James Bond: Last of the Clubland Heroes?

Article by David Salter

In 1953 “Clubland Heroes”, by Richard Usborne was published. This seminal work  – “A nostalgic study of some of the recurrent characters in the romantic fiction of Dornford Yates, John Buchan and Sapper” – has become the go-to reference work for anyone interested in English thrillers of the immediate pre First World War and inter-war period. It analyses with perception, erudition and humour, the key figures of the genre – Berry & Co., Jonathan Mansel, Richard Hannay, Sandy Arbuthnot, Bulldog Drummond and a few others.

Much has been made of Ian Fleming’s debt to these writers and James Bond’s descent from Bulldog Drummond has been noted. Indeed Fleming remarked that Bond was “Sapper from the waist up and Mickey Spillane below”. John Gardner in his follow-on Bond novel “Role of Honour” suggested that Bond’s boyhood bookshelves contained “the books of Dornford Yates” and it is well established that John Buchan was one of the young IF’s favourite authors.

The structure of Fleming’s Bond novels follows a pattern similar to that of the Clubland  Heroes: sometimes a Prologue where we are introduced to the problem that, or villain who will dominate the story; a prosaic period in which the hero goes about his everyday life; emerging awareness of the villain and the threat he poses; aggressive confrontation by the hero; capture and jeopardy of the hero (and sometimes the heroine); escape, and destruction of the villain  – or his evil project, if he is to survive for a follow-up.

The Clubland Heroes lived their privileged lives, usually with private incomes and servants, in London’s West End clubland, from whence they set out in expensive, high-powered motor cars to confront extraordinary, eccentric villains, often abroad, or in Buchan’s case in Scotland. All were members of clubs in St. James’s Street and Pall Mall. Well, I think we can see that Bond had inherited some characteristics from his forebears but there were important aspects in which he differed: James Bond was (upper) middle class; he had had a public-school education; he lived in a fashionable part of London; he had a servant; he smoked hand-made cigarettes and he had a ‘statement’ high-powered sports car.

But was he a ‘gentleman’?

Well superficially, but not so much when one gets down to detail. He was a salary-man who confronted his country’s enemies under orders – generally the Clubland Heroes were (or appeared to be) freelance amateurs who got involved for sport; Bond fought dirty as opposed to the CHs who stuck to the clean crack of a well-timed upper cut; his treatment of and attitude towards women would have appalled the CHs, although he was sometimes capable of great tenderness. And, perhaps crucially, he was not a member of a West End club, although he was  a frequent and familiar guest at M’s club, Blades. He was comfortable and accepted in such surroundings.

Well, so far so good – a relationship between James Bond and the Clubland Heroes has been established. But is something missing? Is there a pivotal link that joins the CHs of the1920s with the 1950s James Bond? Someone who is not quite a gentleman – but knows the form; lives in a fashionable part of London; has an iconic sports car – and a servant; carries out his assaults on the enemy for financial gain (as well as ideology) but is most definitely operating without the backing of the law; is tough and resourceful; has a respectful attitude (in the contemporary sense) towards women and who spans the period, in real-time, from the late 1920s to the 1960s?

Enter the Saint

The Saint – Simon Templar is the hero of thirty six books by Leslie Charteris (1907 – 1993) from the first “Meet the Tiger” (1928) to “The Saint in the Sun” (1963) – anything published after 1963 was written by others, although Charteris had a supervisory and editorial role. Unlike more recent follow on books (James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, Jeeves& Wooster, Mr. Campion, Peter Wimsey etc.)  the Saint follow-ons were written during his creator’s lifetime so at least he had some idea of what was going on and a level of control. Having said which, like most follow-ons they lack the sparkle of the originals.

Why do I suggest that Simon Templar is the pivotal link between the Clubland Heroes and James Bond? Well here’s a starting point. From “The Saint in New York” (1935). Dossier sent to the New York Police Department by Chief Inspector Teal of Scotland Yard:

SIMON TEMPLAR (“The Saint”) DESCRIPTION: Age 31, Height 6ft. 2in. Weight 175 Ilbs. Eyes: blue. Hair: black, brushed straight back. Complexion: tanned. Bullet scar through upper left shoulder. 8 in. scar, right forearm.

SPECIAL CHARACTERISTICS: Always immaculately dressed. Luxurious tastes. Lives in most expensive hotels and connoisseur of food and wine. Carries firearms and is expert knife-thrower. Licensed air-pilot. Speaks several languages fluently. Known as “The Saint” from the habit of leaving drawing of skeleton figure with halo at the scenes of crimes (specimen reproduced below).

This is followed by details of a number of Templars exploits.

Now, compare with this from “From Russia with Love” by Ian Fleming (1957)

Extract from file held on James Bond by SMERSH:

First name: JAMES. Height: 183 centimetres, weight: 78 kilograms; slim build;
eyes: blue; hair black; scar down right cheek and on left shoulder; signs of plastic surgery on back of right hand (see Appendix “A”).

All-round athlete; expert pistol shot; boxer; knife-thrower; does not use disguises. languages: French and German. Smokes heavily (NB: special cigarettes with three gold bands; vices: drink but not to excess, and women. Not thought to accept bribes.

This is followed by details of Bond’s Secret Service career.

