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The James Bond Files ~
The O.F. Snelling 007 Letters – Selected Correspondence, 1979-1994
Part 3

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 next letter is of special interest as it provides details not only about Snelling’s hopes for a new edition of Double O Seven, but notes on why the original success tied in with circumstances surrounding the death of Ian Fleming.)

Roebuck House London
1 December, 1982

Dear Ronnie,

. . . First, I should like to make it absolutely plain to you, and to anybody at all with whom you might be negotiating, whether it be for publication, television rights, serial rights, or anything at all to do with my Double 0 Seven, you are my sole agent and representative in the United States, Canada, and South America. You and I each hold a contract to this effect, which, until cancelled and made null and void by one or the other of us, is binding. Many thousands of miles separate us, I cannot negotiate personally, and I should like you to accept this letter as a warrant of attorney. By this time I think you are very clear on the few simple wishes and stipulations I have made in the past. Bearing these in mind, you are empowered not only to negotiate on my behalf but to sign any contract or agreement you might think fitting. Thus, the provisional agreement, dated 14 November, and sent to you by Mr. Damon Persian for my signature, was not really necessary. You have complete power of attorney, and can sign in my absence, reject, or re-negotiate as you wish. So far, as far as I am aware, discussions have been for a straight hardback reprint of Double 0 Seven and a further possibility of a limited quality paperback. Nothing more. You, (and I), reserve all additional and subsidiary rights. I have seen many contracts in the past, and I have also signed them. But I would stress that these were standard contracts for the publication of a new and hitherto unpublished manuscript. Serial, magazine, foreign, radio, television rights, et al, were then included in these contracts, since the publishers were, to a large extent, taking a chance on a new and untried work, and were entitled to their fair share of any subsequent proceeds that might have accrued. Thus, when Double 0 Seven first appeared, my British publisher sold the British paperback rights, the American paperback rights, and was also responsible for translations appearing in France, Portugal, Holland, Japan, and Israel, and was entitled to his share of the money which accrued. The present situation is quite different.

In 1964, when my book was originally published, only one or two films had been made of the Bond books, Ian Fleming died the very same week the volume appeared, and nobody, not even Cubby Broccoli envisaged the vast sums that were to be made from this particular industry. Apart from the producers, Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and the Fleming estate made millions. Others did very well, too. If anyone at all were interested in purchasing the film, television, or dramatic rights of jnv. book, which has enjoyed [??] a vogue and has been a cult book for nearly twenty years, I would consider selling these separately for a six-figure sum, that is, $100,000 in your currency. Larger sums would not be scoffed at. As previously mentioned, you hold the power to negotiate and sign any document to this effect.

(This excerpt seems quite prophetic in the post-9/11 world. The film that prompted the comments is no longer discernable on the page.)

29 December, 1983

I have sufficient imagination to know what a holocaust would be like. Like the mythical ostrich, I have a tendency to bury my head in the sand with such forms of “entertainment”. I am old enough to recall how people in the 20s and 30s felt about the prospect of poison gas in a coming world war. That, then, was the ultimate weapon. We were all issued with gas masks, and from 1939 until about 1944 few people ventured out without one. In fact, as a soldier, I could have been sent to a long term of detention for not carrying one. But the stuff was such a deterrent that it was never used. Then Hiroshima made gas seem as kid stuff. I bank upon the fact that nuclear war is relatively and comparatively – unimaginable that its weapons will never be used. The attitude in Britain is rather laissez-faire. We are a pregmatic race, and anyway, many people still living remember when rather lesser-lethal bombs rained on Britain. For the Americans it is different. Your country has never been a theatre of war since North versus South, well over a hundred years ago, and even that one was very localised. I think one bomb on any terran in the US would set off a wholesale panic something like Orson Welles’s Martian invasion. I trust things never reach this stage.

(In 1984, Snelling clearly had lost faith his Bond book would ever see a reprint. In this letter, he discusses other spy films, a Hitchcock showing, and shares insights into the Sean Connery Bond.)

