Sunday, 19 April 2015

How Ann Fleming was kept awake by Three Blind Mice

In a letter to Clarissa Avon (Countess of Avon), written at Goldeneye on 16th February 1964, Ann Fleming wrote, “A new garage at end of garden has a juke box which plays from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m., especially a loud syncopated version of 'Three Blind Mice'”. A few days later, on the 22nd February, Ann wrote to Evelyn Waugh, mentioning the music.
“A new 'gas station' at garden gate possessed of infernal machine called 'sound system'. It relays calypso from 9 p.m. To 3 a.m. Special favourite being a syncopated version of 'Three Blind Mice'.”
The references to 'Three Blind Mice' are interesting, given that a calypso version of the nursery rhyme featured in the soundtrack of Dr No, released in 1962. The song, actually titled 'Kingston Calypso', was composed by Monty Norman and performed by the Jamaican band, Byron Lee and the Dragonaires. In the film, the music accompanies the three blind beggars – in fact assassins sent by Dr No – on their way to kill Strangways. Was this the song that disturbed Ann Fleming so much?


 

It's possible. The soundtrack album was a chart hit, and Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, thanks in part to the success of Dr No, were billed as 'Jamaica's no. 1 band', and doubtless their music was heard across the island.

Advert from the Gleaner

On the other hand, if Ann Fleming had been hearing the Dr No album, it would seem curious that she doesn't mention it or reflect on the irony of being kept awake by the music of a film based on her husband's novel (although any lack of recognition is understandable, given that she failed to find the film gripping during a preview in 1962). Moreover, 'Kingston Calypso' was never released as a single or included on any of the band's albums that had been released by early 1964, and so opportunities for recordings of the track to be heard in isolation were limited (unless the version that Ann heard was a cover).

A more likely candidate is 'Three Blind Mice' by Prince Buster (Cecil Bustamente Campbell), who was a pioneer of ska music in Jamaica in the early 1960s. His version of 'Three Blind Mice', which appeared on the B-side of the single 'Spider and Fly' in 1963, is a ska track and much more in keeping with the syncopated sound heard by Ann Fleming.



 

Ska and Dr No seem a world apart, but Ann Fleming's letters reveal something of a connection. Monty Norman's 'Kingston Calypso', inspired by the film's more or less faithful portrayal of the three blind beggars in Ian Fleming's novel, was among the first of a number of Jamaican versions of 'Three Blind Mice', and helped to give the nursery rhyme a particular place in Jamaican culture.

Reference:

Amory, M, 1985 The letters of Ann Fleming, Collins Harvill

Friday, 10 April 2015

On location: Bilbao in The World Is Not Enough

I was in north-east Spain over the Easter holiday. Having flown into Bilbao, I was able to spend a little time in the city before returning to the UK. Apart from exploring the many museums, parks, squares, streets, and cafés that Bilbao has to offer, naturally I was keen to see the locations used in The World Is Not Enough (1999). Given that the filming was based around the world-famous Guggenheim Museum, I didn't have too much difficulty finding them.


 

Bilbao appears in the pre-titles sequence. In the very first scene, Pierce Brosnan's James Bond crosses Iparraguirre, a street that leads to the Guggenheim. As we follow Bond into a building representing la Banque Suisse de l'Industrie, we catch a glimpse of the West Highland terrier, the enormous statue of a flower-covered dog that sits in front of the museum.
Me looking at the Guggenheim, Bilbao
The building used as the Swiss bank in fact stands opposite the museum on Alameda Mazarredo. Unfortunately during my visit, the building was obscured by scaffolding and hoarding advertising men's fragrance. There would be no recreating Bond's jump out of the window that day.
The building that doubled as TWINE's Swiss bank
After jumping out of the window, Bond makes his escape by heading north on Puente de la Salve, a bridge that takes one behind the Guggenheim and over the Ría de Bilbao. I walked a little way across the bridge, and then later drove over the bridge as I tried to negotiate my way out of the city and towards the airport.
Me on the Puente de la Salve, Bilbao
Alas there was no trace of Bond's visit, but the city did offer a postscript of sorts. Walking through the streets of the old city, I spotted a poster for 'Bond & Beyond', a concert celebrating the music of James Bond performed by the Orquesta Sinfónica de Bilbao. Now, if I could just manage to be in the city on 25th or 26th June...

