Newly published by The Queen Anne Press, are the notes that John Pearson made in 1965 while researching The Life of Ian Fleming.
They chart not only Fleming’s life – with details that never made it into the finished biography – but John’s own journey while investigating his subject. As such, they form less a series of aides memoires than a book about writing a book. Compelling, insightful, irreverent and written in John’s inimitable style, they make an outstanding read. Never before published, they are available now, with an introduction by Fergus Fleming.
In an exclusive for ALR, John Pearson told us:
I hope that readers will enjoy taking away something different from my new book about Ian Fleming called The Notes. This is a book about what it takes to write a book. Meeting the people who Ian knew was special and varied as you will see. Ian was an extraordinary man. He treated time in the Sunday Times offices as a necessary evil. The deal was perfect: I created first drafts and Ian polished them. He encouraged me to write Gone to Timbuctoo – my first novel – and then ghosted books for Armand Denis. That said, the book I wrote on Ian was a defining step in my career as a writer.
As a taster here’s an excerpt from John’s interview with Admiral Godfrey, Fleming’s boss at Naval Intelligence and reputedly the model for ‘M’.
‘I’ll be wearing a check cap and will meet you off the 9.45 at Eastbourne Central,’ he had said. And there he was, a large, pink-faced man in his early seventies with heavy brown shoes and a grey Rover car. ‘Don’t judge John Godfrey by what he looks like now,’ Harling had said. ‘In his day he was formidable. Very formidable indeed. Since then, of course, he’s had a heart attack and he’s nothing like the man he was.’
But it wasn’t just a heart attack and the passage of a quarter of a century that accounted for the sadness of the occasion. It was partly that he had this air of helplessness, of the best part of life being over, that all naval officers seem to have when they retire. Those brown shoes haunted me throughout the interview.
But more than this, of course, was the fact that Fleming had so grossly oversold the product. Instead of the steely-eyed ‘M’ with his ruthlessness and his wealth and his deeply-lined face, there was this sad old man who found difficulty getting the car parked and looked like Cecil Parker.
The only surviving piece of M-ness one could see were the eyes. They were very pale blue, very cool.’
John Pearson was born in Epsom in 1930. He graduated from Peterhouse Cambridge with a double first in History, then worked on the Economist Intelligence Unit and as a BBC trainee producer before being offered a job by Ian Fleming as his assistant on the ‘Atticus’ column for the Sunday Times. Pearson is the author of – among others – the only authorised biography of Ian Fleming, as well as bestsellers The Profession of Violence and All the Money in the World both of which were adapted into films. He lives in London and West Sussex.