29 December, 1983

Dear Ronnie,

. . . I also taped The Cincinnati Kid, another classic I know well. Only recently I re-read the novel, and discovered that this is set in St. Louis. The film was shifted to New Orleans, a much more interesting location, and a town I know quite well, and love. The film is a little gem, and although I don’t play cards and never have, the poker scenes are quite fascinating. I also caught what turned out to be the best spy thriller I’ve ever seen, with Charles Bronson, Lee Remick, and Donald Pleasence. It’s called Telefon. Do you know it? I wiped that one, eventually, but now I wish I hadn’t. Don’t miss it, if it turns up on your screen.

. . . Four of Hitchcock’s old films have come to light, having been off the air and the cinema circuits for many years. They are now playing all over this country, and I was moved to go out and pay to see two of them in cinemas – something I haven’t done for many years. The first was The Trouble with Harry, which, while adequate enough, proved to be a bit of a disappointment after all I'd heard about it. Probably a dozen people were in the auditorium. The second was the remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much. This I found to be absorbing, and it stands up well after all the years. This time I had one other person in the cinema with me. I haven’t caught the other films yet. They are Vertigo, which I’ve already seen two or three times, and Rear Window, which I only ever saw once, many years ago. I think this is the best thing that Hitchcock ever did, and it was probably my introduction to Grace Kelly, although I’m not too sure about that. Anyway, that’s one I’ll tape if ever it gets on TV.

I’m impressed by your energy and ability in even completing your detective novel. Congratulations. But I think I’m even more impressed in your being able to contrive a plot and plunge into fiction just like that. It’s one of the things I’ve always longed to do, but I’ve never been able. I did write a novel during the war which came to nothing, and I wrote a thriller just after the war which also didn’t jell. I can see now, all these years later, that it was derivative, and merely based on the even then well-worn formulae developed by people like Sapper and, later, Geoffrey Household. That was years before Fleming came into the game with his new concoction of sex, sadism and snobbery. I wish you well with your new book, and I hope Weiner can sell it.

I don’t think she will ever sell Double 0 Seven. Nor do I care at all whether she does or not. The prospect of having anything further to do with that thing appalls me. But I’m extremely grateful for all your efforts to place it over the years.

I don’t see how you can continue to watch those old Connery Bond films. Russia is the only one I could stomach now, and even that would be an effort. You, knowing them all so well, and seeing them again and again, would naturally find all the anachronisms and lack of proper continuity. I think this is true of any film, if you watch it often enough, and know it as well as you must know the Bond films. Regarding the parting on the wrong side of Connery’s hair, I would imagine that for some reason the bit that was edited in had its negative reversed. Sean always wore a toupee for those pictures, and the parting was always on the left.

Notes ~
The reference to the Bronson film was but one of many comments on spy thrillers unrelated to 007. Snelling liked The Boys from Brazil, and, in a much later letter, commented on the 1988 BBC miniseries based on Len Deighton novels – “‘Game, Set, and Match’ was just a little bit too involved for me. Didn’t know what the fuck it was all about in episode one, and haven’t bothered to follow it since. Say what you like about the Bond films, nobody ever complained that they couldn’t follow the action.”

(In the first packet of letters Ron sent in April 2007, only two were dated in 1994. Here are brief excerpts from the first and lengthy passages from the second in which Snelling comments on Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan.)

10 Roebuck House
11 January, 1994
(and it seems only yesterday it was Christmas and the New Year)

Dear Ronnie,

. . . (I did record Dalton’s Licence to Kill, over the holiday, but could find little in it to absorb me. I switched off very soon. To tell the truth, I lost much of my interest in Bond and Fleming when the latter died. I enjoyed the films of Dr No and From Russia, with Love, but each succeeding film grew more and more outrageous, and I hardly bother about them now.)

(See the extensive notes following this letter.)

26 October, 1994

Dear Ronnie,

. . . I thought Brosnan would have made a better Bond than Dalton, right from the start, when it was undecided who should fill the role. But I can’t see Mel Gibson as 007. He’s far too American. Bond is essentially British. There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that Connery was the one right man for the part: I had been impressed by his personality for some time previously in one or two B pictures and TV parts. His accent was a bit too Scottish, although Bond had Scottish antecedents, and Sean still sounds Scottish in everything he does. I don’t care much now for the grizzled veteran with mandarin moustache and almost bald head. But he had that right from DR. NO, and wore a hair-piece right until he left the Bond series altogether.

