Ian Fleming's Uncollected June 1958 Letter to Lord Ridley on 'The Hildebrand Rarity' (1960)?

DragonpolDragonpol The Crazy World of David Dragonpol
edited August 30 in Literary 007 Posts: 14,633
Just a little preface to this thread. I've had this topic partly typed up in my Drafts here since 2018 when I planned to post it in June of that year for the 60th anniversary of the letter in question. For some reason I was waylaid by something else and the topic was never completed or posted at that particular time. I haven't posted a new substantive Bond topic here in well over a year so finally here it is. Better late than never, as they say. It is perhaps of rather niche literary Bond fan interest but something I want to explore nonetheless. I only hope that it was worth the three year wait! :)

In Andrew Lycett's superlative biography, Ian Fleming (1995), there is an interesting passage about the journalistic pieces that Fleming was writing while visiting the Seychelles. A search for photographs to accompany these journalistic pieces had taken Fleming to a certain Lord [Richard] Percy, who was a professor of zoology at Newcastle University. Lycett details what occurred next:

"[Lord] Percy had visited the Seychelles with his friend Lord Ridley in 1955 and had taken some photographs. (Percy and Ridley had been near contemporaries at Eton, though of a slightly later vintage than Ian.) Ridley wrote to Ian on 18 June [1958] suggesting that the Seychelles might provide an interesting backdrop for a James Bond novel. Ian had already thought of that, replying, "I have mentioned your suggestion to James Bond. He was in fact sent there briefly during Makarios's exile. He was sent to fix up the security arrangements and to foil a Greek commando attempt at rescue. While he was there he was involved in a subsidiary adventure featuring a bizarre fish called the Hildebrand Rarity; and I hope that one day M. will allow me to have access to the relevant files.

Ian was referring to the fact that on his travels he had started to write a series of five short stories which he completed in Jamaica the following spring and which were published as a collection in April 1960. In 'The Hildebrand Rarity' James Bond enjoys the unusual luxury of a week's leave in the Seychelles, where he meets a boorish American millionaire called Milton Krest who is cruising through the islands collecting rare species of animals and fish for his tax-dodge charity, the Krest Foundation. Ian drew on his recent experiences in Jamaica as well as the Seychelles to flesh out the detail."


[Quoted from Andrew Lycett, Ian Fleming (1995), (Phoenix Paperbacks, London, 2002 reissue), pp. 338-339.]

Profile of Lord [Richard] Percy (1921-1989): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_Richard_Percy

Profile of Lord [Matthew] Ridley (1925-2012): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_White_Ridley,_4th_Viscount_Ridley

The letter is also mentioned in The Bond Files (1998) by Andy Lane and Paul Simpson, relying on the information in Lycett's Fleming biography and also giving some additional comment on the background which the letter provides to the short story:

"Bond's Past Life: According to a letter from Ian Fleming to Lord Ridley (dated 18 June 1958), James Bond had been in the Seychelles foiling an attempt by Greek commandos to rescue Archbishop Makarios III from his exile there when the events of 'The Hildebrand Rarity' took place. This material is not mentioned in the short story, but dates the story to either 1957 or 1958."

[Quoted from Andy Lane and Paul Simpson, The Bond Files (1998), (Virgin Publishing Ltd., London, reprinted 1999), pp. 37-38.]

I find this June 1958 exchange of letters between Lord Ridley and Fleming interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is a rare occasion in which Fleming gives off-page detail about one of Bond's missions, albeit an unreported one. The letter provides useful context for Bond's original British secret service mission to the Seychelles and what exactly was involved there prior to his boarding The Wavekrest. Of course the short story proper deals with Bond's meetings with Fidele Barbey and Milton and Liz Krest and the fatal events that transpired on board that ship. However, there is a remnant of Fleming's explanation of what Bond was officially doing on the Seychelles fairly early on in the short story itself (minus any reference to Greek commandos being foiled by Bond in their attempt to rescue Makarios from his exile):

