Sunday, 20 April 2014

Stromberg's underwater city now a reality?

The broadcaster Alan Whicker once said of the Bond films that they “are not afraid to be ridiculous; they provide a framework of fantasy that's just possible. Not science fiction, but science fact.” This was later echoed by Cubby Broccoli who said of Moonraker that, “we're not science fiction, we're science fact. It's science fact plus our own fantasy of Bond.” Both statements recall Ian Fleming's view that his plots “go wildly beyond the probable, but not, I think, beyond the possible.”

A model of Stromberg's undersea city, with Roger Moore's Bond looking on

Still, you have to wonder with some of the plots – Stromberg's plan in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) to create an underwater city with his submersible base, Atlantis, at its centre, for example. But even this isn't as far-fetched as it seems. By the mid 1970s, the technology of the sort that would be required to make Stromberg's vision a reality wasn't far behind (indeed, marine biologists had already established underwater laboratories). Today a number of research facilities allowing researchers to stay underwater for a prolonged periods exist, while underwater tourism and resorts are being developed.

One of the earliest undersea bases was established by one of Ian Fleming's heroes, Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Continental Shelf Station II, or Conshelf II, was an underwater starfish-shaped 'habitat' built off the coast of Sudan in 1963 that accommodated six 'oceanauts' for a month. It replaced the first Conshelf, which, built a year earlier, was a more modest steel tube structure that was built at a depth of 10m off the coast of Marseilles. (I'm reminded of Dr No's armoured glass-sided aquarium six metres underwater (Dr No, 1958), which itself, given the reality of the later Conshelf projects, may not have been, in Fleming's words, “beyond the possible.”)

Today, one of the best established underwater research laboratories is Aquarius. It was deployed in 1993 by Florida International University and is located in deep reef in the Florida Keys. Apart from providing a base for marine exploration, the habitat boasts several home comforts, including a shower, toilet, hot water, cooking facilities and wifi. Missions inside Aquarius tend to be relatively short, though – usually ten days, occasionally two weeks or more.

As sophisticated as it is, any researcher diving down to Aquarius looking for a structure befitting a meglomaniac would be disappointed. Aquarius is more Yellow Submarine than Atlantis. For  the sort of structures that Ken Adam might have designed, we have to turn to underwater tourism. One underwater resort being developed is the Discus Hotel off the coast of Dubai. This hotel complex comprises a disc raised on stilt-like supports above the sea and a disc built ten metres below the sea around a central pillar – Atlantis meets Piz Gloria. Then there's Poseidon's Mysterious Island, which forms part of the Poseidon Undersea Resort project in Fiji. Accommodation and other tourist facilities are available in an array of underwater pods connected by a central unit and what looks like a shaft that gives access to the surface.

A project that seems more in line with Stromberg's vision of permanent undersea living (minus the destruction of the earth by nuclear missile, of course) is futurologist Phil Pauley's Sub-Biosphere 2. Apart from providing a base for underwater research and tourism, Sub-Biosphere 2 is designed to accommodate on a permanent basis 100 people, which, Pauley considers, “is the minimum number that would be required to rebuild our species in the event of a catastrophic man-made or natural disaster.” Pauley adds that in the future “we may be safer living underneath the sea in the long-term.” The concept structure comprises eight pods arranged in a ring around a large central pod. As with Atlantis, the whole structure is designed to be raised and lowered above and below the sea.

Judging by the underwater structures highlighted here, it is reasonable to suggest that, like the space aspects of Moonraker, the underwater city ideas within The Spy Who Loved Me are based on elements of 'science fact'. It is testament to the production team of the film that Stromberg's Atlantis, almost 40 years after the film was made, retains a degree of plausibility and doesn't look too out of place against the likes of the Discus Hotel, Sub-Biosphere and other underwater habitats.

Further reading:

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Bondian words in the dictionary

Wiktionary's definition of 'Bond girl'
In an earlier post, I argued that the word 'Bond girl' ought to be in the dictionary. Easily fulfilling the standard criteria for inclusion for most major dictionaries, including the Oxford English Dictionary, the term has been in use since 1963, it has, as the OED stipulates, attained a level of currency that allows it to be used without the expectation of an immediate explanation of its meaning, and it has been used independently many times in newspapers and literature, on TV and in other media. Remarkably the word has not yet made it to the OED, but Bond girl does now appear in the Wiktionary, along with a number of other Bond-related words.

Two meanings of the word Bond girl are offered in the Wiktionary: 1) “One of the beautiful, seductive young women who appear in James Bond movies”; and in a transferred sense, 2) “A beautiful, seductive young woman.”

