The Healing Years

It’s Wednesday afternoon: schoolchildren out for the holidays careen along the promenade in cuisse-tax buggies, while pensioners buffeted by the biting North Sea wind struggle to keep hold of tubs of shellfish bought from seafront stands. Gulls circle overhead, and there is an inescapable fishy smell in the air...

A Powerful Blog On Flouncing Off Twitter Dot Com

I've left Twitter. Woo. Don't read this boring blogpost if you find that boring (which it is).

I left last year, too, for around three months. My reasons this time are a little different - mainly, it just seems utterly futile for me to complain about antisemitism while using a website that has decided to verify the accounts of two Nazis. Seriously. Actual Nazis.

But I also feel much as I did last time I left. Twitter is Argument Tetris. It's very addictive, and using it makes me feel increasingly unhealthy, anxious and depressed. It's an easy distraction to get sucked into for a full-time writer, because we work from home, alone, and so don't have quite the same 'water-cooler' valve during the day that people working in offices do. Since I started writing my second novel in 2009 my coffee breaks - to discuss a film I enjoyed or the state of the world or just to have a laugh - have mostly been online. It helps break up sessions of heavy research or trying to come up with a story people might eventually want to read.

But in an office, you can't spend hours on your coffee break. Your boss will come into the kitchen and give you a brief look, and you'll get the hint and head back to your desk pretty sharpish. But, like other writers, I don't have anyone to do that to me, and my self-discipline's never been great anyway. I'm also an argumentative bugger, and often a persistent one. (Sorry about that. It's just the way I am.)

So while I think Twitter deciding to legitimize Nazis is a very bad idea for our culture in general, entirely selfishly it is going to be good for my health. I have other stuff to do, and whether it's antisemites or Nazis or just People Being Wrong On The Internet in general, arguing with strangers online is one of the stupidest, most self-defeating wastes of time around. It also makes you feel like crap, and behave like a worse version of your usual self. Twitter in particular has that dynamic for me, because there is no 'last word'. As a result, even the most trivial of disagreements seem to just spiral into meaner and crueller and more cynical places, and there's no end-point to it. That's been my experience, anyway. Your mileage may vary.

So, yes, I've 'flounced', as I've no doubt some people who I've criticised or argued with will gleefully point out. But I will instead try to have more coffees in town with friends, and just have a healthier, more productive life. 

Thank you for reading my powerful blog about leaving Twitter dot com.

21 Comments

The Author Who Cyber-Stalked Me

Back in 2012, the best-selling British novelist Stephen Leather openly boasted on stage at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival that he used fake identities to promote his books online. The panel was recorded, but the nub of it was when Leather said this:

'As soon as my book is out, I’m on Facebook and Twitter several times a day talking about it. I’ll go on to several forums, the well-known forums, and post there under my name and under various other names and various other characters. You build up this whole network of characters who talk about your books and sometimes have conversations with yourself.'

I didn't think this was ethical, and asked Leather on Twitter how he justified deceiving people into buying his books on the say-so of comments they had believed were from genuine fans of his - rather than simply from himself in disguise. In response, Leather quickly blocked me and became personally insulting.

Others also felt his behaviour was unethical, especially the novelist Steve Mosby, who had been on the panel with Leather at Harrogate. Mosby and Leather are both published by Hachette, incidentally, so by criticizing Leather's behaviour Steve Mosby was also sticking his neck out and criticizing one of the most successful authors at his own publisher. I think he did it politely, but firmly. Leather, on the other hand, acted viciously towards him in return, and has done repeatedly since. 

As Leather was refusing to clarify what precisely he had done, I started looking myself to see if I could find some of the online identities he'd boasted about (or 'sockpuppets' as they're often called).

Leather is one of the UK's bestselling authors - in 2011, he was the second most successful British author on Kindle worldwide after Lee Child and ahead of Ken Follett, Agatha Christie and Terry Pratchett. He has a hefty online presence, bolstered by the many websites he has set up:

Leather also has websites devoted to two protagonists from his books, Jack Nightingale and Dan 'Spider' Shepherd:

That last one is defunct in its original form, but will become important later on in this post so I'll explain it a bit now. The graphics have been lost, but you can get an idea of how the site originally looked in 2013 from this snapshot. Today, the site automatically redirects to the similarly named http://www.danspidershepherd.com.  In the text of that more recent site, there's a line stating the site was 'designed by a fan of Stephen's work'. That might be true as far the design goes, but Leather set the site up himself under his own name and that of his company Three Elephants via GoDaddy on June 17 2013.  The foot of the site also reads '© Copyright 2013 Stephen Leather - danspidershepherd.com. All Rights Reserved'. 

To have so many websites seems confusing to me from a marketing perspective. On the other hand, having this many sites widens his online reach, in that if you Google him lots of these come up on the first few pages, which gives an impression of a writer everyone is talking about. Note, too, that most were set up after 2012. As a result of Harrogate and its aftermath Leather had a lot of bad press online, and so a plethora of sites might have helped draw attention away from them for anyone Googling his name. But note, please, the following:

  • Stephen Leather has set up a lot of websites.
  • All but one of those I found were registered using the company GoDaddy.com.
  • Leather most often registered these sites using his name, but occasionally he withheld that information. Nevertheless, common sense tells us from the context, designs and content that he set up all of these sites.
  • All the sites' domain names end '.com'. No  '.nets' or 'co.uks' or the like for Leather. 
  • The sites have similar names, as you would of course expect, but look at how they are similar: authorstephenleather.com and stephenleatherauthor.com, for instance. He likes variations of domain names, and switching nouns to the front and back of the url. He only used a hyphen in one domain name. He doesn't use pronouns (eg 'thebestsellingauthorstephenleather' or 'theofficialstephenleather')
  • He has set up a lot of websites that have very similar, though not precisely the same, content. It's an unusual strategy. Most authors I know of have just one website, or perhaps a site and a blog on the side. Leather has set up a dozen, and three blogs, and most of them are still accessible.
  • But one site, spidershepherd.com, has an automatic redirect attached to it.

I looked at some of these sites back in 2012. I also saw he was active on social media, and pretty soon I came across a curious Twitter account called 'The Unknown Writer'. It claimed to be a 'wannabe writer' but, despite having 15,000 followers, almost never interacted with anyone else. Instead, it tweeted the occasional lame joke and constantly promoted Stephen Leather's books under the guise of being one of his fans. (By the way, just click on any of the screenshots in this article to expand them.)

Leather initially denied having any connection with this account, but eventually admitted he was running it. He changed the account's handle from @thirdparagraph to @firstparagraph, and continued insulting people who had criticized him. A recurring theme was that he was hugely successful, and that anyone criticizing him was a failure, and must be jealous. 

The @firstparagraph account is still running. He still promotes his own work in it, but now has a theme of posting pictures of cute kittens. This means he can keep his 'official' account, @stephenleather - the one most of his readers and his publisher will know about and see - 'clean', while under his hilarious kitten guise he can throw out thinly veiled barbs at his critics without damaging his 'brand'.

Back to 2012, though. On looking deeper, I found an even more unusual sockpuppet Leather had set up. After a self-published writer Steve Roach had repeatedly criticized him for his promotional tactics on Amazon, Leather set up two Twitter accounts in Roach's name. This served two purposes: firstly, he could recommend his own books from behind the disguise, fooling people into thinking the recommendations he was making for his own books were from another writer; secondly, he could exact revenge on Mr Roach for having crossed swords with him by spamming everyone with how wonderful a writer he was while posing as Roach. 

