You Only Live Twice: Ian Fleming Concludes the Blofeld Trilogy

You Only Live Twice takes place a mere 8 to 9 months after the events of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which saw Bond get married only to have his bride, Tracy, killed by Ernst Stavro Blofeld and Irma Bunt while driving on the road to their honeymoon.  Bond has now become a despondent reckless shadow of his former self having mucked up the last two assignments given to him in the interim and M. is at a complete loss as to what to do with his best agent, 007.  M. discusses his concern for Bond with his friend Sir James Molony, a neurologist, admitting that he has even contemplated removing Bond from the Double-0 Section altogether.  Molony suggests that M. should give Bond another chance at an “impossible” mission to see if the agent might return to form if he were put into a situation that tested his resolve.  The reasoning behind this being that a fairly challenging mission might inspire Bond once again with the will to live.  “Nothing like death or glory to take a man out of himself,” Sir James Molony tells M.  It is with that in mind that M. briefs Bond in his office, and instead of a reprimand Bond receives a promotion and diplomatic mission to Japan to convince the head of the Japanese Secret Service, Tiger Tanaka, to share secret intelligence that Japan has gathered about the Russians, which the Americans have refused to share with the British government.

This would be the final book released within Ian Fleming’s lifetime, and the final book that saw Fleming complete his intense revision and editing process, a process that was denied for the subsequent posthumously released Fleming Bond books.   Written primarily in January and February of 1963 at Fleming’s Goldeneye estate in Jamaica where Fleming perennially wrote the Bond books, You Only Live Twice features a Bond who is far from the top of his game and a guarded admission from the characters pertaining to Britain’s loss of status amongst the superpowers while the United States and the Soviet Union were engulfed in the Cold War. For the first time, there is a sense of mistrust between the British and American government, which apparently stemmed from events that had unfolded around the time Fleming began writing the novel.   The British government had recently been embarrassed when 4 MI6 agents had been exposed as defectors to the Soviet Union with suspicions of a fifth defector still active within MI6.

Ian and Ann Fleming, 1963

Ian and Ann Fleming, 1963

One also gets the sense that Bond’s increasingly failing health parallels Fleming’s own physical deterioration.  With the Thunderball plagiarism trial looming later in the year, the dark mood of the novel is said to reflect Fleming’s own dark mood at the time of its writing.  Later that year, Fleming would visit the set of EON’s production of its 2nd Bond film, From Russia with Love, which would be the final Bond film that Fleming would get to witness.

Ian Fleming on the set of From Russia with Love, 1963

Ian Fleming on the set of From Russia with Love, 1963

Also that year, Fleming would release his nonfiction book Thrilling Cities, a travelogue of various cities he had encountered including his visits to Tokyo, which inspired him to set You Only Love Twice in Japan.   It was during these visits that Fleming befriended journalist Richard Hughes, who he decided to base the character of the Austrailian agent Dikko Henderson on as well as Japanese writer Tiger Saito, who was the basis for Tiger Tanaka.

Ian Fleming's nonfiction book, Thrilling Cities

Ian Fleming’s nonfiction book, Thrilling Cities

It’s Dikko Henderson who first teaches Bond about the Japanese concept of “On,” a feudal Japanese traditional obligation taken on in return for previous favors.  It’s morally and ethically central to traditional Japanese values for “On” to be repaid in some way shape or form, and that is how Bond decides to approach Tiger Tanaka by appealing to the “On” Tiger feels for the British government due to his education at Oxford while spying on Britain.  Combined with his resentment of the increasing Westernization of Japan due to American involvement, Tiger seems keen to help Bond provided that a sense of honor is maintained on both sides.

Prior to the end of the war, Tiger had been training to be a kamikaze pilot, but he had been denied the opportunity to complete his mission once the war had ended.  Tiger maintains strong ties to his traditional Japanese values, and he sees the opportunity to help Bond as a way of instructing and integrating Bond into Japanese culture.  To accomplish this, he tasks Bond with completing a favor of his asking (an “On” if you will).   Bond would be required to go undercover as a Japanese coal miner after facial alterations to appear Asian and after doing so he wants Bond to kill a foreigner named Dr. Shatterhand, who had fortified himself in an ancient Japanese castle with permission from the government to do botanical research.  Once it was discovered that Dr. Shatterhand had imported a multitude of poisonous vegetation, piranha, and snakes for this research, the grounds of the castle had become a popular attraction for Japanese citizens to commit honorable suicide, a “Garden of Death.”   After one of his own investigators disappeared and was presumed killed, Tiger decided that Dr. Shatterhand must be murdered and that Bond should be the one to do it in exchange for sharing the Russian Intelligence with the British government.

Once Tanaka begins to describe Dr. Shatterhand and his “ugly wife,” it becomes obvious to the reader that this must be Blofeld and Irma Bunt, but for some reason this doesn’t register with Bond despite Dr. Shatterhand’s Swiss background, which would have been Blofeld’s previous stronghold location from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  I suppose one could put this all down to Bond not being himself and still grieving, but I found it hard to believe that Bond couldn’t put two and two together until he was given a photo of Dr. Shatterhand and his wife just before going off on the mission.

Much of the book focuses on Tiger teaching Bond about Japanese culture and history and how to act in certain situations.  There’s some very interesting material in these passages, but Bond rarely gets to use his cover despite having his appearance altered.   Some readers might find the first two thirds of book frustrating for this reason, but I found it enlightening and entertaining.  When Tiger teaches Bond about the poetry of Matsuo Basho, he encourages Bond to come up with a haiku of his own and it is from Bond’s attempt that Fleming derives the title of this novel:

“You only live twice:

Once when you are born

And once when you look death in the face”

Tiger praises Bond’s attempt despite his failure to adhere to the 5-7-5 haiku structure.  In addition to this, Tiger sees to it that Bond receives training in the art of ninjutsu giving Bond a new identity as a deaf and mute Japanese coal miner.  He also introduces Bond to a remote Japanese island comprised of Ama (pearl) divers, where Bond could stay with a Japanese family until he’s ready to set out and swim towards Shatterhand’s castle.  It is there that he meets Kissy Suzuki, a talented Ama diver who chose to leave behind a possible Hollywood career after briefly flirting with becoming a film star.  Since Kissy is proficient in English, it’s decided that Bond should stay with her and her parents.  Kissy and Bond grow close and one could tell that there’s an attraction developing prior to Bond going off to confront Blofeld.