For more information on James Bond's Bilbao, I recommend the 007 Travelers blog, and also On the Tracks of 007 by Martijn Mulder and Dirk Kloosterboer.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Universal Export: a bit of genuine tradecraft

In December 1940, British censorship examiners based in New York intercepted a letter addressed to a Mr Lothar Frederick of Berlin from someone who signed himself Joe K. The letter contained a list of shipping in New York harbour, and from this and several other clues in the letter, it was established that the sender was a Nazi agent.

The letter was passed to an MI6 officer, H Montgomery Hyde, attached to the censorship station, who in turn passed it to William Stephenson, director of the British Security Coordination, an organisation set up to gather intelligence about Nazi agents working in the US, spread disinformation, and support acts of sabotage against Nazi targets.

Censorship examiners were ordered to keep a look out for more correspondence from Joe K, which resulted in a haul of intelligence material. Many of the letters followed a characteristic pattern. Each letter usually contained a message written in invisible ink, while the visible text purported to be an ordinary business letter. Even this though in fact disguised information of interest. For example, one letter stated:

"Your order no. 5 is rather large - and I with my limited facilities and funds shall never be able to fill such an immense order completely. But I have already many numbers in stock, and shall ship whatever and whenever I can. I hope you have no objections to part shipments."
What Joe K meant was that the demand from his Nazi masters for information was too much for him to fulfil with his limited resources, but he would do what he could.

If this style of communication, full of double meaning, seems familiar to readers of the Bond novels, then that's because Ian Fleming had Bond communicate in a similar fashion.

In Live and Let Die, for example, Bond makes a call to the 'managing director' of Universal Export (ie M) to report that he "may need a bit of help with a difficult consignment", having gone "uptown to see our chief customer last night" Bond continues that "three of [the customer's] best men went sick" while Bond was there, and that Bond himself "got a slight chill". The chief customer is, of course, Mr Big and that 'sick' is a euphemism for 'dead'.

Bond makes a similar call in From Russia, With Love to report that his partner (Darko Kerim) had gone very sick; that is, he had been killed by the opposition.

In On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Bond communicates with M, not as a travelling salesman, but as a repesentative of the College of Arms. Revealing in a letter something of the organisation behind Blofeld, Bond writes of the "male staff of several nationalities" and of Fräulein Irma Bunt, who has told him that "she comes from Munich". Of the Count, Bond writes of his research on allergies and their causes, and tells the addressee, Sable Basilisk, that he has suggested to the count that a visit to Augsberg might be useful.

All valuable intelligence material between the lines for those officers back home working on the Blofeld case (Operation Corona), while the Augsberg trip is a ruse to get Blofeld out of Switzerland so that he can be snatched.

The Bond novels are often dismissed as spy stories, but the fantastic plots and thrilling, fast-paced narrative do disguise genuine tradecraft. Bond's communications under the auspices of Universal Export, which have their origins in the Second World War, if not earlier, are one example.


Reference

Montgomery Hyde, H, 1962, Room 3603: The story of the British Intelligence Centre in New York during World War II

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Who thought up the phrase 'Bond, James Bond'?

Bond, James Bond. Three words that together constitute a phrase famous the world over. As essential a line in the Bond films as 'shaken, not stirred', another three-word phrase with a near-identical structure, the phrase routinely makes lists of top movie quotes, and is much imitated and parodied in films and beyond.


