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  1. Ian Fleming's last story

    / A Special Feature /

    While Kingsley Amis was flattered that many readers wrote to him assuming that Colonel Sun originated as a story snippet or outline by Ian Fleming, Amis always denied that any of the creative components of the story came from James Bond’s creator.

    The centenary James Bond continuation novel Devil May Care, however, with a plot involving the heroin trade and a girl named Poppy, shares a number of similar elements with an obscure story outline about drug smuggling Ian Fleming worked on with Terence Young for the United Nations in the final months of his life.

    The Poppy is also a Flower: US Poster
    The Poppy is also a Flower: US Poster

    The Poppy is also a Flower: US Poster

    US Posters

    In April 1964, United Nations Development Fund manager Paul Hoffman announced an ambitious project to produce six 90-minute TV movies with $4 million in funding provided by the Xerox Corporation. The films would promote the various missions of the U.N., and story ideas would come from their files. ABC would air 4 of the broadcasts while NBC would air the other two.

    An impressive roster of talent signed on initially for the series, including Stanley Kubrick, Otto Preminger, Joseph L. Mankowicz, and Peter Glenville, with others to follow. All the participants agreed to work for scale or even less. The U.N. then set up a non-profit organization, the Telsun Foundation, to coordinate the productions. According to Telsun Foundation Executive manager Edgar Rosenberg “The major producers, directors, writers and composers we approached were eager to participate. Ideas for subjects for the plays came right out of United Nations’ files. The producer-directors chose their subjects and selected writers.”

    At some point in mid-1964, Bond veteran Terence Young was approached to participate as a producer-director. Young chose drugs as his subject matter—the UN’s Permanent Central Opium Board and Drug Supervisory Body published reports and tracked the increasing problem of drug addiction. Young then discussed the project with Ian Fleming, and sought producing help from Cubby Broccoli’s Warwick Films protégé, Euan Lloyd.

    The Poppy is also a Flower: UK Quad

    UK Quad

    The Poppy is also a Flower: VHS Cover

    The Poppy is also a Flower: VHS Cover

    VHS covers

    Ian Fleming had written about the narcotics trade in Goldfinger, For Your Eyes Only, and Thunderball and about illicit smuggling networks in Diamonds are Forever and The Diamond Smugglers. Although his exact contributions are open to conjecture, Fleming’s story outline apparently dealt with tracing opium production from the poppy fields of the Middle East and through the heroin pushers in Europe (France, Italy) and America (New York).

    Young’s approach for Fleming’s help came at an opportune moment. That March, Fleming had written from Goldeneye to his publishers at Jonathan Cape about producing a reference work on narcotic flora. Fleming had references on birds (where he famously borrowed James Bond’s name), fish, and shells, but none on Jamaica’s notorious ganja or other narcotic plants. Fleming felt that a lushly illustrated work was a “brilliant notion”, but Cape did not agree.

    Ian Fleming had a lifelong fascination with flowers. His first and only poetry collection, privately printed in 1928, was titled The Black Daffodil. Unfortunately no copies exist because Fleming rounded up every copy and burned them. Flowers also adorn a number of Fleming’s collaborations with dust jacket artist Richard Chopping.

    Ian Fleming passed away before his name was publicly linked to the UN production. In October 1964, while filming Moll Flanders at Shepperton Studios, director Terence Young promoted the upcoming anti-drug drama, and discussed his ambition to move the production from TV to film. He planned to have a censored version for television, and a more adult version for the cinema.

    “Of course there’ll be sex in it,” said Young. “Even when Fleming wrote a book on motor cars, there was sex in it. A marvelous, charming man, Ian, but a bit of a lunatic. On the day he died he swam in his pool, against doctor’s orders. He swam the full length of the pool, under water.”

    Producer Euan Lloyd recalled in a 2005 interview with Cinema Retro magazine that Young’s theatrical ambitions for the production meant lining up more talent, which would in turn bring more financing.

    Young wasn’t afraid to aim high, so he went after the biggest box-office star at the time: Sean Connery. In October 1965 Young claimed in an interview with Showtime magazine that Connery would be one of 10 stars headlining the still unnamed production, along with such stars as Claudia Cardinale, Kim Novak, Romy Schneider, Sidney Poitier, Richard Widmark, Richard Johnson, William Holden, Stephen Boyd, and Yul Brynner. Each of the stars would be making only $100 a day, and Young emphasized that Connery would not be playing a secret agent—but Richard Johnson would.

    The Poppy is also a Flower: Australian poster

    Australian poster

    The Poppy is also a Flower: DVD Cover

    DVD Cover

    The Poppy is also a Flower: French poster

    French poster

    At what point Connery and most of the others dropped out isn’t clear, but of those 10 stars Young mentioned, only Boyd and Brynner actually appear in the film.

    Lloyd remembered the difficulty in getting stars to donate their time after the proposed salaries were dropped even further to match what he and Young were accepting as payment: a single dollar for the entire 12 week shooting schedule.

    Thankfully United Nations Ambassador Adali Stevenson’s involvement convinced a number of stars to consider offering their services, and once E.G. Marshall and Trevor Howard signed on, others quickly followed.

    The Poppy is also a Flower: German poster

    German poster

    The Poppy is also a Flower: Japanese poster

    Japanese poster

    As Young was spending more time, effort, and focus on his anti-drug film, he abandoned his directorial duties on Eon’s biggest production to date, Thunderball, before filming was complete. He also took Continuity girl Joan Davis along with him. Editor Peter Hunt was left to bring order to the multi-unit chaos.

    By December 1965, the film finally had a title; The Poppy is Also A Flower and more stars were touted who would not actually be involved including Frank Sinatra and Alec Guiness. However, other acting heavyweights such as Omar Sharif, Rita Hayworth, Jack Hawkins, and Marcello Mastroianni had signed on and were filming their scenes. Screenwriter Jo Eisinger had been brought in to craft a screenplay from Fleming’s outline.

    Eisinger was an interesting choice for the project—Cubby Broccoli had sued him when both men had developed competing Oscar Wilde film projects and released them on the same day in May 1960. The lawsuit went nowhere, but it’s interesting to note that Eisinger’s Wilde production was directed by Gregory Ratoff, the man who bought the film rights to Casino Royale in 1954, while Broccoli’s Wilde production was directed by Ken Hughes, who would go on to direct the Berlin scenes of Casino Royale in 1967.

    To help promote the film, Eisinger gave an in depth interview to UPI where he laid out the purpose of the film and his involvement with Fleming’s work:

    “This is not a documentary. It’s a dramatic story about the tracking down of the financiers behind a shipment of opium and morphine. All the stars I’ve mentioned and many more are working simply for expenses because they agree with the U.N. that this is an evil we must stamp out.

    Since Fleming’s story dealt with the diversion of opium grown in the Middle East from medical to illicit channels it was suggested I make a tour of the areas involved.

    So, for the sake of the story, I set out along the route a narcotics agent would travel. The first stop was the U.N. narcotics headquarters in the Palais des Nations in Geneva. They showed me how they can pinpoint the country and even the exact area in which a seized shipment of opium was grown. This enables agents on the spot to bottle up the leak.”

    Eisinger’s research tour continued into a surprisingly cooperative Iran (thanks to the Shah), where he had a strange experience:

    “I began to wonder whether I was James Bond and Fleming had written the script for what was happening to me. I went out on the desert close to the eastern borders of Iran where the camel patrols operate. Now this is a little known fact but they lose 15 to 20 men every month in border skirmishes with smugglers, usually nomadic tribes. The tribes come in waves carrying opium.”

    Once his fact-finding tour was over, Eisigner returned to London where he told the interviewer he was done playing spy: “I must say the whole thing had quite an effect on me. I found myself drinking vodka martinis, shaken instead of stirred, the way Bond ordered them. I hate vodka. And I hate martinis. Now that I’ve finished standing in for Fleming I’m going back to Bloody Marys.”

    A few days after Christmas 1965, Yul Brynner, who played an Iranian army colonel in the film, recalled how pleasantly surprised he was that the Iranian deserts resembled ones were he had filmed westerns in Utah and California. He was also impressed with Iranian cooperation—the army provided 800 troops for him to command in his scenes, along with mobile field hospitals and 2 airplanes to fly film rushes out and food in to the desert for the cast and crew.

    Princess Grace of Monaco, Terence Young, Yul Brynner

    Princess Grace of Monaco, Terence Young, and Yul Brynner

    Originally it was planned that the Shah of Iran would introduce the telefilm, but that idea was dropped when Princess Grace of Monaco was coaxed out of retirement to film a brief introduction.

    The Poppy is Also A Flower debuted on US television on April 22, 1966, and in the pre-airing publicity, Terence Young touted that the film was equal to his Bond work: “I believe The Poppy is Also A Flower will compare in thrills and excitement to any James Bond film, but will be even more exciting because it is based on fact.”

