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 Pérignon 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?

Sunday, 5 October 2014

James Bond enters the world of motor racing

Last week, Ian Fleming Publications announced that Anthony Horowitz, acclaimed author of the Alex Rider series and television scriptwriter (credits include Midsomer Murders and Poirot), will be writing the next James Bond novel, to be published in September 2015. If that wasn't exciting enough, it was additionally revealed that part of the novel will use story ideas by Ian Fleming. The unpublished story, 'Murder on Wheels', takes Bond to the motor-racing circuit of Nürburgring in Germany, where Bond must foil a Russian plot to scupper driver Stirling Moss's race. But what inspired Fleming to think about writing such a story, and what details might we expect to see in Anthony Horowitz's novel?

James Bond is no stranger to the world of motor racing. Apart from all the 'racing changes' that Bond regularly makes in his cars, we know from Moonraker (1955) that Bond 'dabbled on the fringe of the racing world' (in his teens, assuming Bond was born in 1921), and had memories of Rudolf Caracciola, the celebrated German racing driver of the 1930s, at Le Mans. It was clearly a period with which Fleming was familiar, and he alluded to the motor racing scene of the 1930s in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1964/65). While the magical car was based on a car built by Count Zborowski in 1920, Fleming describes Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as a Paragon Panther that raced in the 1930s.

'Murder on Wheels' is one of thirteen story outlines prepared by Ian Fleming in 1958-9 for a television series in America. The series never got off the ground, but by May 1959, Fleming had supplied seven new stories and other stories based on the Bond novels already published. Some of the outlines formed the basis for some of the short stories in the For Your Eyes Only (1960) and Octopussy (1966) collections, but for whatever reason, 'Murder on Wheels' remained unused.

The late 1950s was an exciting period for motor racing. The inaugural race of the Formula One championship was in 1950 at Silverstone, and by the mid 1950s, the championship was dominated by two drivers, Juan Manuel Fangio, the Argentinian who won five drivers' titles between 1951 and 1957, and Stirling Moss, the Briton who never won a title, but won sixteen races between 1951 and 1961. The Formula One championship of 1957 was a particular tussle between the two, with every race that season won by Fangio in a Maserati or Moss in his Vanwall. Without Fangio in the 1958 season, Stirling Moss's main competition came from compatriot Mike Hawthawn in a Ferrari. But the season was overshadowed by several drivers' deaths on and off the track.
A Vanwall in 1957, the type of car driven by Stirling Moss (photo: Terry Whalebone)

It is possible that Ian Fleming had the 1957 and 1958 Formula One seasons in mind when he wrote the outline for his story (the 1959 season was too late, as the first race was in May). From a British point of view, the emerging dominance of British drivers and cars would have been a source of national pride and excitement, and it is not difficult to imagine Fleming concocting a plot involving a Russian scheme to end this dominance and humiliate the British.

We know that Anthony Horowitz will set his novel in the 1950s, and it is not unreasonable to suggest that he will turn to the events of the late 1950s for inspiration. If so, expect to read the names of some of the drivers of the day, among them Fangio, Moss, Hawthawn, Brooks, Musso, Schell, Gregory, and the names of cars, such as Vanwall, Cooper-Climax,  and BRM, as well as Ferrari, Maserati and Porsche (and possibly even the name of a certain team-owner, who entered in 1958 with Connaught-Alta – Bernie Ecclestone). Horowitz might also be tempted to turn to the 1959 to make another Bondian connection. It was in that year that Aston Martin entered Formula One.

Given James Bond's (and Fleming's) interest in the world of motor-racing, it's perhaps curious that Bond hasn't been seen on the racing circuit before now either in the books or the films (although he comes close in the film of On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), when he and Tracy gatecrash a stock-car rally). The racing circuit, however, deserves to be as natural a Bondian landscape as the casino or the ski slope, and I await Anthony Horowitz's novel with a great deal of anticipation.

References:

Gilbert, J, 2012 Ian Fleming: the Bibliography, Queen Anne Press
Griswold, J, 2006 Ian Fleming's James Bond: Annotations and Chronologies for Ian Fleming's Bond Stories, Author-House

Saturday, 27 September 2014

The Spy's Bedside Book

As a measure of the growing success of Ian Fleming's James Bond adventures, three passages from the novels were included in The Spy's Bedside Book, an anthology of spy stories and episodes edited by Graham Greene and Hugh Greene and published in 1957. The stories range from tales of Napoleonic intrigue to descriptions of Cold War spycraft, and present the absurdities, banalities and brutalities of espionage.

