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Sebastian Faulks` schoolboy fantasy inspires 007 novel

01-Jun-2008 • Literary

His name was Vakeel. Fali Vakeel. And if the young Indian schoolboy had not hankered after the world of fast cars and nubile young women enjoyed by Britain's most famous fictional spy, James Bond may have had to hang up his tuxedo - reports The Telegraph.

Instead, 007 was reborn last week in a brand new novel - Devil May Care - by the author Sebastian Faulks, who was introduced to Ian Fleming's most famous creation by Mr Vakeel when they were both prep-school pupils in 1960s Berkshire.

Eyebrows were raised in literary circles when Faulks, the author of the acclaimed novel Birdsong, was chosen by Fleming's family to revive the Bond name in print.

But Mr Vakeel, 55 told The Sunday Telegraph how he had smuggled copies of Bond novels, with their risque covers and tales of derring do, in to Elstree School and shared them with the young Faulks to raise his spirits.

"I think we were both equally miserable, with boiled cabbage every day, and it only got worse. I don't think he was terribly happy so I said 'this is the perfect way to cheer up'," he said.

"In those rather dreary 60s days, Bond was a perfect antidote. It was everything that prep school wasn't: he liked good food, good drink and good sex, none of which was available in school anyway.

"We had a very strict head master who didn't allow anything to do with this sort of thing, which was basically sex I guess, so we smuggled these books in. It was all read under torch light after lights out."

He recalled how he would snuggle down under the covers after lights out at 7.30pm to read his Bond books by the light of a torch. His first purchase, and still his favourite Bond book, was From Russia with Love.

The first edition of the book features a revolver atop a red rose, though later editions feature scantily clad, or entirely unclad, young women. Mr Vakeel could not recall which cover his book had, but he was quite clear about what had attracted him to Fleming's work in the first place.

"It cost £2, which was all my pocket money, but it was all very sexy stuff," he said.

Faulks is now a governor of Elsstree and was keen to point out that times had changed and there was no longer any question of Bond being banned in what he described as a "modern and gentle" environment.

"Bond is quite acceptable now," he said. "I frequently have to sign copies of my own books which contain far more violence than Bond. It is pretty innocent, Devil May Care, there is a tiny bit of sex but it is all terribly restrained. I wouldn't worry at all about a 12-year-old reading it."

But he recalled that when he was a pupil, the rules were a little more strict.

"In our day the school was a very strict old fashioned boarding school with lots of Latin verbs and lots of boiled cabbage but it was actually a very good school," he said.

"It was run by a naval officer who was a splendid man but very much of the old school and any book that was brought into the school had to go through his study where he would initial it to show it was OK and if it was not OK it was put back in your suitcase and sent home. The truth was with the Bond books that if they were a film tie-in with a picture of a half-naked woman on the front there was no chance. Occasionally, if it was a book club edition with a hard back cover, you might be lucky. But it was fun."

Fleming was already dead by the time Faulks and his young friend left Elstree and went their separate ways in 1965, but the film versions of Fleming's novels ensured the public appetite for Bond has never waned.

Fans queued up last week to get their hands on copies of the new book, which Faulks dedicated to Mr Vakeel. The pair had lost touch Faulks tracked Mr Vakeel down to Bombay, where he was working as an advertising executive, and e-mailed him out of the blue in 2004.

By coincidence, Mr Vakeel had just finishing reading Faulks' On Green Dolphin Street. He had never tried to get in touch, he said, because he thought Faulks would be too grand, but he was pleasantly surprised to discover he was mistaken and last week he flew to London to join the author at the launch of his new novel.

"I've read the first 30 pages and I'm taking a long flight back to Bombay tonight so shall read the other 300," he said. "I think it is a deadringer for the best of Fleming. It is a terrific book."

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