Well, coincidence, maybe, if that is the way you feel, or homage by Fleming to his primary influence if you see things differently. At one level there are differences between James Bond and Simon Templar. The Saint books are full of humour while Fleming’s work largely eschews humour. The Saint approaches his enemies with a blithe self-confidence, optimism and lack of apprehension; James Bond is given to occasional bouts of melancholia and self doubt. He often questions the value of his way of life, something Templar rarely does. Interestingly and perhaps unexpectedly, James Bond’s adversaries tend towards the grotesque, deformed megalomaniac, whereas the people the Saint confronts are relatively normal in appearance and general behaviour, distinguishable more for their dangerously anti-social and evil intentions and ultimate behaviour.

On the other hand there are great similarities between James Bond and the Saint and before we delve further into this it is worth pointing out that both characters were idealised versions of their creators. James Bond shared many of his characteristics with Ian Fleming and Fleming used Bond as his mouthpiece to articulate his own philosophy; well so did the Saint, who not only looked like Leslie Charteris but also shared and expressed his world-view which was a good deal more anarchic and anti-establishment than that of his Clubland Heroes forebears and for that matter of his successor, James Bond.

Bond vs. Templar {Image: The Suits of James Bond)

There is no doubt that the early 1930s Simon Templar owes a good deal to Bulldog Drummond: his racy badinage, his gang of loyal chums who would always come to the aid of the party, the Brook Street apartment with the well-used beer barrel in a corner of the sitting room, the ever-ready sports car waiting to roar off into the night in pursuit of the “Ungodly”, but over the period of 35 years and 36 books he develops into a more solitary, self-sufficient character, sometimes exhibiting an element of wistful melancholia and his taste moves from beer towards whisky and cocktails. Well just as Templar owes a lot to Drummond, I feel equally sure that Bond’s “onlie-begetter” was Simon Templar.

Let’s look at their similarities

  • Both lived in areas of London fashionable at the time of their stories. Simon Templar in various Mayfair locations familiar to the Clubland Heroes: Brook Street, Upper Berkeley Mews off Berkeley Square and an apartment house in Piccadilly; Bond in a small plane tree lined Chelsea Square.
  • Both had a servant to look after domestic aspects of their lively lives: the Saint’s man, Orace, whose favourite one-liner was “breakfuss ‘narfa minnit” while Bond relied on his Scottish  treasure, May, who was also no slouch at breakfast.
  • Both drove iconic high performance cars: Bond’s 1930, 4 1/2 litre, Amherst Villiers supercharged Bentley; Simon Templar’s Hirondel, a red and cream monster roadster based on Charteris’s own Lagonda Rapide, which won at Le Mans in 1935 and was designed by W O Bentley after he left his eponymous company.
  • They shared similar characteristics in terms of build, colouring, features and scarring (see above) although perhaps this was due more to their creators’ characteristics than imitation.
  • Both were English (or bearing in mind Bond’s ancestry) British, but had strong affinity with the United States. Both featured in stories that took place in the US and both lived there at some stage of their lives. Fleming remarked, somewhere that Bond could be taken for an American and Templar became very Americanised in the final dozen or so books, after Charteris moved there.
  • Both had interesting wars.
  • Both were heavy cigarette smokers and consumed prodigious quantities of alcohol, at the same time maintaining  high levels of physical fitness.
  • Both were formidable exponents of unarmed combat.
  • Both carried automatic weapons and throwing knives, sometimes strapped to their forearms.
  • Both dressed well, often in suits from tailors in or near Savile Row.
  • Both travelled extensively, often shadowing their creator’s wanderings and their destinations are described with journalists’ eyes for detail and atmosphere.
  • Both enjoyed good food and their stories were punctuated with descriptions of meals.

I believe there is a strong case to be made that Simon Templar, who owed a debt to the Clubland Heroes, was a great influence on Ian Fleming when he created James Bond – and that, if so, the Saint is the crucial link that ties James Bond umbilically to the original Clubland Heroes. Buchan, Yates, Sapper, Charteris, Fleming – Clubland Heroes and beyond. I will be interested to hear what others think.

Incidental Intelligence

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30 thoughts on “James Bond: Last of the Clubland Heroes?

  1. David,

    What a fabulous article!

    I agree with your hypothesis completely. Leslie Charteris and his fabulous creation doubtless had an influence on Bond and certainly bridged that gap with ‘The Clubland Heroes’.

    I wonder why Charteris and The Saint are so underdiscussed and under recognised as key influences ?

    Like Bond he benefited from multiple screen adaptations and somewhat ironically it was his most successful interpreter, Sir Roger Moore, who ensured that the screen link is more clearly cemented than the literary.

    Indeed, I wonder how many people would be able to name the creator of The Saint whilst I imagine the percentage for Bond would be very high?

    Perhaps it was the sheer prodigious nature of his output that consigned him to ‘pulp writer’ status in the minds of the literati ?

    Maybe it’s my imagination but it appears that high volume authors aren’t judged well with the passing of time? Maybe the issue of titles also plays a part? Would Conan Doyle be judged so favourably if all his works had been titled ‘Sherlock goes to ….’ Perhaps there is some sort of inverted snobbery at work?