Once Bond penetrates the castle and the Garden of Death, he gets captured by Blofeld and submitted to the potential torture by having to sit over a volcanic geyser set to go off every 15 minutes.  Once Bond admits who he is, he is taken to another room where Blofeld intends to kill him with a samurai sword.  Instead, Bond grabs a nearby stave and fights Blofeld to the death eventually choking him.  Bond escapes via a warning balloon back to the sea where Kissy rescues him.  Unfortunately, Bond now has amnesia and because Kissy loves him she decides to keep his identity a secret so that they may live out their lives together.

It is towards the end of the novel that we get biographical details about Bond prior to his becoming 007. Once Bond is presumed dead, M. writes an obituary for The Times.  We learn the names of his parents, Andrew Bond and Monique Delacroix, who were killed when Bond was 11 years old in a climbing accident in the Aiguilles.  Bond then came under the guardianship of his aunt Charmian, who helped educate him until he enrolled into Eton College, an English boarding school near Windsor, where he lasted only “two halves” until he was forced to leave due to “some alleged trouble with one of the boys’ maids.” He completed his education at Fettes College in Edinburgh until he was 17 when he lied about his age to enlist in the Ministry of Defence where he served as a lieutenant during the war eventually promoted to the rank of Commander by the war’s end.  It is during this obituary written by M. that Fleming breaks the 4th wall admitting that “a series of popular books came to be written around him [Bond] by a personal friend and former colleague….If the quality of these books, or their degree of veracity, had been any higher, the author would certainly have been prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act.”  Fleming had once before tried experimenting with metafiction in the now expunged prologue to The Spy Who Loved Me when he tells the reader that Vivienne Michel’s story appeared at his writing desk as is and that the following is her account.   In You Only Live Twice, Fleming went further implicating his presence within the context of the actual fiction.  The comic book adaptation of the novel that appeared in the Daily Express from 1965-1966 features the actual covers of Fleming’s books during this segment of the story where we see Bond’s obituary.

Bond's obituary from the You Only Live Twice film adaptation, 1967

Bond’s obituary from the You Only Live Twice film adaptation, 1967

The novel ends rather curiously with Kissy curing Bond’s impotence by mixing toad oil into his food and becoming pregnant just as Bond latches on to a newspaper printing with mention of the Russian city, Vladivostok.  He tells Kissy that he must go there to see if he can recover his memory and leaves before Kissy could tell him of her pregnancy.  The issue of Bond having a child has never been developed any further neither in the Fleming cannon nor in any of the film adaptations.  The only other follow up to this occurs in continuation author Raymond Benson’s short story, “Blast from the Past,” which occurs outside of the continuity of the other Bond continuation novels.

This off-putting ending tends to sour the novel for most people, but I rather like that Fleming had decided to leave loose ends in this book rather than rely on a convenient ending where everything gets tied up neatly.  I think it reflects the dark wistful mood of the novel where Bond had been challenged to re-examine his thoughts on death, revenge, and honor.

Tiger’s instruction throughout the first third of the novel really serves to enlighten Bond to rethink much of the values he had taken for granted with his Western upbringing, particularly the notion of suicide and honorable death. Tiger informs Bond earlier on about the practice of seppuku, considered an honorable form of suicide where the person slashes their belly from left to right and then upwards towards the breastbone.   Before going off on his mission, Tiger offers him what could only be a cyanide pill in the event of capture to avoid torture, but Bond refuses invoking his poem saying that he would rather choose to “look death in the face.”  Once Bond goes off to the castle on his mission of revenge he takes much of his Japanese instruction to heart.  He could have informed Tiger of Blofeld’s true identity to get reinforcements or have Blofeld arrested in a raid, but he chose to keep Blofeld’s identity a secret so that he could satisfy his own revenge or die trying.   For these reasons, You Only Live Twice stands as one of Fleming’s darker Bond works and I think a pleasantly tidy ending with Bond returning to London unscathed would not have worked.  Bond needed to sacrifice part of himself to complete his mission, and the reader could sense that before Bond even approaches Blofeld’s castle.  Even though Bond physically survives the ordeal, the person he was died in that final confrontation with Blofeld therefore ending the novel with Bond as an amnesiac seems oddly appropriate.  It is only because Kissy loves him enough to save him and care for him that Bond makes a recovery.

Ian Fleming YOLT

You Only Live Twice may not be Fleming’s best Bond novel, but it’s an important Bond novel nevertheless. Not only do we get Bond’s final confrontation with Blofeld, we also get to see Bond challenge some of the very values he had taken for granted throughout the entire series.


  1. Fleming, Ian You Only Live Twice. Jonathan Cape, 1964

A Look at Charles Helfenstein’s Book about On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Charles Helfenstein’s book on the making of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (abbreviated as OHMSS henceforth for the sake of brevity) stands as the definitive resource for fans who want to know more about the 1969 film.  While the book contains a great amount of fascinating rare photos, it is the scholarly written text within that provides some of the most comprehensive and exhaustive accounts ever written regarding this film.  While it may appear on the surface to be a coffee table book, it’s actually a great resource for Bond fans to digest.

Helfenstein begins with a chapter regarding Ian Fleming’s writing of the novel which I found incredibly useful for my previous blog post concerning Fleming’s original book.   Here, it is revealed that Fleming actually began his research with Robin Mirrlees from the College of Arms a few years before conceiving of the OHMSS novel specifically desiring a basis to give Bond a Scottish ancestral background prior to Sean Connery getting the role.  While some in the Bond fan community believe that Connery had been the reason for Fleming’s revelation of Bond’s Scottish origin, Helfenstein makes a strong case that Fleming had wanted to tap into his own Scottish ancestral origins years before Connery had come into the picture.  While Mirlees’ research failed to yield any results confirming a Scottish background for Bond, he did provide a motto for the Bond family crest that would forever hold significance to the Bond franchise and provide a credo for Fleming’s characterization which fit Bond to a tea: “The World is Not Enough.”

