The Midas Touch: 60 Years of Goldfinger

Word & Image
March 22, 2019

Published on 23 March 1959, Ian Fleming’s novel features his most colourful villain – Auric Goldfinger, tycoon, smuggler, and treasurer for Soviet counter-intelligence. His chrysophily extends to making love to gold-painted women and culminates in Operation Grand Slam, a fantastical attempt to rob the U.S. Bullion Depository at Fort Knox.

Ian Fleming’s “Goldfinger”. Cover designed by Pat Owen. London: Pan Books, 1963 (8th printing). NAL Pressmark: 801.AD.0002. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London/The Ian Fleming Estate and Ian Fleming Publications Ltd.

Fleming often named his characters after real people, such as the schoolboys Blofeld and Scaramanga who were his contemporaries at Eton. The name of James Bond himself was borrowed from an American ornithologist, author of Birds of the West Indies. However, the architect Ernö Goldfinger was not amused to learn that his surname would become a byword for megalomania and moral depravity. This was not happenstance, since Fleming knew of Goldfinger through playing golf regularly with his wife’s cousin.

Photograph of Ernö Goldfinger, by Sam Lambert, 1972. © RIBA Collections

He disliked the Hungarian émigré as a Marxist who had designed the British Communist Party HQ in Covent Garden, and Goldfinger’s own material obsession with concrete represented to Fleming the worst of contemporary architecture. In his travel book Thrilling Cities, he denounced the dehumanising nature of post-war modernist housing as “the ‘up-ended-packet-of-fags’ design for the maximum number of people to live in the minimum amount of space. This system treats the human being as a six-foot cube of flesh … and fits him with exquisite economy into steel and concrete cells.” When Goldfinger threatened legal action, Fleming proposed to insert an erratum slip into the novel, changing the character’s name to GOLDPRICK and explaining the reason why. The dispute was settled out of court, with Fleming’s publisher paying Goldfinger’s costs and sending him six free copies of the book.

Ian Fleming’s “Goldfinger”. Cover designed after Raymond Hawkey. London: Pan Books, 1963 (9th printing). NAL Pressmark: SN.92.0089. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London/The Ian Fleming Estate and Ian Fleming Publications Ltd.

Ian Fleming’s own fascination with gold may date from his early career as a stockbroker during the economic turmoil of the 1930s. He collected Spanish doubloons and wrote with a gold-tipped ballpoint. In 1952 he bought himself a gold-plated typewriter to celebrate completing his first novel Casino Royale. He wrote his books at Goldeneye, his estate in Oracabessa (“Golden Head”) Bay in Jamaica, which he named after a wartime operation planned while serving in Naval Intelligence. The pursuit of gold features throughout his work, from pirate treasure in Live and Let Die to Nazi loot in Octopussy. In his last novel The Man with the Golden Gun, Bond duels with the assassin ‘Pistols’ Scaramanga who wields a gold-plated Colt .45 revolver which fires golden bullets.

Ian Fleming’s “Goldfinger”. Cover designed by Richard Chopping. London: Jonathan Cape, 1965 (6th printing). NAL Pressmark: 801.AS.0045. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London/The Ian Fleming Estate and Ian Fleming Publications Ltd.

The National Art Library’s Ian Fleming collection contains several editions of Goldfinger with suitably dazzling artwork, notably Richard Chopping’s dust-jacket. Designed to Fleming’s specifications, its macabre symbolism memorably expresses the novel’s themes of greed, sex and death.

About the author

Word & Image
March 22, 2019

I work in the National Art Library with particular responsibility for Special Collections. My favourite Bond novel is "Moonraker" and my favourite Bond film is "Goldfinger". I prefer my martinis...

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