MI6 looks back at 'The Untold History of the First James Bond Screenplay by Jack Whittingham' written and compiled by Sylvan Whittingham Mason

Thunderball Script Timeline
21t January 2006

MI6 looks back at "The Thunderball Story - The Untold History of The First James Bond Screenplay Written by Jack Whittingham", with excerpts from 1963 Court Case Documents. Chronology compiled by Sylvan Whittingham Mason.

The Thunderball Years

29th April 1959

"The trouble about writing something specially for a film is that I haven’t got a single idea in my head".
- Ian Fleming to Kevin McClory
27th May 1959 Ernest Cuneo writes brief outline of story.
June/August 1959 Ian Fleming writes a memo of his version of Cuneo story.
July/August 1959 Fleming writes more detailed treatment of story.
September 1959 Leigh Aman telephones to say that Kevin McClory would like to get in touch with Jack Whittingham.
22nd September 1959 Jack’s first meeting with Kevin McClory.

  25th September 1959

"Ian is meeting another writer called Jack Whittingham on Monday."

"I have had talks with him and gave him Ian’s first rough treatment, which he is extremely enthusiastic about, he also came back with some highly interesting and intelligent constructive story points".
- Kevin McClory to Ivor Bryce

Left: Kevin McClory's cameo in Thunderball (the figure blowing smoke in the air on the far right).

28th September 1959

"Brighton stop excellent meeting Ian and Whittingham stop Ian would like Whittingham start work immediately. Meeting his agent Monday regards Kevin"
- Kevin McClory to Ivor Bryce
1st October 1959 "Meanwhile, Whittingham, whom I think I told you I greatly liked, is fiddling about most creatively with the story. I’m much impressed by Whittingham and he has some excellent ideas which cut out a lot of the muck at the beginning of my story".
- Ian Fleming to Ivor Bryce
2nd October. 1959 First dated Whittingham notes on new opening sequence written and sent to Kevin McClory.
7th October 1959 "No news from Hitchcock. Meanwhile, the script writer is busily writing the script, and I gather, coming up with some excellent ideas, so no time is being wasted".
- Ian Fleming to Ivor Bryce
9th October 1959 "I do feel sure that the sooner we can give a definite go ahead to Jack Whittingham, the better, as he is a most sort after writer in England, and will obviously not be idle for long. I enclose a very rough outline covering our suggested take over of an aircraft which was written by Jack Whittingham".
- Kevin McClory to Ivor Bryce

  14th October 1959

"For a thousand reasons I cannot be more than your shadow Chief of Staff. Annie, rightly, is terrified by the prospect of me being constantly away on the film and imagines heaven knows what, but at any rate she imagines it all, and I’m having much trouble with her on this account."

"As to my help over the script, it will of course be forthcoming in full measure but simply must take second place to the rest of my rather complicated life."

"In any case, Whittingham will have to be number one on the script, because he is a script writer and I am not, and this is a professional job on which total concentration is necessary".
- Ian Fleming to Ivor Bryce

Left: Sean Connery poses with a spear gun

14th October 1959

"Delighted new script version stop"
- Ivor Bryce to Ian Fleming
17th October 1959 "I have a feeling that we should sign up Jack Whittingham forthwith. The only qualm is that, that is - for the first time, really sinking the landing craft behind you. Like deciding to give a party, & then actually putting the first invitation in the post. Not that I am faltering in any way. Still it is a milestone. Would that Kevin was more reliable and businesslike. If Kevin was different though, he would no doubt be unable to make movies".
- Ian Fleming to Ivor Bryce
20th October 1959 "Leigh & I had a meeting this morning with Jack Whittingham’s agent and we think we can get him to write the script for £5000 (today’s equivalent £150,000). This, for a writer of his experience, is less than he normally takes and I think we should make an immediate decision on this, and I do know that Walt Disney want very much to put him under contract. I will cable you as soon as I hear definitely that he can be obtained for this".
- Kevin McClory to Ivor Bryce
21st October 1959 Fleming delivers second treatment of story incorporating work with Whittingham.


21st October 1959

"Timetable – I don’t think the film timetable will suit any of our conveniences quite as nicely, as you see it."

"The time you are essential is obviously during preparation of the script. Even if Whittingham writes every word, you really must be within reach for overall decisions."

"I think once that is over, you needn’t be there at all, except for fun. I personally think the Nassau shooting should be from mid-April to June when the weather is the most reliable".

"I like the new script better and better: so does Ernie".
- Ivor Bryce to Ian Fleming

Left: Adolpho Celi as villain Emilio Largo.

