Our archive of Fleming U.N.C.L.E. correspondence

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

As a footnote to our Oct. 3 post about correspondence related to Ian Fleming’s involvement with The Man From U.N.C.L.E., we’ve put up the text from some of the letters.

You can view that text ON THIS PAGE at our sister site, THE SPY COMMAND FEATURE INDEX.

Most of the letters displayed there are from Felton to Fleming, but one is by the 007 author after he signed away his rights to the television series for 1 British pound.

Also included is the text of the cease-and-desist letter sent by attorneys representing 007 producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, which sought to stop production of the show.

Finally, there’s a 1965 letter from Felton to an MGM executive in England. MGM had been approached about Felton’s availability to help with what would become The Life of Ian Fleming by John Pearson. In the letter, Felton discusses how his lawyers said not to talk about Fleming at all.

A sampling of Ian Fleming’s U.N.C.L.E. correspondence

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

A Bond collector friend let us look over his photocopies of various Ian Fleming correspondence. Much of it included the 007 author’s involvement with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series.

First, there were photocopies of 11 Western Union telegraph blanks where Fleming in October 1962 provided ideas to U.N.C.L.E. producer Norman Felton. The first blank began with “springboards,” ideas that could be the basis for episodes.

One just reads, “Motor racing, Nurburgring.” Fleming had a similar idea for a possible James Bond television series in the 1950s. This notion was included in this year’s 007 continuation novel Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horwitz, which boasts of containing original Ian Fleming content.

On the fifth telegram blank, Fleming includes this idea about Napoleon Solo: ““Cooks own meals in rather coppery kitchen.”

Whether intentional or not, this idea saw the light of day in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie released in August. In an early scene in the film, Solo (Henry Cavill) is wearing a chef’s apron, having just prepared dinner for Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) after getting her across the Berlin Wall.

Fleming also made some other observations about Solo and the proposed series.

Telegraph blank No. 8: “He must not be too ‘UN’” and not be “sanctimonious, self righteous. He must be HUMAN above all else –- but slightly super human.”

Telegraph blank No. 11: “In my mind, producing scripts & camera will *make* this series. The plots will be secondary.”

On May 8, 1963, the Ashley-Steiner agency sends a letter to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which includes details about Fleming’s financial demands for being a participant in U.N.C.L.E.

“He definitely wants to be involved in the series itself if there is a sale and is asking for a mutual commitment for story lines on the basis of two out of each 13 programs at a fee of $2500.00 per story outline,” according to the letter.

Fleming also wants a fee of $25,000 to be a consultant for the series per television season. In that role, the author wants two trips per “production year” to travel to Los Angeles for at least two weeks each trip and for as long as four weeks each trip. The author wants to fly to LA first class and also wants a per diem on the trips of $50 a day.


On June 7, 1963, Felton sends Fleming a letter containing material devised by Sam Rolfe, the writer-producer commissioned to write the U.N.C.L.E. pilot.

“In the latter part of the material, which deals with the characterization of Napoleon Solo, you will discover that those elements which you set down during our New York visit have been retained,” Felton writes Fleming. “However, the concept for a base of operations consisting of a small office with more or less a couple of rooms has been changed to a more extensive setup.”

This refers to the U.N.C.L.E. organization that Rolfe has created in the months since the original Fleming-Felton meetings in New York.

“It will give us scope and variety whenever we need it, although as I have said, in many stories we may use very little of it,” Felton writes. “This is its virtue. Complex, but used sparingly.

“In my opinion almost all of our stories we will do little more than ‘touch base’ at a portion of the unusual headquarters in Manhattan, following which we will quickly move to other areas of the world.”

At the same time, Felton asks Fleming for additional input.

“I want the benefit of having your suggestions,” Felton writes Fleming. “Write them in the margin of the paper, on a telegraph blank or a paper towel and send them along. We are very excited, indeed, in terms of MR. SOLO.” (emphasis added)

However, Fleming — under pressure from 007 film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman — soon signs away his rights to U.N.CL.E. for 1 British pound.

