Reading British

Reading British

By Firoze Sameer


Five British authors amass a hundred and forty six novels!


Like Homer’s heroes at Troy they come cascading almost into reality within the works of these accomplished British authors: Ian Lancaster Fleming: 19-books at age 56 on his demise 12-Aug., ‘64; James Hadley Chase: 88 novels at age-78 on his death 07-Feb, ‘85. John le Carre: 18-works pushing 71-years; Frederick Forsyth: 16-masterpieces at age 65. Joanne Katherine Rowling, OBE, clocking five famous Harry Potter episodes at 51+.


Ian Fleming:

Enter Commander James Bond, CMG, RNVR, of the Double-O Section of HMSS with a licence to kill.


Bond movies from the sixties saw the dashing debonair spy, in his Navy blue suit over a sea island cotton shirt, black silk knitted tie, dark blue socks into black moccasins; gold Rolex Oyster perpetual chronometer; thin cigarette case of black gun-metal to hold fifty; Continental Bentley or an Aston Martin DBIII… …Reminiscent is Sean Connery in Dr No lighting that inevitable cigarette with his oxidized Ronson lighter, elegantly introducing himself amidst the backdrop of that famous JB-theme, to a beaut across the baize in the casino as “Bond, James Bond.”  A dry Martini please, shaken but not stirred!


Fleming churned a Bond-book in every year since Jan-52, spending two months in his 14-acre hideout Goldeneye in the Jamaican North Shore. At Goldeneye, he hammered on his US gold-plated typewriter at 2,000-words a day while Londoners strode grimly along freezing wintry streets. Goldeneye was a refuge to some famed authors and friends who spent their leisure time and again: Truman Capote, Ivar Bryce, Noel Coward and even British PM Sir Anthony Eden.


Fourteen serious works on the splendid gallantry of James Bond (decorously declining a knighthood in The Man with the Golden Gun: 1965) in meticulous English with very educative background material which Fleming assiduously collected, visiting various countries in advance of writing each book. The opus that fell within JFK’s ten favourite books; the one which Lady Jacqueline presented to CIA Director Allen Dulles: Fleming’s fifth and his best: From Russia With Love (1957)Fleming‘s one book for kids Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang was about a flying car. His two-part Thrilling Cities gave the reader inside gen on the frisson of some hot spots around the globe, while The Diamond Smugglers revealed a very arcane trade. A short treatment on Kuwait titled State of Excitement written in Dec-60, his only unpublished book, is reportedly being auctioned. 


The reader is steeped into the subjects of baccarat in Casino Royale (1953), bridge in Moonraker (1955), diamonds in Diamonds are Forever (1956), the KGB’s precursor SMERSH in From Russia With Love (1955), birds in Dr No (1958) golf and gold in Goldfinger (1959), poisonous plants in You Only Live Twice (1964) and so on.



Eight splendid short stories couched in For Your Eyes Only (1960) and Octopussy (1965) where in its title story Bond is featured as a third party investigating the suspicious WW2 record of a peer. Fleming did this kind of thing in The Spy Who loved Me (1962) bringing Vivienne Michel to centre stage, relating the story through her eyes.

Fleming’s piece on women drivers in Ch-11 of Thunderball (1961) vis-à-vis Bond’s admiration for Tracy brazenly racing past him at the start of OHMSS (1963) reveals his inveterate male-chauvinism inundated in all his books.


Commander Ian Fleming, RNVR, reportedly lived the part of James Bond to a great extent. He served in Naval Intelligence during WW2, and later as ATTICUS writing a weekly column in the Sunday Times and Foreign Manager at the Kemsley Group of newspapers. Peter his elder brother far exceeded him in literacy. Ian’s son Caspar Robert died of a drug overdose on 02 Oct., ‘75 aged 23, and Ian’s wife Ann of cancer in July-81. Fortunately Fleming was not around to witness these tragedies.


His untimely demise was decidedly a great loss to Bond buffs.


James Hadley Chase:

The1960s saw us teenagers at Royal College 61-Group swapping Chase novels between classmates by the dozen over the days.


A book wholesaler, he began writing under the pen name James Hadley Chase. He specialized in murder, kidnapping, blackmail, espionage and intrigue. His heroes were dynamic, his heroines sexy, and villains deadly. Every story moved with stupendous speed. “One just couldn’t put that book down!” Chase’s first and best novel No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1938: superbly revised by him in July-61), took him six weeks to write, and established him as a master storyteller. It was dramatized in three movies in Britain, France and the US. The Flesh of the Orchid (1948) was its sole sequel.


Chase’s dad served as a British officer in the colonial Indian Army. Chase was born Rene Brabazon Raymond in London in 1906. He served in the RAF in WW2, and moved to France in 1956 and over to Switzerland in 1961, living a secluded life in Corseaux-Sur-Vevey north of Lake Geneva in since 1974.