The story of how Leather used sockpuppets to promote himself, and how he cyber-bullied Steve Roach for over a year, was reported by Nick Cohen in The Observer. It even made the Danish press. The broader issue of his sockpuppeting was covered by The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Bookseller and several others. I also signed an open letter to The Telegraph with around 50 authors, in which we condemned the use of sockpuppetry and other unethical practices to deceive readers.

In August 2012, a website appeared, jerermyduns-watch.blogspot.com. This purported to have been set up by a human rights lawyer called 'Maria James', who had a Twitter account to go with it, but this was scarcely believable. After I pointed out to 'Maria' that she had spelled my name wrong in the url, they set up a similar site, which they've been adding to ever since, falsely accusing me of being a homophobe, a rape apologist and much more besides. 

I don't believe Leather set up that website. But he was aware of it - he posted comments on it. And I think he could see that, despite it being filled with accusations that most sane people would never believe for a moment, it could nevertheless damage my reputation. It also takes minutes to set up such a blog, and there is no need to register a domain name - it is very difficult indeed to figure out who runs a Blogspot or Wordpress blog. 

Some months after the 'Jeremy Duns Watch' website appeared, several other sites devoted to attacking me were created:

http://jeremydunsjournalist.blogspot.com (first post January 25 6 2013)
http://jeremydunsauthor.blogspot.com (first post May 5 2013)
https://authorjeremyduns.wordpress.com (first post May 5 2013)
https://jeremydunsjournalist.wordpress.com (first post May 6 2013)

The first of those claimed to have been set up by a 'Peter Williams', linking to an empty Google+ profile. I think a perusal of any of these sites show they are vindictive and filled with false accusations and misrepresentations (as well as using private photos without permission, including one taken by my daughter). They're rather more plausibly put together than 'Maria's, though. The idea behind them seems to be to simply sling as much mud my way as possible and hope that something sticks, and to make it so that if anyone Googles me - readers, potential readers, publishers, producers, etc - they might be influenced by the fact that apparently lots of people hate me and I am a Terrible Person Who Has Done Lots of Terrible Things.

The fact that the accusations are false and in most cases fairly obviously so doesn't matter much, as there is nothing I can do to take them down (I've tried); I can't comment on the sites; someone might well believe some of the accusations; and as whoever set them up is anonymous there are no negative repercussions for them. It's why sockpuppeting is so rampant. It's why Stephen Leather did it with Steve Roach, for instance.

This situation has frustrated me for a while, especially because it has become increasingly clear to me that Leather set up these websites. Notice the domain names, for example, and how they echo the form Leather has used for his own sites: 

stephenleatherauthor.com
authorstephenleather.com

jeremydunsauthor.blogspot.com
authorjeremyduns.wordpress.com

Like Leather's own sites, they also repeat material, and are all really about the same thing: again, the idea is to spread their presence when you Google. But most strikingly, they all have a preoccupation with my being a failure as a writer, and in particular with my book sales. This is also a major preoccupation of Stephen Leather, many of whose blogposts are about his enormous sales. For Leather, everything is about material success, and he thinks my not having sold as many books as he has will humiliate me, or even cause trouble for me. He did this with Steve Mosby, too, as you can see in one of the screenshots I've used above. On August 24 2012, Leather left a comment here under his own name defending himself. He wrote:

'According to Neilsen, Duns has sold a grand total of 3,278 books in the UK. That's over his whole writing "career". According to Neilsen, his latest book, The Moscow Option, has sold 162 copies. I think you need look no further than that for an explanation of the jealousy that is driving Duns. I sell more copies in one week than he has sold in his life.'

Leaving aside for the moment that these figures were a) irrelevant and b) inaccurate (Nielsen doesn't capture everything, and my books also sell outside the UK), it's really quite remarkable that Leather had access to information like this at all. Publishers and literary agencies usually pay for access to Nielsen Bookscan's data, but it is very expensive. To have access to one's own figures is something very few authors can afford, or are willing to pay for. And to have access to the top 5,000 authors in the UK costs over £20,000 a year. Only very wealthy authors indeed would spend such a sum to get insights into how many books other writers are selling. But, according to his own comment, Stephen Leather is clearly in this exclusive group. Note, then, that among the false accusations presented here, the author of that website quotes and even presents screenshots of my sales from... Nielsen Bookscan.

Golly gosh, what a surprise.

On October 6 2014, someone registered two new websites with GoDaddy.com:

fuckjeremyduns.com (registered at 9:04 and 31 seconds)

and

fuckstevemosby.com (also registered at 9:04 and 31 seconds)

And then, just over five minutes later, at 9:09 and 34 seconds

fuckstephenleather.com

I am sure you will agree, more ingenious diversionary tactics than the latter touch have never before been seen in human experience.

As well as the five-minute delay between the first two sites being registered and the third, there is another difference between the sites. They have changed a few times and at the time of writing are devoid of content, but the ones devoted to me and Steve Mosby were very clearly attacking us. Here's what the site about me looked like when it launched:

Yes, it's pretty crap. Laughable, really. Nothing to support the claims, and a rather unflattering photo of me. Okay. But would you be pleased if a site with a similar name and content was set up about you anonymously to try to damage your career? Especially as it can be filled with who knows what, and read and perhaps believed by who knows who. Your parents, kids, friends, boss, and potential future employers. 

The site is a shell now, for reasons that will become clear. The site attacking Steve had much more extensive content. After lying dormant for a year, in December 2015 it sprung to life:

Steve is in fact rather a handsome chap, one of the most pleasant people I've met and quite tall to boot. But the looming photo of him looking like a weirdo might put some readers off, of course, as well as annoy him, which I guess is also the idea with these nasty attack sites. This site consisted almost entirely of screenshots of every time Steve Mosby has tweeted or even retweeted a swear word since 2009, and ended with the following rant:

'SO THERE YOU GO. STEVE MOSBY LIKES TO USE THE MOST OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE POSSIBLE IN PUBLIC. HE ATTACKS SPORTS FIGURES, BUSINESSMEN AND POLITICIANS USING WORDS THAT REALLY HAVE NO PLACE BEING USED IN PUBLIC. IF STEVE MOSBY WANTS TO TALK LIKE THAT IN THE PRIVACY OF HIS OWN HOME, THAT WOULD BE FINE, BUT HE DOES IT IN PUBLIC WITH A TOTAL DISREGARD FOR OTHER PEOPLE'S SENSIBILITIES. HE DOESN'T CARE WHO HE OFFENDS. DOES HE DO IT TO SHOCK? MAYBE. DOES HE DO IT TO ATTACT ATTENTION TO HIMSELF SO THAT HE CAN SELL MORE BOOKS? POSSIBLY. BUT USING OBSCENE LANGUAGE IN PUBLIC SEEMS A STRANGE WAY OF TRYING TO BUILD A READERSHIP.'

Considering that the person who created the site called it 'fuckstevemosby.com', their outrage over Steve's swearing seems, well, just a tad disingenuous. The idea behind the site is clearly to try to put readers off reading Steve's books. It also claimed he is a 'blasphemer' because he had used phrases such as 'Jesus wept' on Twitter. Absurd - but also an attempt, I think, to try to turn away any of his potential readers who are religious. The parting shot that swearing on Twitter sometimes is a 'strange way of trying to build a readership' is an odd complaint to make. Unless the person making that complaint is also a writer, of course. A writer who has spent years trying to promote himself online to gain new readers. Someone with a grudge against Steve Mosby, and who is dishing out advice on how he can become more successful in his career, via a website devoted to attacking him.

Finally, the supposed serious concern the site has for Steve's swearing is undermined further in the footer, which reads 'Copyright 2013. I'm a very naughty boy!. All Rights Reserved.' This, of course, is a reference to Monty Python. It's supposed to irritate Steve, I suppose, but really just indicates a glee in exacting such a petty form of retaliation.

