Britain’s newest monarch is about to be crowned, Sir Winston Churchill is Prime Minister and Dwight D. Eisenhower is the US President, Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth has won the Academy Award for Best Picture, The Stargazers’ ‘Broken Wings’ is the UK number one, and military intelligence officer turned author Ian Fleming is about to introduce a pop culture phenomenon.
And he himself designed the cover. It was a quick fire hit and surprised the author’s critics, peers and friends. In the fourteen publications that followed, Ian Fleming forged a new, post-war cultural hero, presented a new jet-set era of confidences, sexuality and intrigue, and also crafted a genre of his own.
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The spy maker gifted both men and women a fantasy, a template, a diversion, and an escape.
"I was just on the edge of getting married, and I was frenzied at the prospect of this great step in my life after having been a bachelor for so long. And I really wanted to take my mind off of the agony, and so I decided to sit down and write a book."Ian Fleming
As Commander Bond marks his seventieth anniversary, we asked an elite squad of continuation authors, historians, representatives and writers to celebrate literature’s golden spy.
The mission was simple: What is the best Fleming work and why? And what is the best Fleming line from any of his writings? The responses are brilliantly varied, and collectively shed light on the pulses, drives and popularity of Ian Fleming and James Bond 007, but also the subsequent readership and Bond fandom.
Following the announcement that Charlie Higson is returning to mark Bond’s seventieth and the coronation of King Charles III with On His Majesty’s Secret Service, the first Young Bond author set the thunderball rolling recently by naming Casino Royale as a top Fleming novel. It is a sentiment echoed by others.
"I love the first paragraph of Casino Royale," admits actor Lucy Fleming, the author’s niece and one of the captains of Ian Fleming Publications.
"It was where Bond started," she continues, "and Ian took a lot of time and care to get it as he wanted."
The starting pistol for Fleming and 007 also yields Lucy’s favourite Fleming line – and the one that started it all.
“The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning and the soul-erosion produced by high gambling - a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension - becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it."Casino Royale (1953) - Ian Fleming
It is a blunt instrument of an overture and one that Double-O writer Kim Sherwood (Double or Nothing, 2022) puts her chips on too. "It’s definitive, experienced and cool," she reminds, "just the right beginning for Fleming’s ambition to write the spy story to end all spy stories."
Giorgio Spalletta (Red Sonja) is the comic book artist behind Dynamite Comics’ Bond adaptation, For King and Country (2023). "My favourite is Casino Royale," he muses, "whose film adaptation starring Daniel Craig I also absolutely adore. More than a spy story, I find it true noir."
Spalletta is particularly drawn to how Fleming describes Bond’s relationship to food in Royale — “when I’m working I generally have to eat my meals alone and it makes them more interesting when one takes trouble.”
"I often eat alone when I work," remarks Giorgio, "but I’m not as cool as Bond."
With a firm ‘no question’, the debut Royale chimes too with the actor and playwright Mark Burgess (who wrote 2000’s one-man Fleming play, The Man with The Golden Pen).
"The two things that helped me most in understanding both Bond and his creator were Casino Royale and a transcript of Fleming’s appearance on Desert Island Discs," he remembers. Mindful of how "Fleming consistently writes in such a quotable style" Burgess settles on a line because it "says so much about Bond just in one sentence."
"James Bond, with two double Bourbons inside him, sat in the final departure lounge of Miami Airport and thought about life and death."Goldfinger (1959) - Ian Fleming
Screenwriter and Bond continuation author William Boyd (Solo, 2013) hones in too on Fleming’s skills at constantly sculpting just who Bond is. "My favourite line is from The Man with the Golden Gun," he observes.
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"Bond is offered a knighthood by M and declines. He replies in a telegram (hence the telegram speak): 'EYE AM JUST A SCOTTISH PEASANT AND WILL ALWAYS FEEL AT HOME BEING A SCOTTISH PEASANT.'"
