Ian Fleming and Geoffrey Boothroyd

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

I recently found a short BBC piece on the guns of James Bond, and now I’ve found a 1962 Sports Illustrated article in which Ian Fleming shares the original letter from Geoffrey Boothroyd:

I have, by now, got rather fond of Mr. James Bond. I like most of the things about him, with the exception of his rather deplorable taste in firearms. In particular, I dislike a man who comes into contact with all sorts of formidable people using a .25 Beretta. This sort of gun is really a lady’s gun, and not a really nice lady at that. If Mr. Bond has to use a light gun he would be better off with a .22 rim fire; the lead bullet would cause more shocking effect than the jacketed type of the .25.

“May I suggest that Mr. Bond be armed with a revolver? This has many advantages for the type of shooting that he is called on to perform and I am certain that Mr. Leiter would agree with this recommendation. The Beretta will weigh, after it has been doctored, somewhere under 1 pound unloaded. If Mr. Bond gets himself an S & W .38 Special Centennial Airweight he will have a real man-stopper weighing only 17 ounces loaded. The gun is hammerless so that it can be drawn without catching in the clothing and has an overall length of 6½ inches. Barrel length is 2 inches, but note that it is not ‘sawn off.’ No one who can buy his pistols in the States will go to the trouble of sawing off pistol barrels as they can be purchased with short 2-inch barrels from the manufacturers. In order to keep down the bulk the cylinder holds five cartridges, and these are standard .38 S & W Special. It is an extremely accurate cartridge and when fired from a 2-inch barrel has, in standard loading, a muzzle velocity of almost 700 ft./sec. and muzzle energy of around 200 ft./lbs. This is against Bond’s .25 Beretta with muzzle velocity of 758 ft./sec. but only 67 ft./lbs. muzzle energy. So much for his personal gun. Now he must have a real man-stopper to carry in the car. For this purpose the S & W .357 Magnum has no equal except the .44 Magnum. With the .357, Bond can still use his S & W .38 Special cartridges, although not vice versa. The .357 Magnum can be obtained in barrel lengths as follows: 3½ inches, 5 inches, 6 inches, 6½ inches and 83/4 inches long. With a 6½-inch barrel and adjustable rear sights Bond could do some really effective shooting, getting with the .357 Magnum a muzzle velocity of about 1,300 ft./sec. and a muzzle energy of nearly 600 ft./lbs. Figures like these give an effective range of 300 yards, and it’s very accurate, too — 1-inch groups at 20 yards on a machine rest.

With these two guns Bond would be able to cope with really quick-draw work and long-range effective shooting.

Now to gun harness, rigs or what have you. First of all, not a shoulder holster for general wear, please. I suggest that the little Centennial Airweight be carried in a ‘Lightning’ Berns-Martin Triple Draw holster. This type of holster holds the gun in by means of a spring and can be worn on the belt or as a shoulder holster. I have played about with various types of holster for quite a time now and this one is the best. Here are descriptions of how it works — as a belt holster and as a shoulder holster:

A Series. Holster worn on belt at right side. Pistol drawn with right hand.

  1. Ready position. Note that the gun is not noticeable.
  2. First movement. Weight moves to left foot. Hand draws back coat and sweeps forward to catch butt of pistol. Finger outside holster.
  3. Gun comes out of holster through the split front.
  4. In business.

This draw can be done in 3/5ths of a second, and with practice and lots of it you could hit a figure at 20 feet in that time.

B Series. Shoulder holster. Gun upside down on left side. Held in by spring. Drawn with right hand.

  1. First position.
  2. Coat drawn back by left hand, gun butt grasped by right hand, finger outside holster.
  3. Gun coming out of holster.
  4. Bang! You’re dead.

C Series. Holster worn on belt, as in A, but gun drawn with left hand.

  1. Draw commences. Butt held by first two fingers of left hand. Third finger and little finger ready to grasp trigger.
  2. Ready to shoot. Trigger is pulled by third and little finger, thumb curled round stock, gun upside down.

This really works but you need a cutaway trigger guard.

D Series. Holster worn on shoulder, as in B, but gun drawn with left hand.

  1. Coat swept back with left hand and gun grasped.
  2. Gun is pushed to the right to clear holster and is ready for action.

