The Reasoning Behind the Robert Markham Pseudonym for Kingsley Amis's Colonel Sun (1968)?

DragonpolDragonpol Writer @ http://thebondologistblog.blogspot.com
edited April 13 in Literary 007 Posts: 13,395
As literary James Bond fans we're all aware of the use of the Robert Markham pseudonym for Kingsley Amis's sole Bond novel Colonel Sun (1968). It was the first James Bond continuation novel published after Ian Fleming's death in 1964. As such, there was reportedly a plan by Glidrose, then the literary copyright holders in the James Bond property, to have several famous authors each write a separate Bond novel of their own under the same pseudonym. After the suggested name of George Glidrose was rejected as unmarketable by the Glidrose board they settled on Robert Markham instead as a more suitable pseudonym.

As we know, Amis's Colonel Sun was ultimately the only Bond novel produced under the pseudonym and the plan to have other authors write under that name also was presumably scrapped altogether. It's been said that disappointing sales and adverse critical notices served to put an end to any plans of continuing with the Robert Markham umbrella pseudonym. The literary Bond was not to return properly until 1981 and the publication of John Gardner's Licence Renewed.

The purpose of this thread is to further explore the reasoning behind the use of the Robert Markham pseudonym. I've been reading up on all of the available primary and secondary sources that exist on this very early piece of Bond continuation history and the reasoning seems at best self-contradictory. For example, how can we square the circle of the Robert Markham pseudonym being used on the cover of Colonel Sun first and paperback editions while at the same time letting it be known that Kingsley Amis was the actual author in marketing materials and even on the cover of US paperbacks of the novel? Why not just market the novel as solely by Kingsley Amis from the start. Amis was one of the biggest names in British post-war literature so why not trade off his very famous name instead of diluting things down by adding the confusion of the Markham pseudonym into the mix?

From interviews with Amis we know that there were at least two reasons for the use of the pseudonym. One was being able to market the books more easily as part of an ongoing series with several authors sharing the Robert Markham umbrella pseudonym. (I actually dispute how this would have made marketing the books any easier but as the umbrella pseudonym idea never came to pass I suppose it's more of a moot point).

The other reason given was that it would easily separate Colonel Sun from Amis's own more serious fiction. Amis already had form in this area as his non-fiction The Book of Bond or Every Man His Own 007 (1965) had been written under the Bill Tanner pseudonym. Of course The James Bond Dossier had earlier appeared under his own name. The use of 'Robert Markham' would in effect be the pseudonym equivalent of author Graham Greene using the "An Entertainment" tag to separate his thrillers from his more serious literary novels. This second reason was perhaps the real driving force behind the use of the Markham pseudonym in the first place and was of course completely Amis-centric. It was also not necessarily something other authors would have demanded or even politely requested as part of their contract when writing the new Bond novel.

Despite not being so well known a reason among literary Bond fans it also suggests that had Amis not first been approached a pseudonym might never have been used at all. For example, if James Leasor had accepted the offer to write a Bond novel before Amis it's much more likely he'd have written under his own name (as a notable thriller writer of the time) than under Glidrose's umbrella pseudonym. In other words, it appears to me that the umbrella pseudonym rumour may well have been peddled by Amis and possibly Glidrose as cover for Amis's early foray into genre fiction and away from his own more serious work. The pseudonym therefore acted as a sort of dividing line in Amis's fiction. This is further backed up by the fact that the novel's original full title was (one imagines for the avoidance of doubt from the Amis reader) Colonel Sun: A James Bond Adventure. Perhaps complicating matters, however, is the fact that Amis continued to write genre fiction under his own name in some of the novels that followed Colonel Sun.

