May saw the publication by Queen Anne Press of John Pearson’s Ian Fleming – The Notes, literally a volume of the notes that John Pearson wrote up after his interviews while preparing his biography of Ian Fleming, published in 1966. John Pearson has called it a book about writing a book, but it is more than that. Packed with candid reflections by those who knew Ian Fleming that didn’t necessarily appear in the biography, as well as John Pearson’s initial thoughts and queries, the book is, in essence, the reading between the lines.
The book is a perfect companion to the 1966 biography, adding detail and putting people, events, and places into better context. There are aspects, too, notably Fleming’s wartime experiences, that evidently could not be properly addressed by John Pearson, but have since been examined more fully by subsequent accounts by Andrew Lycett, Nicholas Rankin, Henry Hemming and others. The book also alluded to other points of interest, mainly relating to Ian Fleming’s writing, that don’t appear to have been followed up in John Pearson’s or subsequent biographies, but are nevertheless very intriguing. If anyone can supply any answers to my questions raised by these matters, I’d be extremely grateful.
001. Ian Fleming had once said to fellow author Eric Ambler that he (Fleming) had written some 250 television scripts while in the US. Presumably Ambler meant television treatments, of which we know of ten or so, some of which were recycled by Fleming for short stories or have now seen the light of day in Anthony Horowitz’s continuation Bond novels. I’m assuming that 250 scripts is a gross exaggeration or that the number was misremembered by Ambler. But is there a chance that Fleming wrote many more than those we know about?
002. Hugh Vivian-Smith told John Pearson that, while at City stockbrokers Rowe & Pitman, Ian Fleming contributed to the firm’s newsletters. Do these newsletters exist still in the company’s archives? Can they be accessed?
003. John Pearson makes a note to himself that among the items of Fleming’s writing to dig out is an adaption of One Arabian Night, a television script by Sydney Carroll for Cary Grant. Does this piece of writing exist? If so, what form of adaptation does it take – a novel, a short story?
004. Al Hart, Ian Fleming’s editor at the publishers Macmillans, recounted a story that Ian Fleming had told Princess Margaret. The story was about a traveller that had arrived at a castle. He is welcomed in by the owner and stays the night. While in bed, the traveller is visited by a beautiful woman who sleeps with him. In the morning, the guest says to his host that he’s sorry he didn’t meant the host’s wife. His host tells him that, to his great sorrow, his wife is a leper. This story sounds remarkably like ‘The Visitor’, a short story by Roald Dahl that was published in Playboy in 1965. In his interview with John Pearson, Roald Dahl said that Fleming came up with several story ideas, but the only one that Dahl took was ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’. Might there in fact have been more, ‘The Visitor’ being one, or did Fleming take the story from Dahl before it was published?
005. Finally, the volume reminded me that John Pearson assisted Ian Fleming with his ‘Atticus’ column at the Sunday Times and on occasion wrote some of the copy. The dates of Fleming’s tenure as Atticus remains a little fuzzy, and it’s not always clear which entries he was responsible for. To the powers that be, would it be possible to have an edited volume of Ian Fleming’s ‘Atticus’ containing a selection of his best or most interesting pieces (like this or this) and a precise chronology?
Whatever the answers to these questions, Ian Fleming – The Notes is fascinating read and an essential addition to the Fleming scholar’s library.