On July 8, 1963, Felton sends Fleming a brief letter. It reads in part:

Your new book, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, is delightful. I am hoping that things will calm down for you in the months to come so that in due time you will be able to develop another novel to give further pleasure to your many readers throughout the world.

They tell me that there are some islands in the Pacific where one can get away from it all. They are slightly radioactive, but for anyone with the spirit of adventure, this should be no problem.

Fleming responds on July 16, 1963.

Very many thanks for your letter and it was very pleasant to see you over here although briefly and so frustratingly for you.

Your Pacific islands sound very enticing, it would certainly be nice to see some sun as ever since you charming Americans started your long range weather forecasting we have had nothing but rain. You might ask them to lay off.

With best regards and I do hope Solo gets off the pad in due course.

Robert Sellers talks about Thunderball

Thunderball poster in 1965

Thunderball poster in 1965

The Spy Command interviewed Robert Sellers, the author of The Battle of Bond, about Thunderball ahead of the film’s 50th anniversary.

Because of its length, the FULL INTERVIEW is posted on our sister site, The Spy Command Feature Story Index. Here are some highlights:

Sellers on Kevin McClory’s bad side: “He was a shyster and thank God his Thunderball film never got off the ground, it would have sunk the franchise before it had a chance to get started.”

Sellers on McClory’s good side: “However, one must not underestimate the importance of McClory, after all he was the first person to fully realize the potential of Bond as a screen character when Fleming had already been turned down by most of Hollywood. He also contributed lots of ideas to the project.”

Sellers on Ian Fleming: “I think an element of arrogance seeped into his thinking…Maybe he thought his establishment credentials (Eton, Sandhurst, Naval Intelligence) lent him superiority over the brash, Irish and working class McClory.

Sellers on Jack Whittingham, the screenwriter hired by McClory, who turned in the first Thunderball-related script in 1960: “To a large extent Whittingham also changed the character of Bond himself from the one in the original novels to one that contemporary cinema audiences would find more palatable.”

Sellers on Thunderball itself: ” I love Thunderball, it’s my favourite Bond film. For me it retains the dark, edginess of Dr No and From Russia With Love, combined with the fun and campness of Goldfinger, while looking ahead to the all-out epicness of things like You Only Live Twice.”

To read the full interview, CLICK HERE.

Why Mendes couldn’t direct a FRWL type film

Sam Mendes

Sam Mendes

There’s a new issue of Empire magazine that’s guest edited by Sam Mendes, the director of SPECTRE. The DIGITAL SPY WEBSITE has a post quoting from that issue.

Specifically, the Digital Spy post includes quotes from Mendes whether, in SPECTRE, Christoph Waltz plays SPECTRE mastermind Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

The filmmaker also took issue with fans demanding to know if Waltz is Blofeld before seeing the film.

Responding to the criticism over Star Trek Into Darkness’s John Harrison/Khan reveal, Mendes said: “Why was there a backlash? There’s a narrative as well. The naming of a character is part of a story.

The audience cannot and should not be given – and I’m not confirming or denying anything – information that the characters do not have. And preserving tension in the narrative of a story that is a riff or an acknowledgement of the iconography of Bond over the years has been crucial.” (emphasis added)

That’s interesting. Still, while it might not be the best comparison, From Russia With Love, the second James Bond film, may be the exception to what Mendes describes.

In the 1963 movie, the audience is shown most of the conspiracy that James Bond (Sean Connery) will confront. Bond himself doesn’t appear until 18 minutes into the film, although there’s a phony Bond in the pre-titles sequence to hold the interest of the audience.