I trust this will explain what I mean. The gun used is an S & W .38 Special with a sawn-off barrel to 2½ inches. (I know this contradicts what I said over the page but I can’t afford the $64 needed, so I had to make my own.) It has target sights — ramp front sight, adjustable rear sight — rounded butt, special stocks and a cutaway trigger guard.

If you have managed to read this far I hope that you will accept the above in the spirit that it is offered. I have enjoyed your books immensely and will say right now that I have no criticism of the women in them, except that I’ve never met any like them and would doubtless get into trouble if I did.

Fleming’s response:

I really am most grateful for your splendid letter of May 23rd.

You have entirely convinced me and I propose, perhaps not in the next volume of James Bond’s memoirs but, in the subsequent one, to change his weapons in accordance with your instructions.

Since I am not in the habit of stealing another man’s expertise, I shall ask you in due course to accept remuneration for your most valuable technical aid.

Incidentally, can you suggest where I can see a .38 Airweight in London. Who would have one?

As a matter of interest, how do you come to know so much about these things? I was delighted with the photographs and greatly impressed by them. If ever there is talk of making films of some of James Bond’s stories in due course, I shall suggest to the company concerned that they might like to consult you on some technical aspects. But they may not take my advice, so please do not set too much store by this suggestion.

From the style of your writing it occurs to me that you may have written books or articles on these subjects. Is that so?

Bond has always admitted to me that the .25 Beretta was not a stopping gun, and he places much more reliance on his accuracy with it than in any particular qualities of the gun itself. As you know, one gets used to a gun and it may take some time for him to settle down with the Smith and Wesson. But I think M. should advise him to make a change; as also in the case of the .357 Magnum.

He also agrees to give a fair trial to the Bern Martin holster, but he is inclined to favour something a little more casual and less bulky. The well-worn chamois leather pouch under his left arm has become almost a part of his clothes and he will be loath to make a change though, here again, M. may intervene.

At the present moment Bond is particularly anxious for expertise on the weapons likely to be carried by Russian agents and I wonder if you have any information on this.

As Bond’s biographer I am most anxious to see that he lives as long as possible and I shall be most grateful for any further technical advices you might like me to pass on to him.

Again, with very sincere thanks for your extremely helpful and workmanlike letter.

I can’t stop sharing these letters. Boothroyd again:

I was truly delighted to receive your charming letter. This is the first time I have had either the inclination or the temerity to write to the author of any books that pass through my hands; quite frankly, in many cases the rest of the material is not worth backing up by correct and authentic ‘gun dope.’ You have, incidentally, enslaved the rest of my household, people staying up to all hours of the night in an endeavour to finish a book before some other interested party swipes it.

If I am to be considered for the post of Bond’s ballistic man I should give you my terms of reference. Age 31, English, unmarried. Member of the following Rifle Clubs: N.R.A., Gt. Britain, English Twenty Club, National Rifle Association of America (nonresident member), West of Scotland Rifle Club, Muzzle Loaders Association of Gt. Britain. I shoot with shotgun and rifle — target, clay pigeon, deer but, to my deep regret, no big game. (I cherish a dream that one day a large tiger or lion will escape from the zoo or a travelling circus and I can bag it in Argyle St., Glasgow, or Princes St., Edinburgh.) I do both muzzle-loading and breech-loading shooting, load my own shotgun and pistol ammunition. Shoot with pistol, mainly target, and collect arms of various sorts. My present collection numbers about 45, not as many as in some collections, but all of mine go off and have been fired by me. Shooting and gun lore is a jolly queer thing; most people stick to their own field, rather like stamp collectors who specialise in British Colonials. Such people shoot only with the rifle and often only .303, or only .22. There are certain rather odd types like myself who have a go at the lot, including archery. It’s a most fascinating study if one has the time, and before long it’s either given up and you collect old Bentleys or it becomes an obsession. We all have a pet aspect of our hobby, and mine at present is this business of ‘draw and shoot,’ or the gun lore of close-combat weapons. On reflection it is pretty stupid, as it’s most unlikely that I shall ever do this sort of thing in earnest, but it has the pleasant advantage of not having, very many fish in the pond and however you look at it you are an authority. In Scotland I have the space to do this sort of thing, and have two friends who are not 150 miles away to talk to. I seem to have taken up a lot of space on this — must want to impress you!

