50 years since its first publication, MI6 reflects on the back-stories, Cuban connection and press reaction to Ian Fleming's sixth novel, Dr. No...

Worlds Collide - The Legacy of Dr. No (2)
8th April 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. Previously, MI6 looked back at Ian Fleming's writing style, methods and real life inspirations for his sixth novel:
Fairytales For Grown-ups - The Legacy of Dr. No (1)

Worlds Collide
"Dr. No" sees not only its setting built on real life experiences, but also a plot and villainous scheme which resonates in fact - or at least the very real concerns of the time. Nuclear fear was spreading quickly throughout the modern world. The Cold War drummed on as a backdrop beat to 007's every move, and on this occasion Dr. No's efforts to topple US missile tests only embodied the tense atmosphere. Fleming's story rode on the wave that captured both America and Britain too - the suspicion of Cuban nuclear armament. Within the fog of fear, there's no certainty that Fleming wrote out of an intent to echo the issues close to home, or whether he was simply and subliminally influenced by the ongoing chatter. Regardless, Fleming concocted a tale that was imprinted on every reader's memory and certainly rang true to the attitudes of the period.

Above: Spectators watch as the first missile is launched at Cape Canaveral in 1950...

1958 would not be the end of Fleming's Cuban connection. Having predicted something of the conflict to come, Fleming was invited to dinner with John F. Kennedy, during the period when the young Kennedy was Senator was running for Presidential office. The year was 1960 and over an elaborate dinner with the politician, Fleming was beckoned to discuss an original idea for keeping Castro "at bay". An outrageous explanation ensued from Fleming who told Kennedy he should arrange for the air force to drop pamphlets to the Cuban people, advising them that their territory had become radioactively unstable and that the nuclear fallout primarily effected men with beards, and as "everyone" knows radioactivity makes a man impotent. Fleming explained his reasoning that with this news, every Cuban man would instinctively shave their beard, and without bearded Cubans there could be no revolution!

On the 31st of March 1958, Ian Fleming's Jamaican extravaganza hit the bookshelves to a variety of reviews from regular Bond readers and literarily critics alike. Popular novelists outwardly praised Fleming's latest novel: Raymond Chandler described Fleming's work as "masterly", and Elizabeth Bowen said of "Dr. No", "here's magnificent writing". However, the overall press reaction was more analytical.

As America prepared to welcome back 007, block quotes of the day proclaim Fleming's sixth novel an "unprintable book that is at last readable". While the focus of negativity is still strongly surrounding the glorification of drinking, smoking and so forth, reviewers recognise some of Fleming's best characterisation in the "rich man's Fu Manchu", Dr. No.

"At last, an unprintable book that is readable."


Above: Fleming relaxes behind his famous desk at GoldenEye estate, Jamaica...

However, considering the era, 007's latest run-in sees many shocked by the in-depth descriptions of the psychotic Doctor's obstacle course - intended to investigate however much pain a man can handle. Time Magazine reported that New Statesman's Critic Paul Johnson suggested that Fleming fans were psychosocial cousins of prison torturers in Algeria.


Not all reviewers saw 007 as stale snobbery or unprintable melodramatics, though. The Spectator praised "Dr. No" from a literary perspective: "Fleming, by reason of his cool analytical intelligence, his informed use of technical facts, his plausibility, sense of pace, brilliant descriptive powers and superb imagination, provides sheer entertainment."

"...a cunning mixture of sex, sadism and money snobbery!"

On the whole, "Dr. No" was successful in proving a turning point for 007 and encouraging the media to address the overly successful spy genre for what it was: fairy tales for grown ups. As for Fleming, he neither read nor commented on any attention the press were giving him, for as the world was preparing to receive James Bond's latest adventure - Ian Fleming was preparing his next - "Goldfinger".

New Home
Today, the home Ian Fleming's original "Dr. No" manuscript - a 206 page manuscript bashed out on his typewriter and heavily corrected in ink - resides in the famous Lilly Library, located in the heart of Indiana University, Bloomington, USA. Several titles differ from any published version to date: "Hear You Loud and Clear", the opening chapter of "Dr. No" is branded "The Quick, Neat Job" in this draft. The final line also differs from what fans would remember: "Do what I tell you" is later substituted in the final copy as "Do as you're told".

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