 

'Bond, James Bond' was first heard in Dr No (1962), being, appropriately, the first words Bond utters on the big screen. The extent to which its structure and function makes the phrase particularly memorable and adaptable is arguable, but its success was almost guaranteed as soon as it was delivered by an impossibly cool Sean Connery, with a little help from the James Bond theme triggered by the phrase. The effect was more or less replicated at the end of Casino Royale (2006) – there were reports of cinema-goers cheering when the much-anticipated phrase was delivered by Daniel Craig's Bond – bringing the 'Bond, James Bond' meme to new audiences and giving it fresh impetus for its imitation in popular culture.

Who created the phrase? Well, Ian Fleming, naturally. In the novel of Casino Royale (1953), Bond replies to Felix Leiter, who's just introduced himself, with the words, “Mine's Bond – James Bond.” In Goldfinger (1959), Mr Du Pont says to Goldfinger: “Like you to meet Bond, James Bond.” There's a “Bond, James Bond” in Dr No (1957) and The Spy Who Loved Me (1962), and a “My name's Bond, James Bond” in Thunderball (1961) and 'Octopussy' (1966, but written early 1962). There may be others, but just these examples demonstrate that the phrase was a standard one for Ian Fleming, that it appeared throughout the sequence of novels, and crucially that it pre-dated the film series.

Such facts were brought to mind as I read the description for lot 261 in a catalogue for Christie's auction of James Bond memorabilia, toys and games, film props and other items held on 17th September 1998 (I'll write more about this catalogue in a forthcoming post). Lot 261 comprised a collection of film scripts – those of the first three Bond films – owned by British novelist and scriptwriter Berkely Mather, who co-wrote Dr No, and made smaller contributions to From Russia With Love (1963) and Goldfinger (1964).

Looking through the catalogue entry, I was a little surprised to read that “famous one-liners, often attributed to Fleming, were apparently Mather's inspiration. These are said to include '[The name is] Bond – James Bond'; and Bond's celebrated preference for vodka Martini '...shaken, not stirred.'” While there may be a case for Mather's claim to the latter, at least in that more concise form, his claim for the former seems unfounded.

That said, the catalogue entry also states, rather interestingly, that when he was given the task of working on the Dr No script, Berkely Mather had never read a Bond novel, and had to borrow his son's paperback copy of Dr No (which is included in the lot). With this in mind, it is perhaps remarkable nonetheless that while reading the book, Mather alighted on 'Bond, James Bond', which in isolation in 1961/2 must have seemed a fairly innocuous line. Much of the novel's dialogue provided the basis for the dialogue in the film, but it was heavily modified and rarely survived intact. 'Bond, James Bond' did survive, however, possibly because it is brief and has a pleasing structure that catches the ear when delivered. It is, in short, cinematic.

While 'Bond, James Bond' is certainly Fleming's invention (it cannot join, say, 'Elementary, my dear Watson' in any list of phrases which are popularly attributed to a character but never originated with their authors), we may have Berkely Mather to thank for spotting its potential as a memorable one-liner and including it in his script.

Friday, 20 March 2015

The Day of the Dead and other festivals in the Bond films

This week the Spectre production crew moved to Mexico to start filming more key scenes, including part of the film's opening sequence, which, as revealed by an official tweet, will recreate Mexico's famous Day of the Dead festival. 
The Bond films have developed something of a tradition of incorporating celebrations and festivals from around the world. Let's look at some examples.

Junkanoo (Thunderball)
The Junkanoo is a street parade of highly decorated floats, percussion-based music and exuberant dancing seen in the Bahamas each year on Boxing Day. James Bond gatecrashes the celebrations in Thunderball when he attempts to lose Fiona and Largo's henchmen, who are in pursuit, in the crowds. Bond is shot in the leg and trails blood, which leads Fiona to the Kiss Kiss Club where Bond is hiding. The tense sequence terminates with one of Bond's best lines in the film series: “Do you mind if my friend sits this one out? She's just dead.” It is said that some of the participants in the Junkanoo decorated their floats with Bond-inspired designs, and Bond's code, 007, can apparently been seen. If so, I have not spotted it yet.

