about them – in a highly bowdlerised way – with James Bond
as the central figure.
PLAYBOY: Did you really settle on the name James Bond, as reported, because
you’d been reading a book by a man of that name, and you thought it sounded
“suitably flat and colourless”?
FLEMING: Yes, that’s absolutely so. It was James Bond’s Birds of the West
Indies, a famous ornithological work, and I wanted my hero to be entirely an
anonymous instrument and to let the action of the book carry him along. I
didn’t believe in the heroic Bulldog Drummond types. I mean, rather, I
didn’t believe they could any longer exist in literature. I wanted this man
more or less to follow the pattern of Raymond Chandler’s or Dashiell
Hammett’s heroes – believable people, believable heroes.
PLAYBOY: One reviewer has written of Bond, “He is the bad guy who smoulders
in every good citizen.” Do you agree?
FLEMING: I don’t think that he is necessarily a good guy or a bad guy. Who
is? He’s got his vices and very few perceptible virtues except patriotism
and courage, which are probably not virtues anyway. He’s certainly got
little in the way of politics, but I should think what politics he has are
just a little bit left of centre. And he’s got little culture. He’s a man of
action, and he reads books on golf, and so on – when he reads anything. I
quite agree that he’s not a person of much social attractiveness. But then,
I didn’t intend for him to be a particularly likeable person. He’s a cipher,
a blunt instrument in the hands of government.
PLAYBOY: You’ve been quoted as saying that you don’t like Bond personally.
Is that true?
FLEMING: Well, I’ve lived with him for about twelve years now, and we’ve
been getting into deeper and deeper trouble together. So I’ve come to have a
certain sympathy with what is going to happen to him, whatever that may be.
PLAYBOY: Do you sometimes feel that you are Bond, and Bond is Fleming?
FLEMING: No, Bond is a highly romanticised version of anybody, but certainly
not I, and I certainly couldn’t keep up with him; I couldn’t have even at
his age, which is, and has always been, in the middle thirties. He’s a sort
of amalgam of romantic tough guys, dressed up in 20th Century clothes, using
20th Century language. I think he’s slightly more true to the type of modern
hero, to the commandos of the last War, and so on, and to some of the
secret-service men I’ve met, than to any of the rather cardboardy heroes of
the ancient thrillers.
PLAYBOY: Do you consider his sexual prowess, and his ruthless way with
women, to be true to life – even among commandos and secret-service men?
FLEMING: Naturally not; but we live in a violent age. Seduction has, to a
marked extent, replaced courtship. The direct, flat approach is not the
exception; it is the standard. James Bond is a healthy, violent, noncerebral
man in his middle thirties, and a creature of his era. I wouldn’t say he’s
particularly typical of our times, but he is certainly of the times. Bond’s
detached; he’s disengaged. But he’s a believable man – around whom I try to
weave a great web of excitement and fantasy. In that, at least, we have very
little in common. Of course, there are similarities, since one writes only
of what one knows, and some of the quirks and characteristics that I give
Bond are ones that I know about. When I make him smoke certain cigarettes,
for example, it’s because I do so myself, and I know what these things taste
like, and I have no shame in giving them free advertising.
PLAYBOY: Including the gold-ringed cigarettes of Balkan and Turkish tobacco
mixed for Bond by Morland’s of Grosvenor Street?
FLEMING: Certainly. Why not?
PLAYBOY: Isn’t that a rather injudiciously conspicuous brand for a secret
agent to be smoking?
FLEMING: Of course it is. No self-respecting agent would use such things.
He’d smoke Players or Chesterfields. But the readers enjoy such
idiosyncrasies, and they accept them – because they don’t stop to think
about it. The secrecy of my secret agent is pretty transparent, if you think
about it even briefly. But the pace, the pace of the narrative gets one by
these nasty little corners. It’s a sleight-of-hand operation. It’s
overpowering the reader. You take him along at such a rate, you interest him
so deeply in the narrative that he isn’t jolted by these incongruities. I
suppose I do it to demonstrate that I can do it.
