Once again it is time for Fleming Revisited, the Last Movie Outpost quest to re-read all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels in order of publication and discuss them here. This time around we tackle On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Two editions ago we kicked off the S.P.E.C.T.R.E. trilogy with style when we covered Thunderball, and the introduction of 007’s most famous adversary.
After a chronological detour into The Spy Who Loved Me, we now return to the main trilogy and the most tragic event in the life of James Bond, with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
We Have All The Time In The World
In the world of the cinematic 007, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was a time of great upheaval. During the filming of You Only Live Twice, Sean Connery had resigned from the role and was no longer on speaking terms with Cubby Broccoli.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was written and published after the movie adaptions had already begun. Broccoli and Saltzman had originally intended to make On Her Majesty’s Secret Service after Goldfinger.
Richard Maibaum was working on the script when news came through that the rights issues over Thunderball had been settled… for now. So they decided to make Thunderball. The plan was then to make On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
A warm Swiss winter and inadequate snow cover nixed that idea, and so they postponed filming again and turned to You Only Live Twice. Then Connery resigned during the filming. They planned to adapt The Man with the Golden Gun in Cambodia and cast Roger Moore to replace Connery. Cambodia then fell foul of political instability and Moore signed up for a new series The Saint.
After You Only Live Twice was released in 1967, the producers once again picked up with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but with no star. The search for a new Bond was on and the world was forever robbed of seeing Connery playing Bond in the most emotional and challenging Bond story of them all.
The short-list came down to five names. Englishman John Richardson, Dutchman Hans De Vries, Australian Robert Campbell, Englishman Anthony Rogers, and Australian George Lazenby.
Lazenby was working as an actor and model and had done a lot of television advertising work, notably for Fry’s Chocolate Cream. Lazenby began to ensure he crossed paths with Broccoli while wearing several Bond elements, including a Rolex Submariner wristwatch and a Savile Row suit that Connery had ordered but never collected. He even went to Connery’s barber at the Dorchester Hotel.
Broccoli noticed and offered Lazenby an audition. At the audition, Lazenby accidentally punched the professional wrestler who was acting as stunt coordinator in the face. Broccoli and director Peter Hunt, impressed with his aggression, offered him the part.
Lazenby was offered a contract for seven films. He made On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Then, in possibly the single most idiotic piece of advice ever dished out by a professional advisor, he was convinced by his agent Ronan O’Rahilly, that the secret agent would be archaic in the liberated 1970s. Lazenby decided to quit the role after his single appearance. He regrets this decision to this day.
The result was a movie that ranks highly in any true Bond aficionados list. However, we are not here to talk about the movie.
This Never Happened To The Other Fella…
The movie version of You Only Live Twice was a huge departure from the novel and was James Bond’s first foray into the truly fantastical, with ninja armies and a hollowed-out volcano. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the first time that the Bond series would do a characteristic reset after straying too far into the realms of fantasy. When in doubt, return to Fleming. For Your Eyes Only follows Moonraker, Casino Royale follows Die Another Day. When it all goes a bit silly, return to the source.
As a result, for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the book and the movie are very similar, but there are some key differences. Major plot points remain but are played out in a different order, with more emphasis on 007’s inner feelings and adding more depth to the love story.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was published on 1 April 1963 for the princely sum of 16 shillings for the hardcover. In the US it was priced at $4.50.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was written in Jamaica at Fleming’s Goldeneye estate in January and February 1962. He wrote this whilst the first Bond film, Dr. No, was being filmed nearby. It was while observing this that Fleming came to enjoy Connery’s interpretation of the character so he added some Scottish ancestry for Fleming lightly here, and expanded on it in the next book, You Only Live Twice.
The first draft of the novel was pulpify titled The Belles of Hell. Luckily Fleming later changed the title after being told of a nineteenth-century sailing novel called On Her Majesty’s Secret Service by his friend Nicholas Henderson, who saw that novel in Portobello Road Market.
The core story remains as per the later movie. Set one year on from the events of Thunderball, 007 is heading up Operation Bedlam, the hunt for S.P.E.C.T.R.E. and specifically, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. However, he is frustrated. He sees this as police work, not suitable for his particular talents. He thinks S.P.E.C.T.R.E. is scattered to the wind and no longer a threat.
While on holiday he visits Vesper’s grave at Royale Des-Eaux, the fictional location of the Casino Royale, and is melancholy. This is an annual pilgrimage for him. The same vacation each year to plat at the same casino from his first adventure.