Now to the work. The S & W Airweight model is not common in England, at least in a shop. I therefore enclose S & W’s latest catalogue, which shows current models. Perhaps you would let me have this back, as I have to send it off to another chap who is going to S. America and he wants to buy a gun when he gets there. The only people in London who may have S & W new-model pistols will be Thomas Bland and Sons, William IVth St., Strand, and Cogs-well and Harrison. Current demand for pistols in this country is restricted to folks going off to Kenya, Malaya, etc.

Some people have bought modified guns from Cogswell and Harrison. This type is a cut-down S & W .38 Special Military & Police Model. I’m sorry I can’t help regarding an actual inspection of a new-model S & W. The only people who may have one are Americans in this country or James Bond.

Re holsters. A letter to S. D. Myres Saddle Co., 5030 Alameda Blvd., El Paso, Texas, will bring you their current holster catalogue. The Berns-Martin people live in Calhoun City, Mississippi, and a note to Jack Martin, who is a first-class chap and a true gunslinger, will bring you illustrations of his work. Bond’s chamois leather pouch will be ideal for carrying a gun, but God help him if he has to get it out in a hurry. The soft leather will snag and foul on the projecting parts of the gun and he will still be struggling to get the gun out when the other fellow is counting the holes in Bond’s tummy. Bond has a good point when he mentions accuracy. It’s no good shooting at a man with the biggest gun one can hold — if you miss him. The thing about the larger calibres is, however, that when you hit someone with a man-stopping bullet they are out of the game and won’t lie on the floor still popping off at you.

Regarding weapons carried by Russian agents. I have had little experience of using weapons from behind the Iron Curtain or of meeting people who use them. I did once meet a Polish officer who was some sort of undercover man and cloak-and-dagger merchant and he used an American Colt automatic in .38 cal. I would suggest that a member of SMERSH would in all probability make his choice from the following, and use either a Luger with an 8-inch, 10-inch, 12-inch or 16-inch barrel with detachable shoulder stock or a Mauser 7.63 automatic with shoulder stock for assassination work from a medium distance, say across a street. A short-barrel 9-mm. Luger (Model 08), 4-inch barrel, might be carried for personal protection, although it is rather large to carry about. In the same class as the Luger and having equal availability to someone employed by SMERSH would be the Polish Radom Model 35. This takes the standard Luger cartridge and also the more powerful black-bulleted machine pistol 9-mm. round. It closely resembles the Colt Model 1911, or perhaps more so the Colt 9-mm. Commander. Another choice would be the Swedish 9-mm. Lahti. This is a strong and very well-made pistol strongly reminiscent of the Luger. It weighs 44 ounces loaded as compared with 34 ounces for the short-barrel Luger.

The Russian Tokarev pistol Model 30 appears to be the standard sidearm of the Soviets, and once again is a close copy of John Browning’s basic pistol. Calibre 7.62 Russian or 7.63 Mauser and designed in the 1930s. This pistol looks like the Belgian Browning auto pistol made by Fabrique Nationale, Liège, except that it has an external hammer. There is no manual safety, and if the gun is carried loaded at full cock, obvious safety hazards exist. Carried at half-cock the gun undoubtedly would be safer, but the hammer design is such that cocking the hammer is not an easy job and the first shot would be a slow one from the draw.

In this same general class would be the Walther P-38, which was used by the German army as a replacement for the Luger. Evidence is that the pistol is not quite as good as it might be, this being probably due to production difficulties met with during the war. This also takes the 9-mm. cartridge. One of the advantages of the Walther is that it can be used double-action, i.e., there is no need to cock the hammer for the first shot provided the barrel has a cartridge ‘up the spout.’ After the first shot the gun operates as does the normal auto pistol.

For carrying on the person the following arms could be chosen: Walther PPK 7.65-mm., Mauser HS c. 7.65-mm. or the Walther PP in 7.65-mm. cal., Sauer Model 38 H in 7.65-mm. calibre.

