Website last updated: 7-5-2024

FSWL contributor Brian Smith remembers writer John Pearson

By: Brian Smith
John Pearson 1930-2021
Today, the official John Pearson social media channels - via his granddaughter Lydia - carried the sad news of John's passing, “It is with a heavy heart that I announce the death of my grandfather, John George Pearson at the age of 91. John died peacefully at his home surrounded by all the love in the world.”

John George Pearson was born on 5 October, 1930 in Epsom, Surrey. He was educated at King’s College School, Wimbledon and Peterhouse, Cambridge’s oldest college, gaining a double first in history.

After stints working for the Economist Intelligence Unit and the BBC as a trainee producer, Pearson joined The Sunday Times where he became Ian Fleming’s assistant on the Atticus column.

Pearson credits his time working with Fleming as ‘my springboard to becoming a writer.’ In 1956, Fleming travelled to Istanbul to cover an Interpol conference. One of his travelling companions was Donald Fish, ‘who, it turned out, had something to do with airline security.’ Fleming urged Fish to write his memoirs but Fish admitted to being not very good at writing prose. Fleming enlisted Pearson to ghost-write the memoir. Airline Detective (Collins, 1962) became Pearson’s first book and resulted in a successful series in The Sunday Times followed by a television series called Zero One (BBC/MGM 1962-65) starring Nigel Patrick.

The Life Of Ian Fleming by John Pearson
In the same year that Airline Detective appeared, Collins also published Pearson’s first novel, Gone To Timbuctoo, which won him the Authors’ Club First Novel Award. Malcolm Muggeridge called it ‘an exceptionally brilliant first novel – exciting, wryly funny and perceptive.’

Pearson was then commissioned to write the story of Donald Campbell’s recording-breaking 1964 land speed record, resulting in his book Bluebird And The Dead Lake (Collins, 1965).

Shortly after Ian Fleming’s death in 1964, Pearson began writing The Life Of Ian Fleming (Jonathan Cape, 1966), ‘basing it partly on my own memories of him, partly on his private papers, and also on a series of interviews with an extraordinary collection of his contemporaries – school friends, close relations, colleagues, teachers, mistresses, former spies, racketeers, enemies, and faithful friends – around the world.’

The Life Of Ian Fleming by John Pearson
Pearson’s interviews were published in his last book, Ian Fleming: The Notes (Queen Anne Press, 2020), an edited version of his research notes. They provide a fascinating insight into his meticulous working methods and are beautifully written.

Ian Fleming: The Notes by John Pearson
The Life Of Ian Fleming was adapted twice for television; Goldeneye (1989) starring Charles Dance and the mini-series Fleming (2014), with Dominic Cooper in the title role.

In the autumn of 1967 Pearson was asked by Frank Taylor, his editor-in-chief at the American publisher McGraw Hill, to write a biography of The Krays. Just getting from Rome to their English country hideaway for the initial meeting was, according to Pearson, like entering the ‘world of Bond.’ Further meetings with Ronnie and Reggie Kray followed, although the twins became increasingly paranoid and suspected that those around them, including Pearson, were working for the police or security service. Their arrest and subsequent conviction opened up a whole new avenue of information as former intimates began to talk freely. However, pressure from the establishment (Pearson’s manuscript had hinted that he had evidence of a scandal involving Lord Boothby and Ronnie Kray) delayed publication, to great personal and financial loss. The Profession of Violence (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) eventually appeared, suitably edited, in 1972. The passing of time allowed the book to be updated and the full story to be revealed. The book was filmed as Legend starring Tom Hardy in 2015. Two further books about the Krays followed – The Cult of Violence (Orion, 2001) and Notorious (Century, 2010).

Pearson returned to the world of Ian Fleming and James Bond with the novel James Bond: The Authorised Biography (Sidgwick & Jackson) in 1973. The premise was that James Bond and his adventures actually happened, but were passed off as fiction by Bond’s colleague, Ian Fleming.

ames Bond: The Authorised Biography by John Pearson
It was a brilliant conceit, used again by The Moneypenny Diaries author Samantha Weinberg, which allowed Pearson to write the memoirs of the ‘real’ James Bond.

James Bond: The Authorised Biography is considered among Fleming purists to be one of the best of the continuation novels.

Pearson also appeared in various James Bond documentaries, most recently 2012’s Everything Or Nothing.

Pearson continued writing a mixture of original novels and biographies. His most famous works include Painfully Rich: John Paul Getty and His Heirs (Macmillan, 1995) which became the basis for Ridley Scott’s 2017 movie All The Money In The World and The Gamblers: John Aspinall, James Goldsmith and the Murder of Lord Lucan (Century, 2005) which was filmed for television as Lucan starring Rory Kinnear in the title role. Other notable biographical subjects have included Winston Churchill, the Sitwells and the Spencers.

For us, though, it is John Pearson’s indelible contribution to the world of Ian Fleming and James Bond for which he will be remembered. With The Life Of Ian Fleming he expanded our understanding of the complexities of the man who created 007; with James Bond: The Authorised Biography he entertained us with one of the very best non-Fleming Bond novels, the DNA of which arguably touches the latest 007 movie No Time To Die.

Pearson was married twice, latterly to Lynette Dundas from 1980 until her death in 2019. He is survived by three children from his first marriage: Mark, Tom and Julia, three step-sons: Nick, Matthew and Adam, eight grandchildren, two step-grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

From Sweden With Love sends our deepest condolences to the family of John Pearson.

Written by Brian James Smith. Copyright © 2021 From Sweden with Love. All rights reserved.



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