With all of the aforementioned in mind, some questions jump out at me from my reading of the various primary and secondary sources available:

1. What was the true reasoning behind the use of the Robert Markham pseudonym for Kingsley Amis's Colonel Sun?
2. Did the use of the Robert Markham pseudonym actually hurt the sales for the novel as well as damage the book critically in reviews? It also opened up a weak area for Ann Fleming to be able to exploit in her unpublished polemical Sunday Telegraph review of the novel, not ultimately printed for fear of libel.
3. Was the Robert Markham umbrella pseudonym just a rumoured idea from Glidrose or was it a true part of their plan for marketing a series of continuation Bond novels under different authors? Or was the umbrella pseudonym just a smoke screen devised by Glidrose and Amis as cover for him to "have his cake and eat it" thus setting Colonel Sun apart from his more serious literary work? Or did the pseudonym in fact serve to kill the two birds with the one stone?
4. As a side question does anyone here know the exact makeup of the Glidrose board at the time of Colonel Sun? I know Peter Fleming was on the board, along with Jock Campbell (later Lord Campbell) and I think Lord Goodman. I think Ian Fleming's agent Peter Janson-Smith was also a member, or at least he certainly was later on. Ann Fleming was made an honorary member of the board at the insistence of Peter Fleming.

Any help in providing your thoughts on these specific questions or on anything else that occurs to you on this topic would be greatly appreciated! :)

Comments

  • thedovethedove hiding in the Greek underworld
    Posts: 3,516
    Anything I add to this well researched post will be my opinions. Not sure if that would muddy the waters or add to the discussion.

    I would say that anyone following Fleming would have their work cut out from them. Similar to the actor who portrayed Bond after Connery. That might have been a reason for the pseudonym. It would be easier to have an "unknown" do it rather then a well known author. Also the relative recent death of Fleming might have looked like a cash grab or in poor taste. After all I am not sure what if any deceased author's work was continued by another. At the time I think it might have been a relatively unheard of thought. I know now we have Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum still writing. Side note I hate that they use them as a brand.

    These are my thoughts. I applaud you sir for the well researched post and look forward to more facts coming to light.
  • RichardTheBruceRichardTheBruce I'm motivated by my Duty.
    edited April 13 Posts: 7,220
    I'm a believer in both points up front, @Dragonpol, that Robert Markham was an invention of Glidrose intending to tie the non-Fleming books together in a recognizable way. Plus to distance a book from a well-known writer like Amis known for other styles of writing.

    A couple things come to mind, but they're not all so directly related. First, there was the unauthorized Bond novel The Killing Zone by Jim Hatfield published by Charter in 1985 under the false pretense that Glidrose approved. And quickly withdrawn.
    Also the Donald E. Westlake Bond film treatment for EON that he eventually reworked into a novel Forever and a Death, finally published 2017. Not a Bond novel, though.


    Closer to 1968 and worth noting, Glidrose were testing the waters with The Adventures of James Bond Junior 003½ published 1967. It's also an example for them invoking a pseudonym of R. D. Mascott, but with nothing following that path. The actual author not identified at the time is thought to be Arthur Calder-Marshall.
    So like you I wonder whether any other proposed or considered Bond novels or authors can be identified that could have had the Robert Markham tag. Colonel Sun enjoyed good sales so it seems the Robert Markham label didn't hurt. You'd think there was some effort to follow it.

  • Posts: 1,987
    My guess is that after Fleming died Glidrose's first intention was to crank out truckloads of continuation novels by using various minor authors and hacks. All of the books, no matter who wrote them, would be credited to "Robert Markham," just as the multiple writers were credited as "Ellery Queen" books, and just as The Shadow was always written by "Maxwell Grant." A consistent pseudonym allows a publisher to go through many authors. Any author who consents to work for hire and receive no name recognition is more pliable to a publisher than a big name writer.

    But then Amis entered the picture and threw a spanner in the works. It would have been stupid to hire a big name author and hide his identity. On the other hand, Glidrose probably reckoned that post-Amis it would go back to hiring lesser authors to write Bond books as Markham. After all, no other big name authors besides Amis would have been caught dead writing Bond novels in the 1960s.

    So Glidrose tried having it two ways. Amis's authorship was trumpeted to the skies, but the Robert Markham pseudonym was also retained. In a way it was good idea: "Markham" received publicity at the same time as Amis, and this would help later books in the new series.

    I don't think that Amis wanted or cared about having a pseudonym at all. He wasn't ashamed to write a Bond novel, just as he wasn't ashamed to write science fiction and other genre fiction before and afterward. I don't think he gave a damn for demarcating his books Graham Greene-style as "serious" or not. Amis had already written a critical work about the Bond books under his own name, he despised critical snobbery, and he was open about his admiration for Fleming.