The origins of the festival lies in the late 16th and early 17th century, when plantation owners in Jamaica and the Bahamas gave their slave-workers three days off at Christmas. Festivities developed, and may have included the wearing of costumes and masks and stilt-walking. The Junkanoo eventually died out in Jamaica after the abolition of slavery, but continued in the Bahamas.

The modern festival is celebrated throughout the island, but the biggest celebrations are conducted through the streets of Nassau. The main element of the Junkanoo is a parade, which is populated by thousands of participants organised into 'crews', who compete for cash prizes for best float, costume and mask. The parade, dancing and (goombay) music continue through the night and ends at dawn.

Rio Carnival (Moonraker)The carnival backdrop and its samba soundtrack helps raise the suspense in the scene in Rio de Janeiro where Jaws, clad in an outlandish carnival costume, makes his way down a narrow street towards Manuela, who is transfixed by fear at the approaching threat. As Jaws reaches her and is about to give her the 'kiss of death', revellers tumble out of a bar and sweep Jaws up in their dancing, thus rescuing Manuela.

The Rio Carnival takes place over the five days in February or March before Shrove Tuesday. It has its origins in the 17th century-tradition of estrudos, when the inhabitants of the city would run riot through the streets pelting passers-by with foul substances. These festivities were eventually banned, but not before the wealthier inhabitants had begun to organise masked balls and float parades. Meanwhile, samba schools emerged in the working-class areas of the city and these played an increasingly significant role in the evolution of the pre-Lent festivities.

The modern carnival parade, characterised by extravagant costumes, thousands of dancers, and pulsating rhythms, developed as a competition between the Grupo Especial, or elite samba schools, but carnival-goers can also enjoy street music provided by blocos and bandas, and balls held in hotels and other indoor venues.

Palio di Siena (Quantum of Solace)
James Bond finds himself among the crowds enjoying the horse racing of the palio di Siena as he pursues Mitchell, M's bodyguard who is revealed as working for Quantum. A shot is fired and someone in the crowd is hit, but Bond does not hang around as he continues to give chase with chaos developing around him.

The palio di Siena is held twice a year in July (Palio di Provensano) and August (Palio dell'Assunta), and combines white-knuckle horse racing with religious observation and festivities. It began in the 14th century with horse races around Siena's squares organised by the city's wards or contrade. In the 18th century, the numerous contrade were reduced to seventeen, and it was also decreed that no more than ten contrade could participate in palio. Today, the races are still restricted to ten contrade, whose colours are worn by the bareback riders.

The Day of the Dead (Spectre)
Day of the Dead, Coyoacan (Photo: Christine Zapata Perez)
Mexico's Day of the Dead is a two-day festival held on 1st and 2nd November. It is said to combine Aztec beliefs that the dead returned to visit their loved ones at the end of the harvest season with the Christian (and ultimately pagan) traditions of Halloween and All Souls' Day on 31st October and 1st November, which reached Mexico with the Spanish Conquistadors.

Today's festival is celebrated both in the home as food and drink and prayers are offered to deceased family members and ancestors on make-shift altars, and outside. People's front doors and paths around homes are painted and heavily laden with flowers and food, including Pan de Muerto, the bread of the dead; markets stalls sell edible skulls and ghoulish decorations, and streets are lined with marigold petals, which lead inhabitants to cemeteries, where families hold all-night vigils – and, effectively, picnics of tortillas and other treats – at the graveside. Throughout, there is a street-party atmosphere, characterised by music and much tequila-drinking.

How might the Day of the Dead be seen in Spectre? We will certainly see lots of papier-mâché skeletons (do these inspire the name of the organisation which gives the film its title?), which have become a symbol of the festival. The action may take us to a cemetery, or through bedecked streets and markets. In any case, the Day of the Dead will give the film a macabre backdrop that will be highly redolent of the Voodoo aspects of Live and Let Die, a film which director Sam Mendes has repeatedly referenced.

