It started with Thunderball, a 1963 Pan book with two bullet holes through the cover, 3/6 was the cover price, I paid £1.25.
There’s something about old, yellowing and tatty paperbacks, they’ve lived a life as long as I have but are in better shape. It was the cover that caught my eye, James Bond in bold capital letters across the top. Thunderball in a smaller font with the author’s name below, bullet holes beneath. The back proclaimed: Thunderball the ninth James Bond Thriller. The ninth! I had forgotten that the films were out of order and didn’t always follow the plots of the book. From then on I kept half an eye out for more Ian Fleming and picked up one or two in various places. When my annual holiday came around and I needing the usual stock of reading material, I gathered together the second-hand books I’d found together with some modern Penguin versions that I’d been lent and then spent the next two weeks in the sun reading most of Fleming’s oeuvre while keeping an eye out for the suspicious-looking Russians with their younger, fur-clad wives lounging around the pool, my daughters reminding my every now and again that I wasn’t James Bond.
I’d read most if not all of James Bond when I was younger and now 30 years on I was revisiting the murky world of 007. Bond is a harsher character than even Sean Connery or Daniel Craig portray in the films, and as with all good books they are of their time, in the same way that the early Bond films evoke the spirit of the sixties and Roger Moore’s version is so camp seventies, the books are pure post-war fifties escapism, Fleming’s extravagant recipe for scrambled eggs must have been written while rationing was still in force in Britain, when ordinary people could only dream of living a life like James Bond or indeed Ian Fleming.
I decided to open more than half an eye; a weekend in Brighton resulted in four books from three different shops and stalls and after a couple of years or so I had assembled a full collection, ranging from Casino Royale with a Daniel Craig cover to Octopussy from 1970. But I wasn’t happy. I’d started collecting because I’d found a 1963 copy of Thunderball with a beautiful graphic cover; I wanted a full set, but a full set from the early 60s with covers in the same style with no references to the movies. What I had was a mismatched set with designs and styles covering nearly 50 years.
That’s when it became difficult, I only looked at bookshops, bookstalls or charity shops for the ‘DEF’ section. With tunnel vision, I could scan a bookshelf see only 70s or 90s copies and be outside again in seconds. I had two lists, one with all the dates of the paperbacks that I had and another list of the titles that I needed. After yet another couple of years, I was close to completing the set, however, I now had duplicates of quite a number and was still missing two or three including Goldfinger, my copy was from the right era but had a gold Shirley Eaton on the cover.
Eventually, I bit the bullet and went to ebay, it felt like cheating and very often I had to buy a batch of books to get hold of the one that I needed, on the positive side I could sell my duplicates and, finally, earlier this year I successfully bid on two James Bond vintage paperbacks, one of which was Goldfinger with a beautiful illustration of The Spirit of Ecstasy on a pale blue background. It took its place between Dr No and For Your Eyes Only and the collection was complete. Now to re-read them in chronological order and watch the films on ITV and repeat the mantra “not as good as the book”.