The three excerpts from Fleming's books are from Casino Royale (1953), Moonraker (1955) and From Russia, with Love (1957). The passage from Casino Royale is in a section called 'Professional Perquisities', and sees Bond ordering dinner for himself and Vesper Lynd in the restaurant of the Hotel Splendide. The passage from Moonraker, placed in the anthology under 'Tricks of the Trade', is from a scene in Blades, M's club. Bond has ordered vodka and proceeds to sprinkle pepper into the glass to take the residual fusel oil to the bottom of the glass. The passage from From Russia, with Love, placed in a section called 'Delights of the Profession', describes Bond's attaché case, the bag of tricks put together by Q Branch.

It is arguable how much of Bond's origins can be found in the writings of John Buchan, William Le Queux, and other early 20th-century spy writers, but these three passages do not seem out of place among tales of imperial and wartime adventures. Apart from Buchan and Le Queux, other authors in the anthology include Sir Robert Baden-Powell, T E Lawrence, Compton Mackenzie, and Rudyard Kipling. There is also room for some of the authors that Fleming most admired: Eric Ambler, Somerset Maugham, E Philips Oppenheim, and Fleming's brother, Peter.

My copy of the book, incidentally, is a former library copy, having once belonged to the library of Seaton Burn County Modern School in Northumberland. For me, what is perhaps as fascinating as the stories are the marginalia and annotations made by some of the book's readers. The marks made on the list of contents pages are especially interesting. The first name of Richard Garnett, who contributed to the Dictionary of National Biography, has been crossed out and replaced by 'Alf', forming the name of a sitcom character who first appeared on British television in July 1965. The name of co-editor Hugh Greene is at one point altered to Hughie Greene [sic], who was a popular television gameshow host on ITV from the mid 1950s to late 1970s. And in all three listings of the Bond passages, Ian Fleming has been underlined, drawing attention to the entries.

Given the date of the Alf Garnet reference, the annotations must date to or after the period of 'Bondmania' that began with the release of Goldfinger in the cinema in 1964. The juvenile scribblings inevitably reflect the cultural environment of the time and provide a little insight into the increasing popularity of James Bond.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Poppy Is Also A Flower - further James Bond connections

In the latest edition of MI6 Confidential (excellent as always), there's a fascinating article about the production of The Poppy Is Also A Flower, a UN-sponsored film broadcast in 1966 on US television and given wider release in the cinema in 1967. The film follows UN agents Benson and Sam Lincoln (played by Stephen Boyd and Trevor Howard respectively) on the trail of a shipment of opium from its source in Iran to the point of distribution in Europe, and features a host of Hollywood stars, including Grace Kelly, Yul Brynner, Rita Hayworth and Omar Sharif.


As explored in the piece in MI6 Confidential, the main interest for Ian Fleming aficionados is that the screenplay was based on a story by Ian Fleming (he is duly credited on the titles of the film), and was directed by Terence Young, who directed Dr No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963) and Thunderball (1965). I was sufficiently intrigued by the article to watch the film (available via You Tube), and as I did so, spotted a number of other connections between the film and the Bond series.

Trevor Howard, who was touted as a potential Bond for Dr No, though never seriously considered for the role by Broccoli and Saltzman, was given his chance to play Bond in the film. His character, Lincoln, has some obvious Bondian traits. He is charming, irresistible to women, and an action man, and for part of the film wears a dinner-suit. Lincoln is killed off towards the end of the film, after inveigling himself under a false identity into the villain's circle and surreptitiously searching the villain's yacht (reminiscent of Largo's boat in Thunderball). 'Bond duties' are subsequently taken up by his partner, Benson, who till then has a far quieter role.

The thrilling denouement is set on Le Train Bleu, a luxury express train which ran between Calais and the French Riviera. As if to accentuate the obvious parallel with From Russia With Love (which used the Orient Express), the train sequence includes a bruising fist-fight in a carriage between Benson and an enemy agent, Captain Vanderbilt, played by Anthony Quayle. Here, Terence Young cannot have failed to draw on his experience filming the seminal fight scene between Bond and Grant in From Russia With Love. Curiously, earlier in the film, Poppy features a wrestling scene between two near-naked women, which echoes the gypsy fight also in From Russia With Love.