I can see nothing at all in [Michael] Keaton. He can’t act, and doesn’t even look good. I saw him in BATMAN and nothing else. Adam West was better. He brought the right ridiculous flavour of the comic-strip to the TV part.

. . . The two Ronnies continue in repeats, still as funny as ever. Cathy Gale, if that is Honor Blackman, must be at least 57* She was 47 quite ten years ago. But she still looks good, although she doesn’t do much work these days.

I knew about Caspar Fleming, of course, but until now I confess that I had never heard of Nicol Fleming!

The Dornford Yates television programme you speak of was the only thing ever done of that author. It was the novel about Vanity Fair, played by actress Eileen Atkins. I forget the title for the moment. Our Radio Times had a long article when it was first shown, about Dornford Yates, written by Tom Sharpe, who adapted the novel for television. I wrote to him at the time, since I was enormously interested in Yates, and learned that he had thought of doing a biography of that author, but had eventually abandoned it. Yates (Capt. William Mercer), was an extraordinary man: not a bit like the man you might have thought. He was an autocrat, he treated his wife, son and servants abominably, and was completely dissimilar to the heroes he wrote about so glowingly in those novels. Tom Sharpe really opened my eyes with some of the stuff he told me. He invited me out to Cambridge, where he lives, to tell me more. But as I say, I’m so lazy. The prospect of a journey of a mere fifty miles appalled me. But I was intrigued enough to read some of Sharpe’s novels. They are totally different from his adaptation of Yates. He writes outrageous black comedy. He is a sort of Marx Bros, of the book world. You either dote on him or dislike him intensely. I doted on his stuff at first, but like the said Marx Bros I now take him or leave him. The last novel of his I started I got half the way through and it still lies waiting, unfinished.

Notes ~
In the mid-80s, Snelling wrote an article on Yates for a magazine series of Unappreciated Authors. Writing Payne about his piece, Snelling observed, “Outrageous as this author was, in both his life and his writing, he had a wonderful narrative style which any budding crime writer like yourself would do well to study.”

Alongside his fellow “Clubland” adventure writers, Dornford Yates, pen name for Major Cecil William Mercer, established many staples of future spy adventures. His 34 books featured the idle rich wandering around England, Austria, and France fighting criminals and spies with the help of connections with local police and high-level government contacts. Yates was best known for two interrelated series of ongoing short story collections. The first began with The Brother of Daphne (1914) which introduced various members of the eccentric Berry Playdell family. One of the main characters was Jonathan (“Jonah”) Manscell, a cousin always disappearing on secret missions. Manscell also appeared in many of the Richard (William) Chandos books such as Jonah and Co. (1922).

Ron Payne says a “Clubland” connection he shared with Snelling was, “He and I always met at my flat in London (which had once belonged to the actor, Ray Milland, who actually did play ‘Bulldog Drummond’ in ‘Bulldog Drummond Escapes’). Freddie, my ex-wife, Ann and I then would proceed to a pub somewhere and discuss everything from ‘Hemingway’s books and personality’ to Hitchcock’s ‘North By Northwest.’”

In reference to the mentions of Fleming family members, Ron says ~

Peter Fleming was the older brother of Ian Fleming and the author of the spy thriller, The Sixth Column, which pre-dates Casino Royale by five years. It was published in 1948. Peter Fleming was better known for exotic travel books and an intriguing history of World War Two. For many years, he was on the board of directors of Glidrose Productions, Ltd., today re-christened Ian Fleming Publications.

Nicholas Fleming created the adventure hero Jake Gainsborough in the superb 1968 thriller, Counter Paradise. The son of Peter Fleming and nephew of Ian, his two daughters today own and control Ian Fleming Publications in London, which owns all the copyrights to James Bond 007.

More letters from O.F. Snelling in Part 1 and Part 2, in The James Bond Files section of this website.