He reflects on his distaste for this mission, Vesper’s betrayal, and recollects an impromptu road race he found himself in on the journey from London with a mysterious, beautiful woman who was an exceptional driver.
He decides to resign from the service and is mentally composing his resignation letter to M. That night in the casino he has a chance encounter with the woman driver, the Contessa Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo. She has been gambling without the means to cover it, which would cause a terrible scandal and a coup de deshonneur. Bond covers her debt.
They spend the night together and it turns out she is suicidal and she is in fact using Bond for her final fling before she takes her own life the next day. As she attempts to drown herself the next evening Bond intervenes, but he’s in turn ambushed by some professional killers who also seemed to be watching Tracy.
They take Tracy and Bond to meet their employer, Marc Ange Draco. He’s Tracy’s father and the head of the Unione Corse, the biggest European crime syndicate. Tracy is his only daughter and he loves her deeply but had to cut her off from financial support due to her lifestyle. He knows she has attempted suicide and that Bond saved her from a coup de deshonneur at the casino. He knows that Bond and Tracy spent the night together and Bond intervened in her suicide attempt. He knows who Bond is, what type of man he is, from his moles inside the French Secret Service. Draco believes the only way to save his daughter from further suicide attempts and from herself, is for her to marry Bond.
Bond academic Christoph Lindner groups Marc-Ange Draco as an example of those characters who have villainous morals but who act on the side of good, on the side of Bond in case of these stories.
Darko Kerim (From Russia, with Love), Tiger Tanaka (You Only Live Twice) and Enrico Colombo (Risico) are the others he considers in this group. Fellow academic Jeremy Black builds on this by highlighting Draco and his World War II record.
Draco has the King’s medal for resistance fighters. Black maintains that the war reference is a crutch for Fleming to excuse Draco’s criminality.
Marc-Ange Draco’s name is based upon that of El Draco, the Spanish nickname for famous mariner and explorer Sir Francis Drake, who they viewed as a pirate but the British still view as a hero.
Draco offers Bond a dowry of £1 million (worth £22 million in 2021 pounds) to marry Tracy. A livid Bond refuses, telling Draco she needs a psychiatrist and professional help, not a husband. He does, however, continue to keep in touch with Tracy as she receives treatment and gradually recovers her mental health.
The World Is Not Enough
Bond and Tracy grow close over the course of several months and Bond asks Draco for a favor, to use his contacts in the underworld to help him locate Blofeld. Draco uncovers that Blofeld is somewhere in Switzerland.
Another lead comes from the College Of Arms in London. A man by the name of Blofeld has been requesting help from the College to prove he is the rightful heir to the title Comte Balthazar de Bleuville and he wants formal confirmation. He is a reclusive doctor who is making great breakthroughs in the treatment of allergies.
Bond takes a crash course in heraldry and learns that the family motto of Sir Thomas Bond is “The World Is Not Enough”, and that he might be Bond’s distant ancestor. He also learns that the de Bleuville’s have a genetically inherited minor physical abnormality in the form of a lack of earlobes.
Bond assumes the cover of a College of Arms representative, Sir Hilary Bray, to visit whoever this man seeking title confirmation is. He is isolated at Piz Gloria atop a Swiss alp, a glamorous ski resort for the wealthy that also contains the labs in which the reclusive doctor works.
Fleming took the name Hilary Bray from an old-Etonian with whom Fleming worked at the stockbroking firm Rowe & Pitman.
The character who instructs Bond in the art of heraldry was the Sable Basilisk of the Royal College Of Arms. This was based on the heraldic researcher Robin de la Lanne-Mirrlees who helped Fleming and who held the title Rouge Dragon at the College Of Arms. Due to sensitivities involved in heraldic work, which involves lineage of the richest and most powerful families in the world, Mirrlees asked Fleming not to use the Rouge Dragon title in the book.
As a result, Fleming resorted to a play on words, taking Mirrlees’s address, a flat in Basil Street, which led him to a mythical dragon-like creature, a basilisk.
Mirrlees had Spanish ancestors of a noble line who were born without earlobes, which is where the inspiration came from for de Bleuville. It was also Mirrlees who discovered that a line of famous Bonds from Peckham, London, has the family motto “The World is Not Enough”.
After meeting this mysterious doctor at Piz Gloria, Bond suspects this Blofeld is his man, having undergone extensive plastic surgery, removed his earlobes, had drastic weight loss, and wearing contact lenses to alter his appearance.
