Friday, 23 September 2016

Why is the head of a central bank like James Bond?

You don't often hear of a banker being compared to James Bond; a Bond villain, perhaps, but not Bond. But back in June, Raghuram Rajan, formerly the governor of the Reserve Bank of India (he stepped down earlier this month), was dubbed James Bond by the country's media.

The James Bond tag hit the world's headlines when he was depicted as 007 in an image published in India's Economic Times. The illustration, based on a poster used for Skyfall, showed Rajan with gun poised, ready to defend India's currency (the gun is covered with rupees). The caption below the illustration read 'Name's Rajan, Game's Bond'. Rajan has also been called 'Bond of Mint Street', and may have played on this when he once told reporters that 'My name is Rajan and I do what I do.'

Raghuram Rajan as Bond, according to the Economic Times
What had Raghuram Rajan done to gain such an accolade? According to a profile of Rajan in the Economic Times, he enjoyed notable success as governor. He strengthened the rupee, cleaned up India's banks, brought an academic perspective to the job, was firm with interest rates, and gained a huge popular following. It seems that these successes gave rise to the perception that Rajan was dynamic (the Economist Times also called him the 'gung ho governor'), clever, and cool (both with regard to interest rates and criticism within the sector), and it is these qualities that linked him to Bond.

Had he known that banking could be so adventurous and action-packed, perhaps Ian Fleming would have been tempted to give his short banking career (he spent a year at merchant bankers, Cull and Co.) a longer run!

Monday, 19 September 2016

Is Ian Fleming in the Cheyney class?

Peter Cheyney was a British author of espionage stories and American-style hard-boiled detective fiction. Largely forgotten and unread today, he enjoyed huge success between the 1930s and 1950s, when his work was published; according to Fergus Fleming, Cheyney sold over 1,500,000 copies of his books in 1946. It is little wonder, then, that in the early days of his Bond career, Ian Fleming aspired to what he termed 'the Cheyney class', wishing to emulate Cheyney's success and appeal.

We learn this from the superb collection of Ian Fleming's letters, edited by his nephew Fergus and published last year by Bloomsbury. Fleming's aspiration is revealed in a letter to Jonathan Cape in 1953 concerning Live and Let Die. By the time of From Russia, with Love, published in 1957, Fleming's view of Cheyney had changed. In a letter to Wren Howard of Jonathan Cape, Fleming wrote that a proposed comic strip for the Express risked his work descending 'into the Cheyney class'. What was once emulated for its style and popularity was now regarded as inferior and low-brow.

Fleming's later view of Cheyney seems to have continued unchanged for the remainder of his Bond career. It is telling that in interviews given in the early 1960s, Fleming listed, among others, Chandler, Hammett and Oppenheim as influences, but there is no mention of Cheyney. Reading Peter Cheyney now, it is not difficult to understand why Cheyney has not stood the test of time and why Fleming thought his work a cut above the Cheyney class.

Peter Cheyney's 1942 novel, Never a Dull Moment, one of a number of books that feature FBI detective Lemmy Caution, is a case in point. The narrative takes place in England during the Second World War (Cheyney's novels have contemporary settings). Caution is on leave in Scotland, but is requested by the FBI to go to London and investigate the disappearance of an American woman, Julia Wayles. In the course of his enquiries, he discovers a gang of American gangsters working in England for the Germans as a fifth column.

The novel is for the most part exciting and fast-paced, and superficially there are similarities with the Bond novels. The names of Cheyney's femme fatales, such as Dodo Malendas, are as exotic-sounding as those of Fleming's heroines. Caution is tough with the villains and attractive to women, and he'd more than match Bond in his alcohol consumption. We even get a 'Caution, Lemmy Caution' when Caution introduces himself to another character.

As with the Philip Marlowe novels, the Lemmy Caution novels are written in the first-person. Some of the lines come close to Chandler quality (“He lets go a gasp like a steam whistle. I take advantage of the pause in hostilities to punch him in the belly hard.”), but some of the scenes and descriptions are repetitive, and I found that the narrative, rendered in a vernacular style, became tedious to read after a while. To the modern reader, the book might best be regarded as sub-Chandler or, more generally, a parody of a hard-boiled thriller.

Cheyney's espionage writing is rather more conventional. For example, his short story, 'The Double Double-Cross' is a nice little tale about a plan to bring a halt to the activities of the seductive Roanne Lucrezia Loranoff, a  Russian aristocrat, émigrée and spy. The story sits comfortably alongside any spy story of the time, but in no obvious sense could it be considered a forerunner of Bond.

