50 years since its first publication, MI6 looks back at Ian Fleming's writing style, inspirations and methods for constructing his sixth novel, Dr. No...

Fairytales For Grown Ups - The Legacy of Dr No (1)
31st March 2008

"Dr. No" sees 007 travel to the islands of Jamaica, still recovering from a poisonous jab from Rosa Klebb, and investigating the mysterious circumstances surrounding the disappearance of MI6 agent, Strangways. What was supposed to be a jaunt in the sun for Bond turns into his most grueling, inhumane assignment yet. 007 and the young, beautiful Honeychile Ryder have to fight for their lives as the island of Crab Key unleashes its darkest threats!

50 years ago this month Ian Fleming's sixth James Bond novel was unleashed on the British public. Half a century later, MI6 delves into the back-story, inspirations and real life scenarios that inspired the classic 007 adventure.

Every Era has a Highlight
Fleming filled his newest work with the style of writing he truly appreciated.  The Bond author often commented that he preferred stories to develop through believable ideas. He delighted in describing physical things: Bond's gadgets and guns and the villains' elaborate lairs were just some of his favourites. Fleming believed in novels he described as having, "started something," or "made things happen."

"Dr. No" successfully weaves Fleming's love for the extravagant, with some well-practiced penmanship and indulges in ideas Fleming sought, not only from his imagination, but a trip to the region. It was in March of 1957 that Fleming was once again faced with a task of formulating an idea for his next Bond adventure. During this period, Fleming was encouraged by his associate Ivan Bryce to accompany him on a journey to Great Inagua, a small southern island in the Bahamas region.

Why exactly Fleming accepted the suggestion was anyone's guess, but it was here that he encountered a small village whose income was almost entirely thanks to guano - the excretion of tidal birds: flamingos, cormorants, spoonbills and so on. Guano was a popular substance as it proved a strong natural fertilizer, easily "harvested" by a small population for global distribution. The stark, potent place was an intriguing landscape and starting point in Fleming's mind for 007's latest outing - the basis of which was already brewing in the author's mind. Typically, Fleming set about jotting notes and romanticising everything he described. Another thing that caught his attention was the harvester's means of transport - described as swamp-vehicle with giant wheels to overcome the ever-changing terrain of the island. It was all but a small stretch of the imagination to concoct Dr. No's "dragon".


Above: The first edition cover of Dr. No designed by Pat Marriott captures the spirit of Fleming's rugged island, Crab Key...

"I do take a lot of my plots from real life. They are certainly bizarre, but they are also made up of real things." - Ian Fleming on finding inspiration

The character of Dr. No himself has often been rightly likened to the 20th century character, Dr. Fu Manchu - described as tall, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan - the parallel is unmistakable. Fleming was forever questioned on his inspirations and never more than for the basis of Dr. No. Fleming once jotted that he preferred the word 'no', as its easier to say and commits you to far less. The character of the manic Doctor explains to Bond as they dine that he changed his named to Julius, after his father, and No for his rejection of him. The villain of the piece is one of the more creative of the canon of ever-outrageous scoundrels. The Doctor is the first of Fleming's villains to devise some sort of test for 007; both Goldfinger and Blofeld would echo the concept of testing humanity's stamina, strength and dedication just as Dr. No's assault course does.

Above: Ian Fleming defined an era of spy thrillers and keyed into the national mentality of the times...

The Rhythm of Writing
By the time of writing Dr. No, Fleming was well in the swing his new lifestyle as an author. This routine of his, followed strictly to his liking, was precise and calculated and would see him succeeding to churn out a 007 adventure each year. The structure of the books was unmistakable, as was Fleming's habitual return to GoldenEye and his writing habits while in residence. Throughout 1957 and 1958, Fleming would have to live and breath not one but three of his novels, one that was a mere spark of imagination.

While promoting "Diamonds Are Forever", Fleming would at times be editing his fifth novel, "From Russia With Love" and researching his sixth. With a manageable routine and a definite force of habit, Fleming was able to concoct extraordinary writing on a very regular basis.

"Each chapter is like a wave to be jumped as we race with exhilaration behind the hero like a water-skier behind a fast motor boat" - Fleming on writing 007's adventures

Near Death
Despite the rhythm of 007, by "Dr. No" Fleming may have been having second thoughts. "From Russia With Love" saw the hero struck down by the SMERSH operative Klebb in the closing page of the novel. Nobody is entirely sure if Fleming was in doubt about continuing his bloody-minded ritual or whether the cliffhanger can be attributed to good planning and fine marketing on Fleming's part.

Above: Cover art helped define the look and feel of Fleming's characters
years before "Dr. No" hit the silver screen in 1962...

At this time, however, it was clear that Fleming was growing bored of the daily grind - he particularly despised the media (although he was originally a journalist himself) and the tattle of the grimy city, which was London in this era. Whatever the motive, 007 returned in "Dr. No", a more down-to-earth character, settled in his ways. James Bond was now someone who hurt, someone fragile and the characterisation was much stronger because of it.

Turning Point
Reviewers have discussed "Dr. No" as a critical movement in the Ian Fleming cannon. He is clearly more comfortable with the character, with writing as a process and it comes across in his prose. Critics have highlighted a parallel to Ian's own turning point in life. In the late 1950s, Fleming struck out on his own, leaving the world of publishers, finance and publicity behind. Bond journeys to the Caribbean, what has now become a regular haven for his master. Just as Fleming found the atmosphere constructive to hard work, 007 does not simply jaunt about the tropics in his newest adventure - he shows emotion, pain and strong feelings for the women in his life.

Stay tuned to MI6 for the second part in which the real-life inspirations of "Dr. No" and the press and fan reaction to Fleming's sixth novel are explored...

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