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Charlie Higson and panel discuss Ian Fleming and 007

27-Jul-2008 • Literary

Dotted about the crowded lobby of the Crown Hotel are a chit-chatting mix of the usual suspects for this sort of thing. Well-known authors; bookish male loner types; eccentric, middle-age women; attractive teenage girls.

Attractive teenage girls? If this panel discussion to mark the centennial anniversary of 007 author Ian Fleming proves one thing it’s that, 55 years after he made his literary debut in Casino Royale, James Bond can still pull the girls, repots the Harrogate Advertiser.

The panel, chaired by witty BBC Radio 4 regular Simon Brett and headed by Young Bond author Charlie Higson, also agree that Fleming’s is, on the whole, an achievement worth celebrating.

“He was once called a great writer who wrote bad books but I think that’s unfair,” says Higson who still remembers being taken by his dad to see Thunderball at ‘the pictures’ at the height of the Swinging Sixties.

It’s a tricky subject in these changed times but the panel do a good job of separating the phenomenally-successful movie brand from the literary character Fleming invented at the height of The Cold War.

The Times’ crime correspondent for Beijing, Catherine Sampson, views Fleming’s Bond as “a very male fantasy”, though she concedes the books do stand up to re-reading 42 years after the publication of the final original book, Octopussy in 1966.

Successful American thriller writer Joseph Finder, says he finds Fleming’s writing “tight and spare” though “kinda kinky.”

As youngster, all the “spanking, drinking and smoking” in the likes of From Russia With Love left him a little disappointed when, as a young man, he actually went onto join the CIA.

The books’ racism, sexism and snobbery can be shocking today, agrees British writer James Twining, whose father once made him watch every Bond film in chronological order.

Quietly, it’s Higson, the only member of the panel with a direct link to 007, who seems to understand the nature of Fleming’s Bond best.

He’s diplomatic on the subject of Sebastian Faulks’ recently-published new adult Bond novel, Devil May Care.

But he admits with his customary dry wit that he wasn’t the only author approached by the Fleming Estate to help revitalise the famous spy’s literary heritage by imagining the adventures of Bond as a teenager.

“They spoke to a lot of different writers before picking me to write the Young Bond series. At one point all of us had to meet up at a secret location on an island inside a hollowed-out volcano.”

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