PLAYBOY: Why do you pay so much attention to minutiae in your books?
FLEMING: The main reason is that these things excite and interest me. I’m
observant, I think, and when I walk down the street or when I go into a
room, I observe things and remember them very accurately. It amuses me to
use my powers of observation in my books and at the same time to tell people
what my favourite objects are, and my favourite foods and liquors and
scents, and so on. Exact details of individual private lives and private
tastes are extremely interesting to me. I think that even the way in which a
man shaves in the morning is well worth recording. The more we have of this
kind of detailed stuff laid down around a character, the more interested we
are in him.
I make notes of such details constantly; I write down my thoughts and
comments and I note menus, and so forth. I’ve just written down something I
picked up in Istanbul the other day: “Now there is no more shade.” This is a
Turkish expression, used when a great sultan, like Mustafa Kemal, dies, The
general cry of the people was “Now there is no more shade,” which is rather
an expressive way of saying now there is nothing to protect us, now that the
great man has gone. I write things like that down and often use them later
on in my books.
PLAYBOY: Of course, you have research done for you as well.
FLEMING: Yes, but generally only after I’ve written the book. After I’ve
finished a book I realise that I’ve been rather vague or thin on some topic
or other, and then I go to the right man and try to get the true gen out of
him and then rewrite that particular area.
PLAYBOY: Are you interested in the skills of individual specialists? Would
you, for example, go out of your way to meet Chic Gaylord of New York, who
makes custom-tailored revolver and pistol holsters for the New York City
police and the FBI?
FLEMING: Quite honestly, the whole question of expertise in these matters
bores me. Obviously, I want to know the facts. If a Gaylord holster is
better than a Berns-Martin, I want to know about it, but there my interest
rather ends. However, I’m not a bad shot; in fact, I shot for Sandhurst
against West Point at one time. And just to see that my hand isn’t trembling
too much. I like to have a shot at a tin can or something now and again.
PLAYBOY: How about hunting game?
FLEMING: No, I’m not keen on killing things, except to eat them. We have big
bush rats in Jamaica, and one time when I’d lent the place for a bit to
Anthony Eden, he couldn’t sleep, they made such a racket scurrying about,
and a number of them had to be shot by his private detective, which I didn’t
like. But to go back to the matter of expertise, I’ve been pestiferated ever
since Sports Illustrated ran that article about Bond’s weapons; you saw it,
I’m sure – the one which told how I’d been persuaded to take Bond’s .25
Beretta away from him and make him use a 7.65mm Walther instead. That idea
had originated with Geoffrey Boothroyd, a genuine expert, and since the
article appeared I’ve had hundreds of letters from weapon maniacs – and they
are maniacs; they’re terrifying – and Boothroyd gets all those letters sent
on to him. I never look at them; he deals with them himself or he doesn’t. I
wouldn’t dream of attempting it. I’m just not sufficiently expert.
PLAYBOY: Speaking of firearms, does it amuse you that your imaginative
device of Bond’s permissive double-0 prefix – licensing him to kill – should
be taken so seriously by your readers when, in fact, any intelligence agent
may find it necessary to kill in the line of duty, and to that extent might
be considered to have the right to do so?
