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The James Bond Files

 

 
The James Bond Files ~
The O.F. Snelling 007 Letters

Introductory Notes by Ronald Payne


Oswald Frederick Snelling, “Freddie” to his friends, holds one of the most unique positions in the fascinating world of James Bond 007. His intriguing little book, 007 James Bond: A Report, first published in England in 1964, was the only work of its kind ever personally approved by Ian Fleming.

As it happened, Ian Fleming suffered a massive heart attack, August 12, 1964, while playing golf, and died soon after in hospital. This sad occurrence coincided with the initial publication of O.F. Snelling’s little masterpiece – and a masterful piece of writing it is – as he examines “close up, under the microscope,” so to speak, the extraordinary world of “double-0-seven.”

I had the good fortune to meet O.F. Snelling in London in early 1979 and become his friend. My wife and I hunted him down in Hodgson’s Rooms, at Sotheby’s Rare Book Department, where he was Chief Clerk, a most important position in the Antiquarian Book trade. Ian Fleming himself, James Bond’s creator, often browsed there, searching for some exotic tome – long-lost and forgotten.

Freddie Snelling was erudite, sophisticated in a wonderful literary way and one of the kindest persons I have ever had the pleasure to meet. We soon found we possessed many common interests – most of them literary. The high esteem in which he held Raymond Chandler, the author of the Philip Marlowe books, was inspirational to a young writer like myself. I soon learned he loved the novels of Thomas Wolfe, particularly Look Homeward, Angel, Wolfe’s first novel about the young Eugene Gant.

Somehow, I believe the young Snelling also identified with Eugene, in some way. He also greatly admired From Here to Eternity, by James Jones, and was delighted when I presented him with copies of Jones’ The Merry Month of May and Jones’ one interlude into the hard boiled detective genre, A Touch of Danger, clearly inspired by Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Another Snelling favorite was James M. Cain, whose The Postman Always Rings Twice he knew backwards and forwards.

But in the end, it was always James Bond that we got back to – sooner or later. Freddie thought Sean Connery, in his mid-thirties (the Connery of Dr. No and From Russia, With Love) the perfect 007. He thought From Russia, With Love the best James Bond film, often pointing out to me how it might have been done had Hitchcock directed. He was big on Alfred Hitchcock, as a director of film in the same way he had been big on the works of H.C. McNeille (Sapper), the author of “Bulldog Drummond” and the works of John Buchan (The 39 Steps) and Dornford Yates, whose gallery of rogues, detectives and spies still brightened the lights in his eyes. He thought Ian Fleming a “patch-up” on all of them. “Fleming’s first rate,” he said one night, while sitting with my wife and me in The Sherlock Holmes Pub in London. “Ian loved the thrillers of Eric Ambler and I believe the style and tempo and energy in From Russia, With Love, while it is all Fleming, was clearly inspired by Ambler’s high brow approach to thriller writing.”

Indeed, he admired Fleming’s style in From Russia, With Love, telling me: “Fleming was the F. Scott Fitzgerald of thriller writers. He surpassed himself in that book.” Later: “Doctor No is also first rate, but it’s a throwback to Sax Rohmer and Dr. Fu Manchu. Fleming and I both loved ‘Dr. Fu,’ as did every other twelve year old English lad, growing up in the 1920s and 30s. I have spent a lot of time in Jamaica – my wife, Molly, is from there – and I can tell you, Ian Fleming gets it right, like no one else I’ve ever read.”

As time and years wore on, he felt inclined to dismiss the later James Bond films. “Fodder for movie moguls,” he told me more than once. “It’s no longer Ian Fleming’s James Bond, but ‘Cubby’ Broccoli’s James Bond 007 – and they are NOT the one and the same.” He would have loved the new Casino Royale, with Daniel Craig, because: “I am only interested in seeing a new Bond film, if it is strictly adapted from Fleming. This ‘space ship stuff’ is for the birds – and the real James Bond, would be the first to agree,” he once said to me (referring, of course, to Roger Moore’s Moonraker).

He was deeply disappointed that Diamonds Are Forever, the film, had not included the original villain – Jack Spang, of the Spang gang – from the book. He thought Charles Gray, an actor he liked, looked pretty silly as Blofeld, sitting there on his “throne chair” in Las Vegas, as Sean Connery “mountaineered his way around Howard Hughes’s hotel.”

