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The James Bond Files


The James Bond Files ~
The O.F. Snelling 007 Letters – Selected Correspondence, 1979-1994
Part 1

Edited by Wesley Britton

O. F. Snelling
Oswald Frederick Snelling

The correspondence between O. F. Snelling and Ronald Payne began after their meeting in 1979 and many references are to their budding friendship.

Not surprisingly, their early correspondence included discussions of the publishing industry, interesting authors, and James Bond in print and on screen. So the excerpts and passages below were chosen for their interest to the general reader, omitting matters relevant only to the two friends.

Explanatory notes have been inserted and some material has been consolidated for easier reading.

All words inside [] are not Snelling’s but provided by the editors for clarity. A [??] indicates a word faded on the original page and unreadable.

(The first passage excerpted here comes from one 1979 letter, the month and date is unclear, but it obviously preceded the May letter which follows.)


. . . British publishing has long been an entirely different thing from that of America. The English have never gone really great on the idea of producing handsome books. You have only to look at the alternative editions of any leading author read widely in both countries. Your country is so much bigger than ours, and the potential sales are that much greater, and you can allow yourselves to spread a little more. But the American editions are always slightly larger, by dimension, always a little thicker, always on better paper, with superior typography and binding. It is a truism, of course, to state that jackets help sell books, and we know it as well as you do, but your jackets are nearly always better than ours. An exception is Fleming himself. Our Jonathan Cape employed one Richard Chopping to execute what is known as, I believe, trompe de l’oueil designs for most of those jackets. (I may have the French spelling wrong there.) The point I am making is that Fleming’s American publishers recognised that they couldn’t better them, and used them themselves. The best of them is on From Russia, with Love. This book marked a turning point in Ian Fleming’s fortunes. Although it is a great book, I feel sure that the dust jacket had as much to do with its immediate success as its contents. After all, the potential buyer had to be seduced into purchasing the thing before he could read it.

[In terms of a new edition of my book,] I am inclined to agree with you in what you say about the Roger Moore coloured wrapper. For one thing, a new generation is growing up, and it sees James Bond in his image. These are the youngsters who are absorbed by the films and who will be inclined to turn towards the written, word, particularly when they see his face.

(The letter below is a lengthy one, including Snelling’s ideas on a revised edition of his Bond book, reflections on Sean Connery and Roger Moore, and thoughts on novelist Raymond Chandler.)

10 Roebuck House 45/47 Bassett Road London, W10
28 May 1979

Dear Ronald,

It was a most pleasant surprise to find your large parcel on my doorstep. I could not, of course, imagine what was inside, but two delights awaited me: one, your extremely pleasant and encouraging letter and two, the biography of [Raymond] Chandler. I don’t recall during our all too brief chat in the Chancery Lane pub whether or not we talked about Chandler much, but it is a fact that although I have read all of his works and have only just recently gone through a detailed season of his films on television, which also included classics like Double Indemnity, The Blue Dahlia, and Strangers on a Train, for which he was employed to write the screenplays, I am actually more intrigued with this unusual man’s life and personality than I am with his works! My mouth already waters at the prospect of settling down to this fine-looking book. (Remember what I said last time about the way American books are always just that much slightly better produced than English ones? This is a good example.)

. . . Let me say here and now that a month or two ago I started to jot down some thoughts which might develop into the “preface to the new edition”, which I mentioned, and I am rather surprised to find how it has extended. It all revolves about the original idea and the making of the book in the first place, and the rather amusing publishing history it has enjoyed. Added to this, if I do update the thing, and add comments about the three later books of Fleming not dealt with in the original edition, lots of those footnotes which amused a lot of readers will no longer be relevant, and will have to come out. Further, some of my several correspondents who wrote to me about the Bond saga over the years pointed out certain things I had missed, and some of these I should like to fit in.

In addition, it is not lost upon me that you tie in the Bond films very strongly with the Bond books, (indeed, you visualise a dust wrapper with a coloured Roger Moore photograph). I am strongly aware that while the books made the Fleming reputation in the ‘fifties and early ‘sixties, and influenced one generation, the Connery and Moore films of the later ‘sixties and all through the ‘seventies put their stamp on a later generation. Indeed, I still occasionally get letters from youngsters, and they all write about the films rather than the books. While I can’t say that I was ever greatly absorbed with the Bond films, to the extent of seeing them again and again in the manner that I read the books over and over, I still realise their great importance, and they should not be ignored.

