Sunday, 31 March 2013

A Cautionary Tale for Authors: Len Deighton on James Bond

James Bond - My Long and Eventful  Search for His Father

by Len Deighton

A Kindle Single

This is an old man gossiping in a bar, but the content is interesting to James Bond fans.  I didn’t know there had been a long-drawn out legal battle over who held the rights to James Bond’s screen character.  It’s a cautionary tale for authors.

Ian Fleming created the original James Bond in his first novel (of the series) Casino Royale.  No-one was much interested in making it into a film, though Fleming thought it had real potential.  In the end the only one to show much interest was a film-maker called Kevin McClory - a creative, shambolic, larger-than life Irishman (he was going to marry Elizabeth Taylor until she jilted him for Mike Todd).  Kevin told Fleming that there would have to be a completely new film script and in discussion the two of them came up with the plot of Thunderball (no record of who suggested what) and McClory employed a screen-writer, Jack Whittingham, to write the script - and Jack seems to have created much of the detail. Len Deighton credits him with creating the James Bond character we’ve come to identify, but I’m not sure I totally believe this.

Fleming went off and wrote the book of the film, with the idea of releasing it at the same time.  But the film was delayed because McClory couldn’t raise the funds and so Fleming published the book first.  McClory sued him for breach of copyright, claiming it was all his idea and that began the long and expensive legal battle that ensued.  The court case was about rights to Thunderball, but Deighton’s thesis is that it was much wider than this and that Whittingham and McClory actually created the screen persona of James Bond - the dangerous, suave, gun-toting sex bomb, who is very different to the ‘sad-eyed Bentley driver’ of Fleming’s original in Casino Royale.  This character - the essence of the James Bond Brand, influenced all succeeding books.  Kevin McClory won on an out of court settlement (and the rights to Thunderball), but the screen-writer got nothing.   The legal battle also drew in Harry Salzman - who would make the other Bond movies with Sean Connery, because he needed to feel that he had all the rights available - and it impoverished both Salzman and McClory.

Len Deighton knew all the characters in this saga - he even wrote the screen play for From Russia with Love.  Much of the content of this tale is what was divulged to him over long, liquid lunches in various exclusive restaurants and gentlemen’s clubs. It rambles a bit, as anecdotes tend to do.  The details of who said what to whom and who sued who for what are so tortuous, I quickly lost the plot!  All it needed was a good editor.

The tale is fascinating, but I do hope that the Kindle Singles are going to be of a higher quality generally.  It wouldn’t be good to feel that authors’ waste baskets were being raided for the Kindle Single brand. At the moment, I feel they’re selling on the big names rather than quality and suitability - you need to know what you’re getting as a Kindle Single, particularly in terms of length. 

James Bond:  My Long and Eventful Search for His Father
Len Deighton
Kindle Single £1.49

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