His heroes include the dashing private-eyes Dave Fenner and Vic Malloy; super insurance sleuths Steve Harmas, and the memorable Maddox; Paradise City Police Headquarters played a prominent role in several books: Captain of Police Frank Terrell, down to Sgt Joe Beigler, Detective 2nd Grade Tom Lepski promoted later, Detective 3rd Grade Max Jacoby, Fred Hess of Homicide, sipping intermittent cups of coffee, smoking their cigarettes, in the process of solving many a murder. Amongst the deadly villains, I remember Herman Radnitz. The rugged ex-Commando Martin Corridon featured in two episodes (now what were they?).  


Chase successfully tried his hand at some espionage episodes such as You Have Yourself a Deal and also Have This One On Me and The Whiff of Money with the adventurous CIA agent Mark Girland in a James-Bond-type role with Soviet agent Malik and probably Lu Silk on the opposite side.  His books rarely exceeded 200-pages. He touched mostly on murder mysteries laced with a good dose of power, violence and sex, giving the reader such splendid moments of thrill.


With his death, readers sadly lost out on further flights of plausible murder mysteries. His better known works include Tiger by the Tail, Eve, Come Easy-Go Easy, Mallory, A Lotus for Miss Quon and Why Pick On Me?


John le Carre:

John le Carre hit fame with his third episode, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1963). His treatment in The Spy of side-tracking his usual hero George Smiley of British Intelligence in Call for the Dead (1961) and A Murder of Quality (1962), and drawing in Alec Leamas to centre-stage was an absolutely brilliant arrangement in the le Carre genre. 


Smiley is played so well by Sir Alec Guinness in many of the TV-episodes, while Richard Burton takes the role of the British agent Alec Leamas with Clair Bloom in the Spy which was filmed in b&w to give a grim effect.


Former CIA director Allen Dulles however notes in his book, Great Spy Stories (1969) that the brilliant plot in the Spy could never have happened while what was described in its successor The Looking-Glass War (1965) unfolding the respective Runs of Taylor, Avery and Leiser, was plausible.  The British mole Kim Philby (who was made a major general by the Soviet-KGB after his defection to Moscow) too had the same view. Nevertheless Graham Greene truthfully called the Spy “the greatest spy story I have ever read,” while Fleming said, “A very, very fine spy story.”


Le Carre’s trilogy The Quest for Karla begins with his super Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, (TTSS) (1974), The Honourable Schoolboy (THS) (1977) and Smiley’s People (1979) all portraying the grim realties of the Cold War. His ability to draw Jerry Westerby who played a minor role in TTSS to lead role in THS was real Le Carre technique.


Le Carre’s head at the Circus is the dour-speaking Control, the tendentious theorizer, analyzing the pros and cons of cause and effect, the means and the end, sipping coffee or tea over a serious meeting, discussing plans for assassinating some foe behind ‘enemy lines.’  Control is preceded by the Advisor Sir Maston, Steed-Asprey, Sparke, Terence Fielding and Jebedee, and succeeded by Sir Percy Alleline, who has to bear the brunt of the damage caused by a deadly mole in the Circus, amongst a stream of top-flight operatives which include Peter Guillam, Toby Esterhase, Jim Prideaux, Roy Bland, Sam Collins. 


The Secret Pilgrim (1991) was a departure of sorts when Le Carre tried a technique – somewhat of a series of short story episodes linked to each other – where the retired Smiley addresses the passing-out class on the closing evening of their entry course in the Nursery at Sarratt with Ned, formerly of The Russia House (1989), on the eve of his retirement in attendance, reminiscing on his days as a passing out student.  Profound is the story related by AW Hawthorne, Warrant Officer Class-II Retd, to “Duty Officer, Major Nottingham” Smiley’s nom de plume for that day.


Le Carre has this quality of sometimes getting one of his central stars to suddenly disappear – Leo Harting in A Small Town in Germany (1968), Tiger Single of the House of Single & Single (1999), the murdered Tessa Quayle in Nairobi, poignant as ever, right at the beginning of his latest and eighteenth heartbreaking opus, The Constant Gardener (2001), where he deals with the ramifications of the immoral aspects of the international pharmaceutical trade. 


Most of his book-endings are tragic and unexpected. They hit you like a sledge hammer leaving you all stunned, dazed and harrowing in empathy.


Frederick Forsyth:

Frederick Forsyth’s latest hot-seller Avenger released in recent weeks catapults him into the class of his erstwhile Jackal! His hero this time is the dexterous ex-Vietnam veteran Cal Dexter in his early fifties.


Forsyth emerged top with The Day of the Jackal (1971) his masterpiece which took him six-weeks to write (an idea brooded over for 6-years) after Biafra Story, the non-fiction account of the tragedy in the African continent.