When you first broached the idea of a new edition to me, I thought that perhaps a note might be added here, and another one there, with the new preface tacked on to the front. I even felt that when the new book came to be set up in type an old copy of Double 0 Seven, with a few amendments, might serve as copy for your printer, much in the same way as the original hardback served as copy for the printers of the several paperbacks. I now see that in order to do your project full justice this would not suffice. An entirely new typescript will be needed, from start to finish. Botched copy, perhaps 7% already in book form, 20% in new typescript, and with numerous proof corrections throughout, would be unfair to a printer as well as being a false economy. The galleys or page proofs which came back to us for correction might need so much alteration that an unnecessary expense would be involved. Printers understandably charge for corrections beyond a certain percentage, and most certainly for any corrections which were not their fault in the first place, so I think it wise to be practical from the start.

This means, dear friend, prospective publisher, and “number one fan in the world”, that your new book is going to be considerably bigger than the slim volume you already have on your shelves. Are you prepared for this? You are footing the bill for publication. I haven’t counted the words in the original Double 0 Seven. It might be 45,000 words, perhaps as much as 50,000, but certainly not a great deal more. I don’t say that the new one will be anywhere as big as, say, the 300 odd pages of the Chandler book you sent me, but it will definitely be longer than my original effort.

Did I tell you that that job was a somewhat rushed one, and that we were racing against time to get it finished and published before Kingsley Amis’s James Bond Dossier was published? I might have spread myself a little and lengthened the book had I had more time. It’s difficult to say truthfully at this time. After all, the thing was written in 1963. It’s now 1979.

. . . I should like to know what ideas you have had next time you are able to write to me. My own feelings are that we should work together as closely as possible on this undertaking, and should agree as nearly as possible on all details. I should like to be consulted on things like type faces, binding and wrapper design, but would never insist if you felt that this side was strictly your province. On the other hand, you might like some say on the actual content of the book, and might feel that certain things I wrote were either not fully developed or were much ado about nothing should be cut. (I must say I don’t anticipate very much in this direction. After all, you have been telling me steadily and flatteringly how this thing was your youthful Bible for so many years, and for all I know it approximates to the Gospel according to St. Frederick, and that to change one word or comma would be like tampering with Holy Writ. I am less inclined to view my prose as sacrosanct. Errors of grammar and things, like split infinitives have been pointed out to me, happily before they got into print, and I was most grateful. Some of the clinkers that got into print will be corrected in this forthcoming instance.)

. . . I had read about Sean Connery returning in the role of James Bond, although he now strikes me as just a little elderly to portray that secret agent perennially “in his middle thirties”. But good luck to him: all is grist to our mill. Orson Welles I can think of as Le Chiffre; at a pinch he might make a good Blofeld. He certainly fits the bill as far as Blofeld’s original, description is concerned. I am not so sure about Trevor Howard as M, although he has played salty old ex-sea dogs before, and is near enough to the first film M, dear old Bernard Lee. Neither happens to be my mental conception of the managing director of Universal Export. (But then, my conception was never anybody else's.)

You will never read a thriller by O.F. Snelling! I wrote one many, many years ago, in the army during the war years and immediately afterwards. No publisher in Britain liked it at all, and at the time I wondered why. With increasing maturity and wisdom I can see why quite easily. It was a derived hotch-potch of characters and situations drawing heavily upon the genre that had been popularised in the ‘twenties and ‘thirties. But whereas those thrillers had been written by “gentleman” authors like John Buchan, P.C. Wren, Dornford Yates, and others, who knew how to guide their Clubland Heroes through the Ritz, the Dorchester, Claridge’s, and the Cafe de Paris, and readers shared a vicarious pleasure in following invisibly, I had not then, have not now, and probably never will move in such circles, and am totally unable to write about them convincingly. One has to write very convincingly to turn the tables and create seedy, dirty-raincoated anti-heroes like those of Len Deighton, who followed in the wake of Fleming, and I cannot write that convincingly.

. . . As soon as I am able I shall make another determined search for those elusive transparencies to give you an idea, but always keep Roger Moore in mind. (Personally, I’m sick to death of him, and the whole space-suit-star-war-rocket business as well. He was all over New York, of course, but I had no desire at all to enter any cinema. I am grateful for the copy of Christopher Wood’s James Bond and Moonraker, but for my shelf of Bond books only. I don’ know if I shall ever read it. It is a cashing in on the current Bond mania. Our project is too, I know, but I’m prejudiced in favour of what we’re doing. I’ve never even read Colonel Sun.)

Notes ~
Colonel Sun was the 1968 Bond novel written by Kingsley Amis under the pseudonym of Robert Markham, the first of the authorized novels sanctioned by Glidrose.

Snelling referred to Chandler a number of times in his letters. On 21 November, 1982, he commented, “I’ve read most of the Chandler oeuvre, but only for the writing and snappy dialogue in the American idiom. I much preferred Fleming, who gave us more action, albeit less believable.”

More letters from O.F. Snelling in Part 2 and Part 3, in The James Bond Files section of this website.