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Ian Fleming proofs (Part 2): You Only Live Twice

After the popularity of last week’s post about the uncorrected proof of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, this week we take a look at the proof edition of You Only Live Twice:

It was the book that marked the thrilling conclusion of the ‘Blofeld Trilogy’; the book that took Bond to the exotic climes of Japan, and the book that even saw our titular hero sire a child.


With the movies also now in full-swing, it was not surprising that anticipation for the 12th Bond book – You Only Live Twice – was significant.


A whopping 62,000 copies were pre-ordered (50% more than the 42,000 advance orders for OHMSS), and even though this book wasn’t quite a smash hit with the critics [The Times said ‘the Bond-image flails its way through the middle-brow masses’], it did well enough on its release for the planned second impression to be pushed forward, and made part of a much larger first impression print run.


But what of the literary production of this book, as told by the uncorrected proof?

Was it similarly error-laden as the previous year’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service? Or, can we see in the proof a book that was substantially done, and one not that much different from the final published novel?


Corrections were already occurring at the manuscript stage

Before taking a look at the proof directly, we know already (from bibliographer, Jon Gilbert), that modifications to Fleming’s initial manuscript were already being made by Fleming’s typist, Jean Frampton, as she went along.


Gilbert notes that for You Only Live Twice, Frampton’s “usual editing and corrections were requested.”


These – it seems – were mostly very obvious typos and grammar errors (such as ‘disgustingly’ for ‘disgustedly’ – p 145), and numerous others (including specific Japanese spellings).

But it’s remarked that she did also notice occasional discrepancies. One of these in particular was a difference in the description of Blofeld’s castle, where Fleming had said it was both four and five storeys high at different points in the book. After this was noticed, it was clear a single height needed settling on. [A grander five storeys was the number eventually chosen].


By the time the 500 proof copies of You Only Live Twice were printed and bound, Gilbert notes that Fleming received six of them. He also adds that “a proof copy incorporating the author’s own corrections was sent to the offices of Playboy” - [it serialized the book shortly after publication] – from which its printing was set.

Even though the Playboy version was described as being ‘heavily edited’, one can only presume that the same corrections made to the Playboy-sent proof were also transposed onto another proof copy and incorporated into the final text that became the eventual printed first edition.


So, what differences can we spot in the uncorrected proof?


Gilbert lists some of the ones he’s spotted – including the most obvious ones (differences in contents page/page numbering/layout; plus the proof having an ‘Author’s note’ page in the preliminaries that is completely absent in the published book - see below):

Left: Proof; middle: 1st edition with changed page numbers/itallics; right: proof 'authors note'

However, rather than highlighted changes already known about, I’m highlighting some of the other ones I’ve found that are not mentioned in Gilbert, and majoring on one very big change that I feel has particular relevance/interest.


First off, some very minor changes:

On p 226, we see an example of a very common type of correction between the proof and the final text - literals that need changing. Here (above), we see a very minor him/he literal ('he!' in the published book).

We also see other changes, such as spellings - although - as shown in the example below - this is also for emphasis: 'Britisher' is changed to 'Britischer' in the published version - as Blofeld describes the unmasking of Bond to the Swiss/possibly German, Irma Bunt:

The ‘big’ change:

These sorts of typo corrections are largely very minor.

The most significant change I’ve spotted, however, is one where there is the entire removal of a sentence at the very end of chapter 20 - ‘Blood and Thunder’.

It's important, because the sentence that’s taken out is at critical point in the narrative. Bond has just grabbed the rope of the helium balloon, in a desperate attempt to escape, as the remote castle of death is being destroyed, but he is rising dangerously upwards over the sea.


In the published book, the final six lines of the chapter read: “Punctured by a bullet, the balloon was fast losing height. Below, the softly swelling sea offered a bed. Bond let go with hands and feet and plummeted down towards the peace, towards the rippling feathers of some childhood dream of softness and escape from pain.”


In the proof, we see an entirely different start to this passage. The proof book version reads: Two hundred feet below, the softly swelling sea offered a bed… [and the rest continues as per the published version]. SEE BELOW:

Left (top): the proof. Left bottom - the final book.

Right (top): how the final book reads - with a new sentence added about the ballon losing height. Below it the proof's original version of events - without this added sentence!

As we can see, by the time the book is published, the reference to the height Bond is above the sea has been entirely removed.

Moreover, there is the deliberate insertion: The balloon is now ‘fast losing height’ – from being hit by a stray bullet – rather than rising (which had been implied when Bond first grabbed hold of the rope, half a page earlier).