    Furthermore, why would an author want a pseudonym to write a book and then loudly proclaim, under his real name, that he wrote it? Amis's essay "The New Bond" told anyone who would listen that he was the author of Colonel Sun. And the reviews of the book seem to have all mentioned Amis as its author, so the pseudonym would have been an utter failure at concealing its real author.
    Did the use of the Robert Markham pseudonym actually hurt the sales for the novel as well as damage the book critically in reviews?

    I'm guessing it hurt sales. But what were the sales of Colonel Sun anyway? Are there reliable figures?
    Was the Robert Markham umbrella pseudonym just a rumoured idea from Glidrose or was it true part of their plan for marketing a series of continuation Bond novels under different authors?

    I've already stated my belief that Markham represented a genuine plan by Glidrose. But if so, the question becomes why weren't more Bond continuation novels written after Colonel Sun? Even if that book hadn't sold millions, it must have sold better than many spy thrillers. And it wouldn't have been expensive to hire a small-time author to crank out a new Bond story every year or two.

    Bond was still going very strong in pop culture. Why on earth weren't any continuation novels written after the box office smash success of Connery's return in DAF? Or Moore's debut in LALD? We do know that for TSWLM Christopher Wood created a "new" Bond novel by adapting the film script. But if novel-film tie-ins were sufficient, why was Gardner hired to write original Bond books in 1981?

    I was going to volunteer the theory that the Bond continuation books were absent during the 1970s because of the opposition of Ann Fleming, but I notice that Licence Renewed was actually published a couple months before Ann's death. Did she have a change of heart in her old age?

    And I also remember that a Bond "continuation" of sorts was published in the 1970s--Pearson's James Bond: The Authorized Biography of 007. Perhaps such a book was more acceptable to Ann. Or maybe Caspar, by then an adult, approved it?
    There are lots and lots of unanswered questions!

    Glidrose should have been pumping out continuation novels from 1969 onward, and I believe that was its original intention. The books would all have been credited to "Robert Markham." What prevented this remains a mystery. Ann's renewed opposition? A change in the opinions of the Board? Whatever the explanation, Glidrose missed out.
  • Posts: 3,875
    I’d assumed it was Ann Fleming’s opposition. It must have been something serious for Glidrose to forgo a money stream. Would it have possible for writers to use Fleming’s name?
  • Posts: 1,294
    I'm curious to know more about Dragonpol's second question about Ann Fleming's unpublished critical piece of Colonel Sun.

    I really don't know a lot about Fleming, never really been interested in reading a full-length bio, just know enough about him, but she really seemed to be a rather, how should I put it, controlling type and stereotypical socialite. From what I do know, her circle of snobbish high society friends would put Ian down as just a writer and did nothing to defend him, although he was building a legacy that was self-made and not just a beneficiary of old-money, although his background wasn't exactly lower class.

    Let me know if I'm inaccurate, but if she was basically a socialite, where were her qualifications to write a piece of criticism worthy to go in a major newspaper, unless it was the Telegraph's idea of an exploitative piece to have Fleming's widow do a review. She certainly did okay out of her husband's creation and it sounds like her social life didn't exactly reflect that of a grieving widow.

    I too am curious as to the lack of continuation novels at a time when those would've still been accepted along with the Fleming classics. I'm sure I'm not the only one who at a young age tried to get into the novels from watching the films and left baffled by just a few names and situations - varying of course by novel - that differed so much from what I saw onscreen. It's why I found Wood's MR novelization so much easier to take than some of the others.

    '81 was curious timing to revive the series as so many would've still had films like MR fresh on their mind and not so much the books. License Renewed was interesting to me at the time because it didn't have any film tied to it and I was able to imagine the story in my head as how it would've translated to film.
  • edited April 12 Posts: 1,987
    BT3366 wrote: »
    she really seemed to be a rather, how should I put it, controlling type and stereotypical socialite. From what I do know, her circle of snobbish high society friends would put Ian down as just a writer and did nothing to defend him, although he was building a legacy that was self-made and not just a beneficiary of old-money, although his background wasn't exactly lower class.

