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Thunderball is the eighth novel, and ninth book, in Ian Fleming's James Bond series. It was created with the intention of being turned into a film, and is officially credited as being "based on a screen treatment by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham and Ian Fleming", a shared credit which has been the subject of much controversy. The novel was published in 1961 and stands, technically, as the first novelisation of a James Bond screenplay, even though at the time it was written and published, no such film had yet been produced. It was subsequently adapted as a daily comic strip beginning in 1961.

Thunderball has, to date, been adapted twice for the cinema. The first adaptation was released in 1965, with Sean Connery as James Bond. It was the fourth official Bond movie in EON Productions' series. McClory later produced an unofficial remake, 1983's Never Say Never Again, which again starred Connery as Bond. Thunderball was originally scheduled to have been the first James Bond film, in 1962, but this was later changed to Dr. No due to a lawsuit brought about by McClory.

The novel[]

The novel features the first and technically the last appearance of the criminal organization SPECTRE in its full form in Ian Fleming's novels. After Thunderball, SPECTRE attempts to re-form; however, it is prevented from doing so by 007. The book also features the first appearance of Bond's greatest enemy, SPECTRE leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld, although 007 does not actually meet the man in this book. This differs from the films, which introduced SPECTRE in Dr. No and Blofeld in From Russia with Love.

Thunderball is the first book in what is known as the "Blofeld Trilogy", which, after the interlude novel The Spy Who Loved Me, resumes with On Her Majesty's Secret Service and concludes with You Only Live Twice.

Plot summary[]

James Bond wakes up with a nasty hangover after a night of losing at bridge, because he was too drunk to play well. He feels awful, and he does not have much to look forward to except more paperwork. Then his telephone rings, a call from Headquarters. Bond rushes to Headquarters to meet with his superior, M, but the call is not as urgent as he anticipated. M sends Bond to a health clinic to recover from over-drinking and over-smoking after feeling much refreshed after staying there himself.

A personable young taxi driver shuttles James Bond to Shrublands. The driver gives Bond the low-down on Shrublands, explaining how the clients cheat on their diets by binging at the local tea-shops and how the local prostitute, Polly Grace, made a small fortune on the clients and is now too expensive for local boys. Bond arrives at the clinic and meets Joshua Wain, the head naturopath. Wain looks over Bond and his medical records, noting the scars Bond has accumulated in his life of adventure. Bond passes them off as accidents or results of war duty. Wain outlines a plan of diet, massage, and other treatments, including traction techniques.

Encountering a mysterious man known as Count Lippe, Bond distrusts him and grows suspicious. Bond is exhausted at the end of his first day's treatment, but he takes the time to call MI6 Headquarters and discover that Count Lippe's tattoo marks him as a member of a Macau-based criminal organization called The Red Lightning Tong. Lippe himself, meanwhile, overhears Bond enquiring into him on the phone.

Bond continues to go through his treatments and live on a starvation diet of vegetable soup and tea. After a few days, Bond feels awful, but the workers assure him it is the poisons leaving his system. After three days, Bond goes in for osteopathic manipulation. He meets the masseuse, the gorgeous Patricia Fearing. He finds her objective, professional treatment of his body difficult to tolerate. Finally, he kisses her on purpose. She nearly slaps him in shock. Fearing sets Bond up on top of the traction table and leaves him for a few moments, however, during her time away Bond is attacked by Count Lippe who turns up the power on the traction table in an attempt to kill him. Bond faints but is ultimately saved when Fearing returns.

Bond awakes with the memory of pain already dim. He overhears Patricia Fearing explaining how she found him at the machine with the dial turned all the way up and did everything she could for him. Mr. Wain speculates Bond must have turned it up himself, possibly by accident. Bond passes out again. When Bond wakes again, he is being gently massaged with fur gloves by Patricia. She gives him some brandy. Bond pretends he turned the dial by accident, and he promises to keep the affair secret.