FLEMING: Well, though this was purely a fictional device to make Bond’s
particular job more interesting, the double-0 prefix is not so entirely
invented as all that. I pinched the idea from the fact that, in the
Admiralty, at the beginning of the War, all top-secret signals had the
double-0 prefix. This was changed subsequently for the usual security
reasons, but it stuck in my mind and I borrowed it for Bond and he got stuck
PLAYBOY: Is there, in your opinion, any such thing as the proverbial perfect
FLEMING: Well, no technique, I should think, is more deadly and efficient
than that employed by the gunmen of what its proprietors so amusingly call
the Cosa Nostra in America, where a man may be sent all the way from Detroit
to kill another man sitting in a bar in New York and walk away with no
demonstrable connection with him. That is a near-perfect type of killing –
the sort of killing that the secret services do, particularly the Russians,
who’ve been pretty keen on it in West Germany. Their latest gimmick, the
cyanide gas pistol, which is more or less a water pistol filled with liquid
cyanide, is a particularly good stunt, because a man can be killed while,
say, climbing stairs, and when he’s found, the cyanide has dissipated and
leaves no trace. It’s natural to assume that he has had a heart failure
climbing the stairs. But you’ve got to have a lot of nerve for that sort of
thing, and whatever it is that enables a good killer to function also seems
to defeat him in the end. The killer’s spirit begins to fail, he gets the
seed of death within himself. As I wrote in one of my books, From Russia
with Love, the trouble with a lot of hired assassins such as the Russians
use is that they feel rather badly when they’ve killed five or six people,
and ultimately get soft or give themselves up, or they take to drugs or
drink. It would be interesting to conduct an inquiry to determine who was
the greatest assassin in history – who was, or who is. I have no particular
candidate. But they all do grow a sort of bug inside them after a bit.
PLAYBOY: You’ve been criticised for being “obsessed” with violence in your
books. Do you feel the charge is justified?
FLEMING: The simple fact is that, like all fictional heroes who find a
tremendous popular acceptance, Bond must reflect his own time. We live in a
violent era, perhaps the most violent man has known. In our last War, thirty
million people were killed. Of these, some six million were simply
slaughtered, and most brutally. I hear it said that I invent fiendish
cruelties and tortures to which Bond is subjected. But no one who knows, as
I know, the things that were done to captured secret agents in the last War
says this. No one says it who knows what went on in Algeria.
PLAYBOY: You said a moment ago that professional assassins “grow a sort of
bug inside them after a bit.” Does that include Bond?
FLEMING: Yes, it does disturb Bond to kill people, even though he continues
to get away with it – just as he continues to get away with driving
PLAYBOY: In recent books you’ve had him driving a supercharged Bentley. Why
did you pick this particular car for him?
FLEMING: I probably chose the supercharged Bentley because Amherst Villiers
was and is a great friend of mine, and I knew something about it from my
friendship with him. I put Bond into a Bentley simply because I like him to
use dashing, interesting things.
PLAYBOY: Do you share his taste for exotic cars?
FLEMING: Yes. I’d like to have a supercharged Bentley myself, but nowadays –
I’m fifty-six, after all – I like a car I can leave out in the street all
night and which will start at once in the morning and still go a hundred
miles an hour when you want it to and yet give a fairly comfortable ride. I
can’t be bothered with a car that needs tuning, or one that will give me a
lot of trouble and expenditure. So I’ve had a Thunderbird for six years, and
it’s done me very well. In fact, I have two of them, the good two-seater and
the less-good four-seater. I leave them both in the street, and when I get
in and press the starter, off they go, which doesn’t happen to a lot of
motorcars. Now, the Studebaker supercharged Avanti is the same thing. It
will start as soon as you get out in the morning; it has a very nice, sexy
exhaust note and will do well over a hundred and has got really tremendous
acceleration and much better, tighter road holding and steering than the
Thunderbird. Excellent disk brakes, too. I’ve cut a good deal of time off
the run between London and Sandwich in the Avanti, on braking power alone.
So I’m very pleased with it for the time being.
PLAYBOY: Unlike Bond, you say you are bored by guns, and you don’t drive an
exotic vintage car. Do you share, at least, his passion for casino gambling?
FLEMING: I do like to gamble. I play bridge for what might be called serious
stakes. I like chemin de fer. I play at clubs here in London, private clubs.
And I may go to Le Touquet, places like that on the Continent. I like to
think that I am reasonably competent at the gaming tables – we all think so,
I suppose – but still, I win as much as I lose, or a bit more. I like that,
which I suppose demonstrates that I am not a true compulsive gambler,
because the compulsive gambler doesn’t care much whether he wins or loses.