    Ann Fleming is very easy to dislike, especially if one is a Bond fan, since she had no time for the Bond books ("I never read thrillers, and disliked anything more violent than Agatha Christie"). What one has to keep in mind is that she loved Fleming and hated Bond. She believed that Bond destroyed her husband and took him away from her, and she was pretty much right. So when the idea of reviving Bond came about, her feelings were mixed and volatile. She hated Bond but also viewed him as her husband's creation, so she became over-protective. Furthermore, she was not consulted before the decision to continue Bond was taken and she (wrongly) thought Amis was not the right person for the job.
    Let me know if I'm inaccurate, but if she was basically a socialite, where were her qualifications to write a piece of criticism worthy to go in a major newspaper, unless it was the Telegraph's idea of an exploitative piece to have Fleming's widow do a review.

    You nailed it.
  • RichardTheBruceRichardTheBruce I'm motivated by my Duty.
    edited April 13 Posts: 7,220
    What I was trying to recall earlier was the example of a Bond novel commissioned by Glidrose different than Colonel Sun.

    That would be Per Fine Ounce, Geoffrey Jenkins, 1966. But rejected and unpublished. Maybe used for his own A Cleft of Stars, 1973. Jenkins had his own associations with and was liked by Fleming, who enjoyed his writing. Still, I can't connect the Robert Markham pseudonym here.

    [Those two items are still different from the Jenkins estate more recently pursuing novelist Peter Borchard writing as Peter Vollmer to reestablish the same Commander Geoffrey Peace character in his Per Fine Ounce book. Which considered but reportedly didn't use the 1966 material.]

    Notional book cover by Evan Willnow (in the style of Richard Chopping) below from the literary007.com site, plus the real covers mentioned.

    b2209c15bb2d6fb4c32d087a3320da6ef639f3df.png

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Per_Fine_Ounce

    https://literary007.com/2015/03/25/the-re-boot-of-per-fine-ounce-a-continuation-novel-that-isnt-what-you-think/

    https://www.mi6-hq.com/sections/articles/literary_per_fine_ounce_history.php3?s=literary

    https://www.mi6-hq.com/sections/articles/literary_per_fine_ounce_extract.php3


  • RichardTheBruceRichardTheBruce I'm motivated by my Duty.
    Posts: 7,220
    Doesn't answer the original questions, @Dragonpol, still I wanted to share this item from BondFanEvents.com on "Colonel Sun II" as related. Potentially containing sources to follow up on.
    Colonel Sun II: Bond Had Never Liked Acapulco
    March 19, 2018
    https://bondfanevents.com/colonel-sun-ii-bond-had-never-liked-acapulco/

    Despite what some may think or have been told, Kingsley Amis did contemplate a follow-up to Colonel Sun. 007Forever is proud to present more info about Amis`s involvement with the world of 007… According to the New York Times, “While the English notices weren`t so good, the advance sales there indicated that Mr. Amis, may not regard Colonel Sun as a mere one-shot, but may go on. If so, the new Bond will be set most likely in Mexico, which Amis visited in January. “I was immediately stimulated by it,” he said at his London home, “and couldn`t help thinking of Bond. It was just his sort of place.””

    “Mr. Amis never moves about by air, and cultivated his own deficiencies – his phrase – he went from St. Louis to Mexico City by train. En route, he remembered that “Bond loved trains” (From Russia, With Love) and found himself plotting an assassination on a train. Then as his train moved on, there occurred the inevitable sentence, “Bond had never liked Acapulco.” From that point the next adventure of James Bond seemed to be just a matter of writing time.”

    [NK`s note: if Amis had gone ahead with it, the book couldn`t have been published any earlier than 1970. The powers that be at Cape`s, Tom Maschler and Tony Colwell, were keen on Amis writing another Bond novel, but the decision not to proceed seems to have been Amis`s.]

    Many years later, Amis approached Glidrose with an idea for a short story. Bond would come out of retirement at age 70 to rescue a kidnapped US Senator from a Russian Colonel-General. Bond presumably dies at the end when he falls down a waterfall. Glidrose blanched and ordered Amis not to write one word of it.

