Friday, December 14, 2012

Ivor Bryce on the Men and the Myth

Ivar Bryce, You Only Live Once (1975)

Pages 27-28

In the meantime Ian became a stockbroker. He joined the old and distinguished firm of Rowe and Pitman. The senior Pitman, already a friend, and his wife became two of his nearest and dearest throughout adult life. Whether he learnt much of value in the management of money is another question. In my opinion he never would have made his mark as a businessman. But then I myself am so lacking in the necessary qualities for achieving the peaks of the business world that my opinion is of little or no value.

It was in the spring of 1939 that Ian's journalistic experience in Russia and his linguistic attainments first put the idea in some sage and influential heads - among "establishment" circles, Whitehall, the City - that here was a young man who should be made use of in the troubled times which they could so clearly see ahead. No doubt his name was mentioned in quiet conversations in hallowed clubs, and jotted down in little notebooks by small gold pencils belonging to people who count. The Governor of the Bank of England was consulted - Robert Fleming and Co. is after all a most reputable merchant bank - and Ian was invited to lunch at the Carlton Hotel. Admiral John Godfrey was the new Director of Naval Intelligence, and Ian liked him enormously from this first meeting, a liking which, perhaps fortunately for the British Navy, was immediately returned. Ian knew he had fallen on his feet when he was invited to become the Admiral's personal assistant. He breathed in great lung-fulls of the precise, professional atmosphere of his new surroundings, like some powerful ozone. All through the summer months he was meeting new people and absorbing new skills. Secret persons approached him, and helped him acquire these secret skills necessary to establish him in the key situation that awaited him. If those who foresaw as inevitable a death struggle between the ideologies that split the western world in two proved to be right, he could become of value to his country. For Ian the die was cast. His feet were firmly planted on the path for which his natural talents equipped him perfectly.

Pages 49-53

Ian Fleming, of course, I saw in London . He was in the blue serge uniform of the wavy navy. Busy, but secretive, he seemed happy and very electrically alive. We had wartime lunches together in haunts of his that were handy to the Admiralty, and he asked a million questions about my recent life, activities and friends.

He advised me to go back to New York and Washington , where I had some influential friends, especially in the newspaper business, ranging from Walter Lippman to Walter Winchell. "You will be more use there," he said. "Stick around."He also intimated that his Admiral might be visiting America quite soon, and that he, Ian, would no doubt accompany the party.

He got me on a flight back. It was the first of many wartime transatlantic air crossings, with their noisy, freezing, crowded bucket seats, oxygen at all altitudes above 10,000 feet, and roaring take-offs from Prestwick, Reykjavik , Goose Bay , Stephensville, to Dorval Field, the airport at Montreal .

Reading the papers, listening to the radio and digesting the gloomy news reports occupied my time, until one day the telephone rang and I was requested to call on the British Passport Control Officer, 630 Fifth Avenue , at my convenience. I was taken to a back office where, at the desk, sat an acquaintance of mine. We exchanged some platitudes and Pat, evidently a busy man, stood up and thanked me for my prompt visit. "Go to the Westbury Hotel", he added, "room 320, at three o'clock this afternoon. Someone there would like to see you."

On time I rang the bell of room 320, and the door immediately opened on a pink-faced, bright-blue-eyed old gentleman, who waved me in, sat me down, and told me all about myself. "With your languages and your experience of South America you could be of use to HMG," he said. "If you are willing to follow any orders, and accept whatever happens to you, and on no account ever to reveal the smallest detail concerning your work, just sign this document here at the bottom, and I will explain to you." The Official Secrets Act - a terrifying document if you read it through. I did not.

I did not want to give this cherubic sixty-year-old, with his fiery complexion and bald pate encircled by white hair, one second in which to change his mind. I had read a thousand thrillers (what are now described as "suspense stories") and could recognize a spy-master when I saw one.

I swore total and blind and everlasting obedience, and was ushered out of room 320 with instructions to report at 9.00 am the following day at an office on the thirty-sixth floor of the Rockefeller Center, New York.

For some months, my office job of nine to six, or any other hours that were requested, was just an office job. Dickie Colt, the irrascible, impatient, unpredictable, intelligent and, above all, loyal gentleman who had just recruited me, turned out to be my immediate superior in what, for all I could tell, was a particularly boring sub-department of the Consular Service, dealing in commercial and cultural matters in Latin American and other countries.

