On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Release and reception

On Her Majesty's Secret Service was published on 1 April 1963 in the UK as a hardcover edition by publishers Jonathan Cape;[23] it was 288 pages long and cost 16 shillings.[24] A limited edition of 250 copies were also printed that were numbered and signed by Fleming.[23] Artist Richard Chopping once again undertook the cover art for the first edition.[23] There were 42,000 advance orders for the hardback first edition[25] and Cape did an immediate second impression of 15,000 copies, selling over 60,000 by the end of April 1963.[26] By the end of 1963 it had sold in excess of 75,000 copies.[27]

The novel was published in America in August by the New American Library,[23] after Fleming changed publishers from Viking Press after The Spy Who Loved Me.[28] The book was 299 pages long and cost $4.50[29] and it topped The New York Times Best Seller list for over six months.[23]


Writing in The Guardian, critic Anthony Berkeley Cox, writing under the name Francis Iles, noted that the two minor grammatical errors he spotted were "likely to spoil no one's enjoyment"[30] of the novel as he considered that On Her Majesty's Secret Service was "not only up to Mr. Fleming's usual level, but perhaps even a bit above it."[30] Writing in The Guardian‍ '​s sister paper, The Observer Maurice Richardson pondered if there had been "a deliberate moral reformation"[31] of Bond. However, he notes Bond still has his harder side when needed. Richardson also thought that "in reforming Bond Mr. Fleming has reformed his own story-telling which had been getting very loose".[31] Overall he thought that "O.H.M.S.S. is certainly the best Bond for several books. It is better plotted and retains its insane grip until the end".[31]

Raymond Mortimer, writing for The Sunday Times, said that "James Bond is what every man would like to be, and what every woman would like between her sheets";[12] meanwhile the critic for The Times considered that after The Spy Who Loved Me, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service constitutes a substantial, if not quite a complete, recovery."[24] In the view of the reviewer, it was enough of a recovery for them to point out that "it is time, perhaps, to forget the much exaggerated things which have been said about sex, sadism and snobbery, and return to the simple, indisputable fact that Mr. Fleming is a most compelling story-teller."[24] Marghanita Laski, writing in The Times Literary Supplement thought that "the new James Bond we've been meeting of late [is] somehow gentler, more sentimental, less dirty."[32] However, she considered that "it really is time to stop treating Ian Fleming as a Significant Portent, and to accept him as a good, if rather vulgar thriller-writer, well suited to his times and to us his readers."[32]

The New York Herald Tribune thought On Her Majesty's Secret Service to be "solid Fleming",[12] while the Houston Chronicle considered the novel to be "Fleming at his urbanely murderous best, a notable chapter in the saga of James Bond".[12] Gene Brackley, writing in the Boston Globe wrote that Bond "needs all the quality he can muster to escape alive"[33] from Blofeld's clutches in the book and this gives rise to "two of the wildest chase scenes in the good guys-bad guys literature".[33] Regarding the fantastic nature of the plots, Brackley considered that "Fleming's accounts of the half-world of the Secret Service have the ring of authenticity"[33] because of his previous role with the NID.

Writing for The Washington Post, Jerry Doolittle thought that Bond is "still irresistible to women, still handsome in a menacing way, still charming. He has nerves of steel and thews of whipcord",[29] even if "he's starting to look a little older."[29] Doolittle was fulsome in his praise for the novel, saying "Fleming's new book will not disappoint his millions of fans".[29] Writing in The New York Times, Anthony Boucher—described by a Fleming biographer, John Pearson as "throughout an avid anti-Bond and an anti-Fleming man"[34]—was again damning, although even he admitted that "you can't argue with success".[35] However, he went on to say that "simply pro forma, I must set down my opinion that this is a silly and tedious novel."[35] Boucher went on to bemoan that although On Her Majesty's Secret Service was better than The Spy Who Loved Me, "it is still a lazy and inadequate story",[35] going on to say that "my complaint is not that the adventures of James Bond are bad literature ... but that they aren't good bad literature".[35] Boucher finished his review lamenting that "they just aren't writing bad books like they used to."[35]

The opposite point of view was taken by Robert Kirsch, writing in the Los Angeles Times, who considered Fleming's work to be a significant point in fiction, saying that the Bond novels "are harbingers of a change in emphasis in fiction which is important."[36] The importance, Kirsch claimed, sprung from "a revolution in taste, a return to qualities in fiction which all but submerged in the 20th-century vogue of realism and naturalism"[36] and the importance was such that they were "comparable ... only to the phenomenon of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories".[36] Kirsch also believed that "with Fleming, ... we do not merely accept the willing suspension of disbelief, we yearn for it, we hunger for it."[36] The critic for Time magazine referred to previous criticism of Fleming and thought that "in Fleming's latest Bond bombshell, there are disquieting signs that he took the critics to heart"[37] when they complained about "the consumer snobbery of his caddish hero".[37] The critic mourned that even worse was to follow, however, when "Bond is threatened with what, for an international cad, would clearly be a fate worse than death: matrimony".[37] However, eventually a "deus ex machina (the machine, reassuringly, is a lethal red Maserati) ... saves James Bond from his better self."[37]

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