You Only Live Twice was published in the UK on 16 March 1964, by Jonathan Cape and cost sixteen shillings. There were 62,000 pre-orders for the book, a significant increase over the 42,000 advance orders for the hardback first edition of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Richard Chopping, cover artist for The Spy Who Loved Me, was engaged for the design.
On 17 July 1963, Michael Howard of Jonathan Cape had written to Chopping about the artwork, saying:
“I have had a talk with Ian about the ideas for the ingredients of this design. He is very much in favour of the toad … but with a suitable array of oriental embellishrangment, i.e. toad plus Japanese flower arrangements, which he thinks should be sitting in a suitable piece of Japanese pottery, perhaps ornamented with a dragon motif. If you could manage a pink dragonfly sitting on the flowers, and perhaps just one epicanthic eye peering through them he thinks that will be just splendid…and try to get that deep red glow that one sees burning in their eyes at twilight.”
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. After being stung by nettles, scratched by thistles and brambles and “bitten by every conceivable kind of pestilential fly” his companion (Denis Wirth-Miller) eventually admitted to him that they were looking in the wrong place.
Chopping eventually found a toad with an “authentic red glow in its eye” and it is this toad that malevolently stares out from the cover of the novel at readers, ready to devour the beautiful dragonfly victim held captive in its grasp. The artist recalled he had to be careful that the toad would not hop on the painting while he was creating it. He writes amusingly to an editor at Cape about his adventures capturing a toad of “extraordinary malevolent appearance” to pose for the cover.
Michael Howard added:
‘If in difficulties over toads there is a place in Camden Town which supplies almost any live creature to order, so maybe they could help. I think you would probably need to keep one to sit for you to ensure the right degree of inflation. Any dead ones I’ve ever seen looked awfully flat.’
In his reply Chopping wrote:
‘I decided it might be quicker (which it hasn’t been) and more interesting (which it certainly has been) to try to trap the toad myself. I therefore up the Colchester Natural History-Museum curator who broke the terrible news to me that for various reasons, known and unknown, the frog and toad population of these islands has very much diminished and that toads have now become extremely rare.’
He described a day-long expedition armed with tins, rubber boots and a substantial picnic to try to find a toad:
‘We pressed on, hidden quite often by high reeds, stung by nettles, scratched by thistles and brambles, bitten by every conceivable kid of pestilential fly, until my companion admitted after about a mile that we were in the wrong place.’
After buying two ounces of meal worms to keep the toad alive, Chopping attempted to draw it:
‘I have done 16 drawings of it in the last hour as it waltzed around a saucer lined with wet blotting paper under a Victorian glass dome, and set on a revolving table so that I can attempt to get it back to the position I have started on.’
Towards the end of the letter to Howard, he became more businesslike:
‘I don’t know now what to do about Ian and the American fee. You have made me feel rather guilty (not a difficult thing to do) and alarmed about his state of health. I shall probably leave it for the moment and then in the end do nothing about it. I am sorry if it complicates matters for you if I insist on retaining the copyright but I do want to do so.’
The flower is a chrysanthemum, which is particularly associated with Japan, the Emperor having adopted it as his official seal in the 8th century. The background also has a more Asian feel the traditional wood having been replaced by bamboo.
Chopping’s fee rose to 300 guineas for the cover, a rise from the 250 guineas he received for The Spy Who Loved Me.
[Extracts from: Ben Williams, “Beauty and Death” mi6 confidential, January, 2012.]