In Ian Fleming’s 1957 novel, things were even more dramatic. The first 10 chapters show the conspiracy (a Soviet one, while the movie was SPECTRE-driven), and Bond doesn’t show up until Chapter 11. Fleming would attempt something similar in The Spy Who Loved Me novel (where 007 doesn’t put in an appearance until the final third of the story). That novel wasn’t as well received as From Russia With Love.

The point being in the second Bond film, the audience knows a lot that Bond doesn’t know by the time the British agent becomes involved in the case. Still, there was plenty of tension and a number of twists.

Perhaps From Russia With Love is a special case, the exception that proves Mendes’ rule. Still, From Russia With Love was a journeyman director (Terence Young), not the auteurs favored by Eon Productions in the 21st century. Sometimes, there aren’t hard and fast story telling rules.

Trigger Mortis: a preview

Trigger Mortis cover

Trigger Mortis cover

By Brad Frank, Guest Writer
Trigger Mortis, by Anthony Horowitz, the newest James Bond continuation novel, comes out Sept. 8. This one is unique because it’s based on an original story outline by Ian Fleming, and brings back one of his most famous characters.

Fleming had always been interested in seeing James Bond on the screen, and throughout the 1950s he considered various deals for the film and/or television rights. A live TV adaptation of his first novel, Casino Royale, aired on CBS in 1954.

In 1956, Fleming was commissioned to create a TV series called “Commander Jamaica.” It was never produced, so he changed the main character’s name and other details, and used it as the basis for his 1958 novel Doctor No.

Another network proposed a James Bond TV series, and Fleming wrote a handful of episode outlines. When that project fell through, he adapted three of them into short stories, which were published in the 1960 collection For Your Eyes Only. Fleming’s habit of adapting unproduced scripts would come back to haunt him during the extended Thunderball legal case.

Fleming’s unused TV outlines have never been seen outside of the archives of Ian Fleming Publications until now. Trigger Mortis is based on one of them, originally called “Murder on Wheels.” Trigger Mortis takes place immediately following the events of Goldfinger, and features that book’s heroine, Pussy Galore.

Goldfinger is arguably the most famous Bond story of all time, although it’s known mainly from the 1964 film starring Sean Connery and Honor Blackman, which differs somewhat from the book.

The first obvious difference between the novel and film is that Bond’s friend, CIA agent Felix Leiter does not appear in the early parts of the book. He only shows up at the very end, during the raid on Fort Knox. Also notable is that in the book, Goldfinger works for SMERSH, using his gold to pay operatives, while the film presents him as a totally independent criminal who has partnered with China.

In the film, Jill Masterson (Masterton in the book) is adamant that Goldfinger pays her only to be seen with him, nothing else. It’s quite the opposite in the novel, in which Goldfinger fantasizes about literally making love to gold. Her death via gold paint isn’t revealed until much later, when Bond (and the reader) learns about it from her sister. And while the golden girl is one of the most memorable images in all of film, upon analysis it makes no sense outside of the broader context.

Fleming, who was very skilled at describing games or competitions, presents all 18 holes of the golf match in wonderful detail. The film reduces this to only three holes, but the results are the same. In the novel, Oddjob is not Goldfinger’s caddy, only his chauffeur. Following the game, Goldfinger in the novel invites Bond to dinner at his home, where we learn about Oddjob’s Karate skills and trick bowler hat.

As in the film, Bond tails Goldfinger to Geneva, meeting Jill’s sister Tilly Masterton along the way. When they are captured spying on Goldfinger’s factory, Tilly is NOT killed –- she survives almost to the end of the novel. The famous laser beam table is merely an old-fashioned circular saw table in the book. Goldfinger inexplicably hires Bond and Tilly to work for him on Operation Grand Slam. In the film, he keeps Bond alive merely for show, knowing that they are being spied upon by Bond’s friends.

Pussy Galore is actually a relatively minor character in the novel, who has little contact with Bond until the end. She is not Goldfinger’s private pilot –- in fact she isn’t a pilot at all, but rather the head of an all-female criminal organization. She first appears along with the other crime bosses who Goldfinger wants to join his big plan.

