Casino Royale (Ian Fleming) – Throwback 70

Bond, James Bond… a name that will bring instant images to mind in those who know the name. Suave spies, sharp suits, flash cars, and super gadgets. Even those who’ve never watched a Bond movie will know the tropes of the series thanks to how baked into popular culture it is, especially here in the UK. But there was a time when no one knew the name Bond, when there had never been a single film in the series. 1953 saw the first appearance of Bond, but not on the screen, on the page in Casino Royale, the first James Bond story from author Ian Fleming.

There are many books that chart the early life of Ian Fleming, and how his time in Naval Intelligence during World War II influenced his writing of Bond. There are stories about how much of Bond was based upon his friend, Christopher Lee. And the fact that he lived at Goldeneye estate makes fans grin whenever they hear it. Fleming seems to be as interesting a character as his creation, and the origins of his most popular character could be many. But whatever the inspiration for creating the story, Fleming began working on his first spy story whilst waiting to marry his future wife, Anne Charteris. He began work on his story in the middle of February, and finished the first draft the next month.

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Fleming would describe his first draft as a ‘dreadful oafish opus’, according to Ben Macintyre in his book For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond. Thankfully, Fleming had some help in turning his first draft into the book it would become, with it being retyped and cleaned up by The Times secretary Joan Howe, who Fleming would later base the character of Miss Moneypenny on. With the book polished, it was submitted to publishers Jonathan Cape, who took the chance on him thanks to the recommendation of Fleming’s older brother Peter, who had published travel writing with them in the past.

Casino Royale tells the story of James Bond, a British Secret Service agent who is sent to gamble at a casino in Royale-les-Eaux, a fictional town in northern France, in order to bankrupt Le Chiffre, the treasurer of a French Communist Party trade union, and secret member of the Russian secret services. If he’s able to bankrupt Le Chiffre before he’s able to make back the money he so desperately needs, it could land a crippling blow to the Soviet activities. Posing as a Jamaican planter, Bond is supported in his mission by British Secret Service agent Vesper Lynd, and Felix Leiter, a member of the CIA.

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Bond and LeChiffre have an intense back and forth as they gamble, with each one seeming to take the upper hand at times, but Bond eventually bankrupts the foreign agent. This leads to a series of events that would see Bond tortured, Vesper kidnapped, and Bond contemplating leaving the Secret Service altogether. Despite seeming to have a happy ending, Fleming delivers one last twist in the tale that ends Casino Royale in a way that would allow Bond to disappear entirely, or to continue his spy career once again.

Casino Royale was released in hardback on 13th April 1953. Having printed only 4,728 copies (with a cover designed by Fleming), the book completely sold out within the first month, along with a second print run. A third run of the book, totalling more than 8,000 copies, would go on to sell out within the next year. Thanks to the sales figures Cape offered Fleming a deal for a further three books starring Bond. Thankfully, the book was also a hit with critics, with reviewers in a number of publications praising it for its plot, pacing, and charm.

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Not long after publication, Casino Royale received its first of three adaptations, where it would appear as the American television anthology series Climax!, where the first ever version of Bond would be an American agent named Jimmy Bond. They also switched the character of Felix Leiter to being a British agent, flipping the two roles. The story would be adapted a second time in 1967, where it would be turned into a spy spoof film that featured several James Bonds, and would feature actors such as Peter Sellers, Orson Welles, Ursula Andress, and Woody Allen. It wouldn’t be until 2006 that a more faithful adaptation of the story would be made with the Daniel Craig version of the film, which would reboot the Bond film franchise.

Whilst it took Casino Royale a long while to make it to the big screen along with the other books Fleming created, its success did spur him on to write further Bond books; books that would prove to be more successful than the first, and would inspire the film series that most people will think of when hearing the name James Bond. Fleming might not have had much faith in his story when he wrote it, and he may have done it just to keep himself busy during pre-wedding jitters, but his creation would soon go on to become not only the most recognisable and popular spy to ever be created, but the template upon which so many others would base themselves.

Casino Royale was released on 13th April 1953.


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