"It had been nearly a month before when M had told Bond he was sending him to the Seychelles. "Admiralty are having trouble with their new fleet base in the Maldives. Communists creeping in from Ceylon. Strikes, sabotage - the usual picture. May have to cut their losses and fall back on the Seychelles. A thousand miles farther south, but at least they look pretty secure. But they don't want to be caught again. Colonial Office say it's safe as houses. All the same I've agreed to send someone to give an independent view. When Makarios was locked up there a few years ago there was quite a few Security scares. Japanese fishing-boats hanging about, one or two refugee crooks from England, strong ties with France. Just go and have a good look." M glanced out of the window at the driving March sleet. "Don't get sunstroke."

Bond's report, which concluded that the only conceivable security hazard in the Seychelles lay in the beauty and ready availability of the Seychelloises, had been finished a week before and then he had nothing to do but wait for the SS Kampala to take him to Mombasa. He was thoroughly sick of the heat and the drooping palm trees and the plaintive cry of the terns and the interminable conversations about copra. The prospect of a change delighted him."


[Quoted from Ian Fleming, 'The Hildebrand Rarity', For Your Eyes Only (1960), (Pan Books Ltd., London, 1965), p. 156.]

As can be seen from the passage quoted above it differs slightly from the reasoning for Bond's mission to the Seychelles given by Fleming in his June 1958 letter to Lord Ridley. So in this sense it is especially interesting as it's one of the few occasions when an outside primary source such as a letter serves to provide extra details about one of Bond's off-page adventures such as the one referred to early on in 'The Hildebrand Rarity'. Reading the extract from this letter to Lord Ridley adds a little background to what we know of Bond's mission and contains details not included in the final text of the short story published as one of five Bond stories in the collection For Your Eyes Only (1960).

Secondly, the June 1958 letter from Ian Fleming to Lord Ridley is interesting as it is an example of a Bond letter that for whatever reason was not collected in The Man with the Golden Typewriter: Ian Fleming's James Bond Letters (2015). Although there is a chapter on the For Your Eyes Only short story collection in that book and within that chapter some letters on 'The Hildebrand Rarity' story specifically the letter to Lord Ridley is not one of them. None of the letters presented in that part of the chapter on 'The Hildebrand Rarity' are dated as early as June 1958. In fact, the letters on 'The Hildebrand Rarity' which are between Fleming and his editor at Jonathan Cape, William Plomer, are both dated April 1959, some ten months after the letters between Lord Ridley and Fleming. This begs the question as to why it was not included in that recent book of edited Fleming Bond letters. It seems to me that it would have been a perfect addition to the book as it gives vital and interesting background detail on 'The Hildebrand Rarity'. The reason why this letter was left out can only be speculated about. Could it be that the editor, Fergus Fleming, couldn't acquire the rights or permission to include Fleming's letter to Lord Ridley or perhaps as editor he decided not to include it on space grounds? Another possibility could be that Ian Fleming's stepdaughter Fionn Morgan might have wanted to use it in her planned book of letters on Ian Fleming. I gather that that book will look more at the letters between her mother Ann Fleming and her stepfather Ian Fleming, however. If so, that project sadly seems to have stalled. At least we have the letter quoted from in the pages of Lycett's Fleming biography so all is not lost on that front. It would of course be nice to read both Lord Ridley's letter to Fleming and Fleming's letter to Lord Ridley in full. They haven't (as far as I'm aware) come up for auction anywhere but Lycett seems to have had access to them back in the mid-1990s in order for him to quote from them in his Fleming biography.

