MARK O'CONNELL

Writer, Author, Bond Fan

Tag: Ann Fleming

Catching GOLDENEYE and the London launch of Matthew Parker’s new book

© Mark O'Connell / 2014With Blackwell Rum on standby (a prized brand aptly produced by the owner of the Goldeneye estate, Chris Blackwell), Matthew Parker’s lush tome Goldeneye – Where Bond Was Born : Ian Fleming’s Jamaica has been launched in fine Caribbean style.

Charting the physical, political, literary and personal influences of how Jamaica and the Goldeneye estate helped shape Fleming’s writing – in particular James Bond 007 – Goldeneye – Where Bond Was Born is a rich, nuanced, highly researched and clever work. It is most accessible at the same time as being deeply complex and an intelligent survey of an island, an empire, a man, his loves and a literary and cinematic sensation.

Author Matthew Parker proudly window-shopping. © Mark O’Connell / 2014

Pitched up at London’s Daunt Books – and surrounded by fiction and non-fiction travel writing – this London launch was a fine location to wet the book’s head and for Hutchinson Books and Random House to proudly announce how Goldeneye is now a Sunday Times Bestseller. And very rightly so.

Various connected guests and scholars were in attendance – including biographer and historian Andrew Lycett (author of the 1995 defining work Ian Fleming – The Man Behind James Bond), Chris Salewicz (author of Firefly: Noel Coward in Jamaica) and other representatives from Noel Coward’s life and estate (Coward was famously Fleming’s neighbour, close friend and confidante at Oracabessa, Jamaica), Ian Fleming’s niece Kate Grimond, the James Bond Radio guys Chris Wright and Tom Sears, the Jamaica High Commissioner Her Excellency Mrs. Aloun Ndombet-Assamba and all manner of Jamaican knowledge, artwork and food kindly provided by the team at the Jamaican Tourist Board. Oh, and me.

Personally I was more than glad to be able to have a little, inadvertent chat with Fionn Morgan. Daughter of Ann Charteris, Fionn was sixteen when Ian Fleming married her mother and has a wise stance on her step-father’s life, work, loves and outlooks. She has recently written an interesting piece on Ian and his brother Peter for the The Spectator (Was Fleming as cool as his Brother) and suggested that one of the things Ian is rarely known or recognised for was that he was a great deal more “cosily domestic” than his press and reputation allows. But the night quite rightly belonged to Matthew Parker and that Ian Fleming chap who fifty years since his death can still hold sway at a London drinks party.

My review and thoughts on Goldeneye – Where Bond Was Born : Ian Fleming’s Jamaica.

Goldeneye – Where Bond Was Born : Ian Fleming’s Jamaica is available now from Hutchinson / Random House. It will be published in the US in March 2015.

 

“See reflections on the water…” – Catching Matthew Parker’s GOLDENEYE – WHERE BOND WAS BORN : IAN FLEMING’S JAMAICA

Ian-Fleming

Following BBC America / Sky Atlantic’s four part Fleming drama series and aptly launching on the fiftieth anniversary of Ian Fleming’s premature death, Matthew Parker’s top-notch Goldeneye – Where Bond Was Born : Ian Fleming’s Jamaica is a timely tome exploring just how and why the author fell in love with the island seven years before his typewriter ever did.

Goldeneye – Where Bond Was Born is not solely about the genesis of a literary hero (or even his empire hangover of a creator) but the founding of a project, an ideal, a workplace, a lovers retreat, a home and eventually a state of mind. Though it was an abode that key neighbour Noel Coward forever mocked for resembling a medical clinic and would chip away at friend Ian by referring to it as ‘Goldeneye, Ears & Throat’. Designers and labourers who shaped the hillside haven are discussed and referenced as Parker provides a narrative of the land itself. The flora and fauna, the Shamelady green weeds, the colonial sugarcane heritage and how the site was once part of a larger estate with “over 1,000 slaves” carefully reminds of the natural and less natural shadows and traumas serving as an almost greenhouse to the burgeoning seed that was James Bond 007. Fleming is written here as a man with a conscience about the natural world and the moral laws against harming it – a trait which Matthew Parker believes is evident in Bond himself.

Parker – himself born in Central America with a West Indies childhood to follow – is highly aware of the complicated colonial (and less colonial) ownership of Jamaica and how such proprietorships have their own evolutions, devolutions, fall outs and successes. Likewise, this work is also a vital record of the governors, wives, mistresses, laws (both at home and abroad), newspaper magnates (this book crosses history timelines with my own Catching Bullets more than once), vivacious lady pals, boozing and all manner of fallen aristocrats afforded a societal rise on the island.