    In any event, It is a very long time since I read Charteris and your piece has encouraged me to revisit Mr Templar. I think I will choose his New York adventure. From what I remember it was quite a gritty affair and given the hours of pleasure he gave me when I was even younger than I am now, I think he deserves my attention.

    Once again – congratulations on a brilliant piece.

    David Craggs

    • David, Thank you very much indeed for your kind comments and interesting thoughts. I believe Charteris deserves far more appreciation as a “good” writer. Indeed considering that he started a successful writer’s career before he was 20 years old he maintained a very high standard right the way through. His use of English, syntax, simile, metaphor and humour, in my opinion, compare well with P G Wodehouse. Charteris was an early member of Mensa.

      Perhaps there are a number of reasons why he is no longer remembered or considered seriously:

      1. Many of the earlier tales were serialised or published first of all in the pulp magazine “The Thriller”.
      2. As you suggest, a long series of books with titles starting “The Saint…” are less likely to be taken seriously than if they have individual, unrelated titles. Interestingly Charteris’s titles for many of the early books did not contain “The Saint…”. – Meet the Tiger, The Last Hero, Knight Templar, Boodle, Getaway etc.. The publishers, Doubleday decided that retitling would make them stand out more on bookstalls.
      3. Generally I agree with your idea that writers whose output is prodigious are less likely to be taken seriously. Perhaps P G Wodehouse is the exception that proves the rule?

      Thanks again. I am glad I have encouraged you to revisit Simon Templar. He is damn good company. “The Saint in New York” is an excellent straight thriller and as you say quite a gritty affair.


  2. Perceptive and interesting piece David. One comment on what you’ve said above; more often than not it was Doubleday not Hodder who would insist on retititling the books to include the word Saint.I did try and restore the original titles with the most recent Saintly reprints but got very firmly told off…

    • Thanks Ian- I’ll remember next time. I wonder if 009 can correct it to say “The American publishers Doubleday decided….”. Brave person firmly to tell you off ! (Note how I have avoided the split-infinitive, much in the news today, since the rules have apparently been relaxed.). Am I allowed to divulge that you are the current guardian of all things Saintly? David.

      • Ha! It was Audrey who put me in my place and with hindsight, she was right for the Saint is low profile enough as it is.

        Feel free to divulge whatever. You know how shy and retiring I am!

      • No, it was definitely a misfire otherwise the pilot would have sold and we’d have a series up and running. One of the problems any reboot of the Saint faces is that by and large mot people’s expectations are for a reboot of a Roger Moore-like Saint but that international man of mystery scenario just doesn’t work nowadays. I’ve long been an advocate of going back to the original literary character and updating that–after all it’s the character that Roger’s Saint evolved from–but I’m very definitely in the minority. We’ll see what happen with the new film.

  3. Thanks, Tom. Yes I’ve seen the pilot reboot. I liked it. As a new update of the character it worked – and, on the whole the casting was good. Ian is being too modest about his involvement.

      • David
        Great article. However, as you may remember, I’m not keen on the idea of Bond being modelled on any one predecessor. Books like Clubland Heroes (for example Colin Watson’s Snobbery With Violence (1971) and William Vivian Butlers’s The Durable Desperadoes (1973)) in my view support the genre thesis. So The Saint, OSS117 (David Craggs’ favourite), Gregory Sallust (my favourite) are all role models because they are all in the “spy” genre, as are others. For example Monet and Renoir (and other Impressionists) painted side by side many of the same views/scenes. It’s accepted that artists (and for that matter musicians) regularly share each other’s ideas/concepts. In their case plagiarism seems to be the highest form of flattery. All of them are trying to produce something unique, but in the relevant genre or subset of the genre. With literature it’s the same. Historical, science fiction, detective, westerns, etc, all share their own commonbackground, as do spy stories. And I think Mike Ripley’s recent KKBB also makes the same point. So of course IF plagiarised, but wasn’t his particular iteration one that really succeeded and captured the imagination? So in the spy pantheon, he’s at the top and his influences are irrelevant, except that they led him to the pinnacle….
        But I will read the The Saint in NY – thank you.
        Best regards

      • Raki,

        Thanks for your comments. I don’t disagree with much of what you say. However (aha !) what I was trying to establish was a direct link between Richard Usborne’s “Clubland Heroes” and James Bond and while all of the characters you mention no doubt influenced Fleming when he created Bond none, in my estimation, established that connection in the way Simon Templar did. So I stick to my thesis.

        Best wishes, David.

  4. Let’s quickly go through your bullet-points listing their main similarities. Forgive me for repeating a few points I’ve made previously elsewhere, but it’s just to save time. 🙂

    *Both lived in areas of London fashionable at the time of their stories. Simon Templar in various Mayfair locations familiar to the Clubland Heroes: Brook Street, Upper Berkeley Mews off Berkeley Square and an apartment house in Piccadilly; Bond in a small plane tree lined Chelsea Square.

    We learn in The Scarlet Impostor (first published in 1940) that Gregory Sallust lives at 272 Gloucester Road, in Kensington and Chelsea.

    *Both had a servant to look after domestic aspects of their lively lives: the Saint’s man, Orace, whose favourite one-liner was “breakfuss ‘narfa minnit” while Bond relied on his Scottish treasure, May, who was also no slouch at breakfast.

