40 years since his one-off James Bond continuation
novel was released, MI6 looks back at the life and
the iconic literary figure, Kingsley Amis...
Sir Kingsley Amis Biography
28th March 2008
Kingsley William Amis was
born on April 16th 1922 to father William Amis, a clerk
at Colman's Mustard and mother Rosa Annie Lucas. He spent
much of his youth and student life in London, where he
was born and raised. Amis would grow to become a prolific
recognised name in British literature, but entered the
world in substantially lesser circumstances.
The author would later describe his
early years as insular and narrow-minded, yet his path
was carved out for him early in life. At the young age
of eleven, Amis wrote his first deliberate prose and
was encouraged to do so by family and teachers at Norbury
College, in which he was enrolled. The young Amis had
this work published in a small magazine put out by the
college to showcase student work.
Amis once described his childhood lifestyle
with some disdain: "I slept in a drawer and had
my baths in an outdoor sink. My nappies bore triangular
singe marks where they had been dried on the fireguard.
It was tough. My father's dinner would often consist
of the contents of the doggy bag that my mother brought
back from the cinema café (the Tivoli) where she
Name: Kingsley William Amis
Date of Birth: 16th April 1922
Published: 1947 - 1995
Bond Novels: 1
Bond Non-Fiction: 2
Beyond Bond: Free-thinking author of social-commentary novel, "Lucky
After receiving a scholarship to attend a wealthier
educational faculty, Amis studied at City of London School until
1941 when he was offered another opportunity to up ranks
and pursue University studies at Oxford. Whilst enrolled,
Amis took part in a variety of activities, but his niche
remained creative writing. Commenting later, the author noted
his most influential experiences came not from the studying,
but from associating with promising and dedicated authors including
Elizabeth Jennings, Robert Conquest and Philip Larkin - the latter
Amis extended a life-long friendship with. Philip and Kingsley
shared many loves including pub crawls, American Jazz and debating
aesthetics and the pomposity of the upper-classes.
Amis' writer's career
was put on hold temporarily as he was signed up for the
armed forces just as the World War II broke out in
Europe. From 1942 until 1945, Kingsley Amis served in
Belgium, France and West Germany in the Royal Corps of
After returning to the UK, Amis continued
to attend Oxford University and after two further years
of hard study (his first research degree paper, "English
Non-Dramatic Poetry 1850-1900" was rejected), he
graduated from Oxford. During this period Amis associated
with many of the "Angry Young Men" - a cliché somewhat
distilled to describe an outspoken group of play-writes
and authors shortly after the war. The group was touted
by the press of the time as radical rich-haters.
In 1947, shortly after graduating, Kingsley
Amis married his first wife Hillary Bardwell with whom
he would have three children. His son, Martin Amis, went
on to follow in his father's stride and become an author
and literary critic.
Amis remained in close
academic circles lecturing at both Oxford and The University
College of Swansea. The budding author quickly became came involved
in Communist and Stalinist movements within the universities
and wrote frequently, contributing primarily to range of politically
minded poetry anthologies. In 1947, his first solo work was committed
to print - a collection of poems entitled "Bright November".
Over the next few years Amis followed this up with a further
three anthologies between 1953 and 1956.
"Most party members join without any knowledge, some, it is whispered, without any intelligence" - Amis on the Communist community
After 14 years of university
lecturing, Amis left these academic circles in 1963 and
began to focus on becoming a full time writer. Much of
prose from this era can be directly attributed to his time
at Oxford - inspired by the people, places and atmosphere
His first novel, 1954's "Lucky Jim",
firmly accredited Amis in the highly debated "Angry
Young Men" which keyed into the anti-hero mentality
of this circle. The comic satire sees Jim Dixon, a disgruntled
literary professor, slowly crack under the pressure of
job responsibility and a frustratingly old-fashioned dilettante.
"Lucky Jim" was adapted for the screen 3 years later starring
Ian Carmichael as Jim. This novel propelled Amis into international
acclaim and the style of novel proved immensely popular
in its era and is critically debated to this day. For this
novel, Kingsley Amis was awarded the Somerset Maugham prize
1956 saw Amis release his second novel, "That
Uncertain Feeling", also featuring a Jim Dixson-esque
character - taking a similar point of view to his first
literary commitment, but as the characters grow they become
even more bitter and pointed.
Although these early novels conjure similar
patterns, none lived up the critical acclaim or brilliance of "Lucky
Jim". By this time Amis was growing less and less
impressed by the power within the USSR and its fight in the name
of Communism. The increasingly popular author began to break
the ties with the local Stalin sympathisers in favour of a more
upper-class British style of living. Later in his career Amis
was noted to have touted anti-communist sentiment in both his
beliefs and writing.
Kingsley Amis crossed paths with 007 when he
set about the first of many literary criticism and essay collections
which investigated the world of Ian Fleming's creation - defining
this trend it could be said. The publication was 1965's "The
James Bond Dossier". So taken was he with 007, bar even
his critical analysis of Fleming's work, that he delved deeper
into the Bond mythology. Amis adopted the not-so-secret pen name
of Lt. Col.William Tanner to write his satirical guide to the
world of espionage. First published in 1965, "The Book of
Bond, or Every Man his Own 007" was originally sold with
a false cover branded with "The Bible to be Read as Literature" for
the potential secret agent to read on the sly.
Amis gained the opportunity to carry on the
007 legacy in print in 1968 when he penned "Colonel Sun" under
the pseudonym Robert Markham. Just four years post Fleming's
passing, Amis was invited by Glidrose Publications (now Ian Fleming
Publications) to write a follow-on James Bond adventure. By now,
the distinguished author had grown to know the James Bond character
inside out - having worked closely with him of two prior occasions
- and began to quickly to formulate one of the most violent 007
adventures committed to paper. Amis originally intended to develop
a series of 007 outings for print before his plans changed
and Glidrose turned to John Gardner to continue the legacy years
later. Although Amis' entry to the Bond fiction domain is less
often forgotten by fans, it by no means deserves it, and stands
up as one of the best post-Fleming literary adventures.
In 1965, shortly after leaving Hillary, Amis married his second
wife, Elizabeth Jane Howard with whom he lived happily until
his death. Amis earned his first Booker price nomination for
his 1974 novel "Ending Up" but failed to clinch the
decoration until (after several nominations) he was given this
prestigious writers award in 1986 for his work, "The Old
Devils". His son Martin later commented that, in his opinion, "The
Old Devils" was
his father's finest work.
Over the course of his
career Kingsley Amis penned over 20 novels, each a commentary,
sometimes satirical, on a definite aspect of his surroundings.
He always spoke honestly, if not candidly, in his writings.
Sir Kingsley Amis was honoured with a CBE, Commander of
the British Empire in 1981 and later offered a full knighthood
in 1990 for services to literature.
is worth giving up for the sake of two more years in
a geriatric home at Weston-Super-Mare"
Kingsley Amis passed away on the 23rd of October 1995, leaving behind the unfinished follow up to his Booker prize-winner. Amis was 75 when he suffered complications after a fall. The author and father left behind an impressive and often controversial legacy but remains a prominent literary figure, and will be long remembered for his outspoken nature, clever and entertaining writing and of course his unlikely but brilliant run-in with 007.
The Life of Kingsley Amis - Book Preview