Friday, 30 December 2011

For Maugham's Eyes Only

In an earlier post, I explored the similarities between 'Quantum of Solace', the short story published in Ian Fleming's For Your Eyes Only, and 'The Ambassador', a story by Somerset Maugham that appears in Ashenden. Reading the Ashenden collection in its entirety, it struck me that For Your Eyes Only as a whole is rather 'maughamish' (to use Kingsley Amis' description), and that the complete volume, not just 'Quantum of Solace', could be regarded as a homage to Somerset Maugham.

What is the evidence? The obvious similarity between Ashenden and For Your Eyes Only is that both are a collection of short stories. This form was a departure for Fleming, who had up till the preparation of For Your Eyes Only produced full-length novels. Both also have a sub-title of sorts – 'The British Agent' (Ashenden) and 'Five secret occasions in the life of James Bond'. That said, Fleming doesn't strictly follow the structure of Ashenden, as the stories in Maugham's volume are connected to each other to lesser or greater extents, while those by Fleming are stand-alone.

One of the themes of Ashenden is the morally ambivalent nature of an agent's work. We see this in 'The hairless Mexican', in which Ashenden accompanies an agent to Italy in order to effect an assassination. Then, in 'Flip of a coin', Ashenden decides, on the toss of a coin, whether to authorise an operation which could result in the deaths of innocent people, but be beneficial to the wider aims of the war effort (that is, of the First World War). And in 'The traitor', Ashenden befriends an Englishman and known traitor in Switzerland and contrives to return him to England to face capital punishment.

Moral and ethical dilemmas are found in Fleming's stories too. In the title story, 'For Your Eyes Only', M implicitly orders James Bond to find and kill the man responsible for the death of his friends, the Havelocks. There is no SIS connection – this is to be murder sanctioned by M. In 'The Hildebrand Rarity', Bond, sailing with three companions, finds the dead body of one of the party (a boorish and violent man). He suspects one of the other two, but is sympathetic to their motives and is unlikely to say anything at the coroner's enquiry which would prevent a verdict of death by misadventure.

'The Hildebrand Rarity' joins 'Quantum of Solace' (and in a sense 'For Your Eyes Only') as a story that is not about the Secret Service. The inclusion of stories that are set outside the world of espionage is again reminiscent of Ashenden, which also combines both spy and personal stories. 'The Ambassador' is, of course, a non-spy story, and it joins others, like 'Love and Russian literature', in which Ashenden recalls his past relationship with a member of the Russian intelligentsia, Anastasia Alexandrovna.

With the exception of 'Quantum of Solace', it is unlikely that Ian Fleming set out to imitate Somerset Maugham when he wrote all the stories that would be collected in For Your Eyes Only. For example, 'For Your Eyes Only' and 'Risico' were originally conceived as plots for an aborted TV series. However, the result of the collection, by accident if not by design, is a volume that stands as a whole in tribute to Maugham's Ashenden.

Monday, 19 December 2011

A Bondian Christmas dinner

Bored of the usual turkey? Fancy a change from the traditional trimmings? This year, how about surprising your family and guests with a James Bond-themed Christmas dinner? A flick through the books shows that there's lots of dishes to choose from. Here's what I might cook up this Christmas.

After an aperitif of a vesper, or maybe a bourbon, I'd have to start with caviare. Serve chopped boiled eggs or shallots as accompaniments, and make sure you have plenty of toast to hand. For those who aren't so keen on caviare, you could serve a prawn cocktail, as consumed in The Man with the Golden Gun. Try smoked prawns for a twist to the classic ensemble.

For the main course, I'd stick with a bird of some kind (although beef comes a close second), and almost certainly choose a partridge, one per person. Cook it in a French country style, the way that Bond likes it (On Her Majesty's Secret Service). Season well, cover with bacon, thyme and butter and roast for up to one hour. Simple country fare. Ian Fleming doesn't have much to say about vegetables, so I'd have the standard roast potatoes, carrots and sprouts (for the sprouts, try par-boiling them, then fry them in butter, fresh herbs and a glass or two of champagne – sprouts fit for James Bond).

If you prefer to follow the meal with something lighter than Christmas pudding, then the Bond novels have a few options. Bond likes savoury flavours, so I'd perhaps serve a cheese soufflé, which Bond eats in Goldfinger. If the idea of a soufflé is terrifying (especially on a high-pressure day like Christmas Day), try angels on horseback (Dr No) instead. Wrap each oyster (for convenience, use tinned smoked oysters) with a strip of bacon, season, and gently fry. For something sweet and more exotic, and with a taste of Jamaica, you can't beat guavas and coconut cream, which Bond eats in Live and Let Die. For an extra-special Christmas treat, serve coconut sorbet, rather than cream.

Recipes for everything mentioned here (except the sprouts) can be found in my book, Licence to Cook. But whatever you eat this Christmas, have yourself a very Bondian Christmas.