Mr Colt, known as Coitus interruptus by his staff, was a man who expected every question answered before it was asked. He was both amazed and displeased if I did not know the name of the secretary of the Venezuelan manager of Eno's Fruit Salts. The staff of our office, far more numerous than I had expected, comprised a fascinating mixture of backgrounds and achievements. There were playwrights, engineers, university professors, military men, tycoons and just plain boffins among us, and they all knew a great deal more than I did about everything. Also, though ready at any time for a visit to a bar or nightclub, they seemed unable to discuss our business, or to clarify any of the numerous enigmas that puzzled me. There were also great travellers: here today and gone, sometimes for ever, tomorrow. There were many sections and, though mine was concerned with Latin America, I did discover that several new friends of mine, who worked for an elderly white Russian, Mr Halpern, once a member of the Duma, the czarist parliament before 1917, seemed closely enmeshed with minority groups and refugees from many lands, not only in South America but in the great USA as well.

My first specific assignment was explained to me eventually. Much of Western Europe was now Nazi-occupied and two necessities for the survival, let alone the eventual emancipation, of our friends were to secure intelligence (news) from the conquered territories, and also to provide intelligence, propaganda, materials for sabotage, and, in the ultimate, weapons for our friends to create an underground network and help to win the war. People, `bodies', must be found who could undertake the terrible risks of infiltrating the occupied lands. They must, of course, speak the language not only perfectly but with up-to-date slang, if their mission involved contact with anyone at all. They must also be trained in a number of the black arts to have any hope of being successful `agents'. To find and train such men was the work of my service, SOE, for Special Operations Executive. And to find them in Latin America was to be my special responsibility. I had to find daring, patriotic, intelligent and reliable men as candidates for these jobs; and I had to be certain that they were trustworthy - heart and soul against the enemy. One wrong decision, one traitor among our faithful could cause disaster to many brave men. When the Gestapo were acting on `information received', the victim did not just get away with death. He was tortured, and any friend who could be identified by any scrap of knowledge in his brain was run down and tortured too.

The dreadful responsibility of selecting a secret agent was, naturally, not all mine. Many experts, many cross-references, and long, long training were the order of the day. I recruited twenty such volunteers. About half never made it and for one reason or another were rejected, or even imprisoned to prevent any possible dangerous contact. Several succeeded and returned safely after completing their hair-raising missions. One, Jan van Schrelle, a young Dutch friend of mine from Brazil , was parachuted into Holland after his underground group was blown. He landed among a reception committee composed of Gestapo, and was never seen again. His life in Brazil had been useful and happy, and it was I who suggested to him what he might exchange it for.

Sometime before Pearl Harbor , it occurred to Franklin Roosevelt that the proud American boast that they had no need for a secret service was no longer true. The United States could not afford to lag behind its potential enemies, nor even its allies, in the intelligence available to the government and the armed forces, nor in secret methods to protect its citizens. General (from the First World War) "Wild Bill" Donovan, a holder of the Congressional Medal of Honour, and now the senior partner in a distinguished law firm, was most wisely chosen by the President to initiate and create a secret service worthy of a super-power. Donovan was a personal friend of the far-seeing Canadian pilot, William Stephenson, who by now was in charge of all British para-military organizations in the Western hemisphere. Before accepting this new American responsibility, Big Bill consulted his friend Little Bill (as they came to be called) in search of methods and constructions for the formation of such an organization.
Little Bill gave wise advice and the offer of an expert, to be selected by the British, to formulate the table of organization required to set up an American service. The expert, immediately flown to Washington from Whitehall , was the personal aide of Admiral Sir John Godfrey, the Director of British Naval Intelligence. He was a comparatively young but exceptionally able officer, Lieutenant-Commander Ian Lancaster Fleming R N V R.

Page 64-67

An infinitelv more important event was on the cards this fateful autumn of 1941. While it became obvious to increasing millions of Americans that their President was right in his belief that the United States must eventually enter the war, a powerful propaganda was hammering the pacifist doctrines of `America first' into the minds of timid and wishful-thinking citizens. Numerous influential papers, radio stations and opinion-swaying groups were fighting against entry. The Middle West , despite its largely Germanic background and German and Italian organizations, open and secret, contributed little to these causes. The British were forced to advocate the opposite view, and our representatives were prepared to go to greater lengths than they would have been willing to admit to their American colleagues. The battle was between life and death, after all.

The enemy's strength in South America and the Nazi intentions for that continent had Hitler decided to attack to the west rather than to the east were wetl known. But they were difficult to prove to those who did not wish to believe. I knew that whole populations would have been eradicated, national borders changed, and Nazi-oriented governments supported if Hitler had eventually got his way. The whole continent would have been forced to bow to Nazification, and freedom, enjoyed by Latin Americans for more than a century, would have been forever banished from their homelands. Sketching out trial maps of the possible changes on my blotter, I came up with one showing the probable reallocation of territories that would appeal to Berlin . It was very convincing: the more I studied it the more sense it made. The obvious aggrandizement of Paraguay , the land-locked and poverty-stricken but immensely militaristic kingdom of the German dictator Stroessner, would of course be enlarged: a great corridor to the Pacific, at the expense of Chile , Paraguay 's old enemy. The abolition of Uruguay , the Switzerland of South America, then a happy, peaceful, law-abiding and democratic little country, was obvious. And so on. It made me feel the heady power of king-makers, and I drew most carefully a detailed extension of the idea, as it would appeal to Hitler, for submission to the powers that be, to wit Bill Stephenson.