The use of traditional celebrations and festivals in the Bond films (we could also include, among others, the jazz funerals of New Orleans seen in Live and Let Die, or the bull-fighting shown in On Her Majesty's Secret Service) serve to enhance the spectacle and exoticism of the films, increase the tension and suspense of the scene with the juxtaposition of the celebration and the threat, and at the same time help ground the films in a degree of reality. While EON's tweet revealed something of a spoiler, I cannot wait to see how the events of the opening sequence will show the Day of the Dead.


Reference
World Party: The Rough Guide to the World's Best Festivals, London (2007)

Sunday, 15 March 2015

BOND: An Unauthorised Parody, by Gavin Robertson - a review

Recently Gavin Robertson's one-man play, BOND: An Unauthorised Parody, came to Holton village hall in Oxfordshire. Being fairly local, I was able to join the audience and see what was a clever, amusing and affectionate pastiche of the Bond films.

The performance began inevitably with the gun barrel. Dark-suited Gavin Robertson assumed the classic pose, turned towards the audience at the sound of a gun firing, and stepped through a minimalist set of three six-foot rectangular frames to launch into a sequence of dancing women and leaping Bonds so familiar from Maurice Binder's titles, all brilliantly suggested by Robertson's physicality.

The plot concerns a threat to the lives of British agents posed by a silky-voiced, cat-stroking villain. Remind you of anyone? Yes, I thought that too, but things aren't always what they seem. An aged,  out-of-shape Bond – a standard trope in Bond parodies – is summoned, rather reluctantly, by his chief (clearly M, though never identified as such) and tasked with stopping the villain. As Bond nears his goal –  on the way racing to locate and defuse a bomb planted by the villain's henchman, Le Chiffon – he discovers the villain's true identity, and learns that his life is, and always has been, in the villain's hands.

Gavin Robertson pokes fun at many of the standard memes of the Bond films: Bond's flirtatious relationship with his chief's secretary, Bond's suggestively named female companion (Honeydew Melons), Q's workshop, a trick cigarette, Oddjob's hat, the villain's lair, the random appearance of Felix Leiter, the over-elaborate attempt to kill Bond. The Bond references come thick and fast, but there is also room for nods to other film series, among them Mission: Impossible, Rocky and Back to the Future.

If there was a flaw, it's that the play was so fast-moving and the plotting so intricate – Robertson's use of the three frames to create different scenes was ingenious – that the audience had to work hard to keep up. There weren't many guffaws or chortles, but audience members were probably concentrating too hard to laugh. The play was funny, but like any comedy, the laughs would no doubt come with repeated viewings.

The characterisation was very impressive. Gavin Robertson effortlessly switched from character to character and succeeded in making each character as individual as if they had been played by different actors, except in one case, and even then it's part of a joke.

If BOND: An Unauthorised Parody is coming to a venue near you, I suggest you see it, ideally more than once. If you can't see it, then fortunately the script is available to buy from Amazon.

Per Fine Ounce, by Peter Vollmer - a review

What could have been the first continuation James Bond novel - Per Fine Ounce, by Geoffrey Jenkins - has almost mythic status among Bond fans, owing largely to the fact that the manuscript, which was rejected by Glidrose Productions in 1967, is said to contain ideas by Ian Fleming and that no trace of the book, long since lost apart from four pages, has come to light.

While the search for the missing book goes on, South African writer Peter Vollmer has taken up the challenge of writing a thriller inspired by Per Fine Ounce. Unlike the original, however, this version is a continuation novel of Geoffrey Jenkins' own literary hero, Geoffrey Peace.

Is the book any good? Click here to read my review on the Artistic Licence Renewed website, where there's also a very informative interview with author Peter Vollmer.