Sunday, 23 November 2014

Young Bond in Shoot to Kill - a review

Given the debt the James Bond novels owe to American pulp-fiction and detective fiction – Ian Fleming acknowledged the influence of the masters of the genre, notably Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett – it was only a matter of time before James Bond would find himself in the world of Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade. Steve Cole's first Young Bond novel, Shoot to Kill, takes Bond to 1930s Hollywood in an adventure packed with the sort of danger and excitement that would put even the hardest-boiled of detectives through their paces

In Shoot to Kill, James Bond is between schools, at least those we knew about from his obituary in You Only Live Twice. Having been expelled from Eton, he has a year to wait before being sent to Fettes. In the meantime, his aunt has put him into Dartington Hall, a progressive school that might have suited Bond's rebellious nature, except that Bond is through with adventure and is trying his best to avoid trouble. A can of film containing footage of someone being beaten up soon puts paid to that, however, and he soon finds himself dodging bullets fired by people attempting to retrieve the film. The ultimate school trip – a flight to Hollywood on an airship – gives Bond little chance to relax, as danger follows him all the way to Los Angeles. James Bond finds that it is down to him to save fellow pupils, not to mention himself, from a maniacal Hollywood producer whose plan for making films brings a new terrifying meaning to method acting.

Steve Cole's novel is a superb and thrilling page-turner, full of the sort of ingredients we expect from a Bond novel. Readers familiar with the older Bond will have the added pleasure of spotting the nods to Ian Fleming's novels. Among those I noticed are allusions to the Ama divers of You Only Live Twice and Hoagy Carmichael, whom the adult Bond is described as resembling. The title of the first chapter lifts the title of the first paperback edition of Casino Royale published in the US. I was also reminded by passages in the novel of Bond's reminiscences in On Her Majesty's Secret Service of his childhood, and his reflections at the beginning of Goldfinger of the nature of death. There is even a reference to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (not including the use of Boudicca as a character name, which, as with the use of Caractacus in Fleming's children's book, is taken from the history of early Roman Britain). It is in this novel that Bond has a character-forming experience (“I could get a taste for cocktails”) and is introduced to judo (we know from his obituary that he founded a judo class at Fettes). In addition, the staples of the Bond novel – a loquacious villain and descriptions of food consumed – are present and correct.

Steve Cole has met the challenge of bringing us Fleming's character while retaining his own voice and style with considerable success. The task is made all the more difficult by the fact that Steve Cole is writing historical fiction (Ian Fleming, of course, was not), and inevitably there is the occasional anachronistic phrase (“a big ask”, “get over it”, “paramedic”). But this is not my main concern. In places, I admit Shoot to Kill was very gritty and a little tough to read. Some of the scenes could have come from the pages of Lee Child's Jack Reacher series. Such violence and persistent threat stretches the plausibility of the Young Bond novels (and others like them, for example the Alex Rider series). With six adventures under his belt, and with three more still to come, I am beginning to worry about Young Bond's psychological and physical health. How many more near-death experiences can a teenager take? Fortunately, under Steve Cole's care, Young Bond is in good hands.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Where does James Bond live?, and other observations from Bond in Motion

Where does James Bond live? We know where the literary James Bond lives – in a ground-floor flat in a house located in a square lined with plane trees off King's Road, London. Fleming and Bond biographer John Pearson identifies the square as Wellington Square, while John Griswold suggests that Markham Square is equally likely. Griswold notes, however, that neither possibility fully matches the details in Fleming's writing, which instead may have described a fictitious location inspired by real places.
Me, about to enter Bond in Motion
It is less certain, at least from the action on the screen, where the cinematic Bond lives, despite audiences seeing the inside of his apartment twice (in Dr No and Live and Let Die). That is not to say, however, that the film makers have not given Bond a home address. When I visited the Bond in Motion exhibition at the London Film Museum recently, I was interested to see some of the props prepared for some of the more recent films on display. These included passports, driving licences, and even a car rental contract, all prepared by or with the support of government agencies and commercial companies. They were in many respects genuine documents. Such attention to detail never ceases to impress me, especially considering that the props are barely seen on screen, if at all.

