Rolling in privilege

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I note that Rob Aherne, editor of Autocar, in announcing the new Rolls-Royce Phantom, writes that “it wins nothing on privilege, it wins on merit, because the inequality and unearned privilege of life in the old days would now stick in the craw”. Perhaps. Anyway, there is an example to please him in The Life of Ian Fleming, by John Pearson, to which I referred last month. Fleming, by then the important author of the James Bond 007 books, was travelling to America to spend Christmas with friends and was looking forward to being met at Idlewild airport by his friend’s Rolls-Royce. He had rung his New York agent Kemsleys to arrange this.

All the way across the Atlantic he had anticipated finding an immaculate Rolls-Royce waiting to purr his wife and himself off to the friend’s house. But instead of a Rolls-Royce there was a Lincoln, and as Pearson says “true, it was the latest model, but a Rolls and a Lincoln aren’t quite the same”. Fleming was so disappointed that he stayed only one day in New York, and he spoke to the Kemsley girl sharply about the mistake.

A friend had asked Fleming’s opinion of a Bentley Continental and received a favourable reply, but apparently a Rolls-Royce was purchased instead. At home he and his wife used a 2-1/2-litre Riley for fast runs from London to Fleming’s house at St Margaret’s Bay and on continental tours such as over the Pyrenées to Monte Carlo.

Fleming later consulted “his friend Whitney Straight, then chairman of Rolls-Royce”, about who would build a body for the Goldeneye film that would be a cross between a Bentley Continental and a Ford Thunderbird. Fleming’s last car was a Studebaker Avanti with the optional supercharger which gave him great satisfaction until he found an exactly similar car parked outside his London apartment.

Incidentally, those who do historical research of any kind may like to know that before writing the biography, John Pearson is said to have travelled over 100,000 miles and interviewed over 150 people. It resulted in a wonderful coverage of the creator of James Bond: “not since Sherlock Holmes had any fictional character had such an enormous following”.