He is interested primarily in the “action.” I remember one occasion on which
I very much wanted to win. I was on my way to America with the Director of
Naval Intelligence, Admiral Godfrey. We were in Estoril in Portugal, and
while we were waiting for transport, we killed some time in the casino.
While there, I recognised some German agents, and I thought it would be a
brilliant coup to play with them, break them, take their money. Instead, of
course, they took mine. Most embarrassing. This incident appears in Casino
Royale, my first book – but, of course, Bond does not lose. In fact, he
totally and coldly vanquishes his opponent.
PLAYBOY: Casino Royale, and all of the other Bond books, have been written
at your home in Jamaica. How did you happen to pick the West Indies as a
FLEMING: I first went to Jamaica on a Naval Intelligence assignment around
1942 to meet with my American opposite numbers from the Office of Naval
Intelligence to see if we could do something about the U-boat sinkings in
the Caribbean. I stayed in the good old Myrtle Bank Hotel, and it poured
every day – and I loved every minute of it. I’d never been in the topics
before and I thought they were wonderful, as I suppose any Scotsman would. I
was determined that at the end of the War I’d come back and find a plot and
build a house and live in it whenever I could. It’s worked out like that.
When I went back in 1946, I borrowed a car from a man called Sir William
Stevenson, who was chief of our intelligence service in the States during
the War; he had a house in Jamaica and I went round and finally I found this
disused donkeys’ race-course by the sea. I bought the race-course and I
built on it a square of a house which I had designed while I was working in
the Admiralty during the last two or three years of the War, looking forward
to something more pleasant than the V-1s and V-2s. And I go there every year
during January and February and a bit of March, and the whole thing’s been a
great success. It’s by a little banana port called Oracabessa, and the house
is called Goldeneye, a name I chose.
FLEMING: I had happened to be reading Reflections in a Golden Eye by Carson
McCullers, and I’d been involved in an operation called Goldeneye during the
War: the defence of Gibraltar, supposing that the Spaniards had decided to
attack it; and I was deeply involved in the planning of countermeasures
which would have been taken in that event. Anyway, I called my place
Goldeneye. The alternative choice was Shamelady, which is the Jamaican name
for the sensitive plant, the one which curls up when the leaves are touched.
When I and a friend inspected the plot, we looked over the edge of the
cliff, and there was the most beautiful naked Negress bathing in the waves,
so I thought that Shamelady would be a good name for it – the whole thirty
acres were covered with the plant – but it would have been a little bit too
fancy. In any event, the house has been a great success. As you said, I have
written all my books there.
PLAYBOY: Do you spend most of your time there at the typewriter?
FLEMING: By no means. I get up with the birds, which is about half past
seven, because they wake one up, and then I go and bathe in the ocean before
breakfast. We don’t have to wear a swimsuit there, because it’s so private;
my wife and I bathe and swim a hundred yards or so and come back and have a
marvellous proper breakfast with some splendid scrambled eggs made by my
housekeeper, who’s particularly good at them, and then I sit out in the
garden to get a sunburn until about ten. Only then do I set to work. I sit
in my bedroom and type about fifteen hundred words straight-away, without
looking back on what I wrote the day before. I have more or less thought out
what I’m going to write, and, in any case, even if I make a lot of mistakes,
I think, well, hell, when the book’s finished I can change it all. I think
the main thing is to write fast and cursively in order to get narrative
Then, about quarter past twelve, I chuck that and go down, with a snorkel
and a spear, around the reefs looking for lobsters or whatever there may be,
sometimes find them, sometimes don’t, and then I come back, I have a couple
of pink gins, and we have a very good lunch, ordinary Jamaican food, and I
have a siesta from about half past two until four. Then I sit again in the
garden for about an hour or so, have another swim, and then I spend from six
to seven – the dusk comes very suddenly in Jamaica; at six o’clock it
suddenly gets very dark – doing another five hundred words. I then number
the pages, of which by that time there are about seven, put them away in a
folder, and have a couple of powerful drinks, then dinner, occasionally a
game of Scrabble with my wife – at which she thinks she is very much better
than I am, but I know I’m the best – and straight off to bed and into a dead
PLAYBOY: And you return to England in March with a completed manuscript?