All of the above were tested for accuracy, endurance, etc., by the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps in 1948. Also included were the Japanese Nambu and the American Colt 1911A1 Auto. In accuracy the Nambu came first, followed by the Russian Tokarev, the Sauer being third. Colonel F. S. Allen, USAF, who wrote an article on the findings of the O.C. tests, concluded by saying that for an emergency defence weapon he would have a lightweight .38 Special, a decision which I heartily agree with.

I hope that when the SMERSH operative, armed perhaps with one of the guns mentioned above, meets Bond, your friend will be able to adequately demonstrate the effectiveness of Anglo-American cooperation, a competent English pistol man behind a truly lethal .38 Special.

The above should give some idea of the type of weapon likely to be carried by SMERSH men, the Russians being rather similar to ourselves where firearms are concerned. They do not hesitate to use foreign weapons if they are better than those produced by themselves. An instance of this was their use of the Finnish Soumi light machine gun during the last war. In brief, one could be safe in arming an agent of SMERSH with the Tokarev, Radom or Luger, in that order. Pocket weapons would be either German Mauser or Walther.

Please convey warmest regards to Mr. Bond and assure him of my closest interest in his activities and very willing cooperation in his ‘gun needs’ for as long as he wishes. Instead of remuneration, an introduction to Solitaire would more than adequately compensate me for the little trouble I have taken. Between you and me, I quite enjoy it.

And Fleming:

I have been away in Vienna, and seeing a man about a flying saucer in Paris, and I have only just had your letter of June 1st with enclosures.

Thank you again most sincerely for taking all this trouble, and also for sending me the very interesting information on your own career and hobbies. You certainly seem to lead a full life!

I am intrigued by your mention of archery. I have long thought that Bond could do a lot of damage with a short steel bow and appropriate arrows. What do you think of this suggestion, and do you know someone who would instruct me on weapons, ranges and so forth?

I am returning the Smith & Wesson catalogue and, since I am off to New York at the end of July, I propose to purchase a Centennial Airweight.

Would this not, in any case, be the best weapon for Bond? There is no hammer to catch in his clothes.

I am vastly intrigued by your own M & P model and by the way you have beautified it. Bond will certainly adopt your two-thirds trigger guard. I don’t intend to go too deeply into the holster problem and I intend to accept your expertise in the matter of the Berns-Martin holster.

Only one basic problem remains in changing Bond’s weapon, and that is in the matter of a silencer. It would have to be an extremely bulky affair to silence a .38 of any make and I simply can’t see one fitted to the Centennial. Have you any views?

As a matter of fact, a change of Bond’s weapons is very appropriate. In his next adventure, which deals with an intricate plot by SMERSH to kill Bond, he finally gets into really bad trouble when the Beretta — with silencer — sticks in his waistband.

It is too late now to save him from the consequences, but in the book that follows, if I have the energy and ingenuity to write one, I shall start off with a chapter devoted entirely to his re-equipment along the lines you suggest.

But in this chapter the matter of a silencer will have to be overcome and, in fact, in his latest adventure, which I mention above, he could hardly have used an unsilenced .38 in the room at the Ritz Hotel in Paris where he wrestles fruitlessly with his snarled gun.

Turning to foreign weapons, have you by any chance got the article by Colonel Allen on the findings of the O.C. tests, or could you tell me where it appeared? It sounds most useful to my purposes.

Once again, please accept my very warm thanks for your kindness in taking Bond’s armoury in hand and sorting it out. As a small recompense for your trouble I am sending you a shiny and rather expensive book on Odd Weapons which has just appeared and which perhaps you do not possess. It is not exactly on your beat, but it may entertain.”

Back to Boothroyd:

Silencers. These I do not like. The only excuse for using one is on a .22 rifle using low-velocity ammunition, i.e., below the speed of sound. With apologies, I think you will find that silencers are more often found in fiction than in real life. An effective silencer on an auto pistol would be very ponderous and would spoil the balance of the gun, and to silence a revolver would be even more difficult due to the gas escape between the cylinder and the barrel. Personally I can’t at this stage see how one would fit a silencer to a Beretta unless a special barrel were made for it, as the silencer has to be screwed on to the barrel, and as you know there is very little of the barrel projecting in front of the slide on the Beretta.

