Uncut Gem

This weekend, auctioneers John McInnis sold a screenplay for an unmade film of Ian Flemings The Diamond Smugglers. Dating from April 1966, the title page lists two writers, Robert Muller and Anthony Dawson, and a Story Consultant, one Kingsley Amis. Im told the screenplay was sold for more than $2,000, which is beyond my price range but no doubt a bargain for this Fleming-related piece of film history. In March 2010, I wrote an article for The Sunday Times about the long-running attempts to film this book, which included interviewing the late Jon Cleary and reading his forgotten screenplay of it. Here, for the first time, is an extended, fully footnoteddirector’s cut of that article.



A MAN runs across a beach, desperate to reach a plane at the far end of it. He hands something to the pilot just as it takes off. The plane rises into a bank of fog, whereupon it erupts into a ball of flame. The man rushes toward the crash, scrambling through the wreckage until his foot hits something. Looking down, he sees a small metal canister. He picks it up and fumbles it open. Diamonds spill into his hand…

If this sounds like the pre-titles sequence of a Bond film, it’s not a coincidence. It is a pre-titles sequence, and it’s from a screenplay based on one of Ian Fleming’s books. For the past 45 years, its existence has remained unknown outside the small group of men who tried to film it.

I first became aware of the story when reading The Letters of Kingsley Amis. I was intrigued by a short letter he had sent fellow writer Theo Richmond in December 1965:

‘I have been having a rather horrible time writing a story outline for one George Willoughby. Based on an original Fleming idea. Willoughby and the script-writer change everything as I come up with it. I gave W. the completed outline five days ago and he has been too shocked and horrified and despairing to say a word since. However, he has already paid me. (Not much.)’ [1]

I smiled at the familiar writer’s complaint, then stopped in my tracks. What ‘original Fleming idea’? I’d never heard of it, and couldn’t find any reference to it anywhere else. I decided to investigate.


Kingsley Amis

My first step was to contact Zachary Leader, Amis’ biographer and the editor of his letters, to ask him if he had any idea where the outline might be. He wasn’t sure, but put me in touch with the Huntington Library in California and the Harry Ransom Center in Texas, both of which hold Amis’ papers. Researchers there sent me inventories of everything they held, and I started trying their patience by asking them to go through boxes that sounded as though they might conceivably contain the outline. After weeks of this, and feeling as though we had examined practically every scrap of paper Amis had saved, I called time. Wherever Amis’ outline was, it didn’t appear to be stored with the rest of his papers.

My attention turned to the other clue mentioned in Amis’ letter: ‘one George Willoughby’. And here I got a little luckier. Willoughby, I discovered, was a Norwegian who had moved to London and become a medium-sized fish in the British film industry. In 1951, he had been an associate producer on Valley Of Eagles, directed and co-written by Terence Young and filmed at Pinewood, the studio owned by The Rank Organisation, at that time Britain’s largest film company. Young went on to direct several of the Bond films, shooting large parts of them at Pinewood.

In 1954, Willoughby had been an associate producer on Hell Below Zero, an adaptation of a Hammond Innes novel made by Warwick Films, starring Alan Ladd as American adventurer Duncan Craig. Warwick was founded by Irving Allen and Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli, and it specialised in making relatively inexpensive but exciting action films. In 1962, Cubby Broccoli would part ways with Allen and form a new company, Eon, with Harry Saltzman. One of the scriptwriters for Hell Below Zero was Richard Maibaum, who Broccoli would take with him to his new company: he would go on to have a hand in the scripts to over a dozen Bond films.



A publicity photo of Action of the Tiger (1957), with Martine Carole and Sean Connery

Finally, in 1957 George Willoughby had been the associate producer on Action Of The Tiger, another Terence Young-directed film, this one featuring a young Sean Connery. So he had worked with three of the men who would become key players in the Bond franchise: Broccoli, Young and Maibaum. But while this was intriguing, I was no closer to finding the outline of the ‘original Fleming idea’ Amis had written for Willoughby.

But after several months of consulting authors’ societies, literary agents and film libraries, I finally found what I was looking for. To my surprise, a lot of the story had been hiding in plain sight since 1989 in a book called In Camera, a volume of memoirs by Richard Todd.


DURING THE Second World War, Todd had served in the Army’s 6th Airborne Division – he was the first man of the main force to parachute out over Normandy on D-Day. After the war, he had become one of Britain’s biggest film stars. He was nominated for an Oscar for The Hasty Heart in 1949, after which he went on to play several leading roles, including starring opposite Marlene Dietrich in Alfred Hitchcock’s Stage Fright. However, he is probably best remembered today for playing Wing Commander Guy Gibson in the classic war film The Dam Busters.

DS Todd Dam

A publicity photo of Richard Todd as Wing Commander Guy Gibson in the classic war film The Dam Busters (1955)

Like Willoughby, Todd had also worked with many of the people who were to become central to the James Bond series. Although he was a contract player with Rank’s main rivals, the Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC), who were based at Elstree Studios, he sometimes worked on ‘loan-out’ for Rank, for example on Venetian Bird, an adaptation of a Victor Canning thriller.

He had also made a film for Cubby Broccoli: The Hellions, a quasi-Western shot in South Africa in 1961. The following year, he was one of the star-studded cast of The Longest Day, an adaptation of Cornelius Ryan’s account of D-Day. Todd played Major John Howard, who had been his superior officer on the day in real life. On the set in Caen in France, he met a ‘rather shy’ young Scottish actor with a small part in the film: Sean Connery.

Since his death it has repeatedly been claimed that Todd was Ian Fleming’s first choice to play James Bond and that he dropped out for scheduling reasons, but while he certainly looked the part, I’ve found no primary source for this. At 42, he would have been an older 007 – Connery was 31 when he was cast in the role. In April 1962, while Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were busy finalizing their contract with United Artists for the first Bond film, Dr No [2], Todd was informed that his contract with ABPC would not be renewed the following year. This was a body blow for the actor: it meant that he would now have to fend for himself in the jungle of Britain’s rapidly declining film industry, which was under increasing pressure from Hollywood. But he had at least one iron in the fire, in the form of his friend George Willoughby, who ‘had secured an option on the screen rights of an Ian Fleming book, The Diamond Story [sic], an intriguing exposé of illicit diamond-buying in Afica and of the undercover activities of agents who worked to counteract it’.[3]

So here it was: this was the elusive project Amis had been working on. The Diamond Smugglers was Fleming’s first foray into full-length non-fiction, and apart from the guidebook Thrilling Cities remains the only one of his books not to have been filmed. It was originally published in 1957, collecting a series of articles in The Sunday Times in which Fleming had explored the shady world of diamond trafficking. A new edition of the book was published in 2009, with an introduction by Fergus Fleming, the writer’s nephew. ‘The success of Bond tends to eclipse Ian Fleming’s other talents,’ he tells me. ‘It’s often forgotten that he was also an accomplished journalist, travel writer and children’s author.’[4]


Sir Percy Sillitoe

Ian Fleming had become fascinated by the illegal trade in gemstones in 1954, when he had discovered that the world’s biggest diamond-seller, De Beers, had set up its own private intelligence agency, the International Diamond Security Organisation, to try to combat it. IDSO was run by Sir Percy Sillitoe, who had previously been the head of MI5. Fleming met with Sillitoe and other diamond industry insiders, and used much of what he learned as background material for Diamonds Are Forever, largely set in the United States.[5]

Three years later, Fleming was drawn back into the world of diamonds. IDSO had blocked several plots by international criminal networks to bring diamonds illegally out of the CLOAK WITHOUT DAGGERmines of South Africa, Sierra Leone and elsewhere, and had been disbanded. Sillitoe, irritated that he and the organization had not been given more credit for their successes, decided to publish a book about it. His intention was for it to be a sequel to his 1955 memoir Cloak Without Dagger, and with that in mind he commissioned one of IDSO’s senior officers, John Collard, to ghost-write an account.

Collard was an old hand in the espionage game. He had been in MI5 in the early part of the Second World War, but had then moved to the counter-intelligence agency MI11, becoming its head by 1946. He then rejoined MI5 and played a major role in the capture and conviction of the ‘atomic spy’ Klaus Fuchs, before heading off to South Africa to join IDSO.[6]

Collard revisited his and other agents’ reports and wrote the book. Sillitoe sent the manuscript to Denis Hamilton at The Sunday Times for his view; Hamilton liked it, but felt that a professional journalist would be able to spice it up. He suggested that Ian Fleming, who worked for the paper, interview Collard with the aim of producing a series of articles. All involved agreed, and so in early April 1957 Fleming took an Air France Caravelle to Tangier to meet John Collard. The two men quickly established a rapport, and Fleming started work.[7]

This mainly consisted of editing and redrafting the original manuscript. Collard had detailed the organisation’s frustrations, failures and successes in clear, lively prose, and it probably would have sold well had it been published as it was. But it was no thriller. Fleming went through the text, cutting anything he felt was dull or overly complicated and heightening the most exciting passages as only he knew how. He also adapted information from Collard’s source material: one IDSO agent’s report in Collard’s papers has ‘Passage omitted I.F.’ and ‘Name omitted I.F.’ all over it in Fleming’s distinctive scrawl.[8]

The biggest change Fleming made was not to the content, but to the perspective. Collard had written the book as though Sillitoe were the narrator. Fleming kept most of Collard’s material, but rewrote it so that he, Ian Fleming, became the narrator, the intrepid investigative journalist jetting out to the tropics to interview the mysterious hero of the tale, who he made Collard instead of Sillitoe.

This was a clever switch. Sillitoe was nearly seventy years old, and so not as compelling a subject as Collard, who was in his mid-forties. Additionally, Sillitoe was largely a desk man, while Collard had seen extensive action in the field, both with MI5 and with IDSO. Sillitoe was more of an M-like figure, and Fleming realized that the public would require someone more like Bond – just as he had done when writing his novels. Fleming himself had been more of an M in his espionage career, directing 30 Assault Unit from his desk in London. According to biographer Andrew Lycett, Fleming ‘could not help introducing a strong element of wish-fulfilment’ into his work:

‘Bond gave at least fictional form to Ian’s frustrated urge to have been out in the field during the war, a full-time secret agent, rather than a competent staff officer, office-politicking and dreaming in Room 39 of the Admiralty.’[9]

Considering this background, it is hardly surprising that John Collard appealed to him more as a protagonist than the dry old stick Percy Sillitoe. The framing device of an interview also allowed Fleming to break up Collard’s involved exposition about the diamond industry with some of his own brand of intrigue, bringing in references to life in Tangier, other spies such as Richard Sorge and Christine Granville and, of course, James Bond. As well as adding texture, this allowed Fleming to present Collard as a heroic, if somewhat jaded, secret agent looking back on his adventures, and himself as a journalist on a quest to uncover a mystery. It’s the Citizen Kane structure, familiar from hundreds of magazine interviews, and it was also used by John Pearson when he wrote his Authorized Biography of James Bond some 15 years later.

As the original writer of the book, John Collard had never been intended to figure in it, and presumably it was pointed out to Fleming that to include him by name would be problematic, as he was not only a former MI5 officer but he also discussed at length how IDSO had foiled several unscrupulous gangs, who clearly might then be interested in tracking him down after publication. So Fleming renamed Collard, picking the rather Bond-ish ‘John Blaize’ – in the germ of a scene in one of his notebooks, he had had Miss Moneypenny suggest ‘Major Patrick Blaize’ as a cover name for Bond [10].