James Bond is a new man. He has learned all about proper diet, and he has never felt better in his life. He has got more energy, and he no longer finds paperwork annoying. He even gets to the office early and only smokes low-tar cigarettes. His secretary Loelia Ponsonby is increasingly irritated, but she is reassured by Miss Moneypenny that as soon as something stressful happens, Bond will be back to normal. May, Bond's Scottish housekeeper, tells Bond it is not good for him to eat only yogurt and whole wheat bread. She guesses he is a secret agent or something similar, and she says that with his life, he needs real food to sustain him. Bond dismisses her concerns as the onset of menopause.

Another phone call arrives from Headquarters. This time, when Bond arrives, everything is in an uproar at MI6 when they receive a communiqué from an unknown terrorist organization called SPECTRE (the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion). SPECTRE has hijacked a new military aircraft, the Villiers Vindicator, by bribing the NATO observer on board, Giuseppe Petacchi, to kill the crew with poisonous gas and redirect the plane. SPECTRE threaten to destroy a major city in the United States or United Kingdom, unless a ransom of £100,000,000 is paid. This plan is dubbed "Plan Omega" by Ernst Stavro Blofeld, head of SPECTRE.

No one at MI6 knows who SPECTRE is, but M knows of some indications of an independent organization at work in Europe. The letter's details about the aircraft are accurate, and the government believes SPECTRE does have the nuclear weapons. The plane was manned by a small crew and a NATO observer, an Italian pilot with a good war record, was revealed to be the insider. It disappeared off the radar and was not picked up by DEW, the U.S. Distant Early Warning system. Perhaps it flew lower, in the flight streams of commercial aircraft. There is some indication of a plane turning south off the commercial aircraft track toward idle wild, but it is a thin lead. The plane could be literally anywhere.

MI6 and the CIA join to formulate "Operation Thunderball", a task group to retrieve the missing weapons. Bond is sent to the Bahamas by M to investigate the possibility of the warheads being there. In Nassau, he sees a woman going into a tobacconist store and buys her a carton of low-tobacco cigarettes, flirting with her. He offers to buy her a drink, and they head off to a bar and she is revealed to be Domino. Bond is thrilled to have picked up Domino so quickly. The authorities described her as an "Italian tart," but Bond can see she is an independent woman. She is also an excellent driver, garnering Bond's respect. She tells him of Emilio Largo who is engaged in hunting a pirate's treasure with the Disco Volante and Largo's investors have arrived to oversee the recovery. Bond knows Domino is Largo's lover, but Domino describes him as a guardian. Bond and Domino flirt further over their drinks together.

Bond then goes by taxi to meet the CIA man assigned to help him in the Bahamas. Bond himself arrives earlier that morning. He meets with the Bahamas officials, where he learns about Largo and Domino. When the CIA man arrives, he is Felix Leiter, an old friend and colleague of Bond's. In Leiter's rental car, he and Bond drive back to the hotel. Bond asks Leiter why he is working for the CIA again, because the last Bond knew, Leiter was working for Pinkerton's, the private security firm. Leiter explains that former field agents have been called from reserve into duty to help out with Operation Thunderball. Bond tells Leiter everything that has happened, and Leiter's quick mind puts together the puzzle of Lippe and Largo.

Bond and Leiter go to Largo's ship to investigate. Leiter brings his disguised Geiger counter. Bond introduces Leiter as his attorney. Bond says he is interested in purchasing Palmyra, the estate Largo is renting. He asks for permission to look over the property. Largo acquiesces and asks Bond to call Domino and arrange a visit. Bond pretends interest in the ship, and Largo is obviously proud of his toy. Largo shows Bond and Leiter around the ship, but he will not show them the hold, which he claims holds extra stores of fuel, or the radio room. The Geiger counter picks up nothing on Largo's ship. Then, reports come back negative on all the men in Largo's party. Irritatingly, none of them have criminal records.