Among the star-studded cast of Poppy is a familiar face from the Bond films. Harold Sakata, most famous for playing Oddjob in Goldfinger, appears as Martin, an intermediary in the opium trade. And if most of the Italian and French cast members sound familiar (and identical), it is because they seem to have been dubbed by Robert Rietty, who provided the voices for, among others in the Bond series, Largo in Thunderball and Tiger Tanaka in You Only Live Twice.

The Poppy Is Also A Flower isn't a great film – its plot and cast are perhaps overly burdened by the the film's august sponsor and worthiness of the anti-drugs campaign that the film was designed to promote – but it is entertaining enough, and worth watching for the Bond connections. The James Bond films appear to have provided inspiration for many aspects of the plot and characterisation, which was no doubt influenced by Ian Fleming's small, but critical involvement in the project's early stages, and Terence Young's experience directing three of the four Bond films that had been filmed up till then.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

The enduring popularity of Richard Kiel's Jaws

When the death of Richard Kiel was announced on 11th September, the story made news headlines around the world, and generous obituaries were published in major newspapers. This is testament to the respect and affection people around the world felt for the actor, and a measure of the extent to which Jaws, James Bond's steel-toothed adversary in the films The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979), had pervaded cultural space.

Much of the responsibility for this must lie in Richard Kiel's interpretation of the role. He imbued the character with the perfect combination of menace, humour and humanity – remarkably without uttering a single word until his final scene as Jaws in Moonraker. As Kiel said on the BBC Radio 4 programme, The Reunion, recorded days before his death, “I said if I were to play the part, I want to give the character some human characteristics, like perseverance, frustration.”

The popularity of Jaws also stems, inevitably, from his physical attributes and macabre method of dispatching his victims. The flash of metal teeth as Jaws grimaces in pleasure at the prospect of a killing. The ease with which he bites through a metal cable, almost as if it were, say, liquorice. The view of Jaws advancing down a side street in outlandish carnival costume towards Manuela, Bond's Rio assistant, who is rooted on the spot in fear. His i
ndestructibility in his relentless pursuit of Bond. These are moments that stay with audiences long after the films have ended, and make Jaws so memorable. It helps, too, that Jaws has the same name as an equally (or more) famous shark. In contrast, Sandor and Chang, Jaws' fellow henchmen in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker respectively, have largely been forgotten among all but keen Bond fans.

Jaws was a product of the The Spy Who Loved Me's scriptwriters (director Lewis Gilbert suggests in his autobiography that Jaws was the creation of Richard Maibaum, rather than Christopher Wood). However, while the character doesn't appear in Ian Fleming's original novel (published in 1962), the scriptwriters may well have drawn inspiration from the novel. When the book's heroine, Vivienne Michel, first encounters Horror, one of the two criminals intending to murder Vivienne and burn down the motel she's managing, she recalls that “when he spoke there was a glint of grey silvery metal from his front teeth and I supposed they had been cheaply capped with steel.” Horror doesn't use his teeth to kill, but it's possible that Jaws was born from this description, as well as traits or memes of other characters, most plausibly Dracula's penchant for biting necks.

Jaws has had life after Moonraker, thanks to his continued popularity. For example, the character was resurrected for the 007 Legends computer game (2012) and was one of three henchmen from the film series (the others being Nick Nack and Oddjob) to appear in the animated series, James Bond Jr (1991-2). The three characters, incidentally, also appear together during the 'Minions Anonymous' scene in the credits of the film, Inspector Gadget (1999). Richard Kiel is featured as the 'Famous Bad Guy with Silver Teeth'. The Eon series itself surely alluded to Jaws in The World Is Not Enough (1999), with the character of Bullion, Valentin Zukovsky's
gold-toothed bodyguard played by Goldie.

Jaws was additionally referenced in a number of television commercials starring Richard Kiel. In one, for the Sampo Visa Mini credit card, Kiel is in a supermarket approaching the check-outs counters. His menacing size and scowl on his face frightens the check-out girl, but when Kiel takes out his credit card (the number of which ends '007'), she relaxes and smiles, revealing metal braces on her teeth.

In another advert, for Shredded Wheat, Richard Kiel sits at a table in a restaurant and proceeds to bite off the tines of a fork and a fragment from a dinner plate before ordering three shredded wheat (a diner at a neighbouring table is incredulous that Kiel would eat three shredded wheat).

The James Bond films have produced characters that have become as well established in popular culture as James Bond, and enjoy cultural recognition in their own right. Jaws is one of them, owed principally to Richard Kiel's unforgettable, terrifying, and sympathetic, characterisation.