Re: Ian Fleming on Crime and Spy Fiction (and non-fiction!)

Eldollarado: A Transient’s Scrapbook from New York (Sunday Times, June 28, 1953)

From Ian Fleming.

Tipping is a pestiferous business and it would be a wonderful thing if U.N.E.S.C.O. or the U.N. Commission on Human Rights would establish a World Tipping Code. On my last night in the Ocean Belle my advice on the subject was sought by a group of three American couples bearing names which you would know.

My eyes started from my head as each couple showed its hand. “I always give my cabin steward £20.” “We’ve done a lot of entertaining in the Veranda Grill and we're dividing £40 between the head waiter and the two others” “Would £5 be enough for the Turkish Bath man?” “And what about you?”

I was torn between various emotions. My feelings for the working-man triumphed. “I think you're being very generous,” I said. “You’ll certainly all get an extra couple of teeth in the farewell smile.”

Under cover of their rather thin laughter I escaped with my pair of jacks unseen. For the four nights, I tipped my cabin steward £2. He seemed perfectly happy.


These Names Make Bad News

For a time the Coronation (“It’s going to mean a great religious revival round the world” is a comment I have heard several times) ousted McCarthy as topic “A” in New York and I believe throughout America, but now he is top-billing again, and you simply can’t stop talking about him or reading about him.

There are various reasons for this: he has a really expert publicity machine, he is always springing or cooking-up a new surprise, people are terrified and fascinated by him, and “he may be a sonofabitch but, darn it, he's always right.” Homosexuals in the State Department, British ships trading with China, un-American books in American embassies abroad.

Each scandalous broadside has missed with ninety-nine calumnies and hit with one. And that one is enough in a country where every man is born with a chance to be President and where, in consequence, every man aches to prove the Administration wrong. McCarthy is just pressing the trigger of a gun which is loaded and aimed by a huge cross-section of the public.

Walter Winchell has been doing much the same thing for thirty years, and he goes on doing it on radio and TV to a guaranteed public of around ten million every week. Is there a connection between them? And what role does Edgar Hoover of the F.B.I. play in all this, the Washington Fouché who has controlled the American secret police for the amazing span of twenty-seven years? These three men are the recipients of all the private grudges of America. They are the overt and covert crusaders against un-Americanism. The sun would indeed be darkened if history were to bring them together, or any closer together, before this giant country has found itself.


Tales from Kinseyland

But August 20 is K-Day and on that morning one topic will sweep away all others. For on that day will be published Dr. Kinsey’s “Sexual Report on the Human Female,” and on that day every newspaper, every dinner-table, will go hog-wild.

The Report is completed and scarifying tales and rumours are leaking out of the peaceful, beautiful campus of Indiana University where what might be described as semesters are being held to allow newspaper and magazine men (and women) to digest the huge tome and squeeze out the meatiest three-thousand word thesis for release in each paper on K-Day. Not a word more than 3,000 or someone will reach for a lawyer.

So far two semesters have been held. One in May and one in June. And there is another to come.


Jottings on a Nylon Cuff

Canasta has become the favourite card game of America, leading Contract Bridge by ten per cent.—a wide margin. Bolivia is the name of a new variation I do not intend to learn. Bolivia is really a standardisation of Samba, which I have also eschewed. Three packs. Going-out requires a sequence canasta and a regular canasta. Wild card canastas score 2,500 points. Black threes left in your hand cost a hundred points each against you. Game is 15,000 points. Who do you think is touring America promoting it? Who but that Queen of the Green Baize, our old friend Ottilie H. Reilly.


The latest and most deadly way of making a dry martini is to pour a little dry vermouth into a jug, swirl it round and throw it down the sink. Fill Jug with gin and place in ice-box until tomorrow. Then serve (or drink from Jug). Note that there is no wasteful dilution with ice-cubes.


The germ-consciousness of America is rapidly becoming a phobia, battened on by doctors, druggists and advertisers. People actually prefer foods that are frozen or tinned or preserved. They are more hygienic. And what about this? Brown eggs are virtually unobtainable in New York. “Customers won’t touch ‘em,” my Super-Market told me. “They’re dirty.”


Fifty-cent Angels

Broadway Angels Inc. has made a Common Stock issue of 570,000 shares at fifty cents a share to allow “the small investor an opportunity to employ funds in diversified enterprises connected with the Broadway Theatre.” The stock will be traded on the “Over-the-Counter-Market.” The issue was made on March 1 and the President of the Company, a Mr. Wallace Garland, tells me it is already three-quarters subscribed by some 2,000 investors.

