Ian Fleming’s Seven ‘Deadlier’ Sins: HYPOCRISY

In his foreword to the book The Seven Deadly Sins, published in 1962; Fleming declared that the traditional seven deadly sins — PRIDE, ENVY, ANGER, SLOTH [accidie], COVETOUSNESS, GLUTTONY and LUSTwere no longer sufficient. Thereupon, he proposed seven deadlier sins more worthy of a one way ticket to Hell, which were:


This month, Edward Biddulph examines HYPOCRISY.


Hypocrisy. Defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘the practice of claiming to have higher standards or beliefs than is the case.‘ Or to put it another way, not practising what you preach.

It’s an accusation we often level at role models or those in positions of authority. Any internet search for hypocrisy will bring up a list of the usual suspects: media commentators, politicians, celebrities and religious organisations. We all could be hypocrites, but inevitably it’s the people in the glare of the public eye whose sinning seems deadlier. Were these the people who Fleming had in mind when he included hypocrisy in his list of the seven deadlier sins?

It’s hard to tell from his James Bond novels. As deadly as Ian Fleming considers it, hypocrisy is not a sin that has an obvious place in the Bond books. There is no incident or character that illustrates the sin quite as clearly as Goldfinger represents avarice, another of Fleming’s deadlier sins, or Blofeld in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service exemplifies snobbery. And while, technically, all Bond villains are hypocrites, because in order to achieve their nefarious goals, they must deceive and put on a pretence of honesty, I’m minded to rule most of them out of the running. For me there has to be an element of cognitive dissonance. The true hypocrites are those who do not recognise that their behaviour or beliefs contradict the (high) values that they espouse.

So while we could call Goldfinger a hypocrite for chastising Bond for drinking and smoking – activities which in his view are “against nature” – while planning to murder thousands of people with nerve gas and set off an atomic weapon, we ought to discount Moonraker‘s Sir Hugo Drax, because pretending to be a patriotic Englishman while intending to target London with a missile is all part of his grand plan of revenge.

PrattIn his book, Ian Fleming’s Deadlier Sins & 007’s Moral Compass (Read the Spirit, 2007), Benjamin Pratt offers Diamonds are Forever as Fleming’s cautionary tale of hypocrisy, but the case is not wholly convincing. Even if we were to accept Pratt’s thesis that the Bond books were written as modern parables to illustrate Fleming’s deadlier sins, readers might well finish the book without any notion that it was about hypocrisy. At least On Her Majesty’s Secret Service mentions snobbery. Maybe that’s the point; like many parables, the story might have been deliberately opaque to encourage readers to examine and interpret the text to reveal its truth. Somehow I can’t imagine Ian Fleming wanting to make his readers work so hard, or even, for that matter, wanting to make himself work so hard to construct such a tale.

That said, Diamonds are Forever isn’t without its hypocrisy. Benjamin Pratt is right to point to the hypocrisy of its villains, the Spang brothers, who lead double lives. There’s the respectable public one, which operates as the House of Diamonds out of a plush office in Hatton Gardens, the centre of London’s diamond trade, and a jewellery store on 46th Street, New York. Then there’s the Spangs’ somewhat grimier business – smuggling, racketeering and brutal violence. Perhaps the Spangs really believe they are respectable diamond merchants whose dodgier practices are justified. But for Benjamin Pratt, the Spangs’ hypocrisy shines through as brilliantly as a fine blue-white diamond.

Nevertheless, Ian Fleming perhaps offers a better tale of hypocrisy. The Spy Who Loved Me sees its heroine, Vivienne Michel, in New York State, minding the Dreamy Pines motor court while she waits for its owner’s representatives to arrive and close up the business at the end of the tourist season. As a storm rages outside, she recalls the misfortunes in her life that led her there. It is a past with hypocrites at every turn. There are the nuns and a Catholic community of Quebec, whose ‘Christian’ values included social ostracism when Vivienne had had enough of the stifling piety and religious dogma of the Ursuline convent and returned to her aunt. Then there is the hypocrisy of Miss Threadgold’s finishing school, Astor House that turned out ‘ladies’ who bullied and teased and tortured Vivienne for being different.

The Spy Who Loved MeAnd then Vivienne met Derek. He was charming and smart and full of savoir-faire. How could Vivienne not fall for him? After all, Vivienne reasoned, Derek was the product of a public school that teaches boys about how to behave (does Vivienne learn nothing from Astor House?). When Derek proclaimed his love for Vivienne and suggested that they behaved like lovers to “sort of” marry them, Vivienne believed his love was genuine. But the break-up letter that Vivienne received after their ‘marriage’ on the banks of the Thames exposed Derek’s cruel hypocrisy as his true intentions become clear. Vivienne had been no more than a summer fling, used to rid Derek of the last vestige of boyhood before he went up to Oxford.

