His master’s voice

Everyone in my line, whether they admit to it or not, harbours something of a Marlowe fantasy. But I have more. I went to school with Raymond Chandler.


 He was educated at Dulwich College, an exclusive school for rich kids, whilst three generations and half-a-mile away I attended Kingsdale … 

 So I’ve a genuine connection. I grew up seeing things that Raymond Chandler saw. We’re united by the Victorian brickwork of SE21.

                                                                                                                               Jellyfish (Chapter 1)


In 1958, some 50 years after his London school-days, Chandler returned to the capital for the final time. In the course of his stay, he took part in a discussion with Ian Fleming. The discussion, ostensibly covering Bri430743_54374568_biggertish and American thrillers, was broadcast by the BBC’s now defunct Third Programme. It is thought to be the only recording of Chandler still in existence. You can hear it below, broken down into four parts (each approximately 7 minutes long).

To my English ears, Chandler sounds thoroughly American. Though apparently some of his American contemporaries could detect an English upbringing in his accent – but at least he didn’t end up as plummy-voiced as Fleming (always a risk in sending literary heroes to public schools). There’sbar a faint slur to Chandler’s words, probably due to the fact that he downed numerous shots of whisky before recording (always a risk in sending literary heroes to the BBC).

Happy listening.

    1)   Largely taken up with an introduction (a useful summary of Chandler’s life), added to the recording when it was repeated in 1988 to mark the centenary of Chandler’s birth.

“You starve to death for 10 years before your publisher knows you’re any good.”

    2)   Locations, iced water, how the syndicate arranges a killing and the difficulties of portraying a villain who is not a psychopath.

“Well, I’ve known people I’d like to shoot,”

“What do you want to shoot them for?”

“I just thought they were better dead.”  

    3)   James Bond, feelings, torture (Fleming keeps quiet about his penchant for S & M), writing (it only took Fleming 2 months to complete a book – envious? Me?), gambling and some differences between English and American thrillers.

“… because I know what it is to be banged on the head with a revolver butt, the first thing you do is vomit.”

    4)   Private Eyes, Secret Service Agents, guns, speeding, future projects, what makes a thriller and some of their favourite writers.

“Of course, if I had Marlowe killed off, it would solve a lot of problems. I wouldn’t have to write anymore books about him.”

Seven months after this recording (on 26th March 1959), Chandler died at his home in California. The manuscript of the book he’d discussed with Fleming (with Marlowe now married) was only 3 chapters long – it remained that way until 1990, when Robert B. Parker completed the work (Poodle Springs). Fleming continued to produce a book a year until his own death in August 1964.



For Frank Bales everywhere.

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