Friday 15 October 2010

Lewes Book Bargain: James Bond: The Authorized Biography by John Pearson

Our final Lewes – the East Sussex town etc. etc. – Book Bargain (for now; it's a safe bet that in the near future I'll be buying further books from the various bookshops and charity shops that litter Lewes, for which I can only apologise to my long-suffering girlfriend) is a real oddity:

A UK hardback first edition of James Bond: The Authorized Biography by John Pearson, published by Sidgwick & Jackson Limited in 1973, with a dustjacket designed by the wonderfully named Bartholomew Wilkins and Partners (wot ho). I bought this in the Lewes Antique Centre – the same place I picked up that copy of Richard Price's Samaritan for a quid – where I think it had been lurking for quite some time; I seem to recall glancing at it before. But on this particular trip I decided to nab it.

What's interesting about the book is that it is, at root, a Bond novel. In fact, it could be considered more of a Bond novel – as in belonging to the original Ian Fleming literary canon – than John Gardner's 007 novels, which kicked off eight years later in 1981 with Licence Renewed, and which followed a necessarily altered continuity to the Fleming novels, updating Bond and his colleagues and accoutrements for the modern age. Whereas, like Kingsley Amis' 1968 Bond novel Colonel Sun (written under the pseudonym Robert Markham), The Authorized Biography is very much about Fleming's original James Bond, featuring a 007 who's aged in line with the years that accumulated over the course of Fleming's – who died in 1964 – and then Amis' Bond books. Indeed, from that perspective, The Authorized Biography and Colonel Sun are the only post-Fleming Bond novels that could be considered canon, although you could make a strong case for Charlie Higson's 1930s-set Young Bond books.

All of which no doubt sounds terribly nerdy and dull to most people, but is the kind of thing that keeps Bond fanatics up at night. I'm not quite that nerdy about Bond, but I do find this sort of thing fascinating... which would therefore, by my own reckoning, make me quite dull. Hmph. Also, I've been ever so slightly insomniac since That Night, so fretting about the canonical nature of a James Bond book in the wee small hours doesn't actually seem that strange to me.

Anyway, The Authorized Biography is, as I say, a novel, rather than simply a fictionalized biography. It's written in the first person, and is ostensibly John Pearson's account of his search for and encounters with James Bond – as in the real, living, breathing James Bond, who does actually exist and is on permanent sick leave in Bermuda. What follows is an account of Bond's life, with stories from his school days, his wartime experiences, the times between missions, and so on. It's also revealed that Fleming's novels were written to convince SMERSH that Bond was only a fictional character, which is an intriguing but bizarre notion.

Notably, the book is authorised by Glidrose, Fleming's publishing company (inside it's copyright both Glidrose and Pearson), which lends the canon argument more weight. Pearson was Fleming's assistant at the Sunday Times, where Fleming was foreign manager, and wrote a 1966 biography of Fleming. He's also written a few other novels, mostly based on other people's properties, but he's better known for his true crime books, including a few on East End gangsters the Kray twins (one of these, The Profession of Violence, was the basis for the 1990 film The Krays).

So there you have it. And that's probably yer lot for this week. Next week, if all goes according to plan, Existential Ennui will see the return of one old friend and one fairly new acquaintance: Donald E. Westlake – or more accurately Richard Stark, and perhaps one other Westlake pseudonym too – and Ross Thomas. See you then.


  1. The authoritative answer, it is tempting...

  2. "Authorized Biography" reads very well -- it even features chapter titles that read like Fleming's own, and a last line that echoes Bon'd own final line in "Casino Royale."