April 18, 2013
“James Secretan, 007”: How Bond almost got renamed
by Sal Robinson
Some edits are great edits: an early draft of Casino Royale, an extract of which will be made public this weekend as part of celebrations around the book’s 60th anniversary, reveals that Ian Fleming originally had his main character introduce himself as “Bond” to friends and “Secretan” to those outside Her Majesty’s Secret Service. In the Independent, Liam O’Brien reports that:
In the manuscript, a CIA man introduces himself to 007 at the Hotel Splendide casino by saying: “My name’s Felix Leiter. Glad to meet you.” Bond replies: “Mine’s Secretan. James Secretan.” The word “Secretan” is scrawled out in blue ink, with “Bond” written in its place.
Fleming’s niece Kate Grimond suggests that “Secretan” could have come from Swiss philosopher Charles Secrétan, who Fleming might have studied at Oxford. But Bond is clearly a better name to be used in all situations: not only does it not announce that you might, just might, have a secret, or possibly be a secretary, but it’s also bland enough to sound a bit like a cover name itself.
It’s actually been highly enlightening week on the British spy writers front, with John le Carré writing an extraordinary article for the Guardian about the connection between his own experience with the secret service and his novels…or rather, lack of connection. For le Carré disavows the many years of press puffery that portrayed him as a spy who had pulled back the curtain on the world of espionage and says instead that:
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was the work of a wayward imagination brought to the end of its tether by political disgust and personal confusion. Fifty years on, I don’t associate the book with anything that ever happened to me, save for one wordless encounter at London airport when a worn-out, middle-aged military kind of man in a stained raincoat slammed a handful of mixed foreign change on to the bar and in gritty Irish accents ordered himself as much Scotch as it would buy.
Which merely demonstrates the extent of his writerly talents: the ability to notice and remember an evocative incident, the choice of words and structure, the expert disavowal that ends up convincing us ever further that there was something there—that a man in a stained raincoat had a long, dark history behind him. “Secretan” tossed out for “Bond,” a handful of mixed foreign change slammed on a bar: these guys were good.
Sal Robinson is a former Melville House editor. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.