But what about fuckstephenleather.com, I hear you ask. Surely that would attack Leather in some way in an attempt to damage his reputation, too? Surprisingly, no. It contains nothing but this image:

To borrow another Monty Python line, this is of course an oh-so-hilarious 'nudge nudge wink wink' from the person who set up the account. The person who set up fuckstevemosby.com claims to be a 'very naughty boy', and here they are accusing Stephen Leather, devastatingly, of being - oh, look - a very naughty boy. It's really subtle stuff.

I think by now you'll have figured out that Stephen Leather set up the four blogs about me, as well as fuckjeremyduns.com, fuckstevemosby,com, and just because he thought it would be a brilliant diversion that would put people off the scent, fuckstephenleather.com. But I suspect you (and Mr Leather) are wondering if I can go beyond what common sense tells us all is the case and present something more solid. Well, I think I can, yes. After three years, Stephen Leather finally tripped up and left a trail leading right back to his door.

Steve Mosby has written about the website attacking him here, and alludes to it having been set up by Stephen Leather. But what makes him think that? Well, when he noticed these last three websites had gone up in 2014, he posted about it on his Facebook page, providing links to all three sites. And several of his Facebook friends replied and said there was something very odd about the site attacking me: instead of seeing the image Steve had posted, they were redirected... to Stephen Leather's site about his character Spider Shepherd. Steve Mosby immediately went on his phone and found this was true, so took a screenshot of it redirecting. Here is the screenshot:

A few hours later, the website was scrubbed, back to an advert for GoDaddy.com.

It doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to figure out what happened here. Stephen Leather set up the site fuckjeremyduns.com to smear me, but by mistake he included a redirect to another of his websites, spidershepherd.com, about his series character Dan 'Spider' Shepherd. He quickly realized the goof and so deleted the site he had planned to smear me with, meaning it reverted to the registration page. But Steve Mosby got that screenshot first, when it still redirected.

I think that, considering what I've outlined above, the chances of someone other than Stephen Leather setting up a website to attack me that redirects to one of Stephen Leather's websites, and with the evidence of that deleted shortly afterwards, is really infinitesimally small. But as if to confirm it still further, Stephen Leather then cited these attack websites himself, editing an old blog post from 2014 to do so:

This is classic 'arm's length' smearing. He set up the websites to smear me and Steve anonymously. Then he linked to them on his own website, giving them credence but not taking any of the flak for it that he would obviously have done had he set them up openly under his own name.

In 2012, I helped bring wider attention to Leather's sockpuppeting and cyber-bullying. Four years later, Stephen Leather is attacking me and a writer he even shares a publisher with... by sockpuppeting and cyber-bullying. I think his behaviour is not just grossly unprofessional but pathetic and really pretty despicable. I can only hope that either his publisher or someone else intervenes to try to persuade him to stop it.

 

 

21 Comments

A Letter From '008'

150602-some-kind-of-hero (1).jpg

James Bond has been with us since the publication of Casino Royale in 1953. Since then, there has been a vast amount of literature about the character — so much that one would be forgiven for thinking that every stone had been turned. It's a surprise to find in 2015 that this isn't so, as several new books are showing. 

Some Kind of Hero (The History Press) by Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury (disclosure: a friend, and I helped out with the book in a miniscule way) tells the story of the Bond films in loving detail over 700 pages, which are packed with nuggets of juicy new information. It's a real labour of love by the authors, drawing on a passion for the films stretching back decades: as well as filtering information from a vast range of sources, they have carried out over 100 new interviews, with actors, directors, producers, cameramen and others involved, to present what I am sure is the most comprehensive examination of the Bond films yet published. Some of the highlights include a long interview with George Lazenby in which he recounts how he was cast as Bond, one of the most extraordinary stories in showbiz history; interviews with people who have written Bond scripts, including Purvis & Wade and Len Deighton; and the new light shed on Johanna Harwood's contributions to the genesis of film Bond, finally putting her voice centre-stage. With around 20 in-depth pages devoted to each film, I reckon even the most hardcore Bond fanatic will find their fill of new dope.

Also just published is The Man With The Golden Typewriter (Bloomsbury), a collection of letters to but mostly from Ian Fleming edited by his nephew Fergus. Many of these have been published in full or part elsewhere, but lots haven't been, and offer all sorts of insights into how Fleming wrote and edited his books, his relationships with other writers, and more besides. It's essential reading if you're interested in Fleming and Bond. 

In February, John Blake will publish James Bond: The Secret History by Sean Egan, for which I've written a brief foreword. This very entertaining book looks at all aspects of the Bond phenomenon  books, films, comics, video games  and includes some of the more obscure detours the character has taken over the decades. Egan has interviewed several key people, but for me it was not so much the information as the opinions that made the book so rewarding, as they forced me to re-think some of my own hardened views.

There's a rash of books published with the advent of every new Bond film, but the last decade or so feels different. I suspect a book of Fleming's letters wouldn't have been thought commercially viable last century, when Bond's  and Fleming's  critical stock was lower. Now Oscar-winners direct the Bond films and acclaimed novelists write the books, and Bond seems to be rightfully seen as the great fictional icon he is. This renewed interest and advances in technology means that a lot of fresh information is being revealed, which in itself feeds others' curiosity, provides new avenues of inquiry and leads to further discoveries.

In that spirit, I am now throwing a little something into the pot. I think I have just stumbled across something unknown about Ian Fleming. It's this letter to The Spectator in June 1956, purporting to be from '008'. The OCR has slightly mangled some of the text, but you can see a scan of how it originally appeared over on the right of that page. I don't believe this has been spotted before  and I think it's a hitherto unknown letter by Ian Fleming. 

The letter is in response to an article by Anthony Hartley published in the previous issue that praised John Buchan's heroes in comparison to 'Mr. Ian Fleming's appalling James Bond'. Hartley's chief complaints were that Bond was a sadist, a snob about food and clothes, and vulgarly sexual. Intriguingly, these were the three key charges that would be made against Fleming two years later, by Bernard Bergonzi in The Twentieth Century, an editorial in The Guardian and, most famously, Paul Johnson in The New Statesman.

The author of this letter defending Fleming has taken on the amusing device of pretending to be a colleague of Fleming's, '008' of Regent's Park, London: 

'SIR,—The Secret Service has had to suffer some hard knocks recently, but none unkinder than Mr. Anthony Hartley's disparagement of the head of their 00 section, James Bond. I share an office with Bond and, since I know even more about him than does his biographer, Mr. Ian Fleming, I have exceptionally obtained the permission of M. to break the rules of silence of our Service and come to his defence.'

He goes on to wryly point out why Bond is not the clubland hero Hartley presumed him to be  indeed, that he is if anything 'sub-consciously in revolt' against the Buchan-style Establishment  that his tastes are much simpler than described, and that sex and violence were elements of the modern world. 

There are a few people who could conceivably have written this, but I think '008' was most likely Ian Fleming himself. Firstly, the letter doesn't simply demonstrate a lot of knowledge about James Bond, but is very presumptuous with it. It would take some bravado to claim more knowledge of another man's characters than he himself did, and to then co-opt his characters into the bargain: 'I have exceptionally obtained the permission of M.'  If someone else had written this, I think it would have to have been someone Fleming would have been happy to have done so. His editor William Plomer, say. 