Bond does not report his leads on Largo to M, in case they amount to nothing. He learns, though, that Largo's ship does not use as much fuel as he claimed, so Largo is definitely hiding something in the hold. After a brief rest, Bond and Leiter go to the bar for drinks. Leiter asks Bond if the espionage business has gotten boring, but Bond claims some enemy always arises. Bond suggests he and Leiter search for the downed airplane with a small plane the next day and Leiter agrees. Leiter tells Bond the U.S. has put a squadron of aircraft and a nuclear submarine at their disposal.

Bond and Leiter go to the casino to scope out the men in Largo's party. Largo is at the baccarat table with Domino watching over his shoulder. Bond goes up to the table and takes the seat next to Largo. He challenges Largo by matching his bet. Bond's two cards are a nine and a ten, for a total of nine, the best possible hand. Largo loses by one. Then, Largo bets against Bond. Bond wins again, six against five. Then, Largo takes the bank again, and again Bond bets against him. It seems almost personal. Bond casually uses the word "specter" to see how Largo reacts and Largo's face changes instantly and his manner hardens at the quip, giving Bond and Leiter another clue. After Bond left the casino, Leiter recognized one of Largo's companions as Kotze, a physicist from East Germany.

That night, Bond goes with a local constable to check out Largo's ship. Bond dons an aqualung and swims out toward the vessel. His plan is to survey Largo's ship from underneath the ocean. Bond gets to the hull and sees there is an underwater door, as he suspected. Bond turns to go back to land when he is attacked by a guard armed with a spear gun. Bond narrowly avoids the guard's shot, and then Bond attacks him while the guard is reloading. The two men struggle, and Bond wounds the man with his knife.

Bond rejoins Leiter, anxious to send a report about Largo to M, and to Bond's surprise, Leiter agrees. Bond recommends sending for the Manta, the nuclear-powered U.S. naval submarine at Leiter's disposal, and waiting for Largo's next move. Leiter agrees to the plan. The next morning, Bond and Leiter take out an amphibian plane to search for the downed aircraft. First, they fly over the base on Grand Bahama to scope out the potential target. After being warned off by the base, they fly over the most likely location of the aircraft and discover the wreckage underwater.

On the way back to Nassau, Leiter spots some suspicious tracks leading into an outbuilding at Palmyra. He leaves to investigate them. Bond determines a course of action of his own. Bond arranges to meet Domino at the beach. When he arrives, he does not see her. Then, Domino appears in the ocean, complaining of the spines of a sea creature stuck in her foot. Bond lifts her out of the ocean and brings her to the shade. Then, he sucks the spines out of her foot with his mouth. The spikes come out slowly, and Bond sucks painfully hard, drawing blood. Afterwards, Bond carries Domino to the changing area to make love to her.

After the intimacy, Bond shows Domino her brother's locket and informs her of Giuseppe’s death and that Largo was the man behind it. She agrees to help Bond in any way to avenge her brother and thwart Largo. Bond asks her to make sure she is onboard the Disco Volante when it leaves to complete "Plan Omega". She is given Leiter's Geiger counter and told to stand on the bow of the deck if the warheads are onboard, or stay off deck if they aren’t.

Bond and Leiter board the Manta and meet with its captain, Commander Peter Pedersen. Pedersen has orders to obey Leiter and Bond. The two agents brief Pedersen and outline their plan to follow Largo's boat. Pedersen explains the boat can navigate in shallow water the submarine cannot. The agents decide to bring in the fighter squadron at Leiter's disposal to watch the U.S. coast for Largo's yacht. Meanwhile, Bond and Leiter determine to follow a different path and intercept Largo at his presumed target, the British base on Grand Bahama. Bond receives word that Largo's yacht has left harbour. Largo has returned from his air trip, and Bond believes the nuclear bombs are on board. However, Domino has not appeared on the ship's deck. Bond wonders what has happened. He thinks perhaps the bombs are not yet on board.