FLEMING: Except for minor revisions, yes.
PLAYBOY: How do you spend the rest of the year?
FLEMING: Commuting between London – where we have a very nice little house –
and the country, where I keep a small but comfortable flat on Pegwell Bay in
Sandwich; that’s in Kent. I work the “Fleming Two-Day Week,” which means
that I try to spend at least four days and five nights in the country and
only two nights up in London, because I don’t like big towns. Generally I
come up on Monday night and I go down again to Sandwich on Thursday morning,
with any luck.
PLAYBOY: What do you do with your time in the country?
FLEMING: Well, I get up late, about half past eight or nine, have breakfast,
coffee and a boiled egg-three and a half minutes, not three and two thirds,
like James Bond. I read newspapers and deal with a certain amount of mail
and then I go off to the golf courses; the one I play on is in Sandwich –
the Royal St. George – a course known to a great many Americans, and one
that Bobby Jones and all the great men have played; Jack Nicklaus won the
Gold Vase on that course three or four years ago. And I meet some friends
there and we have a drink or two and lunch and then I go out and play a
tough game of golf for fairly high stakes, foursomes generally, not American
four-ball, but each pair hitting the ball in turn. And we laugh a lot and
it’s great fun. Then I go back home in the evening and sit down and have a
couple of very powerful bourbons and waters with ice and read awhile, and
then I have whatever my wife has decided to cook for me and I go straight
off to bed.
PLAYBOY: And when you’re in London?
FLEMING: In London we have, as I said, a very nice little house – but it
hasn’t got any trees around it, which I would like, and I would prefer to
live higher up, somewhere like Hampstead, on the heights above London, with
birds and trees and a bit of garden. But my wife, who likes to entertain,
feels that this would be too far from the House of Commons for our friends
to come, and altogether too suburban. In any case, I get up in the morning
about the same time as in the country, have the same breakfast, and at about
half past ten I drive to my office, where my secretary has the mail ready
for me, which I cope with and then dictate a few letters. Then I correct
some proofs or go over whatever I happen to be working on at the moment and
have lunch with a friend – always a male friend; I don’t like having lunch
with women – and perhaps I go to my club, Boodles, or the Turf, where I sit
by myself and read in that highly civilised privacy which is the great thing
about some English clubs. In the afternoon I have more or less the same
routine correcting proofs. I go home and have three large drinks and then we
either stay in for dinner or have people in, or go out; but more often we
have dinner together and go to bed.
PLAYBOY: Your books were often among those at the bedside of President
Kennedy, who publicly declared himself an enthusiastic Bond fan. He was even
said to have considered Bond his favourite fictional character. Did he ever
tell you why?
FLEMING: No, he didn’t. In any case, I don’t think Bond was President
Kennedy’s favourite fictional character; I think he was his favourite
adventure character. But I think perhaps that Bond’s sort of patriotic
derring-do was in keeping with the President’s own concept of endurance and
courage and grace under pressure, and so on. Strangely enough, many
politicians seem to like my books, I think perhaps because politicians like
solutions, with everything properly tied up at the end. Politicians always
hope for neat solutions, you know, but so rarely can they find them.
PLAYBOY: Do you have other admirers among world figures of major stature?
FLEMING: I don’t know, really. For one, I don’t believe Mr. Khrushchev is
one of my readers, and we haven’t met. I do have among my memorabilia a
short typewritten note from Joseph Stalin, signed in his hand and, I think,
typed by him as well, saying that he is sorry, but he must decline to be
PLAYBOY: It was Stalin who organised SMERSH, the Soviet counterpart of the
Gestapo, which served as Bond’s adversary in several of your earlier books.