But I think all signs point to this being by Ian Fleming himself. He sometimes wrote for The Spectator, and knew the magazine well: he later became its motoring correspondent. At the time of this letter, his brother Peter had written a column in the magazine under the pseudonym 'Strix' for a decade (the style and content was similar in many ways to 'Atticus' at the Sunday Times, which Ian had taken over in 1953). Peter knew his brother's books well and would have been in a position to have written such a letter, but it seems highly unlikely he would have intruded in such a way and in doing so claimed to know more about Bond than Ian, who was quite capable of defending his own work.

But the 'smoking gun', I think, comes courtesy of The Man With The Golden Typewriter. On May 31 1956  just a week earlier, and the same day as Anthony Hartley's article attacking Bond for his amorality was published in The Spectator  Fleming wrote to Geoffrey Boothroyd, a reader who had written him a long letter about Bond's guns. Fleming was delighted by Boothroyd's evident expertise, and wanted more:

'At the present moment Bond is particularly anxious for expertise on the weapons likely to be carried by Russian agents and I wonder if you have any information on this.
As Bond's biographer I am most anxious to see that he lives as long as possible and I shall be most grateful for any further technical advices you might like me to pass on to him...'

The chances of someone else calling Fleming Bond's biographer just a week later seem slim. Neither was this the only time Fleming used the device of pretending Bond was a real person in this way. At the end of From Russia, With Love, published in April 1957, Fleming left a cliffhanger that suggested Bond had been killed by Rosa Klebb. When The New Statesman published an article bemoaning Bond's apparent end, Fleming sent them a letter about it and, according to Fergus Fleming, it became his standard reply to fans who wrote to him regretting Bond's demise. In that letter, he described himself as 'Commander Bond's official biographer'.

The Spectator letter is signed by '008', rather than Fleming, but it casts Fleming and Bond in the same roles and makes several points Fleming made elsewhere. In a letter to what was then The Manchester Guardian in April 1958, Fleming argued that in the real espionage world a spy would likely face more violence than in older thrillers, that Bond's tastes were perhaps not as outlandish or high-flown as they initially appeared, and mentioned the security risk of the character's absurdly conspicuous consumption of scrambled eggs. The Man With The Golden Typewriter also reveals that in June 1959, Fleming wrote to a reader who had sent him a card for the Aston Martin Owners Club:

'Thank you very much for your splendid letter of June 17th and for your kind invitation for James Bond to join the A.M.O.C.
Since neither Bond nor his biographer are owners of an Aston Martin, I can do no no more than pass your invitation on to the head of Admin. at the Secret Service from whose transport pool the DB III was drawn.'

As in the 1956 letter from '008', Fleming pretended Bond was real, that he was his biographer, and similarly added some business suggesting that he had to navigate the Secret Service bureaucracy of Bond's world. 

In October 1962, The Spectator published a letter from Fleming under his own name. As with the 1956 letter he was defending his books from criticism, this time responding to three separate comments about his work in a previous issue of the magazine. Once again, he adopted the pretext of his character being a real person, starting the letter by saying that

'since Bond is at present away in Magnetogorsk, I hope you will allow me to comment on his behalf.'

Later in the letter he referred to his novels as 'my serial biography of James Bond', and defended the character from a charge of fascism by stating that Bond's politics 'are, in fact, slightly left of centre' — this echoes 008's point in 1956 that Bond is not quite the Establishment character he has been mistaken for. 

Fleming took the conceit to its furthest point in You Only Live Twice, in which M. writes an obituary for a presumed-dead Bond and expands on the idea of Bond being a real figure and Fleming being merely a reporter of his adventures:

'The inevitable publicity, particularly in the foreign press, accorded some of these adventures, made him, much against his will, something of a public figure, with the inevitable result that a series of popular books came to be written around him by a personal friend and former colleague of James Bond. If the quality of these books, or their degree of veracity, had been any higher, the author would certainly have been prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act.'

So, presuming the letter was written by Ian Fleming, what does it tell us? Perhaps not a huge amount, but I think it adds something to the picture of how Fleming defended his work. He would later use his own name, but adopt the same amused tone and claim to be Bond's biographer, and it is a disarming tactic: had he written these responses 'straight', it might seem that he was genuinely offended and kicking up a fuss. The technique of pretending Bond was real allowed him to make all his arguments but to do so in a dry, airy way that made him seem unconcerned. In several of these responses, Fleming was defending spurious claims based on misreadings of his own work and the genre as a whole: a secret agent with a knowledge of good food, drink and tailoring had been a staple of the British thriller since at least the first decade of the 20th century, something Fleming knew very well because he had drawn on some of those thrillers for inspiration. Fleming knew the genre better than his critics, but was in the curious position of seeing, in his own lifetime, his creation become synonymous with an entire genre.  

It might be that Fleming's letters along these lines acted as an unconscious trial run for the passage in You Only Live Twice, as over time he became attached to the idea. Fleming's letters, journalism and novels are littered with passing ideas that he subsequently picked up in later stories. For instance, in April 1956 he reviewed Scarne on Cards in the Sunday Times: the book, and its topic of cheating at cards, had featured prominently in Moonraker. Fleming ended the review by saying that, because of the criminal uses the book's contents could be put to, libraries and clubs should issue it to readers 'with the proviso "For Your Eyes Only"'. That expression would, of course, be used by Fleming for the title of his collection of short stories published in 1960. 

The date of the 008 letter is also interesting, in that 1956 is two years before the main attacks on Fleming's books, and those attacks were on very similar grounds. We also tend to presume that Bond had little cultural impact before the films, but here we see that just three years after the publication of the first novel, Casino Royale, James Bond was a significant enough force that he was being discussed at some length in a British magazine, to the degree that a letter from its author making an in-joke about a character who didn't even exist in his books, ie 008, would presumably have been understood by most of the publication's readers. 

Finally, I think this letter shows how the trickle of fresh information about Fleming and his work is gathering pace. This letter hasn't been picked up before, I suspect, in part because it was not signed by Ian Fleming. But it is also thanks to scanning technology that it's appeared on The Spectator's website, where it came up in a Google search I ran for something else. Armed with new information from The Man With The Golden Typewriter and elsewhere, I was also able to put it into more context than I would have been able to a few years ago. So while it's a very minor discovery in terms of Ian Fleming's work, I think it's part of a pattern that suggests there is more out there than previously thought  for example, the latest Bond novel, Trigger Mortis, written by Anthony Horowitz, includes snippets of original material by Ian Fleming that I don't think were previously on record as having even survived.

What else might be out there? 


With many thanks to Ihsan Amanatullah and Tom Cull for additional information and insights.

Licence To Hoax

‘The creation of real life intelligence operative and old Etonian Ian Fleming, Bond borrowed his 007 title from Dr John Dee. The 16th century British secret agent used the code for his messages to Queen Elizabeth I. The two zeros meant “for your eyes only”...’ [1]
BBC News, November 22 2002
‘At the outbreak of war, the Beast found himself caught up in further intrigue as the occult and espionage worlds collided. Ian Fleming, working for naval intelligence in M15, contacted him with an outlandish plan to lure Rudolf Hess to Britain by using mystical enchantments and astrology…’[2]
The Daily Telegraph, May 30 2009
‘Behind every great James Bond thriller there is a great Bond girl. The actress Eva Green is winning plaudits for her sultry portrayal of Vesper Lynd in the new film of Ian Fleming’s 1953 novel Casino Royale. But was this exotic femme fatale just a product of the author’s imagination?
  As a noted womaniser who had worked in Naval Intelligence during the Second World War, Fleming had plenty of personal experiences upon which to draw. He also enjoyed a cocktail called the Vesper. But more importantly, in the years immediately before writing Casino Royale, he had been regularly seeing a woman named Christine Granville.
  She was really the Countess Krystyna Skarbek. When she was born, half-Jewish, in Warsaw on a stormy night, her father, an impoverished count, gave her the pet name “Vespérale”…’[3]
The Times, November 18, 2006
‘The story of beautiful wartime spy Christine Granville, who was Ian Fleming’s lover and the inspiration for the James Bond character Vesper Lynd, is to be made into a major film…’[4]
The Daily Mail, February 27, 2009

Newspapers love stories about James Bond. The world’s most popular secret agent provides several elements that attract readers: glamour, intrigue, sex and danger. Ian Fleming worked in intelligence during the Second World War, and knew a lot of people in the espionage world. This has led to dozens of articles over the years about his exploits and those of others he knew. Some of these have little truth to them, while some are based on outright fabrication.

