Over drinks with James Bond, Domino describes her first hero: the sailor whose face appears on Player’s Cigarettes. The story she made up about him fills 3 or 4 pages in Thunderball, Ian Fleming’s ninth Bond novel, published in 1961. I was startled by the number of details of the Player’s logo that Domino incorporated. For example:
“He kept me company when I was lonely or afraid of being young. He encouraged me, gave me assurance. Have you never thought of the romance behind this picture? You see nothing, yet the whole of England is there! Listen,” she took his arm eagerly, “this is the story of Hero, the name on his cap badge. … You can see from his face – that line of concentration between his eyes – and from his fine head, that he was a man to get on.”
And after she described his career, as he worked his way up to bosun:
“He saved up from his pay and instead of going out fighting and having girls he grew that lovely beard, to make himself look older and more important, and he set to with a needle and coloured threads to make that picture of himself. You can see how well he did it – his first windjammer and his last ironclad with the lifebuoy as a frame. He only finished it when he decided to leave the Navy. He didn’t really like steamships. In the prime of life, don’t you agree? And even then he ran out of gold thread to finish the rope around the lifebuoy, so he just had to tail it off. There, you can see on the right where the rope crosses the blue line ….”
That’s only a small part of Domino’s story about Hero. I can’t remember when I last saw this much discussion of any artwork (even commercial art) in a popular novel! And it’s relevant to the story: it helps us see Domino as a sympathetic character, rather than merely the mistress of Blofeld’s second-in-command at SPECTRE. (The Wikipedia article on Player’s explains the source of the Hero image in more prosaic fashion.)
When the movie Thunderball hit theaters in 1965, the reissued paperback version of Fleming’s novel included a pull-out Player’s ad purporting to be a copy of a charming letter to Bond, handwritten by Domino years after they met. If you happen to own a copy of that edition, treat the letter nicely. It makes your book worth about $1,000 rather than $2.
I bought Thunderball as part of a SPECTRE trilogy issued in time for the release of the latest Bond movie: if I don’t remember who Blofeld is, then it must be time to read Ian Fleming again. Which is good, because I like Fleming’s style, and I haven’t read anything from the 1960s lately. (Bouncing about the centuries, decades, and genres helps me appreciate all periods more, although it does take an effort to switch from East of Eden or the Vicomte de Bragelonne to Thunderball.)
This time around I found Thunderball especially amusing at the beginning, where Bond (who woke up knowing that the eleventh [!] whiskey and soda last night was a mistake) is sent to a health farm to rid his body of toxins. Bond listens to everything they tell him and sticks to the new regime when he arrives back in London … until SPECTRE steals a couple atom bombs. As his housekeeper tells him, you can’t be expected to save the world on carrot juice.
I also enjoy the occasional philosophical / political asides: “This youth, thought Bond, makes about twenty pounds a week, despises his parents, and would like to be Tommy Steele. It’s not his fault. He was born into the buyers’ market of the Welfare State and into the age of atomic bombs and space flight. For him life is easy and meaningless.”