If using Wiktionary as their principal reference, Scrabble players (Blofeld included) would not be able to place Bond girl, comprising as it does two words, but they would be able to play Bondiana, which is defined by Wiktionary as “Items relating to the fictional spy James Bond.” Players might also wish to remember the adjective, Bondlike, which means “Characteristic of James Bond.” Curiously, the example of use quoted below the Wiktionary definition – in this case from an edition of Popular Science (“With a host of Bond-like gadgets, the Army's latest peacekeeping machine protects without taking lives.”), the word is hyphenated, which would not be permitted in Scrabble. I think my inclination would be to hyphenate the word, but I'd be in a minority, as these days the trend is to remove hyphens.

The final Bond-related (or is that Bondrelated?) word to appear in the Wiktionary is Bond villain, which describes “An evil mastermind who attempts to take over the world.”

There are some words which I think also deserve a place in the Wiktionary, among them Bondian, Bond song, and Flemingesque. Bondmania (or Bondomania) may have had a chance in the 1960s, but now the word is rarely heard, and only with reference to the public reaction that greeted the release of the films Goldfinger, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice. Bondmanship, which dates to 1963, never really caught on, and doesn't appear to have survived the year.

Like its sister project, Wikipedia, the Wiktionary is an open-content resource that depends on its users to contribute and edit entries. It has criteria for inclusion, which are stated to be strictly applied. In any case, I would not disagree that Bond girl and other Bond-related words merit inclusion, being terms that, as the Wiktionary demands, “someone would run across”, are attested through “widespread use, use in a well-known work, or use in permanently recorded media in at least three independent instances spanning at least a year”, and are idiomatic. That Bond girl and other memes have made it to a dictionary is testament to the success of the James Bond phenomenon in popular culture.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

More on the shaken not stirred debate

Recently I was flicking through a copy of The Curious Bartender: The Artistry and Alchemy of Creating the Perfect Cocktail (2013, Ryland Peters and Small) by Tristan Stephenson, a drinks industry consultant and pioneer of the molecular mixology movement.

Turning to the section on the Martini, I noted the inevitable reference to James Bond, but was also interested to read a passage quoted by Stephenson from The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto by Bernard DeVoto published in 1948. The extract indicated that the debate about whether a Martini should be shaken or stirred had been a long-running one even before Ian Fleming began writing the James Bond novels.

In the extract, DeVoto dismisses as a superstition the claim that the Martini (in this case one made with gin) must never been shaken. The ingredients, he contends, are “stable, of stout heart,” and it does not matter whether they are shaken or stirred. The idea that shaking bruises the gin is, in DeVoto's view, “an absurdity.”

Tristan Stephenson does not disagree with this, and goes on to list the benefits to the drink that shaking brings. Shaken Martinis can be made quicker than stirred martinis. Shaking increases aeration, which helps release flavours and makes the drink feel lighter. The cloudy appearance of the shaken Martini slightly alters the drink's taste and aroma. In addition, Stephenson publishes a graph to illustrate how shaking reduces the temperature of the cocktail quicker than stirring does, and keeps the drink cold for longer with no further dilution. James Bond is not so incorrect after all.

The notions that shaking bruises the gin and that one should never shake a Martini are highly successful memes. They are widespread in popular culture (even beyond the world of cocktails), they have longevity (evidently pre-dating Bond), and have survived largely unchanged. That these ideas continue to be perpetuated is to a very large extent down to the success of the James Bond novels and films. As long as James Bond orders his Martini 'shaken, not stirred', the debate about the best way to make the drink is likely to run for a while longer yet.

Related post: Shaken or stirred: the debate continues

For more information on James Bond's Martini, I recommend The Complete Guide to the Drinks of James Bond by David Leigh.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Why are the introductions to the Bond novels so dismissive of the films?

I don't have a copy of a Coronet 'silhouette' edition of the James Bond novels to hand (I confess I never liked the design, and discarded any copies I acquired over the years), but I seem to recall that Anthony Burgess in his introduction to the series was rather sniffy about the James Bond films. He didn't much care for them, despite apparently having had a role in the early development of the script for The Spy Who Loved Me.

I was reminded of Burgess' views when I read the introductions to the more recent Vintage editions (2012). The film series isn't always referenced (which is perhaps telling in itself), but where there is a reference, the comment is usually negative. Similarly, in the introductions to the Penguin editions (2006), the film series tends to be described in dismissive terms.

Such criticism is arguable, of course, but I wondered whether the act of writing an introduction brings with it a natural tendency for authors to at best downplay the merits of derivative forms of the story or its characters and at worst deride them completely. In other words, in conveying their basic messages along the lines of  'if you thought you knew James Bond from the films, read on and meet the real 007', or 'while products of their time, the Bond books remain as thrilling and well-written as ever', the introductions will always be more likely to reference the films negatively than positively.

