Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Eleven Years Later: an Addendum to “The Dossier on Robert Markham” (first published in 007 Magazine, issue no. 47, October 2005, pp. 28-39)

Guest Article by Hank Reineke

In an August 1982 interview conducted by Raymond Benson (for Bondage, the magazine of the American James Bond Fan Club), author Kingsley Amis relates that he met James Bond creator Ian Fleming on only “a couple” of occasions.  If we take Amis at his word literally, this would mean there were at least two – and possibly only two – genuine meetings between the two men.  If this was the case, at least one (and perhaps both) of these encounters have been partly and properly documented.  On 19 July 1964, Fleming’s wife Ann wrote to Evelyn Waugh that “Kingsley Amis came to dinner.”  Referencing Amis’ as-yet-unpublished study The James Bond Dossier, the cynical Ann – never an admirer of Amis, the sardonic but celebrated author of Lucky Jim (1954) - continued, “I suspect he wrote of Ian to further his own sales, but it seemed a genuine admiration.”  Amis himself recalled an earlier, mostly passing, moment with Ian Fleming at a party, with a second meeting (“the other time”) having transpired when Fleming invited him to a “nice, quite expensive” lunch.  Amis had earlier sent Fleming his typescript of The James Bond Dossier to review prior to the book’s publication and this was, apparently, the main topic of conversation at their luncheon discussion.  I don’t think it’s entirely clear if this luncheon is the same one Ann references in her letter of 19 July 1964.  If it was Fleming would, of course, be dead within a month’s time of that second and final get-together.

In regards to Kingsley Amis’ role in working on the typescript of Fleming’s final James Bond novel The Man with the Golden Gun:  Well, there’s no doubt now that Amis did receive a remittance for his time and effort for working on the final typescript of that novel; Jon Gilbert, author of the masterful and exhaustive  Ian Fleming:  The Bibliography (2012) has revealed that on Christmas Eve 1964, Amis was issued a cheque for his work (amongst several other readers) in helping proof-edit the weak typescript of The Man with the Golden Gun.  It was also revealed that Fleming – due to exhaustion and poor health - was prepared to sign-off on the manuscript and leave it to others to shape into something publishable.  Gilbert notes that 596 proof copies of The Man with the Golden Gun were published; twenty-four of these copies were reserved for Fleming’s “literary heirs,” one of who was – to no one’s surprise – Kingsley Amis.  Gilbert also notes that it was most likely in July/August of 1964 that Cape finally called in Amis (who had already turned in his publication-ready draft of The James Bond Dossier to the publisher), to help tidy up the Fleming typescript as the author’s health had deteriorated so rapidly and unexpectedly.  But all evidence suggests the changes made by Amis and several others made privy to the typescript were all grammatical and/or minor and cosmetic in nature; no one involved had dared change the author’s intent or altered the storyline in any manner.  No matter what the fanciful conspiracy-theorists might suggest. 

The Man with the Golden Gun was published, posthumously, by Jonathan Cape in Britain on 1 April 1965.  As he had access to the typescript long before most others, Amis’ lengthy and not un-critical review of the final Fleming Bond novel (“M for Murder”) was published the following day, 2 April 1965 in the New Statesman.  As I mentioned in my lengthy essay on the history of Colonel Sun in the October 2005 issue of 007 Magazine, Amis had been somewhat disingenuous in not revealing his small role in the editing of the typescript that Fleming had left behind.  It hardly mattered though as his review was less than flattering in nature.

Jonathan Cape was quick to piggy-back pre-emptively on the publication of the decidedly weak tea, mostly bare-bones first draft manuscript that was The Man with the Golden Gun.  Amis’ The James Bond Dossier followed quickly, published by Cape in May of 1965, no doubt in part to burnish – and perhaps salvage - the critical reputation and legacy of the late great Ian Fleming whose hero had seemingly gone out on a low note.  I’ve never come across a first-edition copy of the Dossier that gives more than “Copyright 1965” as the proper date of publication; but the earliest reviews of the Amis book (all from the UK) date from the last month of May 1965.  Amis’ preface to his book is dated “May, 1964” which, if true, means the book languished in pre-publication status for nearly a year.  This would not be too surprising; it would have made perfect sense for Cape to hold back publication of The James Bond Dossier in spring of 1964.  The penultimate Fleming Bond novel, You Only Live Twice, a far superior work to the subsequent The Man with the Golden Gun, had only been published in March 1964 and was still enjoying strong sales.  Having the Amis book arrive so soon after would have not been a sensible marketing move and might have even proved detrimental to sales of You Only Live Twice at that particular time.

The lengthy delay in Amis turning in his original typescript of The James Bond Dossier in May of 1964 and the posthumous publication of The Man with the Golden Gun on 1 April 1965, allowed Amis to revisit the Dossier.  This left him free to weave in passing references to the now most recent James Bond novel as well as properly mourn and duly note Fleming’s passing in the book’s final chapter.  Regardless, there’s still not a lot of discussion or mention of The Man with the Golden Gun in the Dossier; I’d guess that most of the references to this disappointing final Fleming Bond were added only to complete the circle and give his own study a more contemporary sheen.

