This week, we are especially happy to welcome Dr. Wesley Britton, whose multi-talents include a successful teaching and writing career. However, it’s his writing and research on Bondology that’s the reason he’s here and in the following interview, Wesley unravels some of the mysteries behind the original Per Fine Ounce, O.F Snelling and his thoughts on literary James Bond.
1. What drew you to investigate the original ‘lost’ Per Fine Ounce Bond novel and what did you uncover?
Your readers likely already know much of the story. Two gents I knew were interested in tracking down the missing Geoffrey Jenkins manuscript—a friend named Ron Payne* and researcher Jeremy Duns. Jeremy was the one who did the best investigative work on what might have been in the book and what happened to it and I hope his excellent articles are still available online. [Editor’s note: Duns on Bond Omnibus]
*Ronald Payne passed away on April 2, 2015.
Likewise, Ron talked with the folks at Ian Fleming Publications about whether or not they still had a copy in their files. No. It seems clear someone at Glidrose—the name of the Fleming rights’ holders before they became Ian Fleming Publications—rejected Per Fine Ounce and returned the manuscript to Jenkins. The unanswerable questions at their end will likely remain just who at Glidrose made this call and why they found the book unacceptable. Was it Fleming’s widow who didn’t like the idea of continuation novels to begin with? Peter Fleming? So why did they go with Kingsley Amis instead? There’s apparently no written record to confirm anything.
Along with a partner, Ron Payne then became the literary agent for the Geoffrey Jenkins Estate. They had several goals in mind—to get the already published Jenkins novels back in print, to find an author to write sequels to the Commander Geoffrey Peace novels (A Twist of Sand, Hunter Killer), and dig into the family archives to find any trace of PFO. In 2009, they re-issued the Jenkins’ canon via iUniverse. At the same time, they found 18 pages of what was in Per Fine Ounce which essentially describes a scene of Bond resigning from MI6 to go on a mission on his own.
They then found another South African author [Peter Vollmer] to scribe a potential sequel to the Geoffrey Peace novels that would be titled Per Fine Ounce and ostensibly use the 18 pages and change the character names. [Editor’s note: Interview with Peter Vollmer coming on March 1]
I have one speculation that has been in the back of my mind. Jeremy Duns proposed that Jenkins perhaps cannibalized portions of Per Fine Ounce in other books involving diamond smuggling, but it seems tough to match up anything in other Jenkins thrillers with a Bond-like diamond story.
Now, in 1966, Jenkins published Hunter Killer, a sequel to his highly regarded A Twist of Sand starring Commander Peace. However, despite the use of the same character, the two books couldn’t be more dissimilar. ‘Sand is a vivid, gripping adventure well worth reading now. Fleming himself praised it, but it’s worth noting you’d expect nothing less from Fleming as he was a colleague and friend of Jenkins. After all, the roots of Per Fine Ounce began when Fleming and Jenkins discussed setting a Bond story in South Africa, Jenkins’ home turf.
But Hunter Killer, is a preposterous Cold War yarn with Peace doing something of a 007 imitation. It has nothing to do with diamonds at all, but I wonder if the book was an attempt by Jenkins to prove to Glidrose that he could indeed whip up a good 007 story. But if Hunter Killer, was anything like PFO, there could have been very legitimate literary reasons for Glidrose rejecting PFO, at least in my opinion.
I have absolutely nothing to support my theory other than the timing. Certainly, Jenkins had Bond in mind that year. If you read much of the Jenkins canon, it’s easy to see how this book doesn’t fit in well with his other often excellent jungle and sea adventures. Jenkins was a cracking good thriller writer, but few of his novels had anything to do with spies. So, in terms of the story of PFO, we got nothing but mysteries . . . a true cold (war) case.
2. How did you come into contact with O.F. Snelling and where does his book stand in the canon of literary Bond criticism?
I never contacted Snelling myself—that was Ron Payne again. He had been Snelling’s literary executor and spent many years trying to find a publisher for Snelling’s updated version of the book that New American Library titled James Bond: A Report. Ron had in his possession the revised Double-O-Seven Under the Microscope —the title Snelling preferred—but could find no publisher interested in it while Snelling was still alive.
Eventually, Ron decided to make the book available at my website as a PDF along with other material he had in his files. He sent me a ton of letters Snelling had sent him over the years, and I edited the material down and posted what I thought might interest Bond fans. I rather doubted most readers would have cared about all the very personal exchanges between Ron and Snelling. In addition, Ron had a copy of an essay Snelling had written about Dornford Yates that had only appeared in a professional periodical of a very limited readership. We also posted that at my website for those curious about the “Clubland” writers. I admit changing the title to “The Disagreeable Dornford Yates” as that seemed to fit the article.
As to the value of Snelling’s Bond book, I think it has a very significant place in the history of literary analysis of Fleming’s work. For one matter, it was the only such work written with the blessing of Fleming himself. For another, it was the first of its kind, although Kingsley Amis’s James Bond Dossier wasn’t far behind. One aspect I like about Snelling’s MICROSCOPE is when it was written, that is it came out just as the Bond boom was in its infancy and the Fleming canon was not yet complete. It reflects the tastes and interest of the times and so was an extremely fresh exploration of the elements and themes of the novels.
As the years have gone by and book after book, article after article have continued to pump out, the contexts have widened and many perspectives have been published with specific agendas. Many books have a thesis of one kind or another, using Fleming to demonstrate one view or another about popular culture, geopolitics, etc. Snelling had none of that—perhaps an “appreciation” of the books is the best term for his study. The books themselves and nothing but the books themselves.