Fleming portrayed Collard/Blaize as a quieter, shyer character than Bond, although readers would learn that he owned 24 fine white silk shirts and intended to spend 48 hours gambling intensively in Monte Carlo ‘to wash the last three years and the African continent out of his system’. [11]

Fleming certainly flew to Tangier and met Collard, but his presentation of their discussions in the book is largely fictionalised. Fleming quoted chunks of Collard’s book and had the fictionalized Blaize speak them aloud while he, Fleming, listened in awe and interjected questions that would allow them to be more fully understood. He could probably have done most of this rewriting and editorial work from his officer in Gray’s Inn Road in London – but then, that wouldn’t have been nearly as exciting, or got him an all-expenses-paid trip out to Tangier. Collard doesn’t seem to have minded this somewhat cavalier approach, incidentally – he and Fleming became fast friends, and years later would occasionally meet up for a drink and a round of golf in Sandwich.

To pre-empt any legal difficulties, Fleming sent proofs to The Diamond Corporation, De Beers’ distribution arm in London. The move backfired spectacularly. Although the company initially appeared pleased with the text, it later took serious exception to several elements in it, and Fleming was forced into rewrites to tone everything down and not reveal any incriminating or embarrassing secrets. [12] But finally, in September 1957, the first article was serialised in The Sunday Times. Readers learned about ‘Monsieur Diamant’, a ‘big, hard chunk of a man with about ten million pounds in the bank’. Outwardly a respectable entrepreneur, his diamond-fencing activities had made him ‘the biggest crook in Europe, if not in the world’. Another episode concerned a bravado attempt to fly 1,400 stolen diamonds out of Chamaais Beach in South-West Africa, which failed when the plane crashed on take-off.

The articles were collected to form a book, titled The-Diamond-SmugglersThe Diamond Smugglers, which was published in November with an introduction by Collard (under the Blaize pseudonym). The book didn’t differ a great deal from the manuscript Collard had originally written, but it had been souped up, texture had been added and, above all, Fleming’s name had been appended to it. As a result, it received a level of marketing almost equal to that afforded to the Bond novels at the time. [13]

Fleming was happy with his scoop, but not entirely satisfied with the way the project had turned out. On the fly-leaf of his own copy of the book, now stored at Indiana University’s Lilly Library, he noted:

‘This was written in 2 weeks in Tangiers, April 1957. The name of the IDSO spy is John Collard. Sir Percy Sillitoe sold the story to the Sunday Times & I had to write it from Collard’s M.S. It was a good story until all the possible libel was cut out. There was nearly an injunction against me & the Sunday Times by De Beers to prevent publication of the S. T. serial. Rightly, they didn’t like their secrets being sold by an employee. Lord Kemsley & Collard shared the profits of this – a third each, which was a pity as I sold the film rights to Rank for £12,500. It is adequate journalism but a poor book & necessarily rather “contrived” though the facts are true.’ [14]

Perhaps as a result of his irritation at the suppression of some of the story’s more exciting aspects, Fleming’s view was overly pessimistic. The fact that Rank was prepared to pay a sizeable amount for the rights to a compilation of newspaper articles he had written in a fortnight was a sign of the growing interest in his work from the film industry. In 1954, Gregory Ratoff had taken a six-month option on his first novel, Casino Royale, for $600, and shortly after that CBS had bought the television rights to the same book for $1,000. The following year, Rank had snapped up the rights to Moonraker for £5,000. Casino Royale was rapidly made into an hour-long TV adaptation, with Barry Nelson as James ‘Jimmy’ Bond and Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre. Rank’s Moonraker film never got off the ground [15].

Rank was, initially at least, keen to publicise the fact that it had bought the rights to the book. The Bookseller noted that it had bought the rights for ‘an unusually high figure’, and had ‘commissioned Ian Fleming to prepare the film treatment’ [16], and ‘The Diamond Smugglers Story’ was included in Rank’s programme for 1958 along with The Thirty-Nine Steps and Lawrence of Arabia (both of those were prematurely announced, being released in 1959 and 1962 respectively). But 1958 passed, and the film did not materialize.


THAT’S THE traditional story of The Diamond Smugglers, mentioned in passing in dozens of books and articles. A slightly obscure Fleming work, not featuring James Bond. A success, but not one of his greater ones. The film rights sold, but no film made. Case closed.

Well, not quite. There were attempts to film The Diamond Smugglers, serious and prolonged attempts, as Todd’s memoir showed. I contacted the actor’s agent, but was told that due to frailty and a hazy memory he didn’t feel he could add to what he had already written. This was understandable: Todd was approaching ninety and, unknown to me, suffering from cancer. I had by now also contacted John Collard’s family, who kindly provided me with a great deal of material, including both his relevant correspondence from the time and the original manuscript of his book. Adding this to the information in Todd’s memoirs and other sources, I started to piece together the rest of the story.

Willoughby set up his own production company in 1959, and at some point between then and 1962 obtained the film rights to The Diamond Smugglers. In a letter to a former colleague in 1965, John Collard wrote that he had met Willoughby ‘about five years ago at the request of Ian Fleming’. From subsequent events, it seems that Rank may have told Willoughby that they had given up on trying to adapt the book, but that if he could put together the elements of a commercially viable film, they would distribute it. They later did just that with another Willoughby production, Age of Innocence, which had featured Lois Maxwell and Honor Blackman.

Todd and Willoughby became partners in 1962, and set to work: Derry Quinn, who had worked as a story supervisor on Chase A Crooked Shadow, a thriller Todd had made in 1958, was hired to write a treatment. As well as Todd’s contacts within the industry and star power – presumably the original intention was for him to play Blaize – the actor also knew South Africa. While making The Hellions, he had been struck by the potential for a film industry there: it had widely varying scenery and climate, a lot of investors looking for overseas outlets, and a large pool of English-speaking actors.[17]

As The Diamond Smugglers took place in that part of the world, Todd now returned to his South African contacts, inviting to London Ernesto Bisogno, a businessman he had met on his Hellions trip who had dabbled in small-scale film production and was now forming a production company in Johannesburg. Bisogno was accompanied by an official of the South African Industrial Development Corporation, who Todd had also met the previous year. Their reactions to the project were apparently very favourable, and Todd was optimistic that he would be able to persuade ABPC to distribute the film once it was made. However, work on the screenplay was slow, with Todd’s flat becoming ‘a charnel-house of abandoned drafts and screen treatments’. [18] Fleming’s book was essentially a series of unconnected episodes: crafting an exciting, coherent and commercial script from them would prove no easy task.

In April 1963, a full year after starting work on the project, the two men had a breakthrough: John Davis, the head of Rank, put them in touch with Earl St John, who was in charge of productions at Pinewood. St John had been an executive producer on Passionate Summer, a film Willoughby had produced in 1958. He liked their pitch, and as a result Rank funded a trip to South Africa and South-West Africa (now Namibia) in May 1964 to scout locations in which to set the screenplay for The Diamond Smugglers.[19]


BY NOW a new writer had arrived on the scene: the Australian Jon Cleary, then best known for his novel The Sundowners, the film of which had starred Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr and had been nominated for five Academy Awards. Now in his nineties, he still vividly recalls his work on The Diamond Smugglers. ‘My doctor says my body is ninety but my head’s fifty,’ he laughs when I speak to him on the phone from his home in Sydney. According to Cleary, Rank had originally bought the rights to The Diamond Smugglers because of Fleming’s name. ‘They disowned it when they realised it was a grab-bag of pieces he had written one wet weekend. There was no story. So they put it on the shelf.’ [20]


Jon Cleary at his desk in the 1950s (publicity image)

But now The Diamond Smugglers had another shot. It was not only back on Rank’s radar – they were putting up money to develop it. Accompanying Todd, Willoughby and Cleary on the trip to Africa was the American director Bob Parrish, who, according to Cleary, had agreed to direct the film subject to a satisfactory script being developed. Cleary and Parrish both lived in London and knew each other; Cleary says Parrish put him forward for the project. Parrish, who had won an Oscar as an editor, had directed an adaptation of Geoffrey Household’s A Rough Shoot, from a script by Eric Ambler, and Fire Down Below, co-produced by Cubby Broccoli.

‘We landed in Johannesburg on a Sunday afternoon,’ Cleary remembered. ‘There were three thousand people there to meet us at the airport! We stayed in the Langham Hotel, which was the place to be. Everything was laid on for us, and all kinds of avenues of research were opened – I knew nothing about diamonds. One day, a European woman – Contessa something-or-other – turned up at my hotel room to discuss the business, and emptied her chamois bag, spilling diamonds onto the table. It was about three or four million Rand, just sitting there!’

After spending a few days in South Africa, where they scouted locations in Johannesburg, M’Tuba’Tuba and Pretoria, the group flew to South-West Africa’s capital, Windhoek. They were shown around by Jack Levinson and his wife Olga, who lived in a castle-like residence that had been built for the Commander-in-Chief when the country had been a German colony. The Levinsons were ideal guides for their mission: as well as being the city’s mayor, Jack was also a lithium entrepeneur who had discovered diamonds on the Skeleton Coast, while Olga had recently published a history of the country [21].

By now, the Bond films were big business, and with the release of Goldfinger in September, about to become a global phenomenon. Was the intention to leverage Fleming’s material into a Bond-style plot? Not according to Cleary: ‘It was always going to be much more realistic than the Bond films. We wanted to make use of the fact that we had these remote, exotic locations, but craft something much more down-to-earth, that nobody had seen before.’

Cleary, like Derry Quinn before him, was desperately looking for a way to connect the disparate elements of Fleming’s book into an exciting plot. In South-West Africa, he finally hit upon an idea. ‘Bob liked it. We told Richard – it would involve him being the villain, for a change. He jumped at it. The idea was for Steve McQueen to play the lead. I’ve forgotten who they wanted for the girl, but it was one of the top stars.’

McQueen, who had become well known after The Magnificent Seven in 1960, had just made The Great Escape, which had catapulted him to greater fame. Whether or not he would have been interested or available for The Diamond Smugglers is another question, but it’s fascinating to think of him in a Fleming adaptation.

Cleary’s original idea for the script was based on a story he had heard while the team were scouting the Skeleton Coast, about a man who sets up a model aeroplane club in the De Beers’-protected town Oranjemund, and then uses the model planes to try to smuggle some diamonds out. Fired up with the potential of this idea, Cleary ‘went away and wrote a screenplay’. I ask him to repeat this to be certain I’ve heard correctly. There are no references to a completed screenplay in Todd’s memoirs – or anywhere else. A script of an unfilmed Ian Fleming book, written in the Sixties by a well-known novelist, with funding by Rank… well, that would be something. ‘Did you keep a copy?’ I ask quietly. Cleary chuckles. ‘I’m afraid I’ve never been a hoarder,’ he says, and my heart sinks. He tells me that the State Library of New South Wales has his papers, but that they often call, begging him to send them his latest manuscript ‘before I throw it out’.

This doesn’t sound hopeful, but I contact the library anyway. And they have it. After obtaining permission from Cleary and his literary agency, I am sent a copy. I crack it open, and stare at the title page with amazement. ‘The Diamond Smugglers by Ian Fleming. Draft screenplay by Jon Cleary.’ I had gone looking for Kingsley Amis’ story outline, and had instead found a completed screenplay by someone else.


THE SCRIPT is dated October 28 1964, and is 149 pages long. It begins:


We open on a LONG SHOT of a desert, grey-blue and cold looking in the dawn light…’ [22]

The protagonist has been renamed: instead of John Blaize, he is now Roy O’Brien, a tall, quiet American secret agent who is sent to a diamond mine in Johannesburg under cover as a pilot. His mission: to infiltrate and break up a ring of smugglers preparing to make a huge deal with the Red Chinese. O’Brien reads very much as though written with McQueen in mind. We are told he is ‘marked with the sun and the scars of a man who has spent a good deal of his life in the outdoors’ and that ‘he was a boy once quick to smiles’ but is now ‘a man who has seen too much of sights that did not provoke laughter’. He is quick-witted, laconic, but very likeable.

