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Thunderball is the ninth novel by Ian Fleming based on the fictional British Secret Service agent Commander James Bond. Fleming wrote it intending to film it; it is officially credited as 'based on a screen treatment by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, and Ian Fleming', a controversial shared credit that was the result of a courtroom decision. The novel was first published on March 27, 1961, and is technically the first novelisation of a James Bond screenplay, though when written and published, the eponymous film had yet to be produced and when it was, the screenplay was rewritten by others.

The documentary tribute on Cubby Broccoli on the EON film franchise's 25th anniversary special edition DVDs shows wife Dana Broccoli explaining that the novel was the first Bond film project Cubby had hoped to make only to have to delay it several times (and almost ten years) while the legal situation settled out. Despite the film rights and plagiarism dispute, the plot was serialised as a daily newspaper comic strip in 1961 one factor that attracted the producers' interest according to her interview Cubby Broccoli enjoyed reading the strip, and had tried to acquire film rights because of it only to learn of the legal dispute, and that they'd been bought from Ian Fleming's publicist. Accordingly Broccoli was delighted to find out from a mutual friend, screenwriter Wolf Mankowitz, that another American, Harry Saltzman, held the film rights to most of the Bond works, and further was looking for financing and a partner. Mankowitz arranged a meet between the two within days.

The novel and comic franchise features the first appearance of the crime syndicate SPECTRE and introduces SPECTRE's leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld, although Bond does not meet him. SPECTRE appears in the first film, Dr. No and in many others that followed, whereas earlier novels had featured SMERSH as a prime villainous organisation a secret society with links to the USSR of the day and one which the film producers tended to avoid using lest they poison a film export market.

To date, Thunderball has twice been adapted cinematically. The first adaptation, Thunderball, was released in 1965 as the fourth official film in the EON Productions series, with Sean Connery as James Bond. The second adaptation, Never Say Never Again was released in 1983 as a remake produced by Kevin McClory and starring Connery as Bond.

Like most of its predecessors, Thunderball was received positively by critics. The Times said: "The Mixture — of good living, sex and violent action — is as before, but this highly polished performance, with an ingenious plot, well documented, and plenty of excitement." The Financial Times said it was Fleming's best since Diamonds Are Forever, while the New York Times said, "The book is a mystery story, a thriller, a chiller, and a pleasure to read."

Plot summary

Thunderball begins with a meeting between M and Bond, during which he tells agent 007 that his latest physical assessment is poor, because of excessive drinking and smoking (sixty cigarettes daily). M sends Bond on a two week vacation to the Shrublands health clinic in the country to reduce the bad habits and improve his health. At the clinic, Bond encounters Count Lippe, a member of the Red Lightning Tong criminal organisation from Macaumarker. When Bond learns this, Lippe tries to kill him by tampering with a spinal traction machine, in the effort that Bond will not connect him to SPECTRE. Bond, however, is saved by nurse Patricia Fearing, and he later retaliates against Lippe by trapping him in a steam bath, resulting in second-degree burns and a week's stay in hospital.

Upon returning to Londonmarker, Bond is a new man, following a new diet and smoking less. The new Bond is ready for action when the SIS receives a communiqué from SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion) telling them of having hijacked a Villiers Vindicator (V bomber) and so possess its two nuclear bombs, and will destroy two major cities unless a £100,000,000 ransom is paid to them.

SPECTRE is headed by mastermind Ernst Stavro Blofeld who is intolerant of failure. Count Lippe was dispatched to Shrublands to oversee Giuseppe Petacchi, of the Italian Air Force, at the Boscombe Down Airfieldmarker a bomber squadron base. Though Lippe was semi-successful, Blofeld considered him unreliable, because of his childish clash with James Bond; consequent to Lippe's hospitalisation, Blofeld has him killed.

Acting as a NATOmarker observer of Royal Air Force procedure, pilot Petacchi is in SPECTRE's pay to hijack the bomber in mid-flight (by killing its crew) and flying it to the Bahamasmarker. Once there, Emilio Largo (aka SPECTRE Number One), and the crew of the cruiser yacht Disco Volante, kill Petacchi as per Plan Omega.

The Americansmarker and the Britishmarker launch Operation Thunderball to foil SPECTRE and recover the two atomic bombs. On a hunch, M assigns agent 007, James Bond, to the Bahamas to investigate. There, he rendezvous with Felix Leiter, who is again with CIA, because of the Thunderball crisis (previously, Leiter was a private detective after having lost an arm and a leg in helping Bond in the Live and Let Die case). While in Nassaumarker, Bond also meets Dominetta "Domino" Vitali, Largo's mistress and the dead Petacchi's sister. She is living aboard the Disco Volante, and believes Largo is on a treasure hunt. For reasons she does not understand Largo makes her stay ashore while he and his partners hunt hidden treasure. After they have sex, Bond informs her that Largo killed Petacchi, he then recruits her to spy on Largo. Domino reboards the Disco Volante with a Geiger counter to ascertain if the yacht is where the two nuclear bombs are hidden, however, she is discovered and made prisoner; Largo tortures her with fire and ice.