It has often been stated that the film improved on the book’s plot by having Goldfinger irradiate Fort Knox with an atomic bomb, thus increasing the value of his own gold reserves, rather than trying to steal it. This may be true, and yet there are many other changes in the film which make little or no sense. I’ve already mentioned Jill’s death. Another example is that, in the novel, while Goldfinger does murder the one gangster who refuses to join him, the others, along with Pussy, become active members in the attack on Fort Knox.

The film merely hints, with one line of dialogue, that Pussy may be a lesbian. The novel makes this quite explicit. She and Tilly are obviously attracted to each other. Pussy does not help Bond thwart Goldfinger’s plans, and only turns to his side in the last two chapters.

The novel concludes with their rescue from the crashed plane, which in the book was a hijacked commercial airliner, rather than Goldfinger’s private jet. Oddjob, not Goldfinger, gets sucked out of the airplane window. To justify her conversion, Pussy tells Bond “I never met a man before,” and Bond promises her a course of T.L.C. – Tender Loving Care — treatment.

Fleming would usually, during the opening chapters of his next novel, tie up any loose ends from the previous one. But he never again mentioned Pussy Galore, or what happened between her and Bond after the novel’s conclusion. That conveniently left the door open for her to reappear in Trigger Mortis.

© 2015, Brad Frank

Brad Frank is a director of the Ian Fleming Foundation.

GUEST REVIEW: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer

I never fully watched The Man from U.N.C.L.E. I wasn’t born when it was released and no DVDs (and few TV telecasts) where released in my country, at least in my teens.

As a Bond fan, of course, I enjoyed many rip-offs, from the funny ones like Get Smart, Johnny English and Kingsman: The Secret Service to the more realistic ones like Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible saga, the Harry Palmer films and a few modern-espionage films like The International.

Still, I barely knew about Napoleon Solo and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. except for the fact it was one of the many ingredients of the ‘60s spy phenomenon and the Ian Fleming connection with the character of Napoleon Solo. I was kind of interested, but I never ended up closely following the episodes as I did with Zorro, Batman, The Saint or other cult TV series.

So, what follows “review” of someone in the mid-20s who hasn’t properly watched the original TV series produced by Norman Felton but has an idea on it.

I had a free afternoon so I booked the tickets on a close theatre in my hometown in Buenos Aires. The screening was around 6:30 p.m. As I entered the theatre, all the seats were empty! I wondered if some of the negative reviews had such an impact on people that left Napoleon Solo a bit… “solo” (if you speak Spanish, you’ll get the word game).

A few minutes later, people appeared — not many, five or seven more, making around ten people if you count me. On a side note, I catched the SPECTRE teaser trailer before the film. I’ve always been unlucky in finding a Bond trailer on a screening, something that only happened before in 2002 when the Die Another Day trailer popped up before My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the movie my grandmother took me to watch.

And then, Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. filled the screen.

Overall, the film is enjoyable… enough to relax after a tough day at work, at least. It looks indeed as a movie set in the 1960s: a masterful work of the cinematographer, the costume designer, and Daniel Pemberton in the music department.

There’s a lot of humor like the one you’ll find in Kingsman: The Secret Service, but a lot less exaggerated, and more in the vein of the 1972 TV series The Persuaders. The Henry Cavill-Armie Hammer relationship onscreen is in a way very similar to the Roger Moore-Tony Curtis one.

A scene of Napoleon Solo (Cavill) comfortably drinking wine and having sandwiches while sitting in a truck as Russian agent Ilya Kuryakin (Hammer) gun fighting his enemies on a boat is particularly effective and funny for the inclusion of “Che Vuole Questa Musica Stasera” (sung by Peppino Gagliardi) as both events are taking place. This rivalry that slowly turns into friendship is akin to The Persuader’s pilot “Interlude.”

