Article by Dick Woodgate
As if in a nod to James Bond the ornithologist, Fleming’s short story, For Your Eyes Only, begins with a detailed description of a Caribbean humming bird before moving on to describe a colonial scene in Fleming’s beloved Jamaica (A little Easter egg here: The Blue Harbor Hotel is mentioned in this scene—Noël Coward, a friend of Fleming’s, built a beach home called Blue Harbour near to Fleming’s own retreat).
After the opening scene is the obligatory interview with M. The Admiral discusses the responsibility of decision making with Bond and the conversation concludes with M conceding that ‘Someone has to drive the bloody train’. Though I hadn’t remembered the story well enough to recall this detail of the interview, the subject of this exchange finds its way—seemingly unconsciously—into a scene in my own Bond-inspired book, Cold Star, when one of my characters (M, in all but name) states that ‘the man at the top always has to carry the can’.
En route to Montreal, Bond laments the passing of the golden age of air travel and the slower pace and comfort it afforded. As with so many of Bond’s opinions and tastes, his view is undoubtably that of Fleming’s who crossed the Atlantic every year to spend his summers at Goldeneye, the house he kept in Jamaica and where he wrote all of his Bond novels. Upon arrival in Canada, Bond’s interview with Colonel ‘Johns’ in Ottawa sets up Bond’s mission in further detail.
Even though this is a short story, I like the fact that Fleming still takes the time to describe in detail the picnic Bond prepares while staying at the KO-ZEE Motor Court: glucose tablets, smoked ham sandwiches and a flask of Bourbon mixed with coffee. With Bond now off into the woods, heading out to his target, Fleming runs though Bond’s random thoughts (again, surely those of Fleming’s) in list form in an apparent bid to put out of his mind the job he is here to do. There is a discomfort in Bond at the thought of his role as executioner and this imparts depth to Fleming’s hero.
As Bond approaches his target area, he surveys the scene through a telescopic sight. The flight of the sniper rifle bullet is described ahead of time, in great detail and in slow motion. It’s an unusual piece of writing and seems to serve Fleming’s want to examine Bond’s conscience once more. Also, like the scene with Colonel ‘Johns’, it tells us what to expect. The landscape, the flora and fauna are all lovingly described in that detailed and very particular way that Fleming does and which is capable of taking us there with him, with Bond. It’s this transportation of the reader directly into the story’s environment which makes the scene so powerful and so memorable.
Bond hiking in the woods alone, stopping to eat his sandwich and take a drink of ‘firewater’ from his flask before the real action gets started is a perfect moment for me. One of the great appeals of Bond are these moments of submergence into the world of 007. And they permeate the films too: In Live and Let Die, a shockingly young Roger Moore receives an early morning visit from M and Miss Moneypenny at his Chelsea flat. Still in his dressing gown, Bond is shown in some detail making M a coffee using his espresso maker. In Casino Royale, Bond gets to know Vespa ‘I’m the money’ Lynd over a meal aboard the train taking them to Montenegro. While the scene helps propel the plot, it’s a wonderful moment of calm in the film’s narrative. The appeal of these scenes is perhaps even greater for me than the action sequences they form the links between.
Back to For Your Eyes Only. When ‘the girl’ finally makes her appearance, she does so in a way which reminds me of Honeychile Ryder emerging from the sea on Crab Key in Dr No—only in this story, Judy Havelock comes out from the long grasses and golden-rod of this meadow in North Vermont, rather than from water—and with her clothes on. Fleming describes her with typical skill then concludes that ‘Bond thought she was wonderful.’
As the action unfolds, written with the usual clarity and economy, we understand why Fleming wished to draw our attention to what would happen—because, of course, it didn’t happen in the way in which he’d set it up. The deviation from the plan is thus more noticeable and so more compelling. The senseless killing of a kingfisher by von Hammerstein bookends the violence of a certain Major Gonzales at the beginning of the story—this witnessed by another beautiful bird species, the pair of hummingbirds. Almost the moment the battle is won, Bond kisses Judy—and not only once but, for good measure, four times.
And that’s that. The story ends soon after the kisses. In the end neither M nor Bond need worry over the responsibility for what was essentially an assassination. The act of rightful revenge is awarded to Judy and Bond is demoted by her to lending ‘supporting fire’ (although, up against Judy’s killing of von Hammerstein, Bond’s tally actually totals three—despatching Gonzales plus a pair of gunmen). At its heart then, this is a story of revenge, expertly told. The scenes are well crafted within the constraints of the short format and Bond is, well Bond. And nobody does it better than Fleming.
Dick lives in rural Kent and a love of espionage fiction, Fleming in particular, led him to start writing his first novel, Cold Star.
Cold Star is the first book featuring the Agent in a planned series charting the race to the moon in the sixties. A sense of that pioneering decade of space exploration is expressed in parallel with the plot and theme of each book – I’m nearing completion of the second book, set later on in the decade in Europe, Russia and California.