Seven things you need to know about Ian Fleming’s SPECTRE

Seven things you need to know about Ian Fleming’s SPECTRE

Published by  News Archive

On 26th Oct 2015

To coincide with the UK release today of the 24th movie in the James Bond über-franchise, Dr Matthew Woodcock of UEA's School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing has collated some useful intelligence, drawn from the original Ian Fleming books, about the secret organisation SPECTRE.

1) SPECTRE is an acronym for the ‘Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion’. Fleming first introduced SPECTRE in his 1961 novel Thunderball. In an earlier formulation of his thinking about an organisation of super-criminals SPECTRE stands for the ‘Special Executive for Terrorism, Revolution, and Espionage’. As Fleming originally conceived it, SPECTRE would be ‘an immensely powerful, privately-owned organisation manned by ex-members of SMERSH, the Gestapo, the Mafia and the Black Tong of Peking’.

2) Fleming invented SPECTRE in 1959 during the drawn-out, though ultimately abortive and controversial process whereby he, producer Kevin McClory, and screenwriter Jack Whittingham first attempted to adapt James Bond for the screen. Fleming was evidently fond of the word ‘spectre’ and it appears at several points in the Bond novels published during the 1950s. The Spang brothers’ ghost town mobster hideout in Diamonds are Forever was named Spectreville, and the deciphering machine Bond acquires in From Russia with Love was called the Spektor.

3) Cinema audiences and the screen Bond first hear about SPECTRE in 1962 in Dr No, the first film adaptation of Fleming’s novels. Bond encounters SPECTRE and/ or its leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld in six subsequent films prior to the Daniel Craig era of the reimagined 007. Following the foiling of his dastardly plot in the Thunderball novel—Spoiler Alert—Blofeld regroups his secret organisation in the 1963 novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. SPECTRE get a mention in the earlier Spy Who Loved Me and in the 1964 You Only Live Twice, but by this point Blofeld operates instead with another villainous super-group, the Black Dragon Society, based in Japan, and has assumed the alias Dr Guntram Shatterhand. Will we see the leader of SPECTRE in the 2015 movie adopt further guises and criminal affiliations?

4) It is possible to actually visit the original headquarters of SPECTRE in real life. In Thunderball Fleming gives us the address of where SPECTRE are based: 136 Boulevard Haussmann, Paris. This rather smart, though unassuming building is a far cry from the hollowed-out volcano SPECTRE headquarters seen in the movie version of You Only Live Twice, the screenplay for which was penned by Roald Dahl.

5) Fleming invented SPECTRE, so he says, to replace Bond’s traditional enemy during the earlier novels, the Soviet intelligence organisation SMERSH. He believed this reflected what he saw by the late 1950s as a partial thawing of the Cold War. In an interview published posthumously in Playboy magazine in December 1964, Fleming also suggested that SPECTRE offered much greater freedom and artistic licence for the presentation of villainy. The concept of a master-criminal or super-villain representing a universal threat to all humanity (not just the Western powers) also had far broader cinematic appeal.

6) We’re told in Thunderball that SPECTRE’s founder and chairman, Blofeld was born in Gdynia in Poland on 28 May 1908. Fleming himself was born the same day. Blofeld’s father was Polish, his mother Greek. The Blofeld of the novels does not have a cat. In the novel of Goldfinger, however, the eponymous villain is a cat owner, although the poor animal pays the ultimate price for letting his master down: he is fed to Goldfinger’s henchman Oddjob. Look out for feline allusions in the movie Spectre.

7) The plot of the new movie not only sends us back to 007’s past but to Fleming’s original books, and the name of the villain played so menacingly by Christoph Waltz, Franz Oberhauser, hearkens back to a Bond story published in 1966, Octopussy. In a tale told largely in flashback, we learn of how a Hannes Oberhauser first taught Bond to ski and acted as something of a father figure to our orphaned hero before the war. Franz is presumably Hannes’ son. But will he turn out to be Blofeld…?

This is taken from Dr Woodcock’s article ‘Reflections on the Origins of SPECTRE’, to appear in the online Bond magazine ‘Artistic Licence Renewed’.