Let's begin with the Vintage editions (2012). In his introduction to Casino Royale, Alan Judd describes the later incarnations of Bond, 'particularly the films', as 'lurid' fantasies, though acknowledges that Fleming's literary legacy lives on thanks in part to the films. Curiously, Judd states that the literary Bond is vulnerable and prone to self-doubt in contrast to the more jokey character of the cinematic Bond, which makes me wonder whether he had seen the 2006 film (or indeed 2008's Quantum of Solace). In his introduction of Live and Let Die, Andrew Taylor writes of the film series' growing separation from the novels and its increasing reliance on technological gimmicks, while Susan Hill, who introduces Moonraker, describes the film version as 'perhaps the poorest of the films.'

Sam Bourne, aka Jonathan Freedland, in his introduction to Dr No likens the cinematic Bond to a Beatles tribute band, and suggests that the permanent present in which the films are set has made us forget the historical context – the Cold War – about which Fleming wrote. (Perhaps, but Fleming was writing in his present, and his novels, like the films, also reflect changes in culture; no doubt if he had continued to write for another 30 or 40 years, the literary Bond would seem equally timeless.)

The introductions for Goldfinger and The Spy who Loved Me don't have much to say about the films, but Stella Rimington (former head of MI5) writes in the introduction of On Her Majesty's Secret Service that 'sadly, the films, certainly in their latest manifestation,' reflect nothing of Bond's concerns expressed in the novels about the extent to which his exploits result from his desire for excitement or his sense of service to his country. The remaining novels have no introductions.

The writers introducing the Penguin editions (2006) are no less dismissive. Louise Walsh, introducing Live and Let Die contrasts the literary Bond with the 'effortless lover of the silver screen', while Michael Dibdin tells readers about to get stuck into Moonraker to forget about 'whoever's impersonating 007 this year' in the cinema. In his introduction to Diamonds are Forever, Jonathan Kellerman writes that the 'cinematic Bond has devolved into a near-cartoonish √úbermensch,' and Simon Winder, introducing Dr No, considers that elements of the film were poorly handled. (Mind you, he seems to view the novel equally negatively.)

In her introduction to On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Val McDermid writes about how 'we're so accustomed to the stylized formula of the movies that we've forgotten how well crafted the books are,' the implication being that the films aren't so well crafted. Criticism expressed in the introduction, by Mo Hayder, to You Only Live Twice is more explicit. Hayder writes of the films shuffling 'toothlessly into Mike Myers territory,' of the literary Bond being 'upstaged by his own parodies,' and of the celluloid Bond being 'no match for the ageless, dignified Bond of the written page.'

Not all writers take a negative view. Charlie Higson, introducing The Spy who Loved Me, mentions the 'exhilarating ski chase' of the film version, while Ben Schott, introducing Goldfinger, hopes that Fleming 'might have approved of one of the finest lines of dialogue not to appear in the book: "No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die..."' And Charles Cumming, who introduces The Man with the Golden Gun, remembers with fondness the atmosphere and excitement of the film version. The remaining introductions are neutral towards the films or don't mention them. 

Overall, then, most writers introducing the Bond novels have taken a negative view of the films. Some of them may have a point, and even I'm not especially keen on a few of the films, but the film series is surely too diverse to dismiss in a sentence or two without qualification. Indeed, the consistency of the views expressed suggest that most writers have relied on general popular perceptions of Bond and failed to consider how the series has evolved over the years.

There is one aspect that emerges from the writers' criticisms with which I would agree. A number of them hint that the films have long separated from the original books. Certainly. Starting with the novels, the films have evolved along their own trajectory to the extent that the cinematic and literary Bonds are essentially two different species. That's an inevitable consequence of creative minds other than Fleming plotting Bond's adventures, and of adaptation to changing cultural environments. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Fifty years on, the Bond films are still going strong. They must have been doing something right.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

James Bond cookbook now available on Kindle

I'm very excited to report that my cookbook, Licence to Cook: Recipes Inspired by Ian Fleming's James Bond, is now available as a Kindle edition, priced £3.99 ($6.49). Click here for more details

It can also be purchased as a digital eBook through iBookstore or Lulu Marketplace or Barnes and Noble NOOK.

In addition, a paperback print edition is available through Lulu Marketplace (where there is currently a 30% discount on the title), Amazon, and most other online retailers. Bon appetit, Mr Bond!

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Sam Peffer - a tribute

A recent obituary in The Times recorded the death on 14th March 2014 of Sam Peffer, a commercial artist who was not a household name, but whose artwork graced the early Pan editions of the James Bond novels and inevitably found a place in thousands of homes across Britain and beyond during the late 1950s and 1960s. 

Away from Bond, Peffer designed cover artwork for paperbacks published by Corgi, and Panther, among others, and throughout much of the 1970s and early 1980s produced lurid film posters, usually for X-rated, horror or kung-fu films. He retired in 1985 when poster commissions dried up as film companies turned to photo montages, rather than painted artwork.