I would be interested to know if anyone here has ever read the letters between Fleming and Lord Ridley in full or know what became of them or if they are mentioned or quoted from in any other books on Fleming or Bond. One other letter concerning 'The Hildebrand Rarity' has come to my attention via online searches. The letter, dated 7 December 1959, and now sold is shown at the following auction site, Bauman Rare Books, and in it Fleming writes to Playboy Executive Editor Ray Russell about new changes to the proofs for For Your Eyes Only which will affect Playboy's publication of 'The Hildebrand Rarity', among other matters:

https://www.baumanrarebooks.com/rare-books/fleming-ian/typed-letter-signed/110200.aspx

Here is the text of the relevant section of that December 1959 letter discussing 'The Hildebrand Rarity':

I have just finished correcting the page proofs of 'For Your Eyes Only', which is the book containing The Hildebrand Rarity and, partly with you in mind, I have included a pen [aut. corr.: hyphen crossed out] ultimate paragraph which you may or may not like and which might slightly enlighten the reader. About eight paragraphs from the end should read: 'you really think so?" A dew of sweat had sprung below her eyes.' Then, three paragraphs before the end, cut out 'a murderess' and begin new sentence. Then, after 'British Museum' new paragraph: 'James Bond noticed that the sweat dew had now gathered at her temples, but, after all, it was a desperately hot evening ….' paragraph 'The [aut. corr.: capitalizing "T"] thud', etc.

I seem to remember (though I could be wrong) that there was also another series of letters put up for auction a few years ago (2018 according to records on my computer concerning the "Hildebrand letters") that had Fleming further discussing 'The Hildebrand Rarity' and possibly other short stories from the For Your Eyes Only collection too. It could be that I'm mixing these letters up with the Playboy letters of course but I remember looking through uploaded images of these other letters before they were sold. I think they may have had some interesting details on the "murder mystery" aspect of the plot of 'The Hildebrand Rarity' and talking about whether Fidele Barbey or Liz Krest had bumped off Milton Krest in the most brutal of fashions. I think that these letters were revelatory as they were, again, not included in Fergus Fleming's 2015 edited collection of letters. I think we as readers of the short story are supposed to plumb for Liz Krest as the chief suspect in the murder of her husband but Fleming leaves the solution to the crime tantalisingly unclear. We only have Bond's observations and suspicions to go on to aid us in the solution. It is left nicely open-ended though so a firm resolution is on this occasion not granted by Fleming to the reader. The solution is left to our own imaginations and it's possible to see how either of the two suspects could be implicated in the grisly (though provoked) murder of Milton Krest.

Further to the letters quoted above, on my PC I have a copy of Ray Russell's initial letter to Fleming, dated 1 December 1959, which mentions Fleming's visit to the Playboy offices and the "positively obscene pictures" [Fleming's own description] that were taken of them there, which he has enclosed with his letter. Russell ends the letter by asking Fleming about British distribution of Playboy magazine. There is also a copy of the yellow Western Union telegram dated 18 November 1959 that "Phineas Phleming"(!) sent from Las Vegas to Russell in Chicago telling him he'd be there the next day.

Perhaps the esteemed @Revelator will be aware of these letters and remember seeing them too as I know he's also interested in the background details of this particular Fleming short story. We've both had topics on this short story before. However, I think this is a new enough aspect to the story (and on the broader subject of Fleming's uncollected Bond/non-Bond letters more generally) to make it worthy of further discussion and even, dare I say it, Bondian academic study.

Comments

  • Posts: 2,292
    Excellent post! Unfortunately I don't have much to offer on this topic, since I have concentrated more on tracking down Fleming's interviews and non-Bond writing. If you're a member of the "James Bond Collectable Books Worldwide" Facebook group I'd encourage you to post an abbreviated version of this inquiry there.

    Fergus Fleming noted that many letters once available to Lycett, Pearson and Mark Amory had "gone missing" by the time he compiled Golden Typewriter. Or perhaps he decided there wasn't enough space for it. I don't see why Fionn Morgan would have considered the letter appropriate for her proposed book of Fleming's personal letters.

    Incidentally, I've heard from several sources that Nicholas Shakespeare is at work on an authorized biography of Fleming and busy doing research.
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CAModerator
    Posts: 30,647
    Very informative, thanks!
  • mattjoesmattjoes Eve Stavro Blofeld
    Posts: 4,313
    Interesting read, thanks for sharing. It also led me to a brief education on the political history of Cyprus.
  • Posts: 728
    Yes, it was a nice read.
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