17F.jpg

In the last few years, I’ve noticed that a lot of newspaper articles about James Bond lead back to the same source: 17F: The Life of Ian Fleming by Donald McCormick. Billed on the cover as ‘the definitive biography with important new material’, this short book was published in 1993, 27 years after the publication of John Pearson’s biography of Fleming and three years before Andrew Lycett’s. Pearson and Lycett had both worked for The Sunday Times, and both had access to Fleming’s own papers, as well as interviewing many of the people Fleming had known.

On the face of it, McCormick was also well qualified to write a biography of Ian Fleming. A journalist and author of several decades’ standing, he had published over 50 non-fiction books about espionage, many under the pseudonym Richard Deacon. During the war he had been in the Royal Navy, and after it Fleming had hired him for the news agency Mercury, which was part of the Kemsley empire. For his biography of Fleming, McCormick didn’t have access to Ian Fleming’s papers, but he did make extensive use of newspaper archives, the papers of Ian Fleming’s brother Peter, and consulted several notable names in the Bond world, including Ian Fleming’s former literary agent Peter Janson-Smith.

But unknown to these people, McCormick was a fraud. Between the facts that had already been set out in John Pearson’s book and a sprinkling of new but not especially significant information, McCormick’s biography contained several elaborate hoaxes about the life and work of Ian Fleming, all of which have been reported in creditable newspapers and books, and continue to be to this day. I think it’s time to dismantle McCormick as a source on Ian Fleming once and for all, and to expose both his fraudulence, and how he did it.

*

McCormick has already been unmasked as a hoaxer in other fields. In 1959, the author and broadcaster Melvin Harris read McCormick’s book The Mystery Of Lord Kitcheners Death and realized that its ‘only new evidence (telling first-person “revelations”) was simply manufactured.’[5]

Harris then turned his attention to McCormick’s book The Identity of Jack the Ripper, published the same year. He concluded that McCormick had fabricated key documents that he quoted in the book, claiming they were the papers of a Dr Dutton, including a poem supposedly found in the police archives, ‘Eight Little Whores’. In advance of a TV programme on which McCormick would be exposed as a hoaxer, Harris called McCormick to tell him how he knew the Dutton documents were fake, that McCormick was the forger, and that he had fleshed out the rest of his book with ‘uncheckable and bogus documents and statements.’[6] McCormick initially denied it, but after a while apparently became philosophical about his imminent exposure, especially as Harris softened the blow by saying he would not name him as the forger but was prepared to describe the hoax ‘as the work of a man with a wicked sense of humour’. The TV programme was cancelled, but Harris eventually met McCormick:

‘I asked him if he now wished to publicly name the faker of the poem, but he said he was not ready. He was still happy, though, for me to use the old formula, that it was faked by “A very clever man who enjoys his quiet fun”, and he winked as he said it! Yes, he was a likeable rogue. But he was trapped by his very likeability. Over the years he had kept up the bluff with so many people that he found it hard to disentangle himself, as I found out when I later wrote to him. He was, by then, unwilling to commit himself in writing, instead he wrote letters full of teasing, enigmatic clues.
Finally in October 1997 I wrote to him and asked him to stop the fooling and write a candid letter fit for publication. Sadly the reply that came back read “I have an ulcer on my right eye and have great difficulty in writing at present. Please let the matter drop.” I did and there was never to be a further chance. Within a short while I learned that he was dead.’[7]

Harris himself died in 2004. He also wrote that McCormick told him that the starting point for his books was usually the Kemsley newspaper library, which contained cuttings dating back to the Victorian era: ‘Other newspapers, he advised, held similar archives. They saved him a journey and a search at Colindale.’[8] This technique can be seen in 17F: dozens of newspaper articles are cited and often quoted at length. These make the book seem more authoritative and give McCormick lots of genuine sources to footnote, helping to disguise the fabrications woven around them.

*

I first realized McCormick was a hoaxer because of the Rudolf Hess story in 17F, which has been reported dozens of times in the press but is utterly preposterous. In his 1966 biography of Fleming, John Pearson had described how, following the unexpected landing of the Deputy Führer in Scotland in May 1941, Fleming had contacted the infamous black magician Aleister Crowley:

‘This immensely ugly old diabolist and self-advertiser had thrown himself into certain more unsavoury areas of the occult with a gusto that must have appealed to Fleming, and when the interrogators from British Intelligence began trying to make sense of the neurotic and highly superstitious Hess [Fleming] got the idea that Crowley might be able to help and tracked him down to a place near Torquay, where he was living harmlessly on his own and writing patriotic poetry to encourage the war effort.’[9]

According to Pearson, Crowley wrote a letter to the Director of Naval Intelligence offering to help, but nothing came of it:

‘It is a pity that this had to be one of Fleming’s bright ideas which never came off: understandably, there was hilarity in the department at the idea of the Great Beast 666 doing his bit for Britain.’[10]

Pearson deals with this episode in four paragraphs. McCormick took the ingredients of it – Fleming, Hess, Crowley and the occult – to invent an entirely new story. In his version, Fleming didn’t merely get the idea to approach Crowley after Hess had landed: Hess’ arrival in Scotland was itself the result of an elaborate operation hatched by Fleming to lure him to Britain by means of forged astrological charts. McCormick larded his story with details about meetings in Portugal and Switzerland, Hess’ ‘chief astrological adviser Ernst Schulte-Strathaus’ and the like, with footnotes referring to letters sent to him by several parties, and in one case saying ‘See German Intelligence Personnel Records’, with no indication as to where those might be.

The profusion of names, dates and sources were presumably to give credence to what is, on the face of it, a totally implausible story. McCormick claimed, for example, that Fleming and Crowley engaged in occult rites in Ashdown Forest involving a dummy dressed in a Nazi uniform on a throne-like chair. McCormick quoted at length on this ‘Amado Crowley, Aleister Crowley’s son’. He neglected to mention that Amado was in fact Andrew Standish, a writer on the occult who claimed to be Crowley’s secret illegitimate son and had changed his name as a result. Standish is generally recognized to have been a hoaxer himself.