That said, another of Cheyney's espionage stories is Dark Duet (1942), which Raymond Chandler considered to be Cheyney's one good book, telling Ian Fleming so in a letter in 1955. One of the characters in the book is called Hildebrand. Three years after Chandler's letter, Hildebrand would crop up again in the title of one of Fleming's short stories.

So is Ian Fleming in or out of the Cheyney class? In my view, definitely out, being some distance above it. But that is not to say that Peter Cheyney doesn't deserve to be read. While his Lemmy Caution novels can be hard-going to the modern reader, Cheyney's espionage stories are a better read and earn their place in the development of spy fiction.

Fleming, F (ed.), 2015 The Man with the Golden Typewriter: Ian Fleming's James Bond Letters, Bloomsbury

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Jaguar evokes James Bond in its advertising

Jaguar, the car manufacturer, is no stranger to the world of James Bond. Last year in Spectre, we saw Oberhauser's goon, Mr Hinx, put Jaguar's concept car, the C-X75, through its paces on the streets of Rome. And in Die Another Day (2001), Zao battles Bond and the ice in a Jaguar XKR. We must wait until the next Bond film (whenever that will be) to find out whether Jaguar will make another appearance, but in the meantime, the spirit of Bond lives on in Jaguar's advertising.

The Art of Performance campaign, which promotes the Jaguar XE, is currently doing the rounds on British television (see the advert on my Licence to Cook Facebook page). In the advert, the car speeds (in controlled conditions) through the streets of central London. We see close-ups of the car before it zooms through a tunnel and comes out on to Westminster Bridge in view of the London Eye and Queen Elizabeth Tower.

The locations naturally evoke the final part of Spectre, particularly the tunnel in which M's car is rammed and Bond kidnapped, and the denouement on Westminster Bridge (an association helped by the Bondian music that accompanies the advert). To some extent, the advert also recalls the beginning of the pre-title sequence of Quantum of Solace, which, with its seductive glimpses of Bond's Aston Martin before the shooting starts, could almost be a car advert itself.

Another of Jaguar's campaigns also has distinct Bond-like qualities. The 2014 Art of Villainy commercial showcased the Jaguar F-type coupé and starred Tom Hiddleston, who, in the advert, reveals the essential characteristics of a villain (style, razor-sharp wit, attention to detail, and the means to stay one step ahead, among others) before tearing through the streets of London. (For this villainous act, the advert was banned by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority, who judged that it promoted dangerous driving). The advert made the car look good, of course, but could also be viewed as Hiddleston's audition for a Bond villain (if not Bond himself).


There's more Bond-like villainy in a 2014 advert starring Nicolas Hoult. If Tom Hiddleston is Blofeld, Nicolas Hoult is Q gone bad. In the commercial for the Jaguar XE, we see Hoult descend into his innovation lab (passing through a shark-infested pool) and explain, in what could be the antithesis of a typical Q briefing, what every mastermind needs in terms of automative technology to help them achieve world domination.

All three adverts are redolent of the James Bond films, and use memes closely associated with Bond, such as the urbane, sophisticated villain, iconic landscapes, the Q-like character, and buttons and switches inside the car that bring to mind gadgets and ejector seats. The adverts were not made with reference to any specific Bond product or film, but nevertheless depend on them. Even after half a century, James Bond continues to have significant traction in the world of advertising.

Friday, 2 September 2016

James Bond, as featured on birthday cards

Anyone looking for birthday cards in WHSmith or a similar purveyor of greetings cards is likely to have seen those cards which picture some of the events in the year of the recipient's birth. If you're after that sort of thing for a James Bond fan, then you might be interested in the 'Time of Your Life' range of cards.

Like most cards of this type, the 'Time of Your Life' cards are adorned with images of newspaper headlines, key events, and stars of stage and screen relevant to a particular year, but what is especially interesting is that James Bond is well represented.

The card for 1965 includes a photo of Sean Connery, no doubt reflecting the fact that one of the biggest films of that year was Thunderball. Roger Moore is pictured alongside Britt Ekland and Maud Adams on the card for 1974, the year in which The Man With The Golden Gun was released, and he appears again on the card for 1979, when Moonraker hit the screens. A publicity shot of Timothy Dalton and Carey Lowell from Licence to Kill is shown on the card for 1989, while the card for 1995 boasts a picture of Pierce Brosnan in GoldenEye mode.