We first meet him in Amsterdam, where he is staking out Vicki Linden, a beautiful young South-West-African diamond-smuggler of German descent. She is reminiscent of the character Tiffany Case in Fleming’s novel Diamonds Are Forever, but somewhat softer and more naive (without being irritating). O’Brien is briefed by Van Dyck, an intelligence officer who seems to be working with the American embassy, who sends him on Vicki’s trail to South Africa.

When they meet, Vicki tells O’Brien that her ambition is to have a diamond ‘for every day in the week’. He asks how far she has come, and she wrinkles her nose and replies ‘Only Monday’, to which he retorts: ‘Give me the chance and I’ll try and dig up Tuesday for you.’

Despite the change from Blaize to O’Brien and the addition of new characters, Cleary’s screenplay is remarkably faithful to the tone of Fleming’s book, and takes a lot of cues from it. Cleary used locations, incidents, technical information and a lot of other elements and ideas from the book, and wove a thriller plot around them. The opening sequence is clearly inspired by the failed attempt to fly diamonds out from Chamaais Beach, although this time the plane doesn’t simply crash but explodes mid-air. China’s increasing interest in the illegal diamond trade, discussed at several points in the book, becomes the political backdrop of the plot; the description of security measures employed by mining companies is dramatised in a scene in which O’Brien is X-rayed; like Collard/Blaize, he makes use of a safe house in Johannesburg’s back streets; and so on.

It is a very different beast to the Bond films. There are no nuclear warheads or hidden lairs: it is, as Cleary says was the intention, a gritty, down-to-earth thriller. Nevertheless, there are some suitably baroque and Fleming-esque touches. One of the villains is a diamond-smuggler called Cuza, who weighs over four hundred pounds ‘but walks with a delicate step’ and likes eating chocolates: ‘Stone-bald, he wears dark glasses; a balloon head rests on a balloon body; he could be a clown or a killer.’

Cuza and his black sidekick Daniel work out of a windswept drive-in cinema projectionist’s office. In one memorable scene, Daniel stalks O’Brien with a sniper rifle from his position on a catwalk running along the top of the cinema screen.

Cuza is in competition with a villain in a similar mould to Fleming’s: Steven Halas is a wealthy German South-West-African businessman who likes giving lavish parties (at which he serves Bollinger ‘55) and taking photographs of big game, but beneath the veneer of sophistication he is greed personified. However, the real villain of the piece is revealed in the final act to be Ian Cameron, a womanising Scot who is the mine’s field manager, and who is gently reminiscent of both Bond and Fleming. This, presumably, is the role that had been earmarked for Todd.

As well as drawing incidents and ideas from Fleming’s book, the script is faithful to its tone, especially in its evocation of the sticky climate of fear and temptation permeating a diamond mining community. The shabbiness of O’Brien’s accommodation provokes the script’s one direct reference to Fleming’s best-known creation, when his colleague Spaak is amused at its unsuitability and asks what has become of spies who only operate in five-star hotels. ‘You need a nice low number,’ O’Brien replies, ‘Like 007. Whoever heard of a spy called 42663-stroke-12568?’ ‘What’s that?’ asks Spaak. ‘My social security number,’ comes the reply.

Highlights include two brutal hand-to-hand fights, one of which ends with the death of the monstrous Cuza, and a climactic car chase, which happens during an elephant stampede. All told, the script is a cracker: a taut thriller with believable characters, snappy dialogue and a compelling plot. Its strongest features are its evocation of the Skeleton Coast – you can almost feel the dust and the dirt of this place that ‘breeds seals, jackals and madmen’, as one character describes it – and the subtle shading of the relationship between O’Brien and Vicki. Cleary also added some extra spice to the traditional police/spy story with elements of the Western and film noir, in a manner occasionally reminiscent of Orson Welles’ A Touch Of Evil.

Two other non-Bond Fleming-related projects were filmed during the ‘60s: The Poppy Is Also A Flower, directed by Terence Young from an idea about opium-smuggling Fleming had considered shortly before his death, and the comedy extravaganza Casino Royale. But unlike those, Cleary’s script is free of troublesome plot holes, inconsistent characterisation and mixed tones.

According to Todd’s memoirs, in the summer of 1965 Rank signed an option to buy and produce the film, while on 14 June of that year, Willoughby wrote to John Collard to tell him that the production looked like it was back on the table:

‘You may recollect that we met a few years ago in connection with the proposed production of a film based on Ian Fleming’s “The Diamond Smugglers”. Due to various circumstances at the time, these plans did not materialise. It is now a possibility that I shall be able to set up a production on this subject.’ [23]

The letter is headed ‘Willoughby Film Productions Limited’ with an address in Sackville Street in London – but next to it Willoughby typed another address for Collard to reply to: Pinewood Studios, Iver Heath, Bucks.

Willoughby was contacting Collard again because he wanted his permission to use the character of John Blaize (the name O’Brien seemingly having been dropped). As a sweetener, he offered Collard a role as a technical adviser to the production.

Collard replied that De Beers should be consulted about the latest plans for the film, and asked for more details about it: would it be a documentary sticking closely to the book, or partly fictional? [24] On 21 June, Willoughby wrote to Collard again, writing that the film he had in mind was a ‘feature entertainment’, which would necessitate departing from Fleming’s book, as that had mainly consisted of ‘a number of incidents without a dramatic story line or link’. He understood that Collard might feel they were straying too far from the facts, but gave a surprising precedent for it:

‘Fleming himself wrote for the Rank Organisation, a film treatment on this subject and although he used the name of John Blaize for the hero, his treatment had, nevertheless, very little to do with the actual articles he wrote for the “Sunday Times”. [25]

This is the first mention of the existence of a film treatment for The Diamond Smugglers by Ian Fleming since The Bookseller’s report of its commissioning in 1957 – but it would not be the last. On 1 September 1965, Collard received a letter from B.J. Rudd, an old acquaintance, who had enclosed a small cutting from The Sun from 25 August, titled ‘Fleming film’:

‘An 18-page outline for a film about illicit diamond-buying written by Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, is to be turned into a £1,200,000 film.’ [26]

Collard and Willoughby, meanwhile, continued to correspond, with the producer revealing two new pieces of information in a letter on 27 August: a script was being completed by yet another writer, Anthony Dawson (‘who lives not far from you in Sussex’) and that the protagonist’s surname had now been changed from Blaize to Blaine, to avoid confusion with Modesty Blaise. [27]

For anyone familiar with the James Bond films, the reference to Anthony Dawson is almost surreal: could this be the British character actor who had played Professor Dent in Dr No and who had been the presence (although not the voice) of arch-villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in both From Russia With Love and Thunderball? It would seem so. Terence Young, who directed all three of those Bond entries, cast Dawson in several of his films, including Valley of Eagles and Action of the Tiger, both of which had had as associate producer one George Willoughby. It seems implausible that there were two Anthony Dawsons who worked on Ian Fleming projects in the Sixties, and that Willoughby collaborated with both. Dawson’s son confirms that his father lived in Sussex during this period, and wrote several film scripts [28]. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to locate any material relating to The Diamond Smugglers.

A few weeks later, Barbara Bladen, a critic at the San Mateo Times in California, reported breathlessly on the film in her column:

‘We’ll have start getting used to someone else playing James Bond in the Ian Fleming stories! Sean Connery has gone back to being Sean Connery and the Fleming pictures roll on. Latest before the cameras is “The Diamond Spy” on location in South Africa, Amsterdam and the Baltic coast of Germany. Richard Todd will play the slick agent. The author first wrote the book as a series of newspaper articles in 1957 and came out in book form as “The Diamond Smugglers.”‘ [29]

The changing of the protagonist from a newly coined character to the world-famous James Bond is probably either Willoughby or Bladen’s hyperbole – perhaps even a way around the fact that they had not yet resolved what to call the character. The locations listed are intriguing: South Africa and Amsterdam were both featured in Cleary’s 1964 screenplay, but the Baltic coast of Germany was not. Could there have been another script by this time – or did Willoughby merely have an idea for one?

The title ‘The Diamond Spy’, which now started appearing in the press, did not please John Collard. On 3 January 1966, he wrote to Willoughby at Pinewood:

‘If the revised title is seriously proposed, I am afraid that as far as I am concerned the film will start off on the wrong foot, whether it is described as fictional or coincidental, and the object of this letter is to advise you in the friendliest possible manner to bear in mind my personal interest and the need to consider the risk of libel.’ [30]

In a more placatory hand-written postscript, Collard explained that Fleming had originally planned on calling his book ‘The Diamond Spy’, but had changed it at Collard’s request: ‘The description “spy” carries with it a derogatory meaning,’ he explained to Willoughby, ‘and quite apart from its inappropriate use to describe “Blaize”, I myself take strong exception to it.’ The word ‘spy’ was often used in books and films at the time, and Fleming had of course used it in one of his titles, but Collard had worked for MI5, and in that and other intelligence agencies, the word was usually used to refer to informants and traitors.

Collard’s letter seems to have been the first between the two men since August 1965, but it begun another flurry of correspondence. Willoughby immediately tried to reassure Collard that ‘The Diamond Spy’ was merely a working title, which they were using ‘because this is the title Fleming used for his story-line’. He invited him to lunch the next time he was in London to tell him more about the film [31].

By now, Willoughby had hired Kingsley Amis as a ‘special story and script consultant’. This news was reported in the American film industry magazine Boxoffice in January 1966:

‘Kingsley Amis, novelist, critic and authority on the work of Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, has been engaged as special story and script consultant on the new £11/4 film of Fleming’s “The Diamond Spy”, it was announced last week by British producer George Willoughby. The film, to be made early next year by Willoughby, in association with Richard Todd’s independent company, is based on a story outline written by Ian Fleming but never completed by him. This outline was drafted by Fleming following his own investigations into international diamond smuggling, which he wrote up as a series of articles for a Sunday newspaper in 1957. Later, these articles were collected and published in book form under the title of “The Diamond Smugglers”.

Now Amis, author of the recently published “James Bond Dossier”, has been called in as a Fleming expert to develop the story, characters, situations and incidents so as to give “The Diamond Spy” film an authentic Fleming flavor. When he has completed this task, W. H. Canaway, who wrote the script of “The Ipcress File”, will take over all the material, from which he will write the final screenplay.’ [32]

This article repeated some material that had been published in Boxoffice in the same column a few months earlier [33], but the screenwriters’ names were new – and brought a significant amount of prestige and experience to the table. The Ipcress File, which had been produced by Harry Saltzman and featured the talents of several other Bond alumni, had been a great success, and Amis’ status as a Fleming ‘expert’ would receive another push later the same month, when it was announced that he had been commissioned to write the first James Bond novel since Fleming’s death.

On January 27 1966, Willoughby wrote to Collard to finalise the details of a meeting they were both to attend in London on 4 February:

‘Thos [sic] present at the meeting, in addition to myself, will be Mr Kenneth Hargreaves of Anglo Embassy Productions Ltd., and Mr David Deutsch of Anglo Amalgamated Film Distributors.’ [34]

It seems Willoughby had found yet new partners. Anglo Embassy was the English arm of Joseph E Levine’s Embassy Pictures, which had produced Zulu and The Carpetbaggers. Levine would go on to produce The Graduate, The Producers and The Lion In Winter. Anglo Amalgamated’s main claim to fame was the Carry On films, and in 1964 it had distributed The Masque of The Red Death, which Willoughby had associate-produced. But it was becoming increasingly high-brow, backing the first features of both John Boorman (Catch Us If You Can, released in 1965), and Ken Loach (Poor Cow, released in 1968). It had also released the highly controversial Peeping Tom in 1960.