He had even less respect for Roger Moore’s film of The Man With the Golden Gun, when he learned that it was not placed in its original Jamaica setting, but placed in Thailand. “The novel – which was not one of Fleming’s best, by a long shot,” he said, “was still fifty times better than the movie.” He thought Scaramanga should have been played by Jack Palance, because Palance “shows real menace.” He missed the train chase that pitted Bond against Scaramanga in the novel. “That would have been a great set piece, in a serious Bond film,” he said. “Jamaica is so exotically beautiful and colourful,” he wrote. “The film of The Man With the Golden Gun, though it was an expensive picture to make, looked cheaply done and all the dead brown colours looked atrocious. Roger Moore gets sillier and sillier.”

He told me that, as a teenager, he couldn’t wait to receive copies of Black Mask, the detective-mystery magazine published in America, that featured the earliest stories of Hammett and Chandler. “They used all those wonderful pulp magazines as ballast on the ships that brought them across the Atlantic,” Freddie said, smoking a long cigarette. “I read them eagerly and couldn’t wait to get my hands on the next issue – while ferreting out and perusing all the back issues I could find.”

Regarding James Bond, he said: “Fleming never wrote for the pulps, though ‘The Living Daylights’ did appear as ‘Berlin Escape’ in Argosy, which was not quite the same thing. The stories that appeared in Playboy, I think ‘The Hildebrand Rarity’ was one, were really too literary to ever make it into a magazine such as Black Mask. Ian Fleming, one must remember, was influenced not only by writers such as Sax Rohmer, John Buchan, Sapper and Eric Ambler, but also by the spy stories of Somerset Maugham, who was one of Anne Rothermere’s (Mrs. Ian Fleming) best friends. It was to Maugham that Fleming presented one of the first signed copies of Casino Royale. Maugham later replied that he had read ‘all of Casino Royale in one sitting, while lying down in bed.’”

Toward the end, Freddie, whom I really considered my second father, felt frustrated by “all the literary drivel that’s making its way onto the bestseller lists here in England and abroad” (meaning New York and elsewhere in the United States). Still, he wanted to know what new books might be of interest for him to read, and I sent him Frank McShane’s biography of The Life of Raymond Chandler, and he couldn’t have been more thrilled.

In the interim, Freddie rewarded me by making me his “sole literary agent” for Double O Seven – James Bond Under the Microscope, the real title of his book. We each had a contract stating my duties and each other’s expectations. I always hoped he would update the book – and he promised he would, once I found an interested publisher “with enough hard cash,” to make it worth his efforts. But, life intervened. His beloved Jamaican bride, Molly, the love of his life, died suddenly in his arms one night – unexpectedly of a stroke – as they watched television in their flat. He never recovered from that trauma. She was outgoing and fun. He was shy and reclusive. He loved her so deeply, but suddenly – and sadly – she was gone.

There were many publishers interested in the revised version of 007 James Bond: A Report, but always in the end, there was the matter of money. Freddie was a professional writer, and he took great pride in being paid his due. And, besides, this book – this particular book – about James Bond and approved by Ian Fleming, one of the bestselling British thriller writers of all time, possessed an impressive track record of success. It had sold in the millions, all over the world. Fleming’s own publisher, Signet – The New American Library – published it in paperback, right alongside Fleming’s own titles, which advertised it on their covers.

Freddie had raced against the clock to beat Kingsley Amis’s The James Bond Dossier into the literary market place. The two Bond studies went neck-and-neck in sales, but it was Amis, himself, who told me: “I am not known as a modest fellow – or one who hands out undeserved compliments, but Snelling’s book is a patch-up on my Bond-Dossier. His conviction about Bond being ‘one of the livingest heroes in modern fiction,’ says it all. That line alone made me a Snelling fan, as well as a Fleming fan.”

Freddie and I discussed, many times during the twenty-year period we knew each other, what would happen to the book – in the event he should become ill or (I hated thinking about it) should die. We agreed on two things, when he said: “The book is yours to do with what you wish.” And, lastly, “I want you to complete the update, using my original title: Double 0 Seven – James Bond Under the Microscope.”

Even during his lifetime, he wanted me to complete the updated version, as his energies failed him, and he lost interest in Bond altogether. Toward the end of his life, he had become an almost total recluse, though we still talked by trans-Atlantic telephone and exchanged a barrage of letters. He died November 6, 2001.

I wish to thank Professor Wesley Britton for helping me to edit these segments about James Bond through Freddie’s eyes from the letters he wrote me over the years. There are still more to come, as there were more than one hundred letters shared between us. Those letters are sealed and in storage, waiting for the moment when I can get to them. They will be published in full as The James Bond Letters, when I complete O.F. Snelling’s Double 0 Seven – James Bond Under the Microscope, next year.

In the meantime, enjoy.

Ronald Payne




Note – For more about the relationship between O. F. Snelling and Ron Payne, see “Untold Stories of 007, Part 1 – Writer Ronald Payne Shares Some Secrets”, in the The James Bond Files section of this website.