How seriously did brother Peter take the claims that Ian Fleming was writing James Bond novels from beyond the grave?

Ian Fleming's Ghost
8th June 2005

Whilst researching "Ian Fleming's James Bond: Annotations and Chronologies for Ian Fleming’s Bond Stories", author John Griswold unearthed the tale of Peter Fleming and Ian's ghost. The tale did not make it in to his book, but John Griswold supplied the story of "Take Over: A James Bond Thriller" to MI6 during a recent interview.

Extract from Duff Hart-Davis’ Peter Fleming: A Biography:

A year later there began a sequence of far stranger events connected with Ian which Peter was never able to explain. It started in October 1970, when he was approached by a man whom he described (in an article published later in the Sunday Times) as ‘Mr A’ —a retired bank-officer of seventy-three who lived in Hertfordshire. In a short, type-written letter Mr A told Peter that he had some ‘unusual and I believe very pleasurable news concerning your late brother Ian’ [who had been dead six years], and asked if he might come and have a talk. Peter, agreeing rather reluctantly, arranged a meeting for the following Sunday.

When Mr A came he brought with him his middle-aged daughter Vera and a 6o,ooo-word typescript on the cover of which was inscribed, Take Over: A James Bond Thriller. This, he explained, had been dictated by Ian to Mrs A (Vera’s mother), who had died some three years earlier; Mrs A had transmitted its text from the spirit world to Vera, who had taken it down in longhand. Ian, he went on, was one of a group of authors who were anxious to carry on writing in the spirit world and so to prove to people on earth that life goes on ‘very pleasurably’ (as one of them put it) after death. The other authors were Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, Edgar Wallace, Ruby M. Ayres and Somerset Maugham; but when Miss Ayres later dropped out of the syndicate on her promotion to a ‘Higher Plane’, her place was promptly taken by Bernard Shaw.

Communication had first been established, Mr A explained, in December 1969, when Vera had been recovering from an illness. As she sat with a writing pad in front of her, her eye fell on a framed photograph of her mother on the piano, and she thought, ‘I wish I could talk to you, Mum.’ Immediately the pen in her hand started to write, and with difficulty spelt out the message: ‘I love you, Vera.’


Above: Ian Fleming, who died on 12th August 1964, at the Royal St. George's Sandwich golf course in Kent, suffering a heart attack.

In the correspondence which followed, the process of automatic writing grew steadily more fluent, and the strangest thing about it was that the handwriting became that of the mother. Vera’s own writing had always been rounded, loopy and backward-sloping; at school she had repeatedly been told that such backward-sloping words were a sign of bad character, and had been urged to tilt them the other way. But this she had never been able to manage—until suddenly, as she took down her mother’s messages, she found herself writing in a sharp, pointed, italic hand that sloped steeply forwards.
It would be hard to imagine anybody harder-headed than Peter in matters of this kind, or anybody less easily impressed; and indeed, as he read some pages of Take Over, his scepticism built up rapidly, for he saw that although the book made use of the traditional Bond apparatus —M, Universal Export, Miss Moneypenny and so on—its style and execution were nothing whatever like Ian’s. The scene that followed is best described by Peter himself:

  When opportunity offered I said mildly that it did not sound very like Ian; he would not, for instance, have described a room in a private house, however villainous its occupants, as a ‘lounge’. Vera, who was sitting with a pad on her knee, almost immediately wrote, in her mother’s handwriting, ‘Mr Fleming says Peter is perfectly correct in saying I do not use the word lounge.’
Impressed by the prompt establishment of what seemed to be some sort of rapport, I asked if Ian had a message for me. ‘Mr Fleming says he is very pleased to be here with his brother and sends greetings.’
I had not, before Mr A arrived twenty minutes earlier, been prepared for a dialogue with the Spirit World, but my first impulse was to check the bona fides of my extra-terrestrial correspondent, about which, as I thumbed through more and more pages of Take Over, I became increasingly sceptical. I asked five more questions:
What was his second Christian name? Lancaster.
What was his son’s second Christian name? Robert ... [both correct].
What were his house-colours at Eton? Blue and yellow. No. Blue and red. No. I can’t do it. (The right answer was cerise and grey.)
Does he remember the name of the boy who broke his nose? Yes. Pause. Bertram (It was Henry Douglas-Home, a brother of Sir Alec.)
Does he remember the Russian for ‘Yes’ (‘Da’)? Pause. Two squiggles. Scap. Please forgive me I cannot get this over.
By this time I had read what was claimed to be one of the most exciting chapters in Take Over, and I told Mr A that with the best will in the world I could not recognize my brother’s style. Vera at once wrote: ‘He realizes the book is not his style but hopes to be able eventually to get this over correctly, although it may take time.’