On January 31, John Collard received a letter from Glidrose Productions: the owners of the James Bond literary copyright. It was from Beryl Griffie-Williams, ‘Griffie’, who had been Ian Fleming’s secretary. She enclosed a newspaper cutting about Anglo Amalgamated Distributors. It seems that in advance of his meeting with Willoughby, Hargeaves and Deutsch, Collard has asked Glidrose what they made of Anglo Amalgamated. Griffie-Williams wrote that the feeling was that they were not very ambitious, and that the resulting film might be ‘mediocre’. She also revealed that Rank were unwilling to sell the book’s film rights, which had been sold to them outright, but that despite Willoughby’s option with Rank being due to expire, the company were prepared to ‘play along’ with him. She added: ‘On checking past correspondence, it does seem that Willoughby will make an entirely different film from the book. He does, I think, intend to create a new character which he can follow up in any subsequent film.’ [35]

This was a potentially crucial point. Three years earlier, another independent producer, Kevin McClory, had provided a massive legal headache for Ian Fleming over Thunderball, and had won the right to remake that film (which he later did, as Never Say Never Again). As a result, Glidrose had sound reasons for wondering whether, were The Diamond Smugglers to prove a box office success, Willoughby and Todd might try to produce sequels to it featuring ‘John Blaine’. And if they did, who would own the rights to this character, who was an amalgam of a real secret agent, John Collard, a fictionalised version of him created by Ian Fleming, and a further re-imagining by Jon Cleary, Kingsley Amis and several other writers?


WE DON’T know what happened at Collard’s meeting with Willoughby, Hargreaves and Deutsch, but at any rate Willoughby pressed on. On 9 February 1966, another article appeared in The San Mateo Times, headlined ‘Newspaper Stories by Ian Fleming In Film’:

‘“The Diamond Spy”, an unpublished story by the late Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, will be brought to the screen by Joseph E. Levine’s Embassy Pictures in conjunction with Anglo Amalgamated Film Distributors, Ltd. of London, headed by Nat Cohen and Stuart Levy.

The five-million dollar co-production will be produced by George Willoughby, from screenplay by W. H. Cannaway [sic] and Kingsley Amis. Director and cast for the adventure-thriller have not yet been set. “The Diamond Spy” also will be based in part on a series of newspaper articles written by Fleming and published in paper-back form under the title, “Diamond Smugglers”. The story of the smashing of a huge international band of diamond racketeers, it will be filmed in color on location in South Africa, Beirut, Amsterdam, Germany and London. Embassy Pictures will distribute the film worldwide, with the exception of the United Kingdom. The last film venture involving the two companies was “Darling”, which has won acclaim at both the box-office and from critics everywhere.’ [36]

This was an advance on the article that had appeared in the same newspaper five months earlier. The ‘James Bond’ error was not repeated, although a new one was introduced – that the story was unpublished – and then contradicted. Two new locations were listed, Beirut and London, neither of which were in Cleary’s script.

The next piece of news came four days later, in one of Ian Fleming’s favourite newspapers, Jamaica’s Daily Gleaner. It was titled ‘Another Bond film’:

‘Of the making of James Bond films there seems to be no end. It has recently been announced that British novelist Kingsley Amis, an authority on the work of Ian Fleming, is to be special story and script consultant on “The Diamond Spy”, which George Willoughby is to make in association with Richard Todd’s independent company.

The film will be based upon a story outline which Fleming never completed. It was drafted after his investigations for the London Sunday Times into international diamond smuggling. The series of articles he wrote were later published in book form and entitled The Diamond Smugglers. The Diamond Spy, which is scheduled to cost about £1,500,000, will be filmed almost entirely on location in South Africa, Beirut, Amsterdam, the Baltic coast of The Federal Republic of Germany and London. It has not yet been announced who will play Bond.’ [37]

This is similar to the previous San Mateo Times piece, but Embassy and Anglo-Amalgamated have now been replaced by ‘Richard Todd’s independent company’ and we have another reference to an uncompleted story outline by Fleming. Canaway is not mentioned: in a letter to John Collard on 19 April 1966, Willoughby explained that he had fallen ill and been replaced by Robert Muller, who had completed his first draft that week. Muller was a former theatre and film critic who had written for the prestigious Armchair Theatre TV series in Britain; he later married the actress Billie Whitelaw. As with the outlines by Fleming and Amis and the work of Derry Quinn and Anthony Dawson, the whereabouts of his script are unknown.


ON 14 March 1966, Boxoffice reported that Nat Cohen had left for New York the previous week for ‘a series of production discussions’ about four projected Anglo-Amalgamated films: an adaptation of Far From The Madding Crowd, slated to star Julie Christie; Rocket To The Moon, based on Jules Verne’s novel; Lock Up Your Daughters!, the Lionel Bart musical; and The Diamond Spy, ‘based on the Ian Fleming story’. [38] The other three films would all be produced and released within the next three years: only the Fleming project failed to make it onto celluloid.

Willoughby’s letter to Collard on 19 April had contained another oddity: instead of the usual ‘Willoughby Film Productions Limited’ heading, the letterhead now read ‘Cleon Productions Limited,’ and listed the company’s directors as Richard Todd and George W. Willoughby. The company was mentioned in another article in the San Mateo Times – evidently Willoughby’s preferred outlet for his press releases – in August 1966:

‘Film on Diamond Racketeers Being Made From Fleming Book

Robert Muller has been set to prepare the final screenplay of Joseph E Levine’s “The Diamond Spy”, the unpublished story by the late Ian Fleming, which will be bought to the screen by Levine’s Embassy Pictures in conjunction with Nat Cohen’s Cleon Productions Ltd.

The five-million-dollar co-production will be produced by George Willoughby, and is tentatively set to go before the color cameras late this year. The story of the smashing of a huge international band of diamond racketeers, it will be filmed in color on location in South Africa, Beirut, Amsterdam, West Germany and London.

Embassy Pictures will distribute the film worldwide, with the exception of the United Kingdom.’ [39]

So it would appear that Nat Cohen had set up a new company with Willoughby and Todd, Cleon Productions. Perhaps it was a cheeky take on Eon, with Cohen and Levine’s initials added.

On June 7 1966, Willoughby wrote to Collard to invite him to a meeting at his offices with the director John Boorman, then just starting out on his career [40]. But at this point, the correspondence and the newspaper articles dry up – it seems that Willoughby had finally run out of steam. Expectations for the project had changed: from the early idea that it should not try to emulate the James Bond films but have its own flavour, as time went on, the pressure had increased to make it more Bond-like. In a letter to John Collard on June 1 1966, Willoughby had said that the film’s distributors ‘equate Fleming with Bond and our difficulty is to strike a story line that has all the excitement that people expect from Fleming’s stories, without going into the ridiculous fantasy of the present Bond films’. [41]


SOON AFTER this, it seems the project finally petered out, and The Diamond Smugglers went the way of countless other film projects – although not for want of trying. Kingsley Amis returned to writing novels, and a couple of years later was commissioned to write the first post-Fleming Bond adventure, which was published as Colonel Sun.

COLONEL SUN BANTAMDS High Commissioner_0002

Bob Parrish became one of the five directors to work on Charles Feldman’s Bond spoof Casino Royale, while John Boorman went on to direct the likes of Point Blank, Deliverance and The Tailor of Panama. Richard Todd continued his career as an actor on stage and screen until his death from cancer in December 2009. John Collard died in 2002, aged 89.

Jon Cleary became a best-selling thriller-writer, penning a long-running series about a Sydney cop called Scobie Malone. The first novel in the series, The High Commissioner, was published in 1966. Malone is charged with arresting the Australian High Commissioner in London for murder, but finds he has to stop an assassination plot against the same man by a gang of Vietnamese terrorists. The character of Malone – tough but honest, laconic but empathetic – is not a million miles from Roy O’Brien. By the end of the novel, Malone has fallen in love with a young Dutch-born Australian girl called Lisa Pretorious, herself not dissimilar to Vicki Linden; they later marry. At one point in the novel Malone lets slip to Lisa that he is a civil servant, and she asks if he has a number, ‘like James Bond’ [42]. The book was filmed in 1968 as Nobody Runs Forever, with Rod Taylor as Malone; Ralph Thomas directed.

According to Cleary, the death knell for The Diamond Smugglers was internal politics at Rank. ‘Rank liked my script,’ he says. ‘But then Earl St John, who was handling the project there, fell ill. A London lawyer whose name I forget [Michael Stanley-Evans] succeeded him, and his first step was to publicly announce that he was discontinuing all projects that had been started by St John.’

Cleary remains justifiably proud of his screenplay of The Diamond Smugglers: as well as being a gripping story, it has the DNA of Fleming’s book running through it, and is infused with both the intrigues of the diamond-smuggling business and the dramatic landscape of South Africa. It remains a fascinating what-if in cinema history, as we are left to wonder what impact it might have had if George Willoughby had succeeded in bringing it to cinema screens in the Sixties, and John Blaine had battled it out with James Bond at the box office.

With many thanks to the Collard family.


1. The Letters of Kingsley Amis, edited by Zachary Leader (HarperCollins, 2001), pp664-665.
2. United Artists: The Company that Changed the Film Industry by Tino Balio (University of Wisconsin Press, 1987), p257.
3. In Camera: An Autobiography Continued by Richard Todd (Hutchinson, 1989), p205.
4. Personal correspondence with Fergus Fleming, January 27 2010.
5. Ian Fleming by Andrew Lycett (Phoenix, 1996), p258.
6. Obituary of John Collard, The Times, 13 November 2002.
7. Lycett, p310.
8. ‘Memorandum on diamond-buying operations in Liberia, April/May 1955’, annotated by Ian Fleming, in John Collard’s papers. John Collard’s book, correspondence and other papers, all courtesy of Paul Collard and the Collard family. Henceforth Collard Papers.
9. ‘Shaken, stirred, but alive’, David Lister, The Independent on Sunday, 19 November 1995.
10. James Bond: The Man and His World by Henry Chancellor (John Murray, 2005), p113.
11. The Diamond Smugglers by Ian Fleming (Pan, 1965 edition), p150.
12. Lycett, p316.
13. Chancellor, p85.
14. ‘The Ian Fleming Collection of 19th-20th Century Source Material Concerning Western Civilization together with the Originals of the James Bond-007 Tales’, Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, United States.
15. Lycett, p264.
16. The Bookseller, Compendium of Issues 2698-2714 (Publishers’ Association, Booksellers Association of Great Britain and Ireland, 1957), p1808.
17. In Camera, p187.
18. Ibid., p215.
19. Ibid., p237.
20. This and all subsequent Jon Cleary quotes from a telephone conversation with the author, 30 November 2007.
21. The Ageless Land: The Story of South-West Africa by Olga Levinson (Tafelberg, 1961).
22. All quotes from The Diamond Smugglers by Jon Cleary courtesy of Jon Cleary; Curtis Brown, London; and the Mitchell Library, the State Library of New South Wales, Australia.
23. Letter from George Willoughby to John Collard, 14 June 1965. Collard Papers.
24. Letter from John Collard to George Willoughby, 17 June 1965. Collard Papers.
25. Letter from George Willoughby to John Collard, 21 June 1965. Collard Papers.
26. Letter from B.J. Rudd to John Collard, 1 September 1965, with cutting from The Sun attached. Collard Papers. According to Andrew Lycett, Ian Fleming had told Rank at the time they had taken the option on The Diamond Smugglers that he would provide them with a ‘full story outline’ for a further £1,000, but would not be able to bind himself to writing ‘the master scene script’ or to be available in England for consultations. Lycett, p317.
27. Letter from George Willoughby to John Collard, 27 August 1965. Collard Papers.
28. Personal correspondence with Anthony Dawson Jr, 2007-2009.
29. ‘The Marquee column’, Barbara Bladen. p21, San Mateo Times, California, United States, 16 September 1965.
30. Letter from John Collard to George Willoughby, 3 January 1966. Collard Papers.
31. Letter from George Willoughby to John Collard, 11 January 1966. Collard Papers.
32. Anthony Gruner, ‘London Report’, Boxoffice, 3 January 1966. The same column also announced that Ursula Andress and David Niven were to join Peter Sellers in the cast of Charles Feldman’s Casino Royale.
33. Anthony Gruner, ‘London Report’, Boxoffice, 29 November 1965.
34. Letter from George Willoughby to John Collard, 27 January 1966. Collard Papers.
35. Letter from Beryl Griffie-Williams to John Collard, 31 January 1966. Collard Papers.
36. San Mateo Times, California, 9 February 1966. An almost identically worded paragraph appeared in Anthony Gruner’s ‘London Report’ column in Boxoffice on 7 February 1966.
37. The Gleaner, Jamaica, 13 February 1966.
38. Anthony Gruner, ‘London Report’, Boxoffice, 14 March 1966.
39. San Mateo Times, California, 26 August 1966.
40. Letter from George Willoughby to John Collard, 7 June 1966. Collard Papers.
41. Letter from George Willoughby to John Collard, 1 June 1966. Collard Papers.
42. The High Commissioner by Jon Cleary (Fontana, 1983 edition), p62.