Kurt, and more hypocrisy, followed. Kurt sought friendship from Vivienne, speaking of comradeship. But it was a relationship that had no sense of equality or respect that comradeship might imply. Kurt’s influence turned Vivienne’s tenacious journalist into a “docile Hausfrau”. Kurt spoke of correctness of behaviour, but offered little of it himself, as he coldly sent Vivienne away to Zürich to end a pregnancy for which he accepted no responsibility.

So now lodged at the Dreamy Pines motor court, Vivienne looks for refuge. She finds none, and instead walks into a terrifying ordeal as the motel owner’s goons, Sluggsy and Horror try to torch the place and have their ‘fun’ with Vivienne. But before then, she meets yet another hypocrite. Not Jed Phancey, the motel manager, who presses Vivienne with unwelcome advances and lewd suggestions, but his wife, Millicent. She maintains a good-natured, kindly and wholesome front, and is seemingly unaware of her husband’s wandering eye (and hands). But she knows, and condones, reassuring Jed as they leave the motel for good that he can work out his urges on West Street, presumably an area of prostitution.

270px-Vivienne_Michel_ProfileIs there any hypocrisy about James Bond’s actions?

He gives comfort and solace to Vivienne and she falls in love with him. But in the morning after, he is gone, leaving Vivienne with bitter sweet memories and a goodbye letter on the dressing table. Bond’s no better than Derek, surely. At least we saw it coming. Bond’s relationship with Vivienne follows a pattern of intense, but fleeting relationships familiar from his other adventures.

Maybe there is a difference, though. Even before that morning Vivienne knows that no woman would ever hold that man. And Bond has an awareness that Derek and Kurt lacked. In Casino Royale, he accepts that his relationship with women is hypocritical, and tries to change. After all, he married Tracy, and before then considered marriage on two other occasions. But Bond is honest. Deep down he knows he isn’t the marrying kind. As he admits at the end of The Man with the Golden Gun, love from a woman is like a room with a view – the same view would always pall.

The Spy Who Loved Me can be seen as a study of hypocrisy. But does it contain the sort of hypocrisies that prompted Fleming to put the sin on his deadlier list? It seems not. In an article published in The Spectator in October 1959 in which he set out, no doubt with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek, his manifesto should he become Prime Minister, Ian Fleming proposed turning the Isle of Wight into a ‘pleasuredome’ of gambling and brothels, thus ridding the country of the hypocrisy which he felt characterised its laws on gambling and sex and burdened its citizens with sin and shame.


Herbert O Yardley

Fleming had evidently put much thought into the matter, and indeed had expanded his views in his introduction to Herbert O Yardley’s The Education of a Poker Player, published by Jonathan Cape in the same year. He pointed to the hypocrisy of the law which allowed millions of people to gamble on the football pools, the premium bonds or on horse-racing, but forbade them to play poker for money. “Hypocritical balderdash,” was his judgement.

And in Thrilling Cities (Cape, 1963), Fleming returned to hypocritical attitudes towards sex. Visiting Hamburg, he was impressed by the city’s management of the sex industry, which was permitted, Fleming discovered, so long as it remained open and ‘light hearted’. By comparison, Fleming thought the management of ‘vice’ in England “prudish and hypocritical.”

Look carefully and you will find hypocrisy in the Bond novels. But the sort of hypocrisy we encounter is not why Ian Fleming considered it a deadlier sin. For Fleming, the worst kinds of hypocrites were those who denied, as he saw it, harmless pleasures for themselves and others under misguided notions of morality. Can Fleming’s notions of hypocrisy be described as a deadlier sin? Many might disagree. But just to be on the safe side, you may want to consider from time to time of a healthy dose of the James Bond lifestyle.

Incidental Intelligence

Follow our series of the Seven Deadlier Sins

2 thoughts on “Ian Fleming’s Seven ‘Deadlier’ Sins: HYPOCRISY

  1. Congratulations on so successfully tackling the most difficult of Fleming’s Deadlier Sins! Examining TSLWM for its traces was an inspired move. The conclusion does an excellent job of showing why hypocrisy is not heavily featured in the novels, since Fleming was most concerned with hypocrisy toward pleasure, which Bond’s world is blissfully short of. By contrast, the Le Carre school is most concerned with political hypocrisy, especially that of the West–a subject Fleming was loathe to explore. Had he lived longer, perhaps the bitterness that comes with age would have made him more eager to do so.

    • Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it. I thought I’d drawn the short straw with hyocrisy, and was desperately flicking through the books for inspiration, but as soon as I picked up TSWLM, I knew I was on to something. Good point about political hypocrisy in the Le Carre school of spy fiction. I guess The Living Daylights is the closest Fleming gets to Smiley. There’s perhaps a hint of the bitter tone in Casino Royale (especially with regard to the nature of evil), but it’s not explored further.

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