    The plot involved narcotics bureau agents, played by Trevor Howard and E.G. Marshall, who investigate the death of a colleague in Iran. Enlisting the help of an Iranian army colonel (Yul Brynner) they decide to track an opium crop by irradiating it. Using Geiger counters, they trace the crop’s progress from Iran to Italy and it’s final destination in France. Female leads included Angie Dickinson as a mysterious widow, and Rita Hayworth as an unfortunate addict. Villains were played by Gilbert Roland, Harold Sakata, and Eli Wallach.

    Most reviews praised the ideals and goals of Poppy but panned the execution. The New York Times protested that the dialog was more appropriate for the “Batman” TV series. The parade of 22 guest stars overloaded the production, and while some of the locations were spectacular, the limited budget showed. One major highlight was the train fight in the animal compartment between E.G. Marshall and Harold Sakata which producer Lloyd acknowledged was a homage to the one in From Russia With Love.

    Soon after the television debut, Poppy was released theatrically in Europe, debuting out of competition at the Venice Film Festival. It contained approximately 10 minutes of extra footage, but left out Princess Grace’s television introduction.

    By late 1966 and through mid-1967, Poppy was released theatrically in the United States, and the marketing heavily touted the Bond connections. “Excitement from the James Bond director… Terence Young—Suspense from the creator of 007… Ian Fleming.” Sakata was also heavily featured on the posters and ads, though for some reason a few ads referred to him as “Iron Hat” or “Iron Derby” instead of Odd Job.

    The Poppy is also a Flower: March 1967 Newspaper ad
    The Poppy is also a Flower: March 1967 Newspaper ad

    March 1967 newspaper ads
    (click on images to see full ads)

    Reviews for the theatrical version were even less kind, with Time magazine stating “The Poppy Is Also a Flower is another James Bond movie made without James Bond, and many will wish it had been filmed without film.”

    In March 1967 the film was finally released in England and Australia with the more Flemingesque title Danger Grows Wild. The marketing material once again focused on the James Bond elements—Ian Fleming, Terence Young, and Harold Sakata were all given prominence.

    In June 1967 Poppy garnered some positive press—Eli Wallach won an ‘Actor in a Supporting Role’ Emmy for his performance in the TV broadcast of Poppy the year before. Wallach recalled in his autobiography that he stumbled upon the production while it was filming in the south of France. Terence Young begged the actor for a cameo, paid him with 6 dress shirts, and had him back on a plane to Paris after shooting his scenes.

    The Poppy is also a Flower: Mexican poster

    Mexican poster

    Ian Fleming’s creative output was in high demand in 1967, with 3 Fleming films in theatres (Casino Royale, You Only Live Twice, The Poppy is Also a Flower), and 2 Fleming characters in their own TV shows, Napoleon Solo in “The Man From UNCLE”, and April Dancer in “The Girl from UNCLE”.

    The Poppy is also a Flower: TV Guide ad

    TV Guide ad

    Although Terence Young would never make another Bond film, some of the Poppy crew would be involved in future 007 film efforts. Peter Hunt hired Continuity girl Joan Davis for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969. Poppy editor Henry Richardson would go on to edit Octopussy in 1983 and assist in the editing of A View to a Kill in 1985.

    As years passed, Poppy fell into obscurity. Facts became muddled and misinformation started appearing. Some references bizarrely claimed that Jo Eisinger (a New York journalist who moved to England) was Terence Young’s wife. John Pearson’s biography of Ian Fleming did not mention Poppy at all, and Andrew Lycett’s Fleming biography devotes a single paragraph to the production, but misspells Eisinger’s name and falsely states that Terence Stamp is the star of the film (Stamp did not even make a cameo, much less star).

    When Poppy finally made it to video in the 1980s, it was released under a number of titles besides its original name including The Opium Connection and various translations of the title for French, German, and Spanish speaking markets.

    The Poppy is also a Flower sadly did not have a discernable impact on the drug problem it was created to fight. Today the United Nations estimates that over 15 million people abuse opiate drugs created from poppies. Sounds like a problem for James Bond…

    Charles Helfenstein @ 2010-08-23
  2. On Her Majesty's Secret Service DVD inspires pop song

    While the extra content of James Bond special edition DVDs has provided hours of entertainment to millions of fans around the world, the documentary material on the On Her Majesty’s Secret Service DVD went a step further and provided the inspiration for a new song, written by Norwegian indie rocker Sondre Lerche, who is best known for his work on the soundtrack “Dan in Real Life”.

    “Like Lazenby”, a track from Lerche’s recently released 5th studio album “Heartbeat Radio”, was written after the musician watched the supplemental materials on the On Her Majesty’s Secret Service DVD, according to an interview with National Public Radio:

    'On Her Majesty's Secret Service'

    On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

    Mr. LERCHE: I got the idea after watching On Her Majesty’s Secret Service again.

    NPR: Which is a very respectable Bond film.

    Mr. LERCHE: Absolutely. I think it’s terrific. And I guess the one thing that people say is that it’s a shame about the guy playing James Bond. You know, they give him a hard time, but he was not an actor. He was a model.

    And a lot of these actors in the film are sort of Shakespearian, British actors, you know? And I saw these interviews in the bonus material that came with the DVD, and I thought it was so interesting to see interviews with both the young George Lazenby at the time of shooting the film and also the contemporary version, you know, him looking back. And there is the sense that he sort of messed up his opportunity, you know, because he got very cocky, I guess, and he admits to this himself. He got very cocky.

    So the song isn’t directly about him, but the protagonist identifies very much with the dynamics of George Lazenby’s career that didn’t really happen the way he was maybe hoping or that it was just looking for a while.

    Mr. LERCHE: (Singing) Like a fairy tale with blood on every page. My failures brought about some blessing. Someone must be watching over me. Even though I wonder why I did some of my doings, I’d do it all again if I had the chance, just like Lazenby.

    Click here to listen to the interview, with a clip from the song (the Lazenby portion begins at 5:01 into the interview).

    Click here to read the entire interview transcript.

    You too can get inspired:

    Keep your browsers pointed to the main page—and our brand new Twitter feed—for continued coverage from the world of 007.

    Charles Helfenstein @ 2009-09-18
  3. Charlie Higson's Top 10 Pop Hit

    When Ian Fleming Publications announced in early 2004 that Charlie Higson would be writing Young James Bond novels, fans and the media examined the unlikely choice and often brought up his work on the Fast Show, and his most famous character Swiss Toni.

    Some biographical pieces mentioned that Higson had been a band, named, peculiarly enough, The Higsons. The 6-member group was formed in 1980, with Higson playing piano, harmonica, and singing the lead vocals.

    Loadsamoney single

    Over the course of 6 years the Higsons produced 3 albums and 9 singles, but the band was given an unflattering characterization that Charlie Higson revealed was accurate: “We were often accused of trying to be the English Talking Heads, which we always strenuously denied, but let’s face it, that’s what we were trying to be.”

    While the band did not dominate the charts, it was successful enough to tour America, as the CBn East Coast crew found out during Higson’s Silverfin book tour stop in Virginia in 2005.


    In 1988, Higson joined the show “Friday Night Live” as a writer, with partners Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse. The Channel 4 show and its predecessor “Saturday Live” were Britain’s answer to America’s “Saturday Night Live” format of comedy sketches and pop music in front of a live audience. While the show lasted a scant 10 episodes, its cultural impact was significant – especially due to two characters that the trio developed.

    The first was character that caught on was Stavros, a Greek immigrant restaurant owner whose mangled English and misunderstanding of customs became an obvious template that Sasha Baron Cowen would use for Borat, and the 2nd wildly popular character was Loadsamoney, an obnoxious plasterer who constantly flaunted his newfound wealth.

    Both characters were performed by Enfield, but written by the trio, with Loadsamoney’s origins traced back to the fact that Whitehouse was a plasterer and Higson a decorator.

    Charlie Higson on the keyboards

    Charlie Higson on the keyboards

    Loadsamoney transcended the one-joke lifespan that these sorts of characters usually have, spawning not only a catch phrase and book (Wad and Peeps, written by the trio, published by Penguin and presumably Higson’s first appearance in print), but also a single (which peaked at #4 on the UK pop charts) and sold out tour.

    Loadsamoney spawns a book: Wad and Peeps

    The character and his obsession with cash seemed to personify the greed so prevalent in the Thatcherite 1980s, even reaching members of Parliament who decried the “Loadsamoney society” in a 1989 speech in the House of Commons. As Loadsamoney’s popularity soared, the phenomenon devolved into self-parody. Performer Harry Enfield was horrified that people thought that the braggart’s ways were worthy of emulation rather than ridicule, so he killed off the character in a 1990 sketch involving a giant check for 10p.

    Loadsamoney single cover

    The trio of Enfield, Higson, and Whitehouse would work individually and collaboratively on comedy projects over the ensuing years with varying degrees of success. And although the character was killed off, the catch phrase is still in use in Britain today, two decades after Loadsamoney first demanded that geezers shut their mouth and look at his wad.

    Charles Helfenstein @ 2008-04-30
  4. Richard Chopping, a Legacy (1917-2008) is sad to report the passing of Richard Chopping, the artist responsible for 9 of Ian Fleming’s James Bond dust jackets, as well as jackets for Kingsley Amis’ James Bond Dossier and John Gardner’s Licence Renewed.