What especially intrigued me was the fact that the same home address was used in all documents on display from Pierce Brosnan- and Daniel Craig-era films: 61 Horseferry Road, Westminster, London, SW1. There were occasional variations – the Avis car rental agreement produced for Tomorrow Never Dies misspelled the first line of Bond's address as 61 Horsen Ferry Road, and gave the postcode as S1 – but essentially the same address has been used for some years through different Bond actors and changes in prop department staff.

Horseferry Road is not far from Bond's literary residence – King's Road is about two miles west – but fans wishing to add the address to their Bond-tour itinerary will not find the property. As Gary Giblin notes in his comprehensive reference work, James Bond's London (2001), 61 Horseferry Road does not in fact exist, which is just as well for a spy. The closest visitors can get to Bond's home is 65 Horseferry Road, which is the Westminster Coroner's Court, and, on the other side of the road, 62-64 Horseferry Road, which is home to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Incidentally, while the passports produced for the Bond films were no doubt prepared with the help of HM Passport Office, some of them do not meet its strict official requirements. The passport prepared for Casino Royale's (2006) Vesper Lynd, on display at Bond in Motion, carries a photograph of Eva Green, who is smiling and has her head turned slightly to the side; the rules state that the individual must be facing forward, looking straight at the camera and wearing a neutral expression.

There were two other points of interest from my visit to the exhibition. One concerned the manual for the Aston Martin V12 Vanquish, which is also on display. This is the thick document that Bond 'shoots through' in a second or two in Die Another Day (2002). The front of the manual bears the words MI6 Q Division. I am not sure why or when Q Branch became Q Division (possibly the change reflected organisational realities in MI6), but the change does not appear to have survived the long absence of Q in subsequent films, which obviously precluded any replication of the term 'Q Division' either in the script or on props, or competition from the term 'Q Branch', which remains more culturally prominent. In Skyfall (2012), which reintroduces the character of Q, Daniel Craig's Bond shows Raoul Silva “the latest thing in Q Branch. It's called a radio”.

Something else that caught my eye was the two pairs of skis on top of Tracy's Mercury Cougar from On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). These were made by the Franz Kneissl ski company and, as the legend on the skis proclaim, are from “the world's first factory for plastic skis”. This is an interesting detail, and adds to the types of skis that James Bond uses. In the novel (published in 1963), Bond borrows a pair of aluminium skis made by Head, and reminisces about the steel-edged hickory skis he used in his youth.

The Bond in Motion exhibition was fascinating not just because of the many Bond cars it had on display (as exciting as they were), but also because of the props and other items of incidental interest on show. These gave an insight into the care and level of detail given to the production of props, and revealed intriguing information about James Bond.

References:

Giblin, G, 2001 James Bond's London, Daleon Enterprises
Griswold, J, 2006 Ian Fleming's James Bond: Annotations and Chronologies for Ian Fleming's Bond Stories, Author House
Pearson, J, 1973 James Bond: the authorized biography of 007, Sidgewick and Jackson

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Ian Fleming introduces Yardley's 'The Education of a Poker Player'

When scriptwriters looked to update Ian Fleming's Casino Royale for the twenty-first James Bond film, they decided to replace the game of baccarat, which is played in the novel, with poker. Producer Michael G Wilson explained that while baccarat was no longer popular and few people would understand it, poker has worldwide recognition and is played as international tournaments online and on television. This is indisputable, but even so, given that Bond never plays poker in the books, is there something a little, well, un-Bondian about the game? Perhaps not. The literary James Bond may not play poker, but his creator did.

In 1958, Ian Fleming wrote an introduction to a slim volume by American author Herbert O Yardley called The Education of a Poker Player, which was first published in America in 1957. Fleming read it and was so taken with it, that he urged his publisher, Jonathan Cape, to issue the book in Britain. Cape agreed (the book was published in 1959), but on the condition that Fleming pen an introduction, presumably hoping that the attachment of Fleming's name to the book would boost sales.