“Of course, you can lose 100 per cent. of the capital invested in one show,” said Mr. Garland. “But look at ‘Voice of the Turtle,’ 3,000 per cent, profit. ‘Mister Roberts,’ 500 per cent profit. ‘Harvey,’ 4,000 per cent, profit. Do you think the British would be interested?”

“I’m sure they would be,” I said. “I'll tell them about it.”

(P.S. “Show Business” tells me that normally the angel has a thirty-seventy chance of making his money back. And of course, there’s Treasury permission to get. But it would be fine to own a piece of Ethel Merman.)


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Questions of Colour (Times Literary Supplement, January 01, 1954)

By Ian Fleming

Fernando Henriques: Family and Colour in Jamaica. With a Preface by Meyer Fortes. Eyre and Spottiswoode. 18s.

      There are about 250 million Negroes in the world and one of the great problems of this and future generations lies in promoting their happiness and well-being. Over the centuries, this will only be achieved by an extension of the colour bar so that part of the earth’s surface—perhaps the African continent—becomes a Negro dominion or reserve, or else by progressive removal of the colour bar until, through miscegenation, the entire population of the world is coffee-coloured. In England, until very recently, we barely perceived the problem. The solitary blackamoor was a nursery figure, a pet. In the plural he was a horde of fuzzy-wuzzies to be handled with glass beads or machine-guns.

    But suddenly, almost since the war, the picture has changed; or rather our eyes, educated in humanity by the twentieth-century blaze of social enlightenment, see it differently. Suddenly we perceive the Negro as a tragically unhappy man ridden by a sense of inferiority which accompanies him, like a deformity, from the schoolroom to the grave. In our sympathy we lavish education and culture and medicine upon him only to be pained when, with advancement, he reaches for the weapons we once used against him and turns them upon us—weapons of legal and political argument, weapons of “giant powder” and steel. Floundering, we bomb him in one colony and in another invite him to fork-lunches at the Residency. Here he is a tool of Moscow, there he gets the O.B.E. Now he is pacified with a new constitution, then he is threatened with a battleship. Whichever way we attempt to disintegrate the black cloud on the horizon, it still remains larger than a man’s hand and, to those who think about it, just as menacing as if it were shaped like a mushroom.

    Mr. Henriques is a social anthropologist and, while he might be indulgent towards these generalizations, in Family and Colour in Jamaica it has been his concern to focus a microscope over a small portion of this black cloud and to provide a detailed field-study of the mesh of colour relationships that exist even in a community as politically advanced and socially enlightened as Jamaica. The result is not only a valuable contribution to social science but a work of general interest, written with intelligence and sympathy.

     The author, himself a member of a famous Jamaican family still prominent in the island, is lecturer in social anthology in the University of Leeds. It was thus not difficult for him to return to Jamaica and move among the people with intimacy and yet with eyes wide open. He concentrated on the County of Portland and its capital, Port Antonio, and his minute focus on the habits of and customs of this parish provides some of his most interesting passages of descriptive reporting. But it is his examination of the minutiae of colour relationships within Negro society that brings out the bitter colour warfares that accompany the usual economic class struggles.

    “Colour,” he emphasizes, “is evaluated in terms of actual colour, hair formation, features and skin textures,” allowing for infinite combinations all of which have social significance. Thus, a dark person with “good” hair and features ranks above a fairer person with “bad” hair and features, and so on. Families become divided on colour lines, but in other spheres there are even greater frustrations. Choice of a career, promotion, public and private acceptance by others, marriage, in fact all social position is largely determined by colour. Even poverty plays a secondary part. Always there is that dreadful moment, generally at school, when some incident on the playground, some remark overheard in the street, will suddenly bring home to the little black boy that the fair boy will have the advantage of him for the rest of his life. It is no wonder that the conclusions reached by this stimulating and humane author are not encouraging, and the only disappointing feature of the book lies in the absence of some brave and thought-provoking suggestions for the future which would stir our minds as well as our hearts.


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The Deadly Tube (Sunday Times, Oct. 26, 1952)

One of Our Submarines. By Edward Young. (Hart-Davis. 18s.)

By Ian Fleming

We make terrible mistakes at the beginning of all our wars, but the worst of them is the failure to give the maximum number of people a chance to fight the enemy from the very day war is declared. The National Defence Club is hard to join. Anyone not on a waiting list gets passed, from one “Sorry, old man” to the next until his ardour and patriotism are as scuffed as his shoe leather.

