Memories of Kenneth Lewis with James M Pickard

The dust jackets of the first three James Bond novels are well known to any serious first edition collector. Their seminal influence and value are most talked about, but less well known is the man behind the artwork, Kenneth Lewis. Someone who knew the late Lewis well is rare book dealer and long-time Ian Fleming collector James M Pickard, who remembered his friend for us.

Around the millennium, Kenneth (or Ken as he usually referred to himself) made contact with James regarding his personal collection of the first three Ian Fleming “James Bond” editions inscribed, to him, by his former colleague at Kemsley Newspapers, Ian Fleming. Back in the early 1950s, Ken was an aspiring young artist in the Art Department at Kemsley whereas Fleming (in conjunction with his faithful deputy, the legendary Muriel J. Williams) was, of course, Foreign Manager responsible for the day-to-day management of the foreign correspondents or ‘stringers’ as they were known. The Art Department was down the corridor from Fleming’s offices.

Photo: Jon Gilbert

The two got on well and one day, out of the blue, Fleming wandered down the corridor and told Ken, ‘I’m writing a book. I’d like your help.’ This was Casino Royale of course. Fleming had sketched out on rice paper a preliminary idea as to what the dust jacket artwork might look like with the proposal that a suit of diamonds be the centre-piece of the design. On Lewis’ recommendation, the diamonds turned into pink hearts (with a faint shadow behind) with the background design colour of gun-metal grey. For the lettering on the front cover and spine, Ken came up with a number of suggestions with the final decision made by Fleming. Ken opined that the fee he got for the jacket artwork was ‘enough to carpet my house!’

Now his “Favourite Artist”, Fleming once again asked Lewis to help with his next novel Live and Let Die. Ken’s original cover design had a completely different background colour (ultramarine blue as opposed to magenta) with the lettering in buttercup yellow (as opposed to burnt orange). Fleming would dictate his ideas to Lewis so the final jacket designs were described as ‘devised by the author and executed by Kenneth Lewis.’ Lewis reflected later that ‘If he had more licence from Fleming, he would probably have created more dynamic designs’ but the design process was very much driven by what Fleming wanted.

Perhaps Ken’s most famous dust jacket artwork was the flame-effect jacket for Moonraker, Fleming’s third novel.

Lewis was also one of the first people to see Fleming’s new Ford Thunderbird, which after filing his copy by lunchtime on a Friday, he would thunder down the Dover road for a game of golf at Royal St. George’s Golf Club on his way to his home by the sea at St Margaret’s Bay (famously portrayed in Moonraker).

Lewis nearly worked with Fleming again on his fifth book – From Russia with Love, whereby Fleming lent Ken the Smith and Wesson .38 revolver (that was the property of the late Geoffrey Boothroyd) in an old cake box tied up with string and Ken remarked how self-conscious he felt carrying a working revolver through the streets of London. He wondered what he would say if he was stopped by a policeman! His design was completely different from that eventually used by Richard Chopping for the published dust jacket, as Ken’s design had a pale green background, with ‘From Russia with Love’ in red lettering but it was Ken who came up with the original idea of the rose through the trigger guard.

James bought Ken’s collection of inscribed first editions, although incredibly, Ken had not felt the need to keep the jackets. James remembers with great affection his visits to Gloucestershire with his colleague and friend, David Beswick and described Ken as a ‘very nice, charming and positive man’ and ‘a great raconteur’, and he felt privileged to have spent time with him in the latter part of his life.

Later on in his career, Ken would work on various front free end-paper designs for Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series of books. He died in 2013.

Incidental Intelligence

James M Pickard welcomes direct contact with clients interested in purchasing first editions of the Bond novels (and associated Bondiana). He has built numerous collections of first editions (including inscribed copies) for clients in many parts of the World and specialises in sourcing the finest first editions and Association Copies. As a long-time collector of Fleming himself he understands the importance of condition.

These days James offers a bespoke service to clients “below the radar” preferring not to list all his stock for sale on the www. If you are struggling to find anything for your Fleming or Bondiana collection, or want a special present for a loved one, James may well be able to help. Send him an E-mail JPRAREBOOK@aol.com or via his website: www.JAMESMPICKARD.com.

In Raymond Benson’s Zero Minus Ten, James Bond arrives at Kai Tak Airport travelling under the alias of James Pickard.

2 thoughts on “Memories of Kenneth Lewis with James M Pickard

  1. Quintessential literary 007.com – a great article about a fascinating subject.
    The first three covers are often overlooked. Aficionados often do not pass go until they are discussing Chopping and it’s nice to see them celebrated here. Taken on their own terms, they’re actually rather good. ‘Casino Royale’ in particular.
    It’s also nice to hear how involved and enthusiastic Fleming was about the presentation of his own work. Something today’s authors could definitely learn from.

    • Thank you David!

      There was scant information about Ken ‘online’, so we did some first-hand sourcing with James. If others knew Ken, please feel free to comment.

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