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Fleming family keeps bad Bond under wraps with book pulping

09-Mar-2008 • Literary

It cost the creator of James Bond his health and £50,000. Now, more than 40 years later, a legal battle about the authorship of Thunderball has claimed another victim with the pulping of a book about Ian Fleming - reports The Times.

The book, The Battle for Bond, tells how 007 was refashioned from the ruthless and misogynistic character that was created by Fleming in his debut novel, Casino Royale, to a suave womaniser and international box office hit.

The intervention by Fleming’s family will draw attention to one of the most bruising episodes in the rise of Bond, as celebrations for the centenary of the author’s birth get under way. As well as a new Bond novel, to be written by Sebastian Faulks, the bestselling author, an exhibition about 007’s second world war exploits will open at the Imperial War Museum in the spring.

The collaboration between Fleming and two others on a film script, introducing fans to Spectre and Blofeld, ended in acrimony when Fleming was accused of plagiarising it for a book version.

In 1963 he had to pay costs of £50,000 to Kevin McClory, a film producer who had developed the storyline with him. The case took its toll on Fleming’s health, causing heart problems, and he died just nine months later aged 56.

Fleming was accused of taking a film script, written mainly by McClory and Jack Whittingham in 1959, and turning it into his bestselling book about the terrorist organisation Spectre, whose evil number two Emilio Largo tries to destroy Bond.

Whittingham was a well established British screenwriter who had worked with McClory on the planned film, which was going to star Richard Burton as Bond and was to be directed by Alfred Hitchcock. In the end, Whittingham was principal witness in the court case.

The planned Hitchcock movie fell through and it took until 1965 for the film to be made. The fourth in the series of Bond films, which starred Sean Connery, was required to state in the credits that it was “based on a book from an original screen treatment by McClory, Whittingham and Fleming”. The Thunderball book also had to include these words in the preface.

Fleming, who began writing his James Bond books while employed as foreign manager of The Sunday Times in the 1950s, had immediate success and they became an international phenomenon once the first film, Dr No, was released in 1962.

With Thunderball, Bond’s character changed, setting him on the path to even greater commercial success. Sylvan Mason, the daughter of Whittingham, said: “In the early books that Fleming wrote, James was a much more ruthless, sadistic and misogynistic man.

“The original film script for Thunderball portrayed Bond as a much more suave character who was keen on women and affairs. That script, and then the subsequent Fleming books and all the films, really offered a very different Bond and one who was far more popular with a wider audience.” The book about Thunderball, by Robert Sellers, was published last autumn. In January the publisher, Tomahawk Press, was accused of breaching copyright for including a number of court documents from the plagiarism case.

The Fleming Will Trust, which was set up to look after the interests of the author’s family and headed by Kate Grimond, Fleming’s niece, demanded the book be pulped.

“We’re just a very small publisher with no money to fight a big legal action,” said Bruce Sachs, Tomahawk’s managing director. Olswang, the solicitors acting on behalf of the Fleming Will Trust, claims that under English law the full documents could not be published.

On Thursday Sachs had to order a warehouse in Lancaster to hand over 300 copies of the book for pulping. Bookshops that already have copies are not being forced to remove them although Amazon, the online retailer, has decided to withdraw the book.

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