Today is the anniversary of the death of the great Richard Burton. Once considered for the role of James Bond, he was a voracious reader and one wonders what he thought of Ian Fleming. The closest we might get is a short diary entry published in ‘Richard Burton: A Life’ (p. 292).
On March 28th 1969, Burton writes:
“I went to bed at 9 and read a book of Ian Fleming’s called You Only Live Twice. A clever schoolboy mind and atrociously vulgar.”
Burton did not suffer fools and someone with an intellect as he possessed, a James Bond novel might have appeared very lightweight to him at first glance. Melvyn Bragg described Burton’s reading habits as “indiscriminate but he chews on whatever he finds and turns it into something for himself.” And chew he did.
His brief ‘review’ particularly picked up on the gastronomical aspects of the novel describing Fleming as having a “pompous attitude to food and cocktails” and it clearly hit a nerve!
“[…] he has the cordon-bleu nerve to attack one of my favourite discoveries: American short-order cooking.”
Despite taking umbrage with Fleming’s treatment of American fast-food and describing the novel as “diffuse, urbane and empty”, he does offer some final, grudging respect:
“Yet you cannot help liking Fleming. He is so obviously enjoying the creation of his extroverted, Hemingway-esque, sadistic, sexually-maniacal boy-scout that in the end he becomes likable.”
Back handed praise from the great man. One wonders if he read any more?