Ian Fleming revealed in his introduction that he enjoyed playing poker, but confessed that he wasn't a good player. He claimed not to understand poker's myriad variations (at least, before he had encountered Yardley's book), and admitted that he drank and smoked too much to win at the game. Yardley advises poker players to “never drink while playing”, as “drinking leads to carelessness in cards”, advice, incidentally, that most of the players in the poker tournament that featured in the film of Casino Royale fail to heed, James Bond included. Herbert O Yardley would not have been impressed.

Apart from the intricate descriptions of games of Five-Card Draw (Jacks or Better, Deuces Wild with the Joker, Lo Ball), Five Card Stud, Seven-Card Stud, Seven-Card Stud (Hi-Lo), what particularly struck  Fleming was the tone of the book, which in his view was as tautly-written and as full of zest, blood, sex and wry humour as any Raymond Chandler novel (qualities, indeed, that filled the pages of Fleming's own writing).

Ostensibly a guidebook to how to win at  poker, Yardley's book is an autobiographical account of his own experiences playing poker, from his time learning the game as a teenager under the tutelage of James Montgomery at Monty's Place in Washington around 1905, to his games against Chinese officials while engaged between 1938 and 1941 by China to break Japanese codes during the Second Sino-Japanese war. All this time, Yardley writes that he never lost more than three sittings in a row.

Despite his enjoyment of the game, Ian Fleming never has James Bond play poker in his novels. Poker isn't excluded altogether, however, as Fleming made several allusions to the game, usually by way of metaphor. In 'The Hildebrand Rarity' (1962), for example, when Milton Krest goads Bond with aspersions about Britain's influence in the world, he says that the three remaining powers of America, Russia and China represented “the big poker game and that no other country had either the chips or the cards to come into it.”

Ian Fleming was fascinated by card games, and poker was no exception. That the game merits only passing references in the Bond books seems a little surprising, but may reflect Fleming's poorer understanding and experience of the game compared with baccarat, canasta and bridge, with which he was far more familiar  and which consequently found significant places in the Bond novels (Casino Royale, Goldfinger and Moonraker respectively).

References

Chowdhury, A, 2007 Bond Reborn, in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang 3, 26-33
Gilbert, J, 2012 Ian Fleming: The Bibliography, Queen Anne Press
Yardley, H O, 2002 The Education of a Poker Player, High Stakes

Saturday, 1 November 2014

James Bond or Iron Man? Cultural references in jetpack-related stories

Think of jetpacks, and chances are the image of James Bond from Thunderball (1965) leaps to mind. Or maybe, at least for the younger generation, an image of Iron Man leaps rather higher. Judging by a number of recent jetpack-themed stories in newspapers and other media outlets, Iron Man is now competing with James Bond as the main cultural reference for journalists reporting on developments in the jetpack industry.

The most recent jetpack-related story to receive widespread coverage concerned Martin Aircraft Co. Ltd, a New Zealand-based company that's planning to become listed on the Australian stock exchange to raise capital to develop its jetpack prototype, the Martin Jetpack. This was essentially a business story, and much of the coverage was characteristically dry as one might expect from the business pages.

Some of the articles, for example in the Sydney Morning Herald and the New Zealand Herald, contained no cultural references, but there were a few nods to popular culture in others. The Australian Financial Review, for example, ran the headline, “Martin Jetpack Brings James Bond to Life.” ABC Online commented that the jetpack was “every child's fantasy, with imaginations fuelled for decades by film and television,” including, it suggested, Thunderball. The Wall Street Journal's article, in contrast, focused on inventor Glenn Martin's own inspiration, The Jetsons, and other American science-fiction shows of the 1960s.

As with buses, one waits ages for a jetpack story, then two stories come along as once. A few days before the Martin Jetpack story hit the news, media outlets were excited by the craze for water-powered jetpacks, which are being offered as tourist experiences around the world. The Telegraph reported on the Jetlev-Flyer, a jetpack experience based at Wyboston Lakes, near Bedford, UK, with the headline, “Unleash your inner James Bond: strap on a jetpack,” which was described as “part 007 gadget, part oversized garden sprinkler.” Co-owner of the franchise, Catherine Wheeler, asked as she strapped reporter Ben Saunders into a jetpack, “So do you want to be James Bond or Iron Man?”

