In recent months, I've enjoyed a very pleasant correspondence with James Fleming, nephew of Ian and himself an author of note as well as editor of The Book Collector magazine, which Ian Fleming founded seventy years ago and is still going strong, I'm glad to say.
James' latest book is a nicely illustrated little volume which would make a lovely Christmas gift for the Bond fan in your life. It's called Bond Behind the Iron Curtain. I invited James to talk about it:
'The story is frankly sensational. Amid all their denunciations of capitalism and the west, the Politburo decides to launch an attack on Ian Fleming – in 1962, even before Broccoli and co. had finished filming Dr No. ‘Who is Mr Ian Fleming, the creator of this – to put it mildly – rubbish?’ asked Yuri Okov in Izvestiya? He answered it himself: ‘A retired spy who has turned mediocre writer.’ Why did they do it? As a cover for their nuclear adventure in Cuba? To deflect the anger of the Russian proletariat from their abysmal living conditions? (One May Day banner read: CUT KHRUSCHEV UP FOR SAUSAGES.) “We will probably never know.
Even after the Cuban crisis had been resolved, the Russians kept up their onslaught on Bond. They became obsessed by what they saw as Fleming’s attacks on socialism and Bond’s success with women (which they termed ‘pornography’). Eventually the KGB (no less!) arranged that a Bulgarian novelist, Andrei Gulyashky, who had a hero handy, should write a book in which the hero kills Bond. Gulyashky did as he was told and was then given hard currency, a minder and a visa for Britain and packed off to sell his book internationally. In London he came up against Ann Fleming – Ian’s widow – a tough lady if ever there was one, and her copyright lawyers. When it turned out that no one could legally use 007 except Fleming’s estate, Gulyashky, hilariously, called his man 07.
The KGB may have got nowhere near killing Bond, but through the Gulyashky idea, they certainly rattled the Fleming estate, which was beginning to make big money from the films and books. In order to keep their hands on the golden goose, they now got Kingsley Amis to write the first of what is, to date, thirty-eight spoof Bond books.
In Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Poland, and probably other communist countries as well, the underground market in Bond flourished, despite the authorities trying to stamp it out – indeed, to kill him. It’s a fabulous story, completely unknown until now.'