Some unique Ian Fleming items will be auctioned at Bonhams in London later this month, including a previously unseen and fascinating memorandum written by the James Bond author to Jack Whittingham, making suggestions for what Fleming envisaged would be the key elements in the very first 007 movie.
The one-page memorandum, which recently featured in an article for the UK’s Mail online website (December 5), was written by Ian Fleming to Whittingham in 1958, and set out the Bond creator’s early ideas on what he hoped would be the first James Bond adventure to be made for the big screen. He was collaborating at the time with Whittingham and Irish producer Kevin McClory on the proposed film, a project that finally collapsed in 1960.
Fleming’s aim in the memo was to set out his ideas for the main storyline, ideas which he hoped would be incorporated into the eventual screenplay that Whittingham had been recruited to write. Notable aspects of the memo included having the Mafia as the main villains, and ensuring a fast-paced storyline rooted in authenticity.
The brief memo by Fleming is especially important as it reveals to Bond historians some of the early themes and elements that eventually evolved into Fleming’s story for the novel Thunderball, a story that landed Fleming in a complex court case in 1963 involving Whittingham and McClory, who accused Fleming of using previously agreed screenplay story elements in his novel without permission or acknowledgement.
Fleming opened the 1958 memo to Whittingham by saying that it was ‘a rough suggested treatment for a James Bond film’, and stated the story involved ‘an attempt by the Mafia to blackmail the West for £100 million using as a lever an atomic warhead stolen from one of Britain’s rocket sites’. The target for this, wrote Fleming, would be a new ‘Cape Canaveral’.
Fleming told Whittingham that his concern ‘has been only to stitch together a more or less plausible narrative based on this plot and to make it as fast-moving and packed with incidents as possible’. He continued: ‘To my mind the chief weakness in the treatment is the thinness of the Mafia threat and this must be considerably strengthened, perhaps by more attention to the Mafia meeting in London’.
Fleming noted there were ‘other weaknesses’ which ‘would need to be tightened up’ but ‘it seems to me that the main thread of the story stands up fairly well’.
Later in the memo, which referred to England, the English Channel, and to Nassau in the Bahamas, Fleming warned that the movie would have to be particularly brisk ‘so as to not allow the audience time to worry about probabilities’. Perhaps concerned to ensure as much authenticity as possible, Fleming also said any suspicion of ‘cardboard’ needed to be avoided and ‘the acting throughout should be under-played and without exaggeration’.
Evidently keen to also keep production costs down, Fleming told Whittingham that: ‘There are no very expensive props except an American helicopter and an American submarine and these could probably be obtained without much difficulty’.
Also in the Bonhams auction is a first draft ‘continuity treatment’ for the proposed movie by Whittingham, and a first draft shooting script. All the items were originally owned by Whittingham, who died in 1972, and have been placed into auction by Whittingham’s estate. The Bonhams auction will take place in London on December 18.
For His Friend’s Eyes Only
Meanwhile, the print-copy version of the Mail returned to the subject of Ian Fleming on December 8, when the newspaper ran a story about the regular correspondence that took place between the Bond author and one of his close colleagues at the Sunday Times, Dennis ‘CD’ Hamilton.
Fleming and Hamilton knew one another for more than a decade, and Fleming wrote some notably honest private letters to his friend, including his reflections on his relationship with his new wife, Ann, and also his appreciation of how Hamilton had helped him out after Fleming had suffered a heart attack.
An archive of more than 80 letters between the two men is being put up for sale. According to the Mail, the letters also reveal how Fleming’s journalist colleagues were especially keen to capitalise on the success of Fleming’s fictional creation, and several of the letters deal with how James Bond could be included in the Sunday Times.
The correspondence has been acquired from Hamilton’s family by the independent booksellers Bertram Rota, who hope to sell the collection for £160,000.
Commenting to the Mail on the Fleming/Hamilton friendship, Andrew Lycett, the author of a major biography on Fleming, said: ‘I think it was very much a mutual admiration society. Ian Fleming was certainly a great fan of Hamilton’s and liked the fact that he had served with distinction during the war’.