Friday, 9 December 2011

A real-life James Bond

He was an Old Etonian who spent his war years with the Secret Intelligence Service in Malta and Italy. After 1945 he was posted to Vienna where he was appointed SIS station head. In a long career, he served successively as station head at Berlin, Bonn and Beirut. Throughout his life he was a devoted skier. He learnt to ski in 1916 aged 2, and he captained the British skiing team in the 1936 Winter Olympics. During his retirement, he returned each year to Mürren in Switzerland.

War-hero, skier, spy. Peter Lunn, who died in November aged 97, could have been the model for James Bond. I don’t know whether Ian Fleming knew him, but I wonder whether Peter Lunn made his mark on the world of 007 in another way.

One of Peter Lunn’s achievements while working for SIS was to pioneer the excavation and use of tunnels to allow the intelligence service to eavesdrop on the KGB. In Vienna, he arranged for tunnels to be dug which would intercept communication cables between the Soviet embassy and the city’s airport. The operation lasted from 1948 to 1951. In Berlin in 1955, a tunnel was excavated deep into East Germany and enabled Soviet communications to be tapped. The ruse was exposed in 1956, but not before years’ worth of useful material had been gained.

Given the success of the tunnelling operations, what must SIS chiefs have thought when they turned to chapter 16 of From Russia, with Love (1957) and read a description of a tunnel extending from SIS Station T in Istanbul to the Soviet embassy? The details do not match entirely – Fleming’s tunnel allows Kerim Bey to physically spy on the Russians with the use of a periscope, rather than to tap their communication cables – but the general idea is the same.

At this time, Ian Fleming still had connections in the intelligence community, and it is possible that he heard of Peter Lunn’s tunnels and thought it worth adapting for his latest novel. If so, then, to paraphrase M in his obituary of James Bond in You Only Live Twice, if the degree of the description's veracity had been any higher, Fleming would certainly have been prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

The ship that Fleming dug

As an archaeologist, I've long been fascinated by Ian Fleming's brushes with archaeology. He attempted, for instance, to explore the prehistoric caves of the Pyrenees with the French caver Norbert Casteret, and metal-detected the grounds of Creake Abbey in Norfolk. These would form the basis of articles for the Sunday Times. For his most exciting adventure, though, Fleming dived with Jacques-Yves Cousteau to excavate an ancient wreck in the Mediterranean off the coast of Marseilles.

In 1954, Ann Fleming noted that 'Ian was to write of Commandant Cousteau who was exploring the wreck of a Greek trading vessel off the coast. Cousteau's ship was in harbour listing to one side with its weight of amphorae and other terracotta objects strewn on the deck'. She adds that diving to the depth required was difficult for Fleming and that he suffered headaches from the pressure for days afterwards.

The wreck that Fleming explored was in fact two Roman ships, one superimposed on the other. They lay at a depth of 32-45m off the north-east point of Grand Congloué, a small island south of Marseilles. Cousteau directed the underwater excavation, financed by the Campagne Océanographiques françaises and supported by the Director of Antiquities of Marseilles, between 1952 and 1957. His floating base for the excavation was his research ship, the Calypso.

Both wrecks were trading vessels or merchantmen. The lower vessel sunk in the late 2nd century BC. It was carrying at least 450 amphorae, among them Greco-Italic and Rhodian amphorae that both contained wine. Some of the amphorae were stamped with the name of a merchant, Ti. Q. Iuventus. The ship's cargo also included some 7000 pieces of Campanian pottery, fine tableware from the Pompeii region of Italy. The upper vessel foundered on the rocks about a century later. It was dated to the 1st century BC and carried a cargo of about 1200 Italian wine amphorae (the so-called Dressel 1A type) from Campania. Stamps on the vessels show that these were being traded by members of the prominent Sestius family.

When Fleming dived down to the wrecks, he had already written Live and Let Die, and so the details of Blackbeard's treasure and James Bond's underwater activities could not have been inspired by Cousteau's excavation. However, in Moonraker (1955), as Bond gazes out into the English Channel from the Kentish coast, Fleming tells us that Julius Caesar landed there 2000 years ago, a remark that possibly reflects Fleming's recently-boosted interest in the past. And in Thunderball (1961), descriptions of Bond's scuba-diving and underwater pursuit of Largo, complete with technical details about his equipment, has an authenticity that derives from Fleming's own experiences, which doubtless included diving with Cousteau.


Amory, M (ed.), 1985 The letters of Ann Fleming, Collins Harvill
Benoit, F, 1961 L'épave du Grand Congloué a Marseille, XIVe Supplément à Gallia
Lycett, A, 1996 Ian Fleming, Phoenix
Rauh, N K, 2003 Merchants, sailors and pirates in the Roman world, Tempus