Largo discovers Domino with a camera, acting suspiciously. Largo forcibly detained her, incapacitated her, and examined the camera. It is a Geiger counter. Largo has tied Domino up in her cabin and will proceed to question her. Blofeld has been informed of this, and the leaders have agreed to move forward with the plan. Largo doubts he is under any special suspicion, but he thinks Bond and Leiter may be agents and perhaps bribed Domino to take Geiger counter readings. Largo proceeds as planned.

Operation Thunderball pic

Operation Thunderball in action.

The Manta carries Bond and Leiter toward Grand Bahama, where they suspect Largo is headed. Bond outlines his plan for the intercept. He is concerned that, once Largo knows he has been detected, he will steer the boat over deep water and drop the nuclear bombs into the depths of the ocean. With the evidence disposed of, the police will have no connection between the gang and the blackmail. Largo and his cohorts will escape. Bond wants to catch Largo and the SPECTRE men red-handed with the evidence. Due to the underwater exit in the yacht, Bond believes the criminals plan to anchor the yacht some distance from the target and remove the bombs from the boat through the bottom of the hull.

Bond and his men exit the submarine and get into formation for the attack. Bond rises to the surface to get his bearings and then leads the men toward where he estimates they will meet up with the underwater party of SPECTRE men. When they begin to get close, Bond rises to the surface again. At first, he sees nothing on the water's surface. Then, a diver comes up briefly. Now, Bond had an accurate bearing.

The ambush party comes upon the SPECTRE thugs. Bond flanks them, but they are going faster than expected, using special boosters to speed their progress. There are also more men than Bond expected. His party is outnumbered. Still, the SPECTRE group has not detected the ambushers, giving them one advantage at least. After an undersea battle between the crews of the Manta and the Disco Volante, Largo squares off in underwater battle against Bond. Largo gets the upper hand in the fight, but is shot in the back by Domino with a harpoon gun.


The controversy over the novel[]

From a screenplay to a novel[]

Thunderball was originally conceived as the first film in a possible series of films for a production company called Xanadu Productions, formed by Ian Fleming, Ernest Cuneo, Ivar Bryce and Kevin McClory. The history of Xanadu Productions is very complicated and even today very controversial. The first draft of Thunderball was written by Cuneo and sent to Bryce. The rough draft was specifically designed around an idea by Kevin McClory to shoot the film underwater using Todd-AO cameras. Thunderball would later go through several rewrites, although some elements from Cuneo's version would remain in the final novelized story by Fleming. The main villains of the screenplay at the time were the Russians but after the first draft were subsequently changed to SPECTRE. Some sources, including Raymond Benson's The James Bond Bedside Companion, claim that the idea of SPECTRE came from McClory, while other sources including "Inside Thunderball", an article by John Cork who is also the author of many official biographies, documentaries, and DVD featurettes on Ian Fleming and the James Bond films, claims SPECTRE was created by Fleming. The second draft of Thunderball was written by Fleming where the villain "Largo" is introduced as well as some of the main plot points from the novel and film including the theft of a nuclear device. The rest of the project was a collaborative effort between Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, and Ian Fleming on a story and a screenplay over a two-year period. During this time, Xanadu went bust and Ernest Cuneo supposedly sold his rights to the drafts of Thunderball to Ivar Bryce for one dollar.

The finished screenplay was meant to be produced by Kevin McClory; however, McClory had recently finished an unsuccessful film called The Boy and the Bridge. This led to complications with getting proper financial backing for the film. In John Pearson's biography, The Life of Ian Fleming, Pearson claimed that McClory had visited Fleming at Goldeneye, Fleming's house in Jamaica, where Fleming explained to McClory his intention to deliver the screenplay to MCA with his recommendation for McClory to produce the film. Additionally, Fleming told McClory that if MCA were to reject the film because of McClory's involvement that McClory should either sell himself to MCA, back out, or prepare to go to court. A few months later, however, Fleming met Harry Saltzman and later Albert R. Broccoli and sold them the film rights to the current series of published books as well as future James Bond novels except for Casino Royale, the rights for which had already been sold to other parties.