Posted in 007 In Depth, Africa, Articles, Diamond Smugglers, Gregory Ratoff, Ian Fleming, James Bond, Jon Cleary, Kingsley Amis, Modesty Blaise, Richard Maibaum, Richard Todd, Sixties, South Africa, Steve McQueen, The Sunday Times | 1 Comment

An extract from The Moscow Option

Sunday, 11 March 1945.

I was lost.

The Baltic lay beneath me, patches of ice glowing faintly in the moonlight, but I had no idea which part of Åland I was over, or even if I was over it at all. Templeton had marked Degerby on the chart, but the scale was too small and I had the growing sense that I was going around in circles. The wireless set wouldn’t help: Templeton wouldn’t have made it to his location yet and I didn’t dare land.

A sudden gust of turbulence slammed me against the side of the cockpit and I desperately tried to keep my hands gripped on the control column, fighting down the panic as my mind was filled with the consequences of failure. Templeton would have to send a signal back to London: man down, operation unsuccessful, please send replacement agent, this time make sure it’s someone with an ounce of bloody… And then, just as suddenly as it had hit, the wind subsided. I slumped back in the seat, my forehead soaked with sweat and my heart still racing, and managed to right the craft. Glancing down again, I realized I had dipped dangerously low. The ice was interrupted here and there by islets, and I glimpsed miniature coiled pine trees and pinkish rocks beneath the patches of ice. But there, over to the west, a lonely dot of orange light glowed like the tip of a cigarette. I consulted the chart, and did some quick calculations in my head.

Yes. It was Degerby.

I headed for it, lifting the nose but decreasing airspeed, and the shoreline began to take a sharper shape, until I could make out small wooden cabins dotted among the trees. A jetty came into view and I wheeled into a wind current and brought her down as gently as I could, the waves kicking up in a luminous curve of white spray. I lined up with the jetty and slowly brought her to a standstill, then climbed out.

I took in a lungful of air, savouring the freshness and the smell of the water, and then exhaled, my breath misting. I anchored, and took in my surroundings as the sweat finally started to cool on my skin. I was in a small bay, and it looked so peaceful in the moonlight, the water a perfect mirror reflecting the shoreline, that it was hard to imagine such a thing as war even existed. The wind had now vanished, as suddenly as it had appeared just minutes earlier.

The jetty led up to a rocky plateau, on which I could make out the outlines of some low buildings. I began walking towards them, but as I approached the shore I saw a silhouetted figure standing a few feet ahead of me. Before I had a chance to react, the figure had stepped forward, and the harbour lighting illuminated a stout man in a coat and cap with a deeply weathered face.

‘Kjell Lundström,’ he said in a deep baritone. ‘Chief Constable of Degerby.’

I offered him my hand. ‘Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Dark. I’ve come about the German.’

His grip was hard, even through my thick gloves. ‘We have been expecting you. But I understood that Colonel Presnakov was to come by boat. We received no word of a seaplane.’

‘Presnakov is on his way,’ I said, replying in Swedish. ‘I’m a British officer from the Allied Control Commission in Helsinki.’

He didn’t answer for a moment, taking this in. Then he said: ‘I didn’t know Helsinki had been informed.’

‘A last-minute change of plan,’ I said. ‘Someone higher up the chain of command decided it was important, and it wasn’t my place to argue. I’m no happier about it than you are – I’d rather be asleep in my bed.’

He smiled at that, and I breathed an inward sigh of relief. My cover had, at least for the moment, been accepted.

‘Your Swedish is excellent,’ he said, as he helped me off the jetty and onto the rocks. ‘Have you been here before?’

‘No,’ I said. ‘But my mother’s family has property in Eckerö.’

Lundström didn’t reply, but I sensed he was satisfied with that answer. Russians were hated in this part of the world, so he no doubt felt more comfortable with a Swedish-speaking Brit with connections to the place, however tenuous they might be. He led me up a narrow pathway through the pines until we reached a small wooden shed, painted red with white window frames in the traditional style.

‘Shall I show you the body, then?’ he said, and now it was my turn to smile – it was a truism that Finns never wasted words, and even though these islands were Swedish-speaking it seemed that some of the Finnish spirit had rubbed off.

‘Please,’ I said.

Lundström removed some keys from his pocket and unlocked the door.


It was a waiting hall: freezing cold and lit by a single bulb, with two low benches against one wall. There was a long table in the middle of the room, and on it, half covered in a tarpaulin sheet, lay the corpse. I asked Lundström how many others had seen it, and he told me that so far only himself, his son, who acted as his assistant, and the coroner who had conducted the autopsy had done so.

‘And the men who found him, of course. Two fishermen. They were out at Klåvskär when they saw something dark sticking up through the ice. One of them called me, so I took my son out to have a look.’

‘So it’s safe to walk on the ice at the moment?’

‘Oh, yes – it’s a few inches thick. We use picks to check it as we go along. That was what we used to get him out, in fact. Because what they’d seen was his head poking up through the ice, so we used a pick to cut him free. We put him on a sled and brought him back here for the autopsy. Drowning and exhaustion, the doctor said.’

I tried to imagine these grim tasks being conducted just a few hours earlier – the trek across the ice with the corpse on the sled.

‘How far away is Klåvskär?’ I asked.

‘It’s on the other side of this island.’ He reached into a pocket and brought out a chart, which he unfolded and held up to the light. He bit his lip while he searched it and then, after a few moments, pointed a stubby finger triumphantly at a spot to the east and gestured for me to take a look. ‘This was where they found him, in fact: Skepparskär.’ I stared at the miniscule dot. Templeton had been right. It couldn’t possibly be a provocation: there would have been no guarantee anyone would ever find the body in such a location.

Lundström folded the map back up and replaced it in his coat. ‘He will be buried in the village church tomorrow,’ he said. ‘They have a special section for foreigners washed ashore.’

I looked up. ‘Oh? Have there been many?’

‘This is the seventh this winter. We had one coming from Riga in almost exactly the same spot in November. The currents move from the Estonian coast straight here.’

So it wasn’t such an unusual spot to find a body. But still – two fishermen chancing by? I wouldn’t base a deception operation on it. And seven bodies in one place was not all that many. There must be hundreds, if not thousands, scattered around the Baltic from sunken ships.

I nodded at Lundström, and he leaned forward and drew the tarpaulin to one side, revealing the body. I caught my breath and crossed myself. My country and his might be at war, but this had nevertheless been a fellow human being, and ideologies no longer counted for anything – at least, not for him.

He had been a tall man, perhaps six foot. His cap and boots were missing, but the rest of his uniform was intact, although it had been unbuttoned, presumably for the autopsy. The body looked to be in good condition, the hands and feet bare but unscathed, and not even frozen. The head was another matter. This was what had caught the fishermen’s attention, and I understood why. It was a hideous shade of dark grey, and the left eye was badly disfigured, perhaps from having hit a rock or something similar. His throat, mouth and nose were covered in blood, some of which looked fresh. Lundström noticed my curiosity.

‘He was wearing a life-jacket, but it was frozen to his back. When we turned him over to take it off, the blood came pouring out of him.’

I nodded, and bent a little closer. Beneath the frozen horror I could make out the remnants of an aristocratic face, a sweep of hair, a moustache and a small beard. Templeton had told me that the Admiralty listed von Trotha’s date of birth as 1916 – could this man have been twenty-nine? It was hard to tell.

‘Did the coroner estimate an age?’

Lundström nodded. ‘Around thirty.’

I’d take his word for it.

There were no goggles or escape equipment. I tried to think what must have happened. Had he gone up to the conning tower to check something, and then they’d hit a mine? He could have been thrown into the air and then fallen into the sea, only for the currents to carry him up here.

I shuddered at the thought.

I lifted the identity disc from his neck and read: ‘Wilhelm von Trotha. Seeoffizer 1936.’ That must have been when he passed out. His effects had been placed in a wooden box next to him, and I sifted through them, feeling uncomfortably like a looter. There was a pocket watch and a wristwatch, both edged with rust.

‘We wound the watch,’ said Lundström. ‘It still works.’

I saw he was right: the hand was sweeping slowly around the face. How long could he have been in the water, then, for the mechanism not to have frozen? Templeton had said his last signal had been over a month ago. Was it possible he had been in the water that long? I picked through the rest of the items: a folding knife, a pen, several reichsmarks, a nail file. I glanced at his hands. His nails had turned black, but his fingers were long and slender. For some reason, I suddenly saw him as a character in a Tolstoy story, the officer in his dazzling uniform visiting his country estate, playing the piano and then returning to his naval base and to the bowels of his craft.

I took a deep breath and returned to the pile of effects. There was a gold tooth – a relative’s, perhaps? – a small mirror and, yes, there it was, just peeking out…

A booklet.

It was yellow, slim, with ‘Soldbuch’ printed on the cover in Gothic text. These, I knew from my training, were given to all German military, and contained the bearer’s service record, vaccination and other medical details, as well as space for their own entries. Templeton was hoping von Trotha might have written down what cargo his boat was carrying, and left clues as to where it might have sunk. I picked up the book and waved it at Lundström.

‘I’ll take this,’ I said. He nodded soberly.

I opened the booklet, and as I did, a loose sheaf fell out and fluttered to the floor. I bent to pick it up, and my heart started beating faster. It was an envelope.

Sealed orders…’

Extracted from The Moscow Option (Simon & Schuster).

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An extract from Free Agent

‘Monday, 24 March 1969, Lagos, Nigeria

The arrivals terminal was heavy with sweat and frustration. A solitary fan turned high above us at an agonizing pace, while passengers stood around an unmanned desk waiting for their luggage to be brought from the plane. Thankfully, I just had my one bag, so I walked straight through to the passport control area.

