MI6 looks back at how America was introduced to James Bond back when Ian Fleming's debut novel Casino Royale was unleashed upon the masses...

Time Tunnel: You Asked For It - America Is Introduced To 007
19th November 2006

The year is 1954: America is testing The Bomb, Hitchcock made the incredibly successful thriller ‘Rear Window’, Tolkien is writing his 2nd of three fantasy novels ‘The Two Towers’... but where is 007?

Fleming is beginning to make his mark at this time, and after the UK success of "Casino Royale", America gets a dose of 007. On March the 23rd 1954, the publishers Macmillan introduce the US to Ian Fleming’s James Bond, the card playing, smoking and drinking hard man.

With the film boom just under a decade away, who are Fleming’s rivals? Who is popular on the literary scene and what does Bond have that his spy-fiction rivals don’t? MI6 unravels the mystery by looking back at the press reviews from 1954...

“Good writing is a mystery to most mystery writers. But the borderline between a good mystery and a good novel is occasionally crossed, and two new yarns get well over the border. In ‘The Long Goodbye’, Old Mystery Hand Raymond Chandler brings back his private eye, Philip Marlowe, for his first stint in more than four years. Casino Royale introduces a brand-new mystery writer, Briton Ian Fleming, and a hard-shelled British secret-service operative, James Bond, who should be prowling the international underground for some books to come" - Time Magazine

  Above: 1st edition Jonathan Cape hardback (UK)

007 is not only pitted against Le Chiffre, the evil SMERSH agent, but against the pen of popular crime novelist, Raymond Chandler. Already established in the writing scene, Chandler takes the front seat in the coverage, but Fleming is never without his dues:

“Casino Royale poses an unlikely sounding situation and makes it hum with tension. […] Author Fleming keeps his incidents and characters spinning through their paces like juggling balls. As for Bond, he might be Marlowe's younger brother except that he never takes coffee for a bracer, just one large Martini laced with vodka.”

Casino Royale Timeline
  • 1953 - UK hardback first edition published by Jonathan Cape
  • 1954 - USA hardback first edition published by Macmillan
  • 1955 - UK paperback first edition published by Pan
  • 1955 - USA paperback first edition published by Popular Library under the title "You Asked For It"

So what does Bond have that Marlowe lacks? Both have talented creators who intertwine their novels with broad description and interesting metaphor. But what gives 007 his break is now commonly his trademark, sophistication and ruthless trickery are indulged in.

Fleming dares to take his secret agent where no author has gone before. Some critics in 1954 picked up on this from word go, comparing Marlowe’s coffee to 007’s Martini.

The times are changing, the public view of sex and violence has greatened and one critic notes that Chandler’s fiction is not what it used to be:

“Bitter Coffee. Once regarded as a very tough character. Private Eye Philip Marlowe seems a rather mellow and gentlemanly sleuth these days, especially when measured against Mickey Spillane's neo-Neanderthal Mike Hammer. For one thing, the years have been kind to Marlowe.”

Above: US paperback Popular Library edition 1955, US paperback Penguin edition (2002)

Whilst the press picked up on the unique and appealing nature of 007, the general American public were not as pleased. A little over a year since its first publication in the US, on April 1st 1955, Casino Royale was re-branded as a popular library paperback entitled, "You Asked For It", in a hope to spark popularity in American crime-fiction circles.

Meanwhile, back in Jamaica, and probably mostly out of personal pleasure, Fleming pens the second Bond adventure, "Live And Let Die". The future of 007 hangs in the balance, yet one long forgotten journalist gave the world a glimpse into the phenomenon that was heading their way...

Stay tuned to MI6 for more Time Tunnel features - looking back at past reactions to James Bond and his world.

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