Ian Fleming’s unprecedented James Bond rights deal just before his death | Books | Entertainment


This year James Bond fans celebrated the 70th anniversary of Ian Fleming’s original 007 novels. 

Yet the author famously only wrote 12 novels and two collections of short stories about his MI6 spy.

In the almost 60 years since his death, there have been over 50 post-Fleming Bond adventures aside from the movies.

These novels include further adventures, novelisations, Young Bond, contemporary missions and even a children’s book about 007’s nephew 003½.

But all this almost didn’t happen and it goes back to when Fleming made an unprecedented deal for the majority stake in his Bond book rights, having already sold the film rights in 1961.

Bond expert Mark Edlitz, who was promoting his new book James Bond After Fleming: The Continuation Novels shared the tale.

Speaking exclusively with Express.co.uk, the author said: “In an unusual move, shortly before he died in 1964, Fleming sold the controlling share of the rights to the character (51 per cent) to Booker McConnell, a sugar company. They bought this majority stake in Glidrose Productions (now Ian Fleming Publications) for £100,000 (over £2 million today), as a favour to the author and to diversify their interests. Fleming needed to sell because he was paying an astronomical 91 per cent tax on his earnings. But selling your character was considered an odd and unprecedented move at the time. It was almost unheard of for a living author to sell the underlying copyright to their work to a third party.

“The New York Times even ran a cheeky headline titled ‘Author Sells Himself’, with the publication estimating that the deal ‘works out at around $1 million an ounce’ for Fleming’s flesh. This of course happens today all the time. There are still Tom Clancy novels and Spider-Man is still swinging on his web. But in the 1960s, it was unheard of. Nevertheless, The Times clarified that the deal was Fleming’s literary rights only, not the film and TV rights and that the author would retain creative control. Yet after Fleming died later that year, his widow Ann nearly put a stop to the continuation Bonds.”

Edlitz continued: “Ann Fleming had never really supported her husband’s writing and thought it was all rather unworthy. Still, she felt paradoxically loyal and felt that no one could take over writing duties for him. So 007 nearly died with Fleming. But it took the threat of “counterfeit” Bonds to force them to publish a new adventure. 

“One such counterfeit was eventually published as Avakoum Zakhov vs. 07 by Bulgarian author Andrei Gulyashki.  Originally, the author wanted to use 007 but was prevented from doing so. It was an East vs West story with Bond as the villain, representing Western ideals and values.

“As a result, the Fleming estate was forced to authorise Bond sequels by different authors. They chose Kingsley Amis, the Angry Young Man author, (somewhat over Ann Fleming’s objections) who had been consulted over the manuscript of The Man with the Golden Gun, the last Fleming Bond novel published posthumously. She felt Amis was enriching himself off of her late husband’s work and wanted to protect his legacy, even though she didn’t think much of it when he was around.”

Edlitz added: “Interestingly, the first book published wasn’t Amis’ Colonel Sun, but a children’s book about Bond’s nephew called The Adventures of James Bond Junior 003½ by RD Mascott. In it, Bond is an uncle (even though he had no siblings) and his nephew carries his name.

“At the same time, a South African writer called Geoffrey Jenkins (a friend of Fleming) had written his own Bond novel Per Fine Ounce. He said that it was an idea that the author enthusiastically approved of before his death. So the Fleming estate authorised the book, but upon receipt of the manuscript, they declined to publish it. A scant number of pages have survived and it seems like a fun work, so finding the manuscript is the Holy Grail of Bond collecting.”

Fleming’s estate eventually did buy back the majority share in the Bond book rights. And just over a year ago, after 70 years and over 100 million novels sold worldwide, Ian Fleming Publications announced they would self-publish. This would begin with this year’s re-issuing of the original Bond novels but with racist and sexist terms removed after recommendations from sensitive readers. Nevertheless, 007’s post-Fleming adventures show no sign of stopping.

Mark Edlitz’s James Bond After Fleming: The Continuation Novels is out now, as are his other books, The Many Lives of James Bond: How the Creators of 007 Have Decoded the Superspy and The Lost Adventures of James Bond.

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