To be a round peg in a round hole in wartime is rare and priceless. Edward Young was one of the fortunate. Of the three Services, the Navy is the shop most tightly closed. It has to be. Irresponsibility or inefficiency by any one man in a ship is far more dangerous and expensive than the failure of his opposite number in the normal run of service in the Army or Air Force. And the citadel of this closed shop is the Submarine Service. A week-end yachtsman, Young was graciously admitted into the R.N.V.R., and then by a fluke had a chance of volunteering for submarines. He was accepted, completed his training, moved from ship to ship just, it seemed, as the one he left was doomed, was given the first R.N.V.R. command in the history of submarines, and dodged depth-charges and disaster in the same ship until he ended the war in her with the rank of Commander and with the D.S.O., D.S.C. and Bar. A wonderful war for one young civilian. How many other fine men were lost on the clumsy machine?

One Of Our Submarines is in the very highest rank of books about the last war. Submarines are thrilling beasts and Edward Young tells of four years’ adventures in them in a good stout book with excitement on every page. He writes beautifully, economically and with humour, and in the actions he commands he manages to put the reader at the voice-pipe and the periscope so that sometimes the tension is so great that one has to put the book down.

The author tells us little about himself, which is a pity, for the hints which penetrate through his modest cloak of self-effacement make us wish for more of his personal reactions as he climbed towards the final solitary pinnacle of command. It is interesting that when he reaches that pinnacle the writing seems to become slightly constrained and the earlier attractive freedom of comment and expression gives place to the voice of authority as he takes his deadly tube against the Japanese.

To anyone who has served in submarines it will not be surprising that the little communities he describes are so happy and so closely knit. A sociologist would probably say that the ship’s company of a submarine represents the highest form of democratic unity—from fifty to a hundred men, the duties of each one vital to the safety of all of them, social barriers impossible, discipline automatic and perfectly comprehended, successes and failures completely shared and always the subconscious framework of permanent danger to override and control the selfish instincts of the individual.

All this comes out in One of Our Submarines and the book is a fine tribute to a happy and gallant Service. But what a wonderful setting for a novel—a Caine Mutiny of the Submarine Service! Mr. Young is exceptionally qualified to write it.


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The Sun Went In (Sunday Times, July 28, 1957)

Man The Ropes. By Augustine Courtauld. (Hodder & Stoughton. 12s. 6d.)

This is the autobiography of a man upon whom it seemed that the sun would always shine.

It is true that innumerable governesses and school-masters beat Augustine Courtauld for various types of rebellion, and that much of his later life consisted of getting in and out of scrapes with authority and equally uneven battles with resistentialist sun, ice, rock and sea: but the tough, gay quixotry of Augustine Courtauld always won.

At one time, in 1931, when the world’s press was full of the youth missing for five months in an ice hut in the Arctic, it seemed that here was another Edgar Christian destined to a young, lonely death in the midst of one of those tom-boy expeditions into the Frozen North. But his hero, Gino Watkins, soon himself to die in the Arctic, found Courtauld as Courtauld knew he would.

There were more adventures in the Arctic; then marriage to Mollie Montgomery, and to Duet, his dream-ship, which is still part of the family. Then came the war. To me these are the best chapters: when Courtauld, Polar Medal, Watchkeeper’s Certificate and all tried to enroll in the exclusive club that was the Navy and could get no further than a Civil Servant’s job in the Naval Intelligence Division. He was put in the Scandinavian Section, which was in charge of an expert on Egypt. One day the latest intelligence on the Swedish Fleet was asked for. Courtauld hunted through the files and produced a solitary, dog-eared “secret report” dated many years previously, which announced that “owing to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease the manoeuvres of the Swedish main fleet would be cancelled.” Many such incidents went into Courtauld’s early attempts to win the war and they make splendid, ironical reading. At last he got into M.T.B.s and then into the abortive Arctic Commando under “Red” Ryder, the V.C. of St. Nazaire, which ended with the murder in Belsen of the small party which finally got to Norway. Courtauld was transferred to a destroyer and then to ferrying landing-craft across the Atlantic.

VE Day came and Courtauld went back to his family, to Spencers, his beautiful house in Essex, and to Duet. It looked as if the sun would go on shining for him until suddenly the Almighty decided that Courtauld’s life had been too happy. He turned off the sunshine. Christopher, the eldest boy of six children, caught polio, from which it took the Courtaulds three years to rescue him. Neuritis struck Augustine and put him in a wheelchair, for the rest of his life. Mollie had a long nervous breakdown. The storms of Fate blew and went on blowing.

Now at last the skies have cleared again and the battered ship is back on an even keel. This splendid, gay little book of very English adventures is one of the results. All Augustine Courtauld’s life is in the Masefield quotation from which the title comes:

The power of man is as his hopes
In darkest night, the cocks are crowing.
With the sea roaring and the wind blowing;
Adventure. Man the ropes.