So, after a few more questions, this first meeting ended and the visitors departed. Peter was electrified. Sceptical though he might be, he was also tremendously fascinated and excited, and he drove over to the house of a friend on the estate, where he described what had happened with (for him) extraordinary animation, striding up and down the lawn as he talked.

Although he could not account for what was happening, he soon decided that Ian was in no way involved. Not only did the sheer incompetence of Take Over make it dear that Ian had had no part in the book’s composition: it quickly became obvious that his alleged spirit was impossibly ignorant about basic family matters (it could not, for instance, give accurately the number, sex and names of Peter’s children). It was soon apparent, in fact, that the only accurate answers that the automatic writing could give were those embodied in John Pearson’s The Life of Ian Fleming.

  At the beginning of November 1970 the spirit authors began to transmit ‘Tales of Mystery and Imagination’: in the next two months Edgar Wallace wrote five, H. G. Wells and Ian two each, Conan Doyle and Somerset Maugham one each: a total of 30,000 words. Later, Maugham began sending a full-length novel. All this work was, as Peter put it, tosh’—crude, devoid of literary merit, and all almost exactly the same. In November, after asking Peter’s permission, Mr A submitted Take Over to Jonathan Cape, who not surprisingly rejected it.

In spite of its disappointing features, Peter continued to be absorbed by the whole affair. Having seen Mr A three times, and Vera twice, he ruled out any question of chicanery, being certain that they were ‘both persons of complete integrity’. There was an undeniable and uncanny fascination about watching Vera sit quietly, pen poised, waiting for a message to come through: her hand, after a period of stillness, would gradually begin to twitch. ‘They’re trying to say something,’ she would report—and off would go the neat italic writing.

But the most striking fact, as Peter pointed out, was that in a period of scarcely nine months ‘some form of intelligence’ had caused Vera to copy out, in her mother’s handwriting, a 60,000-word book, some 30,000 words of short stories, and thousands more words of ‘service traffic’. As anyone who has tried to produce a book will know, the sheer energy needed to put 100,000 words on paper is enormous, and it was very hard, in this case, to discern whence the momentum could have emanated. Had Vera been otherwise unoccupied, the feat—for someone with no literary background or inclinations —would have been remarkable enough; as it was, she had a full-time job, a house to run and an ailing husband (who died in February 1971) to look after.

Peter could find no convincing explanation of the affair; but in remarking that neither Vera nor her father had any literary leanings or was ‘qualified by intellect or education to produce even the inferior fiction for which they have acted as a channel of transmission,’ he denied himself the one explanation that struck other people as possible. The slushy fiction allegedly transmitted by Ian, Somerset Maugham and the others seemed exactly the kind of thing that a man like Mr A might produce. The language was precisely the kind that a man of his background might use when attempting a literary style (the frequent appearance of the word ‘pleasurable’ by itself suggested a connection—witness Mr A’s opening letter to Peter); and, as Mr A readily admitted, he had read The Life of Ian Fleming with avidity. It seemed by no means inconceivable that Mr A was transmitting all the material, telepathically and subconsciously, to his daughter. Yet even if he was, the reappearance of the mother’s writing seemed inexplicable.

In any case, the affair of the ghost Bond greatly enlivened Peter’s winter, and in the spring of 1971 he wrote an article about it. This he offered to the Sunday Times, which accepted it by return of post, paid GBP 500 for the first British serial rights, and later used it as the main feature of the week.


Above: Jacket of "Ian Fleming’s James Bond:
Annotations and Chronologies for Ian Fleming’s Bond Stories" by John Griswold.

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