One doesn’t—at least, we didn’t—associate Raymond Chandler and his private eye protagonist Philip Marlowe with the espionage adventures of Ian Fleming‘s James Bond. The characters live in two different eras, for one thing, with very little overlap in the 1950s. But the two authors, born twenty years apart—Chandler in 1888, Fleming in 1908—were members of a sort of mutual admiration society, and in 1958, someone at the BBC got the idea of placing them in a radio studio before a pair of microphones and giving them some time to discuss the art of the “thriller,” a term they use to encompass both Chandler’s hard-boiled, Los Angeles-bound detective fiction and Fleming’s globe-trotting spy stories.
The half-hour program is available for streaming via the “I kicked myself over that,” Fleming admits, “because I rather pride myself on trying to get these details right, and that was a very bad break.”
Fleming later asks Chandler how mob killings are arranged, and Chandler is happy to oblige with a lengthy account of how such hits are carried out.
Fleming also notes the difference between the pair’s respective protagonists, noting that Marlowe is “a real hero; he behaves in a heroic fashion.”
Not so Bond, says his creator.
“My leading character, James Bond, I never intended to be a hero,” insists Fleming. “I intended him to be a sort of blunt instrument wielded by a government department, who would get into these bizarre and fantastic situations and more or less shoot his way out of them — get out of them one way or another. Of course, he’s always referred to as a hero, but I don’t see him as a hero myself. I think he’s, on the whole, a rather unattractive man.”
Fleming goes on to admit that, as Chandler suggests, that he did allow Bond some feelings and sentiment in Casino Royale, but the two men agree that while a man in Bond’s line of work might experience emotions, he must, as Chandler puts it, “quell them.”
Fleming states that he is impressed with Marlowe’s (and Chandler’s) attitude toward gun violence, which he communicates by reading a passage from Chandler’s then-brand new novel, Playback (a book that was then and is now widely considered by far Chandler’s weakest—it was the last one he ever completed), in which Marlowe mocks a woman who is holding a gun on him by expressing his weariness with guns. “Guns never settle anything,” Fleming quotes Marlowe as saying. “They’re just a fast curtain to a bad second act.”
“I think that’s well put,” Fleming says with relish. “That is a far more sensible point of view than the one I put forward in my books, where people are shooting each other so much and so often, you often need a program to tell who’s in the act and who’s a spectator.”
Chandler responds by asking Fleming why he always includes a torture scene in his books, and Fleming traces the torture scenes back to the books he read in his youth—Fu Manchu and Bulldog Drummond are two series he cites.
“This so-called hero of mine, he had a good time,” says Fleming. “He beats the villain in the end and he gets the girl and he serves his government well. Well, in the process of that, he’s got to suffer something in return for all this success. I mean, what do you do—dock him something on his income tax?
“I get very tired of the fact that the hero in these other people’s thrillers gets a bang on the back of the head with a revolver butt, and he’s perfectly happy afterward. It’s just a bump on his head.”
This last might be read as a gentle tweak of Chandler, whose protagonist regularly receives such smackdowns, and Chandler recognizes the jab.
“Well, that’s one of my faults,” admit Chandler. “They recover too quickly. But I know what it is to be banged on the head with a revolver butt: The first thing you do is vomit.”
This information is greeted by a length pause, after which Fleming quietly mutters, “Well, there you are.”
Given that Fleming was briefly silenced by Chandler’s regurgatory observation, we’ll stop there, so as not to further spoil your enjoyment of this historic meeting of the literary minds, but we encourage you to pop over to the BBC Archives and give the interview a listen. It’s well worth twenty-five minutes of your time.