The Time of Your Life range featuring James Bond
The card series ends in 1999, so there's no picture of Daniel Craig's Bond, but remarkably Ian Fleming is not forgotten. The card for 1953 includes the newspaper-style headline: 'Ian Fleming writes Bond novel Casino Royale.'

With James Bond referenced so prominently, the cards might well appeal to the Bond fan. More generally, though, the cards attest to the enormous success of the Bond films and their lasting impact on popular culture. With over 50 years of the Bond films, each one a blockbuster, the card makers were certainly spoiled for choice.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Searching for James Bond in New Zealand bookshops

There are some wonderful second-hand bookshops in New Zealand, and I was determined to visit a few during my recent holiday in the country. Naturally, I was looking for James Bond or Ian Fleming-related material, and while I didn't come out with the hoard I was hoping for, I did find one or two unexpected treats.

My first stop was in Whangarei about 160km north of Auckland. I was en route to Bay of Islands, and decided to stop in the town for a break. Lucky I did, because I spotted an impressive-looking bookshop called The Piggery. I quickly parked up and went in. As is often the case with second-hand bookshops, it took a short while to get my bearings, but I eventually found a stack of Fleming paperbacks. Alas, there was nothing there – interesting or unusual editions, say – to tempt me, although I was momentarily excited by what looked like a first edition of Thrilling Cities, locked away in a cabinet. I already own a copy, but this one appeared to be in better condition than mine. In the end, I decided against investigating further.

Some days later, I was back in Auckland. I've been to New Zealand several times, and I knew there was a great bookshop, called Evergreen Books, in Devonport. Last time I was there, I picked up a couple of first edition John Gardners, and just last year, it had a mouth-watering display of Bond-related material in its shop window. I was understandably very disappointed to discover that Evergreen Books no longer exists. Another bookshop has taken its place, but it's smaller and didn't have any of the treasures I was hoping for.

Last year's window display at the now defunct Evergreen Books
No matter; there were other bookshops to visit. In Rotorua, some 230km south of Auckland, I stumbled on Atlantis Books. There I bought an omnibus edition of James Bond comic strips, and talked to the shop owner about any other material he might have. He told me that he has a collector that bags a lot of Bondiana before it goes on the shelf, so that was the end of that.

A couple of days later, after returning to Auckland, I flew down to Wellington. I was in luck. My hotel, on Manners Street in the city centre, was almost next door to Arty Bees Books, a cavernous bookshop that boasted, I discovered as I began to explore the store, a James Bond section. While the section didn't have a lot in stock at that moment, I did find a curious James Bond parody – Kiss the Girls and Make Them Spy, by Mabel Maney (more about this in a later post, possibly) – that I'd never heard of. I quickly snapped the book up.

I thought that was it for Wellington bookshops, but walking down Cuba Street, I came across another shop that looked very promising. Pegasus Books was crammed with books, which overflowed on to the street and, inside, were stacked so high, one needed a ladder to browse the upper shelves. Once again, there were a few old Bond paperbacks, but I was more excited about a small pile of Peter Cheyney novels. Peter Cheyney was a British writer of fast-moving American-style thrillers featuring the FBI agent Lemmy Caution. Ian Fleming mentioned the author in his letters; he first aspired to the Cheyney class of thriller, but later was rather more dismissive of it. I bought one of the books on display, eager to find out whether Cheyney had any influence on Fleming's writing. More about this soon.

So no bounty of Bond books, but l enjoyed the prospect of discovery. It's true I could find almost any book I want online, but where's the fun in that?

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Hong Kong: Visiting one of Ian Fleming's Thrilling Cities

A trip to New Zealand gave me the opportunity to visit one of Ian Fleming's Thrilling Cities en route. Hong Kong was the first city Fleming visited on his Sunday Times-sponsored tour of the world in 1959. Time didn't permit me to follow in Fleming's footsteps exactly, but I could match him in two aspects at least.

My flight to Hong Kong was rather more straight-forward than Fleming's. Today, one takes a direct flight to Hong Kong from Heathrow. In 1959, Fleming's flight took him to Beirut, Bahrain, Delhi, and Bangkok before landing in Hong Kong. Without in-flight entertainment, Fleming needed a good book. He took a proof copy of Eric Ambler's 1959 novel, Passage of Arms. I took Fleming's lead and read the book on my flight too.

