Invisible Ink: No 168 - Peter Fleming
Saturday 13 April 2013
Peter Fleming was the eldest of four brothers, one of whom became the creator of James Bond. Born into a world of privilege, he went to Eton and Oxford and decided to be an adventurer – not a career category open to many. During the Second World War he served with the Grenadier Guards and was awarded the OBE, before returning to squiredom in Oxfordshire. He also married the actress Celia Johnson, and must have had to put up with a lot of "Brief Encounter" jokes. But we're concerned with the period before the war, when he began travel writing.
In 1932, Fleming replied to an advertisement in the personal columns of The Times that read: "Room Two More Guns – Exploring and sporting expedition under experienced guidance, leaving England June to explore rivers central Brazil, if possible ascertain fate Colonel Percy Fawcett." The resulting travelogue, Brazilian Adventure, became regarded as a classic, and is filled with wandering-off natives, foot-rot, revolting bugs and a race against another expedition.
Fleming became a special correspondent for The Times, crossing from Moscow to Peking through the Caucasus, the Caspian, Samarkand and Tashkent. He boarded the Turkestan-Siberia Railway and the Trans-Siberian to Peking at a time when travelling could still be called an adventure, eventually recounting the tale in A Forgotten Journey. After that he headed for India.
Although he was a decent writer like his brother, Peter was also the product of his time and class, and therefore the master of condescending snobbery. Beijing was dismissed as "lacking in charm"; Shenyang "suburban"; Moscow like "a servant's quarters". But his writing also contained sharp insights, even if his political analysis was weak. His was not the modern mode of travel; he usually started by being introduced to ambassadors. Still, we need writers like this. Not everyone should represent the vox populi.
Later, he wrote accounts of historical events in the lands through which he had travelled: The Siege at Peking, Bayonets to Lhasa and The Fate of Admiral Kolchak. In his memory, The Royal Geographical Society established The Peter Fleming Award for projects that seek to advance geographical science. After his brother Ian's death, he looked after the 007 rights company Gildrose. (Now, there's a film title they haven't used yet.)
Incidentally, Stephen Winkworth's hilarious history of The Times' personal columns, Room Two More Guns, is harder to find than Fleming.
'At times I thought he was me'film
Review: One Direction, Fourmusic
Review: The World of Ice and Firebooks
Film More romcom than S&M
Review: The Imitation Gamefilm
Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars
TVNetflix gets cryptic
TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth
Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 To help fuel their propaganda machine against the poor, our government has now decided to redefine the word 'welfare'
- 2 Tower Bridge glass walkway 'smashed' by night-time visitor dropping bottle of beer
- 3 Anti-gay hate preacher accidentally tweets 4,000 followers cartoon clip of him 'confessing' to be a 'homosexual sodomite'
- 4 Woman opens professional cuddling shop – gets 10,000 customers in first week
- 5 Grayson Perry: London needs affordable housing because 'rich people don't create culture'
Christmas 2014: The three most intriguing celebrity panto appearances
Lee Evans announces his retirement from comedy on The Jonathan Ross Show
Beyonce '7/11' music video: Star bounces on bed and films daughter Blue Ivy in lo-fi homage to viral video
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking leaked footage from Lana Del Rey rape video
Claudia Winkleman returns to Strictly Come Dancing as daughter recovers from Halloween fire accident
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
Rochester by-election: Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigns after posting white van and England flags tweet
France 'blocks' Russian sailors from boarding a warship
Rochester aftermath: Sacking of Emily Thornberry will make work of Labour MPs '10 times harder'
Revealed: How the world gets rich – from privatising British public services