But it is his work on the Bond novels for Pan that Sam Peffer is probably best known. His pulp-fiction style perfectly reflected the tough, violent, hard-boiled adventures within. In tribute to his work, here are the covers attributed with certainty to Sam Peffer.

Casino Royale (1958): In Peffer's depiction, Vesper Lynd is portrayed as damsel in distress, rather than the femme fatale of subsequent covers. Peffer's cover is notable for depicting James Bond in a way that was in more keeping with the character described in the novel. Instead of the smooth card player shown on the first paperback edition of 1955, we have a strong, tough agent, complete with a comma of hair. And the model for Bond? That was Peffer's brother-in-law, a stuntman named Jack. 

Dr No (1958): James Bond drags an exhausted Honey Rider through the Jamaican swamps as they escape the clutches of Dr No, whose cruel omnipotence is brilliantly suggested by Sam Peffer artwork. And Peffer's depiction of Bond in jeans and coarse work-shirt reminds us that Bond is a man of action prepared to get his hands dirty, a far cry from the dinner-suited spy of today's popular imagination.

From Russia, With Love (1959): James Bond forcefully holds Tatiana Romanova by the wrist. Tatiana appears reluctant to travel with Bond, as if uncertain of her fate once on the British side or fearful of the reaction from SMERSH on the Russian side.

Moonraker (1960): With his ripped shirt and exhausted expression, James Bond is every bit Ian Fleming's tough, commando-like secret agent. Bond tightly embraces special branch agent Gala Brand, who looks on in sheer terror at the missile launch depicted in the background.

Sam Peffer's artwork was replaced by those of Raymond Hawkey in the mid 1960s, but Peffer's legacy lives on. There were hints of Peffer's work in the series of pulp-fiction style covers designed by Richie Fahey for Penguin in 2006. It is also testament to the affection held by Bond afficionados for Sam Peffer's covers that many of the contributors to 'Field Reports' on the Artistic License Renewed website have cited them as their favourite Bond dustjackets in paperback or by continuation authors.


The images have been taken from the Piz Goria website, an excellent site which is dedicated to collecting James Bond paperback novels by Ian Fleming.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Did Ian Fleming base Goldfinger's house on Joyce Grove?

Joyce Grove in Nettlebed, Oxfordshire, was the home of Ian Fleming's grandparents, Robert and Kate Fleming. Nettlebed isn't too far away from me, and so I thought I'd drive there to see if I could get view of the house, now a hospice run by the Sue Ryder charity. As it happened, the charity was hosting a public flea market or table-top sale in its grounds, and so I was able to freely wander about the grounds and take a good look at the outside of the house that Ian Fleming visited during his childhood.

The front gate and drive of Joyce Grove

The original late 17th-century house of Joyce Grove was demolished by Robert Fleming when he acquired the estate in 1903, and a new Gothic-style mansion was erected in its place by the following year. In later years, the young Ian Fleming would visit, and for a time after the death of his father, Valentine, he and his brothers had the run of a wing of the house during weekends. Robert died in 1933, and the estate passed to his widow Kate. On her death in 1937, the estate went to Robert's surviving sons. The house was then given to St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, and subsequently became a nursing home, a role that it continues today.

The house of Joyce Grove
From the outside, the house bears little obvious sign of once being occupied by the Flemings. Apparently the family motto, 'Let the deed shaw', is inscribed on the wall, but I couldn't see it. However, I did spot the legend, 'R.1904.F' (RF = Robert Fleming), which is carved into the stone above a window looking out to the terrace.

Robert Fleming built Joyce Grove in 1904
As with many of his experiences, Ian Fleming's time at Joyce Grove seeped into the James Bond novels, albeit in a small way. In The Spy Who Loved Me, Vivienne Michel's first boyfriend, Derek, gives a false Nettlebed address to the cinema manager, who had caught him and Vivienne in flagrante in the auditorium (chapter 3).

When I saw the house, though, I was reminded of another Bond novel – Goldfinger. Ian Fleming describes Goldfinger's house, The Grange, as “a heavy, ugly, turn-of-the-century mansion”, with a drive bordered by “high Victorian evergreens” that led to a “gravel sweep” in front of the house.” Fleming also mentions an adjoining factory where the “stabling and garages would normally be” (chapter 10). The details aren't an exact match – The Grange has a “glass-encased portico” which Joyce Grove lacks – but Fleming could otherwise be describing the house he knew as a child. Today I walked down the evergreen-bordered drive which terminated in front of the imposing (I wouldn't necessarily say ugly) turn-of-the-century mansion. The stables and garages were there too.

View from the terrace
I can't be certain that Fleming had Joyce Grove in mind when he described Goldfinger's house, but it is not impossible. In any case, I enjoyed visiting (in a more leisurely way than I had anticipated) a place of Fleming history.

Lycett, A, 1995 Ian Fleming: The man behind James Bond, Turner