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Topic: A [Bondian] Dialogue with Kingsley Amis -- the Bondage Interview!

This interview with Kingsley Amis was conducted by Raymond Benson and originally appeared in the 1984 issue of Bondage magazine (issue 13). Enjoy!

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A Dialogue with Kingsley Amis
by Raymond Benson

While visiting London in August, 1982, to do research for my book, The James Bond Bedside Companion, I had the pleasurable opportunity to meet and speak with Kingsley Amis. Mr. Amis, of course, is an extremely well-known personality in England, and the author of several novels which could be called “classics” (Lucky Jim; Jakes Thing, among many others), as well as The James Bond Dossier and Colonel Sun. I met him in a small flat in the north of London. Workmen were adding something, or taking away something, to the front of his building. Despite the racket, we managed to have a fun conversation, mainly because we were simply two James Bond fans discussing something for which we both had a fondness.

Q: Did you actually know Ian Fleming?

A: I met him only a couple of times.

Q: I guess that was pretty late in his life?

A: Oh, yes; the first time was at a party. I said to him, “Mr. Fleming, it is very nice, it is very rare to meet an author to whom you can honestly say, “I’ve read all your books and I enjoy them very much.” And he said, “That’s very kind of you. Of course, you know they’re all true.” I said, “Oh?” And he said, “Oh yes! If you go to that part of Moscow that I describe in several of my works, particularly From Russia, With Love, and you go to that building on the Sretenka Ulitsa, you will find Col.-General Grubozaboyschikov and all his friends—they’re all there. Oh yes.”
The other time was when I let him see the typescripts of The James Bond Dossier before I sent it to the publisher, for his comments. He kindly took me out to lunch—it was nice, quite expensive—and if you’ll remember, there were quite a number of critical comments I made on the style and that sort of thing—and he had nothing to say on any of those. But he had points of accuracy he wanted to put me right about. One was that it is the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, not the St. Andrew’s. Another was that Oddjob was sucked out of the cabin of the aircraft, not blown out. It was on that order. I think there were only three. I got them wrong, he put me right.

Q: He seemed to accept criticism very well.

A: Yes.

Q: How did the Dossier come about?

A: It’s in the preface to it, really. I was going to write an article. I thought the books had very seriously been misrepresented in the papers and so on, and I thought the record should be set straight. I wanted people to pay attention to what he actually wrote, not to what he didn’t write. I thought it would be a medium-sized magazine article, but I found it became a small book.

Q: Did you have to get permission from Glidrose?

A: I didn’t have to get permission for the Dossier, though I did inform them because it made life easier. I was able to see the original reviews—always helpful to read the original reviews. When it came to Colonel Sun, they approached me.

Q: That was my next question.

A: Yes. And I started from scratch. One of the nicest compliments I’ve ever had, I get it a lot, from strangers, mostly from the United States, who write me, usually male, and I would guess young (in their teens); after saying nice things one said, “Can you confirm a rumour that you were shown drafts and plans of Ian Fleming’s that he left behind him when he died from which you based Colonel Sun?” I wrote back and said, “Thank you very much, you’ve paid me a high compliment because, no, not a word of his survived. But you're implying by saying that you think Colonel Sun is a worthy continuation of what Fleming wrote.”

Q: Why did you choose to use a pseudonym?

A: Ah. Well, that was agreed between myself and the publisher and Glidrose. Partly for my convenience. Because it set that apart from my other works. But really, more at the time, it was considered possible that other writers might like to have a crack at it. And so it would be there for all other writers doing sequels in a few years—it would be less confusing if they all had the same pseudonym. No attempt to persuade the public that it was the same man, but it would be more convenient to market the books and so on.

Q: How was the book received at first?

A: Oh, very well. Very well by the public. The reviews, at any rate, were not very friendly. But then, of course Fleming’s reviews weren’t friendly either. Also I got a lot of accusation, as Fleming did, that the writing was fascist. “Oh, here’s another fascist.”

Q: I felt that Colonel Sun dealt more with politics than most of Fleming’s.

A: Did you?

Q: Mainly because for the first time, Red China was in the picture.

A: Yes. Well that was actually for pure convenience. I certainly don’t believe that the West will get together with the Russians and team up against the Chinese. The Eastern Mediterranean. That was the place to go. I had a good friend there who knew Greece; I had a standing invitation to visit the place any time I liked. Well, this was the time I liked—it was a place where Bond had never been, and I had an expert point things out to me. Luckily, that’s very much one of Russia’s areas of interests. So it worked out in plot purposes. The Chinese were close and convenient.