Richard Chopping's original dust jacket artwork

Richard Chopping’s original dust jacket artwork

Helfenstein’s research revealed Fleming’s original title for the book to be “The Belles of Hell” after wartime song sung by soldiers in World War I. There’s also the fact that Fleming had based Piz Gloria, which would serve as Blofeld’s headquarters, on 3 sources that Fleming no doubt obtained some information about during his holiday skiing vacations at St. Moritz.  These were:  The Sphinx Observatory at Jungfraugoch in the Swiss Alps, a location in the Bavarian Alps that was known as “Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest” during the war, and a sporting club in the Austrian Alps called Schloss Mittersill.  We also learn that OHMSS was the first and only time that Fleming released a signed limited edition of the novel coinciding with the release of the standard edition with its Richard Chopping artwork procured for the dust jacket.  The special limited edition was released in a clear plastic dust jacket, gilt lettering on the spine, a color portrait of Fleming with the edition’s “copy number” hand written in black ink, and Ian Fleming’s hand written signature in blue ink. Very few of these limited editions survive and one of Fleming’s personal copies remains at the Lilly Library at Indiana University. Helfenstein goes on to say, “The amount of effort and detail that went into this edition makes it evident that Ian Fleming was quite proud of the novel.”  It is indeed hard to disagree with that sentiment as the novel clearly stands apart as a masterpiece within Fleming’s literary Bond canon.

The bulk of Helfenstein’s book is dedicated to the 1969 film adaptation of OHMSS starring first time actor George Lazenby as James Bond.  Screenwriter, Richard Maibaum, had already achieved a great deal of success adapting 4 of the 5 previous Bond films for EON starring Sean Connery.  It would seem that as early as 1964, Maibaum was eager to adapt OHMSS as the first film treatment from June of that year suggests.  The early film treatment contains a different spin on elements that would go on to be used frequently within the Bond film franchise – one being the fake death. Only this time, instead of the filmmakers faking Bond’s death, it would be Blofeld who would fake his death.  Also present in this earliest imagining of the film is Bond’s second secretary from the novels Mary Goodnight, who took over secretarial duties for Loelia Ponsonby who had served as Bond’s secretary for the previous novels. In the scene with M.’s secretary, Miss Moneypenny, she refuses to accept Bond’s resignation jokingly referring to her wager in the office pool as to who would get to bed Mary Goodnight first – a prospect that is unashamedly politically incorrect.  Further early treatments and screenplays indicate that Maibaum had been eager to include a scene where Bond would befriend a chimp at Blofeld’s zoo.  Once Bond’s identity was discovered, Blofeld would have his men lock Bond with the chimp, and the chimp would assist in Bond’s escape. In some incarnations of these early film treatments, Bond would actually make a point of rescuing the chimp from captivity during the climatic attack on Piz Gloria in the final act of the film.  Maibaum had even wanted to recruit Gert Frobe, who had played the villain Goldfinger in the 1964 Bond film to play Blofeld as Goldfinger’s twin brother.

Thankfully, none of those outlandish ideas ever made it to the final shooting script, but here Helfenstein paints a very thorough picture of the creative process that Maibaum had gone through with various incarnations of the screenplay before the final shooting script.  One element of controversy surrounding the pre-titles sequence of the film is whether or not George Lazenby improvised the line “This never happened to the other fellow” seemingly breaking the 4th wall talking into the camera onceTracy drives off leaving Bond alone on the beach after he had so dramatically saved her life.  It would appear that Maibaum’s various screenplays have some variation of the line such as “This never happened before Double –O-Seven.  Perhaps they ought to try again.”  Also considered was “This never happened to Sean Connery.”   For many years different conflicting variations of the story of how this line ended up being used in the film have been told.  The most accepted version is that Lazenby himself ad-libbed the line and the director, Peter Hunt, decided to use it, but Helfenstein’s research seems to prove that the line had indeed been in the script.  Whether or not Lazenby was meant to address the audience and look into the camera is still up for debate.

George Lazenby as James Bond

George Lazenby as James Bond

OHMSS was a film that involved a lot of risk.  Not only were they introducing a new Bond with George Lazenby replacing Sean Connery in the title role, the producers were taking a risk promoting Peter Hunt to the director’s chair after serving as film editor on the previous films. This would be Hunt’s first time directing a film after his appeal to direct the previous Bond film, You Only Live Twice, had been rejected. Also, though OHMSS was an extraordinary story based on one of Fleming’s best novels, it would be a challenge to see if the audience would accept the deviation from formula that the story of OHMSS demanded.  Bond would actually fall in love with a woman, propose marriage, and actually have a wedding.  There would be genuine romance in a Bond film for the first time, which forced Hunt to remark that if anything had to be cut it would be action because the romance between Bond and Tracy was paramount to the story.  There would be less reliance on gadgets and gimmicks that had become a staple to the audience despite the fact that there was little use of these gimmicks in Fleming’s source material.   Also, the prospect of a downbeat emotional ending loomed as opposed to the previous high intensity climaxes, which audiences had grown to expect from the franchise.  This time, the film would end on an emotional low with Bond’s wife being killed and a desperate Bond clutching onto her in vain imploring that “We have all the time in the world” in quiet yet stoic desperation.

Despite facing many obstacles, Peter Hunt achieved what many in the Bond fan community consider to be a high point in the film franchise.  George Lazenby decided to quit the role of James Bond near the end of production refusing to sign a multi-film contract on advice from his manager / friend Ronan O’Rahilly who thought that Bond films would not survive and that George Lazenby should look for more anti-establishment oriented roles to cater to the then-current hippy trend.   When this happened, EON relied heavily on his costar Diana Rigg to promote the film.  Rigg’s strong performance in the film set a new standard for the role of the Bond girl.  As Tracy, she is almost every bit Bond’s equal. She has her own fight scene that filmmakers incorporated into the role aware of her previous experience with action sequences in The Avengers television series.  Indeed, many argue that it is Rigg not Lazenby who carries the film and earns the emotional depth that the film aims towards.

Diana Rigg and George Lazenby in OHMSS

Diana Rigg and George Lazenby in OHMSS

When Lazenby was reluctant to return to the studio for post-production work after deciding to quit the role of Bond, producer Harry Saltzman told him, “If you got hit by a truck tomorrow, I wouldn’t be happy about it, but I wouldn’t be out of business either.”  Needless to say, there were and still remain many controversies regarding the release of this film, which Helfenstein does his best to shed light on.  Lazenby refused to shave his beard for the Royal Premiere of the film in protest against the Bond producers who he now began to publicly criticize despite the fact that they had given him the very opportunity he had desperately asked of them.  They had given him the role with practically no acting experience other than modeling and brief commercial work.

