Saturday, November 3, 2007

Origins of The Authorized Biography of 007

In a terrific interview with author John Pearson in OO7 Magazine Online, Hank Reineke has at long last uncovered the origins of the rather mysterious James Bond continuation novel, James Bond The Authorized Biography of 007.

The biggest surprise is that James Bond The Authorized Biography of 007 was NOT an original idea commissioned by Glidrose Publications (now Ian Fleming Publications). The idea for the book didn’t even originate with author John Pearson.

It was publisher William Armstrong who one day range up Pearson -- who had just scored a success with The Life of Ian Fleming -- and suggested doing “The Life of James Bond” as pseudo biography. At the time, there was a vogue for these types of books, with “nonfiction fiction” bestsellers like The Seven Per Cent Solution, which professed to reveal the "true story" of Sherlock Holmes’ cocaine addiction, and the scandal over Clifford Irving’s bogus Howard Hughes biography (there are some amusing similarities to this in Pearson's book). Armstrong wanted the book to be part of the Sidgwick & Jackson line, a small publisher he was trying to build up. What better way to boost to a new label than with the name of James Bond.

Pearson had a good personal relationship with Peter Janson Smith, Ian Fleming’s agent and director of Glidrose, who gave the project their official blessing. “I think I even paid them a bit. Just to cheer everybody up,” said Pearson. “It wasn’t very much. There was a lot of garbage around at the time.”

The book was originally meant to be a joke -- a spoof biography -- but as Pearson got to work, he took the project more seriously and, in the end, produced what many fans (myself included) consider to be a very fine James Bond continuation novel.

The narrative of James Bond The Authorized Biography of 007 is divided between Pearson’s adventures interviewing the sometimes uncooperative James Bond living in forced "retirement" in Bermuda (in which Bond’s mysterious female companion is revealed to be none other than Honeychild Rider) and Pearson’s own retelling of Bond’s "true" life story. Many of the events Pearson chronicles in the book read like James Bond short stories — and good ones at that! Bond’s mission to Stockholm to kill a former colleague is quite shocking, both in the events and the clean, clipped economy of the writing.

We also get a look at Bond’s failings and the periods between missions: James Bond forced to consider taking a job as a Harrods department store detective during a period of desperate unemployment; James Bond the social dropout living off his looks and wealthy women in island resort communities (Pearson reveals the events of “The Hildebrand Rarity” took place during one of Bond’s beachcomber periods). One of the strongest moments in the book is when Bond, during a period of suspension because of scandal, takes a seat at a Blades gambling table, not to best a villain or win over a woman, but in a last desperate attempt to make a living. All of Bond’s nerve and skills fail him. It’s as if the universe itself rejects a James Bond who is not 007. Excellent stuff!

Because the book enjoyed great success, especially in America, Person said there was “quite a bit of talk" that he should do a sequel. However, Pearson dismissed the idea. “I thought it would be a bit of deja vu and all the rest to it.”

This is a disappointment. In the final chapter, Bill Tanner recalls Bond to active duty, laying out the details of an Australian assignment involving Bond’s old nemesis Irma Bunt. This certainly sets up an intriguing idea for a second Pearson novel. Unfortunately, Bond fans are left to wonder how Bond via Pearson would have handled The Giant Rats of Crumper’s Dick.

A new hardcover reprint of James Bond The Authorized Biography (the "of 007" has been dropped from the title) has been published by Century and can be purchased from Amazon.co.uk. A paperback reprint is coming in May next year.

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