Q: I particularly liked the female character. She seemed a bit more well-drawn than Fleming’s women.

A: I thought it was important. I think he would have thought it was all right. It was rather nice for her to…do a little more.

Q: Colonel Sun was very nasty.

A: (Laughs).

Q: Is it true that Glidrose approached you again to do an update on The Dossier?

A: It didn’t get quite as far as that. No, that’s not my recollection of it at all. No, I’ve never thought of writing anything of that size again. It’s been 15 years of time. I don’t think I’d change my mind on anything I’ve said. All that’s happened since have been…what, a few articles and the like…and the films. I suppose you will say something about all that.

Q: Have you seen the John Gardner book?

A: Yes.

Q: The second one is out in America. I feel it’s a little better than the first one.

A: I thought the first one wasn’t good. And I think the second one…is even worse! I’m reading it now. I’m at the point where they're about to arrive at this fellow’s private…

Q: Ranch.

A: Yes. And what has happened in between their point of arrival in New York and this point is nonsense! He arrives armed with this cover, with the prints, and all that had to happen was for some very well-dressed chap to say, “Oh, my principal would very much like you to accompany us to Texas and show him your prints with no obligation. He would put you and your lovely wife up as guests.” And they go and hide in that hotel,  disguising themselves, then taking the disguises off—it does no good—and is SPECTRE trying to kill him, but at the same time not trying to kill him? It’s hopelessly muddled. Isn’t it?

Q: It works itself out. I felt the first one drew more on the films.

A: Yes. You know, it’s the motives—what exactly is SPECTRE trying to do?—and all that business between New York and Texas—yes, it would go quite well in a film. Because you’re not asking questions. “Oh, look, now they’re in an elevator and the elevator's crashing—what fun!” You don’t worry about why or who’s doing it or what effect it’s going to have.

Q: The films do that a lot.

A: The films do that a lot. And the girl…

Q: Cedar?

A: No, in the Armoury…

Q: Oh. (Laughs.) Q’ute!

A: (Grimaces.) That’s…terrible! The idea that Bond would have anything to do with a liberated woman is…and the idea that he would ever take a woman on as a partner is ridiculous!

Q: And it’s his best friend’s daughter!

A: Of course! And the idea too that the President of the United States has so little confidence in his own intelligence agents that he would overrule them and say, “No, get someone from Great Britain—somebody who's an expert on SPECTRE—”

Q: James Bond!

A: Or whatever that is! “And we’ll let him have the daughter of one of our best CIA men.” Anyway, it’s interesting to me to…I only read Octopussy once. I happened to find it on the shelf the other day, and I had forgotten what happens in it. I read it again, and it’s definitely a different literary world. The straightforward way that story is told…every sentence is absolutely firm and clear. The Gardner book, by contrast, is very hesitant and obscure.

Q: Much of the detail seems to be put in for the sake of putting in detail. You know what I mean?

A: Yes, I do know what you mean. That’s what I think myself. The description of that house in the Everglades or wherever it is…it’s hopeless! And you haven’t got what you have in the Fleming novels, in that something happens from the beginning. For instance, when Bond goes to Shrublands…

Q: In Thunderball!

A: Yes. You don’t see the point of that until you know…you know there will be a point as soon as Bond discovers the meaning of that tattoo on the SPECTRE fellow’s arm.

Q: Your Colonel Sun certainly started off with a bang.

A: Yes. Well, you see, it’s certainly not important to have a car chase on page two, but there should be something right from the word go.

Q: I felt Colonel Sun might have been the most violent of the books.

A: Yes. And the torture scene—a lot of people objected to that.

Q: It was the worst one since Casino Royale.

A: Yes.

Q: Was that intentional?

A: Well, I thought if we’re going to have a torture scene—obviously, I knew that before I started, there had to be a torture scene—if there’s going to be one, it’s not going to be like any other torture scene or one we've had before. So I got hold of my doctor—he actually appears in the book—Dr. Allison—you remember when Bond’s wandering around in the park and is taken to the police station? And the police doctor who treats him? That was my doctor, Dr. Allison. Anyway, I said to him, “Look, fix me up with a good torture.” He said, “Right! Good, we’ll do it straight away.” I said, “Now forget all about his balls, we’ve done that, we’ve been through that. We’ve got to start somewhere else.” And he said, “Well, it’s got to be inside the head.” He thought of it in the space of fifteen seconds. “That’s where you start, that’s what people are really afraid of—what they can't see.” This was proven correct.

Q: I also liked the way you had the villain call him “James” rather than the obligatory “Mister Bond.”