    The Letters of Kingsley Amis edited by Zachary Leader (HarperCollins) features a fascinating look into Amis`s life and even includes several fascinating Bond tidbits:

    - - -
    41VPTBJDRGL._SY291_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_ML2_.jpg
  • Agent_OneAgent_One Ireland
    Posts: 280
    I wish Amis wrote a follow up. CS is tied with Wood's TSWLM Novelisation as my favourite continuation Bond.
  • MaxCasinoMaxCasino United States
    Posts: 1,429
    Agent_One wrote: »
    I wish Amis wrote a follow up. CS is tied with Wood's TSWLM Novelisation as my favourite continuation Bond.

    Amis is like the Peter Hunt of Bond novels. One wasn't enough!
  • edited May 8 Posts: 512
    Revelator wrote: »

    ...My guess is that after Fleming died Glidrose's first intention was to crank out truckloads of continuation novels by using various minor authors and hacks.........
    ..... After all, no other big name authors besides Amis would have been caught dead writing Bond novels in the 1960s

    Glidrose should have been pumping out continuation novels from 1969 onward, and I believe that was its original intention. The books would all have been credited to "Robert Markham." What prevented this remains a mystery. Ann's renewed opposition? A change in the opinions of the Board? Whatever the explanation, Glidrose missed out.

    Excellent contributions and in many regards the erudite ‘Revelator’ sums up the situation nicely.
    That said, as many of the Pussy’s vintage know, towards the end of Fleming’s reign and in the immediate aftermath, the U.K. thriller market changed a lot.
    Deighton and Le Carre had led the charge with what were perceived as more literate and serious spy thrillers and authors like James Leasor, John Gardner and Peter O’Donnell had become very successful with their own franchises. Indeed, even the King’s Road set had their own spy when Adam Diment’s Philip McAlpine burst onto the scene.
    In this scenario, literary Bond was considered a little old hat and 007 was considered to be a fantasy movie franchise and in that regard, the Pussy concurs with ‘Revalator ‘ that no big name thriller writer would be caught writing Bond and in that respect, the existence of the Markham pseudonym probably made sense even though Amis himself chose to not use it as a cloak of anonymity.
    That said, the Pussy disagrees that Gildrose should have been pushing out Bond novels from ‘69 onwards. There wasn’t the appetite for literary Bond and they would certainly have encountered the law of diminishing returns and using the Marketing nom de plume would have sullied literary Bond.
    Indeed, although Gardner’s launch in the ‘80s initially achieved some novelty success, interest quickly waned.
    It wasn’t really until Fleming’s centenary that a new appreciation of his work enticed serious offered authors to enter the fray.
    Results since then may have been mixed. Varying from middling (Faulks) to disaster (Deaver) to disappointing (Boyd) to pretty damn good (Horowitz).
    But, whatever the result, big name authors have been proud to lend their own names to the project as Fleming has long been recognised as the genius that he was and being offered the opportunity to write a Bond book is a badge of honour. A sort of literary knighthood that few would decline.
    That was not the case in ‘69.



  • Agent_OneAgent_One Ireland
    Posts: 280
    Didn't Amis pitch a short story about an older Bond years later?
  • edited May 9 Posts: 50
    I think it was likely one of if not a combination of all the reasons above. The notion of getting a bunch of ghost writers over the years is actually quite common.
    As a lifelong Hardy Boys fan I know the practice all too well as the Stratemeyer syndicate perfected the long running false pseudonym author who never existed and the stories were written by countless ghost writers not to mention the original books were rewritten by other writers decades later. (This also goes for Nancy Drew and all other series the syndicate created.)
  • edited May 9 Posts: 512
    The biggest reason would undoubtedly been to offer anonymity to potential authors.
    Those of us of an age to know will remember that by ‘69 Fleming’s literary star was definitely on the wane and with the exception of Amis (a great writer who was also a Bond fan) the prospect of getting a famous author to pen a continuation novel under their own name would have been slim.
    Ironically, with great authors, there often seems to be a period of obscurity following their deaths with their real worth being re-recognised some years down the line.
    I think that was the case with Dickens, Conan Doyle, Patricia Highsmith and Agatha Christie, to name but four.
    Happily he is now being recognised as the genius he was. Even the great Le Carre has softened his opinion. Fortunately there are those amongst us who knew it then and know it now !
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