No stone is left unturned when it comes to the social and societal demarcations of the island and – more importantly – how they changed, progressed and possibly even regressed in the almost two decades Fleming called ‘Goldeneye’ home. This is a Jamaica that Parker is still fascinated in long after Fleming’s death in 1964. “Jamaica provided a home for British eccentricities” says Parker – with the plantocracies and their players avoiding maybe more than just the British winters and the discussions of them in the members club of London. “For Empire nostalgists”, he continues, “Jamaica seemed a delicious slice of the old imperial uncertainties”. But later on, Ian’s wife Ann (and other peers) help Parker underline how the fading of empire in Jamaica had various last hurrahs. To be fair, a lot of Jamaica’s history has been predicated on someone’s last fling of the dice. Goldeneye – Where Bond Was Born is as much a history of Jamaica and British rule as it is Ian Lancaster Fleming and Commander Bond.

Parker evokes playwright Stephen Poliakoff’s great sense of how personal intervention, passing characters, eccentric pals and less obvious friendships can all shape a narrative – whether it is James Bond’s or Fleming’s himself. That Poliakoff placement of moments and happenstance is one of the pearls of this book. The accounts of Ian and Ann’s sometimes wilfully tempestuous relationship is familiar to Bond scholars. But here Parker ensures a rich historical insight runs alongside an examination of a marriage, a relationship and, initially, an affair fuelled by two fascinating life-forces colliding in ever-fascinating ways.

Later bound quite rightly to the chronology of Fleming’s novels in the second half of Goldeneye, Parker uses that framework to account for the creative and personal ebbs and flows at ‘Goldeneye’ – and of course Jamaica and the West Indies world beyond that. Parker expands upon his thoughts on each book and its story vices and genesis, but is equally quick to FLEMINGexplore and underline the concurrent relationships Ian has with the likes of housekeeper Violet and  gardener Ramsay Dacosta.  The real-life Havelocks, Strangways, Tanners and Posenbys either cameo or star – adding fair linkage to the fictional and real world of both author and subject. Yet, Parker avoids joining dots that are not there. Not everyone who was very real to Fleming needs to be echoed in his work. In a similar vein, Parker fails to fall into that origins genre trap. He navigates with finesse the now familiar punctuation points of the Bond genesis story. How the Birds of The West Indies tome serves as a possible inspiration for the name of James Bond is never eulogised. More pertinently, lesser known island skirmishes, arrests, smuggling rackets, double-crosses, back-hands, brokered deals, local and less local politicians and their favoured drinking holes are what Parker picks up on as he deftly supposes and impresses with the real world correlations between Fleming and his literary world. A later fictional crisis at the hands of SPECTRE in some exotic land is often traced back to the clash of personalities witnessed first or even third hand by Ian in Jamaica, with Britain as empire as a constant brass frame round Fleming’s mirror.

And like his author subject, Parker occasionally yields his own blunt stoicism too. Towards the end of his life Fleming later noted [as he was preparing Ian Fleming Introduces Jamaica with friend Morris Cargill] ‘Jamaica has grown from a child into an adult’. Parker is quick to suggest how Fleming’s own depiction of Jamaicans had however maybe seen less maturation over the years and books.

Less a dry narrative of sandal wearing chaps paying over the odds for their Morland cigarettes than a studious array of thoughts and insight, Goldeneye – Where Bond Was Born is no isolated island of a tale. Britain, its media and political animals, the literary and entertainment circles, trade conditions, a devolving empire and the characters of Hollywood itself are involved from the start. With quite a timeline while to go before Eon Productions, Albert R Broccoli and Harry Saltzman came knocking, this is an Ian Fleming and a Jamaica already in the company of visiting Hollywood dignitaries and key players. Some become trusted and vital friends – Blanche Blackwell, Cecil Beaton, Evelyn Waugh and of course ‘Goldeneye’ neighbour Noel Coward (who soon becomes a great Tanner to Ian’s ‘Commander’). Whilst others maybe sit less comfortable with Fleming – such as Errol Flynn who no doubt posed an instant rival of notoriety, womanising and liver strength. A great moment sees Coward and his Firefly abode demand the poolside rules of “nude only” be obeyed at all times. Cue Fleming wandering in one day to find Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh fooling around buck naked with a jazzy, locally sourced ‘cigarette’ on the go.