What made you decide to abandon it in Thunderball for the ideologically
unaligned gang of international conspirators which you call Spectre?
FLEMING: I closed down SMERSH, although I was devoted to the good old
apparat, because, first of all, Khrushchev did in fact disband SMERSH
himself, although its operations are still carried out by a subsection of
the K.G.B., the Russian secret service. But in that book – I think it was
Thunderball that I was writing at the time of the proposed summit meeting –
I thought well, it’s no good going on if we’re going to make friends with
the Russians. I know them, I like them personally, as anyone would, as
anyone would like the Chinese if he knew them. I thought, I don’t want to go
on ragging them like this. So I invented Spectre as an international crime
organisation which contained elements of SMERSH and the Gestapo and the
Mafia – the cosy old Cosa Nostra – which, of course, is a much more elastic
fictional device than SMERSH, which was no fictional device, but the real
thing. But that was really the reason I did it, so as not to rag the
Russians too much. But if they go on squeezing off cyanide pistols in
people’s faces, I may have to make them cosa mia again.
PLAYBOY: Mystery writer Raymond Chandler has said of you, “He writes more
correctly, neatly, concisely and vividly than most of our ‘serious’
novelists.” On the other hand, New York Times critic Anthony Boucher has
said that in his view you write “monumentally badly.” Do you have any
comment on these contrasting appraisals?
FLEMING: I dare say Ray Chandler said that because he was a friend of mine.
As for Anthony Boucher, he’s never liked my books, and it shows what a good
reviewer he is that he says so. Others, happily – such as Cyril Connolly –
think otherwise. There is no doubt, however, that I – and even Anthony
Boucher – should write better. There is no top limit to writing well. I try
to write neatly and concisely and vividly because I think that’s the way to
write, but I think a large amount of that comes, as I said earlier, from my
training as a fast-writing journalist, under circumstances in which you
damned well had to be neat and correct and concise and vivid. I’m afraid I
think Reuter’s training was much more valuable to me than all the reading in
English literature I did at Eton or in Geneva or wherever.
PLAYBOY: You have said that you write unashamedly for money. Is that true?
FLEMING: Yes, it is. I do write for money – but also for pleasure. I’m very
glad that people say kind things about my books – because, naturally, if
they didn’t say so, I shouldn’t make any money, and consequently I shouldn’t
enjoy the writing so much. I think that communicating enjoyment is certainly
a very good achievement, even in the fairly modest seam of literature that
comprises thriller writing. But it’s true that I write below my ultimate
capacity – or at least I think I probably do. If I really settled down and
decided to write a War and Peace among thrillers, if I shut myself up and
decided to do this and nothing else, I dare say I might bring it off, if
such a thing is possible. There’s a great deal of violence and sex in all
great novels, so I dare say if I tried to do it in the modern vein I might
But I’m more interested in action than in cerebration, and I should think
that the great War and Peace thriller would be more likely to be written by
a man like Graham Greene or Georges Simenon, because either of them would do
it more truthfully and accurately than I ever could. I enjoy exaggeration
and things larger than life. It amuses me to have a villain with a great
bulbous head, whereas, as you know, they’re generally little people with
nothing at all extraordinary-looking about them. Then, too, I’m afraid I
shouldn’t be able to write in sufficient depth to make this hypothetical
thriller stand up as a classic.
PLAYBOY: Why not?
FLEMING: I’m too interested in surface things, and I’m too interested in
maintaining a fast pace, in writing at speed. I’m afraid I shouldn’t have
the patience to delve into the necessary psychological introspection and
historical background. But in the end, I must say, I’m very happy writing as
I do. And I greatly enjoy knowing that other people, quite intelligent
people, find my books amusing and entertaining. But I’m not really
surprised, because they entertain and amuse me too.
[Source: Playboy, December 1964, P.97-106. Copyright © 1964 Playboy. All rights reserved.]