Boyd reminds how "Bond doesn’t have a drop of English blood in his veins – he’s half-Scottish, half-Swiss." He continues, "Fleming emphasised Bond’s Scottishness in the later novels – maybe the influence of Sean Connery. Fleming was a Scot himself, of course, though a very anglicised one."
The previous Bond continuation author Jeffery Deaver (Carte Blanche, 2011) has an altogether different favourite line. "This is a poem in the style of Haiku, written by Bond himself" as Deaver remembers the eleventh Bond novel and its titular line, “You only live twice. Once when you are born. And once when you look death in the face.”
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"I would say You Only Live Twice is currently my favourite Bond novel" ponders seven-time Bond screenwriter Robert Wade.
"The combination of the story, Bond being a broken man, the exoticism, and Fleming’s journalistic flair in conveying his pleasure in all things Japanese, and the bizarreness of Blofeld’s poison garden."
One of the writers responsible for referencing the short story in 2015’s Spectre, Wade’s favourite piece of Fleming writing is The Hildebrand Rarity (1959) – "because it is just a great capsule of atmosphere and tension, with Fleming enjoying writing about the things he loves - sadism and fish."
Despite loving "them all" The Hildebrand Rarity is also circled by screenwriter and Bond historian, John Cork (James Bond – The Legacy, 2002).
"I think it speaks to Ian Fleming’s humanity," Cork contemplates. "The story involves a rich, Trumpian American, Milton Krest, and his shipmates on a mission to obtain a rare fish. James Bond must play judge and jury," he continues, "pondering whether his friend or potential future lover ended the life of Milton Krest."
Fleming’s third novel Moonraker (1955) garners good support from the assembled agents. Historian and author Jeremy Black (The World of James Bond – The Lives and Times of 007, 2017) circles the wholly British based novel for its "tight writing, clear timetable and good villain". And it is a sentiment supported by Corinne Turner, the managing director of Ian Fleming Publications Limited.
"My favourite book is Moonraker," Corinne explains. "I love cars and have always enjoyed Ian’s descriptions of them. He had such a passion for motoring. The car chase in this book is one of his best."
For her, Moonraker also provides "the strongest and most enjoyable Bond girl" in Gala Brand. "She is a woman in control of her own life and heart, able to negotiate threats from villains and handsome spies."
It is also Moonraker which grants Ian Fleming Publications’ very own ‘M’ her favourite Fleming line.
“Bond set his teeth and rode his car as if she was a Lipizzaner at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.”Moonraker (1955) - Ian Fleming
Bond continuation author Raymond Benson has penned twelve 007 works, including novels, shorts, and film novelisations. His favourite passage from any Fleming work is also from Moonraker: “There must be no regrets. No false sentiment. He must play the role which she expected of him. The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette.”
Ten years after Casino Royale, the tenth Bond novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was published in 1963. The film version is a beloved gem amongst Bond movie fans. Yet, the original book has its admirers too.
Lucy Fleming has always been fond of the novel. "I have so many favourites in Ian’s writing, but the one I really love is the skiing sequence from OHMSS." As she rightly observes, "He gives advice on what to do if caught in an avalanche. He loved skiing."
Robert Wade also warms to the alpine drama of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. And whilst he notes it is "impossible to choose a single line from all the books, one of Fleming’s pithy ones has always stayed with me – 'all cats are grey in the dark.'"
Author Steve Cole wrote four Young Bond novels, starting with 2014’s Shoot to Kill. He also cites OHMSS as providing a killer of a line.
"I tell myself this over and over and sometimes I nearly believe it: 'Worry is a dividend paid to disaster before it is due.'"
This same line is backed by John Cork. "I first read this when I read Bond. And recalling it during stressful times has served me well."
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is also Steve Cole’s favourite Fleming work. "It’s like the Bondgeist (casinos, crime lords, sexual attraction, chase scenes, outlandish national threats) is cranked up to eleven," he enthuses, "just to strip it all away to raw silence – one man and a dead woman in the aftermath of violence and Bond babbling of having all the time in the world when it’s just run out."