23rd October 1959

"So far as making a profit is concerned, I’m personally of the opinion that we have a financial winner in this film, whether done in colour or monochrome, so long as we have a couple of good stars, though J. de B. should remember, I think, that Bond must be an Englishman. With Kevin as producer, X as Director, Aman perhaps as manager, Whittingham as script writer and you as general energiser, assisted as much as possible by me, I don’t see why the vehicle shouldn’t roll".
- Ian Fleming to Ivor Bryce
24th October 1959

"Have managed reduce Whittingham fee fom six to five thousand pounds stop Ian thinks we should engage him immediately I know we shall loose him is we don’t will funds be available me sign contract regards".
- Kevin McClory to Ivor Bryce

Jack’s normal fee reduced on the understanding that this would be the first of a series of Bond screenplays. (See reference to first James Bond screenplay 27th October).

27th October 1959 Agreement drawn up between Xanadu Production and Jack Whittingham to complete first James Bond Screenplay later to be entitled "THUNDERBALL".
10 November 1959 Whittingham outline with temporary title "James Bond of the Secret Service"
24th November 1959 Jack meets with Ian Fleming in New York and is introduced to Ivor Bryce
26th November 1959 Recci to Bahamas.
Contract signed between Jack & Kevin on behalf of Xanadu for £5,000. Jack assigns all rights "of whatsoever nature" in Thunderball to Kevin McClory.
7th December 1959 Kevin registers Thunderball title
December - February 1960 Thunderball (Original title "Longitude 78 West") the first ever James Bond screenplay completed by Jack Whittingham.
5th February 1960 Ernest Cuneo calls to ask if Jack has been paid yet and asked that the screenplay be sent to him direct instead of to Kevin and was negative about Kevin. They were getting nervous about having Kevin as Producer.
15th February 1960 Screenplay completed and re-titled Thunderball
Nervousness continues about Kevin McClory as producer..

Messrs Saltzman & Broccoli enter scene

  Summer 1960

Unaware of any production problems, Jack writes a second draft of the screenplay.

28th October 1960

Fleming assigns Thunderball to Trustees – Glidrose Productions.

19th December 1960

Agreement signed between Glidrose & Jonathan Cape for Thunderball book rights.

21st March 1961

Injunction sought against Jonathan Cape publishers by Kevin McClory & Jack Whittingham fails in attempt to prevent forthcoming "Thunderball" novel debut.

Left: Sean Connery with the iconic jetpack

27th March 1961 Fleming publishes Thunderball novel plagiarising Jack’s screenplay
on over 200 pages with no acknowledgements.
June 1961 Movie deal completed with Saltzmann & Broccoli
18th August 1961 First Richard Maibaum version of Thunderball hastily withdrawn.

"Actually, Cubby Broccoli, in his autobiography, When the Snow Melts, discusses this at some length. Originally, Broccoli, Saltzman, and Fleming all thought Kevin (and [Whittingham], although he is not mentioned by those I spoke to) would likely settle the matter. Maibaum’s script was withdrawn when everyone realized the matter would not be settled quickly. Maibaum also wrote about the first Thunderball script for Esquire magazine in 1965".
- John Cork

4th September 1961

Jack’s daughter, Sylvan Whittingham, starts 1st job as assistant secretary to Oswald Hickson, Collier & Co where Peter Carter-Ruck is Senior Partner. Shortly after McClory & Whittingham engage Peter Carter-Ruck to act for them in their case against Fleming.

1962 1st official Richard Maibaum screenplay of Doctor No (written in 1961, with re-drafts by Berkeley Mather and Joanna Harwood - (and an unaccredited Wolf Mankowitz)

Thunderball Trial Commences

20th November 1963

Thunderball trial commences. At Chancery Division of the High Court, London. Initially McClory& Whittingham v Fleming& Bryce then McClory solo with Whittingham as principal witness.

3rd December 1963 Case settled after 10 days in court. Due to brilliantly & meticulously prepared 999 document case by top copyright lawyer, Peter Carter-Ruck, a settlement was reached on this potentially lengthy trial and Kevin McClory was awarded film rights to ‘Thunderball’ and £50,000 damages. Kevin abandons Jack Whittingham and eventually goes into production with Broccoli & Saltzman. He received a sole producer credit; Broccoli & Saltzman [who do produce] take a ‘presented by’ credit.

  10th December 1963

Whittingham issues his own writ against Fleming for damages for libel, malicious falsehood and damage to professional reputation.

11th August 1964

Case dropped when Ian Fleming dies of heart attack.

29th December 1965

Thunderball– by now the 4th Bond film premieres at The London Pavilion, Piccadilly Circus and Rialto Theatre, Coventry Street.


Jack writes screenplay about Ian Fleming based on John Pearson’s biography for The Sunday Times.

Left: Claudine Auger

© Sylvan Mason 2002