On reading this chapter, I immediately suspected it was pure fabrication, but two sources cited by McCormick gave me pause for thought: Peter Fleming and Sefton Delmer. Delmer was a well-known journalist who had been a major force in British propaganda and psychological warfare against the Nazis, and who had known Ian Fleming fairly well. Peter was Ian’s older brother, and also a veteran of several ingenious deception operations during the war, a few of them somewhat surreal (although nowhere near as surreal as this episode). In 1940, Peter Fleming had published a best-selling comic novel called The Flying Visit about Hitler dropping into Britain. According to McCormick, Ian Fleming had urged Peter to write the book, ‘doubtless seeing it as a possible means of signalling to the Germans that the British might talk if someone were lured to Britain – if not Hitler or Hess, then possibly Canaris’:

‘When Hess himself enacted Peter Fleming’s fictitious ploy, no doubt it secretly delighted Ian, but the sheer coincidence of The Flying Visit narrative and Hess’s arrival must at the same time have been somewhat embarrassing for him.
However, there is no evidence that the brothers colluded in Ian’s secret operation. Peter Fleming stated long afterwards that Ian had not told him about ‘this idea’, which he described as ‘a new legend about my brother’. On the other hand, Sefton Delmer, who knew Ian Fleming well and had worked with him, commented: ‘As an idea, inducing Hess to fly to England by means of astrological hocus-pocus – and the bait of the Duke of Hamilton – was something that might have appealed to Ian Fleming, or even to have been conceived by him. I am quite ready to believe that.’
Later, anxious to stress that he had no knowledge of any such plans and, by implication, denying that his own novel had any connection with them, Peter Fleming affirmed that he did not believe ‘the elaborate ruses were ever carried out, or even planned’. None the less the undisputed fact remains that Fleming was anxious, once Hess had landed, to follow up his own hunches on the best way to handle him. He not only begged the authorities to allow Aleister Crowley to interview Hess, he even managed to persuade Crowley to offer his services for this purpose. Unfortunately the offer was not taken up…’[11]

And we have come full circle, back to the incident in John Pearson’s biography from which McCormick seems to have developed the entire story. McCormick footnoted his quotes from Delmer and Peter Fleming to issues of The Times from September 1969. I looked them up, and found that McCormick had omitted a rather salient fact: both Delmer and Peter Fleming had written about this incident in terms of dismissing an earlier telling of it. By none other than Donald McCormick.

In 1969, McCormick’s book A History of the British Secret Service was published under the pseudonym Richard Deacon. In it, he wrote that Ian Fleming had masterminded an operation to lure Rudolf Hess to Britain using fake astrological charts. Shortly before the book was published, The Times ran an article on this ‘remarkable claim’ but, very sensibly, sought out the opinions of Sefton Delmer and Peter Fleming on it. Both men dismissed McCormick’s story. Delmer admitted that the idea was the sort of thing that might have appealed to Ian Fleming, or even been conceived by him, as quoted above, but went on to say that he found the details of the story unconvincing:

‘It is all too pat and does not fit the fact that the flight on May 10 was not Hess’s first attempt to fly to Britain.’[12]

Peter Fleming said that Ian had never mentioned the idea to him, and indeed called it ‘a new legend about my brother’ – ie a legend created by Donald McCormick. Three days later, Peter wrote a letter to The Times explaining in greater detail why he thought the story was nonsense:

‘Sir, -- I agree with Mr. Sefton Delmer that the idea of decoying the Deputy Führer of the Third Reich, with the aid of astrology, to rendez-vous with a Duke in Scotland during the opening phase of the German offensive in Europe in May 1940 was one that my late brother, Ian, might well have conceived. But he did not conceive it, nor do I believe that the elaborate ruses described by Mr. Deacon in his History of the British Secret Service were ever carried out, or even planned…’[13]

Peter Fleming went on to explain that because he had written The Flying Visit, he thought it highly unlikely his brother would have neglected to mention to him that he had been involved with such a similar real-life event later on in the war. Peter did not mention, for security reasons, that he had himself been an important figure in deception operations during the war, so there was no question that Ian would not have trusted him with such information.

Ellic Howe, who had also been involved in deception and propaganda operations in the war, wrote to The Times on the same day to dismiss the story, reporting that he had discussed with Ernst Schulte-Strathaus, Hess’ supposed adviser on astrological matters, whether there might be any such esoteric background to the case, and he had said there wasn’t. In addition, Howe wrote, Schulte-Strathaus wasn’t Hess’ astrological adviser, ‘but merely talked to him occasionally about astrology’.[14] Unfortunately, by discussing such nuances, Howe probably gave some readers the impression that there was something in McCormick’s story.

Undaunted by the three-pronged assault from Delmer, Howe and Peter Fleming, McCormick replied to The Times, insisting that he respected their views but asking them to wait for publication of his book before offering their final judgment on it.[15]

One of the advantages of fabricating information about intelligence operations is that it is very difficult for anyone to prove you wrong. It’s a further advantage if the people you’re making the claims about are dead, as Ian Fleming was in 1969. When McCormick revived his hoax 24 years later, Delmer, Howe and Peter Fleming had all since died. McCormick shamelessly quoted their dismissals of his fabrication as evidence to support it. In doing so, he altered some of their words. Peter Fleming wrote: ‘But he did not conceive it, nor do I believe that the elaborate ruses described by Mr. Deacon in his History of the British Secret Service were ever carried out, or even planned.’ McCormick altered this, for obvious reasons, quoting Peter Fleming as not believing ‘the elaborate ruses were ever carried out, or even planned’. No ellipses, either. In doing this, he was not simply misquoting Peter Fleming and disguising the context of his comments, which would have revealed that it was his story under discussion by Peter Fleming, and being dismissed by him. He was also subtly but offensively insinuating that Peter Fleming’s disbelief of his fabrication was in some way evidence that he had been covering up the ‘real’ conspiracy. This insinuation is in the words ‘anxious to stress’: he was suggesting that Peter Fleming had been protesting too much, and wanted to hide what had really happened.

In fact, Peter Fleming had had Donald McCormick pegged.


*

The ‘Fleming-lured-Hess-to-Scotland-with-astrology’ story, despite being an obvious hoax, still pops up in the press sometimes, and often crops up online. Another of McCormick’s hoaxes that is blindly reported as fact is his claim that the 16th-century English mathematician John Dee was a spy for Queen Elizabeth I and signed his missives with a stylized 007. McCormick wrote that Aleister Crowley introduced Ian Fleming to the works of Dee, and that this was how James Bond got his codename.[16]

This was debunked by Teresa Burns in 2010, who wrote that McCormick’s 1968 bookJohn Dee: Scientist, Geographer, Astrologer, and Secret Agent to Elizabeth I, written under the Richard Deacon pseudonym ‘seems the source of the persistent printed and Internet legend that John Dee signed his name “007.”’:

‘Did Dee really sign his name this way? A painstaking search through many, many Dee signatures has convinced this writer that he did not. His real signature took many forms, but looks more like a whirlwind than a 007.
Yet even this writer has fallen for that non-fact. Deacon footnotes works of natural philosopher Robert Hooke (1635-1703), including his Posthumous Works presented to Sir Isaac Newton (which does actually exist) and an alleged work called An Ingenious Cryptographical System, which, though quoted in several scholarly and non-scholarly works since, and listed in two of them as being among the “Gwydir Papers, Manuscript Collection,” seems not to exist at all.
Yet for one who has studied much of the Dee material which has become available after 1968, Deacon’s book reads like a blurred, excited rehashing of ideas slightly out of focus and in the service of someone else’s ego: he footnotes here and there as if for kicks, referring to letters and legend one can find no record of, but weaving a story that is almost plausible…’[17]

This is a good description of McCormick’s technique: alongside genuine material correctly sourced, he added elements he had invented, citing fictitious but authoritative-sounding sources. Much of 17F is recycled material from his earlier works, sometimes barely repackaged and often only tenuously linked to Ian Fleming. His account of the failed plan to block the Danube in 1940 is the same as the one he gave in The Silent War: A History of Western Naval Intelligence, published under the pseudonym Richard Deacon in 1988, with hardly a word changed. There is some justification for that: Fleming was heavily involved in that operation, so it makes some sense to recap his research. But in many cases McCormick repeated material from his previous books that had nothing whatsoever to do with Ian Fleming, and simply repackaged them with Fleming now playing a central role in the incidents in question.