    Richard Chopping

    Richard Chopping

    Half a century after his first collaboration with Ian Fleming, Richard Chopping’s work still resonates. From the 2008 Royal Mail stamps to exibitions to book collections throughout the globe, Richard Chopping’s trompe l’oeil masterpieces are admired, collected and celebrated.

    Although the partnership between Fleming and Chopping was not without its problems, the distinctive and award-winning results became touchstones of Bond imagery and had a far-reaching influence throughout the book industry.

    Richard Wasey Chopping was born 14 April 1917 in Colchester Essex to a family known for their flour mills. Chopping attended Greshams boarding school in rural Norfolk where one of his teachers encouraged an interest in art.

    Painting would become a calling, and with the suggestion from fellow artist and lifelong partner Denis Wirth-Miller, Chopping debuted two paintings at the Goupil Galleries in 1939.

    From Russia with Love progressive proofs

    Ann Fleming attended a Chopping exhibition at the Hanover Gallery in October 1956, and upon her return home remarked to her husband Ian that Chopping would be the perfect artist for his next book. Chopping and the author met at one of Ann’s parties, and Fleming comissioned the artist for what would become his most famous work, the dust jacket to From Russia, With Love.

    Ian Fleming had long had the idea for combining a rose and a gun, even comissioning an unknown artist to create a crude acetate mock-up of the two elements for Live and Let Die in 1954.

    Chopping recalled that Fleming was very specific about his vision for the dust jacket, including the exact model pistol (a sawed off Smith and Wesson .38 with a cutaway trigger guard), and a rose with a drop of dew. Fleming borrowed the pistol from Geoffrey Boothroyd for Chopping to use as reference, but in a strange twist of fate a murder occured that week with a similar gun. Scotland Yard called Fleming about the pistol just as Chopping was returning the gun. Thankfully it turned out to not to be the murder weapon.

    When the book debuted in 1957, the spectacular dust jacket won rave reviews as well as awards. It was also the first jacket in the Bond series that would use the same artwork in the British and U.S. first editions.


    Chopping would not do the jacket for the next book, Dr No, but he turned in another stellar design for Goldfinger in 1959. Once again, a rose was combined with a deadly element, in this case a skull with gold coins in the eye sockets. Chopping declared in a 2001 interview that the Goldfinger jacket was his favorite work in the series.

    For the next jacket, neither Fleming nor Chopping could come up with a suitable idea. Chopping’s partner Denis suggested a hole in a piece of wood with a card underneath reminiscent of a private club. It has been rumored that the eye peering through the hole is Bond’s, but neither the artist nor the author explicitly stated that fact.

    The jacket to Thunderball, in which Fleming specified a skeletal hand, was trouble-free in comparison with the legal hassles the contents of the book brought about.

    As Bond’s popularity soared, Chopping asked for a royalty on each book, but that request was denied. So Chopping continually increased his fee, and he remembered using the payment from The Spy Who Loved Me dust jacket painting for a new washing machine and 2 tickets to Tangiers.

    You Only Live Twice

    Chopping’s next work, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service proved to be troublesome for the artist because he felt that perspective was not his strong point. But Chopping had an even bigger challenge with You Only Live Twice, because for the first time he used a live model for the jacket, in this case a neighbor’s toad. The artist recalled he had to be careful that the toad would not hop on the painting while he was creating it.

    Chopping’s expanded his canvas, so to speak, for the final work he collaborated with Fleming on The Man with The Golden Gun. Because Scramanga’s golden pistol was too long to confine to a single panel, the artwork extended to the back of the jacket. Apparently book sellers were not enamored with the experiment because it required them to open the book to display it.

    'Chopping always incorporates contrasting images of beauty and ugliness, innocence and corruption. His pictures are superficially appealing, but they have a chilling sub-text which compels our attention and admiration. They are true works of art.' - Crispin Jackson, Book and Magazine Collector

    Since Octopussy and The Living Daylights was published postumously, it allowed Chopping free reign, and so he filled the painting with his visual trademark, flies.

    Publisher Jonathan Cape knew that Chopping’s association with Bond in the public’s mind was a strong one, so they used Chopping artwork for Kingsley Amis’ James Bond Dossier, and for James Bond’s literary resurrection in John Gardner’s Licence Renewed in 1981.

    Sadly towards the end of his life Chopping became quite bitter about his association with Fleming and protested the violence in the books. The artist even claimed at one point that he would have made more as a lavatory attendant than he did from his Bond dust jacket paintings.

    Although best known for his Bond work, Chopping’s artwork graced numerous other books, exhibition catalogs, and galleries. He wrote two novels of his own, The Fly (1965) and The Ring (1967). He is survived by his partner Denis Wirth-Miller.

    Charles Helfenstein @ 2008-04-24
  5. 'The Battle For Bond' To Be Pulled

    In a strange development that could only be tied to the lawsuit magnet codenamed Thunderball, has recently learned that the Ian Fleming Will Trust is banning the best-selling book The Battle for Bond, which details the origin of Bond’s convaluted trip to the silver screen.

    Tomahawk Publishers have suspended sales of the book, with the notice of the Ian Fleming Will Trust’s action prominently displayed above the book on their web site.

    Sources tell CBn that the action is related to Fleming correspondence from the Thunderball lawsuit which had never been previously published.

    CBn interviewed author Robert Sellers about his landmark work and have asked for his comment on the matter.

    As of this writing, copies of the book are still available on and the Amazon US web sites:

    CBn will keep you updated with all the latest developments regarding The Battle for Bond.

    Charles Helfenstein @ 2008-02-28
  6. The Robert Sellers CBn Interview

    Thunderball. The one word title evokes images of Bond mania at its peak:

    Charles Helfenstein

    theatres playing the film 24 hours a day to capacity crowds, the iconic jet pack, sharks and scuba divers, Bond merchandise flooding stores, and Sean Connery at the middle of the storm, at the middle of his Bond career.

    Behind this extreme success lies a convoluted path to the screen that defies imagination. It begins with an Irishman blinded by his desire for fame, a financier in over his head, and a writer running out of steam. And although 2 films have been made from the ideas generated during the ill-fated collaboration, some rights issues tied up in the case are still in question 45 years later.

    Robert Sellers, in The Battle for Bond: The Genesis of Cinema’s Greatest Hero, navigates through the labyrinthine origins of Thunderball in a lively prose that quickly engages and informs. The highlights of the book revolve around the Thunderball court documents provided by Sylvan Whittingham Mason: correspondence, memos, storyboards, and pictures that have never previously been published.’s Charles Helfenstein recently spoke with Robert Sellers about his landmark book, his love for Thunderball, and his other works in progress.

    The Robert Sellers CBn Interview

    CH: Welcome to Thank you so much for giving us exclusive access to some of those images and documents you uncovered. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became so obsessed with Thunderball?

    RS: I’ve been a Bond fan since I was a kid growing up in the ’70s, my first cinema experience was seeing a double bill of Dr. No and Goldfinger—I was hooked, who wouldn’t be.

    I’ve been writing movie books since the early ’90s, bios on Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver, Tom Cruise, George Harrison’s HandMade Films and Lew Grade’s TV company ITC. I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to write a book about 007, but it’s been a great experience working on something that I have a real passion for, and getting paid to do it. It’s been such fun I’ve got two more Bond books in the works.

    My obsession for Thunderball comes really from the fact that since I can remember it’s always been my favourite. I think it’s the perfect mix of old and new, retaining the toughness and edge of the first Bonds, with the epic scope and way out fantasy that later dominated the series. For the record my top 5 Bond films are:

    • Thunderball
    • You Only Live Twice
    • On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
    • From Russia with Love
    • The Spy Who Loved Me

    The worst Bond film, there isn’t one.

    CH: The backbone of your book comes from Sylvan Whittingham Mason’s archive. What was it like going through this historic collection with her? What was your favorite find?

    RS: That was a special day and I did truly feel privileged going through that material, the first person to do so for 40 years. Most of it was packed in boxes bound by red ribbon and opening them one felt so much anticipation, even Sylvan didn’t know what was inside as Peter Carter Ruck, McClory’s lawyer in the case, had only recently passed them on to her just before his death. Being a Bond nut I immediately recognised the significance of many of the documents inside and realised pretty quickly that this was a major find.

    As for my favourite item, it has to be the seven pre-production drawings that McClory commissioned to help sell the proposed Bond movie at the 1959 Venice film festival, my bloody jaw dropped open when I saw those. I knew that no Bond fan in the world had seen them before, or even knew that they existed. All seven are re-produced in the book and look stunning.

    CH: Researching a film from the ’60s often needs to rely on second hand accounts and memories from participants trying to recall events that are 40 years old. With The Battle for Bond you weren’t able to talk to the major participants like Ian Fleming, Terrence Young, Jack Whittingham or Kevin McClory but you had unprecedented access to their correspondence and court documents that weren’t hindered by faulty memories. Would you have preferred interviews to documents or documents over interviews?

    RS: Documents and correspondences of the period can’t lie, or for that matter twist the truth to suit a personal point of view or agenda, so for that reason having all that material was much more valuable than depending on withering memories for one’s facts.

