While the EON Productions film series has ensured James Bond’s enduring popularity, the secret agent’s first success came as a result of the books written by Ian Fleming, and continued following his death by a procession of other authors who have continued to keep the literary James Bond alive.
Casino Royale was published in April 1953 and the initial printing of 4,728 copies soon sold out, partly thanks to the overwhelmingly positive reviews from Fleming’s peers, and prompting a second edition just one month later. Today a copy of Casino Royale in good condition can go for tens of thousands of pounds, particularly if signed by the author.
Fleming had intended to write the “spy story to end all spy stories” since the Second World War while he was working as assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence; there he came to know many secret agents and commandos and was exposed to operational secrets of the highest level.
A spy story to end all spy stories
He wrote the first draft of the book in 1952 while visiting his Jamaican home, Goldeneye, where he spent two months each winter. The previously confirmed bachelor was about to get married at the age of 43 and according to him, only half jokingly, he needed something to take his mind of the huge disruption that was about to happen to his life; not only was he to be married, but his wife-to-be was also pregnant.
Upon his return he secured a publishing deal with Jonathan Cape and wrote the follow-up, Live And Let Die (1954), in the winter of 1953. Returning to London just before Casino Royale‘s publication he was to follow the same routine for the rest of his life, although the formula for the books did change from time to time.
When his third book, Moonraker (1955), was published Fleming found that many loyal readers were disappointed that they were taken no further than Dover. As a result he promised to send James Bond overseas from then on; the mixture of exotic locations in an era before jet travel made such travel routine, Bond’s knowledge of fast cars, gambling, luxury brands, and fine food and drink, and over the top villains combined to make an irresistible cocktail and so with Diamonds Are Forever (1956) James Bond returned to the United States.
He followed that up with From Russia, With Love (1957), Fleming’s most ambitious book, which takes Bond to Istanbul; Goldfinger (1958), in which Bond trails the villain’s car from the UK through France to Switzerland and ends up in the US again; and Doctor No (1959), which takes 007 back to Jamaica.
When it came to his annual writing holiday in 1959 he recycled some plot outlines he’d written for an aborted television project, publishing five shorts stories under the title For Your Eyes Only (1960); contemporary readers were somewhat disappointed in the change in format. Three of the stories are traditional James Bond adventures, albeit somewhat compressed, but the other two, Quantum of Solace and The Hildebrand Rarity are somewhat of a departure for Fleming.
JFK helps James Bond conquer America
While Fleming had always had his mind on the American market and to putting his hero on the big screen, he was to be again and again frustrated. While Macmillan published the books for the American market, it was to limited success.
That was all to change though when Life published a list of the newly elected John F Kennedy’s top ten books in 1961, at whose house Fleming had dined the previous year. Number nine on the list was From Russia, With Love, exactly the kind of endorsement Fleming needed; with the popular new president behind him James Bond finally took American by storm.
Legal problems and failing health
Meanwhile Fleming had been working on a film project with his friend Ivar Bryce and a young film producer named Kevin McClory. While Fleming was initially enthusiastic about McClory, he seems to have tired of him.
When Bryce’s enthusiasm for financing films waned due to the poor box office receipts from The Boy And The Bridge, financed by him and produced and directed by McClory the project was cancelled.
After previously reworking television scripts for For Your Eyes Only , Fleming came unstuck when he decided to take the same approach on his next book. The screenplay for the film project on which Thunderball (1961) was based had been collaboration between Fleming, Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham and when McClory saw an advance copy of the book he tried to prevent publication.
While that failed, McClory and Whittingham sued Fleming breach of copyright, which came to court in March 1961; however, nine days into the trial he was unable to continue due to poor health.
The judge ruled that all future editions of Thunderball , the first of what later became known as the “Blofeld trilogy”, must carry the statement “based on a screen treatment by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, and Ian Fleming”. A month later Fleming collapsed from a heart attack, the result of years of drinking and smoking heavily, but almost certainly exacerbated by the court case.
Experimentation and a return to form
Growing bored with the standard format – and also of having to devise a new plot each year – Fleming tried the radical departure of writing a novel from the point of view of the Bond girl. In The Spy Who Loved Me (1962) James Bond doesn’t even appear until the end third of the book, which is a long way from being about espionage at all, making it the least satisfying of any of the books.
Readers were unhappy with the result, as was Fleming himself, who prevented a UK paperback edition from being published until after his death.
Fleming’s follow up was a both a return to the traditional Bond adventure and a return to form; he wrote On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963) in early 1962, nine months after the damaging Thunderball case and a some months before publication of The Spy Who Loved Me.
This shows how Fleming let his imagination run riot and, like Doctor No, has some less realistic science fiction elements; once again the villain is based in an inaccessible lair, something the filmmakers adopted for many of the early Bond films.
Ian Fleming took a trip to Japan in November 1962 in preparation for his next book, You Only Live Twice (1964). He had visited the country three years previously for a series of articles for the Sunday Times, collected in the book Thrilling Cities, and as on that first visit to the land of the rising sun he was accompanied by Dick Hughes of the Sunday Times and Japanese journalist Toreo “Tiger” Saito.
As a result of the copious notes made on his tour of Japan the book turned out to be quite a travelogue, with his travelling companions appearing as Dikko Henderson and Tiger Tanaka. In it we are taught about Japanese cuisine, the drinks – lots of sake and whisky, although Jack Daniel’s rather than Suntory – and the way of the Ninja, for which 007 receives rudimentary training.
The end of James Bond?
Fleming’s final novel, The Man With The Golden Gun (1965), was written in the winter of 1963 when Fleming’s health was declining. Refusing to follow his doctor’s advice, he continued smoking and drinking heavily and he died on August 12th 1964 of a second heart attack.
He left behind him the manuscript for The Man With The Golden Gun, which lacked much of Fleming’s usual pizzazz due to having to cut down the amount of time he could spend at the typewriter. It was shown to Kingsley Amis, a well-known Bond fan, who suggested some changes, but these were rejected and it was published the following year.
All that was left were a few short stories; Octopussy & The Living Daylights (1966) contained just two short stories; a third (The Property of a Lady) was later added and more recently a fourth, 007 in New York, has been added. Of these only The Living Daylights is a typical Bond adventure, but it is one of the most gripping shorts written by Fleming.
Following his death Glidrose Productions wanted to employ a number of writers working under the pseudonym “Robert Markham” to continue the novels. However, only one of these, Colonel Sun (1968) was published; it was written by Kingsley Amis, who was a big fan of the books and published The James Bond Dossier (1965, after which this website is named) and The Book of Bond or, Every Man His Own 007 (1965).
The James Bond books in order of publication
by Ian Fleming
Casino Royale (1953)
Live And Let Die (1954)
Diamonds Are Forever (1956)
From Russia With Love (1957)
Doctor No (1958)
For Your Eyes Only (1960)
The Spy Who Loved Me (1962)
You Only Live Twice (1964)
The Man With The Golden Gun (1965)
The other James Bond book authors:
Robert Markham (Kingsley Amis)
The Book of Bond (or Every Man his Own 007)
(1965), Lt-Col William (“Bill”) Tanner
The James Bond Bedside Companion
(1984), Raymond Benson
Annotations and Chronologies for Ian Fleming’s Bond Stories
(2005), John Griswold
James Bond Encyclopedia
(2007), John Cork & Collin Stutz
007 James Bond: A Report
(1964), O.F. Snelling
The James Bond Dossier
(1965), Kingsley Amis
James Bond: The Authorised Biography
(1973), John Pearson