Because the deal between Fleming and McClory collapsed, Fleming took the story and the screenplay and novelized them as his ninth James Bond novel. Initially, the novel credited only Ian Fleming as writer although the book is dedicated to his friend Ernest Cuneo ("Muse"). Prior to publication, McClory received an advanced copy of the book and consequently filed suit along with Whittingham against Fleming in 1961 for "plagiarism and false attribution". Additionally, McClory filed a lawsuit against Ivar Bryce for "injuring him as a false partner in Xanadu Productions". The courts ruled that the lawsuit would not interfere with the publication of the novel because a number of books had already been shipped to retailers. The lawsuit, on the other hand, did prevent Thunderball from becoming the first James Bond movie, although screenwriter Richard Maibaum, who in the future would either cowrite or adapt thirteen James Bond films, did complete a screenplay adaptation.

In December 1963 Fleming settled out of court with McClory at the behest of Ivar Bruce, who felt Fleming's health was being seriously affected by stress from the lawsuit (Fleming had already been victim to one heart attack and in 1964 would die from a second). During the lawsuit, Whittingham had dropped out due to financial difficulties and had sold his rights to the scripts to McClory. The settlement forced future versions of Thunderball to credit on the title page: "based on a screen treatment by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, and Ian Fleming", in that order though Ian Fleming's main author credit remained. Additionally, McClory was given the right to make a film adaptation of the book as well as the rights to all aspects of Thunderball, which supposedly included the rights to the villainous organization SPECTRE, the character Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Blofeld's white Persian cat, and nine additional plot treatments and outlines. In an October 1997 interview with The Daily Telegraph, McClory stated this included the rights to any James Bond film plot that would include an "atomic bomb hijacking".

Bond Battle Royale[]

Battle-of-the-bonds (time out magazine cover)

The Battle of the Bonds (Time Out, June 1983).

After being awarded the rights to make a film, McClory attempted to get backing to turn Thunderball into a film; however, he was unable to do so. He reluctantly later went to Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli and proposed collaborating on an adaptation of Thunderball as the fourth official James Bond film in 1964. In 1965, Thunderball was released starring Sean Connery as agent 007. In the agreement between EON and McClory, McClory agreed that he would not attempt to make another Thunderball adaptation for ten years. During that ten years, McClory's ownership of the Thunderball film rights did not prevent further Bond films, specifically, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and Diamonds Are Forever from featuring Blofeld, SPECTRE, and the Angora cat.

In 1976, after the ten-year agreement expired, McClory teamed up with Sean Connery to write an original James Bond adventure. It has been reported that it was to be titled Warhead 8, Warhead, or James Bond of the Secret Service and possibly not only to have starred Connery as 007, but directed by the actor as well. This original Bond adventure was scrapped when United Artists filed suit against McClory, who at the time did not have the finances to engage in a legal suit. Moreover, John Brosnan's book James Bond in the Cinema claimed that McClory and Connery learned specific plot details for The Spy Who Loved Me that were supposedly similar to Thunderball and Warhead. Early scripts for The Spy Who Loved Me indeed featured Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE as the main villains of the film. They were later replaced by Karl Stromberg and his unnamed organization.

In the 1980s, McClory finally was able to contest the rights to the James Bond character when he met Jack Schwartzman. Schwartzman was key for receiving backing from Warner Bros. and for winning the support of the British High Court against United Artists. Consequently, Schwartzman and McClory produced the 1983 film Never Say Never Again, a remake of Thunderball scripted by Lorenzo Semple Jr. that starred Sean Connery as James Bond in a much-publicised return to the role after a 12-year hiatus. That same year, EON Productions released Octopussy starring Roger Moore as agent 007. The media quickly dubbed this unique situation the "Battle of the Bonds", particularly during a brief period when both films were scheduled to arrive in cinemas nearly simultaneously (they were ultimately released several months apart).

Continued legal struggle[]

McClory 1984 Screen International Advert

Screen International advertisement from 1984 placed by Kevin McClory.