    Had any of the major players still been alive, however, it would have been fascinating talking to them, armed as I would have been with the truth. I could also have got their autographs—and put them straight on EBay.

    CH: Was the book always going to be about the attempted remakes and Never Say Never Again, or were you originally going to solely focus on Thunderball?

    RS: My original thought was to write a book solely on Thunderball, with a view to it coming out at the end of 2005, in time for its 40th anniversary. That all changed when Sylvan came on board and I got access to all that material, then I realised I had the opportunity to finally document the incredible story of Kevin McClory, a story that Bond fans have long been fascinated with but the facts have either been misleading or elusive. I had those facts now literally at my fingertips. It was a great feeling.

    It’s very interesting when books suddenly change course. When I was writing about HandMade Films, the company behind Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Time Bandits, Mona Lisa and others, it was meant purely as a celebration of those great movies. I’d no idea what a mess the company had been in and the calamities behind the scenes, until my first interview with producer Stephen Woolley who ranted and raved for two hours about how he’d been screwed by them. I realised then that I’d opened Pandora’s Box and there was no turning back.

    It was the same with my ITC book, which started as simply a celebration of shows like “The Saint”, “The Prisoner”, “Thunderbirds” etc. A few interviewees, however, had various axes to grind and risqué stories to divulge. A lot of fans were upset that the book included these elements, but as a journalist you have to present the whole story, warts and all, and that’s what I’ve also done with The Battle for Bond.

    CH: From 1961 onward, “Thunderball” has been surrounded by lawsuits. Were you concerned that your efforts to uncover information long since buried might attract legal attention from Eon or other parties?

    RS: A lot of potential publishers backed out because of the fear of legal action, of Eon or the Fleming trustees coming down hard on the book, but I knew that every word in it could be backed up by official documentation.

    I’m still waiting to hear from Eon actually. I’m sure they know about the book, maybe they’ve even read it. I’d love to know what they really think. Most of it is probably news to them!

    CH: Your original manuscript was completed over 2 years ago—can you give us some background regarding the writing and production of the book and why it took so long to come to fruition?


    I had the idea to write a book on Thunderball in 2004 and yes it took a good two years to produce. It took that long because I always write two books at a time. Not only does this stop me getting bored, as I can jump between projects as the mood takes me, but it also means that I arrive at each book refreshed and re-enthused.

    Finding a publisher was probably the most depressing part. Everyone and I mean everyone I approached turned me down. I think there’s a criminal lack of interest from major publishers (and even independent ones) in serious-minded film books. I’m beholden to Tomahawk Press for rescuing the project. Believe me; this book would never have seen daylight without them.

    CH: Ian Fleming’s choice of an actor to portray James Bond has often been cause for speculation and debate. Where you shocked to uncover that Fleming was willing to have Jimmy Stewart play Bond if Hitchcock was part of the package?

    RS: That was one of the book’s many revelations. I think Fleming at that time was dizzy over the prospect of Hitchcock coming aboard the Bond project and quite frankly if the director had wanted Grace Kelly to play Bond I think Fleming would have agreed.

    CH: Film is a visual medium—and your book delivers with 100 rare photographs. How did you decide which shots would make the cut and which wouldn’t?

    RS: Pretty much everything we had in connection with McClory, the abandoned Bond film, the court case, Warhead etc is in the book, along with publicity or behind the scenes stuff from Thunderball and Never Say Never Again. Much of it hasn’t been seen before, like the 3 shots we’ve got of Connery location scouting in New York for Warhead. My eyes were on storks when I came across those shots.

    CH: Kevin McClory is one of the most controversial figures in Bond history. Some see him as a victim of Fleming’s plagiarism; others see him as a villain, taking undeserved credit and miring Bond rights in perpetual litigation or threats thereof. What’s your take on McClory?

    RS: Before embarking upon this book I knew as much about McClory as any generally well-informed Bond fan. By the end I really felt I knew him after reading so many of his letters and private thoughts and speaking with people who knew him. Even those colleagues in whom McClory stirred bitterness, even hatred, found it difficult to truly despise the man, he was the epitome really of the charming rogue and I think my book paints a pretty three-dimensional portrait of this very intriguing individual.

    My own take on McClory is that he was extremely hard done by; he was really the first filmmaker to recognise the cinema potential of James Bond and to act upon it. His Bond film never materialised, leaving the way open for Broccoli and Saltzman, who McClory always believed stole his rightful place in history from under him. Although let’s face it, McClory was no saint and treated a lot of people shamefully, none more so than Jack Whittingham.

    I also uncovered a few very dark facts about McClory, one is only hinted at in the book, and the other I kept out, it added nothing to the story. Interestingly, just before the book came out a tabloid newspaper in England wanted me to spill the beans on McClory. I refused. Somehow I felt I owed the old bastard that much.

    CH: Getting Len Deighton’s input and endorsement of your book was quite a coup. How did you track down the reclusive author and did you by any chance ask about his rumored contributions to From Russia, With Love?

    RS: Strangely, I didn’t actually interview Len Deighton for this Bond book. Late last year I began researching a new book project and that’s when I first contacted Deighton. He was delighted to help and I met both he and his wife at a London hotel and spent a very charming two hours with them. They were both an absolute delight. It was only at the end of our time together that I asked Len briefly about his Warhead connection. When my book was about to go to the printers I contacted Len again and asked if those quotes could be used. Not only was he perfectly willing for that to happen, but he also asked if he could read the manuscript and then endorse it. I couldn’t believe it. Nor could I believe the very generous comments he made about the book. He’s a very nice chap.

    I also think he should have been given a shot at the new Bond novel. Who knows, maybe he was asked and turned it down.

    CH: Deighton cautions in his blurb that this story demonstrates what a treacherous business filmmaking can be. I came away from The Battle for Bond with an even greater appreciation for the fact that Bond landed in the capable hands of Broccoli and Saltzman, rather than amateurs like Bryce and McClory. Was that your intention?

    RS: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. That’s exactly what readers should come away thinking. That was never my intention, by the way. I’m a journalist so I take no sides; I just report the facts and allowed them to speak for themselves. That’s why I think, if anything, this book is pro-Eon. We must congratulate McClory for being the first person to identify that James Bond was a viable cinematic character, but thank god the film itself never got made with him in charge. Just think about it, had McClory made that first Bond film it would have been without Ken Adam, John Barry, Richard Maibaum, Ted Moore, Peter Hunt and Bob Simmons, incredibly talented people that all played a highly significant part in the eventual success of the Bond series. It was Broccoli and Saltzman who hired that talent in 1962, Sean Connery as well, of course. Had McClory made Thunderball back in ’59 or ’60, I think it would have flopped.

    CH: Your early chapters detail the extreme naiveté of both Bryce and McClory for believing they could conquer the film business with scant experience, and of Fleming for plagiarizing the work of McClory and Whittingham. Were you surprised that these otherwise intelligent men could make such colossal mistakes?


    In one letter Fleming revealingly describes himself and Bryce as ‘amateurs’ in the Bond film making business, which of course they were. We have those lovely pictures of Fleming appearing on the sets of Dr. No, From Russia with Love and Goldfinger, but as a guest only. Here he was one of the main people behind the film, deeply involved in the script, on hand to be an advisor, and financially implicated, too. I think the project got too big for Fleming and Bryce and they were desperate for an American studio to come in and help them out.

    As for Fleming plagiarising the work of McClory and Whittingham, I’m afraid that was plain arrogance. I don’t think he could be bothered to come up with another story for a Bond novel and so the easy option was to use the Thunderball script. He must have felt that being who he was, and with his background, this nobody called McClory from the bogs of Ireland would just shut up. Unfortunately for Fleming he’d chosen the last man on earth to lie down and just take it.

    CH: Claudine Auger, Luciana Paluzzi, or Mollie Peters—which is your dream Thunderball girl?

    RS: Not only my dream Thunderball girl, but I believe the most stunning Bond girl of all—Claudine Auger.

    CH: Since you love Thunderball so much, how do you feel about Never Say Never Again?

    RS: What I feel about Never Say Never Again is what most people feel about that film. It’s like Christmas, you wait so long for it to arrive, and when it does all you get is a pair of socks. I thought Octopussy beat it hands down and I’m afraid to say this but I believe the reason is because it was made by Hollywood. Most of the time Never Say Never Again feels like an extended episode of “Hart to Hart”. Just remember what Hollywood did to those other great British institutions The Saint and The Avengers, turned them into god damn awful movies.

    CH:I understand you have written the authorized biography of Bond stuntman and 2nd unit director Vic Armstrong. Can you tell us a little bit about that and when it is due for publication?


    It’s been my absolute honour recently to help Vic with his official book. What’s been a big plus is that besides being a very knowledgeable guy, Vic is also extremely funny and the book is packed with hilarious stories from his 40-year-plus filmmaking odyssey, from Indiana Jones to Superman, Rambo to The Terminator, by way of James Bond, of course.

    The book will feature many photographs from Vic’s personal collection and also includes exclusive contributions from those who have worked with Vic over the years including Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Christopher Lee, Martin Scorsese, Kenneth Branagh and Lord Attenborough.