Bond and Leiter alert the Thunderball war room of their suspicions of Largo and join the crew of the American nuclear submarine Manta as the ransom deadline nears. The Manta chases Disco Volante to capture it and recover the bombs enroute to the first target. An undersea battle ensues between the crews, while Bond fights Largo. Bond, now very weak from his efforts to disable the bombs, tries to get away. But Largo corners him in an underwater cave and easily overpowers him. Before Largo can finish Bond off Domino shoots him through the neck with a speargun. The bombs are recovered and Bond spends the remainder of the story with Domino in the hospital.


  • James Bond - A Royal Navy Commander seconded to the SIS as agent 007, is the protagonist assigned to investigate terrorism, in course of which, he allies himself with Felix Leiter of CIA and seduces the playgirl Domino Vitali for averting a nuclear disaster.

  • M - Agent 007's boss in the Secret Intelligence Service. After sending Bond to a health clinic, he assigns him to Operation Thunderball. He is helped by his secretary Miss Moneypenny and his Chief of Staff Bill Tanner.

  • Ernst Stavro Blofeld - Head of the terrorist organisation SPECTRE, being its Number Two for security, supervising all projects, and tolerating no failure. A master criminal, he tasks Emilio Largo with stealing two nuclear bombs, and announces SPECTRE's existence to the world while holding it to ransom for £100,000,000.

  • Emilio Largo - Blofeld's subordinate in SPECTRE, being its Number One, for security reasons. He is the organisation's second-in-command, standing to inherit its leadership if Blofeld were captured or killed. He supervises "Plan Omega": the hijacking of a loaded nuclear bomber jet aeroplane in mid-flight.

  • Domino Vitali - Playgirl Dominetta "Domino" Vitali is the traditional Bond girl of the story. After study in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, she returned an actress to Italy, then met millionaire Emilio Largo and subsequently became his mistress. She is pilot Petacchi's sister.

  • Giuseppe Petacchi - An Italian Air Force pilot working as a NATOmarker observer on an RAF test flight. He was recruited by SPECTRE agent Signor Fonda and paid to hijack the new Villiers Vindicator nuclear bomber. Upon killing the crew and flying the bomber to the Bahamasmarker, Emilio Largo kills him. Petacchi is Domino Vitali's brother.

  • Count Lippe - A member of the Red Lightning Tong of Macau, SPECTRE recruited him as an expert conspirator. He is assigned to the Shrublands clinic from where he is to supervise Giuseppe Petacchi at the nearby RAF base. While there, he encounters James Bond and tries to kill him. After surviving, Bond retaliates by trapping Lippe in a steam bath to suffer second-degree burns, because of which, Blofeld has him killed.

  • Patricia Fearing - A nurse at the Shrublands clinic, and a minor Bond Girl love interest, who rescues Bond from Count Lippe.


Thunderball was originally conceived as the first entry in a film series for Xanadu Productions (Ian Fleming, Ernest Cuneo, Ivar Bryce, and Kevin McClory). The genesis of the idea was a short story memorandum authored by Cuneo, then sent to Bryce. It was specifically written for Kevin McClory to film underwater with Todd-AO cameras developed by his previous employer, film producer Mike Todd. The story underwent several rewritings, although elements from Cuneo's short story remained in Fleming's novel; they then knew each other for three years.

Initially, the villains were the Russiansmarker, but after the first draft the villains became the Mafia, which had become topical following the Apalachin Meeting. Finally the villains became the terrorist organisation SPECTRE. Some sources, including Raymond Benson's The James Bond Bedside Companion, argue that Cuneo and Bryce believed SPECTRE was McClory's idea. Other sources, e.g. the article "Inside Thunderball" by Fleming biographer John Cork (and author of the DVD documentaries about Fleming and the films), claims Fleming created SPECTRE. Supporting this, Cork produced a Fleming memorandum in which Fleming calls for the change to SPECTRE:

Fleming is said to have been attracted to the word "spectre", having used it in the fourth novel, Diamonds Are Forever, for "Spectreville", a town near Las Vegasmarker; and for the "spektor", the cryptograph decoder in From Russia, with Love. His further revisions of the Thunderball screenplay deleted SPECTRE and inserted the Mafia as the villain(s), which, per Cork, remained in all future revisions. Fleming also introduced the antagonist "Henrico Largo" and the Bond girl heroine "Dominique (Domino) Smith," as a Scotland Yardmarker agent. Fleming also conceived most of the novel's and the film's plot incidents: the theft of a nuclear bomb and the submarine finale wherein Bond, Leiter, and U.S. Navy frogmen fight Largo's frogmen.

