Fleming and Hitchcock: how to turn old news into a `scoop’

This week, the U.K. Daily Mail newspaper had a story it presented as a scoop: that Ian Fleming wanted Alfred Hitchcock to direct the first James Bond movie and he went through novelist Eric Ambler to make an approach to the famed director.

“I say you chaps, what’s the fuss?”


You can view the Mail’s story BY CLICKING HERE. Warning: be prepared to read deep into the story before finding the whole story. But first, here’s an excerpt:

James Bond creator Ian Fleming wanted Alfred Hitchcock to direct the first 007 movie, it has emerged.

A telegram sent in 1959 has revealed one of the biggest ‘what ifs’ in British cinema history and will leave James Bond fans shaken and stirred.

Fleming sent the communique in which he asked Hitchcock to take the helm of the first Bond film through a mutual friend. (emphasis added)

Oh, and here’s the headline (at least on the Web edition):

Revealed: The secret telegram that shows Ian Fleming wanted Alfred Hitchcock to direct the first Bond film (emphasis added)

The “first Bond film” in question was Thunderball, which originated as a film project in the late 1950s. When it fell apart, Fleming turned it into a novel, starting a complicated legal fight. Thunderball would eventually become the fourth film in the series produced by Eon Proudctions and would spawn a non-Eon remake, 1983′s Never Say Never Again.

If you read all the way to the 11th paragraph of the Daily Mail story, you’ll see the article cites the Web site Letters of Note, which IN A MAY 2 POST (or 13 days before the Daily Mail story) produced an image of the telegram sent from Fleming to Ambler about making an approach to Hitchcock.

Letters of Note, meanwhile, credited Robert Sellers’s book, The Battle for Bond, which was first published in 2007, or five years ago, with turning up the telegram.

Letters of Note is a Web site that reproduces images of letters, correspondence, etc., involving famous people. Nor is this the first time, it has dealt with Fleming. Last year, the site presented a copy of a letter Fleming sent to a reader indicating that James Bond survived the end of the From Russia With Love novel. The value Letters of Note brings is that people can view images of the original documents.

The Daily Mail didn’t mention The Battle for Bond until the next-to-last paragraph. Now, the Daily News could have added more value to the story but didn’t.

For example, why did Fleming send a telegraph to a British novelist with a Los Angeles address? Well, even minor research would have shown Ambler was working as a movie and television writer, including the screenplay for the movie The Wreck of the Mary Deare and creating the 1960-62 television series Checkmate. Dig a little bit deeper and you’d discover that Ambler in 1958 married to Joan Harrison, a Hitchcock associate who was a producer on the Alfred Hitchock Presents television show, and had worked with the director even further back, including as a writer on 1939′s Jamaica Inn.

And, finally, digging just a little further back, you’d discover that in the From Russia, With Love novel, the literary Bond takes a copy of an Eric Ambler novel with him to Istanbul (Chapter 13). Adding any or all of these details would have made for a much richer article. Instead, the newspaper takes a revelation from a five-year-old book and tells us how Bond fans will be shaken and stirred.

Not quite.

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