Another water-powered jetpack experience, run by Jetpack America, is available near Las Vegas at Pahrump, Nevada. The Los Angeles Magazine reported on the facility and alluded to “Rocketeer” fantasies. Last year, Yahoo News reported on a similar facility in Hawaii, though its story focused on concerns raised by Hawaii's fishermen, marine biologists and state officials. The story's headline stated, “'Iron Man' jetpacks spark concerns in Hawaii,” and asked, “Want to fly like George Jetson or Iron Man?”

In May this year, another type of jetpack, the 'Go Fast Jet Pack', was featured in the Daily Mail with the headline, “Travel like Iron man! Mini wingless jet-pack lets man zoom around at speeds of 77mph (but only for half a minute).” There was a second Iron Man reference within the article: “The 'Go Fast Jet Pack' may not be a sleek as Iron Man's but it allows people to fly after 100 hours of lessons, much like the fictional super hero.” The absence of references to Thunderball in this case is curious, as the jetpack's manufacturer, Jet PI, based the design on the model developed in the 1960s by Bell Systems, which was responsible for James Bond's jetpack. 

It is reassuring, and testament to the significance of James Bond, that after almost 50 years, the Thunderball jetpack meme retains cultural currency. But Iron Man is nipping at James Bond's heels, and it is to the superhero that editors are beginning to turn in their jetpack stories. The likelihood of there being an allusion to James Bond also appears to depend in part on where the story is published. A US-based media outlet is perhaps more likely than a UK-based one to refer to American aspects of culture, while British outlets will lean more strongly to British cultural memes. In other places, such as Australia, there might be more of a mix, though in the case of jetpacks, James Bond remains important.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

To the editor of The Times: Ian Fleming on the Munich Agreement

Ian Fleming's writing outside his James Bond novels provide fascinating insights into Fleming's world-view and the cultural environment of the day. For example, there is among the mass of his published material a letter to the editor of The Times published on Wednesday 28th September 1938. The date is significant, being the day before the signing of the infamous Munich Agreement, which ceded the Czechoslovakian territory of Sudetenland to Germany and heralded the full annexation of Czechoslovakia six months later. It was about the imminent meeting between the British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, and Adolf Hitler that Fleming wrote.

Ian Fleming began, “Since the immediate future of Europe appears to depend largely on Herr Hitler's intentions, it is most important that we should have a clear knowledge of exactly what those intentions are.” Revealing himself as something of a German expert (he had spent time in Germany, having enrolled at Munich University in 1928), Fleming drew attention to a rare document (a copy of which he had in his possession) produced by the National Socialist German Workers' Party on its foundation in 1920 that stated among other objectives a demand for “'the union of all Germans within a Greater-Germany'”. To Fleming, then, Hitler's territorial ambitions in 1938 had come as no surprise. But what was to be the response from the signatory powers of Britain, France and Italy?

Peace in Europe, it seemed to Fleming, would only be possible if the demands contained in the document of 1920 represented the full extent of Hitler's ambitions. “There will be no peace, no return of prosperity, and no happiness in Europe until England and France agree to the fulfilment of Herr Hitler's stated programme”, he wrote. The alternative was stark. Should Hitler refuse this settlement, Fleming continued, then “it will be time to organize this country on a war-
time basis.”
The Munich Agreement, giving the mainly German-speaking Czechoslovakian region of Sudetenland to Germany, was signed in the early hours of Friday 30th September 1938. Neville Chamberlain returned to London, and outside 10 Downing Street told the assembled press that he believed the agreement represented “peace for our time”. The phrase would later haunt Chamberlain, who would come to be viewed as the architect of appeasement as Hitler's subsequent territorial aggression became clear. However, there was initial public support in Britain for the agreement, and judging by his letter, the outcome was for Fleming preferable to the alternative.