The Broccoli / Saltzman involvement comes late in the day but that is because – in terms of Fleming and his story with Jamaica – it was the closing chapter, the final act that quickly ran away from him as he returned to Jamaica to write and narratively house his last 007 novel, The Man With The Golden Gun. Parker gleans fresh insight around the Dr. No production and just what Fleming thought about his first screen adaptation. Or to be more specific – what someone said he thought about it. A recurring trait of some of Goldeneye’s contributors creates a real members club gossipy take on Fleming (and joyously so). There is often a real time-capsule sense of being stuck at the quiet table at a function with Parker relaying the better scandal coming from the next table for the reader’s benefit. In discussing the Jamaican production context of the film version of Dr. No, Parker astutely weaves initially random, but ever relevant nods to a visiting Princess Margaret and how the beginning of Bond’s onscreen independence coincided with that of Jamaica’s own burgeoning self-rule (and the British government’s 1962 vetoing of immigrants being able to travel to a Britain that was once known as the ‘mother country’).

It is curious too how the Jamaica, West Indies and Bahamas of Fleming’s real world are discussed by Parker as being on their own final hurrahs. He notes “In the West Indian stories, in the For Your Eyes Only collection, there is also a palpable sense of decline and retreat. In Quantum of Solace, the Bahamas are tired and dull”. Yet one possible oversight of the book is overlooking the explosion of renewed interest in Jamaica, the Caribbean, its depiction and tourism fallout fuelled quite aptly by the Eon movie making take on 007. Though Roger Moore and 1973’s Live and Let Die is aptly discussed. And of course 007 will one day return to Jamaican soil.

Hoping for at least a BOAC airplane holdall of a retro minded story, Goldeneye – Where Bond Was Born is so much more than a Mad Men with Red Stripe and sand sort of a biography. It is a skillful mash-up of both time and history, wisely realising –  just like Ian himself – that the island was never just Ian Fleming’s Jamaica, Parker has crafted a valuable document of a publishing phenomenon and now cinematic mainstay, an overseas Britain, a Cold War as witnessed from the warm climes and colonially sourced comforts of Oracabessa and an acute study of an author, his typewriter and which room gets the best sun in the morning.

Goldeneye – Where Bond Was Born : Ian Fleming’s Jamaica by Matthew Parker is published in the US on March 11th 2015 by Pegasus Books and was released in the UK on August 13th 2014 by Hutchinson / Random House.

 

Catching FLEMING – Sky Atlantic & BBC America’s new Bond genesis drama reviewed

Everything I write has a precedent in truth” – Ian Fleming

FLEMING 14

 

More men have played Ian Fleming on-screen than have portrayed his key creation James Bond 007. At least nine in total. Charles Dance (Goldeneye, 1989), Leo Fenn and Jason Connery (Spymaker, 1990), Ben Daniels (Bondmaker, 2005), Skip Goeree (Bernhard – Scoundrel of Orange, 2010), Tobias Menzies (Any Human Heart, 2010), James D’Arcy (Age Of Heroes, 2011),  Jeremy Crutchley (A Caribbean Mystery, 2013) and now Dominic Cooper in Ecosse Films’ new four-part Sky Atlantic / BBC America series Fleming. And that is not including any docu-drama Flemings (Jonathan Pryce voiced him in 2008’s Ian Fleming – Where Bond Began) and the long-mooted Fleming biopic based on Andrew Lycett’s key tome, Ian Fleming – The Man Behind James Bond (1995) which Moon director Duncan Jones was formerly attached to helm.

FLEMING 1Obviously bankrolled by the unabatting global interest in James Bond and itself dramatically launched by an initial question as to “who?” is this 007 character, British director Mat Whitecross (Ashes, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll) and writers John Brownlow and Don McPherson (with noted Fleming biographer John Pearson on consultant duties) circle a World War Two context to try and explore the world and motivations of one Ian Lancaster Fleming. It has long been acknowledged that Fleming’s own wartime experiences shaped the outlook and experiences he in turn fed into Bond. His various episodes and Intelligence hijinks were rife for any writer to get their story claws into. But just as Fleming has the obvious audience-savvy agenda of detailing how the Second World War shaped one of the 20th Century’s most iconic characters, this drama also tackles what created Ian Fleming, the writer. Added to that, in Whitecross’s version of events the First World War also has its echoes – and not just with Fleming himself (his father Valentine died in 1917 and received an obituary penned by his friend Winston Churchill) but his family, Britain and the world.

FLEMING 6An initially too contemporary choice to play the very 1930s Ian Fleming, Dominic Cooper is at first too slight, too young, too smooth-chested and just too damn beautiful for Ian Fleming. But very soon under Cooper’s performance this Ian Fleming and, by default, 007 himself emerge as an identifiable figure rather than a Etonian clone, and one carefully shaped by the wars abroad and at home, exhibiting a cruel duplicity in the fields, corridors and silk sheets of battle. It is important to remember too that Ian Fleming was quite a ladies man in his day. It has to make sense he is a modern-day catch like Cooper.