    The book will be out sometime in 2008. I’ll keep you posted.

    Thank you Robert for your answers, and we look forward to your forthcoming books.

    Charles Helfenstein @ 2007-09-11
  7. Exclusive Photographs From 'The Battle For Bond'

    CBn has received several exclusive photographs from the upcoming book by Robert Sellers, The Battle For Bond.

    Due for release on 18 June, The Battle For Bond has become one of the most anticipated literary 007 releases of the year. It tells the story of perhaps the most controversial part of the series’ legacy and includes previously unpublished material including letters, private documents and over 100 never-before-seen photographs and illustrations.

    'The Battle For Bond' (#1) 'The Battle For Bond' (#2)

    Photographs 1 and 2 from The Battle For Bond.

    Photograph #1: Shark attack. Kevin McClory commissioned a series of seven drawings by John Huston’s art director Stephen Grimes in a bid to raise interest in his proposed Bond movie at the 1959 Venice Film Festival. This drawing focuses on the climactic underwater battle. All seven drawings appear in the book, the first time these historical images have been seen.

    Photograph #2: Lawrence of Arabia himself, Peter O’Toole, celebrates with Jack
    Whittingham, Kevin McClory and his wife Bobo, after the High Court success in the infamous 1963 Thunderball court case.

    'The Battle For Bond' (#3) 'The Battle For Bond' (#4)

    Photographs 3 and 4 from The Battle For Bond.

    Photograph #3: Cubby Broccoli and Kevin McClory are handsomely greeted when they arrive in Tokyo for a publicity tour for Thunderball.

    Photograph #4: On a location recce for Warhead in New York, Sean Connery visits the Statue of Liberty, earmarked for one of the film’s proposed big action sequences. The book features other photos of Connery in New York and pre-production artwork from Warhead.

    'The Battle For Bond' (#5)

    Photograph 5 from The Battle For Bond.

    Photograph #5: This is the telegram message from Ian Fleming to crime novelist Eric Ambler, a mutual friend of Hitchcock, asking if the master would consent to direct the first Bond movie. This is a major historical document, proof that Hitchcock was Fleming’s personal choice to bring Bond to the screen.

    Pre-order The Battle For Bond: The Genesis of Cinema’s Greatest Hero from

    Stay tuned to CBn for all the latest literary James Bond news.

    Photographs and documents for #1, 2 and 5 courtesy of Sylvan Whittingham Mason.

    Related Articles

    Charles Helfenstein @ 2007-06-14
  8. Len Deighton Praises 'The Battle for Bond'

    The Battle for Bond, due in July from Tomahawk Media, is one of the most eagerly anticipated James Bond books in ages.

    Author Robert Sellers recently informed CBn that friend of Ian Fleming and noted spy novelist Len Deighton had praised the forthcoming book:

    The seemingly endless legal battles that Kevin McClory waged against the James Bond producers split the film world, and the publishing world, into two camps. Bitter arguments, unscrupulous bids for credits and recognition, as well as buckets of money, poisoned lifelong friendships and fostered strange and unlikely alliances. No one had the complete story but everyone had an unshakeable opinion. I knew most of the leading players in this sad drama and this book recalled many memories best forgot. Anyone with a desire to go into the entertainment world should read this exciting, gripping but in the end, melancholy story: it should be enough to change their mind forever.

    Len Deighton

    Pre-order The Battle For Bond: The Genesis of Cinema’s Greatest Hero from

    Stay tuned to CBn for all the latest literary James Bond news.

    Related Articles

    Charles Helfenstein @ 2007-05-14
  9. The Sylvan Whittingham Mason / Jonathan Whittingham CBn Interview

    James Bond films have been written by a wide variety of screenwriters, from those famous for their adaptations, Charles Helfensteinsuch as Richard Maibaum, to humorists like Christopher Wood, and even children’s authors like Roald Dahl.

    The first man to write a James Bond screenplay was Jack Whittingham, an Oxford-educated journalist and World War II veteran who had much more in common with Ian Fleming and James Bond than any of his Bond screenwriting successors.

    Whittingham’s early screenwriting on Kevin McClory’s ill-fated Thunderball became the center of a legal battle that would rage on for decades. recently spoke to Jack Whittingham’s heirs, daughter Sylvan and son Jonathan, about the genesis of Thunderball, the subsequent trial, their Beatles’ connections, and an unmade film about Ian Fleming.

    The Sylvan Whittingham Mason/Jonathan Whittingham CBn Interview

    Q: Your father had a long history of writing spy stories, from his first credited screenplay, Q Planes (1939) up through to the ’60s with Danger Man and James Bond. Was he a big fan of the spy genre?

    SWM: He did have a sneaking admiration for spies in the same way that some of us do for the big bank or train robbers. I wasn’t aware that this was a huge thing with him though I do still have his little Minox spy camera that was used in one of the films.

    Whilst I was growing up during the years 6 to about 11 he was in fact doing several films with children. Mandy, Hunted and The Divided Heart were a run of them and he often used to read his days work to us as a bedtime story. QUOTE: never heard my father say a word against Ian Fleming.One of our birthday parties was recorded for children’s voices and used in a scene in the Divided Heart. He also wrote a screenplay of The Prince and the Pauper for Disney.

    I remember Greville Wynne coming to see us in Malta and my father found him most interesting and had many conversations with him. But maybe you are right, as the last screenplay he wrote was based on the Penkovsky papers which was never filmed and which seems to have disappeared as I can’t find the screenplay among his papers. He was terribly enthusiastic about and engrossed in that subject and had enormous admiration for Penkovsky who he said was a true communist who had become disillusioned with the KGB and was horrified at how they were sorting away money and buying shares to become rich, and doing things like staying in luxurious hotels with mistresses and throwing expensive perfume on the carpet. He said it was because of Penkovsky risking his life to warn John Kennedy that the Cuba missile attack was thwarted. In fact, as I recollect, Col. Penkovsky was able to give Kennedy the information that the Russian ships in the vicinity did not have the launching equipment to fire the missiles so that Kennedy was able to make his strong stand.

    JW: Jack also was (jokingly, I hope!) concerned that his involvement with Penkovsky at that time would bring him to the attention of the Russian’s. He even spotted a submarine from his house on Malta, which was somewhat remote, and became convinced that they were about to hijack him and take him back to the USSR for a grilling!

    Q: What are your earliest memories of your father’s involvement with James Bond and Thunderball?

    SWM: My earliest memories would be at about the age of 15 when I was still at boarding school. My father went to New York and the Bahamas to meet Ian Fleming and co., and he used to send me the most wonderful postcards from these exotic places. They were huge and colourful and larger than life compared to the ones we had in England at that time and I was quite proud of what he was doing but, being a very shy child I didn’t tell many people. However, I enjoyed my school friends being envious of these glamorous postcards from the Rainbow Room or some exclusive club in the Bahamas.

    I remember that he came back from the Bahamas and was very ill. He had had a coronary heart attack whilst water skiing and went straight to hospital for three weeks and was not allowed any excitement. This had to be kept very quiet because “heart troubles” were the kiss of death for anyone working on a film in those days. Probably still are nowadays!

    I remember an air of excitement while he was working on the screenplay. Long, long story conferences on the telephone; going to visit Kevin McClory at his new wife’s elegant house in Cheyne Walk and seeing movies of sharks in tanks. Kevin was a very colourful and fun person to be around in those days, full of practical jokes. He would see someone he knew in a restaurant and, on the basis, that you don’t normally look at who is serving you, would borrow a uniform and pretend to be the waiter at that table and spill things everywhere till they actually looked at him and realised who it was.

    IMAGE: l. to r. Detective Kelly, Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham and Leigh Aman (Lord Marley)

    He borrowed someone’s black tie and tails to go water skiing in once, and he had a friend called Detective Kelly in New York whom he got to arrest people as a joke. I am attaching a mug shot of l. to r. Detective Kelly, Kevin, Jack, my father and Leigh Aman (Lord Marley) that Kevin asked Kelly to arrange to have taken ’for fun’.

    In his Memoirs of a Libel Lawyer the eminent and distinguished Peter Carter-Ruck, talks of being, exhaused, after a very long flight from London, trailing round Miami with Kevin and ending up at a bowling alley!

    “I had arrived in the late afternoon after leaving my home in Hertfordshire at 7 o’clock that morning. Kevin and his wife Bobo Sigrist took me in his open Cadillac all over town. By 10 o’clock that night I asked if we could stop for a meal and, after a talk, and bacon and eggs at one of the motels, I really felt like turning in after a twenty-hour day. It was then suggested that we should go to a bowling alley, by which time I was so tired that, taking up one of the bowls, I threw it so badly that it landed in the adjoining alley. Bobo Sigrist was approached by an American who asked her ‘Where did you pick up these two jerks?’ I finally went to bed at 2 o’clock in the morning having been up for 24 hours”

    On another occasion, Peter was met at the airport in Nassau by Kevin in his new amphibian car and, without any warning, driven at high speed straight into the water and across the bay.