Ian Fleming's letter is of interest beyond historical curiosity. It demonstrates in Fleming a growing political awareness that he appears to have lacked, as biographer Andrew Lycett notes, even in Munich in 1928 when the Nazi Party was on the rise (although presumably it was there that Fleming acquired the copy of the document he described in his letter). This awareness was soon put to practical use in 1939 when Fleming was appointed as special correspondent for The Times to cover a British trade mission to the Soviet Union. Following the Second World War, Fleming's interest in global politics appeared to have waned, although it found a degree of expression in the James Bond novels as he pitted his hero against the Soviet Union.

Reference:


Fleming, I, 1938 Letter to the editor of The Times, The Times, 28 September 1938
Lycett, A, 1995 Ian Fleming: The Man Behind James Bond, Turner

Sunday, 19 October 2014

James Bond in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

A scene from 'Our Man Bashir'
The scene opens in what appears to be a luxury hotel room. A man is thrown through a plate glass screen. Through the broken glass, we see a second man, who is presumably responsible for the damage to the glass – and the first individual. He wears a dinner suit, and coolly turns towards a beautiful woman and a table on which a bottle of Dom PĂ©rignon has been placed. He takes the bottle, but as he begins to extract the cork, he notices a reflection in the glass of the bottle of the first man, now recovered, moving towards him with malign intent. In a perfectly-timed move, the dinner-suited man turns, aims the bottle at the man, and shoots the cork. The cork hits the man on the head and downs him. The man in the dinner suit resumes his position at the table, and passionately kisses the woman.

No, this isn't a description of a pre-titles sequence from a James Bond film, but rather a parody of one, alluding to, among other aspects, the pre-titles sequence of Goldfinger (specifically the reflection of the villain in the exotic dancer's eye). The scene is from the beginning of 'Our Man Bashir', the ninth episode of season four of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and first broadcast in November 1995.

In the episode, Doctor Julian Bashir, played by Alexander Siddig, enacts his fantasy of being a 1960s' British spy (no prizes for guessing which one) in the holosuite of a Federation space station, Deep Space Nine. When an attempt to teleport some of the crew from a damaged shuttle fails, the patterns of the crew members are stored in the only part of the station's computer large enough to take them – the holosuite. Doctor Bashir, still within his fantasy program, begins to encounter his crew mates, who now appear as characters in his spy adventure.

As expected, James Bond references abound throughout the episode. There are allusions to, for example, the suggestive names of Bond girls (Bashir's valet is called Mona Luvsitt, while Lt Commander Jadzia Dax becomes geologist Dr Honey Bare), Bond's favourite tipple (inevitably Bashir drinks a Martini, shaken, not stirred), Bond's skill at cards (Bashir plays baccarat in a casino), the villains' penchant for Nehru-collared jackets (Captain Sisko in the guise of the villain, Dr Hippocrates Noah, wears one), and Bond music (there are hints of the James Bond theme and John Barry-style phrases).

Then there are references to specific Bond films. Bashir's fantasy is set in 1964, the year that saw the release of Goldfinger and the beginning of 'Bondmania'. Later in the episode, Bashir changes into a grey suit that recalls the grey three-piece suit worn by Sean Connery's Bond in that film. Bashir is helped in his fantasy mission by a Russian spy, Anastasia Komananov (actually crew member Major Kira), which is taken from The Spy Who Loved Me. And in a denouement that is reminiscent of Moonraker, Bashir is brought to a cave and strapped to a laser, which when activated will bring up molten lava and kill Bashir.

Indeed, despite being set in 1964, the fantasy events depicted the episode appear to have been inspired largely by The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, released in 1977 and 1979 respectively. The megalomaniacal scheme devised by Dr Noah (whose name obviously recalls Dr No, although Dr Noah was also the name of Woody Allen's character in the 1967 version of Casino Royale) involves destroying the world by setting off earthquakes using strategically placed lasers. “I believe in an orderly world,” Dr Noah tells Bashir. “We are building a new future”. As the land mass crumbles, the sea rises and creates an island of Dr Noah's mountain-top retreat (a reference here, no doubt, to Piz Gloria, Blofeld's Alpine base in On Her Majesty's Secret Service). Having brought all the world's top scientists – many of them female – to his lair, Dr Noah plans to repopulate the earth with a super-race. “Diabolical,” says Bashir. “Visionary,” replies Dr Noah, a man clearly cut from the same cloth as Karl Stromberg or Hugo Drax.