    Sallust lives with Rudd, who was his faithful batman in the First World War and now continues in that role.

    *Both drove iconic high performance cars: Bond’s 1930, 4 1/2 litre, Amherst Villiers supercharged Bentley; Simon Templar’s Hirondel, a red and cream monster roadster based on Charteris’s own Lagonda Rapide, which won at Le Mans in 1935 and was designed by W O Bentley after he left his eponymous company.

    Sallust doesn’t seem to have a car. He is often found in his mentor Sir Pellinor’s Rolls-Royce or police cars he has stolen when on missions, though. He’s on a BMW motorcycle in The Scarlet Impostor. But Wheatley does seem to have been less interested in motoring than Charteris or Fleming.

    *They shared similar characteristics in terms of build, colouring, features and scarring (see above) although perhaps this was due more to their creators’ characteristics than imitation.

    Sallust is strong and sinewy, cruelly handsome, and has a scar running from his left eyebrow to his ‘dark, smooth hair’.

    *Both were English (or bearing in mind Bond’s ancestry) British, but had strong affinity with the United States. Both featured in stories that took place in the US and both lived there at some stage of their lives. Fleming remarked, somewhere that Bond could be taken for an American and Templar became very Americanised in the final dozen or so books, after Charteris moved there.

    Yes, Bond is of course not English, but half Scottish and half Swiss. Sallust is English, but after expulsion from his public school and the death of his parents, he trained as a naval cadet and then travelled around Europe, meaning he’s fluent in French and German. In The Scarlet Impostor, he is under cover in Berlin as an American journalist.

    *Both had interesting wars.

    That’s an understatement in Sallust’s case, as the bulk of his adventures take place during the Second World War, starting from The Scarlet Impostor, in which he goes under cover in Berlin. Sallust also has a Military Cross from the First World War – he got his scar at the battle of Cambrai.

    *Both were heavy cigarette smokers and consumed prodigious quantities of alcohol, at the same time maintaining high levels of physical fitness.

    In The Scarlet Impostor, Sallust drinks two Bacardis and pineapple juice, some pre-1914 Mentzendorff Kümmel, a Vermouth Cassis and a few swigs of unspecified brandy, most of it during the course of his mission. He constantly smokes Sullivans’ Turkish mixture cigarettes, which he keeps in a plain engine-turned gold case with no monogram or initials.

    *Both were formidable exponents of unarmed combat.

    In Come Into My Parlour, Sallust wraps his silk handkerchief tightly around his fist, then strikes a villain’s face with a glancing blow from temple to chin. The silk catches on the skin, slashing the man’s face as though with a knife so it pours with blood. ‘It was a trick that Gregory had learnt, long ago in Paris, from an Apache.’ In The Scarlet Impostor there’s this passage:

    ‘Before the Nazi could open his mouth Gregory’s left hand shot out, caught him by the throat and, swinging him round, forced him back against the wall. With complete ruthlessness Gregory raised his right fist and smashed it into the little man’s face.

    As his head was jammed against the wall he caught the full force of the blow. A gurgling moan issued from his gaping mouth, but Gregory knew that his own life depended upon putting the wretched man out, and with pitiless persistence he hammered the German’s face with his right fist, banging his head against the wall with each blow until it began to roll about on his shoulders and Gregory knew that he had lost consciousness.’

    Most of the books have passages like this.

    *Both carried automatic weapons and throwing knives, sometimes strapped to their forearms.

    Sallust usually carries an automatic on missions, a Mauser in The Scarlet Impostor. He has a pocket-knife in The Black Baroness. He uses a range of other weapons in the series.

    *Both dressed well, often in suits from tailors in or near Savile Row.

    Sallust’s suits are from West’s of Savile Row. He also wears Sulka ties, Beale and Inman shirts, Scott hats and Lobb shoes.

    *Both travelled extensively, often shadowing their creator’s wanderings and their destinations are described with journalists’ eyes for detail and atmosphere.

    The same applies to Sallust’s adventures. Sallust travels to France, Germany, Belgium, Norway, even as far as the South Seas, and Wheatley always gives a lot of texture and insider-ish details.

    *Both enjoyed good food and their stories were punctuated with descriptions of meals.

    Again, the same applies. Sometimes, there are pages devoted to meals, as in V for Vengeance. Wheatley was a hedonist and a wine merchant, and Sallust shares his enthusiasms. Here’s a passage from The Black Baroness when Sallust is in Oslo as Germany invades:

    ‘Many of the hotel guests were gathered there and several of them, who had sought out the cellar hours before, were sitting on the floor drunk to the world. He helped himself to a bottle of Krug Private Cuve 1928 and proceeded to drink it to the damnation of the Nazis.’

    As you can see, you made a long list of seemingly very specific points, but with the exception of motor-cars, all of them are present in spades in Wheatley’s character. I think most would also be in spades for other characters, too. The above isn’t, in my view, why Wheatley was the most direct influence on Fleming, but just part of the reason. No doubt Fleming was in part inspired by Charteris – as was Wheatley. But it’s not having a scar, or where the scar is, but the character. Bond, Sallust and Templar share a lot of attributes, and don’t share others (does The Saint ever go in for spanking, as the other do two?). But some of the details of Wheatley’s plots are very similar to Fleming’s later ones: if you read The Black Baroness, Contraband and Come Into My Parlour you will I think see a clear line to Casino Royale, From Russia, With Love and others.

