Oswald Frederick Snelling, “Freddie” or O.F to his friends, worked in Sotheby’s Rare Book Department and was highly regarded in the rare book trade. He was also a cartoonist, critic, journalist, soldier, and biographer with a particular interest in boxers’ lives. He became Chief Clerk until the firm was closed in 1981.
It was there he met author Ian Fleming, assisting him in research for the James Bond novels. This book also had the distinction of being the only one of this type, personally authorised by Fleming. His work also allowed him to brush up against real-life spies, thanks to his acquaintance with some double-dealing booksellers in cahoots with Russian spy Gordon Lonsdale.
Part of the book’s initial success was that its publication roughly coincided with the death of Fleming in August 1964 and included footnotes discussing the recently issued Bond novel, You Only Live Twice. Snelling however wanted the book to be updated and entitled ‘Double 0 Seven – James Bond Under the Microscope’.
He had a good sense of humor none more so in his opinion of Jill Masterson in Goldfinger:
“She sounds like a nymph to me, but perhaps I am being less than just. After all, it wasn’t any old Tom, Dick or Harry cooped up with her on this cozy journey. I suppose one should make allowances.”
Snelling on Fleming:
“Fleming’s first rate,” he said one night, while sitting with Ronald Payne and his wife in The Sherlock Holmes Pub in London. “Ian loved the thrillers of Eric Ambler and I believe the style and tempo and energy in From Russia, With Love, while it is all Fleming, was clearly inspired by Ambler’s high brow approach to thriller writing.
Fleming was the F. Scott Fitzgerald of thriller writers. He surpassed himself in that book. “Doctor No is also first rate, but it’s a throwback to Sax Rohmer and Dr. Fu Manchu. Fleming and I both loved ‘Dr. Fu,’ as did every other twelve year old English lad, growing up in the 1920s and 30s. I have spent a lot of time in Jamaica – my wife, Molly, is from there – and I can tell you, Ian Fleming gets it right, like no one else I’ve ever read.”
Snelling dismissed the later James Bond films and was especially scathing about The Man With the Golden Gun and Moonraker:
“Fodder for movie moguls, It’s no longer Ian Fleming’s James Bond, but ‘Cubby’ Broccoli’s James Bond 007 – and they are NOT the one and the same.” He would have loved the new Casino Royale, with Daniel Craig, because: “I am only interested in seeing a new Bond film, if it is strictly adapted from Fleming. This ‘space ship stuff’ is for the birds – and the real James Bond, would be the first to agree.
The film of The Man With the Golden Gun, though it was an expensive picture to make, looked cheaply done and all the dead brown colours looked atrocious. Roger Moore gets sillier and sillier. I am only interested in seeing a new Bond film, if it is strictly adapted from Fleming. This ‘space ship stuff’ is for the birds – and the real James Bond, would be the first to agree”
Kingsley Amis, whose own The James Bond Dossier went head to head with Snelling’s remarked:
“I am not known as a modest fellow – or one who hands out undeserved compliments, but Snelling’s book is a patch-up on my Bond-Dossier. His conviction about Bond being ‘one of the livingest heroes in modern fiction,’ says it all. That line alone made me a Snelling fan, as well as a Fleming fan.”
According to the Ronald Payne, who I can attribute much of this source material:
There were more than one hundred letters shared between us. Those letters are sealed and in storage, waiting for the moment when I can get to them. They will be published in full as The James Bond Letters, when I complete O.F. Snelling’s Double 0 Seven – James Bond Under the Microscope, next year.
Regarding James Bond, he said:
Fleming never wrote for the pulps, though ‘The Living Daylights‘ did appear as ‘Berlin Escape’ in Argosy, which was not quite the same thing. The stories that appeared in Playboy, I think ‘The Hildebrand Rarity‘ was one, were really too literary to ever make it into a magazine such as Black Mask. Ian Fleming, one must remember, was influenced not only by writers such as Sax Rohmer, John Buchan, Sapper and Eric Ambler, but also by the spy stories of Somerset Maugham, who was one of Anne Rothermere’s (Mrs. Ian Fleming) best friends. It was to Maugham that Fleming presented one of the first signed copies of Casino Royale. Maugham later replied that he had read ‘all of Casino Royale in one sitting, while lying down in bed.’
After the death of his third wife, Molly, Snelling never recovered from the blow and largely remained a recluse to the end of his life. We can only hope that these letters come to light.