This week, our special guest is the actor and playwright Mark Burgess. Mark has an esteemed association with 007 as the man who brought the one-man play about Ian Fleming to the stage and also has adapted Fleming’s works for BBC radio working alongside Ian’s niece Lucy Fleming.
What drew you to write the play ‘The Man with the Golden Pen’ and how did it all come together?
As an actor/writer I was always very keen to have my own one-man show in the hope that it would serve as both an employment opportunity & a showcase of my work. I’d previously devised & performed solo plays about both Rupert Brooke & Oscar Wilde which I’d taken on tour around the UK quite extensively, but I wasn’t actually portraying these great literary figures in person. I was looking now for someone I could actually ‘do’. However, I’d failed to come up with anyone appropriate until a friend said that he’d just finished reading Andrew Lycett’s biography of Ian Fleming & why didn’t I write a play about the James Bond author. It was an inspired suggestion as, of course, it would actually be the stories of two men, Fleming & Bond. In fact the play was originally performed under the title ‘Fleming’s Bond’.
A tremendous amount of research followed. A re-viewing of all the films, obviously, a re-reading of the books, the biographies, endless cross-referencing on numerous websites etc. However, the most important & useful research resources at the very outset were the first Bond book, ‘Casino Royale’ & a transcript of Fleming’s appearance on Desert Island Discs. Both of these together gave me a very clear insight into Fleming’s character. I soon decided that this two act play should begin with the writing of ‘Casino Royale’ in Act One & that Act Two should be set ten years later at the time of filming the first Bond movie ‘Dr No’.
I asked an actor/director friend to direct the play & the Brighton Revue Company premiered it at the Sussex Arts Club in Brighton in 2000. Lucy Fleming came to an early performance & has always shown great interest in the production. It was recently performed again by Michael Chance.
How did you involvement with the BBC radio play adaptations of Fleming’s novels come about and what was the process for this?
During my research for ‘The Man with the Golden Pen’ apart from the Bond books I naturally became aware of Fleming’s other writings. Among all of these the one I was most drawn to was ‘Thrilling Cities’, a collection of essays about major world & European cities. Fleming was originally commissioned to write them by The Sunday Times & they make for fascinating & entertaining reading. Written in Fleming’s inimitability urgent, dramatic & droll style & with abundant evidence of his unique eye for detail, I was always surprised that more had not been done with them since they were first published, although they had been re-published just a few years ago.
As such, I approached Lucy Fleming about the possibility of abridging them for BBC Radio 4. Happily, she agreed & I was given three, fifteen minute, slots by Radio 4 in which to broadcast a selection of cities. Simon Williams played Fleming in the short series that was aired in 2014.
You also wrote the radio play ‘From Father with Love’ about the relationship between Ian and his son Caspar. Could you tell us a bit more about this?
There is a section in ‘The Man with the Golden Pen’ on how & why Fleming came to write ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’. I was always surprised whenever I came to that part of the play by the audience’s reaction. Roughly speaking, fifty per cent knew he’d written it & the other fifty per cent did not.
I thought the whole background to the writing of this children’s classic would form a good basis for a radio play. I offered the idea to Radio 4 & they commissioned it. Having lived in Brighton for over thirty years & knowing that Fleming wrote much of ‘Chitty’ in adjacent Hove while recuperating from a heart attack, gave me added impetus when researching the project. Even greater authenticity was assured when Lucy Fleming & her husband Simon Williams agreed to play Ann & Ian Fleming respectively. It was produced by Pier Productions at their Brighton studios & broadcast in 2006.
What are some of your favourite Fleming novels and non-fiction?
Difficult to answer but I love ‘Casino Royale’ because it introduced James Bond to the world. Also ‘From Russia with Love’, a taut, tight thriller. ‘Thrilling Cities’, as mentioned earlier & his letters.
Mark Burgess is a British playwright and actor who was born in Kingston-upon-Thames and trained at the Guildford School of Acting. He appeared in Brookside as Gordon Collins and has been a full member of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain since 2002, and a full Equity member since 1979. From 2004 to 2015 he was Head of Speech and Drama (LAMDA syllabus) at Bedford Modern School, alongside his career as a prolific contemporary dramatist.
For the past 30 years Brighton has been his home.
Visit Mark’s website.