Thursday, July 23, 2020

William Boyd: The Spies Who Lived Here: How I Found James Bond’s Precise Address


British novelist William Boyd, who wrote the James Bond continuation novel, Solo, tracked down what may been the London addresses of Ian Fleming’s fictional secret agent James Bond, as well as the London address of John le Carre’s fictional spymaster George Smiley, in a piece in the London Times Literary Supplement, TLS.

I am in London. In Chelsea to be precise, at the entrance to Wellington Square off the King’s Road, where I am being interviewed for the French radio station RTL – à distance sociale – about James Bond. The reason why we’re at Wellington Square is because this is where James Bond lived. Obviously, James Bond is a fictional character and didn’t actually live anywhere. However, it is strange how in the case of some fictional characters a kind of reality begins to take over their lives, as if they really did live and breathe, had an actual address and a mortgage.

I point out to the interviewer that, a few yards across the King’s Road from where we’re standing, almost directly opposite, is the entrance to Bywater Street. Believe it or not, I tell him, another famous fictional spy, John le Carré’s George Smiley, lived in Bywater Street. This extraordinary coincidence causes some excited consternation and we stop recording and cross the road. In Bywater Street, we start recording again. “George Smiley lived here? Amazing. What number?” the interviewer asks. Number 9, I say. You see what I mean.

I suppose the most famous fictional abode for a character is Sherlock Holmes’s 221b, Baker Street. James Bond’s address and George Smiley’s have yet to achieve the same legendary status, but give them time. When I came to write my James Bond continuation novel, Solo (2013), I set myself the task of re-reading all of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels in chronological order, pen in hand, making notes, with the idea that all the texture and detail in the new novel would be classic Bondiana, sourced in Fleming..

There is another significant reason why Wellington Square might have proposed itself as a suitable address for Bond. In the late 1940s and early 50s Fleming was the Foreign Manager for the Sunday Times, a person of power and influence at the newspaper. During this period, the chief book reviewer for the Sunday Times was Desmond MacCarthy, a central member of the Bloomsbury Group. As it happened, MacCarthy and his wife Molly lived in Wellington Square. They were legendary entertainers and their home became a kind of salon. Cyril Connolly was one of MacCarthy’s young protégés and a regular at the soirées – and, what’s more, Connolly and Fleming were close friends. All three were Old Etonians, incidentally.

The circumstantial evidence is compelling. It is highly probable that Fleming went to one or more of the MacCarthys’ parties in Wellington Square, either through his own connections with MacCarthy via the Sunday Times or as a friend of Connolly. MacCarthy died in 1952, the year before Casino Royale was published, though it wasn’t until Moonraker, three years later, that Bond’s Chelsea flat received its first mention.

…The MacCarthy house is to be found in the eastern corner of Wellington Square. Bond’s flat, according to Fleming, was on the ground floor and was described in From Russia, with Love (1957) as having “a long big-windowed sitting room”. The ground-floor window of the MacCarthy house fits that description perfectly. One other sliver of circumstantial evidence I would offer is that, in the same novel, Bond’s sitting room is described as “book-lined”. Most readers wouldn’t think of James Bond as an intellectual but books would certainly be the most prominent aspect of the MacCarthy house’s decor. In fact, Fleming took pains to stress Bond’s wide reading, despite the fact that Bond (Eton and Fettes) had no tertiary education. Bond makes reference to many books and writers in the novels: Eric Ambler, Lafcadio Hearn, John Milton, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edgar Allan Poe, Sheridan le Fanu and Rupert Brooke among others. Bond is a very well-read spy.

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:




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