    • “does The Saint ever go in for spanking, as the other do two?”

      Yes, he does The 1953 short story ‘The Golden Journey’ springs to mind…which was originally written a lot earlier than that year of eventual publication.

      • Fair enough, Ian! But I hope you see my general point. Of course Charteris was an influence, but then he was also an influence on Wheatley, who was also influenced by Sapper, and so on. Over the years, articles regularly pop up in the press saying ‘This character from vintage spy fiction was a predecessor for James Bond, look he’s also a suave dark-haired womanizing agent with a penchant for fine food and wine…’ The reason is that by 1953 many of the attributes of Bond were already in the genre. All of them, perhaps. Lots of characters in spy fiction were like that. And while a penchant for spanking women was not present in earlier authors like Valentine Williams, it’s really noticeable in Wheatley and Fleming.

        I don’t think there was a sudden gap between the Clubland Heroes and Wheatley, or Charteris, or Fleming, but more that the genre gradually evolved in this direction – one could also mention Peter Cheyney as someone who took the hero in a darker direction, and the influence of Hammett and American noir was seeping through in his work as well as Charteris’, who of course worked on Secret Agent X-9 briefly. Even the look of X-9 reminds one of Bond. The Saint was one staging point between the kinds of hero one saw in the early years of the twentieth century, your Desmond Okewoods and Duckworth Drews, but I think there were lots of staging points. The villains of the early genre – Fu Manchu, Clubfoot, Carl Peterson – can be seen more clearly in Fleming’s work, but I also think if you look at the characteristics of, say, The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Saint, Bulldog Drummond and Gregory Sallust, you are pretty obviously looking at a character of the same stamp as James Bond. Fleming would likely have been familiar with all of them, in the same way Noel Gallagher was not just familiar with The Beatles, but also The Kinks, The Stones, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, The Verve, and so on. It’s odd, I agree, that Charteris has never been seen as a greater influence on Fleming than he was, but I think that’s in part down to the way Amis and Snelling leapt on the convenience of Clubland Heroes’ three subjects as influences, and it’s been solidified over the years. But if I were to pick one writer who influenced Fleming more than any other, I think it would be Wheatley. Sallust was Saint-inspired, too, but there’s a very dark streak in the character that, I think, feels extremely similar to Bond, and there are details in their histories (expelled orphans, etc) and plotlines that strike me as being too close to be coincidental.

      • Jeremy,

        Today I have sent a long and detailed note to Raki, who in a private note to me is trying to make similar points about Gregory Sallust. What neither of you appear to understand is that I wasn’t claiming that The Saint was the main influence on Fleming in creating Bond; what I was trying to do was to make a link between Richard Usborne’s “Clubland Heroes” and James Bond. Simon Templar provides that link. In the early books he is a clear descendant of Bulldog Drummond but he also has many similarities with Bond (as I have demonstrated). Therefore he provides that PIVOTAL link. Gregory Sallust for all his similarities to Bond – which I have always acknowledged, indeed promoted – has virtually no descendancy from or similarity to, Richard Hannay, Hugh Drummond and Jonathan Mansel. Drummond – Templar – Bond, a connected line. Drummond – Sallust, Bond, doesn’t work. In fact Sallust is TOO MUCH like Bond – the link needs to be enough like each to join them without being too close. I hope that clarifies my position – I had hoped my original piece explained what I was trying to establish.

        Best wishes, David.

  5. Hi David, thanks for the clarification. I do see what you mean. I also enjoyed your piece very much, which I should have said before. I mean you no harm! It’s fun and interesting to discuss this with someone who’s also looked at the issue in depth.

    I can certainly see the argument that Charteris was an or even *the* pivotal link between the Clubland Heroes and Bond, but I suppose what I’m saying is that at heart I don’t think that’s the most useful way of looking at Fleming’s influences. If we come away from Fleming for a moment and look at Fleming *criticism*, there’s a pivotal link there. The connected line is: Richard Usborne’s book – Amis and Snelling’s near-simultaneous books on Bond. Your article, if I understand it, is then picking up on that to go into Charteris, but I think Usborne, Amis and Snelling were all really red herrings on this issue. Obviously, Fleming was influenced by the Clubland Heroes, but I think he was barely if at all influenced by one of the ones Usborne picked, Dornford Yates, and he was also influenced by lots of other writers from before (penny dreadfuls) and later. The assumption Amis and Snelling made was that the thriller essentially stopped – a kind of Dark Age fell – between the Clubland Heroes and Fleming arriving, but of course it was thriving all along. And in that crowded field between the 30s and 50s, Charteris was a bestseller,writing about a debonair devil-may-care swashbuckler carrying out Clubland-style missions but with a way of operating that his predecessors would have found ungentlemanly and marked him as an all round Bad Hat. All agreed! But then I think you make an Amis-Snelling-style jump in simply moving the thriller’s mythical Dark Age a little before Fleming, ie to 1928 or thereabout and the arrival of The Saint. But the thriller didn’t have such a gap. It was always moving, keeping up with the times. Just as people in the real world didn’t suddenly wake up one day and start talking more about sex and not wearing hats, in thrillers heroes and protagonists became more ‘ungentlemanly’, more dangerous, and of course more ‘modern’ with every passing year. I hope you see what I mean. I love Usborne, Amis and Snelling’s books to bits, but the latter two in leaping on the first did, I think, put literary criticism about Fleming into something of a muddle for a long time.