There it was even worse. The queues were enormous, interlocking and unmoving. I picked one of the lines at random and joined it. As on the plane, there were a handful of white people – aid workers and diplomats, I guessed – but the rest were Nigerian. All around me, conversations were being held, sometimes in local dialects but mainly in pidgin English, which Pritchard’s dossier had told me was the lingua franca. I spent a few minutes tuning in, managing to pick out words here and there, accustoming myself to the tones in which it was used. It seemed an exuberant, rich language, a world away from the Pritchards and Osbornes of the world. The clothing was a mixture of African and Western, but there was exuberance in that, too. Businessmen in Western-style suits clutched important-looking briefcases, while matronly women in multi-coloured loose-fitting dresses sported thin Cartier watches. Soldiers wandered between the lines, looking over passengers and prodding their rifles into bags. They were young and arrogant, and just the look of them brought the reality of the situation home more than the endless statistics and prolix phrases of Pritchard’s report. Something about them chilled the bones.

They seemed just as interested in me. Within less than ten minutes of my entering the hall, a pattern of surveillance had closed in around me: two by the gates, one by the toilets, and a small, neat-looking man in a beret operating them with nods from next to the telephones. There was nothing I could do about it. I was a journalist, and any move I made would only make things worse. They had probably marked me out because I was a white man they didn’t recognize – the aid workers they would know. It was normal. Relax.

It was getting on eleven by the time I made it to the front of the queue. The clerk had a long, narrow face and thick glasses. Behind him was draped the country’s flag – vertical strips of green, white and green. He picked up my passport and started to leaf through it slowly. I wasn’t worried – the document had been made in precisely the same way as if it had been genuine. He stopped at the back page.

‘Press?’ he said.


He looked troubled at this. He leaned down and took some papers from a drawer, then placed them in front of him and started reading, tracing the miniature lines of text with a finger. I had a mounting sense of unease. Had Dobson let me down? Surely my accreditation had come through?

The clerk suddenly glanced up at me, a pained expression on his face.

‘What’s wrong?’ I asked. ‘What’s the—’

He was looking behind me. I turned. There were four of them. Quite a party. Broad chests and muscle visible under their uniforms, and patterns of scars down their cheeks. It was no use struggling – there’d be more of them elsewhere in the building, and I wouldn’t have a hope. They’d shoot me in the leg, or send a car to get me. And then I’d have a real job explaining my behaviour.

‘You come this way,’ one of them said, and pushed a rifle into my back.

Do nothing. They just want money, beer, cigarettes. Pay them, get out of here, and get to work.

Do nothing.


They took me down a narrow, unlit staircase and shoved me into a sparse, harshly lit room.

‘Wait here.’

They slammed the door and I listened to their footsteps recede. I looked around the room: it contained two hard-backed chairs, a low table, and some brochures advertising the International Year of African Tourism.

After ten minutes spent reading the brochures, the door opened and the small man in the beret walked in, followed by several of his men. His uniform was immaculate, his beret trimmed with gold braid. In one hand, he gripped a riding crop.

‘Good evening,’ he said. ‘I am Colonel Bernard Alebayo of the Third Marine Commando Division. Who are you?’

I took out my passport and offered it to him. He took it, but didn’t open it. ‘Your full name, please.’

‘Robert David Peter Kane,’ I said.

‘That is more like it. Thank you. Cooperate with me and we will get along.’ He smiled genially. He looked very young. ‘Are you in Nigeria for business or pleasure?’

I examined his face. He appeared to be serious.

‘Business,’ I said.

‘And what is your profession, Mister Kane?’

‘If you look at my passport—’

‘I am not interested in your passport at this particular moment,’ he said, smiling sweetly again. ‘I want to hear it from the horse’s mouth, as it were.’ He spoke English quickly and precisely, accentuating each word in an almost sing-song fashion.

I’d known who he was before he introduced himself: he’d been all over Pritchard’s dossier. Alebayo, ‘The Panther’, was the Nigerian army’s most famous commander. Trained at Sandhurst – like most of the military leaders on both sides of this war – he had a reputation for brutality and unpredictability. He was known to despise do-gooders, politicians and journalists.

‘I’m a journalist,’ I said.

He stroked his chin.

‘For which newspaper?’

I told him.

‘Ah,’ he said. ‘The famous Times of London.’ He walked around the table, his boots squeaking. ‘Of course, we have our own Times here.’ He swivelled and faced me. ‘Not perhaps as large a publication, or as renowned globally, but, nevertheless, quite respectable on a national level.’ He looked down at his reflection in his boots for a moment. ‘Yes, quite respectable.’

I murmured interest as best I could, and wondered where on earth this was heading.

Alebayo opened my passport, held it away from him as though it were contaminated, and squinted at my photograph.

‘Do you know Mister Winston Churchill?’ he asked, suddenly.

‘My colleague, or his grandfather?’

‘Are your articles as facetious as your speech, Mister Kane? Your colleague.’

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I know him. I wouldn’t say we were friends—’

‘Well, then,’ he interrupted, ‘as your newspaper has sent you to “cover” events here, you have presumably been “boning up” on what Mister Churchill has already written about this country in your newspaper? Yes?’

‘Of course.’ It had been Churchill who had alleged that the Federal pilots were targeting Biafra’s civilian population. His articles had caused such an outcry that Parliament had held another emergency debate on the war – the same debate in which Wilson had announced his trip.

‘Your colleague appears to believe we are savages, Mister Kane,’ said Alebayo. ‘Cold-blooded killers, devoid of any moral sense.’

He suddenly held back his head and laughed, and his soldiers joined in, until he whipped the table with his crop, and the laughter abruptly stopped. It was like a very bad opera production.

‘Can you imagine it, Mister Kane? The cheek of the grandson of Winston Churchill to write such a thing! Has he forgotten Dresden?’

‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘You’ll have to ask him.’ The analogy didn’t seem fair, somehow, but I wasn’t going to get into it.

He leaned in again. ‘Do you intend to file the same species of report as your colleague?’

‘I don’t think so,’ I said. ‘Lagos is four hundred miles from the fighting.’

‘Quite so,’ he said. ‘You are a sharp one, my friend.’ He was pacing around, confusing the flies buzzing about his face. ‘So what will you be writing about? Expatriate dinner parties? Our local cuisine? What are your editor’s orders?’

‘Colour stories,’ I said.

He bristled. ‘I am so sorry, I didn’t quite hear. Could you please repeat yourself?’

I reminded myself to choose my words rather more carefully. ‘A picture of life in the capital of a country at war. What the feeling is in the corridors of power, how negotiations are going, that sort of—’

‘Are those what you call “colour stories”?’ he said.

I nodded.

‘I could tell you a few others. But perhaps your readership wouldn’t be interested in hearing the reverse side of the coin.’

‘We’re interested in the truth,’ I said, and he laughed again.

‘Let me be honest with you, Mister Kane. I do not like journalists. In fact, more often than not, I find them repellent – vultures circling around others’ misery, looking for something to misconstrue.’ He said the word beautifully, savouring its syllables. He was watching me very keenly. ‘Are you certain you are a journalist? You don’t look much like one.’

‘What do I look like?’ I asked.

‘I’m not sure.’ He used one hand to squeeze my right bicep through my shirt. ‘But this arm has lifted more than a Parker pen in its time, I think. Perhaps you are a mercenary? I could use a few decent mercenaries at this particular moment. Were you ever in the army, Mister Kane?’

‘Where’s this going?’ I said, cranking up my indignant civilian act. ‘I demand to see someone from the British—’

‘Were you ever in the army, Mister Kane?

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘A long time ago. But, look, I’m an accredited member of the press, I have all the necessary visas – why am I being detained?’

‘Because I don’t like the look of you,’ he said. ‘Your newspaper already has several correspondents in Nigeria, and I find it hard to believe it would suddenly have a need for “colour stories” hundreds of miles away from where anything of real colour is happening. So I want to know more.’ He leaned in to look at me, his nostrils flaring.

‘The British prime minister is visiting,’ I said. ‘On Thursday. I’m to report on that, too.’

‘Ah, yes,’ he said. ‘Of course. Our dear and esteemed Mister Harold Wilson. I had heard mention of that. How fortunate for us all that he has decided to pay a visit. How newsworthy.’ He tilted his head and looked at me as though I were a Picasso he suspected had been hung upside down. ‘Do you know what the rebels call your prime minister, Mister Kane?’

‘No,’ I said, wearily. I was losing so much time it didn’t bear thinking about.

‘“Herod”,’ he said, grinning. ‘Or sometimes “Herod Weasel”.’ He walked behind my back now, his heels clicking loudly. ‘You maintain you are a journalist!’ he suddenly shouted into my ear, making me jump. ‘And yet your press accreditation only came through tonight. Please explain, Mister Kane!’ He whipped the crop against the desk again, almost as though he felt he had to.

So that was it. I hadn’t thought they’d be quite so hot on it.

‘A colleague at the front was due to cover the trip,’ I said, as calmly as I could. ‘He cabled yesterday to say he was ill and wouldn’t be able to make it back to Lagos in time, so my editor decided to send me out on the first available flight instead. That’s why I’ve only just been accredited.’

Alebayo was silent for a moment.

‘Are you perhaps a spy, Mister Kane?’ he said, quietly.

I looked up at him. ‘A spy?’

‘Yes. A secret agent like your Double Oh Seven, saving the world from villains and foes… Amusing that you British have taken so long to realize that you no longer have an empire.’

‘Isn’t this approach unwise?’ I said. ‘My readers will be most interested to know how the Federal army treats the citizens of valued allies.’

‘I think I will decide what is wise here – not you. There have been plenty of misleading reports about me in your newspapers already. I cannot imagine another will do any further harm. That is, if you ever succeed in filing a report on this little meeting.’ He turned to the largest of his thugs. ‘Is the transport ready?’ The thug nodded. ‘Good.’ He turned back to me. ‘Perhaps a visit to one of our prisons would provide some good material for your editor? Some “colour”?’

‘This is outrageous!’ I said, and now my indignation was only half-acted. ‘Call my office in London! Call the British High Commission! I demand—’

‘Please, Mister Kane, save your tantrums. They will not do you any good here.’ He stood a little straighter and adjusted his beret. ‘I must now return to Port Harcourt, where I have many things to attend to. There is the small matter of a war to win. But you will be well looked after by my boys here, I promise. And they may even discover what it is you came here for…’

There was a sudden banging at the door, and Alebayo glanced sharply in its direction. He nodded at one of the thugs, who walked over and opened it. Framed in the light was a large white man with a crumpled red face, wearing what looked to be a pair of pyjamas…’

From Free Agent.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Secreted in fiction

A recent post over at the excellent website The Deighton Dossier reminded me of a spy novel I recently enjoyed, Dan Fesperman’s The Double Game, in which the worlds of real espionage and spy fiction become entangled.

I’ve previously written about the ways in which spy fiction can influence spy fact, but I came across an intriguing example of this when writing my non-fiction book on the Oleg Penkovsky operation, Dead Drop. My research involved interviewing surviving members of the operation, consulting all the available declassified material on it, including debrief transcripts, memoirs, articles and documentaries – and reading spy fiction.

Three novels were particularly helpful. The first was The Russia House by John le Carré, which was loosely based on the operation and which contains several details suggesting inside knowledge of it, perhaps as a result of le Carré’s long friendship with Dickie Franks, who recruited Greville Wynne for MI6 and would later become ‘C’. One snippet, for example, is that the operation in the novel is run from a CIA-funded command centre in London – I discovered in my research that the CIA did fund such a centre, in Pall Mall, but this hadn’t been revealed in any previous literature.

The second spy novel I read was Wages of Treason by Paul Garbler, who was the CIA station chief in Moscow during the operation (its first station chief in the city, in fact), but later came under suspicion of being a traitor in the feverish molehunts of James Jesus Angleton. His novel, self-published in 2004, was an attempt to explain how Angleton had been fooled by a Soviet deception operation into seeing moles where there were none, and also provided some insights into how Penkovsky was handled, and how the CIA worked in Moscow.

