Imagine this. The opening gun barrel graphic…the music…Daniel Craig shoots at the viewer…the screen goes red…a circle opens up onto an exotic locale, where suave super spy 007 is quickly embroiled in another exciting mini-adventure that ends, four or five minutes later, with a spectacular stunt. Then comes a stylistic opening credits sequence, with the customary silhouetted nudes and a theme song sung by a blockbuster pop star. The magnum opus this time is called Fine Per Ounce, and from the motifs in the credits, we deduce this James Bond adventure is going to have something to do with gold bars and perhaps some kind of African tribal theme. Sounds like a pretty good beginning for a Bond film, doesn’t it?
The scenario I described is fantasy, but it could have been reality if things went a little differently. In 1966, two years after James Bond’s creator Ian Fleming died, the company that held the rights to his character–then called Glidrose Productions–commissioned a noted author to write a new James Bond novel which the company hoped would be the reboot of Bond as a literary property. The movie Thunderball had just come out and was a huge hit, so James Bond was definitely the golden goose. The writer went to work, drawing extensively on his own background, and at some point, perhaps in early 1967, delivered a draft of a novel called Fine Per Ounce, Bond’s first written-word adventure since Fleming’s final unfinished novel The Man With The Golden Gun.
The author was Geoffrey Jenkins, author of the best-selling spy adventure A Twist of Sand. Despite having been born in South Africa, Jenkins worked extensively in England, where he met and worked with Ian Fleming shortly after World War II. The two became friends and Fleming praised A Twist of Sand when it came out in 1959. Reportedly the two of them collaborated briefly on a projected James Bond story but that never got off the ground. When tapped by Glidrose, Jenkins was to publish Fine Per Ounce under the pseudonym Robert Markham, which would be used by other ghost writers to continue future Bond adventures. (In fact it was; Kingsley Amis wrote a Bond novel called Colonel Sun in 1968 which was published under that name).
After his brush with Bond, Geoffrey Jenkins (1920-2001) continued writing thrillers, including one that was almost made into a movie starring Sylvester Stallone.
Alas, Glidrose Productions rejected Fine Per Ounce and the deal with Jenkins was off. At some point after that Jenkins trashed the manuscript, which he was contractually forbidden to use as-is. Thus, Fine Per Ounce was lost.
Very little is known about the plot or any details of Fine Per Ounce. Assuming that it grew out of the idea Jenkins said he hatched with Fleming in the 1950s, it would have taken Bond to South Africa, which Jenkins could write extensively about, and seems to have involved gold as a central plot point. Also at some point in the story Bond (or someone) would have been sealed in a coffin made from a baobab tree. It also appears the ’00’ intelligence section was abolished, perhaps making Bond a rogue agent. Alas, this is all we know about Fine Per Ounce. Jenkins was tight-lipped about it. He died in 2001.
In the 2000s, Jenkins’s son revealed that he had saved 18 pages of the manuscript. We may still have learned little about the story from such a small excerpt, but not long after, two pages of Fine Per Ounce were shown publicly on MI6-HQ, a James Bond fan site. You can see them here. They don’t tell us much, and Jenkin’s son has chosen not to allow any more of the book to see the light of day.
I’m fascinated by lost books. Once a manuscript is truly lost, not even the original author can reconstruct the story exactly as it was. We have no idea whether Fine Per Ounce was any good as a Bond adventure, but it’s interesting to think about all the supervillains and henchmen, gadgets, intrigue and beautiful women that no one on Earth will ever know about. Who knows? Fine Per Ounce might have made a pretty good movie.