Novelist, poet, critic, teacher and professional drinker Kingsley Amis‘ contribution to the James Bond franchise, cannot be overlooked. His enthusiasm for Bond and his many arguments in defense of Bond and Ian Fleming against criticism found various literary avenues, not to mention the marvelous first bond continuation novel after Fleming’s death, Colonel Sun.
Amis on Fleming:
“Ian Fleming has set his stamp on the story of action and intrigue, bringing to it a sense of our time, a power and a flair that will win him readers when all the protests about his supposed deficiencies have been forgotten. He leaves no heirs.”
On continuation authors, Kingers did not mince words:
On John Gardner’s License Renewed, the book was “So sodding tame” and Gardner “can’t write exciting stories.” Later, Amis was to say the novel “was bad enough by any reasonable standard.”.
On Gardner’s For Special Services, Amis writes:
What makes Mr Gardner’s book so hard to read is not so much its endlessly silly story as its desolateness, its lack of the slightest human interest or warmth.
Amis was also involved in a rare screenplay for an unproduced movie based on Ian Fleming’s Diamond Smugglers that was sold at auction this fall. The movie project had remained obscure and lost to the public for decades, until author Jeremy Duns (Dead Drop, Paul Dark series) spotted a reference in The Letters of Kingsley Amis about a Fleming script.
The James Bond Dossier
Prior to the death of Ian Fleming, he set out to write a modestly-sized essay of about 5,000 words that critically analyzed Ian Fleming’s James Bond works. This modestly-sized essay ballooned into a full length non-fiction book and was finally released on May 27, 1965, one month after the release of Fleming’s posthumous James Bond novel, The Man with the Golden Gun.
Ian Fleming himself had this to say about it:
‘Intelligent, perceptive and of course to me, highly entertaining.’
This book is altogether quite an intellectual read, stuffed with literary references and well-thought out arguments. You could argue, never since repeated to such a degree. It’s the kind of book you can read a few times and catch something new. He also had a lot to say about the perceived sexism of Bond and treated the issue fairly. He remarked that:
‘Bond’s attitude to women in mass is not respectable‘ but went on to say ‘Some readers will find the christening policy [of Bond girl names] insidiously demoralizing, others simply funny. I myself just relax and enjoy it, a policy that bearers of the names would surely endorse.’
It goes into more depth about Fleming and sadism, science fiction, and even has a quick reference section in the back where Amis also remarks on all the books. Here are a few pithy examples:
You Only Live Twice: ‘Horrific and haunting in a way none of the others are, but travel book material intrudes’
Quantum of Solace: ‘A Maughamish anecdote recanted to Bond. Not a secret service story.’
Thunderball: Masterly handling of implausible material. Full of ‘Fleming Effect”
A View To A Kill: ‘Ingenious and compressed.’
Moonraker: Best villain. Little sex. Ending rather hurried.
The Book of Bond Or Every Man His Own 007
Later in 1965, Amis published his second non-fiction James Bond book, The Book of Bond or, Every Man His Own 007 a tongue-in-cheek manual for perspective secret agents on how to live and do the job as James Bond 007 would. This book was written under the pseudonym of Lt.-Col William (“Bill”) Tanner, M’s chief of staff. Kingers has advice on how to drink like 007 and even some advice for would-be Bond girls. Take note:
What sort of drinker is a 007? Your daily intake should stay round half a bottle of spirits. This is adequately devil-may-care without being sodden. If you divide the half bottle into say, two doubles before lunch, three before dinner and three after, you should run no risk of getting drunk. This you must never be, though you may have to act it if you should want to clobber a cardsharping clubman for $15,000.
The policy here is to accept gracefully what you’re offered rather than to have ideas of your own. When you do choose your own meal, be expensive, go for caviar, wild strawberries, etc. You know how to make mayonnaise and sauce béarnaise, but in general you stay out of the kitchen […] Keep your mouth shut about drink, 007s are opinionated on the topic.