Were a genuine German map of this kind to be discovered or captured from enemy hands and publicized among the good neighbours themselves, and above all among the `America firsters' with their belief that America could get along with Hitler, what a commotion would be caused. The idea appealed to the Chief, and a method immediately occurred to him.

Intelligence had just reached him that a certain house on Cuba 's southern coast was in use by German agents for radio communication with the U-boats in their area. This intelligence had deadly results for the helpless shipping supplying West Indian islands with food: news of sailings and itineraries was radioed to the nearest submarine, and so the death sentence was carried out. Stephenson was about to inform the FBI, whose territory of action included Cuba . An unpublicized raid would be made at night, the transceiver apparatus removed and the operators captured, and the ships would be saved. Among the finds that the FBI would make in this enemy outpost, when the raid was carried out, would be papers, orders, records or the like emanating originally from the German High Command. It was always so. On this occasion Stephenson decided the FBI were going to fall upon a monster prize, something of transcendental importance that the Nazi agents would have no time to destroy. My map was quickly turned over to the expert forgers - a department of scientists whose knowledge of papers, inks, types, colours, watermarks and similar minutiae was total. In forty-eight hours they produced a map, slightly travel-stained with use, but one which the Reich's chief mapmakers for the German High Command would be prepared to swear was made by them. An authentic German map from the highest, most top secret archives....

After Pearl Harbor, and with America 's entry into the war, the British and American counterparts, those men in BSC (British Security Co-ordination) and the members of OSS (Office of Strategic Sciences), were, so to speak, officially introduced to each other. As `each other' were in many cases colleagues and friends who had been cooperating in secret for months, and who had grown into a mutual respect and friendship, this was a relief to all. Henceforth it was not finally the British or American Chiefs of Staff who were our ultimate masters, but the Combined Chiefs of Staff, sitting in Washington and responsible only to their Chiefs of State.

Pages 91-94

As for my American life, New York is a city impossible for a man to inhabit in idleness. New York life does not particularly appeal to me, either for play or work; but that is only one person's taste and I am at heart always a countrv boy, with no wish to live permanently in London , Paris or any other city. If obliged to abide in New York , it is better to work, and if obliged to work, it is better to be occupied with matters that are by nature of interest.

Late in the war, a most interesting figure had entered my life, and now he came to the fore once again. Ernest Cuneo is my contemporary, give or take a few months, and I should become intolerably conceited if I had a fraction of his attainments. The Cuneos (whose name means "wedge" in Italian) come from Chiavari and one Michael Cuneo of Savona in fact sailed with Columbus . Following the Risorgimento, in which the Cuneos backed Garibaldi, there was a grand exodus of the clan: one branch (Ernie's) went to New York, where they founded a ship repair/marine hardware business and eventually invested in real estate; another branch to Chicago, where they started the now substantial Cuneo Press; and yet another branch went to San Francisco, where they became co-founders of the Bank of America. Ernie's parents, however, arrived in the United States as infants and, because he only heard English at home, Ernie does not speak a word of Italian and is an American par excellence. He grew up in schools typical of the comfortable Wall Street commuter belt, a strong and brilliant boy who could, when he wanted, acquire knowledge at high speed and recall it instantly years later. He is what is known in American athletics jargon as a "suare-rigger" - 5'9" and 195 lbs. As a young man, he excelled at football, playing for Columbia University , of which he is a proud alumnus, and, finally, he achieved the tremendous distinction of becoming an All-American footballer.

In his early twenties, like Ian and me, he `found out about girls' and later advised us of the New York rule of thumb: "to play the field of the international demi-mondaines, the cost is simple to calculate - 50% more than your income".

He took up the law "to raise hell" and over the years his career flourished. His encyclopaedic wisdom, his fine sense of humour and his kindness to all around him contributed to making him a special New York personality of titanic proportions. While his specialities were nominally international and constitutional law, he acted as counsel to many famous and prestigious American and foreign corporations and businessmen. On the rare occasions when he did not immediately know the answer, he would bury himself in his large library, churn around the shelves and emerge at last with the solution to some knotty problem.

Over the years, as a lawyer, Ernie raised hell against Mussolini, Franco, Hitler and Stalin, with a group putting into effect the policies of the President, by acting as counsel to the Republic of Poland on the brink of war, and by running with the famous columnist Walter Winchell the propaganda campaign against Hitler, before the United States entered the Second World War. It is now also part of the public record that a line of intelligence information between Churchill and Roosevelt was established during the war using the OSS and BSC, outside official communications channels. This consisted of a chain of five men, of whom the third was Ernie.