Fleming produced at least two separate drafts of a screenplay, and in 1959, Jack Whittingham was hired to redraft Fleming's story into a feasible screenplay; his additions included the characters Jack Petachi ("Giuseppe Pettacchi" in the novel), and Sophia, whose role was largely Domino's in the novel. The remainder of the screenplay was a two-year collaboration among Whittingham and Fleming; McClory also participated in extensive story meetings over this period, but the extent to his contributions remains in question. Following these efforts, Xanadu was dissolved, and Ernest Cuneo supposedly sold his Thunderball draft rights to Ivar Bryce for one dollar.

Kevin McClory was to produce the final screenplay; however, his unsuccessful recent film, The Boy and the Bridge, complicated securing proper financing for the Bond film. In The Life of Ian Fleming, John Pearson argues that McClory visited Fleming's Jamaicamarker house Goldeneyemarker, where Fleming explained his intention of delivering the screenplay to MCA, and recommending McClory as film producer. Additionally, Fleming told McClory that if MCA rejected the film because of his (McClory's) involvement, then he (McClory) should either sell himself to MCA or back out of the deal or file suit in court. Months later, Fleming sold to Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli the film rights to the current series of published books, as well as future James Bond novels, excepting Casino Royale, the rights to which already had been sold.

When the deal collapsed, Fleming wrote the novel Thunderball composed of the original short story, his two drafts of the screenplay, and some definite contribution from the subsequent Whittingham drafts. Fleming's adaptation of materials developed as part of an aborted film project into a Bond novel was not without precedent, as he had done similar rewrites of his own materials to create the books Doctor No and the short story collection titled For Your Eyes Only. In Thunderball, Fleming reinstated SPECTRE as the villain in the book, substituting for the Mafia in the "final" Whittingham draft. The novel also included the Shrublands clinic sequence; (Fleming, himself, went to Enton Hall, Surreymarker, in April 1956, for hydrotherapy, unlike in Bond's stay, Fleming's was unsuccessful in improving his bad heart's health). Initially, the novel credited only Fleming as author, though dedicated to his friend Ernest Cuneo. Before the novel was published, McClory received an advanced copy of the book and consequently filed suit, along with Whittingham, against Fleming for plagiarism and false attribution. McClory also sued 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 books had already been shipped to book shops, but the lawsuit prevented Thunderball from being the first James Bond series film, though screenwriter Richard Maibaum (later the adaptor–co-writer of thirteen of the first sixteen films), did complete a screenplay adaptation of the published novel.

At Ivar Bryce's behest, Fleming settled McClory's lawsuit out of court in December 1961, because Bryce felt the lawsuit stress seriously affected Fleming's health; (by then, Fleming already had suffered a heart attack, later dying of a second in 1964). During the lawsuit, Whittingham assigned his script rights to McClory; the settlement decreed that the copyright page of future Thunderball editions credit them so: "based on a screen treatment by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, and Ian Fleming" — in that order, though Ian Fleming's author by line remained. McClory also was granted a cinematic adaptation right of the book and rights to all aspects of the Thunderball story, plot, and characters: SPECTRE, 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 the decree comprised rights to any James Bond film plot including an atomic bomb hijacking.

Upon being awarded the cinematic rights, McClory failed in finding financing for filming Thunderball. Later, in 1964, he reluctantly proposed to Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli a collaborative adaptation of Thunderball as the fourth, official James Bond series film. In 1965, Thunderball was released with Sean Connery as agent 007. Like most of these films, it was promoted as "Ian Fleming's Thunderball". The screenplay credit was Richard Maibaum and John Hopkins, but noted as "Based on an original screenplay by Jack Whittingham", also credited as "Based on the original story by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, and Ian Fleming". Whittingham's sole, original screenplay credit usually is omitted from posters and promotional materials.

In the agreement between EON and himself, McClory agreed that he would not make another Thunderball adaptation for twelve years. In those twelve years, McClory's ownership of the Thunderball film rights did not prevent further Bond films — You Only Live Twice (1967), On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), and Diamonds Are Forever (1971), from featuring SPECTRE, Blofeld, and Blofeld's cat.

In 1976, at the twelve-year agreement's expiration, McClory and Connery wrote an original James Bond adventure, putatively titled either Warhead 8 or Warhead or James Bond of the Secret Service, with Connery as potential director and star. This film was scrapped when United Artists sued McClory, who was unable to finance a defence. In James Bond in the Cinema, John Brosnan argues that McClory and Connery learned specific plot details of The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) that, supposedly, resembled Thunderball and Warhead. Indeed, early scripts of The Spy Who Loved Me featured Blofeld and SPECTRE as the villains; Karl Stromberg and his organisation replaced them.