3. What is your assessment of the continuations novels since Fleming’s death?
Well, I admit having read them all and remember none of them. I thought Colonel Sun [Kingsley Amis] kicked off with a great premise but meandered after the set-up. Gardner had his own flavor, but it was obvious he was stuck in the “frozen in time” format which made the stories a bit artificial. Benson not only had that constraint, but also had the directive to make the books more like the movies. To be honest, I liked the [John] Gardner and [Raymond] Benson film novelizations better, especially Tomorrow Never Dies, as we got the added interest in seeing how the authors could develop the scripts into longer and more multi-dimensional stories.
I’ve enjoyed the post-Benson books well enough, but found them pretty much one-time, disposable thrillers.
4. Who do you think are the true heirs to Ian Fleming today?
I think spy fiction has changed so much since the ’60s, trying to say any serious author is an heir to anyone would diminish what they’ve created. In fact, whenever I see something similar to “in the spirit of James Bond” or the like in a press release, I’m immediately suspicious. In these days of self-publishing, it seems anyone with a keyboard can whip out a watered-down, formulaic story and claim it’s in the tradition of Ian Fleming. The best spy fiction stands up on its own merits.
That being said, espionage-oriented authors I’ve liked this decade include Alex Lukeman, Nicholas Anderson, Peter Borchard, Preston Fleming (no relation), Michael Pennington, Charles Cumming, and Roderick Vincent.
5. What is your favorite Bond novel and why?
I have to pick three—Doctor No (the first I read), From Russia, With Love (the one with the most depth), and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I don’t think it’s any mystery the best Bond films were based on the best novels, so we’d need to add Goldfinger (sorry, a case where the film was better than the novel), and Thunderball, although that one can’t fairly be considered a total Fleming creation.
For what it’s worth, what I miss most from those days was Bond’s ongoing duel with Blofeld and SPECTRE. For example, both From Russia, With Love and Thunderball gave Bond’s enemies a scope beyond one megalomaniac and his threats. When Daniel Craig came along, I rather hoped Quantum would be the new SPECTRE with a new continuing nemesis for Bond. Didn’t work out that way—well, I digress.
6. Can you share a bit about your books, especially Beyond Bond: Spies in Fiction and Film?
Well, it all began when I looked over my office and realized I had a shelf of books on TV spy shows, but no one had written a book exploring the genre as a whole. I saw an opportunity, and began building the middle chapters that dealt with the big hits of the ’60s, THE AVENGERS, THE SAINT, MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., DANGER MAN etc.
Then I began researching the shows of the 1950s going back to 1951. Then I worked on exploring the series from the ’70s through 2001. A very thematic approach developed as each decade demonstrated different qualities—the quasi-realism of the ’50s, the super-hero series of the ’70s, the down-to-earth emphasis of the ’80s, and so on. Thus SPY TELEVISION was published in 2003.
After that, I decided to try my hand at writing a book that worked with the same thematic flow blending what had transpired in both spy literature and the cinema from the beginning of the 20th century to the present. This was a seriously pleasurable project as I had to track down often rare books and DVDs and explore how espionage popped up in unexpected places, such as the Zorro books and films. Once again, I discovered how trends and popular tastes shifted and changed over time, sometimes with an emphasis on Spy-Fi trappings, sometimes very historical efforts, sometimes realistic uses of espionage to delve into the human condition, sometimes pure thrills and chills. I admit it was the publisher who came up with the title—BEYOND BOND—as they figured getting 007 in the title would help sales. Well, there’s much about Fleming and the continuation novelists, many of the imitators, as well as the films to make that title honest. Looking back, I’m amazed at everything I got into one tome.
Then, I realized I had much more to say about spy movies. I’d found two excellent research books that were laid out like encyclopedias, and I used them to start another book with a thematic flow. I really had fun with the silent films—did you know the first spy film series ever made were the “Girl Spy” silents which featured a Confederate operative penetrating enemy lines produced back in 1904? I enjoyed exploring the World War II era as well which had some better-than-average stories along with the obvious propaganda productions. That became ONSCREEN AND UNDERCOVER: THE ULTIMATE BOOK OF MOVIE ESPIONAGE. That was a title I felt was a tad hyperbolic, to put it mildly.
Finally, I looked back over these three tomes and knew each had one big problem. They were all published by Praeger Publishers, and that company priced their books for libraries, not the average reader. Whatever reviewers and critics said, I wasn’t going to sell cartloads of books, even at book signings at the International Spy Museum.
So I compiled THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF TV SPIES for a different publisher and it was designed for the everyday book buyer. No, it wasn’t a rehash of SPY TELEVISION. For one thing, I had many corrections to make. For another, online research opportunities had opened up greatly since SPY TV, so I was able to find many more resources than I had before. New series had aired, I learned about many British and Canadian series I had missed the first time around, and, well, as always there are tons of footnotes to demonstrate all the new research. Looking back on it all, I wonder why my wife didn’t commit me. She started introducing me by saying,
“This is my husband, a man known by many, paid by few.“
Sometime, I really ought to re-read these books. I know I’ve forgotten half the stuff. .
Dr. Wesley Britton is the author of SPY TELEVISION (2003), BEYOND BOND: SPIES IN FICTION AND FILM (2005), ONSCREEN AND UNDERCOVER: THE ULTIMATE BOOK OF MOVIE ESPIONAGE (2006), and THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF TV SPIES (2009). Many of his spy-oriented articles and reviews are posted at his website, www.spywise.net. Other items were posted at sites like CommanderBond.net, Dr. Shatterhand’s Botanical Garden, Cinema Retro, BookPleasures.com, and Leslie Charteris.com.
Dr. Britton teaches English at Harrisburg Area Community College, now writes reviews on new music and DVD releases, and conducts interviews with musicians, entertainment insiders, and authors for the online radio show, DAVE WHITE PRESENTS. His guests have included the likes of George Lazenby, Vic Flick, and Raymond Benson.
The James Bond Files (Spywise.net)