Helfenstein also details the work that John Barry put into creating the score of the film as well as in securing Louis Armstrong to record the song featured in the film, “We Have All the Time in the World.” Both John Barry and Peter Hunt convinced Cubby Broccoli to pay Louis Armstrong’s high asking fee, which would result in a beautiful rendition recorded merely two years before the legendary singer’s death.  For the instrumental piece of the title song, Barry decided to write a riveting piece of music with a Moog synthesizer motif.  Barry said he wanted the audience to forget they had Sean Connery when introducing the new Bond.  He continued, “What I did instead was to over-emphasize everything that I’d done in the first few movies, and just go over the top to try and make the soundtrack strong. To do Bondian beyond Bondian.”  Indeed, the music of John Barry really does play an instrumental part in establishing the tone of the movie as a Bond movie.  His work on the soundtrack in the title song alone conveys a feeling of daring and resilience.  During the romantic interludes between Bond and Tracy, Barry’s music permeates the film with the necessary depth and resonance.

Louis Armstrong's "We Have All the Time in the World"

Louis Armstrong’s “We Have All the Time in the World”

One of the most revelatory sequences of the book occurs during the end where Helfenstein details some of Richard Maibaums initial treatments of the subsequent Bond film, Diamonds Are Forever. Maibaum had been unrelenting to the producers that the film not only should feature Bond seeking revenge on Blofeld for the murder of his wife Tracy but also that Peter Hunt should return to direct as well.  In a personal letter to Cubby Broccoli, Maibaum implored, “Cubby, you may not like me saying this, but my heart is in the Bond series and I hope to hell you have a cutter as good as Peter Hunt. Peter may have become a monster as a director and I think he did a hell of a job with an idiot like Lazenby, but as an editor his contributions to the success of the films can’t be over emphasized. He made the films move.”

Unfortunately, Diamonds Are Forever, would not take Maibum’s suggestions.  While United Artists were able to coax a reluctant Sean Connery back to the role of James Bond, the resulting film takes a light hearted tone and many regard it as a precursor to the Roger Moore era with its emphasis on humor, gadgets, and a Bond more prepared to deliver a quip than exact brutal revenge.  Although Bond does square off against Blofeld in the film, the marriage to Tracy and the reason for Bond’s pursuit of Blofeld goes entirely unmentioned as if it never happened.  Maibaum was able to insert a reference to Tracy in the 1981 Bond film, For Your Eyes Only, when Roger Moore’s James Bond visits Tracy’s grave during the pretitle sequence.

Bond holding Tracy at the end of OHMSS

Bond holding Tracy at the end of OHMSS

Charles Helfenstein’s book on the making of OHMSS is extremely comprehensive and fascinating for anyone interested in the world of James Bond.  With interviews and extensive research, Helfenstein created the definitive document covering every aspect of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service from Fleming’s conception and inspirations behind the novel to every step of pre-production and screen treatments dating back to 1964 (5 years before the film debuted) to the casting, production, marketing, and release of the 1969 film. Everything a Bond fan could possibly want to investigate regarding OHMSS is here.   If you are a Bond fan, you owe it to yourself to pick up this book.


  1. Fleming, Ian On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Jonathan Cape, 1963
  2. Helfenstein, Charles The Making of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Spies LLC, 2009
  3. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, directed by Peter Hunt, 1969, EON.
  4. Listen to a fascinating interview with Charles Helfenstein for the James Bond Radio podcast here:

Ian Fleming’s Masterpiece: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

In January of 1962 Ian Fleming began work on his 11th James Bond book, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The previous year, Fleming had successfully sold the film rights to his novels to EON who would begin production on their first Bond film Dr. No starring Sean Connery in Jamaica not far from Fleming’s Goldeneye estate. Fleming had anticipated the commercial failure of his previous Bond novel, The Spy Who Loved Me (an experiment that entailed Fleming writing the entire novel in the first person from a female perspective), and decided to return Bond to his roots with this latest effort.  Indeed, Bond begins the novel at the French seaside Casino resort Royale –les-Eaux, which served as the setting for the very first Bond novel, Casino Royale.  Here, Bond encounters a woman about to commit suicide.  He had previously saved her from disgrace at the casino where she nearly welched on a bet at the Chemin De Fer table until Bond nobly stepped in to cover her debt.  Now, he found himself by the shore preventing Tracy from drowning herself only to be captured and taken hostage by mysterious men who had been following the two of them all along. From the very beginning of the novel, Fleming re-positions this latest Bond adventure using some of the very elements that had made Bond successful in the first place.  There’s a gambling scene, a woman, and the presence of danger – all the elements that had made the earlier Bond novels such successful thrillers. While on the surface it may appear as if Fleming was playing it safe to recover from the commercial failure of The Spy Who Loved Me “experiment,” as one reads the novel, it soon becomes clear that for this adventure Fleming’s inspiration had been renewed.  While all the familiar elements of Bond would be present, Fleming found new ways to take risks and thrill readers once again with his fictional hero.

Richard Chopping's original dust jacket artwork

Richard Chopping’s original dust jacket artwork

Fleming weaves together an intriguing plot for Bond to navigate through for this adventure.  Ernst Stavro Blofeld had been introduced in Thunderball as the mastermind of SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion), an independent criminal organization with no specific state sponsored alliance comprised of previous members of SMERSH, the Italian mafia, the Gestapo, and the Chinese Tongs.  The organization had previously attempted to hold the western powers to ransom by stealing a couple of atomic missiles until Bond thwarted their plans in Operation Thunderball. Since then, Bond had been charged with pursuing any leads to SPECTRE and specifically with bringing in its leader, Blofeld. Bond begins the novel frustrated with his assignment to the point where he contemplates resigning from the British Secret Service altogether.  It then that he encounters Tracy and becomes transfixed on her after she had daringly driven passed Bond in her vehicle.  The attraction to Tracy is instantaneous, however, he soon finds that she is connected to one of the most dangerous French criminals.  She turns out to be the daughter of Marc-Ange Draco, a capu in the French criminal organization, the Union Corse. It was his men who captured Bond near the shore at the beginning of the novel.