The greatest example of this is chapter 9 of the book, which is about the celebrated SOE agent Krystyna Skarbek, better known as Christine Granville. McCormick had already written about Granville in both A History of the British Secret Service and Spyclopaedia, the latter published six years earlier, but in neither had he mentioned her in connection with Ian Fleming. In this chapter he repeated a lot of material about Granville from those books, and justified its inclusion in a biography of Ian Fleming by fabricating a story that Fleming had had an affair with her.

To bolster this story, McCormick presented several pieces of ‘evidence’. These included quotes and correspondence from Ed Howe, who had been a Kemsley correspondent in Istanbul. Howe and Granville had genuinely known each other, and perhaps it was this convenient fact that inspired McCormick’s tale, because it placed Granville a degree of separation from Ian Fleming. McCormick claimed that after the war Christine Granville had met Howe in Cairo and told him she was looking for work:

‘Howe told me: ‘As a long shot I gave her Fleming’s address, as I felt sure he would be interested in her – as a fascinating personality certainly and maybe as a correspondent somewhere or other.’’[18]

McCormick didn’t provide a date or any other reference for this quote, so we have to take it on trust that he accurately recalled Howe’s words – and that Howe even said any such a thing at all. McCormick claimed that Fleming was interested in Granville, and quotes a letter from Fleming to Howe about her:

‘She literally shines with all the qualities and splendours of a fictitious character. How rarely one finds such types.’[19]

A letter by Ian Fleming! If true, compelling evidence of a connection, at least. But it isn’t shown in the book. McCormick instead footnoted this quote, writing that the letter had been shown to him personally, and had been dated 12 May 1947. He did not reveal the current whereabouts of the letter, again leaving readers with just his word that it ever existed.

McCormick claimed Fleming met Granville for lunch at Bertorelli’s in London and that they went on to have an affair, his source being ‘one of Christine’s Polish friends’, Olga Bialoguski, who told him about it. Conveniently, Olga also revealed to McCormick that Granville was very secretive, often made up stories to cover her tracks so you could never know when she was telling the truth, and that she, Olga, was one of Granville’s only friends to know about the affair.

She’s also one of Granville’s only friends not to be mentioned in connection with Granville anywhere else. She has a convincingly Polish-sounding surname, though. It’s the same surname as Dr Michael Bialoguski, the Polish-born Australian agent who was instrumental in Vladimir Petrov’s defection in 1954, as related in the world’s press and by McCormick himself in his book Spyclopaedia, published a few years earlier. Perhaps Olga was related in some way to the doctor? If so, McCormick didn’t mention it. More likely, I think, is that McCormick wanted a second source, decided it would be a Polish friend of Granville’s and simply looked through his own work for a real Polish surname.

Olga also revealed to McCormick, in long fluent English quotes with no dates or other information given for them, that Granville had once confided to her that Fleming had taken her to a hotel named the Granville ‘somewhere in the region of Dover’. This brought back memories for McCormick, who recalled just such a hotel being mentioned in passing in Moonraker. After quoting the passage in question, he noted that ‘to introduce Christine to a hotel actually named after her would be just the kind of joke Fleming would enjoy.’[20]

Ian Fleming certainly knew of Christine Granville, as he mentioned her by name in The Diamond Smugglers when discussing different types of secret agents:

‘Then there are the colourful spies like Sorge, the brilliant, luxury-loving German who worked for Russia in Tokio, and girls like Christine Granville who was murdered by a love-crazed ship’s steward in a Kensington hotel in March 1952, after a fabulous record in wartime espionage for which she earned the George Medal.’[21]

Granville was well-known, and Fleming knew of her, but there is no evidence anywhere other than in Donald McCormick’s book that Ian Fleming ever even met her, let alone had an affair with her. Considering the access that both John Pearson and Andrew Lycett had, and the thoroughness of their research, one would have expected them to have mentioned a connection with such a well-known woman. All the more so, as someone Ian Fleming did have an affair with was Blanche Blackwell.

Pearson didn’t mention this at all in his biography, perhaps because Ian’s widow Ann was still alive at the time he was writing, as was Blackwell. Writing in 1996, long after all the parties were dead, Andrew Lycett revealed the affair and the extent of it. But he didn’t mention Christine Granville once. Writing in 1993, McCormick devoted a whole chapter to the supposed affair with Granville, his only evidence for which was oral testimony from a friend of Granville’s who has never been identified elsewhere and a letter from Fleming to Edward Howe never seen anywhere else. But Blanche Blackwell isn’t mentioned once in the book.

McCormick went on to theorize that Granville had been the model for Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale. His ‘evidence’ for this is very thin indeed. Yes, the description of Vesper sounds a little like Christine Granville, in that she was a beautiful dark-haired woman. The descriptions of Solitaire in Live and Let Die and Tatiana Romanova in From Russia, With Love are also rather similar. But there’s nothing out of the ordinary in the physical description of Vesper: she was standard fare for the genre.

McCormick noted that Vesper Lynd speaks French ‘like a native’, and that according to people who had known her, Granville was also fluent in French. But that’s hardly surprising for an SOE agent who was sent to France. McCormick reported that Granville thrived on disaster – just like Vesper in the novel. But that’s a passing comment from Bond, not a serious assessment of her character, and anyway, Vesper is also involved in espionage: one could say that James Bond thrives on disaster, too. McCormick also noted that Vesper is in love with a Pole in the R.A.F., while Granville had been great friends with a gallant Pole in the British Army (and was Polish herself). All of this is inconsequential, and a game that could be applied to dozens of people.

But McCormick did provide one piece of information that seemed to point firmly and unequivocally to Christine Granville. In the novel, Vesper tells Bond that she was given her unusual name by her parents because she had been born on a stormy evening. This, McCormick revealed, was a secret clue:

‘Further inquiries established the fact that Christine Granville was born on a stormy night and that her father gave her the nickname of ‘Vespérale’, or, as he himself explained, ‘qui a rapport au soir claret vespérale.’[22]

McCormick provided a footnote for this, citing Madeleine Masson’s 1975 biographyChristine: A Search for Christine Granville, but he didn’t provide the corresponding page number. There was a very good reason for that: that particular piece of information didn’t in fact appear anywhere in Masson’s book. Instead, Masson noted:

‘Count Jerzy was relieved when his daughter Krystyna, Christine, born in 1915, seemed to have inherited his own good looks. From the start there was a complete rapport between father and daughter. He called her his ‘Happiness’ and his ‘Star’.’[23]

So the one piece of information McCormick gave that compellingly suggested Granville was the model for Vesper is not in the book McCormick claimed as his source for it. And instead, that book contradicts McCormick’s account, saying that her father nicknamed her Happiness and Star. And while vesper can refer to the evening star, that isn’t what McCormick wrote, and ‘Star’ is not a nickname one gives for being born on a stormy night.

This false citation completely undermines McCormick’s claim Vesper was based on Granville, both because he falsified it and because the rest of his evidence is so flimsy: there were plenty of dark-haired French-speaking beauties before, during and after the war on whom Fleming could have based the character, and he also might not have based her on anyone. One could find details in the biographies of many women who could be linked in this sort of way to Vesper Lynd’s first name, her surname, her appearance, or lines snipped from Casino Royale. Vesper is also the name for common kinds of bat, sparrow and mouse. The daring, beautiful, dark-haired, French-speaking SOE agent Violette Szabo used a code based on Three Blind Mice. ‘Vespers’ are evening prayers in various denominations. SOE agent Nancy Wake grew up in a strict religious background, and was known to the Gestapo as The White Mouse.

One could claim any woman was born on a stormy night, or was known by friends to attend evening prayers, or anything else. But without any credible evidence to substantiate a claim of an affair or that Fleming based the character on a particular person, such as correspondence or other material by Granville or Fleming, there would be no reason to believe any such theory.

