Tuesday 10 May 2011

Lewes Book Bargain: The Life of Ian Fleming, Creator of James Bond, by John Pearson (Jonathan Cape, 1966)

Thus far in this week of non-fiction first editions we've had a biography of a master spy and an autobiography of a spycatcher. Now it's the turn of another biography, this time on the creator of the most famous fictional spy the world has ever known:

The Life of Ian Fleming was first published in hardback in the UK by Jonathan Cape in 1966, two years after Fleming's death. Written by Fleming's former assistant on the Sunday Times, John Pearson – who would go on to pen the second post-Fleming Bond novel (following Kingsley Amis's Colonel Sun), James Bond: The Authorized Biography, in 1973 – it's widely regarded as the definitive text on the 007 author – as opposed to Donald McCormick's later biography, which, as author Jeremy Duns pointed out, er, isn't. Jeremy has just posted an article on The Life of Ian Fleming on his blog (prompted by this very post, in fact), as well as on Andrew Lycett's 1995 Fleming biography, so head over there to read more about both books.

I bought this first edition in the Lewes Antique Centre – where, coincidentally, I also got the aforementioned James Bond: The Authorized Biography – for a few pounds. There's a touching inscription on the reverse of the front endpaper, the other side of which bears a reproduction of one of Fleming's own bookplates; Fleming was an avid book collector, a subject I'll return to momentarily.

The dustjacket was designed by noted artist and children's book illustrator Jan Pienkowski, and features a bust of Fleming in his early twenties sculpted by Simone Panchaud de Bottoms, who was the mother of Fleming's then-girlfriend in Switzerland. Publishers Jonathan Cape produced fifty replica busts to celebrate the publication of Pearson's biography in 1966, few of which survive to this day. The book itself contains a section of illustrations and photographs which are almost worth the price of admission alone (you can see Augustus Johns's pencil sketch of Fleming above). One I was particularly interested in was a picture of Fleming's bedroom at his London home, 16 Victoria Square:

Oh to be able to zoom in on those shelves and read the spines... For Fleming was, as I mentioned, quite the bibliophile. Charing Cross Road secondhand bookshop Any Amount of Books' blog, Bookride, recently posted a fascinating series of essays on the subject of Fleming's book collecting, which can be found here, here and here. Those posts also detail the contents of a letter found in the blog owner's copy of the biography, from Pearson to a friend about Fleming's rebellious nature. Well worth reading when you have a moment to spare. And one final note about John Pearson before we move on: I've just been informed by Emma Chaplin and David Jarman at local listings magazine Viva Lewes that Mr. Pearson lives very close by, in the village of Kingston, just a couple of miles from where I'm sitting right now. Small world...

Anyway, next on Existential Ennui, we move from a biography of Ian Fleming to a book about the publisher of that biography – and indeed of Fleming's own novels...


  1. faithful researcher25 June 2012 at 20:23

    Odd you picked that book up in Lewes. The author - John Pearson - lives in Lewes.

  2. Indeed, FR – Kingston, to be precise, just outside Lewes, as mentioned in the post.

  3. faithful researcher26 June 2012 at 18:21

    Ouch, that's what I get for not reading the post all the way through to the end! I assure you that my research skills are usually much better.

    I'm still smarting. :)

  4. Don't worry about it, FR: most of my posts are so bloody tedious I doubt anyone makes it all the way to the end of them.

  5. faithful researcher28 June 2012 at 17:34

    Louis XIV, "The Sun King" (Nick Jones) said...
    Don't worry about it, FR: most of my posts are so bloody tedious I doubt anyone makes it all the way to the end of them.

    All too true!

    Kidding, only kidding. Please don't ban me. Here's hoping you have a sense of humour.