In the 1990s Sony and McClory teamed up and planned another remake of Thunderball, titled Warhead 2000, with either Liam Neeson as Bond or with Timothy Dalton returning to the role of 007. In 1997, Sony announced a rival James Bond series, which forced MGM and Danjaq, LLC (owner of EON Productions) to file suit against Sony and McClory, barring them from making the film. Plans for this third movie were abandoned in 1999 when Sony settled with MGM, ceding any rights to making James Bond films. McClory still claimed ownership of the film rights to Thunderball, although MGM and EON asserted McClory's rights to Thunderball have expired. Likewise in the settlement, MGM relinquished to Sony their partial rights to Spider-Man, allowing Sony to release the film in 2002. (In 2005, a Sony-led partnership ended up buying MGM.) MGM obtained the film distribution rights to Never Say Never Again from Warner Bros. in 1997.

In the middle of the onslaught of lawsuits between Sony and MGM, Sony countersued MGM in 1998 attempting to claim that McClory was the coauthor of the cinematic Bond and was owed fees from Danjaq and MGM for all past films. This matter, which McClory calls "The Greatest Act of Piracy in the History of the Motion Picture Industry", was thrown out in 2000 by Judge Edward Rafeedie on the ground that McClory had waited too long to bring his claims. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Rafeedie's decision soon thereafter. Judge M. Margaret McKeown wrote: "So, like our hero James Bond, exhausted after a long adventure, we reach the end of our story."

Because of the dispute, the 2005 video game based on From Russia with Love replaced the criminal organization SPECTRE and its leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld with a new organisation called OCTOPUS that lacked a clear leader.

McClory's death and legal conclusion[]

McClory died in 2006. In November 2013 his family's estate finally reached a settlement with MGM and EON Productions, transferring all rights to Thunderball, S.P.E.C.T.R.E., and the character of Blofeld back to EON.

Comic strip adaptation[]


2004 Titan Books reprint featuring Goldfinger, Risico, From A View To A Kill, For Your Eyes Only, and the abbreviated Thunderball.

Main article: James Bond comic strip

As with all previous Bond books, a James Bond comic strip adaptation of Fleming's original novel was published as a daily James Bond comic strip in the British Daily Express newspaper and syndicated around the world. The adaptation began on December 11, 1961; however, the Daily Express suddenly cancelled the strip (on the orders of Lord Beaverbrook) on February 10, 1962, when a dispute between Beaverbrook and Fleming occurred over the rights to the short story of The Living Daylights. Fleming had sold the rights to the Sunday Times, a rival newspaper, which upset Beaverbrook to the point of terminating his relationship with Fleming. Writer Henry Gammidge and illustrator John McLusky were given only a few days' notice and were forced to wrap up the story in only two daily strips.

The original strip seen in the Daily Express only got to the point in the story where Giuseppe Petacchi hijacked the plane and the two nuclear warheads for SPECTRE. The strip ended in the next panel (#1117), stating that afterwards SPECTRE sent their demands to the Western governments and that all agents, including Bond, were sent out in search for the hijacked plane. The final line reads, "Bond finds them and the world is safe." Six more panels for the Daily Express version were originally completed by artist John McLusky detailing the hijacking of the plane; however, they were never printed. A further six panels were also created to expand and conclude the story. These additions are included in a number of syndicated versions of the strip.

Beaverbrook and Fleming would later work out their differences, and the James Bond comic strip would resume in the Daily Express in 1964 with an adaptation of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, but the adaptation of Thunderball was never completed. The abbreviated Thunderball strip was reprinted by Titan Books in 2004 and is a part of the Goldfinger anthology that also includes Goldfinger, Risico, From A View To A Kill, and For Your Eyes Only.


The first Pan Books paperback edition cover was designed by Raymond Hawkey and was notable for having two holes cut into the cover, simulating bullet holes (the first inside page included a graphic of the bullets). This edition launched the so-called Hawkey series of covers by Pan, which republished the previous Bond novels in a similar style before publishing later Bonds in the same style.