A: Oh yes! (Laughs.) I forgot about that. You know, there’s one serious flaw in Colonel Sun that I didn’t know about until years later. And that is that a mortar bomb would not explode when dropped on the ground.

Q: Really?

A: I was totally surprised. Someone who had been an officer in our army said, “That’s a very ingenious contraption developed in the war, but you know, a mortar bomb, simply in its case, is harmless.” What are you going to do if someone has a rough landing in an airplane? You can’t have the damn things going off. They’re harmless. They’re armed in the nose, and must hit its target after they’re fired.

Q: Well, I didn’t know.

A: Now you do. It really annoyed me.

Q: You think a film will ever be made using the title?

A: The filmmakers have for some reason shown no interest in it.

Q: What do you think of the films?

A: Well , the last one I saw was an incomplete print of The Spy Who Loved Me. (Grimaces.) I get even more annoyed when I see that people actually think it’s funny!

Q: They’ve gone too far into slapstick, to be sure…

A: Well, it affects the whole thing. I can’t think of the right film…early on we have a parachute jump on skis, and the parachute opens up to be…

Q: A Union Jack.

A: (Loud exhale accompanied by a sour grimace.)…And the whole idea that he’s up there, having no idea that there’s an enemy agent within a thousand miles, and of course he’d carry a parachute! And the mothership in whatever it is…

Q: That’s The Spy Who Loved Me.

A: Is that the same one?

Q: They’re all the same.

A: Yes. Well, that control room has bullet-proof blinds, but also holes where you can point the guns through. “What are those holes for?” “Oh, well that’s in case we take our people prisoner and they all escape! We can shoot at them through these holes!!”

Q: I guess you’ve heard the rumor that Sean Connery is doing a new film.

A: I’ve been wondering the truth in all that.

Q: Supposedly he’s going to do it at age sixty, coerced out of retirement.

A: That reminds me of an idea for a short story I had that would round off the whole saga. It was the kind of story you put in a Christmas annual. This is the aged Commander Bond, age 70 probably, on holiday in Switzerland. He doesn’t ski anymore. A very beautiful young girl, whose father is a United States senator, comes up to him and says, “My father is in danger. Sinister Colonel-General Moriarvsky of the KGB has kidnapped him. Please help me. You’re the only person I can ask. And I’ll do anything if you help me.” So Bond says, “Well…it’s a bit late for anything, I think…BUT…I’ll help you.” And of course, at the end, the Russian general and Commander Bond are falling over a waterfall in each other’s arms. When I told this to Glidrose, they all went white! (In a slow, menacing whisper.) “Don’t you dare write this! Not a word of it!” I’m exaggerating, of course, but needless to say, they didn’t find it in their favor at all…

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Re: A [Bondian] Dialogue with Kingsley Amis -- the Bondage Interview!

Once again, Revelator, this is pure gold. Thanks a lot!

Printing in 3, 2, 1...

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Re: A [Bondian] Dialogue with Kingsley Amis -- the Bondage Interview!

Thanks so much for posting this!  I love reading Amis's thoughts on Bond.  I particularly found interesting his comment: "The idea that Bond would have anything to do with a liberated woman is…and the idea that he would ever take a woman on as a partner is ridiculous!"  Which would sort of validate the hunch I put forward in my little anti-Craig thread over on the Films forum -- namely, that Amis (at least) would not be fond of the direction of the modern films.  But then he didn't like the old ones, either.  The Dossier even complains about the first couple Bond films, and they're MUCH closer to the spirit of Fleming than what came later! 

At any rate Amis here displays a conviction which is pretty much gone in today's world, ie his anti-feminism slant...which I guess would be proof that Bond's attitudes WOULD have to change to continue to be relevant.  I guess my issue is more so with the continuation authors who try to instill these modern thoughts into period pieces...I just think it's revisionism.  Part of the charm (for want of a better word) of these old pulp novels, at least for me, is how they offer glimpses into long-gone times and attitudes.  I think Bond should be dangerous again, at least in print, and the best way to do that would be to hire continuation authors in the spirit of Amis.

Now, I wonder what Amis would've said about the novels by Benson??

Finally, I've read that Fleming's widow (Anne, was it?) wrote a review of Amis's CS which was never published, due to concerns of "libel" or somesuch.  Has this review ever turned up anywhere?

Thanks again for posting, Revelator!

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Re: A [Bondian] Dialogue with Kingsley Amis -- the Bondage Interview!

That was brilliant, thank you very much. It also puts paid to those who suggest that Amis regarded Bond as a joke. In fact, it's quite clear that he thought quite highly of Fleming's work - although evidently not the continuation novels or the films.

