• Red Nichols, Holstorian

Ian Fleming -- his word was as good as his Bond

Updated: Apr 22

I have a very special place in my heart for Ian Fleming. I could have met him but didn't; my family shifted me and my next oldest brother to London in that fateful November of 1963 when JFK was assassinated and Fleming died in '64. And because of JFK, the family got its first television immediately. And because of THAT I got to see the very first Dr. Who episode, 'live' for its first transmission because that was the very next day after Kennedy was murdered.

British TV then was strictly b&w videotape without background music and looked and sounded as if it had been recorded in an empty underground parking lot. And looked like it might have been :-).

I include the below image from the much later film On Her Majesty's Secret Service (did you know that there indeed was an O.H.M.S. and still is, even here in Australia? The 'Secret' was added by Fleming) because I, of course, fell in love with the Countess' portrayal by the former Mrs. Peel ('she must have 'man appeal'; 'M appeal'; Emma Peel, get it? True tale) who had been appearing in England in the series The Avengers. There's a whole cadre of us Peel tragics who still love her character. Sad, eh?

Of course in 1962 the very first Bond film, Dr. No, was released and I was there in London! And as a new teen in '63 (13) I had already read the 1958 book. Wow!! Guns and girls and cars and holsters and - wow, one can play with all of them!

If my future boss John Bianchi was a child of the Western, then I was a child of Bond; and my own gunleather designs have long been informed by the genre that is better exemplified by Chic Gaylord and Paris Theodore than by the Myres and Berns-Martin brands that were recommended to Fleming by Boothroyd in 1956.

Ian Fleming was not a gun person. Yes, he'd been part of the British war effort (British Intelligence) and was known to carry what his father's Browning .25 automatic; its serial number shows it was among the last made before WWI broke out. Passed down to his mother and then to Ian, at WWII's end they shifted separately to Jamaica to escape Britain's punitive death duties -- his mother had been left quite wealthy by her soldier husband who was killed 1917 near the end of WW1 -- and at one point she sent Ian a letter from there that her ammunition was old: it was dated 1914! And would he provide a fresh supply, please, and thank you very much.

Above is his actual pistol, now in a private collection; and below the Berns-Martin 'Triple Draw' holster of his soon-to-be advisor, Boothroyd, that is privately owned but in a London museum:

There is a celebrated story about how Ian Fleming came to arm James Bond after his Beretta .25 automatic. There is also a celebrated story that Bond was who Fleming wanted to be. But he formally denied that (the Playboy interview) and instead, from the descriptions that Fleming wrote of his role in his books, and of his elegant offices in London (he married the former Lady Rothermere and as I recall her father was a major publisher who employed Ian), instead Fleming was "M"; who sent Bond on his missions from those very offices.

If you recall the books and films the way I do, Bond himself got himself into some mighty stupid situations so I wouldn't expect that Fleming wanted to be such a man. Indeed Fleming wearied of 'writing Bond' and even killed him off in his book You Only Live Twice (and meant to kill him off in the fifth title that was From Russia, With Love). And he would have succeeded, too, if he himself hadn't died that year; and so the estate had his 13th book, The Man With the Golden Gun, completed by others including Boothroyd; and revived Bond for more adventures.

'Gold' figures heavily in Fleming's work -- 'golden guns and golden girls and golden cars -- and I reckon, at the very least, it was unavoidable because 'gold' was literally staring him in the face as he wrote Casino Royale on his gold plated Royal ('Royale', get it?) typewriter. And that revolver on the cover of The Man With the Golden Gun really was gold plated and really was Ian Fleming's. Notice how old his first gen Colt was, likely because Colt needed to select from an inventory already in England because of its firearms laws. Still, it's quite an anomaly, an 1875 Colt being presented to a 1964 Ian Fleming.