He is the repository of innumerable secrets; is on intimate terms with the denizens of the corridors of power; and his advice, as can easily be imagined, is widely sought by the famous. So is his company. It is not surprising that this eminence grise of Washington and New York became a most useful as well as a most dear friend to Sir William Stephenson. Ernie was of great help to us in the war and when I met him and became a friend of his I considered myself lucky indeed. He is a wonderful companion, to whom I am indebted for countless happy and laughter-filled hours, and the enormous bulk of wisdom I have not learnt from him is due entirely to my limited ability to learn enough of that which he has the unlimited ability to teach.

With Cuneo , the erudite attorney, it became possible to control and direct a business concerned with news - always fascinating to me. NANA, standing for North American Newspaper Alliance, was a reputable (if modest compared with the giants of AP, UP, Reuters) wire service and syndicator of features. It had been formed originally to enable a group of important regional American newspapers to club together and thus afford to secure the occasional and expensive journalistic treasure. Churchill's memoirs are a prime example. No one paper could afford, alone, to buy the world rights of such a work. NANA could bring them together.

NANA also provided a wire service to hundreds of subscribers from the New York 'limes to unknown local journals in the back-of-beyond, generally of lesser news stories for the inside pages. It fed the American press with the syndicated columns of pundits revered by the public, comic strips with their vast multitude of addicts, cartoons, horoscopes and crossword puzzles. There was always something going on and interesting people to be met: lovable old newsmen living on a shoestring, their reward and all they asked the by-line (their names printed at the foot of any contribution of theirs which received publication) ; celebrities of stage and screen who needed the friendship of the press; callers with original ideas; eccentrics. All kinds of people. It was an interesting life, although nearly impossible to make a profit in such a violently competitive field; but it supplied us with an exaggerated feeling of importance - a feeling shared by no one but ourselves.

Pages 97-98

"Look at the top," he said, pointing at a small handbook entitled Birds of the West Indies which we often needed to consult. "Look - the name." Birds of the West Indies by James Bond.

It was James Bond, the ornithologist, whose homely English name was destined to be known to a hundred million human beings. A letter from Ian at Goldeneye, dated simply "Wednesday", I think, in 1964, says, "James Bond appeared here the other day in person with Mrs B. and we duly stuffed him into the middle of a forty-minute television interview by Canadian Broadcasting ($1000!). A charming couple who are amused by the whole joke. He duly identified our swallows as cave swallows, had lunch and departed. Some scoop for CBC!"

"Yes, that would make a pretty good name," I agreed. From that year on "the books" were annually brought to birth.

Over the years Ian evolved a formula for writing which enabled him to produce his intended novel a year. His "commonplace book", in which he recorded detail and incidents which might someday prove useful, was never far from him. Like all writers, I suppose, he viewed every incident of life with an appraising eye, judging what would be of use in the next book, or the next but one. He took immense trouble with names and plots, although the names sometimes came before the plots. He enjoyed using the names of his friends, or even those whom he knew only slightly. It certainly amused me to discover that Mr and Mrs Bryce signed the visitors' book in Dr No, as well as travelling incognito by train together in Live and Let Die. But it was the names alone which he used, for in most cases the characters bore no resemblance to their real-life originals. Honeychile, the beach girl in Dr No, comes from Honeychile Wilder, Princess Hohenlohe, American-born in Kentucky and a celebrated wit and beauty. Leiter - Tommy rather than Felix - was the scion of the Chicago Leiters, a gentle, friendly millionaire. Fox-Strangways, Bond's station commander in Jamaica , was the Hon. John Fox-Strangways, a great friend of ours at Eton . Ernie Cuneo surfaces as a New York taxi driver. For some of his characters he took both name and background. May Maxwell, our indispensable housekeeper at 74th Street , appears in the same role for James Bond, while Albert Whiting, the golf professional at the Royal Sandwich course, whom Ian knew well, becomes the quick-thinking Albert Blacking in Goldfinger.

In the storehouse of Ian's mind nothing was ever forgotten. One dav while we were all staving at the Farm in Vermont , Ian and Ernie Cuneo decided to visit the famous mud baths at Saratoga Springs . Some miles out of Saratoga they saw a battered sign to the mud baths down a side road. They arrived at ramshackle huts deep in the woods, which proclaimed themselves the mud baths. Hesitating only for a moment they went in and received the full treatment. Only when it was too late did they discover that the vastly luxurious mud baths for which they had set out were in Saratoga itself; they had blundered into what was very much a back-street establishment, filled with all the low life which is attracted to a great gambling centre. That was how the famous mud-bath incident in Diamonds are Forever was born.