While working through the tracing of lineage, Bond lives at Piz Gloria and learns Blofeld has been curing a group of young British and Irish women of their livestock and food allergies, a particular issue for them as they all work in, or around key agricultural establishments or major livestock markets. He discovers they are all being brainwashed into bringing a biological warfare agent back to Britain and Ireland in order to destroy the agricultural economy, upon which post-World War II Britain depends. This is as revenge for Operation Thunderball. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service performs as a direct sequel to that novel, with The Spy Who Loved Me as a small detour.
Bond escapes and is hunted on skis and on foot down the alp in a life-or-death chase. Fleming was inspired for this sequence from his visits to Kitzbühel in Austria to ski in the 1930s. He once went off-piste and accidentally triggered an avalanche that he barely escaped from. For Piz Gloria itself, Fleming remembered his stays at the sports club of Schloss Mittersill in the Austrian Alps.
The Nazis closed down the club during the war and turned it into a research establishment examining the Asiatic races. This became Piz Gloria of the novel.
At the climax of the chase, Bond is entirely exhausted and unable to defend himself any longer. Here a chance encounter with Tracy in the town at the foot of the alps gives him an escape route. She has been at a nearby recuperating clinic.
On the run across Switzerland and back to Germany with the resourceful, strong woman he realizes that Draco was right and that he truly loves her.
The character of Tracy is deliberately not as well defined as many female leads in the Bond novels. Here she is mostly known for her problems and through her father. However, Bond continuation author Raymond Benson hypothesizes that this is what lends her an enigmatic quality that ultimately attracts James Bond. Benson goes as far as to highlight that Fleming gives little direct information about Tracy, only how Bond reacts to her, surfacing Bond’s emotional responses.
For Tracy’s background, Fleming used that of Muriel Wright, a married wartime lover of Fleming’s, who died in an air-raid, channeling his grief to create the tragic, damaged character.
Bond’s relationship with M expands further in this book as we see a glimpse of M’s private life. Bond visits M at Quarterdeck, a fictional Regency-era manor-house on the edge of Windsor Forest where M lives. M is served by his faithful valet Chief Petty Officer Hammond, who served M in the Royal Navy before M retired from Naval service to head up MI6.
M was inspired by Rear Admiral John Godfrey, Fleming’s superior officer in Naval Intelligence during WWII. M’s last command was HMR Repulse and the ship’s bell serves as the doorbell to Quarterdeck. Likewise, Godfrey’s last ship was HMS Repulse.
This visit occurs on Christmas Day in the novel and M invites Bond to stay on join him for Christmas lunch so he isn’t dining alone. During lunch, M tells Bond about an old Naval colleague, a Chief Gunnery Officer named McLachlan. This is an adapted background of Donald McLachlan, a colleague of both Fleming and Godfrey in Naval Intelligence.
It is over this lunch that M gives tacit approval to Bond’s below-the-radar plan to strike back at Blofeld to halt his plan. This strike and Bond’s subsequent marriage to Tracy, lead us to the famous inevitable and tragic conclusion of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. A conclusion that some scholars claim represents Bond being saved from his better self, showing he is forever unable to escape the dangerous life he has made for himself.
Time Enough For Life To Unfold
Like the movie, the novel ranks among the best. It delves deeper into Bond as a character than perhaps any other book in the series. Bond shows a depth of emotion. His feelings are not in doubt throughout the series of novels. He’s touched by melancholy, doubts, anger, and pride, much like Daniel Craig’s portrayal of 007 in the recent movies, which is the closest portrayal of Bond in the movies to Bond in the novels. However, this is the first time since Casino Royale that we see him both fall in love and be vulnerable.
Like Craig’s portrayal, Bond here also experiences defeat, loss and fear in this novel. Bond’s increasing exhaustion and separation as he flees Piz Gloria opens him up emotionally for his upcoming salvation, by chance, at the hands of Tracy.
In previous novels in the series, the women attracted him, but always with a seemingly clear limited lifespan of the relationship. Here he allows Tracy inside in a way in which nobody else was, other than Vesper.
It is perhaps then no surprise that the novel starts with Bond at Vesper’s grave as something of a bookend. This is an emotional attachment that the literary Bond has never shown to another woman thus far, showing Vesper still occupies his mind.
Bond allows Tracy to delay his mission to track down Blofeld as he helps her mental recovery. Bond truly helps Tracy to reach a better state of mental health and in return she effectively teaches him how to love again, adding tragedy to the eventual ending.
The next novel picks up a while after the events of the final pages of this story as Bond seems destined to meet his greatest foe once again.
Fleming Revisited will return with… You Only Live Twice.
Interested in our complete rundown and ranking of all the 007 movies? The arguments we had over this! Check it out here.