Read an exclusive extract from the forthcoming book The Battle For Bond by Robert Sellers, unraveling the untold story behind the 007 legend...

Book Extract: The Battle For Bond
7th June 2007

The Battle For Bond - "The Genesis of Cinema's Greatest Hero" by Robert Sellers
Cinema history might have been very different had the first James Bond film not been
Dr. No in 1962 starring Sean Connery, but Thunderball directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1959 and starring Richard Burton as agent 007. It sounds preposterous and unbelievable, but it almost happened.

It is late 1959 and Kevin McClory has teamed up with Ivar Bryce to form Xanadu Films. They agree to make a James Bond film and Ian Fleming has written a film treatment in order to interest a major studio in the project...

Exclusive Extract
With the box office firmly in mind Ivar Bryce, who was the financial backer behind the Bond film, had been mulling over his friend Fleming’s idea of bringing in an industry big gun to help out the inexperienced Kevin McClory. Sailing on the Queen Mary back to New York Bryce saw Alfred Hitchcock’s latest North by Northwest with a packed audience and was so impressed he wrote to Fleming about the experience on 18 September 1959. ‘It’s the most terrific Bond-style thriller - almost plagiarising – and superb. You must manage to see it somehow. It is exactly the picture we are trying to make.’ Bryce then made the inspired suggestion of grabbing Hitchcock to direct the Bond movie. ‘Hitchcock would be worth it, if we could get him.’

It was becoming increasingly obvious that a top director was needed for the Bond film if it was going to attract stars and American distributors. For a while William Fairchild was considered to direct the film, as well as write it. But Fleming had found his recent war film Silent Enemy: ‘Rather uninspired. I’m inclined to think that Kevin could do a much better and more imaginative job as director than Fairchild, but Hitchcock would be the best of all.’


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The desire to bring in a heavyweight director was making McClory feel dangerously excluded. He could perhaps sense the creative hold he exercised over the project slowly ebbing away from him and this intensely ambitious man wasn’t going to give in without a struggle. “It was Kevin’s burning ambition to make these movies,” says friend Jeremy Vaughan. “But I don’t think he gave a damn who he walked over and what he did in order to get there.”

Fleming had quickly come around to Bryce’s notion of Hitchcock as their director. ‘Personally I feel this would be by far the best solution for all of us.’ He wrote Bryce 23 September. ‘I know Hitchcock slightly and he has always been interested in the Bond saga.’ Fleming decided to send a cable to the director through a mutual friend, the acclaimed crime novelist Eric Ambler. It read: ‘Have written Bond movie treatment featuring Mafia stolen atomic bomber blackmail of England culminating Nassau with extensive underwater dramatics. This for my friend Ivar Bryce’s Xanadu films. Would Hitchcock be interested in directing this first Bond film in association with Xanadu? Plentiful finance available. Think we might all have a winner particularly if you were conceivably interested in scripting. Regards Ian Fleming.’

Fleming realised that with Hitchcock aboard it might mean smaller profits for Xanadu because it would almost certainly mean getting into partnership with the legendary director’s own company. But then Xanadu would have a solid team of experts behind them. ‘And the prestige value would be colossal.’ He wrote Bryce. ‘My own feelings about doing it all ourselves is that we are a terribly amateurish crew playing around with your money. I don’t like either of these feelings. To be allied with a friendly, if very businesslike, group like Hitchcock’s would, I believe, be healthier for all of us. Moreover, Kevin would be kept in his place, which I think very important.’ For the first time Fleming had revealed his true feelings about McClory. ‘I can’t make up my own mind about Kevin. I don’t particularly like him personally, because I have never particularly liked Irish blarney.’

This was but one of numerous private pieces of correspondence between Fleming and Bryce that McClory swore he never saw and upon later discovery at the trial believed to be conspiratorial against him, as they discussed partnership matters which he was principally concerned. For example, discussing with Fleming possible new investors into Xanadu, Bryce wrote. ‘I have not asked anyone’s opinion, such as Kevin.’ This was a strange stance, seeing that McClory was actually Bryce’s partner in Xanadu. Maybe it was his own paranoia working on overdrive, but McClory came to believe that these secret communications demonstrated the influence that Fleming was exerting on Bryce. McClory firmly believed that it was Fleming’s desire to remove him from the project’s hierarchy.