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Mr. Coward Explains (Sunday Times, March 28, 1954)

Future Indefinite. By Noel Coward. (Heinemann, 21s.)

By Ian Fleming

Noel Coward is one of the most remarkable men of the century whose age (he is in his fifty-fifth year) he shares. Genius is not a word to be thrown about carelessly, but any man who can succeed in giving pleasure, in most of the creative media, to half the inhabitants of the world for thirty years must possess a measure of it.

Much of his secret lies in his passionate professionalism. A master of technique, he works extremely hard and with minute accuracy, discipline and integrity. The second volume of his autobiography shows all these qualities, and it may thus seem very unfair to complain that in this admirably written book it is just these professional virtues that sometimes obtrude upon the narrative. If only he had thrown away those diaries. If only he had not bothered so much about dates and places and ships and planes. If only he had not found it necessary to put the record straight about his war service, his court case on a currency offence, the incident of the “Brooklyn Boys.”

Mr. Coward’s public life has demonstrated that he is a man of courage, devotion to duty and patriotism. If he had done nothing more during the war years than produce In Which We Serve, he would have done as much for the Allied cause as any man in his profession; yet in this vastly readable and entertaining book there occasionally creeps in a rather querulous note of self-justification which seems out of place in a man of his attainments. But when he forgets the critic inside himself who has always been his sternest mentor and when he thinks only of the reader he provides a scintillating picture of his life before and during the war.

On every page there are passages of brilliant observation, wit and humanity, which allow one to hope that when his third volume, Past Imperfect, comes to be written, he will forget his own private pains and write only according to his particular genius, which is to give pleasure to intelligent people.


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Books and Authors Abroad: English Laurels in America (Sunday Times, July 4, 1948)

By Ian Fleming

In the United States the literary event of the year has been the publication of the first of five volumes of Mr. Churchill’s war memoirs entitled The Gathering Storm. The New York Times and Life have published long extracts from the book, as has The Daily Telegraph in England, and now a further huge section of the American public will read this great English adventure story by Britain’s first citizen.

The efforts of our official propaganda organisations are small beer beside the vast American audience created by Mr. Churchill, and it is debatable whether the handiwork of any other single Englishman will bring in more hard currency this year. The Gathering Storm, which has been acclaimed by the critics with “rave” but reverent notices, deals with the prelude to war—in the author’s words, “How the English-speaking peoples through their unwisdom, carelessness and good nature allowed the wicked to rearm”—and with the Twilight War, ending in May, 1940. The volume (nearly 800 pages with the appendices) closes with Mr. Churchill’s appointment as Prime Minister and Minister of Defence.

Due largely to the shortage .of paper and cloth, the majority of the British public will not read this great segment of their own history until Messrs. Cassell publish the volume here in September.

Few other major works of general interest have appeared. "Vinegar” Joe Stilwell’s posthumous and peppery memoirs of the Burma campaign have not been praised, and Mr. Sumner Welles’s We Need Not Fail has made no stir. Dr. Kinsey’s Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male still leads the best-sellers for the worst reasons. In fact, it is a stodgy agglomeration of statistics and graphs whose findings will be treated with respect by the medical authorities to whom it is addressed. The Hatfields and the McCoys, by Virgil Jones, is an exciting piece of folklore retelling the story of the famous family feud on the Kentucky-West Virginia border. The Harvard University Press are publishing the definitive Letters of Edgar Allan Poe in October.

English authors are well represented by Edward Crankshaw’s Russia and the Russians and by Simon Nowell Smith’s scholarly piece of Henry James research, The Legend of the Master, and English novelists easily lead a barren fiction field. Evelyn Waugh’s piece of side-splitting necrophilia, The Loved One, which has so far only appeared here in Horizon (Chapman & Hall are to publish in book form), has been greeted with masochistic ecstasy, and Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter has been chosen as the Book of the Month.

Forthcoming volumes include a new James M. Cain The Moth; The Sky and the Forest, a tale of Africa by C. S. Forester; No High Way, by Nevil Shute; and Ape and Essence, a new Aldous Huxley in his Brave New World vein. Ernest Hemingway’s long new novel is said to be maturing slowly.

American books are only qualitatively absent from this short survey. The output of literary chewing-gum continues apace, but the public is surfeited, probably owing to “an unfortunate combination of higher prices and lower quality,” as the Saturday Review of Literature puts it. The publishers moan and groan, but the drumming of the book clubs, the tireless superlatives of reviewers, and ever shinier book jackets are of no avail and, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, a slump is a slump is a slump.