    I suspect it would be easy enough to argue convincing connecting lines in lots of places. Sallust doesn’t have many similarities to Jonathan Mansel, because that character barely exists. Bond has barely any similarities to him, either. Mansel rarely even appears on-stage in Yates’ books, and beyond having a couple of superficial details that were very common in the genre at the time I don’t think really belongs in the discussion. But one could draw a clear connected line between, for example, Raffles, Bulldog Drummond, The Saint and Gregory Sallust. There are surviving outlines for Bulldog Drummond stories by Wheatley where he was experimenting with that character, and Sallust in his first appearance in Black August (1934) is very obviously inspired by The Saint. Sallust’s scar, though, is very clearly inspired by Sapper, as he received it from a blow during night-time excursions across the trenches in World War One; exactly the same as Bulldog Drummond. In The Eunuch of Stamboul (1935), you have this passage:

    ‘No doubt Bulldog Drummond would grab the two thugs, crack their heads together and carry the twenty-stone Eunuch off on his shoulders as a memento of the occasion. The Saint, he feels, would be more likely to poke the Eunuch in the stomach, grab the pistol of the thug nearest to him and reverse it, before remarking: ‘Brother, permit me. You are not holding that correctly – it should point the other way’.’

    Wheatley, then, was clearly an author who was studying his predecessors pretty carefully, and what made their characters’ foibles work. As he developed Sallust, he added his twists to the formula until the character became more distinguishable from them. A secret agent at heart, for instance. But Sapper had done this, too. There are lots of passages in his books that show careful study of Sax Rohmer’s, especially in scenes with horrid insects and poisons, and villains speechifying. They are sometimes very close indeed.

    I don’t see that sort of closeness between Fleming and Charteris, but then I take it from your comment above that neither do you. One could place the pivotal link, if one were inclined to, at Wheatley’s Sallust books instead of The Saint. Or one could have multiple important links in the chain, so Hannay, Drummond, Saint, Sallust, Bond, or similar. I think Fleming must have been influenced by The Saint, and to a degree that hasn’t really been looked at (because of Amis and Snelling’s red herrings, I think). I think we agree on that! I expect Fleming sucked up lots of these authors, and some were direct influences, some indirect, and they all fed into the pot of his personal experiences and those he had heard or written about. I suppose my only difference, and it’s a small one, is I see a lot of pivots joining up into a long chain. But I’m sorry if I misunderstood your main thrust or came on too critical – as I say, it’s really just that I find it a fascinating topic and it’s fun to delve in. I enjoyed your article very much, and hope to read more.

    • Jeremy,
      Thank you for your elegant and thoughtful response to my slightly tetchy reply to you yesterday evening; the truth is I understand and agree with a good deal of what you – and Raki – have said.
      My purpose in writing my original “Clubland” piece was a deep desire to write about and connect, in a linear and interlocking way, three of the characters who had accompanied me – and influenced the way I saw the world – during my young and teen years. (Some of P G Wodehouse’s characters could be added to the list).

      I suppose I came first, to Dornford Yates (after Just William, Swallows&Amazons and an unsatisfactory glimpse of Bulldog Drummond). I found his books on my parents’ shelves (still have them) and loved them, particularly the thrillers. Then at the age of twelve I discovered The Saint which truly took my breath away and carried me happily along until I met Bond when I was seventeen – and grew up very quickly. Should I be embarrassed to admit that Berry&Co., Jonathan Mansel, Simon Temlplar and James Bond have stayed with me throughout quite a long and eventful life?

      However, the points you make about the complexity surrounding the development of the genre of adventure and spy writing during the 20th./21st. Centuries are fascinating and completely valid. I have read – and have – most of the writers you cite (including Peter Cheyney !) and would like to add John Welcome to the list. Usborne, Amis, Snelling, Watson, W V Butler and many other critical and analytical works about the genre also crowd my shelves.

      I think we all agree to a large degree about this fascinating subject and would like my “Clubland’ piece to stand as my testament to three important influences on my world view.

      By the way I don’t wholly agree with your view that Jonathan Mansel is a largely invisible presence in the “Chandos” books of DY. I find him a powerful prescence, even though he does, sometimes go off-stage for a while, dealing with side-issues, while his young side-kick, Richard Chandos carries the action forward. Of course, he doesn’t appear at all in “Blood Royal” and “Fire Below”.

      Very best wishes,


      • Thanks for the kind reply, David. Yes, it seems we do agree on most of this, really. It can be difficult to judge tone on the internet, and I’m afraid I dove in with my first comment without even bothering to say how much I liked the article – sorry about that! I do understand the hours of thought and loving care that went into your article, believe me, and it’s always a pleasure to read good literary criticism.