    JW: My first memory was sitting at the kitchen table building a plastic model of a Lancaster Bomber. Jack came in and started asking me all sorts of questions about crews on bombers, their tasks, numbers etc. I was quite chuffed to be put in such a position of importance by him. I was however also disappointed to discover that the Lancaster was by then totally out of date and what Jack really wanted was information on crews for the postwar Bombers, such as the Vulcan and Victor Bombers, which by then employed smaller crews and much more sophisticated avoidance of detection techniques.

    Later on at Charterhouse, the Thunderball court case hit the papers and for a brief spell I enjoyed a position of begrudged envy and respect. It didn’t last. In fact it backfired when some boys took the side of Ian Fleming and then life returned to normal!

    Jack used to write in his study facing the garden. As children we learned to tiptoe around the house, or retreat to the furthest corners of the garden when he was working. His routine would involve getting up quite late, enjoying a leisurely breakfast and disappear into his “cave” around 10.00am. His first drink of the day often started around eleven. After lunch he would work for a while and then take a nap during the afternoon. Apart from a break for supper he would then work steadily until very late at night. As a writer he was plagued by the need to come up with fresh ideas and it took a huge toll. He would consume a lot of alcohol and horrendous amounts of tobacco. He kept a pet budgerigar from time to time that lived in a cage next to his desk. However they were always free to fly around at will, and became quite tame. He had one called Charlie. Charlie would sit and snooze propped up against Jack’s neck. Jack would sit at his desk waiting for his “muse”, a glass of gin in his left hand and the neverending cigarette in the other. Every so often Charlie would wake up and take a stroll down Jack’s arm to the well of gin at the end of Jack’s arm, take a sip and then make his weary way back up Jack’s arm and resume dozing. This would be repeated on a few more occasions until Charlie could barely make his way back up the arm. Then he would very quietly whisper or coo into Jack’s ear. Then Jack would begin to write!

    I met Kevin once during the early days when everything was exciting and looking promising. I must have been about 12 or 13 then. We went to a basement flat up in London to meet Kevin. I noticed that he had a rather intriguing model frogman which I seriously coveted. I let it be known to Jack that I would like to have that frogman which he promised to ask Kevin about. Either he forgot or Kevin declined. When Kevin contacted me in the 1980s I humorously reminded him that I was still waiting for the frogman. He apologised. I am still waiting!

    Q: After the novel debuted and they both had heart attacks, it appeared that your father and Ian Fleming were still cordial, leaving it up to the
    lawyers to settle the plagiarism issue. How would you characterize your
    father’s relationship with Ian Fleming?

    SWM: I never heard my father say a word against Ian Fleming. Jack understood the situation between Kevin & Ian though he chose to support Kevin because he felt it was the right thing to do. He had a good regard for Ian and they never fell out. In fact they were supportive of and concerned for each others health as can be born out by the following letters:

    From Jack Whittingham to Ian Fleming:

    The White House

    6th May 1961

    Dear Ian

    I do hope that you are mending well, doing all you are told, and none of the forbidden things you would like to be doing! My main consolation was morphine, and I’m not too sure that I haven’t been hooked!

    Following the suggestion in your letter, I have asked Freddie Holdaway, who is the legal adviser to my agents – Christopher Mann – to get in touch with your lawyers,and this has been done. But very understandingly, he was told that you are not to be in contact with the outside world for a while.

    I am recovering slowly and impatiently and hope to be off on my travels for a new film at Whitsun.

    Best wishes for a complete and speedy recovery.



    From Ian Fleming to Jack Whittingham:

    As from the Clinic
    4 Old Mitre Court
    Fleet Street, EC4

    10th May 1961

    Dear Jack

    I am horrified to hear that you have been on morphine and not only that, but that you are already contemplating your next stint at Whitsun. Is this really wise, or can you take the new thing on in a fairly leisurely fashion? It seems to me that you are getting back into your professional stride a bit quickly!

    I am so glad that your legal adviser is now in touch with my solicitor. I don’t wish to sound ominous or to pre-judge anything, but I do think from what I hear from the legal cohorts on our side, that a graceful composure of such differences as you and I may have between each other might be wisdom.

    However, as I say, this is all on the ‘Old boy’ wave and the main thing is that we should both be in good heart (!) again as soon as possible.

    Again with warm thanks for your kindly letter



    They also shared a love of fine wines and cigarettes and both indulged in them to excess. Both were warned to stop these activities because of their health. I remember being told by my father that Ian Fleming had persuaded his doctor to agree to his having one drink only a day. His doctor said it must be a standard measure and just one. My father was highly amused because Ian had told him that he had done some research and found out that the strongest drink in the world was a Green Chartreuse and so that was the one drink he was having per day!

    QUOTE: I remember an air of excitement while he was working on the screenplay.

    My father was devastated at the news of Fleming’s death. I was with him in the South of France when he received the phone call and he visibly sunk down and put his hands over his face.

    JW: I concur entirely with Sylvan’s view of their relationship. I think Jack was rather in awe of Fleming, being an Eton man.

    Q: When the Thunderball case came to trial in 1963, you were working for the law firm that represented your father and Kevin McClory. Was the firm confident they would prevail? Did you attend any of the trial?

    SWM: I had gone to work for Peter Carter-Ruck’s firm, Oswald Hickson, Collier & Co via the Alfred Marks Employment agency in September 1961. It was just before my eighteenth birthday and it was my first job. I was an assistant Dictaphone secretary to one of the Partners.

    They were many high profile and famous people that the firm was acting for, and I used to go home in the evenings and report on who I had seen and so on to my parents. This brought the firm to my father’s attention. He investigated and the net result was that the whole case was taken to Oswald Hickson’s due to which Peter remained a constant and loyal friend until his death in 2003.

    IMAGE: Jack Whittingham & Charles Crichton on the set of HUNTED,  July 1951

    Once my father was a client, I funnily enough found it embarrassing. Peter Carter-Ruck who had never even noticed me before, started to stop me in the corridor; put his hand on my shoulder, and ask me how my father was. I felt others were jealous that I was being singled out and instead of trying for a raise on the £7.00 per week I was being paid at the time (as I might have taken the opportunity to do in later years), I left after a few months and went to work with my father on a film in Rome. Thus I cannot answer your question as to whether the firm was confident about the outcome of the case. I think we all felt that because we were in the right, that we would win, although I have learned through bitter experience that this isn’t necessarily always the case in law. As Peter CR once told me in later years, “The only thing you can be sure of, when embarking on litigation, is that it will be expensive!”.

    I did attend the Injunction for the book, but not the main court case. I think space was limited as to how many people you could take in with you at the High Court, and my father tended to take his secretary or my mother with him each day.

    We sat in a smallish court for the initial Injunction of the book. There may have been about 10—twenty people there. I think it took about two days. My father and Kevin were very disappointed that they were not able to halt the distribution of the novel which gave them no credit for the two years invested in this project. I remember the Jonathan Cape lawyer saying that the books were already stacked up in the shops and it was impossible to withdraw them at that stage. It was agreed that a piece of paper with the credits on would be inserted into each book for the first edition, and credits given on any further editions. However, I have two first edition of Thunderball and there is no slip of paper inserted in either. This first edition is the only place you won’t see a credit for my father’s contribution. Everywhere else, be it film, novel, DVD etc the credit is included.

    My father was suffering terribly with his heart at this time. He used to have a lot of angina attacks. He would clutch his chest and we would all hold our breaths as we waited for the pills that thinned the blood and took the pain away to work. I was very worried about him at this time.

    Q: The Thunderball case is incredibly complex, and you’ve tried to set the record straight with your website, using original documents and letters rather than guesses and rumors. What would you say is the public’s biggest misconception about the development of Thunderball?

    SWM: I suppose the main misconception from the public is that Thunderball did not begin as one of Fleming’s novels. I have met very few people who know that it was based on the original screenplay and not the novel.

    Secondly, I feel that the industry’s judgement that McClory mainly, and perhaps my father too were somehow “interlopers” or cashing in some way is a complete misconception; very sad and yet understandable. What people don’t understand is that, although Fleming’s novels were very popular with a certain genre in 1959, they were all turned down as potential films because they were too “sadistic, violent and unbelievable! Also, the tongue in cheek humour that makes the films so palatable was absent in the books”. In the late ’50s, drab kitchen sink drama was the genre, and Fleming had just about given up on any idea of films – he was even tired of the books and wanted very much to travel.

    Even though I, and my family, are no fans of Kevin McClory due to his treatment of our late father, I have to say, in all fairness, that it was he who originally got the ball rolling in this department. He would not take no for an answer. It was his idea to use a screenwriter to write a “believable”, “non sadistic” and “not too violent” screenplay using the character of James Bond with Fleming’s permission. Once this screenplay had been expertly crafted by my father using the various ideas that McClory and Fleming and indeed Ernest Cuneo had contributed, the big fish in the shape of Saltzman and Broccolli moved in and having read my father’s screenplay, were now interested as they could see how it could work.

    The problem facing Ian Fleming was that he did not think that Kevin was experienced enough or responsible enough to carry the vehicle onwards. His way of easing Kevin out by bringing out the novel with no credit for the huge contribution and amount of work that had been done already on the original film (story boards drawn up, budgets planned – they were casting for Bond!) was badly judged and came back to haunt him as we all know.