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Re: A [Bondian] Dialogue with Kingsley Amis -- the Bondage Interview!

onemonk909 wrote:

The Dossier even complains about the first couple Bond films, and they're MUCH closer to the spirit of Fleming than what came later!

Yes, he even says Connery is wrong for Bond, since he couldn't convincingly portray a Scottish baronet in OHMSS. Sometimes Kingers got a little too hung up on details.

I guess my issue is more so with the continuation authors who try to instill these modern thoughts into period pieces...I just think it's revisionism.

It is, and it's unnecessary considering that many of Fleming's best heroines were independent, strong female characters: Tiffany, Tracy, Honey, and Kissy to name a few...

I think Bond should be dangerous again, at least in print, and the best way to do that would be to hire continuation authors in the spirit of Amis.

Not many are around, sadly.

Now, I wonder what Amis would've said about the novels by Benson??

Without a doubt he'd have abhorred the prose. Amis was very exacting when it came to style (he even wrote an amusing and informative guide on English usage: https://www.amazon.com/Kings-English-Gu … 0312206577). He might have applauded Benson's attempts to include Flemingian elements, but he could never have forgiven the artless prose.

Finally, I've read that Fleming's widow (Anne, was it?) wrote a review of Amis's CS which was never published, due to concerns of "libel" or somesuch.  Has this review ever turned up anywhere?



It hasn't. Here's what Lycett wrote about it in his Fleming biography:

When Colonel Sun was published in 1968, Ann was asked to review it in the Sunday Telegraph, but her notice was never printed for fear of libel. Ann lambasted the author and those responsible for commissioning the book. "Since the exploiters hope Colonel Sun will be the first of a new and successful series, they may find themselves exploited. Amis will slip 'Lucky Jim' into Bond’s clothing, we shall have a petit bourgeois red-brick Bond, he will resent the authority of M, then the discipline of the Secret Service, and end as Philby Bond selling his country to SPECTRE. Amis took Ann’s reproaches in good spirit...

It doesn't seem to have been a real review, but rather her prediction of what Amis would do to Bond. Ann was over-protective of her husband and thought Amis was a left-wing opportunist--she didn't know he was moving to the right, and she didn't care enough about Bond to know Amis genuinely loved the character.

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Re: A [Bondian] Dialogue with Kingsley Amis -- the Bondage Interview!

Funny that Ann would be so critical of what Amis had done to Bond when she was never particularly fond of her husband's pornographic creation in the first place!

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Re: A [Bondian] Dialogue with Kingsley Amis -- the Bondage Interview!

The Domino Effect wrote:

Funny that Ann would be so critical of what Amis had done to Bond when she was never particularly fond of her husband's pornographic creation in the first place!

Exactly. I suspect she felt some guilt about having been so disdainful of her husband's writing while he was alive. Her letters show the evolution of her anger regarding Amis's involvement:

"Kingsley Amis came to dinner... I suspected he wrote of Ian to further his own sales, but it seemed a genuine admiration, he thinks Ian should write a straight novel." [July 19 1964]

"Such is the avarice of Sir Jock Campbell who garners the 'Bond' royalties, that he has hired at a vast price Kingsley Amis to impersonate Ian and continue the series. Peter Fleming was party to the transaction...No one understands why I am distressed; though I do not admire 'Bond' he was Ian's creation and should not be commercialized to this extent. Is there any parallel in literature? Should not Kingsley Amis be ashamed?" [Oct. 4 1965]

"I think Amis should publish under his own name and show the world that his left-wing intellectual pretensions were easily turned to money grubbing—like everyone else." [To Jock Campbell, April 13 1967]

She was still under the impression that Amis was left-wing--despite the fact that he'd already come out in favor of the Vietnam War!--and seems to have forgotten about Amis's "genuine admiration" of Bond. She also seems to have opposed continuation novels overall, as shown in excerpts from a pair of interviews from 1965:

"It seems particularly ludicrous that Kingsley should attempt this; James Bond exact opposite of his Lucky Jim.  In the past, all efforts to continue series like Bulldog Drummond and Sherlock Holmes failed. I think the plan neither right nor sensible."

"Q: I read the other day that Kingsley Amis, who’s a great Bond expert, has been asked to continue your husband’s character, James Bond, in a new series of books. How do you feel about that?

MRS. FLEMING: Well, I was very angry because I know Kingsley fairly well. I thought he might have rung me up and asked me what I thought about it. And I also thought Sir Jock Campbell, whom I know, might also have rung me up and said: “What do you feel?” Whereas in fact they were pretty well ahead signing up when I heard about it.