Draco explains his actions to Bond as resulting from concern over his daughter. He genuinely extends his hand to Bond in friendship and implores Bond to marry Tracy so that Tracy might have a man to look after her.  This obviously sounds fairly politically incorrect for today, but Draco details Tracy’s story as a heartbreaking tale explaining why his daughter had become prone to depression and attempts at suicide.  Tracy’s mother had been dead for ten years, and Draco had sent his daughter to Switzerland to finish her education where she soon fell in with the wrong crowd becoming prone to “scrapes and scandals.” Draco continues,

 “ … as I now see it, the worm of self-destruction had somehow got hold inside her and, behind the wild, playgirl facade, was eating away what I can only describe as her soul . . . You know that this can happen, my friend, to men and to women.  They burn the heart out of themselves by living too greedily, and suddenly they examine their lives and see that they are worthless.  They have had everything, eaten all the sweets of life at one great banquet, and there is nothing left.  . .  She went off without telling me, and married, perhaps with the idea of settling down. But the man, a worthless Italian called Vincenzo, Count Julio Vincenzo, took as much of her money as he could lay his hands on and deserted her, leaving her with a girl child. . . And then, my friend, six months ago the baby died – died of that most terrible of all children’s ailments, spinal meningitis.”

This explains the self-destructive pattern that Bond had observed in Tracy before.  One can imagine that if Fleming had continued his “experiment” from The Spy Who Loved Me that there might be enough in Tracy’s woeful tale for Fleming to have tried to construct the novel from her point of view.  There is no evidence that Fleming ever considered this, and everything we do learn about Tracy is usually from either the perspective of her father, Bond, or the narrator.  For that reason, Tracy is a bit elusive as a character.  We certainly can ascertain much of her personality from the events of the book, but compared to other women in the Bond series she’s more intangible.

Despite Draco’s generous offers, Bond initially declines to marry Tracy. Instead, he offers to briefly look after her before going off to his next destination.  In exchange, however, Draco gives Bond some vital information regarding the whereabouts of Blofeld.  Bond learns that Blofeld is in Switzerland, and further investigation concludes that Blofeld had been in contact with the College of Arms investigating his claim to a title of nobility.  This is where Fleming’s research into the subject of heraldry and genealogy comes into play and where Fleming gives Blofeld his Achilles heel.   As far back as 1960, Fleming had commissioned Robin de La Lanne-Mirrlees from the actual College of Arms to investigate possible family background origins for both Bond and Blofeld to include in a novel.  Before Sean Connery was ever considered for the role of James Bond, Fleming had been inclined to find a way to incorporate a Scottish origin for Bond.  While Mirrlees failed to find an appropriate real life Scottish bloodline for Bond, he did find a family motto that Fleming would use for Bond that happened to fit the very credo of the character, “The World is Not Enough.” For Blofeld, Mirrlees found several variations of the name and suggested that a physical trait be used by Fleming as a marker to identify the link to his ancestry, which became the lack of earlobes.

Bond therefore goes undercover as a representative from the College of Arms to supposedly help Blofeld validate his claim to the title of Count.   The pretense used to arrange his meeting with Blofeld would be that the representative, a Sir Hilary Bray, needed visual confirmation of this physical characteristic in Blofeld in order for the research to continue.  Essentially, Bond appeals to Blofeld’s vanity, which is a theme that continues throughout the book.  The object is to convince Blofeld to leave his hideout in the Swiss Alps on the pretense of validating his claim to a noble title so that he can be apprehended somewhere where the British Secret Service could get to him.

For the setting of Blofeld’s stronghold, Fleming introduces us to the remote location of Piz Gloria, which was in fact an amalgam of various locations including the Sphinx Observatory at Jungfraugoch, Kitzbuhel in Austria, and Schloss Mittersill, a sports resort located in the Alps near St. Moritz where Fleming had previously gone skiing on family holidays.  Fleming actually based one of the most memorable sequences in the book, Bond’s escape from Piz Gloria skiing away from an avalanche, upon his own experience when he had once gone down a slope in Kitzbuhel that had been closed due to possibility of an avalanche.

Bond is able to fool Blofeld by appealing to Blofeld’s vanity regarding his ancestry long enough to scope out part of Blofeld’s plot.   This is where suspension of disbelief is needed.  Blofeld happens to have gathered a group of simple women under the guise of scientific research to cure their allergies.  In reality, Blofeld wants to conduct biological warfare by hypnotizing these women into poisoning England’s agriculture.  Blofeld’s plot isn’t sussed out until after Bond’s daring escape, but it is perhaps the one part of the novel that seems far-fetched although Fleming does attempt to ground it in reality despite the fantastical nature of the villain’s scheme.

Fleming takes a bold leap with Bond in this novel, however, by giving Bond the genuine desire to settle down and marry Tracy once he’s reunited with her.  Tracy saves Bond’s life by helping Bond get away from Blofeld’s men after Bond had just narrowly escaped the avalanche at Piz Gloria. With Blofeld’s men on his tail, it would have been only a matter of time until Bond would have been discovered if it wasn’t for Tracy helping to disguise Bond and drive him away from danger in her vehicle.  This is one occasion where the Bond girl gets to do more than just be a damsel in distress.  It is Tracy who drives the getaway vehicle and Tracy who risks her own life to get Bond to safety.  In a move considered daring for a Bond story, Bond proposes marriage to Tracy:

“Bond suddenly thought, Hell! I’ll never find another girl like this one.  She’s got everything I’ve looked for in a woman, She’s beautiful, in bed and out.  She’s adventurous, brave, resourceful.  She’s exciting always.  She seems to love me.  . . . Above all, she needs me.  It’ll be someone for me to look after.  I’m fed up with all these untidy, casual affairs that leave me with bad conscience.  I wouldn’t mind having children. . . We’re two of a pair, really.  Why not make it for always? . . . Bond found his voice saying those words that he had never said in his life before, never expected to say. ‘Tracy. I love you. Will you marry me?’”