    Another misconception is the public not realising how far along the first film of Thunderball was into production when Fleming scuppered it.

    However, the biggest misconception which is the misconception that upsets us most of all, is the one where people have claimed that Jack “due to financial problems, backed out of the Main court Case and sold his part of the rights to Kevin McClory”. I quote from a letter that I send out recently which addresses this issue.

    “These totally untrue, inaccurate and unsubstantiated remarks are extremely damaging to our late father’s excellent and unblemished professional reputation.“

    The facts are that he was, at that time, considered one of the top ten British screenwriters who, having completed a very successful and financially rewarding run of films with Ealing studios had gone out on his own as a freelance writer, and, was at that time being woed by Walt Disney himself who wanted to put him under contract. QUOTE: My father said, at the time... that Kevin McClory had absolutely 'everything to gain'... whilst my father had 'everything to lose'.(see Thunderball years“ on my website which contains complimentary comments about this and about his talent from Ian Fleming)

    He had absolutely no ’financial difficulties’ whatsoever, and we as a family were enjoying a substantial lifestyle due to him being at the pinnacle of his career, however, as the Thunderball case grew larger and larger and with 999 documents as evidence, threatened to become one of the longest running court cases in history with legal costs that could prove astronomical; and as he had NO RIGHTS at all in the screenplay, having assigned them 3 years previously on completion of the screenplay, to Kevin McClory in a fairly standard Film Institute contract which (sadly for our family bearing in mind that Video and DVD had yet to be invented) assigned “all rights of whatsoever nature” to Kevin McClory; he was advised to step down as co-plaintiff which would carry legal responsibility for costs should they lose, and carry on as prinical witness to support Kevin who he felt had been wronged.

    My father said, at the time, and it might help you to understand his predicament to know, that Kevin McClory had absolutely “everything to gain” from this court case due to having financial backing by a South African millionaire friend, and his new wife Bobo Seigrist—heiress to the Hawker Siddely aircraft corporation, whilst my father had “everything to lose”. He had no rights in the screenplay should they win, and 50% liability for the costs should they lose. With two children in expensive boarding schools, he took the advice to drop co-plaintiveness status, and carried on loyally supporting Kevin as principal witness in spite of the same heart problems that Fleming was experiencing at the time. Problems which they amicably shared letters about during the case, and which killed them both in the end.

    My father who was described, even by Kevin McClory, who later abandoned him after the case, as “the most honorable man he had ever met” was very torn between his friendship and affection for Ian Fleming and his loyalty to Kevin whose plight he defended because he felt it was the right thing to do, in addition to the fact that his professional reputation was also at stake

    If he was going to take any “money” he could have done so, when it was ’allegedly’ alluded to by the other side in letters which I still have. That would have been far more lucrative but my father would never have contemplated that.

    Q: When Thunderball was finally released in late 1965—James Bond had reached the peak of his popularity. Did your father feel happy that something he had helped in its infancy had become so popular, or did he feel somewhat left behind?

    SWM: My father was bitterly disappointed that, after the Court Case in which he supported Kevin to no great advantage to himself, Kevin simply turned his back on him and went ahead with making Thunderball without him, and without even notifying him. In spite of the enormous success and financial rewards that Kevin was to have with the film of Thunderball which he eventually co-produced with Saltzman & Broccoli, he never contacted my father again—perhaps because he was too embarrassed that he had “sold out” to Saltzman & Broccoli—who knows?

    Because of this absence of contact, my father was not aware that Richard Maibaum & John Hopkins has been contracted to write a screenplay based on the novel that was based on the orginal screenplay. He presumed that Kevin would use their original one. Again it is understandable that Richard Maibaum would have been engaged as he had worked on previous films but it was a terrible shock for my father to find this out at a screening of the film. In addition the sole “based on an original screenplay credit” which my father is given in the film itself was left off the posters leaving only the “original story” credit which is shared with McClory and Fleming thus weakening the fact of his contribution and strengthening Kevin’s!

    JW: I went to a screening of Thunderball with Jack and my mother. I don’t remember where or when. I do however remember that Jack was quite depressed by the time the lights went up again. I didn’t understand at all why this would be so. Margot made some conciliatory comments about the credits but to no avail.

    After Jack died I went to Malta to be with Margot for a while(1972). We spent quite a lot of time reminiscing about Jack. Margot explained to me how angry and bitterly disappointed he had been with Kevin’s failure to fulfill what she claimed was a promise by Kevin to include Jack in the production of Thunderball ( by which I mean the further writing of the screenplay) in return for Jack’s loyalty to Kevin during the court case. She was very clear about it. In hindsight perhaps, one can see that Kevin was in a tough spot if he was ever going to see Thunderball on the screen. Saltzman and Broccolli certainly owed Jack nothing. However, if nothing else, Kevin should have been straight with Jack. He wasn’t. His later expectations of help from Jack’s children didn’t sit well with either of us. It still doesn’t.

    Q: Britain was the cultural center of the universe in the 1960s—and you had connections to the two biggest phenomenons: James Bond because of your father, and the Beatles because of Dezo Hoffman, as well as your own singing and songwriting career. What are your memories of that period when the world couldn’t get enough of England’s entertainment exports?

    SWM: Gosh—where would I start. Well, having been brought up in “Show Business” I was not that unused to being involved and around celebrities I suppose, so it was not that unusual for me that I would come across them. It really all became most exciting in the mid-sixties. My memories of ’64 are firstly of fashion. We were fashion mad and had to have the season’s latest thing. I remember vividly my ultra mini skirts and Mary Quant “kinky boots’. You couldn’t get to the upper deck on a routemaster bus without everyone on the ground floor seeing your knickers on the way up. I remember going to Florida in 1967 with my ex husband to record Gary Player, the golfer who was making an LP. We were invited to a smart soiree thrown by friends of Gary. I had realised that the mini skirt had not yet hit America en force and certainly not Florida so had selected the longest one I possessed. Still the hostess of the party could not contain herself and actually lifted up my skirt to see what I was wearing underneath! Tights had also not yet hit the States!

    I used to spend at least an hour putting on my make-up and doing my hair. Nowadays, (if I do it), it takes all of 30 seconds! The Dusty Springfield eyes and false eyelashes took up the most time.

    It was quite commonplace to see celebs at the nightclubs we frequented. I remember getting Paul McCarney’s autograph at the Ad Lib and seeing Ringo at the Aretusa in the same week.

    As far as music was concerned, you were either a Beatles Fan or a Stones follower – for me it was the Beatles.

    I remember leaving the cinema with my current beau having just seen Dr No, and everyone including us jumped into their cars and screamed off as if they were driving Aston Martin’s, and I know I felt like a Bond heroine. We all had to be (or to be seen to be) “Cool” in those days. Unlike today, it was not “cool” to show emotion or be impressed with anything. Everyone wore dark glasses. Everyone seemed to smoke pot!

    The thing that was so amazing about those days was how easily one could get a job or follow any path one wanted to. Having decided I was bored with the very good job I had at the Baker Street Advertising Agency where I had become Copy Chief’s secretary after only 3 weeks in the typing pool, I applied to work in Moyses Stephens florist; to put the records on at Annabell’s nightclub; and I also sent a tape of my singing and guitar playing to Cyril Stapleton’s Radio Luxembourg Talent Search where I came in the final six. IMAGE: Photos of home of Barry Mason & Sylvan Whittingham Mason bought from George HarrisonThree weeks later I had written and recorded a pop record having had absolutely no experience whatsoever of singing in public and a month later was appearing on “Thank Your Lucky Stars” and other pop TV shows.

    Most of us were also quite promiscous—that was cool too! The pill became available in 1960; there was no dire warnings about sexually transmitted diseases that you get nowadays, and in addition, we all thought that we were on the brink of nuclear destruction so “Make Love not War” was the young’s battlecry. I was actually taught how to build a fall-out shelter or seal off a room against fall-out, during my last term at boarding school!

    JW: I was living in a bed-sit in Kingston-on-Thames when “Sergeant Pepper’s” came out. Mike Harrison, Daryl Jackson and myself sat around till midnight smoking dope and listening to the album. Mike had a brilliant idea. “George Harrison lives in Esher. I know where. Let’s take him a joint and tell him what a great album it is”. So we did! He actually let us into his house and we sat around smoking more dope until he very politely suggested, at dawn, that perhaps we should depart as he was tired. His wife Patti was there and the two Psychedelic artists who painted his fireplace and Lennon’s Rolls. George was extremely gracious considering that we were intruders. We discussed the upcoming fishing season!. It was quite bizarre. By coincidence, Sylvan and her then husband Barry Mason, bought George’s house shortly thereafter.