It seems that instead of Bond’s danger coming from an ascending balloon, the peril is now that it’s descending, and quickly, and possibly that it is out of control. Reference to the 200 feet height he's reached is now completely gone - leaving the reader to picture Bond’s jeopardy for themselves.


Why has this happened?

Surely, it's much more breathtaking for Bond’s balloon to be ever-rising - isn’t it?

But maybe the changes have been made because someone saw sense.


Research at the time reveals a 200-foot fall would likely kill a human, and so maybe the decision was made to remove this and have the reader imagine their own upper limits of Bond’s fall. Remember, we’ve already seen that Fleming opted to go for a higher, 5-storey, castle. Maybe this added height is causing the author problems at the finale of the book, because to be at the top of the castle, and then catch a lift on a rising balloon puts Bond too high up to survive a fall from it.


Almost contemporaneously with the publication of You Only Live Twice (in 1965), the US Aviation Agency determined that a human would most probably die falling into water above anything higher than 186 ft . That's when a person reaches a falling speed of around 100ft per second. It predicted only a 25% of survival at a falling speed of 90-100 ft/sec and only 4.9% survival at anything higher than this. Even today, the world record for a dive into water is 172 feet.


It seems likely that someone (was it Fleming?), had to concede that a rising balloon (and specifically 200 feet up), was not a likely scenario Bond could escape from alive - despite arguably being a more exciting prospect for the reader to experience.

It seems likely the balloon now needed a quick way to be falling (from a puncture), to be more true to life, while still offering Bond an uncomfortable landing in the readers’ minds-eye.


And so the change was made.

To me though, this correction does feel clumsy, like it's a rushed insertion. If the balloon has suddenly been hit by a bullet, from whom has it been fired? There should be no-one left alive, one surmises, because the whole castle is exploding/imploding.

Did Fleming use the word bullet to refer to a projectile of some sort, coming from he exploding rock below? It doesn't seem likely to me. It all smacks of being a bit last-minute; a an addition to quickly correct a factual inaccuracy - perhaps done hastily, and with no time to spare before the actual type-setting of the final book.

The fascination of proofs

As we said last week, with our analysis of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, a substantial change like this is important bibliographic evidence that even at the proof-book stage, Cape/Fleming (who exactly, we wonder?) were still tinkering away, and were still prepared to make important revisions, very late in the process.

We do know that Fleming would rather write first, and check later. He said as much in his essay on ‘How to write a thriller’, in which he said: “I don’t even pause from writing to choose the right word or to verify spelling or a fact. All this can be done when your book is finished.”

In fact, Fleming himself says that a lot of work goes into corrections, even before it’s sent to Jonathan Cape. He adds: “When my book is finished I spend about a week going through it and correcting the most glaring errors and rewriting passages. I then have it properly typed with chapter headings and all the rest of the trimmings. I then go through it again, have the worst pages retyped and send it off to my publisher.”

But, the fact elements of the book are still being re-written, even after all of these stages by Fleming, and when the uncorrected proof is actually bound up, suggests that either aspects were still being noticed, or that this particular book was still being forensically looked at, right up until the last minute.

Maybe he was worried about an increasingly educated readership. Fleming had already been wounded by criticism of Bond’s gun-of-choice, his Beretta, being described as a ‘ladies gun’ in the early books by British firearms expert, Geoffrey Boothroyd. The criticism actually led him to Fleming changing Bond's gun to the famous Walther PPK from Dr No onwards.

Fleming says: “The final typescript goes to the printer and in due course the galley or page proofs are there and you can go over them with a fresh eye. Then the book is published and you start getting letters from people saying that Vent Vert is made by Balmain and not by Dior, that the Orient Express has vacuum and not hydraulic brakes, and that you have mousseline sauce and not Béarnaise with asparagus. Such mistakes are really nobody’s fault except the author’s, and they make him blush furiously when he sees them in print.”

Maybe this late, substantial end-of-chapter correction, shows Fleming - despite being increasingly unwell - was still attempting to raise his game.

If he did realise this was perhaps going to be his final, fully hands-on book, maybe he wanted to make it the best he could. He didn’t want errors to get in the way of his thrilling story, or for his readers to be more eagle-eyed as him, or the Cape proof readers.







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1 Comment

Jun 13

Fantastic and informative blog, I guess that every Author of fiction , no matter how proficient, will find that someone somewhere will find an error of sorts.

Personally I think that errors are more common then what we think.

Great blog very informative can't wait for the next one. Thank you.

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