Early in October Fleming heard that Hitchcock was interested in the Bond project and immediately wrote to Bryce. ‘Hitchcock is in search of a vehicle, particularly for James Stewart but, whether our story would suit Stewart or not, he is definitely interested and wants to see it.’ Stewart was a regular star for Hitchcock who’d used him already in four movies, notably Rear Window (1954) and Vertigo (1958). Hitchcock was currently in Paris but due in London in a few days with the intention of reading the Bond script. ‘Of course James Stewart is the toppest of stars.’ Fleming continued. ‘And personally I wouldn’t at all mind him as Bond if he can slightly anglicise his accent. If we got him and Hitchcock we really would be off to the races. Cross all your fingers.’


In contrast to Fleming’s bursting enthusiasm for Hitchcock, Bryce had blown cold on the idea. ‘If he did take it,’ Bryce immediately wrote back. ‘He would take the whole thing over, lock, stock and barrel, and we should all be no more than “angels” investing our money in someone else’s enterprise – a thing I wouldn’t be willing to do, myself. Hitchcock is, of course, the greatest. Let us see what he suggests, but from all I can learn here it will involve the freezing out of our group both financially and personally. Also I shudder at lackadaisical Stewart portraying dynamic Bond.’

Bryce in this letter also made clear his preference for Fleming to continue to exert a governing hand over the script, even though McClory had just hired screenwriter Jack Whittingham to write a new draft. ‘I personally think it essential for you to spend as much time as is humanely possible during the scriptwriting period on working on it yourself, probably with Whittingham as your number two.’

About to leave London for Berlin Fleming hastily did a re-write of his earlier first stab at a Bond treatment, embodying everybody’s fresh suggestions, including a scene where the villain Largo kills Felix Leiter in cold blood. He then sent a copy to his agent Laurence Evans to pass on to Hitchcock, with this proviso. ‘It will reach you without me having time to look it over for mistakes, but no doubt it will be sufficient to give Hitchcock an idea of what we have in mind. I hope he likes it.’ Upon receipt Evans phoned his client full of praise, which Fleming then reported to Bryce. ‘Evans thinks the story is one of the most exciting he has ever read and he has been on the job for 30 years, so he ought to know. He really was overwhelmingly excited about it and I’m greatly encouraged.’

Fleming’s trip to Berlin was part of a newspaper assignment and he seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself. ‘Spent Sunday afternoon fratting with Russian soldiers in East Berlin,’ he reported back to Bryce, ‘and Monday evening watching two almost naked women wrestling in mud in Hamburg. One must try and stay in the swim, you know.’
Bryce responded positively to Fleming’s second go at his treatment, though made these criticisms to his friend. ‘Be careful not to take Domino off the screen for too long. Also, is it necessary to bump off poor Felix? You will need him again you know – a problem you have already had once. I should like to do Live and Let Die one day.’

McClory was likewise impressed. ‘Very exciting,’ he called it in a letter dated 16 October. ‘Although a great deal of work has to be done on it, and I am not as yet convinced that we have the full story, but I think this will come in the next few script conferences.’ McClory was also convinced he’d hired the right man in Jack Whittingham to take over the scriptwriting duties from Fleming, as he explained to Bryce. ‘I do feel sure that the sooner we can give a definite go ahead to Jack Whittingham the better, as he is a most sought after writer in England, and will obviously not be idle for long.’ Indeed Whittingham was far from idle. He’d already started work on something that would make film history - the first ever complete James Bond movie screenplay.

The seemingly endless legal battles that Kevin McClory waged against the James Bond producers split the film world, and the publishing world, into two camps. Bitter arguments, unscrupulous bids for credits and recognition, as well as buckets of money, poisoned lifelong friendships and fostered strange and unlikely alliances. No one had the complete story but everyone had an unshakeable opinion. I knew most of the leading players in this sad drama and this book recalled many memories best forgot. Anyone with a desire to go into the entertainment world should read this exciting, gripping but in the end, melancholy story: it should be enough to change their mind forever.
- Len Deighton

About the Author
Robert Sellers is the author of several entertainment books including biographies on Sean Connery, Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise. He was also the author of ‘Very Naughty Boys’ the history of George Harrison/Monty Python’s HandMade Films, a book Empire magazine called, ‘essential reading.’

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