"As endings go," he continues, "it’s the polar extreme of Casino Royale and promises a fabulous pay-off in the next novel."
However, there was one Fleming book that curiously garnered more shared reflection from these Fleming-savvy minds than others: Published in 1957, From Russia with Love is the fifth 007 novel.
Biographer Andrew Lycett (Ian Fleming, 1995) impassions how his favourite 007 book was "my introduction to Bond, the first novel I properly read, the first one which got my pulses and much more going, as I raced through the text by torchlight underneath the bedclothes at school."
It is also Jeffery Deaver’s favourite Fleming work. "I found it the grittiest novel of Fleming’s novels – reaching into le Carre territory – and the one with the least frills." He continues: "You could call it a classical Naturalist novel – i.e., realistic. And daring too. We don’t meet Bond until we’re many pages into the story."
Jeremy Black recalls Fleming’s vivid geographic-centric aptitude in From Russia With Love, and especially the line: “The old European section of Istanbul glittered at the end of the broad half-mile of bridge with the slim minarets lancing up into the sky.”
"Fleming really upped his game with this fifth book," suggests Raymond Benson. "It was a denser book in terms of detail and atmosphere, and the character of Bond was growing in depth and personality that wasn’t always there in the very early novels. It has a wonderful, complex plot that isn’t too improbable.
"Fleming always said that he didn’t mind if his plots were considered 'improbable', as long as they’re not 'impossible'. And the Orient Express portion of the book is absolutely thrilling."
William Boyd shares the same respect and suggests "the reason is that it’s probably the most realistic Bond novel – the one that fits the classic spy-novel genre best and doesn’t veer off into the fantastical or silly." To Boyd From Russia with Love is "Fleming’s most assured novel, technically’ and holds a set-up that is both ‘very adroit and elaborate."
Raymond Benson adds to the reverence. "It contains everything one expects from a Bond novel," he enthuses, "a sweeping, fast pace; colourful, descriptive prose; exotic locations; and that wonderfully clever story… with a shock ending!"
Andrew Lycett recalls how From Russia holds that "propulsive sense of excitement", and how "Fleming wrote more great lines than most authors."
He elects a particular line from Bond’s fifth literary spin of the dice: “The naked man who lay splayed out on his face beside the swimming pool might have been dead.”
Lycett is compelled by the description’s "sense of sensuality and sex, a touch of luxury and an element of menace". And so is Kim Sherwood who declares she was "hooked from the first sentence."
"Why might he be dead?" pondered the twelve-year-old Kim, and "why is he naked?"
"From Russia with Love takes the top spot for me because of its structure" notes Sherwood. She adores how the villainous SMERSH have a plan "to mire 007 in scandal and undermine Britain’s morale".
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She astutely adds how this is Fleming "engaging meta-fictionally with his subject. He’s spent five books building the myth of Bond, the myth of Britain, and now he’s going to test it until near breaking point. But of course, Bond never breaks."
Echoing the views of our gathered Fleming minded minds, Andrew Lycett sums it up when he remembers how "Fleming wrote more great lines than most authors. Usually, the full Fleming effect comes in a crescendo of several lines."
And now the legacy of Fleming and these seventy years is a pop culture crescendo itself of literature, cinema, timings, and national identity.
As Mark Burgess notes of this seventieth celebration, "it’s still incredible to think that one morning at Goldeneye in early 1952 Ian Fleming sat at his desk with an idea for a book and reams of blank paper.
Just a few weeks later, Casino Royale was finished. And Bond was born."
New reprints of the original Bond novels are now available from Ian Fleming Publications Limited.
A big Double-0 thanks to Ian Fleming Publications, Raymond Benson, Jeremy Black, William Boyd, Mark Burgess, Steve Cole, John Cork, Jeffery Deaver, Lucy Fleming, Charlie Higson, Andrew Lycett, Kim Sherwood, Corinne Turner, Giorgio Spalletta, and Robert Wade.
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