Christopher Hitchens on Kingsley Amis’ The Book of Bond:
‘Well, it comes out of Kingsley’s general feeling that Ian Fleming was greatly underrated as a writer. […] He was very eager to defend Fleming from what he thought was sort of snobbish charges and said that he was a great writer and that Bond was a terrific character. I mean I’m sure a lot of men are drawn to the idea partly, as it were, by the women. And Kingsley points out that Bond on an average trip, let’s say, in the course of an average adventure, never does better than one girl.
He goes on to say, rather soberingly, is just about what an English businessman of average attraction and income might hope for on an average business trip. […] It’s just a rather dispiriting way, perhaps, of deflating the Bond mystique. But on the other hand, there are always interesting hints and tips on how to mix a proper cocktail, how to tell whether your vodka is too oily’
A tongue-in-cheek work, published by the same company that issued the Bond novels, the first hardcover edition of this book was published with a false slipcover printed with the title The Bible to be Read as Literature on the inside, so you could read the book ‘incognito’.
In September 1965, Kingsley was offered the opportunity to write his own Bond story – “an honour to have been selected to follow in the footsteps of Ian Fleming…a great popular writer” he wrote in the essay, ‘A New James Bond’ (collected inWhat Became Of Jane Austen?) – and that month set off for a holiday in Greece in order to scout locations.
Shortly afterwards, in 1966, official Bond publisher Glidrose Productions Ltd. commissioned novelist Geoffrey Jenkins to also write a Bond novel. Set in South Africa, the story was based on an idea that Fleming had discussed with his friend Jenkins, but the resulting Per Fine Ounce was rejected in the end. And so, Colonel Sun became the first James Bond adventure after Fleming’s passing.
The book begins with Bond feeling like he’s getting too soft, a typical opening of some of Fleming’s books such as Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Thunderball and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. There is a golf game at Sunningdale with Bill Tanner and then all hell breaks loose with the kidnapping of M, a nasty torture scene reminiscent of Casino Royale, perhaps outweighing it. Overall, a great effort but with surprisingly little sex from old devil Kingsley.
What Became of Jane Austen?
Kingsley Amis’s What Became of Jane Austen?, published by Jonathan Cape in 1970. It’s a collection of Amis’s essays and criticism, mostly – although not exclusively – on literary matters. But there are two essays in particular which are pertinent both to the preoccupations of this blog and my wider preoccupations.
The first of those is a 1968 piece – and its three addenda – titled “A New James Bond“. Amis goes on full-attack mode against the criticism of Fleming and Bond.
“Bond emerges from their [the critics] treatment as a frightening snob, a ceaseless fornicator and a brutal scourge of the weak and helpless; these are the principal charges. Although you will probably not believe me when I tell you, none of them has any substance.
Not once, in the twelve novels and eight stories, does Bond or his creator come anywhere near judging a character by his or her social standing. We hear a good deal about high living and the elegant scene at Blades Club, but that is a different matter; at worst, harmless vulgarity. The practice of fornication in itself is not enough, these days, to brand a man as a monster, but then perhaps Bond goes at it too hard, weaves a compensation-fantasy for author and reader, is on a wish-fulfilment deal and all that. I myself could see no harm in this even if it were true, but it is not. One girl per trip, Bond’s average, is not excessive for a personable heterosexual bachelor, and his powers of performance would not rate the briefest of footnotes in Kinsey. It is true that all the girls are pretty and put up little resistance to Bond’s advances, and this may help to explain his unpopularity with those critics who find it difficult to seduce even very ugly girls.”
Sir Kingsley William Amis, CBE (16 April 1922 – 22 October 1995) was an English novelist, poet, critic, and teacher. He wrote more than 20 novels, six volumes of poetry, a memoir, various short stories, radio and television scripts, along with works of social and literary criticism. According to his biographer, Zachary Leader, Amis was “the finest English comic novelist of the second half of the twentieth century.” He was the father of British novelist Martin Amis.
Watch ‘A look at ‘The Book of Bond’ by Kingsley Amis‘ by David Leigh
Listen to a short clip of Christopher Hitchens discussing Kingsley Amis’ ‘Book of Bond’