You'd think SPECTRE could handle a few measly lawyers, wouldn't you?
James Bond of Her Majesty's Secret Service has faced off against any number of colorful and unlikely opponents, but there's one he hasn't seen since For Your Eyes Only who might be about to get a comeback. Ernst Stavro Blofeld and his organization SPECTRE - aka SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion - have been in mothballs thanks to legal difficulties with their creator. All that's over now, so there's every chance that the spy world's favorite cat fancier will turn up again, at a cinema near you.
But how did this happen? Well, it's all thanks to Ian Fleming, who - along with collaborators Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham - tried, back in the late 1950s, to put together a James Bond screenplay. It came to nothing, but Fleming later used the screenplay as a jump-off for his novel Thunderball. As soon as McClory and Whittingham saw SPECTRE in print, they sued. Whittingham, tiring of the whole business, gave his rights to McClory before the case saw court, and McClory later won, soaking Fleming for £35,000 as well as legal costs. Plus, he kept the rights to SPECTRE and its leader.
Here's where things got sticky. SPECTRE first appeared in print in Thunderball, but it first saw screen life in Doctor No; the filmmakers assumed that, since Fleming had sold them the rights to all past and future Bond novels, except for Thunderball, Blofeld and his organization was fair game. SPECTRE had appeared in two other Bond novels - Blofeld himself got strangled in You Only Live Twice - so surely all was well? No, said McClory, all damn well wasn't well, and so - after some legal back-and-forth - Blofeld swiftly passed out of the Bond movie canon. For those of you who want a complete version of this abridged tale, have a look over here.
McClory tried to make a go of it with his own movies, but never had much luck, and MGM stopped him from using Bond as a character. Without Bond, Blofeld had no purpose, and - despite occasional agitating from McClory - the whole thing pretty much sank into oblivion. Then McClory died in 2006, and his estate proved much more amenable to a deal. "Danjaq and MGM have acquired all of the estate's and family's rights and interests relating to James Bond," said the filmmakers in an official statement, "thus bringing to an amicable conclusion the legal and business disputes that have arisen periodically for over 50 years."
What does this mean for SPECTRE, now the world's fascinated by Al-Qaeda? Possibly nothing, possibly everything; but the cat man's back, and he didn't need a cloning facility to pull it off.