Why choose Christine Granville? Well, McCormick already knew quite a lot about her, having written about her twice before, and he had presumably sensed already that she was a good subject for his audience: beautiful, heroic, and fascinating to the public. So I think he created the tale of the affair, and to support it he pointed to a book that didn’t contain the evidence he claimed it did, invented a letter from Fleming to a friend who had died, and added a mysterious Polish friend Olga, who nobody’s ever seen. Presumably, he was hoping that the footnote pointing to Masson would in and of itself seem authoritative, and that nobody would bother to look it up, or that if they did would soon give up looking when they couldn’t find the reference, presuming it was in the book somewhere or other. And he was right: a lot of people have taken him a face value. Not everyone was fooled, though. In 2006, John Griswold published an exhaustive examination of Fleming and his work, and did look up McCormick’s reference to Masson’s book. But, he noted, he ‘could not find this information stated anywhere within it’.[24]

*

In 2004, a Canadian company, Queen Fine Arts, bought the film rights to Masson’s biogaphy of Christine Granville. The following year a new edition of her book was published by Virago, now retitled Christine: SOE Agent and Churchill’s Favourite Spy. In a new afterword, Masson discussed some developments that had taken place since the book had first been published in 1975:

‘Once it became known that my researches might become the basis for a film, a tide of new information about Christine alerted me to the fact that there were lacunae in my book that would need further digging and verification.’[25]

Chief among these lacunae was Granville’s SOE file, which had been declassified in 2003, the contents of which Masson discussed and quoted, and Donald McCormick’s claim that Granville had an affair with Ian Fleming, which Masson discussed at some length. She also mentioned the idea that Granville might have been the model for Vesper, noting their supposed similarities in appearance and that she tells Bond her name is the result of her being born on a stormy evening:

‘In fact, Countess Krystyna Skarbek was born on a stormy night, and her father, Count Jerzy Skarbek, had given his baby daughter the nickname Vespérale or, as he explained, ‘like the evening star’.
One of the many biographies of Fleming – Donald McCormick’s – majors on his affair with Christine. I cannot confirm that Fleming used Christine as the model for Vesper Lynd but there is a real passion in Fleming’s novel and his account of Vesper’s beauty and character adds up to a fair description of Christine.’[26]

Masson was in her nineties when she wrote this afterword, so allowances should be made. But there are several troubling aspects about it. Firstly, it seems that she didn’t dig very far or verify very much about this particular lacuna. She doesn’t seem to have realized that McCormick had given her as the source for Granville’s nickname being ‘Vespérale’ – or that that detail had not in fact been in her book. Instead, bizarrely, she repeated most of McCormick’s information, including the crucial detail he had supposedly got from her. More worrying is the way she did this: in the paragraphs before she mentioned McCormick. This gives the impression that she knew about the nickname some other way, omitting that her source was the same as for the affair she couldn’t confirm mentioned in the next paragraph. If she couldn’t confirm the affair, what was her evidence for the nickname?

So in 1993 McCormick had disguised his fabrication by crediting Masson as his source when she wasn’t. And in 2005, Masson disguised the fact that she got all her new information about Fleming from… McCormick.

This isn’t anywhere near the same as McCormick’s fabrications, but it calls into serious question Masson’s reliability as a source on Christine Granville. Masson said she could not confirm the affair with Fleming – but devoted a couple of pages to it nevertheless. If she had been a thorough researcher, McCormick’s claims should have raised alarm bells at once, because: she herself was the cited source for the information; she wasn’t in fact the source for it; she hadn’t come across any evidence of an affair in writing the first edition of her book; and neither had any of Fleming’s other biographers come across it.

In repeating McCormick’s story, she unwittingly extended his hoax beyond the grave. Now she can accurately be quoted as having mentioned the affair. (Her new edition also added one more myth to the mix: although the title now proclaimed Granville was ‘Churchill’s favourite spy’, that information is not mentioned at all in the book itself, let alone a reference for it cited.)

It is as a result of this sort of Chinese whispers that McCormick’s hoaxes about Ian Fleming and James Bond have survived to date. There’s a lot of other information in 17F that doesn’t appear in either John Pearson or Andrew Lycett’s biographies. Some of it is verifiably true, but in general the more interesting McCormick’s information, the harder it is to ascertain the source. In many cases, he simply states something as fact, as in that Charles Fraser-Smith was ‘unquestionably’ the brains behind Fleming’s Q Branch. Fraser-Smith certainly created ingenious gadgets during the Second World War, but he admits in his own memoir that he only knew Fleming slightly, and there were plenty of other boffins in British intelligence who worked in that line – SOE had a special workshop for them in Welwyn Garden City. McCormick also quotes a KGB file, apparently declassified after the fall of the Soviet Union, which discusses keeping an eye on Fleming’s work for any mentions of SMERSH, but gives no reference to the document’s whereabouts or reference number. There are dozens of such minor snippets of information in the book, many of which have been repeated and expanded on by other writers and in the process made firmer over the years. Unpicking them all would be impossible, but I hope that this article sheds light on some of McCormick’s most widely accepted myths and hoaxes about Ian Fleming and James Bond.


Notes

1. Will the real James Bond stand up? By Chris Jones, BBC News, November 22, 2002. Available from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/uk/2000/newsmakers/2503023.stm

2. Aleister Crowley’s lives by Jake Arnott, May 30 2009, The Daily Telegraph. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/5407318/Aleister-Crowleys-lives.html

3. Larger than life adventures of a real Bond girl by Graham Stewart, The Times, November 18, 2006. Available from: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/graham_stewart/article640268.ece

4. Christine, the spy who loved Ian Fleming, gets her own movie by Jason Lewis, The Daily Mail, February 27, 2009. Available from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1145702/Christine-spy-loved-Ian-Fleming-gets-movie.html

5, 6, 7, 8. The Maybrick Hoax: Donald McCormick’s Legacy by Melvin Harris. Available from: http://www.casebook.org/dissertations/maybrick_diary/mb-mc.html

9, 10. pp117-118 The Life of Ian Fleming by John Pearson, Companion Book Club, 1966.

11. pp92-93 17F: The Life of Ian Fleming by Donald McCormick, Peter Owen, London, 1993.

12. Horoscope ‘lured’ Hess to Britain by Peter Hopkirk, The Times, September 15 1969.

13. Letter from Peter Fleming, The Times, September 18 1969.

14. Letter from Ellic Howe, The Times, September 18 1969.

15. Letter from Richard Deacon, The Times, September 25 1969.

16. p203 17F, and ppx and 5 John Dee: Scientist, Geographer, Astrologer, and Secret Agent to Elizabeth I by Richard Deacon, Muller, 1968.

17. A Golden Storm: Attempting to Recreate the Context of John Dee and Edward Kelley’s Angelic Material by Teresa Burns, Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition, No. 19, Vol. 2. 2010. Available from: http://www.jwmt.org/v2n19/golden.html

18. p143 17F.

19. p141 17F.

20. p144 17F.

21. p54 The Diamond Smugglers by Ian Fleming, Pan, 1965.

22.p151 17F.

23. p7 Christine: A Search for Christine Granville by Madeleine Masson, Hamilton, 1975.

24. p60 Ian Fleming’s James Bond: Annotations and Chronologies for Ian Fleming’s Bond Stories by John Griswold, AuthorHouse, 2006.

25. p261 Christine: SOE Agent and Churchill’s Favourite Spy, Virago, 2005.

26. pp265-266 Christine: SOE Agent and Churchill’s Favourite Spy, Virago, 2005.


This article was first published on this site in December 2014. It can also be found in Tradecraft.