As many Bond aficionados know, during the late 1950s 007 creator Ian Fleming collaborated with Irish film producer Kevin McClory and playwright Jack Whittingham on a proposed first James Bond movie.

A collection of copy correspondence from 1959-60, written to and between Kevin McClory and Bond author Ian Fleming, mainly relating to the search for an actor to play James Bond, is be put up for sale at Bonhams Auction House in New Bond Street, London, on 11th December.

The multiple Lots in the auction also include correspondence on, and draft screen treatments for, the Bond film by Jack Whittingham, together with a large number of letters written by members of the public to the Daily Express newspaper in 1959, after the newspaper had revealed that Fleming and McClory were searching for a suitable actor to cast as the first big-screen 007.

Various names were proposed by members of the public. Interestingly, one letter suggested that the Welsh actor Stanley Baker would be an ideal actor for the role.

Another fascinating letter included in a Lot is a letter from Ian Fleming to McClory, where Fleming congratulated the Irish producer on the success of his movie The Boy and the Bridge (which had just been shown to critical acclaim at the Venice Film Festival). Fleming also mentioned that he was enclosing a photograph of an actor who had been suggested as 007.

Bond… James Bond

The Bond film project worked on by Fleming, McClory and Whittingham went through a number of titles. Initially the film was entitled James Bond of the Secret Service in November, 1959, but this had changed to Longitude 78 West by 1960. The movie project was later, of course, changed to Thunderball. It was under the latter title that Ian Fleming converted the screenplay into a new James Bond novel, which landed him in a legal dispute with McClory. Indeed, one of the Lots in the auction is a file of legal documents relating to the eventual High Court case between McClory and Fleming (McClory claimed that Fleming had taken basic story concepts and used them in his novel without permission).

Of particular interest to Bond historians will be the auction Lots that include draft copies of the story outlines and screen treatments for the project worked on by Fleming, McClory and Whittingham, including a 1959 first draft of the treatment by Jack Whittingham for James Bond of the Secret Service, and a 1960 first draft shooting script for Longitude 78 West.

One document in the collection of Lots to be auctioned also includes a useful summary of the core story at the heart of the early versions of the project: ‘It is the story of an attempt by the Mafia to blackmail the West for £100 million, using as lever an atomic bomb high-jacked from a stolen Valiant bomber’. James Bond foils the plot, with help from Felix Leiter of the CIA, and there was to be what is described as ‘a great underwater battle off the grand Bahamas’. The material also reveals that the actor Burl Ives was to play the chief operator for the Mafia, and had expressed enthusiasm for the role.

As Bond fans know, when Fleming developed his novel Thunderball, based on these early screen treatments, he replaced the Mafia with the equally sinister but new criminal organisation SP.E.C.T.R.E. (‘Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion’). This was the organisation that became such an iconic feature of the early EON James Bond films.

The material to be auctioned at Bonhams is truly unique and will certainly generate much interest among Bond historians and general 007 fans, and provides us with further insights into the pre-EON history of the first attempts to bring Fleming’s James Bond to the big screen.

Did You Know?

After Kevin McClory successfully persuaded Sean Connery to return as Bond in the unofficial 007 movie Never Say Never Again (1983), he remained determined to utilize unused story material developed with Fleming and Whittingham in the late 1950s and make yet another 007 movie. Despite the project becoming seriously bogged down in the courts, McClory still pursued his dream, and at one point even approached fellow Irishman Pierce Brosnan to play Bond (Brosnan had recently lost out on the Bond role to Timothy Dalton). Brosnan, of course, did eventually become the ‘official’ EON James Bond in 1995.

Irish film producer Kevin McClory in the 1960s