Other of the film’s pros is the backdrop created for the protagonists: Solo being an art thief working for the CIA on probation and Kuryakin having with anger management problems. The girls, Gaby (Alicia Vikander) and Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki), are in a way the stereotypical “good girls” and “bad girls” you’ll find in any retro spy series. They are not complex characters, but they fit very well into the film.

More into the 60s influence, the scene where Solo is tortured seems to have a small nod to the 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale, where Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) provides a “mind torture” to Peter Sellers’ Evelyn Tremble, aka James Bond 007, when uncle Rudi shows a video of the Nazi “achievements” as the hero is tied to an electric chair.

A special mention is deserved by Hugh Grant as Waverly, whose presence itself is more than welcome and adds a special touch to the film with his comic quips.

There is, however, a big negative point in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: the editing. It tried to be artistic and it perhaps succeeded in the desired effect, but the fast camera shots, the flashbacks and the split-screen shots are very distracting. It happens, even in a more confusing way, the same that in the shakey cam shots of Quantum of Solace.

The film’s ending offers a nice cliffhanger, maybe predictable, but very similar to the current “reboot” movies where we see the inception of what has been established before. There is a word association to the last line said by Waverly to the relationship a character had with other, something that would probably get lost in translation for many non-English speaking countries.

Verdict: Love the ‘60s spy movies with lots of humor? Watch it!

The Chronicles of SPECTRE Part I: Dr. No

Dr. No poster

Dr. No poster

By Nicolas Suszczyk, Guest Writer
The first film of the James Bond series was released in the middle of the Cold War, the Space Race and one year after Ian Fleming’s novel Thunderball was published.

That novel provoked a legal dispute between a severely ill Fleming and producer Kevin McClory. The conflict — not settled until 1963 — prevented Thunderball from becoming the first Bond film made by Eon Productions as originally intended.

1962’s Dr. No followed followed the story line of Fleming’s 1958 book, with Sean Connery as 007 investigating the disappearance of MI6 agent Strangways, who was investigating the activities of the title character.

In the novel, the doctor worked for the Russians. Yet, in the Terence Young-directed film, he is completely apolitical, calling East and West “each as stupid as the other”. He introduces himself as a member of SPECTRE, a criminal organization standing for SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion.

In this way, the great antagonist of James Bond is introduced: an organization that helped to depoliticize the films. At the time, East and West superpowers were rivals in both the Cold War and the conquest of space, a topic that would be slightly associated to the movie’s plot.

Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman) proudly endorses the organization’s activities and, as one of its top members, he carries on one of the group’s world domination plans: the toppling of rockets launched by Americans at Cape Canaveral.

Without being the leader of SPECTRE, Dr. No’s modus operandi is pretty much the same of his Number One and the organization itself: he has goons everywhere at his disposal and provokes fear in those who fail. He is based on an island known as Crab Key.

Dr. No even tells Bond there might be a place in SPECTRE for him, which the British agent refuses. Bond says he if joined SPECTRE, he should be in the “revenge department,” and would begin with those responsible for the death of his friends Quarrel and Strangways.

007 spoils SPECTRE’s plan by sabotaging the toppling mechanism and causing Dr. No’s base to explode. Before the explosion, Bond and Dr. No fight on a platform above the villain’s atomic reactor. As the two men are being lowered into the reactor’s boiling water, Bond is able to get away while Dr. No’s metal hands can’t get a grip and perishes.

Audiences would get a proper introduction of the organization in the second Bond film, From Russia with Love. So far, this first Bond film provides us with a strong nemesis and a mention of the people behind him and their sinister activities. What can we surmise? They’re up for world domination, they’re apolitical, they want chaos and brilliant people, like scientist Dr. No, are on the payroll.

The fictional organization would appear in more films including the 1983 non-Eon film, Never Say Never Again and the upcoming SPECTRE, directed by Sam Mendes.

Nicolas Suszczyk is the editor of The GoldenEye Dossier.


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