This business of using guns in houses or hotels is a very strange one. So few people are familiar with what a gun sounds like that I would have little hesitation in firing one in any well-constructed building. This remark is only regarding the noise or nuisance value. I would not fire a pistol in a room without some thoughts on the matter, as bullets have a bad habit of bouncing off things and coming home to roost. I have fired .455 blanks at home on several occasions, even in the middle of the night, without any enquiries being made. The last time was at Christmas when I blew out the candles on the Christmas cake with a pistol and blanks. To conclude, if possible don’t have anything to do with silencers.

I found this letter excerpt from Fleming intriguing:

I sympathize with you about not liking silencers, but the trouble is that there are often occasions when they are essential to Bond’s work. But they are clumsy things and only partially effective, though our Secret Services developed some very good ones during the war, in which the bullet passed through rubber baffles. I have tried a Sten gun silenced with one of these and all one could hear was the click of the machinery.

I rather like the picture of you going through life firing bullets ‘in any well-constructed building’! But I agree with you that one could probably get away with a single shot in a Paris hotel bedroom. Your Christmas trick would, of course, be helped by its association in a listener’s mind with cracker-pulling.

He had fired a silenced Sten gun, and it was in fact silent?

Anyway, this is what gun nuts had to do before the Internet. I’m having trouble imagining Bond with an American revolver.


  1. Doctor Pat says:

    When I was young I had regular access to firearms and places to shoot them — not in a well constructed building, but rather in the local park, which was large enough for 15 minutes of walking to get you far enough in for sounds to be muffled and safe.

    Anyway, my friends and I certainly experimented with silencers, which helped no end in giving us places to shoot. Using a .22 rimfire rifle, as suggested, we found that a Coca-Cola can, fit over the end of a barrel, and stuffed with crumpled up newspaper was quite sufficient. The bullet would pass through the paper fairly easily, but the hot propelling gasses would be lost in all the folds and the result would be about as loud as clapping your hands.

    This no doubt destroyed any accuracy. But we couldn’t aim anyway with a Coke can covering the sights.

    Then someone came up with silence ammunition. Called, if I remember correctly, Winchester Long Z, these .22 rimfire rounds sounded, when fired from a normal rifle without any newspaper, like a hand clap. The loudest sound was the semi-automatic action reloading the next bullet.

    Since then I’ve read many, many books in which the author, narrator, or wise old detective assures the naive youngster that silencers do not work in real life. The truth being that they can work very well, if the ammunition is suitable. We never bothered, but I’m sure a bolt-action rifle with a Coke-can silencer and the Long Z could probably be fired in a restaurant without notice.

  2. Isegoria says:

    A .22 can definitely be silenced — or suppressed — and choosing sub-sonic ammo is a big part of that. (Ordinary super-sonic ammo cracks like a whip.)

    I wasn’t familiar with that Winchester Long Z ammo, but a little research reveals that it’s really sub-sonic, with a muzzle velocity of just 800 feet per second, rather than 1,000 or so, for most sub-sonic ammo.

    I’m a little surprised you used a Coke can, because I’ve read that plastic Coke bottles were the go-to silencer for Chechen snipers. (Actually, I’m not surprised, because plastic Coke bottles weren’t around when I was a kid.)

    The Israelis, of course, use top-notch equipment: a Ruger 10/22 with full-length suppressor, bipod, and 4x scope.

  3. Doctor Pat says:

    I vaguely recall some incidents in school that only make sense if plastic softdrink bottles were available, but at the time they were not that common.

    Anyway, cans looked more like the silencers in the movies, and were perfectly adequate for a .22.

  4. Conn Shawnery says:

    Thanks for sharing the article.

    It is, in fact, possible to silence a pistol or a rifle to the point where the loudest sound is the click of the mechanism. Here is an example.

    There was an integrally suppressed rifle called the De Lisle carbine, developed for British commandos in WWII, that was equally quiet, although the suppressor was much thicker.

  5. “I’m having trouble imagining Bond with an American revolver.”

    When I’m thinking about movies with Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton or Pierce Brosnan as a James Bond, I agree – it’s hard to imagine. But Daniel Craig? Nowadays Bond using even panzerfaust wouldn’t be so strange.

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