There are other references to The Spy Who Loved Me. Lt Commander Worf, who appears in the fantasy as Dr Noah's right-hand man, Duchamps, discharges a powder from his fake cigar to render Bashir unconscious in a similar vein to Major Amasova's method of knocking Bond out. On being introduced to Bashir, posing as geologist Dr Merriweather, Dr Noah tests Bashir's credentials by inviting him to identify a collection of stones, just as Stromberg tested Bond's knowledge of fish (Bond was posing as marine biologist at the time). And the control room of Dr Noah's retreat, complete with control panel and large map of the world showing the locations of the lasers, brings to mind the control room of Stromberg's tanker, the Liparus.

Curiously, the episode features two moments of overt 1960s' scene-setting – women dancing to zany 1960s' style music, and a revolving circular bed – that prefigure Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) and which otherwise have no place in the 1960s' Bond films, except Casino Royale.

At the end of his fantasy, Doctor Bashir tell us that “Julian Bashir, secret Agent, will return,” a reference to the promise at the end of every Bond film that James Bond will return. In the event, a planned return to Bashir's fantasy program was never produced, apparently because of threatened legal action from MGM. That's a pity, because 'Our Man Bashir' is an affectionate tribute to the Bond films that only serves to demonstrate how deeply aspects or memes expressed in the Bond films, particularly those associated with what could be identified as touchstone films, Goldfinger and The Spy Who Loved Me, are embedded in popular culture.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Review – James Bond's Cuisine: 007's Every Last Meal, by Matt Sherman

In recent years, the food of James Bond (perhaps rather belatedly, given that there is so much of it in Ian Fleming's novels) has been attracting more academic and popular interest. In June 2009, I published a paper in Food, Culture and Society (vol.12.2) called '“Bond was not a gourmet”: An archaeology of James Bond’s diet'. In October 2012, an article by Michelle Warwicker and published on the BBC News website asked, “Does 007 eat all the wrong things?” The same month, Dr James Strong led a seminar ('James Bond: International Man of Gastronomy') at Newman University Birmingham that explored the representation of food and the function of Bond's culinary choices in the novels. Dr Strong's research was subsequently published as a paper in the Journal of European Popular Culture (2013, vol. 4.2).

As worthy as all this research is, however, it is of limited use for anyone looking for a handy guide to food in the Bond books. My own James Bond cookbook, Licence to Cook, is a better place to start, but the recipes described are restricted to the meals that Bond consumes in Fleming's novels. Luckily, the gap has now been filled.


Matt Sherman's James Bond's Cuisine: 007's Every Last Meal (2014) is as comprehensive a guide to the food of James Bond as one could expect. The author has trawled through the novels, not only of Ian Fleming, but those of the continuation authors too, to describe every meal and food reference. Nor has he confined himself to the food consumed by Bond. References to food related to other characters are there as well. And if you thought the films had largely excised food from James Bond's adventures, then a flick through Matt Sherman's book reveals otherwise. While Bond is rarely shown sitting down to enjoy a meal, food is referenced one way or another in all the films, including the two not made by EON.

Throughout the guidebook, Matt Sherman adds 'Chef's notes' that provide more information about the origin or preparation of the food described, and occasionally include a recipe, for example key lime pie, a dessert which Bond admires in John Gardner's novelisation of Licence to Kill (1989). The author also highlights the restaurants referenced in the books and films which actually exist, allowing the book to be used as culinary travel guide and giving the chance for readers to sample the locations, as well as the food, of James Bond's world.

An index by food type or ingredient would have been helpful, but this is a minor concern. The book is a one-stop reference for all the food of James Bond, and deserves a place on the Bond fan's bookshelf alongside other Bond-related reference works, in particular David Leigh's The Drinks of James Bond (I suggest the two are read in tandem). And if readers are inspired to prepare a meal of Bondian food, may I humbly suggest they try a recipe from Licence to Cook?