In the 1980s, McClory finally asserted his rights to the James Bond character, helped by Jack Schwartzman and Warner Bros. financing to win a High Court decision against United Artists. Amongst the conditions of the settlement was that the project must be based on the original film scripts/novel and nothing peculiar to the Thunderball film, that the words "James Bond", "Thunderball" and "007" not be used in the project's title, and initially McClory and Schwarzman would have the right to only make one Bond project (later changed in other settlements). Consequently, in 1983, Schwartzman and McClory produced Never Say Never Again, a remake of Thunderball, written by Lorenzo Semple Jr., featuring Sean Connery's very publicised reprise of the James Bond role after a twelve-year hiatus. That same year, EON Productions released the thirteenth film in the "official" series, Octopussy, with Roger Moore as James Bond. The press quickly dubbed the situation the "Battle of the Bonds", especially during the short time when both films were almost simultaneously slated in cinemas; ultimately, they were released months apart. In the end, both were successful, though Octopussy made more money at the box office.

In the 1990s, Sony and McClory planned another, second Thunderball remake, titled Warhead 2000 A.D., with either Liam Neeson or Timothy Dalton as James Bond, (the latter reprising the role a third time). In 1997, Sony announced a rival James Bond series, which forced MGM and Danjaq, LLC (the EON Productions owners) to sue Sony and McClory, barring them from doing so. This third Thunderball production was abandoned in 1999 with Sony's out-of-court settlement with MGM, ceding all rights to making James Bond films. Nevertheless, McClory continued claiming ownership of the Thunderball film rights; MGM and EON asserted McClory's rights as expired. In the settlement, MGM relinquished their partial rights to Spider-Man, allowing Sony's releasing the film in 2002. In 1997, MGM got the Never Say Never Again distribution rights after buying Orion Pictures.

In 1998, during the lawsuit onslaught, between Sony and MGM, Sony counter-sued MGM, claiming Kevin McClory was the co-author of the cinematic James Bond, and as such Danjaq and MGM owed him authorship fees from all the previous films' income. This lawsuit, which McClory calls "The Greatest Act of Piracy in the History of the Motion Picture Industry", was dismissed in 2000 on the grounds that he (McClory) had waited too long to file claim. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision. Judge M. Margaret McKeown: "So, like our hero James Bond, exhausted after a long adventure, we reach the end of our story."

Moreover, in 2005, MGM was acquired by a Sony/Comcast-led consortium allowing Sony Pictures Entertainment to become responsible for the distribution of the James Bond film series, beginning with Casino Royale (2006). McClory died on November 20, 2006 at age 80. It remains unknown what will become of the Thunderball material of which he claimed ownership.


In 1965, the Thunderball film was released. Most of it is adapted from the novel, changed mostly to incorporate the pre-title teaser and unique gadgets. Story continuity is another major difference between the cinematic and the literary versions of Thunderball; SPECTRE was first featured in Thunderball but in the film series, it appeared earlier in Dr. No and From Russia with Love.

Like all of Fleming's previous Bond novels, a comic strip adaptation was published daily in the British Daily Express newspaper and syndicated worldwide, beginning on December 11, 1961, however, the Daily Express suddenly cancelled the strip (per Lord Beaverbrook) on February 10, 1962, when Beaverbrook and Fleming disputed the rights to the short story "The Living Daylights". Fleming had sold them to the rival newspaper Sunday Times, upsetting Beaverbrook to ending their relationship. Writer Henry Gammidge and illustrator John McLusky were given only a few days' notice and were forced to conclude the story in only two daily strips.

The original strip published in the Daily Express only reached Giuseppe Petacchi's hijacking of the bomber and two nuclear bombs for SPECTRE. The strip ended in the next panel (No. 1117), stating that afterwards SPECTRE communicated demands to the Western governments and that all intelligence agents, including James Bond, were sent to search for them. The concluding 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 bomber aeroplane; however, they went unprinted. A further six panels also were created to expand and conclude the story. These are included in several syndicated versions of the comic strip.

In the short-lived Fleming-Beaverbrook dispute, Fleming satirized him, by writing a short story about a newspaper editor named Caffery Bone titled "The Shameful Dream". The story was unfinished and suppressed during Fleming's life. Beaverbrook and Fleming later resolved their dispute, and the James Bond comic strip reappeared in the Daily Express, in June 1964, with On Her Majesty's Secret Service, but the Thunderball adaptation never was completed. In 2004, the abbreviated Thunderball comic strip was reprinted by Titan Books in the Goldfinger anthology comprising Goldfinger, "Risico", "From a View to a Kill", and "For Your Eyes Only".

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