It’s curious that the line about “untidy, casual affairs” recalls the words of Vivienne Michel in the very first paragraph of The Spy Who Loved Me.  Had Fleming decided to give Bond a touch of femininity? Perhaps the mindset of the character that Fleming explored in Vivienne Michel was a mindset that Fleming had desired to instill in Bond. Like Vivienne Michel, Bond had indeed become unsatisfied with his love life and now desired something more solid, a real partner for life.  This he found in Tracy.

Before taking the plunge into marriage, Bond was determined to capture Blofeld.  He visits Draco asking for his help in the matter as well as for his daughter’s hand in marriage.  Draco assembles his men to help Bond invade Piz Gloria by helicopter.  Fleming actually avoids giving many details of the actual fight between Draco’s men and Blofeld’s henchmen and instead gives the readers the final thrill of Bond’s pursuit of Blofeld down a dangerous bobsled run.  The climax is very thrilling and the fact that Blofeld gets away as the resort of Piz Gloria explodes in the background lends eeriness to the prospect of Bond’s wedding.  The ending of the novel is undoubtedly the most haunting of all of Fleming’s books.  Tracy gets shot by Blofeld and his henchwoman, Irma Bunt, shortly after the banquet while driving herself and Bond to their honeymoon.  Heartbroken, Bond could only respond by telling the young man who approached them:

“’It’s all right.’ He said in a clear voice as if explaining something to a child.  ‘It’s quite all right.  She’s having a rest.  We’ll be going on soon.  There’s no hurry.  You see’ – Bond’s head sank down against hers and he whispered into her hair – ‘you see, we’ve got all the time in the world.’”

Fleming captured the totality of Bond’s heartbreak with that final sentiment.  It could be interpreted in various ways, but I think the meaning I get from it is that Bond knows his fate as a loner is sealed.  The brief interlude with Tracy and the notion that he could have a family life had been a fantasy that he desperately clung to.  In her final moments, he did not want to let Tracy go.  He wanted that life that he imagined he’d have with her and he knows that the moment these first responders burst in and take her, their life together will be gone.  It’s probably the most poignant and emotional moment in the entire series.

Fleming later went on to say, “Well, James Bond couldn’t really be married.  I can’t have him settling down.  His wife would be irritated with his constantly going abroad, she’d want to change his way of life, his friends, and Bond would worry about the measles epidemic back home and his own faithfulness and – no it can’t be done.”

Only for a brief time, Fleming let Bond do what he would seemingly never do – marry a woman he loves.  Much is said about the character of Tracy being inspired by Fleming’s girlfriend during the war, Muriel Wright.  Wright, a naval dispatch rider and air warden, had been involved with Fleming in a long relationship.  By most accounts Fleming treated her poorly seeing other women, which had bothered her family.  Muriel Wright was killed in an air raid in March of 1944.  It was Ian Fleming who would later identify her body, an experience that seems to have echoed in the ending of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Muriel Wright

Muriel Wright

I highly recommend to anyone interested in reading the Fleming novels that they read On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  While the resulting film of the same name is very faithful to the book in spirit, the novel provides its own very thrilling experience from beginning to end.  The artistry of Ian Fleming is on full display here and I believe that it stands alongside Casino Royale and From Russia with Love as among Fleming’s best work.   The word “masterpiece” has a tendency to be overused today, but I believe the word most definitely applies to Fleming’s novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Here’s the ending of the 1969 film from youtube for anyone who wants to view it:


  1. Fleming, Ian On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Jonathan Cape, 1963
  2. Helfenstein, Charles The Making of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Spies LLC, 2009

The Spy Who Loved Me – A Look at Ian Fleming’s Discarded Bond Novel

In January of 1961 Ian Fleming retreated to his Goldeneye estate in Jamaica to write his 10th James Bond book. His previous novel, Thunderball, had been published despite Kevin McClory’s attempt to stop publication amidst accusations of plagiarism.   Not surprisingly, Ian Fleming was in a dire physical and emotional state.  He was no longer fit enough to ski at the Fleming family Christmas holiday retreat in St. Moritz.  The previous year, Fleming had suffered a coronary forcing him to spend a month at a London clinic. His relationship with his wife Ann had become terribly fractured.  Ann had never approved of Fleming’s Bond books because she found them distasteful and because her social circle also disapproved of them.  Both Ian and Ann were also each engaged in affairs.  Anne was seeing Hugh Gaitskell, a politician and Leader of the Labor Party while Ian was seeing Blanche Blackwell, mother of Chris Blackwell who would go on to become founder of Island Records and eventually become the owner of Fleming’s Goldeneye estate, a present day luxury resort.  Some believe that Blanche was really the love of Ian Fleming’s life and that the character of Honeychile Rider from Dr. No may have been based upon her.

Blanche Blackwell and Ian Fleming

Blanche Blackwell and Ian Fleming

Fleming decided to take an entirely different approach with his next book, which would become The Spy Who Loved Me.  Instead of writing it as a 3rd person omniscient narration has he had done with the previous novels, he decided to write in the 1st person from the perspective of a woman, Vivienne Michel, a French Canadian who had spent her late teenage years in England and whose tale was to focus on the various disappointments in her love life before the fateful night when James Bond saved her life. Bond in fact doesn’t appear until the novel has nearly ended.  Instead, the reader is treated to the story of the life of this woman and how she came to be in the predicament that would require someone like James Bond to save her.

It must have been a considerable risk to Fleming to approach his book this way, and while contemporary reviews had almost universally panned The Spy Who Loved Me as a trashy attempt at a romance novel, I actually found it very enjoyable and I think the novel’s status as the literary black sheep in the Bond cannon deserves to be re-evaluated. After the novel had been poorly received, Fleming explained to his publisher that, “I had become increasingly surprised to find my thrillers, which were designed for an adult audience, being read in schools, and that young people were making a hero out of James Bond … So it crossed my mind to write a cautionary tale about Bond, to put the record straight in the minds particularly of younger readers … the experiment has obviously gone very much awry.”

The novel does indeed come across as a cautionary tale by the end of the story, but I also believe that Fleming had an even more personal aim in mind when writing this book.  The novel opens up in a captivating way:

                “I was running away.  I was running away from England, from my childhood, from the winter, from a sequence of untidy, unattractive love-affairs, from the few sticks of furniture and jumble of overworn clothes that my London life had collected around me; and I was running away from drabness, fustiness, snobbery, the claustrophobia of close horizons and from my inability, although I am quite an attractive rat, to make headway in the rat-race. In fact, I was running away from almost everything except the law.”1.