        Perhaps I overstated on Jonah Mansel. I don’t think he’s largely invisible as a character, but there’s no series of books about him as a protagonist as there are with the others mentioned, and prior to Usborne’s book he doesn’t seem to have figured as a character anyone was especially more drawn to than others. I could be wrong there. It’s of course entirely possible that Ian Fleming drew in part on Mansel when he conceived Bond, but there doesn’t seem much to it – I don’t see a lot in the character that makes him stick out from the rest of the Clubland pack. He’s a little more ruthless than some other characters of the time, perhaps.

        But a lot of this comes down to personal taste, of course. It so happened that Richard Usborne grew up reading Yates, Sapper and Buchan and enjoyed them enough to focus on them as his archetypes of ‘Clubland Heroes’. But it would have been an amazing coincidence if those precise three authors also happened to be the precise three who most influenced Ian Fleming, which through a kind of Chinese whispers is what more or less became the standard line in literary criticism of Fleming. Snelling even discussed the idea he had ‘snatched at the convenience’ of Usborne’s three, only to dismiss it by creating a series of strawmen alternatives in Raffles, Blackshirt, Inspector Maigret (!), Philip Marlowe and The Saint, the latter of whom he dismissed purely from personal taste while admitting he knew little about the character. It’s a light book, but has proven to be an influential one. A more thorough critic might have considered that Fleming could have had different tastes to him and that in trying to seek influences it could be a good idea to consider potential writers more closely than simply following one’s own taste and inevitable gaps in reading. If Richard Usborne had written as wryly and entertainingly about, say, Sax Rohmer, Valentine Williams and Leslie Charteris, I think a very similar process could have happened via Amis, Snelling, both or others, and literary criticism on Fleming would today instead be rife with references to Denis Nayland Smith, Desmond Okewood and Simon Templar. The thriller genre was crowded, but we’ve forgotten a lot of these writers and their characters. Even as a Yates admirer, I’m sure you agree it’s a peculiar situation that he is still mentioned as being an influence on Fleming when Charteris rarely is, despite creating one of the best known characters in the thriller genre with lots of obvious similarities to Bond, and one who featured in a series of successful films and then an internationally popular TV series starring an actor who went on to be Bond – but there we are!

        All the best, and sorry again for any misunderstandings,

  6. PS I think there are some possible lines of inquiry in the following:

    Had Fleming read The Saint In New York? There’s the dossier you mention, but also Templar going after a New York underworld figure known as ‘The Big Fellow’. How common was that kind of gangster milieu in British thrillers at the time, and what led Fleming towards it? Non-fiction, a coincidental unrelated fascination, or other novelists he’d enjoyed? As you note, the US continually appears in his books, as do American gangsters (Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever, The Man With The Golden Gun). What were the roots of it, I wonder.

    Leslie Charteris went on record with his views of Fleming’s books in his wryly scathing article in the December 1965 issue of The Diplomat magazine (calling Bond an ‘unenlightened clot!). But did Fleming ever comment on Charteris or The Saint?

    Did Fleming subscribe to Black Mask – as Snelling did – or have some other access to American hard-boiled stories? Had he read Secret Agent X-9? Has Charteris’ work on that been explored much? It seems to me there is a direct link between the American hard-boiled scene and the Clubland landscape Charteris and Cheyney were slowly driving away from in the British thriller.

    • Leslie only wrote a handful of stories for X-9 before he was fired. I don’t know that there’s much exploration to be done on those but I do think it’s worth exploring the bigger picture and how his time in American influence his writing. Someone could write a book on that.

      • Someone should indeed! Of the stories Charteris penned for X-9, I’ve only read The Fixer, which as you no doubt know shares several similarities with The Saint In New York, ie the basic premise and twist: the titular gangster X-9 is searching for is also referred to as ‘The BIg Fence’.

        The comic strip format means Charteris’ unique prose style vanishes and the storyline becomes even tighter and more hard-boiled. I love Charteris’ prose style, but I don’t think Ian Fleming was influenced by that much, if at all. (Alex Raymond’s illustrations of X-9 also look uncannily like Sean Connery’s Bond at times, but that’s neither here nor there.)

        I do wonder where Fleming’s fascination for American gangsters came from. And I think in general the hard-boiled American pulp influence on the British thriller deserves closer analysis. There’s been some, but I mean detailed reading allied to biographical detail when possible. In his BBC radio talk with Chandler, it’s interesting to hear Fleming praise the American thriller. He asks Chandler which thriller-writers he likes (a topic they have clearly already discussed), mentions his own addiction to the genre, and reveals he’s reading Howard Browne’s The Taste of Ashes and a novel called Operator.

    • Ian is the expert on all this, but there were clear factors that influenced Charteris’s increasing AmericanisatIon.

      He was, essentially, a “modern” man, not a nostalgist (?) like his Clubland forebears.

      He loved America and eventually became an American citizen.

      With the advent of World War 2 he realised that The Saint could not go on defeating mega-villains and people intent on World domination, when there were ‘everyman’ heros battling enormous odds in Europe. This combined with the emergence of Dashiel Hammet, Raymond Chandler et al led him in the direction of more realistic’private-eye’ typo stories.

      But as I say Ian could really tell us more on this subject. Over to him…..


  7. David/Jeremy/Ian

    I’ve really enjoyed the dialogue. Just one more iconic look backwards…..