Passage of Arms, set in Malaya, Hong Kong and Singapore, follows the movement of a cache of arms, hidden by Communist insurgents, discovered by a clerk of a rubber plantation estate, and sold on to Indonesian revolutionaries through two Chinese merchants, brothers Tan Siow Mong and Tan Yam Heng, by a naive American tourist looking for adventure.

The novel is a thrilling tale of tension, excitement, comedy, well-drawn characters, vivid descriptions, torture, and a hint of lesbianism, and it's no surprise that Fleming thought the book wonderful. In the descriptions of the Tans, I was reminded of the Foo brothers with whom Major Smythe trades his stolen gold in Fleming's short story, 'Octopussy', written in 1962, and wondered whether Fleming was inspired by Ambler in this aspect.

Once in Hong Kong, Fleming's guide, journalist Richard Hughes (immortalised in You Only Live Twice as Dikko Henderson), insisted that Fleming experience an authentic Chinese meal. They visited the Peking Restaurant, where Fleming had shark's fin soup with crab, shrimp balls in oil, bamboo shoots with seaweed, chicken and walnuts, and roast Peking duckling.

I couldn't find the Peking Restaurant (does it still exist?), but did go to the Peking Garden, a cavernous and smart-looking restaurant on the third floor of an office block. It had everything that Fleming ate on the menu, including shark's fin soup with crab, but looking at the prices, I quickly realised I wasn't going to be able to replicate Fleming's meal entirely. I did, however, order the Peking duck. As with much of the food in the Bond books, Peking duck is no longer as exotic as it was in Fleming's day, but to me the dish remains special, and was delicious.

I just had time before making my way to the airport for my onward flight to visit the Peninsula Hotel, which briefly appears in the film of The Man with the Golden Gun (1974). Alas, I didn't see any of its famous green Rolls Royces. Still, I'll have another chance on the return journey. Watch this space! 

Thursday, 4 August 2016

What Bond villains are reading

I'm reading – or rather re-reading – PG Wodehouse's 1913 novel, The Little Nugget, at the moment. If the title is familiar to you, it may because it's mentioned in the novel of From Russia, with Love. The book is in a pile of other 'membership badges of the rich man's club' next to SMERSH killer Donovan 'Red' Grant, who's lying prone in the garden of a Crimean villa, waiting for his regular masseuse.

Wodehouse's comic tale set within a private school, featuring romance, detectives, gangsters, and plots to kidnap a repulsive schoolboy, might seem an odd choice for a psychopath (although the kidnapping element might be of professional interest to Grant). But then again, the book is the sort of volume that SMERSH would make Grant read as part of his training to develop the persona of a wealthy, sophisticated man, allowing him to enter English society and intelligence circles. (Such methods were standard for Soviet spy agencies. The Penkovsky Papers, for example, include a manual that instructs Soviet agents operating in the USA how to behave without raising suspicion – see The Cold War Spy Pocket Manual, by Philip Barker.)

Moving inside the villa, we get a glimpse of Grant's preferred reading: stacks of 'garish paperbacks and hardcover thrillers'. A selection of pulp fiction about seductive heroines, sultry femme fatales, and hard-boiled detectives, I shouldn't wonder.

There is a similar whiff of pretence in Goldfinger's reading. In the hall of the Grange, Goldfinger's pile in Kent, James Bond peruses a copy of The Field, a magazine for country squires and the hunting, fishing and shooting set. The magazine, placed where it can be seen, displays Goldfinger's credentials as a respectable member of the community. 

Photo: New Yorker Books
We get a different picture of Goldfinger in his bedroom, as Bond discovers in the drawer of Goldfinger's bedside table a copy of The Hidden Sight of Love, a salacious novel that is Goldfinger's 'solitary indiscretion'. (I imagine Bond uttering 'dirty bugger' to himself at this point.) The book does indeed exist, and if you're interested, a New York bookseller currently has a copy listed on eBay. According to the description, the book is a piece of classic Victorian erotic fiction reprinted by Palladium Publications in January 1958, which means that it was hot off the press when Ian Fleming sat down to write Goldfinger that month in Jamaica (the novel was published in 1959). Well, Fleming did have an interest in promoting 'lost books', as we see from his championing of Hugh Edward's All Night at Mr Stanyhurst's.

We know the sort of books James Bond reads – manuals, golf books, thrillers, inspiring books about politics and the intelligence community – but in two of the Bond novels, we also get a sense of the books that the villains read. In contrast to Bond's library, there's something not quite honest about the villains' choice. Just what we'd expect, of course, but I also wonder whether it reflects Fleming's own tastes, just as Bond's library does.