Vivienne goes on to explain that she had been orphaned at early age and brought up by an Aunt in Quebec, who had sent her to “finishing school” in London to complete her transition into adulthood.  She continues to reminisce about her past as she finds herself now an overnight caretaker in a secluded motel about to close for the winter in upstate New York near the Adirondacks.  The music on the radio reminds her of the first of these “unattractive love-affairs” with an Oxford undergraduate named Derek.  They would meet up weekly on Saturdays, spend the day together and end up at a cinema where Derek would encourage her to explore her sexuality doing almost everything short of the deed itself in a private box where they believed they wouldn’t be noticed.  On the final Saturday of the summer before Derek would be off to return to school, he encourages her to complete the act of lovemaking in the theater box before being discovered by the owner of the theater and being thrown out in shame.  Despite Vivienne’s utter humiliation, Derek continues to pressure her to have sex with him until she finally relents to do it behind some trees in a field.  She felt as if she had to be “a good sport” about it and had been blind to the fact that Derek was looking to use her.

The setting of the cinema for Vivienne’s first sexual encounter was precisely how Ian Fleming lost his virginity according to Andrew Lycett’s biography.   Derek cruelly sends Vivienne a letter letting her know that he was actively engaged to another woman over the entire course of their relationship and that his mother would disapprove of her status as a non-English woman necessitating the need to end their affair.  Despite having her heart broken, Vivienne pulls herself together to become a journalist establishing a career similar to Fleming’s own journalism career at Reuters prior to his Intelligence service during the war.  It is there that she meets a German man who offers her employment in his foreign news agency.  Their professional relationship soon becomes physical, but as soon as Vivienne becomes pregnant, the German pays for her to travel to Switzerland to have an abortion and to terminate their relationship, which leaves her with the desire to “run away” as she had previously described.

After briefly reuniting with her Aunt in Quebec, Vivienne decides to drive on her Vespa scooter from New York to Florida to begin her life again, but decides to stop at a motel where these cagey managers offer her employment. The husband and wife who manage the place end up treating her cruelly, but since she wanted to make some money for her travels, she endured the husband’s advances.  When a knock on the door comes during a storm, Vivienne unwittingly lets in the two gangsters sent by the owner to apparently burn down the place as part of an insurance fraud scam.  They had intended to leave Vivienne’s corpse as evidence to imply that she started the fire to deflect any insinuations of arson. Their plans are kept secret from Vivienne while they subject her to beatings after her attempts at escape.  Just when the hoodlums are about to rape Vivienne, James Bond shows up by coincidence after having a flat tire along the road by the motel.

Needless to say, Bond rescues her from the two gangsters after foiling their plan.  The most controversial aspect of the book, however, involves Vivienne sleeping with Bond after being rescued.  It may be a fair criticism to say that while Vivienne begins the narrative as a heroine of sorts, she ends up in the role of a typical damsel in distress, which may be where Fleming’s book falls a bit short. She does attempt to help Bond at several points, but Bond basically does most of the work dispatching the two criminals.  Vivienne doesn’t linger too much on the graphic details of her sex with Bond, but I suppose there is enough there to make some readers feel as if the story ventures too far into the realm of erotica when most readers are accustomed to the Bond stories being thrillers.   I think that her sleeping with Bond certainly fits within the context of Fleming’s story.  After her two previous hallow sexual encounters, the point of her describing the act of making love to Bond was to contrast that experience with her previous ones.  Even though she knew Bond wouldn’t commit to her beyond that single night, her experience with Bond was the first she had with a man who had been kind to her, a man who literally risked his own life to save hers.   It might come off as a trite notion to get across in a novel and perhaps if Ian Fleming had been more creatively inspired, he could have done something even more original with the climax of this story, but as a reader I think it was bold to approach Bond in this way.

Perhaps the warning from the police captain to Vivienne may come across as even more trite to some readers, but it fits in with Fleming’s original intention of portraying Bond in a “cautionary” light. The captain tells Vivienne:

 “’Keep away from all these men. They are not for you, whether they’re called James Bond or Sluggsy Morant.  Both these men, and others like them, belong to a private jungle into which you’ve strayed for a few hours and from which you’ve escaped.  So don’t go and get sweet dreams about the one or nightmares from the other.  They’re just different people from the likes of you – a different species.’ Captain Stonor smiled, ‘Like hawks and doves . . .”1.

Indeed, when Vivienne first laid eyes on Bond, she thought he was another one of the gangsters there to torment her.   She was frightened because she recognized a kind of cruelty in him.  It is that very cruelty that Fleming wanted readers to see in Bond, which is why he tired of the notion of young school children reading his books praising James Bond as a hero.   Fleming seemed to be tapping into the same themes that we explore today when we analyze our iconic fictional heroes.  The notion that the same darkness may exist in the hero as it does in the villain is not a wholly original one, but I have to give credit to Fleming for at least attempting to explore this theme at a time when his readers wanted more of the same thriller material from him.

As Fleming himself admitted, the experiment of The Spy Who Loved Me failed commercially during the time of publication.  The Times review said, “The novel lacks Mr. Fleming’s usual careful construction and must be written off as a disappointment.”  Another critic wrote that the “author has reached an unprecedented low.”

Fleming himself requested that the book not be released in paperback in the UK and that there be no further printings of it. When Fleming sold the film rights to his Bond series to EON, he included a stipulation that only the title of The Spy Who Loved Me be used and that nothing of the plot should appear in any film adaptation of the book.  EON did eventually release The Spy Who Loved Me as a film in 1977 starring Roger Moore.  It is regarded as one of Moore’s best films, and the plot of the film shares absolutely nothing with the plot of the Fleming novel.  Instead, Bond partners with a female Russian counterpart spy to take down a maniacal villain intent on destroying the planet in order to establish his own underwater city.  As one might guess, the film requires a bit of suspension of disbelief, but it’s actually quite entertaining.