The third novel was a Russian one: Julian Semyonov’s TASS Upolnomochen Zaiavit (‘TASS Is Authorized To Announce’), published in 1979, which I had read a few years earlier but which my other research suggested contained incidents that closely echoed the Penkovsky operation. It’s hardly surprising that a Soviet spy novel would draw on one of the most famous operations of the Cold War, just as le Carré had done: in the Soviet Union, Penkovsky was as famous as Kim Philby was in Britain. However, as in The Russia House, some information in the novel wasn’t public knowledge at the time it was published. And one plot point suggested a way that the KGB could have realized the CIA and MI6 were running an agent in Moscow.


Semyonov – whose real surname was Landres – was one of the Soviet Union’s most popular spy novelists. His war-time thriller Semnadtsat mgnoveniy vesny (‘Seventeen Moments of Spring’), was made into the country’s most successful and best-loved television series. In a fascinating filmed conversation with Graham Greene in his home in Antibes in 1989 – in which he persuades Greene to sign one of his novels for Raisa Gorbachev – Semyonov revealed that Yuri Andropov called him out of the blue in the summer of 1967, shortly after he had been appointed head of the KGB, and asked if he would be interested in being given access to the organization’s operational archives.

From then on, he told Greene, Andropov had ‘supported him a lot’, although he had occasionally objected to a passage, saying ‘Julian, it is impossible to publish this, because you have bitten us more than Mr Solzhenitsyn!’ On those occasions, instead of cutting his text, Andropov had suggested that Semyonov simply ‘add three lines’ presenting the opposing view: ‘thesis and antithesis’ was the best method. Semyonov told Greene he had never had any problems with censorship as a result, because he simply always added the proverbial three lines presenting the other side of the argument. In another account of this incident, Semyonov said of TASS Is Authorized To Announce: ‘If I asked Mr. Andropov to give me materials, of course he liked my books, and he will give me these materials.’ He also interviewed several KGB officers for the novel.[1]

Having been called by the head of the KGB in this way made for an entertaining anecdote, but the reality must have been at least a little problematic. On the one hand, he was being given an extraordinary opportunity – what spy novelist wouldn’t leap at the chance of being given access to a secret agency’s most classified operational files? On the other hand, even with Andropov’s three lines he would not be free to treat the material however he wished.

His solution was to push the three lines as far as he could. While much of the novel reads like crude propaganda to Western readers today, at times he appears to have been playing a double game. To the KGB and their censors it may have seemed as if he had done precisely what they had wanted him to do, which was to produce an exciting story in which heroic Soviet agents thwarted ruthless imperialist hyenas. But between the lines, Semyonov smuggled through slivers of satire and criticism of the Soviet system. The wife of one of his protagonists, KGB officer Konstantinov, works as an editor at a publishing house, and he berates her over a manuscript she has asked him to read, calling it a collection of clichés: ‘the bad factory director and the good party organizer, the innovator whom they gagged at first and who in the end gets a medal, the one drunkard in the whole of the workshop… Why do people have to lie so? If there was only one drunkard in ever factory shop, I’d be placing lighted candles in the church! The desire to please – whoever you are trying to please – is a form of insincerity. And then public opinion suddenly realises what is going on, and everyone starts shouting: “Where have all the whitewashers sprung from?”’

It’s mild by modern comparisons, but in 1979, in a novel approved by the head of the KGB and using KGB materials, quite a remarkable thing to have written. He got away with it by balancing it with more obviously ingratiating material. At one point, KGB officer Vitaly Slavin teases undercover CIA officer John Glebb that he would like to make a film: ‘Or not so much make as finish one off. Take From Russia With Love – all I would add is just one more shot! I would put it in just after Bond carried off the coding girl in triumph to London. Just a single line on the screen: “Operation Implant successful. Over to you, Katya Ivanova…”’

This was clearly a crowd-pleasing dig at one of the Soviet Union’s most loathed propaganda figures, James Bond, which also celebrates Russian intelligence’s fondness for maskirovka: deception operations. It is a clever piece of propaganda in itself: an apparent Soviet defeat turned to a cunning victory with a twist at the last moment, MI6′s great triumph revealed as the first stage in a plan to infiltrate a Soviet agent into Britain.

Having warmed the patriotic cockles of his readership, and hopefully had the KGB censors smiling benignly down on his manuscript, Semyonov then added another layer. Konstantinov and his wife visit a film director, Ukhov, who is making a spy thriller. Konstantinov is, on the surface, simply being asked his professional advice as a KGB officer about the authenticity of the film: in reality, there is a more sinister subtext. He is acting as its censor, in just the same way Semyonov’s books, and indeed the films adapted from them, were being overseen by Andropov. Ukhov shows a scene in which his lead actor plays a traitor to the Soviet Union:

‘In the next sequence, the actor tried the role of a spy. Konstantinov immediately reacted against his hunted look: from the very first shot, he conveyed terror and hatred.

“It would be no fun chasing him,” he observed. “You could see him a mile off!”

“So what? Do you want us to make the enemy heroic?” Ukhov exclaimed. “They’d have my head!”

“Who?” Lida asked, placing her hand on her husband’s cold fingers. “Who would have your head?”

“I’m afraid it would be your husband, first and foremost.”

“Nonsense,” Konstantinov’s face puckered. “If you remember, right through the film I’ve kept emphasizing that your enemies seem naive and stupid. Whereas they have intelligence and talent – that’s right, talent!”

“Can I quote you, when I speak to the Artistic Committee?”

“Don’t bother, I can say it myself. I feel sorry, not so much for the audience as for a talented actor. It’s humiliating to be forced to speak a lie, while making out it’s the truth.’”

Semyonov appears to have discovered an ingenious way of skirting his own Artistic Committee. On the one hand, by having his wise, cultured and noble KGB protagonist point out the foolhardiness of using crude stereotypes, he was laying down a good rule of propaganda: if you make your enemies caricatures, your audience will not be convinced by your arguments, and your efforts will backfire. He was hoping his own censors would see the sense in this and choose to adopt the same line – and in doing so, this would give him greater leeway to insert subtle criticisms of the system. If they objected, he could counter: ‘Do you really want to be like that fool Ukhov, pretending our enemies are all stupid? I thought you might be mature and sensitive enough to realize that such crude propaganda never persuades anyone…’ The tactic apparently worked, as the passage made it into print, although there is also a rather chilling self-awareness in the line that it is humiliating to be ‘forced to speak a lie’.

This novel, then, is a mixture of propaganda laced with disguised criticism. In some ways it was itself a deception operation, carried out by Semyonov against the KGB. Given access to their files on the unspoken understanding that anything he wrote had to be sufficiently flattering, he smuggled a more critical view past Andropov and his censors.

It seems unlikely he was writing with any hope of being read or interpreted this way in the West, but with the benefit of hindsight several details about KGB operational methods in the novel that were allowed through because they were part of an overall picture painting the intelligence services in a heroic light now suggest a different story, and offer a glimpse into the KGB’s mindset and techniques during the Cold War, and specifically how it may have discovered, and reacted to, the Penkovsky operation. For more on that, see Dead Drop.

[1] ‘KGB link adds to author’s intrigue’ by Steve Huntley, Chicago Sun-Times, October 13 1987; and ‘In Yulian Semyonov’s Thrillers the Villains Are CIA Types – and Some Say the Author Works for the KGB’ by Montgomery Brower, People, April 6 1987.

Posted in CIA, Dead Drop, John le Carré, Julian Semyonov, KGB, MI6, Penkovsky, propaganda | Leave a comment

Rogue Royale: The Lost Bond Film by the ‘Shakespeare of Hollywood’

It’s the great unmade Bond film, and it could have changed cinema history.

In 2011, the Sunday Telegraph published an article I wrote about my unearthing of draft scripts of Casino Royale by Ben Hecht, who also wrote The Front Page, the original Scarface and Notorious. I have also published a couple of articles on this site about the history of early attempts to film this novel, here and here.

All of these pieces were part of a much longer article I wrote about my research into this topic, and I’ve now published the full ‘director’s cut’ version as a short e-book, Rogue Royale.


It’s around 11,000 words long, and includes detailed analysis of each of Hecht’s drafts for the film, as well as exploring the context of his involvement. It’s now available at the following links:

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon Canada

Posted in Alfred Hitchcock, Articles, Ben Hecht, Casino Royale, Charles Feldman, Cubby Broccoli, Gregory Ratoff, Ian Fleming, James Bond | 3 Comments

Anonymous smears: an update

A human rights lawyer who calls herself both ‘Emily James’ and ‘Maria James’ (but who doesn’t seem to exist in the real world under either name), has set up a website devoted to defaming me in increasingly bizarre ways. They, or someone else, have also set up a string of other sites making separate, but almost as bizarre, claims. The allegations include that I am a bully; a misogynist; a ‘rape-denier’; an ‘abuse-denier’; a plagiarist; use sockpuppet identities (!); and have lied about my professional credentials.

Every single one of their claims is completely and utterly untrue.

I’ve tried to explain this on all the sites, with little luck – the smears have just continued. In the last few months I’ve made appeals to both Google (which owns the Blogger platform), and WordPress, pointing out why these are smears, as well as pointing out copyright infringement because several of the sites have used my photographs. WordPress has still not even replied. Here is Google’s reply:


Thanks for reaching out to us.

We have reviewed your request. At this time, Google has decided not to take action. Blogger hosts third-party content. It is not a creator or mediator of that content. We encourage you to resolve any disputes directly with the individual who posted the content.If you cannot reach an agreement and choose to pursue legal action against the individual who posted the content, and that action results in a judicial determination that the material is illegal or should be removed, please send us the court order seeking removal. In cases where the the individual who posted the content is anonymous, we can provide you with user information pursuant to a valid third party subpoena or other appropriate legal process against Google Inc.

Regarding your copyright complaint, it is Google’s policy to respond to notices of alleged copyright infringement that comply with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (the text of which can be found at the U.S. Copyright Office website: http://www.copyright.gov/ ) and other applicable intellectual property laws, which may include removing or disabling access to material claimed to be the subject of infringing activity.To file a notice of infringement with us, we recommend using our online notification form at http://www.google.com/support/bin/request.py?contact_type=lr_dmca&product=blogger. Using this form will ensure the quickest possible processing time for your complaint.We are sorry we cannot assist you further at this time.

The Google Team’

Firstly, I had already filled out that copyright infringement form, and have still not received a reply about it.

Secondly, this is just Kafka-esque. They say they will only inform me of who this person is if I receive a subpoena or other appropriate legal power. But in the paragraph before they urge me to try to work things out directly with this person first – an impossibility, as I don’t know who they are! Comments I have posted to some of the sites have simply not appeared. On the ‘Maria James’ site, my comments have been published but the points in them have been wilfully ignored, or misinterpreted for further smears. So in trying to defend myself from false allegations I merely stoke more of them. Several people have told me not to engage and to ignore the sites completely – but then the allegations just sit there, and I’m no closer to resolving any of it. It’s really very hard to resolve a dispute with someone who is using a false identity and is determined to defame you at every turn.

Legal action is potentially costly, time-consuming and dull, but I won’t have my reputation smeared – and, incidentally, the reputations of Steve Mosby, David Hewson and Ian Rankin – so I will look at legal avenues to close all of these sites down. And when I have done, and have finally been informed of the identities of the person or persons who have done this, I will publish their identities far and wide – especially if some of the sites have been set up by who I think they have been.

Of course, this person or persons could simply say who they are now – that would save everyone some time and hassle. But they won’t. Because they’re pathetic little cowards, making vile and false allegations from behind their shield of anonymity.

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What if Glenn Greenwald is wrong about a national security threat?

