Guns in Fiction: Ian Fleming
The Bond author originally had his fictional spy/assassin using a Beretta 418 in .25 ACP A reader and 'gun expert' chastised Fleming, recommending an earlier version of this S&W Model 642 -- Airweight Centennial in .38 Special.
Ian Fleming had been in the Naval Intelligence Division for Great Britain during WWII. He was involved in the planning for Operation Goldeneye and was involved in the oversight of a pair of intel units. While there's no record of his involvement in front line operations, he was involved in liason between intelligence organizations which included the British SOE and the US OSS.
Post-war, he was employed by a media concern as the Foreign Manager, responsible for the activities of the newspaper's global network of reporters. Fleming is better known for a series of novels and short stories he wrote about a fictional British spy, James Bond.
For a range of reasons, the motion picture versions of the stories and the character didn't always match Fleming's. As to the origination of the "James Bond gun," there is an interesting tale.
Fleming allegedly was in possession of a 6.35mm Beretta pistol during wartime service. He figured that Bond would be in possession of similar artillery. Any examination of British fiction, in books or motion pictures, would lead one to believe they had little grasp of the employment of the sidearm – or the appropriate use of any firearm.
Like writers on the US side of the pond, it's not the nationality of the writer but the fact that the writer writes
. Research is often not part of the equation.
Fleming's response was to specify the Walther PPK in 7.65mm/.32 ACP, a predecessor of this PPK/s 9mmK/.380 ACP. Having a shorter grip frame, it was only marginally more concealable than this US version.
The Bond gun was originally described as the Beretta 418 .25 ACP. Originally designed before the First World War, the 418 didn't appear until after WWI – some sources showing its arrival in 1919, others in 1920. The magazine capacity was variously described as 7- or 8 rounds. It's a "single action" auto and, according to one source, it's striker-fired. There is a grip safety on some versions of the gun – if not all – and the safety lever appears on the left side of the frame. It's a pivoting arrangement with a long throw, not conducive to quick deactivation in an emergency.
There are images of the gun on the internet. I don't have permission to publish them and a request to Beretta for an archival photo went without results.
Fleming described the gun in his story with a "skeleton grip" – perhaps the stocks were removed? – and it is described in Diamonds Are Forever
as having the "skeleton grip" wrapped in tape. The spy has "sawn" the front sight from the "barrel" (the front sight is on the slide of the 418). Of course, Bond has ground the firing pin to a "sharp point" because pierced primers are clearly better for the operation of the piece and he carries this formidable blaster in a "chamois shoulder holster" so as not to ruin the drape of his custom duds.
A gun crank named Geoffrey Boothroyd was a fan of the 'book-Bond' and dropped Fleming a letter – which still exists. In it, he chastises the author for the sidearm selection as the Beretta 418 in .25 ACP is a "lady's gun" – "not a very nice lady," Boothroyd noted.
Misogynist. I wonder what he'd think of the proliferation of women gun owners and concealed-carry license holders of today?
Boothroyd recommended a stiff leather belt holster and a revolver for the spy. The power was more fitting to personal defense – though one's selection for government-sponsored homicide would likely be something disguised as a non-weapon or would be a centerfire rifle from some distance. The purpose of the handgun, as we know, is to stop fights.
CIA case officers headed to overseas assignments back in the day were allegedly offered an earlier version of the FN Hi Power (P35) shown or a Chief's Special. The source noted that it was more often the S&W snub .38 that was selected for those trips.
The revolver Boothroyd specifies is the Smith & Wesson Airweight Centennial in .38 Special. This is remarkably similar to firearms I've carried in a backup role to heavier service pistols during my career as a peace officer.
Fleming chose the Walther PPK in 7.65mm (.32 ACP). He has a fictional "Major" Boothroyd telling Bond that the round has the impact of a "brick through a plate glass window."
Fictional hyperbole aside, the Bond stories were written in the 1950s into the early 1960s. A lot has changed since then – but the books and movies still tend to get it wrong.
As to Boothroyd, it's easy to make fun of him, but a CIA officer of the 60s and 70s has related stories of using five-shot S&W .38 Special revolvers on overseas assignments – he wasn't far off. A later employee tells how officers would be offered the FN High Power P35 or the Chief Special – and how often the Chief was selected over the P35.
More recently, stories have gotten out about the use of the SIG P228 for such details.
We love the stories and the films, but we don't make personal defense decisions on that basis – if we're wise.
-- Rich Grassi