Trigger’s Lucky Berlin Escape: 50 years of The Living Daylights
To mark 50 years since the first publication of Octopussy & The Living Daylights on this day in 1966, we join writer Tom Cull for a journey into Fleming’s short story of assassination on the streets of Berlin; the fulcrum of Cold War tension.
The Living Daylights had a few working titles including ‘Trigger Finger’, but first appeared in The Sunday Times colour supplement in 1962, under the title ‘Berlin Escape’. Written in two weeks at the end of September, before On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and after the disappointing reception of The Spy Who Loved Me, this short story was a serious, back-to-basics effort, which took Bond to his secret service roots. Not for nothing did Bond own a Double-0 status and this was Fleming’s way of proving it: by the no-nonsense briefing from M, target practice at the Century Range in Bisley, then off to Berlin to assassinate a deadly KGB sniper codenamed ‘Trigger.’
It is a taut, tough and brutally realistic window into a fraught Cold War Berlin, which by 1961 was still emerging from economic and political divisions from a war that destroyed 50% of the city and left 8 million dead. Two very different political ideologies were pitted against each other between the Soviet socialist sector in the East of Berlin and the Allied sector in the West. The Soviets dismantled much of the industries and transport that existed, which encouraged a thriving black market economy and culminated in the ultimate segregation – the Berlin Wall. When Fleming visited Berlin for part of his Thrilling Cities volume, he described the Eastern Sector where ‘death and chaos and, worst of all, present drabness hang most heavily in the air.’
Fleming knew Germany well from his education and travels, but to reflect the state of play on the ground during the Cold War with the right verisimilitude, he turned to a trusted colleague and friend, who was every bit as skilled as Bond; Anthony Terry.
Terry had worked under Fleming for the Mercury Foreign News Service in Vienna, Bonn, Paris, and most importantly, Berlin. Terry had been one of MI6’s most successful agents during WW2 and his knowledge of Berlin provided a wealth of intelligence, or ‘gen’ as Fleming would commonly say. He ran his foreign correspondents at the newspaper much like he had whilst in Naval Intelligence, and the lines were often blurred as to whether he was seeking news stories or genuine intelligence to relay back to his former employers. One such recipient was the MI6 officer Nicholas Elliot, who was at Durnford School with Fleming and became famous for the disappearance of Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabb and the defection of Kim Philby on his watch.
Terry’s detailed knowledge of Germany provided Fleming with local news and gossip on Berlin for his regular Atticus column (chronicling a range of obscure incidents, interesting facts and mild gossip) at The Sunday Times, as well as much of the location information for the chapter on Berlin in Thrilling Cities. Letters between the two frequently flowed between Kemsley House and wherever Terry was at the time in Germany. Fleming’s more light-hearted letters, still revelling in the cloak and dagger aspects of the work, were met with Terry’s precise (and lengthy) replies; the hallmarks of an intelligence officer.
In a letter sent to Fleming in 1956, Terry wrote responses to questions (with alternative scenarios) for Fleming to use for his next story, even including tram numbers and building addresses. The detail was remarkable. Fleming responded in a letter dated 17th July 1956:
‘You really shouldn’t have taken so much trouble. You have practically written a thriller and I was fascinated by all the gen.’ (Yours Ever, Ian Fleming: Letters to and from Anthony Terry; Judith Lennart, privately published, 1994).
Fleming had moved to 4 Mitre Court, just off Fleet St., after finishing with The Sunday Times, and continued to correspond with Terry – this time more as friends than as business associates. On 31st October 1961 Fleming, without hesitation, wrote to Terry for advice on his next story, to be set in Berlin. For example, he asked about which sectors Kochstrasse and Wilhelmstrasse were in order to accurately portray the apartment buildings where Bond and Trigger are respectively holed up waiting for Agent 272 to make a run for it between the East and West sectors.
The crux of the drama takes place over the three days and nights where Bond waits patiently to take the shot from 40a Wilhelmstrasse, one block away from Checkpoint Charlie. This crossing point between the East and West sectors was designated for foreigners and members of the Allied forces and later became a renowned symbol for the Cold War. Today it is a tourist attraction, but in 1962, when The Living Daylights was written, this might have been the first introduction to it for his readers, despite several incidents there. The story eerily foreshadowed the death of an East German teenager Peter Fechter on 17 August 1962, six months after the story was first published. Fechter was shot by East German guards when trying to cross the wall into the West and bled to death a few metres inside the Soviet sector.
A tedious enough task as it was for Bond, he suffers further from the company of straight-laced staff-man Captain Paul Sender, nervously watching over him all the time with only a bottle of Dimple Haig and a copy of Verderbt, Verdammt, Verraten (a fabrication of Fleming’s) as respite.
Through Sender’s character, Fleming inserts a dig at Wykehamists (former pupils of Winchester College) on several occasions. Bond paints him as a tea or a Horlicks man and learns all he needs from his tie:
‘Bond knew the type: backbone of the Civil Service; over-crammed and under-loved at Winchester; a good second in PPE at Oxford; the war, staff jobs he would have done meticulously; perhaps an OBE.’
He even has a ‘Wykehamist snore’.
As the action unfolds, the noise of the orchestra cleverly masks the KGB’s gunfire as they try to prevent the agent whom Bond has been sent to protect, escape to the West. It is commonly suggested that this idea was inspired by Pat Reid’s true-life escape from the Colditz prisoner of war camp, where two escapees ran across a courtyard under the cover of orchestra noise. The conductor of the Colditz orchestra was Reid’s fellow POW Douglas Bader, who happened to be a golfing partner of Fleming later in life.
Bond assumes his target, ‘Trigger’ is a man but it turns out to be the beautiful woman he had spotted with the orchestra earlier carrying a cello case. The inspiration for this character was clear:
‘Of course Suggia had managed to look elegant, as did that girl Amaryllis somebody.’
This is a reference to Fleming’s sister Amaryllis Fleming, who was a celebrated cellist and had been mentored by the Portuguese concert cellist Guilhermina Suggia. Amaryllis was a very popular member of the Fleming clan. In Fergus Fleming’s biography Amaryllis Fleming, he mentions that Ian had even offered her royalties from From Russia, with Love, so it was fitting that she should have been immortalised at some point within one of his stories. She solemnly returned the favour by playing Bach’s Sarabande in C-minor at Fleming’s funeral.
Yet perhaps another inspiration, not directly indicated, came from a real-life Russian sniper – one who was responsible for fifty-four confirmed kills, including enemy snipers during the Battle of Vilnius.
Roza Shanina was a beautiful, blonde Russian sniper and was among the first female snipers to receive the Soviet Medal for Courage. Roza only lived to be 20 years old, killed in battle in 1945, but her legend as ‘the unseen terror of East Prussia’ lived on. Might Fleming have had her in mind for ‘Trigger’ too? It’s certainly possible…
Fleming’s ‘Trigger’ was luckier than Roza. Bond could not bring himself to kill her, instead shooting her Kalashnikov from her hands. When quizzed by Sender as to why Bond let her off, he remarks:
‘Certainly broke her nerve for that kind of work. Scared the living daylights out of her. In my book, that was enough.’
The story can be found in the short story collection Octopussy and The Living Daylights, which was posthumously released on 23rd June, 1966.
It has also been narrated by Tom Hiddleston in the recent audiobook series; read more here.