    I was in a local band doing John Mayall covers mostly. We were called “Satan’s Disciples”. We had one gig. Friday night at the local Anglican Church Hall. As soon as we started someone would turn off all the lights. Since we now could not see what we were doing, Punk Rock was born. I had a 1940 Austin all painted up with RAF roundels and a giant “SATAN’S DISCIPLES” in gold letters across the back. The phone number of the lead guitarist’s family home was underneath. His father was a prominent doctor in the area. He was not amused to get midnight calls enquiring where the chickens or virgins were going to be sacrificed. My father hated that car. He was always making rude comments about it. When he and Margot left England for Malta, however, he had no way to get to the airport. I drove them there, Satan’s Disciples and all!

    Q: A few years after he had been involved with two lawsuits against Ian Fleming, your father was approached to adapt John Pearson’s biography of Fleming for a film. Your father’s status as one of Britain’s best screenwriters aside, wasn’t this an odd choice considering the litigation? Do you know any details of the production and why the film never got made?

    SWM: I suppose it was an odd choice. It had never occurred to me. He was approached by someone at The Sunday Times—the name John Junor springs to mind? It was a very good screenplay. My father portrayed the Bond persona stepping out of Ian Fleming’s body as he sat on a train on the trans Siberian railway whilst working for Reuters.

    I know that there was a limit on the time that The Sunday Times held the rights, which eventually ran out. I remember my father saying that the main obstacles to the film going ahead were Ian’s wife Ann who would never like the way she was portrayed, and who thoroughly disapproved of the books anyway. Anyway, it was decided that they could not proceed with it whilst Ann was alive. Incidentally, according to Dad, M stood for “Mother”.

    IMAGE: Sylvan Whittingham Mason with her father, Jack Whittingham

    Q: A lot of people were introduced to James Bond through their fathers. I would imagine for you and your brother it would be impossible to view a Bond film without thinking about your father (“dad would have loved that”, “dad would have written a better script than that”, etc.) Is it easy or difficult for you to watch Bond films?

    SWM: It is very easy for me to watch anything with Sean Connery in it!! but I, personally, have never felt any of the other Bonds came close to him and so only really enjoy the first five. I think one always feels that the first Bond you see is the real one.

    My brother and I have absolutely no problem otherwise watching the films. We are thrilled to have a historical link with them. We are proud of our father’s contribution. We have no hard feelings whatsoever as to what happened except for, as said, regarding Kevin McClory. We believe that the Saltzman and Broccoli team have done a fantastic job all the way along and were the right people to do so, and we wish Barbara every continued success with the next series.

    We are also very grateful to you for letting us put our view forward.

    Yours sincerely

    Sylvan Whittingham Mason

    JW: I agree with Suilven. I would also add that I loved the Fleming books. They were the perfect escape for a testosterone maddened 16 year old stuck in a male only boarding school . However I am glad to report that I have evolved past 16 years old. Apparently there are thousands of men in their fifties who have not! I find this quite amusing. Seriously, I stopped reading the books after Fleming died. I could not accept that a pseudo writer could step into the role. My opinion of the films is the same. I enjoyed the early ones but have never seen a Bond film since the 1980s. I make no connection between Jack and any of the modern Bond material. It is very easy for me not to watch Bond films. My greatest nightmare is that the same people who now run the world are also still Bond fans. Now that is scary!

    Best regards.

    Jonathan Whittingham

    Charles Helfenstein @ 2006-06-22
  10. 'GoldenEye' Convention and World Premiere

    Charles HelfensteinJames Bond fans were hungry for his return. And I was hungrier than most.

    A Bond convention. Dinner at ’21’ in support of Cubby Broccoli’s favorite charity. A world premiere of a Bond movie.

    All this in two days – my patience was finally being rewarded.

    After a trip from Virginia to New Jersey, I was settled in at my friend Gary’s house. He put the GoldenEye soundtrack on ‘repeat’ and we contemplated what we would be in for, while we perused his scrapbooks from previous Bond films.

    Raymond Benson and Doug Redenius

    The next morning we headed into Manhattan early, and Gary dropped me off at the Millennium Broadway, where Creation Entertainment was holding it’s second (and final) James Bond convention.

    I was sharing a table with noted Bond poster collector Richard Karcher. Earlier in the week Creation was starting to overbook dealer tables and called to ask if we would give up our table. We laughed and hung up the phone.

    I was selling some extras from my collection, along with issues of Spies Magazine, and the new illustrated biography comic of Pierce Brosnan that I had published with Delmo Walters, Jr. Another reason I booked a table however, was early access to the dealer’s room.

    Part of Dave Worrall's impressive Corgi collection and props from Goldeneye and License to Kill.

    Unfortunately they didn’t have dealer name tags, so as I went around to the other tables looking for goodies a security guard kept harassing me, telling me that the convention hadn’t started yet. I kept pointing out that I was a dealer – I was allowed to be in there. Maybe they were still mad about being laughed at.

    My gambit paid off, because I got some rare pieces from Dave Worrall, including the 1967 Casino Royale World Premiere Program. Dave’s Corgi collection was on display, as well as some props from GoldenEye and other Bond films.

    Charles Helfenstein and Desmond Llewelyn.

    Once the general convention audience was let in, Creation’s overbooking in such a small venue caused a claustrophobic nightmare. Besides hordes of fans, camera crews from various TV stations were interviewing dealers, fans, and celebrity guests.

    I asked Kimberly Last if she wanted to escape the chaos, and she agreed that it would be nice. After leaving Delmo to man the table, I took Kimberly out to lunch at an Italian restaurant a few blocks away.

    Once we returned to the convention, the presentations began in earnest, with question and answers sessions following. Michael Wilson, the gang from TWINE entertainment, Pierce Brosnan, Isabella Scorupco, and director Martin Campbell all gave quick talks that were very well received.

    Pierce Brosnan wants to peel back the layers of Bond.

    The questions ranged from asking about Simon Aturif’s contributions to GoldenEye, which Wilson explained were very early on and therefore not used, to a Japanese fan asking Pierce what the title of the next Bond film would be. Pierce said he didn’t know. Luckily at the end Delmo was able to give Pierce the original artwork of the gun barrel centerfold of our comic and he commented on what a great likeness it was.

    The best response came from the presentation of Daniel Kleinman’s credit sequence. Everyone was stunned. Jaws were on the floor. People were screaming “play it again!” It was a wonderful moment.

    Isabella Scorupco entertains the crowd.

    After their talks, John Cork graciously introduced me to Michael Wilson as “the world’s greatest historian of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” I thanked Michael for his talk and told him I was really looking forward to GoldenEye.

    Later John introduced me to Bruce Feirstein. Bruce was trying to track down a copy of Mad Magazine with their first Bond parody. I knew the issue, April 1965, but I didn’t have one with me. I did send him a copy later and he told me that reading the Bond parody as a child made him want to become a writer. It was actually a continuation of a theme, because at the previous Creation Convention, I had given Michael France a copy of Alligator, the Harvard Lampoon Bond parody, which he had been looking for.

    John Cork pontificates at Puleos Too.

    After the convention was over, a number of us went for dinner at Puleos Too, where we talked about what we had seen, heard, and bought. Tomorrow was the big day!

    The next day it was more of the GoldenEye soundtrack, and a limo to take us to ’21’, the famous New York club and restaurant mentioned in Diamonds are Forever and 007 in New York. ’21’ was having a charity dinner to benefit The Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens at the behest of the Broccolis. The package included dinner and tickets to the premiere.

    Get me the make on a white limo full of Bond geeks.

    After an initial drink, we were seated and served a wonderful meal. By this time the excitement was really building. Then it was back to the limo for the ride to Radio City Music Hall. The marquee was heralding Bond’s return and Pierce’s first crack at 007. We had wonderful center seats, just a few rows up from the orchestra, which was playing a medley of Bond themes.

    The marquee at Radio City Music Hall.

    To thunderous applause, Pierce Brosnan took the stage and introduced Martin Campbell (“the loudest director I’ve ever worked with”), Desmond Llewelyn, Famke Janssen, Isabella Scorupco, and Sean Bean.

    Desmond took the microphone and said “Thank you very much. Now I want you to pay particular attention to what I’m saying tonight. I have had a Scotts Bond, an English Bond, a Welsh Bond, and now an Irish Bond. Now you in the audience, that are Irish, we know that you have done it again. I don’t know what it is about the Irish, but you’ve got something that we haven’t got as a Celt. You make me green with envy. Tonight you are going to see the birth of the definitive Bond… Pierce Brosnan.”

    On stage, Pierce introduces his director and co-stars.

    The crowd cheered like crazy. The curtains parted, the gun barrel appeared, and a promise made at the end of License to Kill in 1989 was fulfilled. James Bond had finally returned.

    Afterwards a group of us went to Sardis, and dissected the film to the nth degree. While I loved the pre-credits sequence, I disliked the fact that Pierce’s introduction was upside down in a Russian toilet stall. I thought Famke totally stole the show, and the tank chase was a perfect “only Bond” moment.

    Bond fans discuss GoldenEye at Sardis.

    I sadly had to decline an offer to the after party at the Museum of Modern Art, as there was a long drive ahead of me the next day.

    It was an unforgettable weekend that made up for a 6-year absence. Welcome back, Commander Bond.

    Photographs by Charles Helfenstein, Delmo Walters, Jr., Gary Firuta, and Brad Frank.

    Charles Helfenstein @ 2005-11-16