    Given that the genre is the genre, where did it begin? Yes, Le Queux,
    Oppenheim, Maugham, Buchan, even Kipling (just look at the authors in “The Spy’s Bedside Book”!), but for me Ambler encapsulates this in his Introduction in the “To Catch A Spy” anthology. He says “The sudden emergence, in the 19th century,of the detective story has been satisfactorily accounted for…..’Clearly there could be no detective stories until there were detectives’. The belated arrival of the spy story is less easy to understand…… Prostitution may, as we are told, be the oldest profession, but that of the spy cannot be much younger. ….And yet, it is impossible to find any spy story of note written before the 20th century.” I commend you to Ambler’s 16 page analysis of the start of the genre, written in 1964.

    But I want to go to the literary games played by Sherlock Holmes’ fans, compared to which, IF/JB litcrit is in its infancy. Now the Sherlockiana hounds really know how to play!!!
    So John Bryan’s “James Bond, Did He Really Live Twice?” (1988) tries to create an ‘umbilical’ link between Fleming and Doyle. In the final chapter he draws everything together: ‘after all is said and done, one detective story is very much like any other’ [spy genre too – R] ‘and when we stop to think that…SH proved to be the archetype for all future fictional detective characters…and that his adventures…the blueprint for all future detective stories, then it should come as no surprise…to find certain traits of character and literary ideas and material being borrowed by subsequent writers of crime fiction, even ones as eminent and sophisticated as IF’. He goes on to say ‘that a small number of almost identical features or ideas in certain stories could simply be a matter of coincidence. If such features or ideas…are multiplied to such an extent they become commonplace then that would appear to be stretching the possibility of coincidence too far and to suggest that IF had more than a passing admiration for Doyle.’ He says the result is ‘rather like giving two cordon bleu chefs an identical set of ingredients with which to prepare a dish. Though the ingredients may be identical, the dish each chef comes up with will, in all probability, taste quite different’ .

    So now we have Holmes, The Saint, Gregory Sallust and other pretenders. The genre is the genre, long live the genre! By the way I also commend you to Donald Stanley’s short spoof “Holmes Meets 007” (which originally appeared in The San Francisco Examiner in November 1964, reissued in 1967 as a limited edition) in which M is unmasked as Moriarty and Watson as Blofeld…

    In many ways, for me, looking forward is the important thing in this spy genre. So whilst I accept that Bond is derivative (albeit the acme of perfection), I believe he is the watershed between the old guard and the new. So would we have had the anti-Bonds – Deighton, Le Carre, Gardner’s Boysie Oakes, etc. without Bond, and then things like Herron’s Slow Horses? That is the question! As usual I’d value your opinions..

    One final point on Sallust. We know Fleming and Wheatley knew each other. W was a voracious book collector. Yet according to Charles Beck, who runs the Dennis Wheatley Website, there was not one Fleming book in his collection. Charles and I have speculated that it could have been W’s irritation at what he thought was IF’s obvious plagiarism.

    Best regards


  8. To be honest David, I think you’ve caught the main headlines of it and I’m obviously not going to go in to too much detail here because, after all, there’s a biography to be re-written.

    Perhaps the only thing I’ll highlight here is Leslie and the Saint’s role as an ousider. As a very young lad Leslie never really fit in; in Singapore his English parentage was held against him, in England his Chinese parentage was held against him. His formative years were blighted by racism and he was never going to be an upstanding member of the rather strait-laced English society of the time. The Saint was in many ways his revenge on that.

    When he started to discover America in the early 1930s I think he got caught up in the undercurrent of popular literature but I also think there was a general fascination with crime at the time (such as his article for the United Press on an execution at Sing Sing and his later true crime articles). When America started to discover him he was determined to ensure the Saint moved with the times but also stayed an outsider.

  9. I’m quite late to this fascinating discussion, but will throw in my double-0s anyway.

    Clearly, both Charteris and Fleming were influenced by Sapper and Rohmer. However, whereas Charteris began writing early in life, Fleming only did so in middle-age. In between times, it doesn’t seem he read much English genre fiction, either written by Charteris or John Creasey, Sidney Horler, Bruce Graeme, Edwy Searles Brooks or J.S. Fletcher etc. As I see it, despite reading Chander and enough Spillane to make the Mike Hammer comparison, he didn’t seem to be engaged in what was going on with the genre at all. When he did write, he combined the hardboiled 1950s American style with the English Edwardian of his youth. This, and the regular brand-references, became his style.

    Unlike Fleming, Charteris seemed well-versed in Edgar Wallace: the early Saint stories were originally written as involving ‘The Five Kings’, a group clearly modelled on the Four Just Men (which themselves had been modelled on, or were at least contemporaneous with, the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel). This would suggest he kept on reading such books, as Wallace was still writing them in the early 1930s. Charteris’s style was much more loquacious (occasionally even Wodehousian) compared to the brisk, journalistic one that Fleming had adopted.

    Their characters, of course, were similar – though Bond is pro-establishment, without being independantly wealthy, while Templar is fervently anti-establishment. (On screen, of course, they are even more alike: Moore-Bond is basically the 1930s Saint while Moore-Saint is the Saint of the 1950s). I wonder if Eon had ever entertained the idea of buying the rights to the Saint stories instead?

    Correct me if I’m wrong anywhere, of course.

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