Q: You tried to stop it?

MRS. FLEMING: And with some aid, it’s been stopped at the moment.

Q: Is this your doing or somebody else’s?

MRS. FLEMING: I was rather helped by uninvoked aid.

Q: Why don’t you want the Bond character to continue?

MRS. FLEM1NG: It’s emotional at the moment, naturally. I feel rather emotional about it. I’m sure it couldn’t come off.

Q: It’s never come off in the past. Sherlock Holmes…Fu Manchu really couldn’t have been continued.

MRS. FLEMING: No, well John Pearson, who’s writing Ian’s life and had all the letters from his office, found a very funny letter from Ian to Mrs. Sax Rohmer who had written to Ian asking if he’d continue Dr. Fu Manchu. I have never seen this letter, but I understand that Ian wrote a very funny reply—saying that he did not think this could ever be done."

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Re: A [Bondian] Dialogue with Kingsley Amis -- the Bondage Interview!

Revelator wrote:

No one understands why I am distressed; though I do not admire 'Bond' he was Ian's creation and should not be commercialized to this extent. Is there any parallel in literature? Should not Kingsley Amis be ashamed?" [Oct. 4 1965]

Fabulous stuff, Revelator. That's the first time that I have seen most of those quotes. I love the one above. Ann lived until 1981, heaven knows what she made of the films TSWLM and Moonraker or the toys, games, clothes etc etc if she thought things were bad in 1965!

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Re: A [Bondian] Dialogue with Kingsley Amis -- the Bondage Interview!

interesting to see these two continuation authors having a go at Gardner. Theyre not wrong, but its funny when you consider who each is.
Amis is usually considered the best of any of them (and having just reread his entry for at least the third time, I agree). You guys have all persuaded me Benson is the worst (but I haven't read his yet, the Gardners were enough hours out of my life).

Also Amis' thoughts about the Spy Who Loved Me film. Good points about logic, but its a film! Different logic works in the film universe, and that particular film really works. Thing is, I perceive unofficial plot elements of Colonel Sun in the Spy Who Loved Me, but Amis himself does not.

in his introduction to the Titan Books volume reprinting the Colonel Sun comic strip, he also talks about the Spy Who Loved Me film, as well as doubting his own book will ever get adapted. He needs to be watching these films more carefully, then contact his lawyer!

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Re: A [Bondian] Dialogue with Kingsley Amis -- the Bondage Interview!

caractacus potts wrote:

Also Amis' thoughts about the Spy Who Loved Me film. Good points about logic, but its a film! Different logic works in the film universe, and that particular film really works.

Agreed! Movies operate more on dream logic, especially action films. Fleming himself had such moments, like Dr. No's "mink-lined prison." As Amis himself noted, it's rather implausible that Dr. No would maintain such a thing just in case he had trepassers he didn't feel like immediately killing.

Thing is, I perceive unofficial plot elements of Colonel Sun in the Spy Who Loved Me, but Amis himself does not.

Tell us more!

in his introduction to the Titan Books volume reprinting the Colonel Sun comic strip, he also talks about the Spy Who Loved Me film, as well as doubting his own book will ever get adapted. He needs to be watching these films more carefully, then contact his lawyer!

Little did he know that 20 years after his death he'd get credit on a Bond film! Thank you for reminding me about the comic strip introduction, I'll have to re-read it tonight! The comic itself was an excellent adaptation of the book, and probably the only one we'll ever get.

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Re: A [Bondian] Dialogue with Kingsley Amis -- the Bondage Interview!

caractacus potts wrote:

Thing is, I perceive unofficial plot elements of Colonel Sun in the Spy Who Loved Me, but Amis himself does not.

Revelator wrote:

Tell us more!

maybe its just me, but I'm always staring at these films too closely, looking for hidden references to the books.
Here's what  see in the Spy Who Loved Me :
Bond teams up with a sexy communist agent (with initials A.A.). They first meet in a restaurant, thinking they should be enemies. Then they get chased round some classical ruins (albeit Egyptian, not Greek). Afterwards their joint mission takes them island hopping in the Mediterranean (albeit Italian, not Greek). Not much after that, but the set-up is similar.
And one more I noticed on this last reread: after the chase through the classical ruins, Bond meets Ariadne's Russian superior, whose name starts with a G. After a moment of mutual mistrust, Bond and this G fellow instinctively like each other, and agree they share a common enemy and Bond, and A.A. must work together.

you know, that's as close as a lot of the actual Fleming adaptations during the Moore era!