As for the myth of Kingsley Amis’ lone Bond continuation novel Colonel Sun having been conceived from Fleming’s notes?  In short, this is complete nonsense.  It was a totally original novel.  Amis has long maintained this was the case and I (nor anyone else) should have any reason to doubt it.  Despite Ann Fleming’s misgivings of her late husband’s very personal creation having been appropriated by another writer, it was clear from the beginning that Fleming’s publisher, Jonathan Cape, was not going to let James Bond get buried along with his creator.  Amis famously ended The James Bond Dossier with the sentence that Ian Fleming left behind “no heirs.” Perhaps not, but in their glowing review of his Dossier in the Times Literary Supplement (27 May 1965), that newspaper’s book critic disagreed: “No heirs?  Mr. Amis, his well-written, witty, expert dossier concluded, may choose to reconsider and take action.  Surely he is the man to conjure Lazarus from the grave.”

There’s little doubt that the editorial staff of Jonathan Cape were in agreement.  There was certainly any number of good reasons to carry on the literary series.  Bookshelves were deluged with James Bond copycat series, and one has to remember that Bondmania was at or near its zenith due to the successes of the film franchise:  Goldfinger was released in the UK in September 1964 and Thunderball was due out in December 1965.  So there was a lot of intellectual-property to protect and a not inconsiderable profit to lose in the abandonment of James Bond as a literary figure.  Coming on the heels of his well-received and thoughtful The James Bond Dossier (for Fleming’s own publisher, mind you), Amis had also won some favourable notices for his own recent maverick secret-agent novel The Anti-Death League (1966). Amis was, without question, the most likely of candidates to carry on the series.

There’s no doubt that Jonathan Cape was prepared to push on without Ian Fleming, who had passed away too soon at the age of 56 on 12 August 1964. In April 1967, Amis told the New York Times that Gildrose had already been thinking about the continuation project for some two years… so let’s say since the spring of 1965 which, as it happens, neatly coincides with the time of publication of both The Man with the Golden Gun and The James Bond Dossier.  The month following the publication of The James Bond Dossier (1965), Amis was married (29 June 1965) and immediately following went off to a “small drinks party at Jonathan Cape.” So discussion between Cape and Amis to (quietly) experiment with writing a continuation Bond had been hashed over casually amongst the two parties almost from the onset.  Negotiations likely turned more serious following the publication and favourable critical notices of the Dossier in the summer of 1965.

By the summer of 1965 the plans for James Bond’s return, for certain, were already in motion. On 12 August 1965 Amis had written to friends that he was to visit Greece in September 1965 as “I’ve got a bit of a novel to write.” The Greek isles, of course, would later become the primary setting of the first non-Fleming James Bond novel Colonel Sun.  When the commissioning of Colonel Sun was belatedly announced by official channels on April 24, 1967, Amis told Newsweek that he’d “been working almost full-time on the book for about a year and I still haven’t finished it.” So that would date the beginning of the actual writing of Colonel Sun to the spring of 1966.  This too would make sense as Amis first had to complete work on The Anti-Death League (published August 1966 for Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.).  It was only then that he could immerse himself fully in the Bond project.  In many respects The Anti-Death League was Amis’ dress-rehearsal for the Bond assignment.  Upon publication of The Anti-Death League, a critic from the Washington Post immediately took note of the transpiration:  “The action is unbelievable, built as it is around a deadpan Ian Flemingesque tangle of mistaken identities, reversals of fortune, secret agents and lethal weapons.  It is incredible that Amis, a student of Fleming’s work, thought he could caper about in cloak and dagger without the hint of a smile, but that is what he tries to do.”

Though Amis would write to Philip Larkin on 21 May 1967 that his “Bond novel is finished,” this wasn’t necessarily the case.  On 28 September 1967, Amis wrote to Tom Maschler, a Senior Editor at Jonathan Cape, of his concerns about some text as it appeared in the proof copies of Colonel Sun, so it was apparent he was still involved in the book’s production at that late date.  So if one includes the early research sortie to Greece in September 1965 and follows the line through the process of final proofing in September 1967, this would give us the two years that Amis is on record of having stated he had worked on his James Bond novel.  Kingsley Amis’ Colonel Sun: a James Bond Adventure, written under the pseudonym of “Robert Markham,” was first published in the UK on 28 March 1968.  Though not well-received by critics at the time of its publication, Colonel Sun still continues to stand - in this writer’s estimation anyway – as the finest of the James Bond continuation novels.

TBB Article No. 24
© Hank Reineke, 2016.

Hank Reineke is a lifelong fan and bibliophile of all things Ian Fleming and James Bond.  He has contributed to 007 and Cinema Retro magazine, and remains a passionate fan and scholar of the earliest non-Fleming James Bond novels: Colonel Sun (1968) and John Pearson’s  James Bond:  the Authorized Biography of 007 (1973).  He  has written about folk, blues, and country music for publications such as the Aquarian Arts Weekly, Soho Arts Weekly, Downtown, East Coast Rocker, Blues Revue, On The Tracks, ISIS, and The Bridge. His first book, Ramblin' Jack Elliott: The Never-Ending Highway (Scarecrow, 2010), was awarded the Certificate of Merit by the ARSC (Association for Recorded Sound Collections) for “Best Research in Folk, Ethnic, and World Music” (2010).  Arlo Guthrie: The Warner/Reprise Years (Scarecrow, 2012) was awarded the Certificate of Merit by the ARSC for “Best Research in Recorded Popular Music” (2013).

The Bondologist Blog thanks Hank Reineke for this Guest Article.