Hear Raymond Chandler & Ian Fleming–Two Masters of Suspense–Talk with One Another in Rare 1958 Audio

In the mid-20th cen­tu­ry, the red-blood­ed read­ing man in Amer­i­ca and Britain each had a char­ac­ter on whom he could rely to have vivid, in their sep­a­rate ways exot­ic, and on a cer­tain lev­el some­how relat­able adven­tures on the page: Philip Mar­lowe in the for­mer, and James Bond in the lat­ter. Ray­mond Chan­dler’s luck­less Los Ange­les pri­vate detec­tive and Ian Flem­ing’s always impec­ca­bly kit­ted-out agent on Her Majesty’s Secret Ser­vice would seem at first to have lit­tle in com­mon, but when their cre­ators got togeth­er on the BBC’s Third Pro­gramme in 1958, they had a lot to talk about.

Chan­dler, two decades Flem­ing’s senior and then in the final year of his life, had seen bet­ter days. “This once-hand­some man was, at the age of 66, a wreck,” says the announc­er in a pref­ace to this 1988 re-broad­cast, “depressed, alco­holic, writ­ten out. But he was lion­ized, and one of his new friends was Ian Flem­ing, whose Bond nov­els he’d been the first to appre­ci­ate. He reviewed Dia­monds Are For­ev­er in the Sun­day Times, pro­vid­ing the kind of seri­ous crit­i­cism he want­ed him­self, and in 1956, in a let­ter to Flem­ing, Chan­dler said, ‘I did not think that I did quite do you jus­tice in my review of your book, because any­one who writes as dash­ing­ly as you ought, I think, to try for a lit­tle high­er grade.”

This mix of praise and crit­i­cism from the elder writer invig­o­rat­ed Flem­ing, who prompt­ly redou­bled his efforts in Bond­craft. Two years lat­er, osten­si­bly to pro­mote his sev­enth nov­el (and, it turned out, his last) Play­back, the Lon­don-raised Chan­dler joined Flem­ing on the air to talk about British and Amer­i­can thrillers. “In Amer­i­ca, a thriller or mys­tery sto­ry writer is slight­ly below the salt,” com­plains Chan­dler, who’d pre­ced­ed this morn­ing record­ing ses­sion with whisky. “You can write a very lousy, long his­tor­i­cal nov­el full of sex and it can be a best­seller, it can be treat­ed respect­ful­ly. But a very good thriller writer who writes far, far bet­ter just gets a lit­tle para­graph — that’s all.”

The two go on to dis­cuss where they get their mate­r­i­al, how to write vil­lains (“I don’t think I ever in my own mind think any­body is a vil­lain,” says Chan­dler when Flem­ing brings up the dif­fi­cul­ty of cre­at­ing such char­ac­ters), the emer­gence of heroes (Flem­ing first intend­ed Bond as “a sort of blank instru­ment wield­ed by a gov­ern­ment depart­ment”), the secrets of lit­er­ary pro­duc­tiv­i­ty (Flem­ing took two months off in Jamaica from his Sun­day Times job each year to write anoth­er book), the mechan­ics of gang­land killings, and whether they have any­body they per­son­al­ly want to shoot (Chan­dler does, reply­ing only that “I just thought they’d be bet­ter dead,” when Flem­ing asks why).

And what, at bot­tom, does Dia­monds Are For­ev­er’s kind of writ­ing and The Big Sleep’s kind of writ­ing real­ly have in com­mon? “We both like mak­ing fun­ny jokes,” says Flem­ing. Toward the end of this broad­cast, now the sole extant record­ing of Chan­dler’s voice, the cre­ator of Philip Mar­lowe leaves us with some wise words in addi­tion: “A solemn thriller is real­ly rather a bore.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ray­mond Chandler’s Ten Com­mand­ments for Writ­ing a Detec­tive Nov­el

Ray­mond Chan­dler Denounces Strangers on a Train in Sharply-Word­ed Let­ter to Alfred Hitch­cock

Ray­mond Chan­dler: There’s No Art of the Screen­play in Hol­ly­wood

Watch Ray­mond Chandler’s Long-Unno­ticed Cameo in Dou­ble Indem­ni­ty

James Bond: 50 Years in Film (and a Big Blu-Ray Release)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • virginia brown says:

    Watched the first two episodes and was cap­ti­vat­ed. Con­veys admirably the gut-wrench­ing feel­ing of liv­ing in a soci­ety in which vir­tu­al­ly every­thing is con­trolled by nefar­i­ous elites. Although ‘Bil­lions’ por­trays the moral equal­i­ty of the law and the crim­i­nal in Amer­i­can life (first artic­u­lat­ed in my cin­e­mat­ic life­time by Al Paci­no as Michael Cor­leone telling the Neva­da sen­a­tor that ‘we’re all in the same game, Mr. Sen­a­tor’ (or some­thing like that), Goliath mas­ter­ful­ly dis­plays the enor­mi­ty of a legal sys­tem gone com­plete­ly rogue (in case the dom­i­na­tion of ‘plea bar­gain­ing’ did­n’t do it for you)
    Lov­ing it.

  • virginia brown says:

    This com­ment was sup­posed to accom­pa­ny notice of Ama­zon’s ‘Goliath’. Don’t know what hap­pened.

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