The character of James Bond was always a touch different to James Bond as filmed. Less handsome, less cool, less Scottish. But like Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and JM Barrie, it is a narrative challenge to separate the author’s world from that of their characters when the temptation is to forever assume and join the life dots. It is made doubly difficult with a man whose public persona only really started in his final decade or so. FLEMING 9A product of the dying embers of empire, Fleming’s own carriage and poise is from a different era of Britain, a different era of masculinity and a different era of global oneupmanship. This was a time when thirty year olds looked forty-nine. Cooper is actually older than Ian was at the time. Fleming himself looked far older than his 56 years when – in 1964 – heart disease, life stresses and his vices sadly proved you only live once. Portraying an actual person so often naively boils down to “does he look like him?”. Of course it helps and is a concern. But so too is attracting an audience to a project and a decent actor to a role. It’s about essence not essentials. For that reason, Cooper is very quickly an apt and canny choice – an agile and natty ladies’ man who, no doubt like the real Fleming in his day, is fetching in and out of that naval uniform. The real Ian is often presented in those familiar black and white, smoke-blowing publicity shots – all taken in response to the books and then early films success. But Fleming, Cooper and director Whitecross’s own Eyes Only mission is to remind he had a whole life and a world where his proclivities and roving eye were not enough and one which was possibly hemmed in by becoming a fully fledged writer and author. Cooper lends his Ian FLEMING 11an authority-clashing intuition throughout, partly borne out of a frustration his mistress is someone else’s and that nagging concern about what will any of that generation do after the war has ended? Cooper nails the script’s suggested loneliness with a sense of personal purpose that is very much adrift in the face of a domineering mother and life-thriving older brother (“he’s married to a film star – I’m not”). “Having something to offer” is quickly a key motif. And it is that – rather than the pinch-of-salt homages to gambling, cars, arm-stretched gun poses and monotone European bad eggs – where Fleming more astutely suggests the personal refuge of writing and imagining stories led to 1953’s Casino Royale. Here the creation of that pivotal debut novel is simply presented as being a gesture for eventual wife Ann (Lara Pulver) – even if Cooper’s typewriter-bound Ian dismisses it during an opening coda with “it’s not bloody literature, it’s a pot boiler” which somewhat contradicts his later wish for it to be “the spy story to end all spy stories”. FLEMING 15The historians and archivists all have their insights and theories, but maybe Fleming wrote because sometimes that is all that writers can do. It is not perhaps intentional, but one of the successes of Fleming is its suggestion James Bond 007 was a literary hero for those that experienced and survived the war – for those that knew its duplicities, never-again opportunities, sexual emancipations and regrets.

Playing opposite Cooper is Lara Pulver (Sherlock) as Ann O’Neill, married to a war-absent husband and betrothed as a mistress to Lord Rothermere (Pip Torrens). It is a deliberately confused set-up – for Fleming and the society circles witnessing it. This is an Ann whose cut-glass skills in the function room match her appetites in the bedroom – a sort of Princess Margaret meets Wallis Simpson. Though a near-rape scene as Fleming is mourning the death of a loved one sits goes from harsh to ridiculous and back again as the ‘romance’ crackles away over four episodes. The series narrative core, Ian and Ann’s love maze is a welcome flipside to the spying hijinks as the sadomasochistic leanings of their union become a very adult counterpart to Cooper’s fun Boys Own antics playing spies in Europe.

Some characters do vanish too fleetingly. Harry Treadaway (Penny Dreadful) pops up as a brief and nervous navy junior, Dean Lennox Kelly (Shameless) is a refreshing working class Scot in a sea of stiff upper chaps and German actor Wolf Kahler (familiar to anyone who has seen Raiders of the Lost Ark) plays a crucial conscience-altering Nazi commandant. FLEMING 13Likewise Camilla Rutherford (The Fifth Estate) is cruelly resigned to a couple of scenes (though one of them certainly has impact) as Loelia Ponsonby – Fleming’s more-than-feasible inspiration for Bond’s secretary of the same name. Samuel West as Fleming boss and eventual friend Admiral Godfrey is obviously channelling Judi Dench and Bernard Lee, but the easy nods to ‘M’ make way for a warm, principled series regular. Similarly Anna Chancellor’s marvellous and loyal Lieutenant Monday (the series own Miss Moneypenny) is more sister than conquest turning a blind eye and faked signature where necessary. But it is Lesley Manville’s icy turn as Ian’s mother Eve that steals many a scene with a simmering resentment at Ann whilst making an empirical play at hiding her own skeletons.