As has been pointed out elsewhere, The Guardian’s descriptions of David Miranda’s detention have varied considerably, from an initial statement he was denied access to a lawyer, to a second statement that he was offered one and declined, to a third statement that he had one for the last hour of his detention.

James Ball, who has worked on several of The Guardian’s NSA stories, has said he feels ‘there’s a wider significance to when some arguments devolve to the minutiae of exact words in articles’. That is always a danger, but in some cases the minutiae are important, and all journalists know the devil can often be in the detail.

In this case, we’re looking at one of the biggest leaks of intelligence material in recent history, emanating from thousands of documents taken by Edward Snowden from the NSA while working as a consultant for them. The Guardian and others are putting intelligence agencies under immense scrutiny, and are examining the minutiae of their exact words. That shouldn’t make them immune from scrutiny themselves. As a member of the reading public, I can’t judge Snowden’s documents as a whole, because most of them haven’t been published. Instead, The Guardian, The Washington Post and a few others have published parts of individual documents, and reported from others. So the context here is almost entirely framed by the reporting.

I wrote early on in this saga that I found there to be a lot of problems with the accuracy of some of the reporting, and that trend has continued. The Guardian’s first report into Miranda’s detention, regardless of the byline looks to have been written by his husband, Glenn Greenwald, as pointed out by Guy Walters. That line seems to have vanished now, but if Greenwald did write it, why was he not credited, and should he really have been writing the article about his husband’s detention, and reporting what would then be his own comments to himself, without being so? More importantly, the article made no mention of the fact that Miranda was carrying material for him, and initially omitted that The Guardian had paid for Miranda’s flight.

The flight was later added, and according to an interview with Greenwald in the New York Times (the reporting of which Greenwald has not disputed), Miranda was carrying documents on encrypted thumb drives between Laura Poitras in Berlin and Greenwald in Brazil, and that all the documents came ‘from the trove of materials provided to the two journalists by Mr. Snowden’. (Edit: Louise Mensch informs me that Greenwald did in fact dispute this report, and I see he did, although the New York Times has not corrected the story – also note Miranda stumbling over his answer here, also pointed to me by Louise Mensch, who discusses it on her site.)

In this piece under his own byline, Greenwald still omitted to mention this extremely salient fact. Instead, he wrote that:

‘It’s bad enough to prosecute and imprison sources. It’s worse still to imprison journalists who report the truth. But to start detaining the family members and loved ones of journalists is simply despotic. Even the Mafia had ethical rules against targeting the family members of people they felt threatened by. But the UK puppets and their owners in the US national security state obviously are unconstrained by even those minimal scruples.’

These aren’t minute discrepancies, in my view: there is a substantial difference between Miranda being detained because the authorities had reason to suspect that he was carrying classified intelligence material that might fall into the wrong hands and cause national security damage, and simply detaining him because he was Greenwald’s husband passing through Heathrow in order to intimidate and harass. The first must surely be a possibility.

In a much more nuanced editorial published today, The Guardian has also made several statements that I think raise further questions. In discussing the role of ‘responsible reporting’, the editorial says:

‘What role does a free press have in assisting and informing this debate? In late May, Mr Snowden gave this newspaper a volume of documents from his role as one of 850,000 intelligence employees cleared to read and analyse top-secret material. It is difficult to imagine any editor in the free world who would have destroyed this material unread, or handed it back, unanalysed, to the spy agencies or the government. The Guardian did what we hope any news organisation would do − patiently analysed and responsibly reported on some of the material we have read in order to inform the necessary public debate.’

Anyone should surely agree with this in principle, but is it in fact accurate? Simply saying one has reported responsibly does not make it so. According to this article, the British government issued a Defence Advisory Notice on June 7, asking the British media not to publish information about

‘specific covert operations, sources and methods of the security services, SIS and GCHQ, Defence Intelligence Units, Special Forces and those involved with them, the application of those methods, including the interception of communications and their targets; the same applies to those engaged on counter-terrorist operations’.

If this is true, it’s hard to see how The Guardian’s article just 10 days later, on GCHQ intercepting communications during the 2009 G20 summit, abided by this. The Guardian seems to believe that their article exposed wrongdoing because GCHQ was spying on allies – but this is not a responsible attitude if you examine it more closely. Firstly, the precise same techniques could also have been used on hostile powers or individuals, and publication has now revealed these techniques and may have given those people valuable information about what they have lost, who has betrayed them, and how the British security services work. Secondly, a chief target was Russia, who is an ally only in name: in reality, it remains a repressive regime and a very worthwhile target indeed.

It also doesn’t seem that David Miranda was simply carrying ‘journalistic material’ for articles or notes for articles by Poitras or The Guardian – the New York Times’ interview with Greenwald states that he was carrying Snowden documents, ie the raw material, ie classified intelligence. Greenwald has previously said that he had not yet been able to read all of Snowden’s documents, unsurprisingly as they apparently run into the thousands. The wording of The Guardian’s latest editorial suggests to me that this may still be the case. Snowden also retrieved the documents in a very short space of time (around three months, it seems), and has said that he has relied on the journalists he has chosen to work with to be careful ‘that the only things disclosed are what the public should know but that does not place any person in danger’.

Again, this is a responsible statement. But it suggests, as do several other statements he’s made, that he downloaded thousands of classified documents before he left for Hong Kong, and didn’t necessarily read all of them through and only take those documents he felt showed clear wrongdoing. If that’s the case, it might affect one’s view of whether he could still be called a whistle-blower. Even if it isn’t the case, his judgement on what is wrongdoing may of course differ from others’.

All of this means, surely, that David Miranda could have been carrying intelligence material that would not be published, and which either did not contain any ethical or legal wrongdoing or contained information that would endanger lives but that Greenwald and others, once it had been received, would read, filter and publish responsible excerpts as they saw fit. The British government also seems to have been aware of this possibility in advance, and were ready to detain him as soon as he arrived in the transit section of Heathrow. A hypothetical scenario: Chinese intelligence also knew Miranda was carrying these documents, and intended to hack into his electronic devices somewhere along his journey. Far-fetched? Perhaps. But surely possible, and surely there are several other possibilities. I find it hard to see why David Miranda travelling with highly classified material that might cause harm to British national security should not have been detained for questioning at all – even if it should not have been under restrictive legislation aimed at terrorists.

The Guardian editorial also says:

‘The state has a duty to protect free speech as well as security.’

Of course it does. Switch the terms around for a different emphasis on which is more overriding:

‘The state has a duty to protect security as well as free speech.’

It’s impossible to choose between them sometimes. But journalists also have a duty to consider both free speech and security. Just as it is possible for a DA Notice to be, as Glenn Greenwald seems to believe it always must be, an exercise in censorship and saving the security services from embarrassment, most would agree that it is also possible for one to be issued because there is a real danger to national security in publication, perhaps one that a newspaper may not have the full context to appreciate. A free press doesn’t, and never has meant that there are absolutely no restrictions whatsoever: it has long been accepted by sensible people that military maneouvres, revealing details of intelligence officers’ identities, details that are presented in court, and other matters, are all – depending on the precise circumstances – the sort of thing that should be held back. If you really believe this is censorship, perhaps apply it to the recent past and consider whether the British media should have broadcast and published details of Allied military plans or intelligence breakthroughs. ‘ENIGMA CODE BROKEN!’ – The Express.

The DA Notice system (previously D Notice) has been in place in Britain for just over a century, but it seems to have been broken by The Guardian, and now The Independent, who have exposed the existence of a secret British operation in the Middle East without any substantiation at all that there is any wrongdoing involved. More troubling is Snowden and Greenwald’s reaction to this: Snowden has accused the British government of leaking this information to The Independent to discredit him and the journalists he has worked with:

‘It appears that the UK government is now seeking to create an appearance that the Guardian and Washington Post’s disclosures are harmful, and they are doing so by intentionally leaking harmful information to The Independent and attributing it to others. The UK government should explain the reasoning behind this decision to disclose information that, were it released by a private citizen, they would argue is a criminal act.’

Note the slide between the first sentence and the second! In the first, it ‘appears’ they have done this: his opinion, his theory, with no substantiation for it at all. In the second sentence, he calls on the UK government to ‘explain the reasoning behind this decision’ – not to answer if they made the decision, but to explain why they did it. So he assumes as fact that they did, without any evidence for it. This is very troubling, because Snowden has made a lot of bold statements that are impossible to check without full access to his documents – as this is how he reasons here, one has to question if he has done so with previous statements.

Equally troubling is that Greenwald reported Snowden’s claims here totally unquestioningly. He didn’t call The Independent and ask for comment, or the British government. He didn’t ask Snowden for substantiation of his allegation. He didn’t pursue any other avenues, but took Snowden’s really rather out-there conspiracy as fact seemingly without any critical thought at all:

‘In other words: right as there is a major scandal over the UK’s abusive and lawless exploitation of its Terrorism Act – with public opinion against the use of the Terrorism law to detain David Miranda – and right as the UK government is trying to tell a court that there are serious dangers to the public safety from these documents, there suddenly appears exactly the type of disclosure the UK government wants but that has never happened before. That is why Snowden is making clear: despite the Independent’s attempt to make it appears that it is so, he is not their source for that disclosure. Who, then, is?’

Greenwald then states his position on the future of his own reporting:

‘One other matter about the Independent article: it strongly suggests that there is some agreement in place to restrict the Guardian’s ongoing reporting about the NSA documents. Speaking for myself, let me make one thing clear: I’m not aware of, nor subject to, any agreement that imposes any limitations of any kind on the reporting that I am doing on these documents. I would never agree to any such limitations. As I’ve made repeatedly clear, bullying tactics of the kind we saw this week will not deter my reporting or the reporting of those I’m working with in any way. I’m working hard on numerous new and significant NSA stories and intend to publish them the moment they are ready.’

This is worrying – there should surely be a limitation of some kind he would accept. Does Greenwald have the expertise to always be able to gauge more than the government what may constitute a threat? He’s been reporting on security matters for a while – but Snowden still had to send him a Youtube video to explain how to encrypt his email. Another hypothesis: the government sends a DA Notice asking the press not to reveal details of a particular MI6 operation, saying that to do so would reveal current intelligence secrets, including the identities of British personnel, whose lives would be at serious risk. This is genuine. Greenwald looks at the document on the operation and decides he disagrees, and that the DA Notice is merely an intimidation tactic by the security services designed to censor his reporting and save themselves embarrassment. The Guardian disagrees, saying that they feel the authorities are likely right. Does Greenwald publish it elsewhere? I think it is a real possibility.

And I hope there are at least a few journalists at The Guardian who have considered that perhaps the stern men from the government who sat in their offices and told them about what Al Qaeda and Chinese intelligence operatives were capable of extracting from their material might not have been corrupt deceivers but telling the truth, and that their assessment of such matters may, at times, be more responsible than Edward Snowden or Glenn Greenwald’s.

Update 20.51, London time: James Ball has tweeted me to say that the G20 article was not written by Greenwald – I didn’t say it was – and that The Guardian ‘consulted’ with the British government before publishing the article, as DA Notices request, albeit they did not necessarily agree about it. This doesn’t change my main point, though: if Glenn Greenwald decided to publish material from Snowden’s documents outside the UK and/or outside the remit of The Guardian’s editorial judgement, would he also consult with the British ‘security state’ before doing so? It seems feasible to me that he would see this as a ‘limitation’ on his reporting, and decide not to. I also wonder if The Independent consulted the government in advance of their story – and if The Observer did the same when it placed Wayne Madsen on their front page. Journalists can misjudge, and can also make mistakes. Even The Observer. Even The Independent. Even The Guardian. Even – amazing to say – Glenn Greenwald.

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