The 'celebrated story of arming Bond' is told in more detail in our book Holstory. The short version is that a fellow Brit named Geoffrey Boothroyd, a young, amateur enthusiast who got all his 'knowledge' from several Askins stories of the early 1950s, wrote to Fleming in '56 after reading Casino Royale and understandably, given the heavily armored vehicles depicted in the book, felt that a .25 Beretta wasn't adequate for the job (and Askins had so-written).

I'm fascinated that Fleming's depictions of Bond handling the pistol show that he had the Browning in hand while writing and not a Beretta; as their controls are quite different and only the little Browning matches up. And exactly what part of the barrel did Bond have sawed off of either pistol? Fleming copped a lot of flak for his gun commentaries and couldn't 'correct' them. Shirley Eaton in Goldfinger, below:

Not least for Bond's famous Berns-Martin shoulder holster. No, it turns out that Fleming didn't get it completely wrong, nor for the entire series of books, either. The beauty of modern PDF technology, plus time, is that all the books are available in that searchable format and without having to read them all we've located all his mentions of his pistols and gunleather.

In Dr. No, where the famed Walther PPK is introduced, it turns out that Fleming had insisted on it because, over Boothroyd's objections, he wanted Bond to have a silenced pistol although Boothroyd wanted Bond to have an S&W Centennial; but Fleming pointed out that the revolver couldn't be silenced. And so the Berns-Martin was issued with the Centennial that was well suited to the holster but then was also, more prominently, paired with the Walther. As they say here, 'buggah'!

It doesn't seem anyone really noticed, though, until Fleming wrote what was to meant to be the whimsical forward for a Boothroyd gun book. Instead it became an article in Sports Illustrated, and in the London Times, and then the mis-pairing was featured in the color film Dr. No. All of this in 1962 and he endured a lot of abuse for the goof, living only two more years.

In the books that followed Commander Bond was not ever equipped with a Berns-Martin shoulder holster again. Instead it became a Berns-Martin waistband holster in the next book that was Goldfinger (the books are in chronological sequence, rather like a serial; but the films were not released in that sequence so don't confuse them). Then eventually even the B-M name disappeared. And in You Only Live Twice, the 12th and almost final book, he is not armed at all.

For Bond's 'actual' holster we're left with its movie depiction, and the producers were unable to outfit the actor with a genuine Berns-Martin and I expect that Fleming had resisted them putting him in a Gaylord horizontal shoulder holster for the Walther because he'd already told off the Playboy author for even suggesting it (!).

That famous blue holster is a costume designer's interpretation of an H.H. Heiser leather shoulder holster of the 1950s (see above image); right down to the little hanging tab at the muzzle that was meant for the pants button there (see below).

It doesn't disturb the legend of Ian Fleming himself, for me to posit that the Bond character was not meant to outlive him when he wrote You Only Live Twice. It was book number 12 in the series and the storylines of each were dependent on the prior book. Bond dies in YOLT and there is no suggestion there that he has survived his fate, as a sort of cliffhanger, such as "Stay tuned, for the NEXT exciting adventure of . . . secret agent James BOND!"

Fleming himself was seriously ill after his first heart attack and had endured an adult life filled with kidney stones and extremely bad teeth; and was not only a very heavy smoker (he cut down to 50 cigarettes daily) but also an alcoholic. He was so ill that in 1962 his secretary advised his penpal Geoffrey Boothroyd that Ian could no longer correspond with him.

The book version of You Only Live Twice was released at the end of March 1964 and Fleming was dead in July that year; there was no time left to complete The Man With the Golden Gun for Ian Fleming. I'll go out on a limb and say that his stakeholders simply couldn't have Bond dead, so they simply finished the job for him, good lads that they were, but with Bond back from the dead. This from companion book The Man With the Golden Typewriter that is a compendium of the letters of Ian Fleming:

It turns out that Fleming was killed by a Thunderball -- his first heart attack followed hard on the heels of a British court's ruling against him on the book's copyright ownership.

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