As a genesis project (not that Genesis Project – though there is a curious take on The Wrath of Khan’s Kobayashi Maru in the form of ‘The K Protocol’ which Fleming gets involved with) the screenplay lacks the grace and finesse of Mark Gatiss’s sublime An Adventure In Space and Time (2013) which so eloquently focused on the origins of the onscreen Bond’s 1960s cult cousin, Doctor Who. However, the breathing space of a four-act structure focusing almost solely on the war years is a welcome one – even if some of the narrative implications of some of the war exploits will set the eyebrows of the Fleming purists to Roger Moore raising heights. Fleming’s involvement in the famed Operation Mincemeat is not ignored, nor is his alleged brainstorming assistance in the early days of the CIA. However, the subsequent Cold War that shaped Fleming and Bond is kept at bay leaving a gap of context that is perhaps equally important to the origins of our man James. Likewise, some further fun and intrigue could have been somehow had with Fleming’s trademark habit for contrary and provocative titles (You Only Live Twice, Octopussy, Dr No, Live and Let Die, Goldfinger) as well as his alliterative character names (Moneypenny, Pussy Galore, Rosa Klebb, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Scaramanga). FLEMING 10But maybe then the piece becomes a knowing in-joke to itself where Whitecross is damned either way as those life-dots get in the way. Fleming’s intuition for intelligence is a better played out device. It is entwined here with a need and ability to spin a tale, to add a backstory to a war-vital dead corpse, to fake an accent and persona when needs must and to make heart-wrenching false promises for the greater good. All this feels more of a natural parallel to the Bond we all know than fun allusions to golf-ball gadgets and hidden cameras. And like 2012’s Skyfall, this Fleming is also comedically dismissive of the exploding pen culture with a silly scene involving Chancellor’s Lieutenant Monday.

Of course Fleming himself was known to elaborate and embellish (as all good writers should, and certainly those that experience war) so we should forgive the series about him occasionally vaulting over the literary Bond to homage and honour the cinematic Bond. Episode One’s billowing opening titles are a deliberate underwater homage to 1965’s Thunderball and its own overture graphics (which may actually be the last film Ian himself would have wanted referenced as that entry and its now-famous legal shenanigans were hardly welcome). And moments later we have a nicely lensed 007-esque skiing sequence – all shot quite radiantly by Ed Wild with an indie-budget defying bravura seen in each episode. Real-life locations Budapest and London ably double and triple up for Canada, Germany, Austria, Paris and Lisbon and the society bashes, jazz joints and war rooms hold their own under Sophie Becher’s production design. Quite rightly, the whole piece often feels more Bletchley than Broccoli. FLEMING 12The film Bond nods soon make way for the politics at play, with Fleming sickened by witnessing the rising cruelty towards the Jews – a motif repeated later when a braver Ian is able to do something about it. And a cracking sequence sees Fleming and new love Ann flouting the air raid sirens for a first slo-mo clench with glass shattering aplomb. There is a painterly, sleeve-jacket sort of charm to the [computer generated] visual likes of a snowy Nazi mountain retreat no doubt homaging Bond onscreen’s design alchemist Ken Adam, the modernist excess of an archive room’s glass ceiling or a pan-European steam train powering through Austria seen from above. These visual tics dotingly ape that John Buchan cover-art world which writers Brownlow and McPherson suggest inspires the desk-bound Ian. Added to the opulence is Caroline Harris’ sublime costumes – especially the women’s attire which nearly out-Downton’s Downton as various levels of high-end couture swan in and out of many a Mayfair bash with Lara Pulver’s Ann O’Neil particularly turning more than Fleming’s head.

World War Two was a launching pad for Ian Fleming’s discovery of Bond. Whilst Fleming lacks the Jamaican world that furnished Fleming’s writing, any initial encounters with Broccoli and Saltzman and the Cold War time-frame which one could argue finally enabled the writer and his mind a valuable context and distance to twist and fly with the Blofelds, SPECTREs and Tiger Tanakas of his arched, baroque world, it is nevertheless a fun, often lavish and well played ‘imagining’ of the all-important starting pistol. Now where are my Morlands…?

 

Fleming begins on Sky Atlantic in the UK from February 2014 and on BBC AMERICA from January 29th 2014.

 

Mark O’Connell is on Twitter and the Catching Bullets – Memoirs of a Bond Fan Facebook Page.

 

tumblr_mu3bbq4C1c1sh00v0o1_1280With thanks to Sky Atlantic.

 

 

© 2018 MARK O'CONNELL

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