This week’s hapless castaway is ALR favourite Edward Biddulph who might be able to survive with plenty of coffee while working on his golf game!
001. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
OHMSS is the first James Bond novel I read. It was my grandparents’ copy of the Book Club edition, and I was 11 or 12 at the time. Naturally, I’d want it on my desert island for sentimental reasons, but it’s also one of Ian Fleming’s best novels. The book contains a solid plot that only just goes beyond the probable, a doomed romance, thrilling action, skiing, and some delicious writing. Never mind the whole novel, just give me Bond’s resignation letter and ‘The Man from Ag. and Fish.’ The film version, of course, followed Fleming closer than most of the Bond films, and so it’s no wonder the film is a fan-favourite.
002. The Spy who Loved Me
Written in first person from a woman’s perspective, Ian Fleming’s tenth novel hardly deserves the label of a James Bond thriller. When Bond does enter the narrative in the final third of the book, he walks into plot of a cheap crime novel featuring two hoodlums intent on fraud, violence, and murder. Yet, it is one of my favourite Bond novels. It was probably the second Bond book I read, and it was just as exciting as my first. I’ve returned to the book several times over the years, and have never failed to be pulled in by its gripping, pulp-fiction-inspired narrative. The Richard Chopping cover for the first edition is, like all his covers, a masterpiece (and inspired the cover of my own book, Licence to Cook)
003. Octopussy and The Living Daylights
In his introduction to the 2006 Penguin edition of Octopussy and the Living Daylights, thriller writer Robert Ryan suggests that ‘as with Sherlock Holmes… Bond was at his best in the shorter adventures,’ and that Fleming ‘was a short story/novella man at heart.’ Fleming wrote some fine full-length adventures too, but I agree that his short stories represent some of his best writing. Both title stories in this collection are exquisite. ‘The Living Daylights’ is the closest Bond gets to the world of Le Carré and reminds us that Fleming was up there with the best of the writers of ‘serious’ spy fiction. ‘Octopussy’, with its hints of Bond’s childhood, its alpine thrills, the semi-autobiographical portrait of end-of-empire Jamaica, is the essence of Fleming.
Like OHMSS, I’d like to take Moonraker on my desert island for personal reasons. I devoured the Bond books as a teenager, and found them every bit as exciting and exotic as the films. I discovered that the books featured women that were unattainable, villains that were unimaginable, and locations that were unreachable. Well, not quite all locations. As a boy growing up in Maidstone in Kent, I was thrilled to read Moonraker in which James Bond investigates card sharp Sir Hugo Drax and the sinister activities at his Moonraker missile base outside Dover. Bond drives through Kent on his first run down to Dover, then again, after returning to London, in hot pursuit of Drax, who holds heroine Gala Brand hostage. I knew the places Ian Fleming mentioned and could picture almost every twist and turn Bond encountered in his Bentley. I really was living in James Bond’s world. For me on my desert island, Moonraker would be not just a superb Bond story to have with me, but a reminder of home.
For all its brilliance (its epic golf match, the Aston Martin, the ‘golden girl’, Fort Knox), I’ll admit that Goldfinger has more than its fair share of plot holes. It’s one of the rare instances where the film is better than the book, at least in terms of structure. But I would take it on my desert island for one reason alone: the paragraph in the first chapter that begins, ‘What an extraordinary difference there was between a body full of person and a body that was empty!’ and ends, ‘And the difference, the thing that had gone out of the stinking Mexican bandit was greater, than all Mexico.’ Sublime.
006. How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time
Being on a desert island would allow me to indulge in the Bondian pursuit of snorkelling round the reef, dodging barracudas and befriending the fish, but I need another activity if I’m to avoid the dreaded accidie. Golf is the obvious choice, and in order to develop and maintain my skills, I would take a copy of Tommy Amour’s How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time, which Bond reads in Diamonds are Forever.
007. The Man with the Golden Typewriter
This volume of correspondence between Ian Fleming and others about the James Bond books is edited by Ian’s nephew, Fergus Fleming, and no fan of the literary James Bond should be without it (even on a desert island). I love Fleming’s good-natured (and at times weary) replies to members of the public, who’d write triumphantly about errors they’d spotted.
The correspondence between Fleming and the real Geoffrey Boothroyd never fails to entertain. Then there are the letters that offer insights into the process of Fleming’s writing. A wonderful volume.
008. Ian Fleming: The Bibliography
Castaways on Desert Island Discs are permitted a copy of the Bible as a matter of course. Naturally, then, I would want to take a bible of James Bond studies. In Jamaica, Ian Fleming’s bible was Birds of the West Indies by James Bond. My bibles – the books I turn to frequently – include Andrew Lycett’s biography of Fleming, Ajay Chowdhury and Matthew Field’s history of the Bond films, Some Kind of Hero, and Ann Fleming’s volume of letters edited by Mark Amory.
The book I’d take with me, though, is Jon Gilbert’s Ian Fleming: The Bibliography. With its exhaustive catalogue of Fleming’s writing in all its forms and its information on the background and inspirations for Bond’s adventures, The Bibliography is the perfect volume to dip into during those long tropical evenings.
I don’t suppose I could take a complete John Barry soundtrack (that is, OHMSS), could I? I thought not. In that case, I’d have to take Barry’s alternative James Bond theme, ‘007’, specifically the version on the Thunderball soundtrack. Hunting and foraging for food, building and maintaining a shelter, and generally looking after myself on the desert island will inevitably take their toll, so whenever my energy is beginning to flag, ‘007’ would be the perfect tune to give me a boost and allow me to face the adventure.
My first thought would be a set of golf clubs, but if I’m going to be on the island for a while, then I’ve got plenty of time to whittle a set. No, on reflection, I’m going to take Bond’s dark blue eggcup with a gold ring round the top, as described in From Russia, with Love. A Bondian lifestyle without eggs, even on a desert island, is unthinkable, and a boiled egg, one of many of Bond’s egg-based meals consumed in the books, is probably the most practical.
Edward runs the James Bond Memes website.