Monday, August 29, 2005

More Moneypenny

Yesterday’s Sunday Times carried an odd sort of article on a forthcoming book by one Kate Westbrook: The Moneypenny Diaries.

I first mentioned Miss Moneypenny and her diaries on 8 July. In Ian Fleming’s astonishingly successful series of novels about the British secret agent James Bond, Miss Moneypenny was the secretary to M, the code name for the man who was head of the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) and hence Bond’s boss.

For those who are too young to remember these things, perhaps I should point out that the Bond books (the first of which appeared in 1953) were wildly successful as novels. However, what really established the Bond name on a worldwide basis was the even more successful series of films, beginning in 1962 and still running today. These have not only generated untold millions for all involved in them but have made the name James Bond known throughout the world. In the far east he is known as Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

In my first post on this matter I pointed out that, although the Moneypenny diaries clearly made use of Fleming’s characters, it appeared that the Ian Fleming estate, in the form of an organisation known as IFP, knew nothing about them; and IFP had not, it then seemed, authorised the publication. If they hadn’t, I wondered, how long would it be before they reached for their lawyers?

The Sunday Times, in a thoroughly confused and confusing manner, supplies an answer, of sorts.

First of all, let it be said that I assumed from the outset the Kate Westbrook’s book was a work of fiction. And Amazon has it listed as such. However, it would appear that, for a while at least, the publisher – John Murray, with managing director Roland Philipps as spokesman – was trying to make out that the book was factual.

It is hard, frankly, to discern the true story from the Times’s jumble of facts and quotes. But it appears that Philipps claimed that the author, Kate Westbrook, was a distinguished historian – a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge no less. Further, he claimed that the diaries were actually written by a woman who, at the time, was secretary to the head of SIS. The references to ‘Miss Moneypenny’ and to ‘James Bond’ were simply used to cover the names of real people, people on whom – it appears – Fleming based his books.

Clear so far? No? Well don’t blame me, I’m doing my best with this nonsense.

OK. Next thing. At a certain point, someone – possibly Richard Brooks, who wrote the Sunday Times article – made a few simple phone calls and established that the story didn’t hold up. For instance, there is no fellow of Trinity called Kate Westbrook and never has been. The stories in the book, when checked against the memory and knowledge of experts on the SIS, were held to be ‘implausible and improbable.’

Philipps seems then to have changed his tune. He now admits that the diaries are not genuine. ‘It’s a spoof,’ he says. Go on – we would never have guessed.

One wonders what on earth Philipps thought he was up to. Did he really believe, at any stage, that the Moneypenny diaries were real? Well, you gotta remember that there were a few people around who were dim enough to believe that the Hitler diaries were genuine.

Or, did he pretend they were real in order to beat up more press interest?

Or – hey, this is beginning to get like one of those complicated thriller plots from the days when espionage novels were all the rage, and you had double bluffs and triple agents and all sorts. Weren’t they fun?

Or, as I was saying, perhaps it was a devious ploy to avoid having to do business with the Ian Fleming estate?

There is a slight hint in the Times article that this latter explanation might, perhaps, be the right one. Corrine Turner, IFP’s managing director, is quoted as follows: ‘We always take protection of our intellectual property seriously and, in normal circumstances, would have stopped this book. However, after detailed negotiations with John Murray we have reached an agreement to allow this project to receive the public attention it deserves.’

She adds that ‘We were certainly led to believe by the publishers that there was a real Miss Moneypenny.’

Well, frankly I am beginning to lose interest. But it looks to me as if the story is very simple. Somebody, somewhere, decided that a successful commercial project could be launched by getting a writer to churn out a series of books (because there are more promised, I gather) which purported to be the diaries of Ian Fleming’s character, Miss Moneypenny. Any fule can see how this might work jolly well. A few bob would be made by everyone, and no harm done.

But then there was the tricky business of IFP demanding a share, as, again, any fule would recognise that they would. Perhaps, just perhaps, the author, agent, and publisher were unwise enough to try to proceed without asking permission. Perhaps they thought that by pretending it was a ‘real’ document, which used the names of Fleming characters for convenience, there would be no breach of copyright and no requirement to do a deal.

The IFP director's statement that normally they would have stopped such a book (dead in its tracks, she might have added), suggests to me that IFP came into the act late in the day; possibly when they were alerted by John Cox, the Bond fan mentioned in my first post. An item in the Observer at the beginning of this month also suggests that this was the case.

I can only say that, if that really was how it happened, I would not personally have cared to be on the end of the legal kicking and thumping which was, doubtless, administered by the IFP lawyers. The Bond franchise has generated many many millions, with more to come, and heavyweights like that do not react kindly when you tread on their toes.

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