Jackal dealt with the brilliant plot arranged by the underground French OAS with an unknown English mercenary to assassinate Gen. Charles de Gaulle. Forsyth was probably inspired by Georges Watin the Limp, then aged 39, who, after the aborted Petit Clamart plot, quietly vanished into the dense tropical rain forests of Paraguay. Notwithstanding a pardon extended by an amnesty law in 1968, the former agricultural engineer from Algeria, “the bulky-shouldered, square jowled OAS fanatic” Watin continued to live in the South American wilderness. He died in his home in Asuncion of a heart attack on Sat., 19-Feb., ‘94 aged 71 and buried on the following day. Jackal was based partly on fact, after all 31-attempts on De Gaulle had failed (Target De Gaulle by Christian Plume & Pierre Demaret, 1973) especially the Petit Clamart one so well retold at the beginning of the book; also related by Charlotte & Dennis Plimmer as The Perfect Plan to Kill de Gaulle in the Reader’s Digest of July-63.


Forsyth reportedly mulls over the plot for about 18-months, researching for 6-months, and covers six weeks to complete a book, starting at 9-am reading through the previous day’s work first, seven days a week typing 12-pages a day upto 1.30-pm, taking a break for lunch and an hour’s stroll in Regent’s park, returning to revise what he has written by 5.30-pm. A sheet beside him gives one-line reminders of the content of each chapter.



Forsyth’s heroes are real, dynamic men: Inspector Claude Lebel hunting the Jackal, Peter Miller the intrepid reporter in The Odessa File (1972), Cat Shannon the mercenary in The Dogs of War) (1974), ex-CIA agent Jason Monk in Icon (1996), Major Mike Martin the SAS man in Iraq in The Fist of God (1994), John Preston from MI5 in The Fourth Protocol  (1984)…


Forsyth’s fifteen short stories in No Comebacks (1982) and The Veteran (2001) are absolute stunners, especially the title stories. His treatment of a poignant love story Whistling Wind in The Veteran is a masterpiece on America’s exciting Wild West. Forsyth is at his best when treating special subjects such as espionage or assassination. His sequel to The Phantom of the Opera titled The Phantom of Manhattan (1999) is a fine treatment of Gaston Leroux’s classic turned musical by Andrew Lloyd-Weber.


Forsyth teaches the reader via Quinn the crack Negotiator (1989) on the intricacies of protractedly negotiating with kidnappers on an initial ransom demand of U$5-mn to close at U$2-mn stabilizing the psychology of the kidnappers to have closed a good deal. In The Deceiver (1991) he gives us a fine shade of Cold War realities in Sam MacCready who is head of the DeeDee desk, and how his deputy Denis Gaunt so characteristically defends his boss in justifying the continuation of that desk by relating four absolutely thrilling Cold War episodes of his boss to a high powered Committee at Century House. 


JK Rowling:

Joanne Kathleen Rowling born July-31, ‘51 swept the boards in recent publishing history, and brought about a momentous metamorphosis in today’s culture of reading amongst the new generation.  Wizardry and hokum reign high on the terrain.


Children so far have simply enjoyed following Harry Potter though his five grades at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry; the journey on Hogwart’s Express chugging out at 11-am from the famous Platform Nine and Three-Quarters at King’s Cross station; the Quidditch games; the various spells; the final climax of HP battling and succeeding against the forces of evil amidst a backdrop of fine fantasy and magic.


The Good: Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger and members of the Order of the Phoenix are matched against the Bad: Draco Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle amidst the Ugly: represented in deadly form as the Lord Voldemort “He who must not be named,” alias Tom Riddle, an erstwhile brilliant student at Hogwarts, and his Deatheaters.


JKR writes in long hand, taking a year to complete each book. She began writing her first book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997) at Nicolsons Restaurant in Edinburgh, sipping coffee. Writing every day, she spends eleven or twelve hours, sometimes three, depending on how fast her ideas come.  American publishers were able to convince her to amend the word Philosopher’s to Sorcerer’s in the title owing to Americans not being too familiar with the former word. However, she insisted on the word mum over the suggested mom! Thereafter in every successive year followed HP and the…Chamber of Secrets, …Prisoner of Azkaban and…Goblet of Fire, twice as large as its predecessor. Out of the proposed 7-set series, her latest…Order of the Phoenix (2003) is a mammoth 776-page read.


JKR hit the ropes in writing, reaping such grand fortune. Her early interest at age-9 in Fleming’s James Bond novels shifted later to Jane Austen, her favourite author. She has a ten-year old daughter Jessica from an earlier marriage. She later married Dr Neil Murray in 1996. She received her OBE for services to children’s literature from Prince Charles a great HP-fan.


Apart from all the fanfare about Potter, it must be admitted that, amongst all writers, JKR emerges as not only an affluent author making her millions surpassing Her Majesty, but also a tremendously valuable contributor towards children’s behavioural patterns in reading, where she has indirectly inculcated the good habit.


She simply got kids back into reading books, Potter or otherwise, to a great extent dragging them away from being couch-potatoes across the TV!




Daily News - Art Scope: 03 March, 2004