Fleming himself may have wished to discard his novel of The Spy Who Loved Me, but I think the book deserves to be re-evaluated not only by Bond fans but as a work of literature.  Vivienne Michel’s story is an engaging portrait of a woman’s coming of age during a time before the woman’s liberation movement of the 1960s and 70s.  It was written during a time when the notion of a woman exploring her sexuality was still considered taboo.  Today, we have an entire genre of romance and erotica novels that have reached a level mainstream acceptance and financial success.  One needs only to think about the success of Fifty Shades of Grey to see how much things have changed since The Spy Who Loved Me was published in 1962.  One can only wonder how far Fleming would have taken this “experiment” with James Bond had this attempt met with any measure of success. I for one wish he had the chance to experiment even more with Bond.  I think if we re-examine this novel today, many might see that perhaps Fleming’s “experiment” hadn’t failed after all.



  1. Fleming, Ian The Spy Who Loved Me. Jonathan Cape, 1962

Book Review: Catching Bullets by Mark O’Connell

catching bullets2

Book Review: Catching Bullets by Mark O’Connell

Reviewed by Jack Lugo

The idea of writing a memoir of watching your favorite film series may strike some people as an odd exercise, yet Mark O’Connell’s book succeeds  not only as a document of his James Bond fandom but also as his personal life story.   Many have heard of the saying “you are what you eat.” Well after reading this book, one might come away with the conclusion that “you are what you enjoy” or more accurately “what you enjoy is what ultimately shapes you.”  Ever since he watched Octopussy starring Roger Moore as James Bond at the age of nine, O’Connell knew that he was a Bond fan.  The fact that O’Connell’s grandfather, Jimmy, happened to be the personal chauffeur to Cubby Broccoli (founder of EON) was icing on the cake and certainly solidified O’Connell’s personal connection to the franchise.

The insight O’Connell brings as a fan to the Bond film franchise is bolstered by the fact that he doesn’t attempt to approach the series the way other fan guides do.  Most Bond fan guides examine each film chronologically going into details about each film with an attempt at remaining objective. O’Connell instead takes a totally subjective approach by recalling each film in the order in which he viewed them starting with his boyhood viewings of these films mostly on British television growing up in Cranleigh, England.  Though these TV broadcasts were mostly censored and cut versions of the films, O’Connell recalls with gusto how he recorded these broadcasts on VHS tapes while attempting to cut out the commercials, which is certainly an activity readers who grew up in the 80s and 90s could recall doing.

The childhood stories in this book are very relatable and often times full of wit and humor.  In one early chapter he recalls his Catholic school teacher, Mr. McCarthy, who would recite Psalm 23 directly at disruptive students.  So, when a young Mark O’Connell thought it was safe to ask whether the teacher had seen the broadcast of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” the previous night, Mr. McCarthy’s only reply was “The Lord is my Shepard, Mark O’Connell, there is nothing I shall want . . .” It’s impossible not to sympathize with O’Connell as I think everyone at some point has had moments similar to that when you think maybe another person might share your enthusiasm for something only to be shot down.

O’Connell went many steps further cementing his childhood obsession with the franchise creating his own Roger Moore posters and imagining a life with Maud Adams, his favorite Bond girl.  In fact, for many years, O’Connell would use Maud Adams as his “straight shield” whenever he needed to cite an actress he had an attraction for in conversation. The irony of a gay young man becoming a fan of the very heterosexual character of James Bond isn’t lost on O’Connell, yet from the very beginning of his introduction to the franchise it is his fandom that helps shape a huge part of his identity as he became an adult and forged his own writing career in British television.

The book gets even more interesting as it gets into O’Connell’s older years as he attains some success writing screenplays that were produced for television.  His wit shines throughout the book.  At one point he recalls how he gave an interview about one of his screenplays in his childhood bedroom which was still adorned with 007 posters. O’Connell brilliantly writes, “I just let the man come into my bedroom, ask some questions and take his photos. And that’s the last time I will ever use that sentence.” The humor in this book is often very inspired, and there are many times when I literally laughed out loud.

There are also many times when the book reminded me of my own childhood fandom / obsessions and how I’ve come to cherish certain memories from that period of time. Unlike O’Connell my childhood could quite possibly be defined by my love for Star Trek.  I didn’t really become a James Bond fan until I was older.  Like O’Connell though, I came into Star Trek long after the franchise had been established and just as Roger Moore may have been a “second best James Bond” to many people who still loved Sean Connery’s portrayal, my love for Star Trek began with Star Trek: The Next Generation and Captain Picard has been and always will be the ultimate captain of the Starship Enterprise at least to me.  James Bond and Star Trek hold some similarities despite appearing quite disparate on the surface.  Both are franchises that have spanned the length of many decades with multiple generations of fans and both have had to reinvent themselves to remain current and relevant for modern audiences.

I remember recording the episodes on VHS tapes similar to how O’Connell recorded the ITV broadcasts of the Bond films, and I spent many, many hours watching and re-watching all of my favorite episodes.  It was a period in my life that I enjoyed immensely despite the fact that many might perceive it to have been a waste of time.  As that series concluded and gave way to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in my high school years, a new Star Trek series gained my loyalty and attention with its brilliant writing boldly eschewing the episodic format that most shows had at the time and focusing instead on character development and multiple story arcs.  I could remember the excitement I felt as each new episode aired continuing the story of the Dominion War and Captain Sisko’s struggle to balance the duty he had as a Starfleet Officer and his role as an Emissary to the Bajoran people.

Perhaps not everyone could relate to the kind of fascination and obsessions that many people have for various franchises like James Bond or Star Trek.  It’s not in everyone’s DNA to immerse themselves into the world of an international spy with a sexy alluring woman for each new adventure or a Starfleet Captain intent on “boldly going where no one has gone before.” For many of us, however, the things we enjoyed as children continue to find new ways to entertain us as we become adults.  While the level of obsession may perhaps dissipate, these cherished memories of fandom will always remain a part of who we are and might even work their way into our creative output as we tap into our own imaginations.  With Catching Bullets, Mark O’Connell has achieved something very unique and very rare.  He managed to not only recount his fandom and insights into his favorite franchise, he also told a story that is very personal and uniquely his, which I think many readers could relate to regardless of how well versed they are with the James Bond franchise.  It was lots of fun reading it and it sparked many good memories.  I highly recommend it to anyone who can relate to experience of being a fan.

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