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Catching The Cold War: The Culture of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Posted November 28, 2011 to photo album "Catching The Cold War: The Culture of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"
The Cold War paranoia that permeates TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY was a focus of a series of fascinating books and films created in post-war Europe and America.
Sex and the Soviet: From Russia with Love
Among the many reasons John F. Kennedy was the first modern president: he loved James Bond. As was noted in a 1961 Life magazine article, Kennedy was a fan of Ian Fleming’s spy novels, particularly From Russia with Love, which he cited as one of his ten favorite books. In the 1957 novel, the debonair British secret service agent is targeted for death by Russian counter-intelligence outfit SMERSH, lured to Istanbul by a beautiful Soviet defector. As Jeremy Black notes in his The Politics of James Bond: From Fleming’s Novel to the Big Screen, From Russia with Love was published just as public awareness of espionage — Russian, American and European — was on the rise. Several years earlier, Britain was stunned when Guy Burgess, secretary to the British Foreign Minister of State, was revealed to be a Soviet spy and defected to Russia. In April 1956, the Soviets publicly revealed U.S. efforts to wiretap their cables in Berlin. And, of course, there were confrontations between the Soviets and the oppressed countries of the Eastern Bloc. All of these events informed the escapist popularity of the Bond novels and, later, the movies. Writes Black, “Soviet control of Eastern Europe was brutally demonstrated when a popular attempt to bring Hungary independence was brutally repressed in 1956. Security forces had suppressed a worker’s uprising in Poznan in Poland in June. From Russia with Love was carried forward in a moment of rising tension in the Cold War and at the same time provided a sense of humor and relief from the real world. There was both a feeling of moment and one of unreality.”
Prior to writing the Bond novels, Fleming worked in naval intelligence. He wasn’t a real spy. British author John le Carré, on the other hand, worked for M16, and his George Smiley novels pointedly did not promote a “sense of humor and relief” from the Cold War and its moral anxieties. In a 1966 BBC interview, le Carré was critical of Fleming’s creation, saying, “I dislike Bond. I'm not sure that Bond is a spy. I think that it's a great mistake if one's talking about espionage literature to include Bond in this category at all. It seems to me he's more some kind of international gangster with, as it is said, a license to kill... he's a man entirely out of the political context. It's of no interest to Bond who, for instance, is president of the United States or of the Union of Soviet Republics." Le Carré’s view softened a bit when this interview was replayed for him in 2010. He told Radio Times, “These days I would be much kinder. I suppose we've lost sight of the books in favor of the film versions, haven't we? I was a young man and I knew that I had written about the reality in The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and that the Fleming stuff was a deliberate fantasizing of Fleming's own experiences when he was safely in New York. But at the root of Bond there was something neo-fascistic and totally materialist. You felt he would have gone through the same antics for any country really, if the girls had been so pretty and the Martinis so dry."