We are delighted to bring Nigel West in from cold and ask him a few questions about his Historical Dictionary of Ian Fleming’s World of Intelligence.
This book, published in 2009, is a chronology of hundreds of cross-referenced dictionary entries on actual cases of espionage, real-life spies, MI5, SIS, CIA, KGB, and more. It also contains entries on Ian Fleming‘s novels and short stories, family and friends, his employers and colleagues, and other notable characters helping to answer the question: what proportion of his output is authentic, and what comes directly from the author’s imagination?
1. Why did you decide to write the Ian Fleming Historical Dictionary?
I originally intended to write a book entitled 007: Fact and Fiction because I was constantly encountering the Fleming mythology and individuals alleged to be themodel for James Bond, The turning-point was when I read Phyllis Bottome‘s The Life-Line, and saw that Mark Chalmers was Fleming, and than he had then turned Chalmers into Bond. This had been missed by Fleming’s three biographers who had notspotted the link with Ernan Forbes Dennis.
2. How accurate is the tradecraft in Fleming’s Bond novels?
3. Is there any evidence to suggest that Fleming might have known about Kim Philby’s Soviet ties as a possible double agent?
Kim Philby was not a “double agent”. He was a Soviet spy who happened to be a British intelligence officer. That does not make him a double agent (which is a very specific role for which Philby would only qualify if his true allegiance was actually to the British).
4. Do you think Fleming wrote Casino Royale in part as a reaction to the Burgess and Maclean Cambridge Spy scandal?
Possibly, but the chronology does not support the idea. Burgess and Maclean were not confirmed as spies or defectors until they gave a press conference in Moscow in 1954… after the publication of Casino Royale. In the meantime, from their disappearance in May 1951, there had only been speculation about their true role and motivation as their whereabouts were unknown.
5. Do you have a favorite Bond novel and why?
From Russia with Love because it contains so much authentic detail and the plot is loosely based on fact. Discussion of a Soviet defectors suggests a knowledge of the Gouzenko and Volkov cases.
Nigel is an author of security and intelligence issues and was voted ‘The Experts’ Expert’ by a panel of other spy writers in The Observer in November 1989.
He is a frequent speaker at intelligence seminars and has lectured at both the KGB headquarters in Dzerzhinsky Square, Moscow and at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, where he once addressed an audience that included the Soviet spy Aldrich Ames.
According to The Sunday Times: ‘His information is often so precise that many people believe he is the unofficial historian of the secret services. His books are peppered with deliberate clues to potential front-page stories’
Visit Nigel West’s website
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Watch Nigel’s keynote speech at the Raleigh Spy Conference 2009
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It’s worth noting also that before Philby fled however, Ian Fleming himself visited Beirut, arriving in November 1960 on his way to Kuwait, where he had been commissioned to write the official history of the Gulf emirate by the Kuwait Oil Company. In Beirut he me up with his friend and MI6 contact Nichoals Elliot, who was Philby’s ‘best friend’ in the Service.
According to Fleming biographer Andrew Lycett,
“…Elliot was delighted to see him. Their conversation ranged over a variety of intelligence-related topics, including Kim Philby, a key participant in the Missing Diplomats affair, who had been working in Beirut as a newspaperman since 1956.”
Philby was also responsible for MI-6 counter-intelligence for the Iberian peninsula – Spain and Portugal, which includes Gibralta, for which Fleming was given the responsibility of planning the defense of for the Admirality, a plan he codenamed “Goldeneye”.
It’s quite possible their paths crossed a few times.