Sunday, 1 February 2015

A little bit of Bond in every spy novel

A few weeks ago I read Charles Cumming's spy novel, The Trinity Six (2011, HarperCollins). The book follows academic Sam Gaddis on a dangerous trail that takes him from London to Winchester and then on to Moscow, Berlin and Vienna to uncover the truth behind a fabled sixth member of the infamous Cambridge spy ring.

It's a gripping book, which I enjoyed very much, but as I read it, I couldn't help note a number of allusions to James Bond. Some were obvious, others less so and perhaps unintentional. In any case, it struck me as ironic that even in realistic, serious spy novels, a world away from the James Bond novels and films, Bond has a habit of making an appearance.

Turning first to the obvious references to James Bond in The Trinity Six, Charles Cumming describes how Sergei Platov, the novel's fictional Russian president (and a thinly-disguised Vladimir Putin) used a hollow reed to breath while submerged in a pond to escape pursuers during the Second World War; Sean Connery, Cumming writes, “had the same trick in Dr No.” Later in the novel, Tanya Acocella, an MI6 agent, tells Gaddis that the watch he had been given by a contact had a false casing to conceal information. “Very James Bond,” Gaddis comments.

The novel also contained descriptions and phrases that didn't directly refer to James Bond, but nevertheless seemed to nod to aspects of the Bond books and films. For instance, Sam Gaddis, like Bond, appears to have a fondness for scrambled eggs. He consumes the dish for breakfast in Winchester a short way through the narrative, eats them again near the end of the book as he homes in on a vital piece of evidence that proves a conspiracy at the highest levels, and if I remember aright, Gaddis has scrambled eggs in between.

The choice of scrambled eggs may simply be a coincidence; after all, they are a very common breakfast dish, and Sam Gaddis does have other breakfast foods (for example cereal). On the other hand, Charles Cumming knows the Bond novels (he wrote the introduction to the Penguin edition of The Man with the Golden Gun) and would be well aware of Bond's penchant for scrambled eggs. It's possible that even if not intended as a nod to Bond with the first mention of the dish, Charles Cumming developed the allusion with repeated descriptions.

I thought I also detected a nod to the 2006 film of Casino Royale. In Tanya's apartment, Sam Gaddis looks through a photo album containing holiday snaps taken by Tanya and her boyfriend Jeremy. Gaddis notes that “Jeremy wore Speedos – without apparent irony – whenever he came within striking distance of a body of water.” This is presumably a reference to the iconic scene in the film where Daniel Craig's well-toned Bond steps out of the sea in the Bahamas, the irony being that Jeremy is also an agent working for MI6.

I wondered too about a phrase uttered by former MI6 agent Robert Wilkinson as he reveals crucial information to Sam Gaddis. “'We're not a country club'”, he says. The phrase recalls M's line in Licence to Kill (1989) when Bond offers his resignation from the service: “We're not a country club, 007!” 


Then there's a possible allusion to the novel of From Russia, with Love. In The Trinity Six, Sam Gaddis reads Robert Harris' thriller Archangel during a rail journey from Barcelona to Vienna. I was reminded in this case of Bond's flight from London to Istanbul in Fleming's novel; Bond reads the classic thriller The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler (whose novels, incidentally, influenced Charles Cumming's writing in The Trinity Six).

References to James Bond (the certain ones at least) in spy novels, together with the descriptions of actual product brands and geographical locations, give the novels an air of realism. We believe in the characters a little more because they share aspects of our lives; they watch the same films as us, read the same books, and eat the same food. The descriptions of fictional spies talking about fictional spies serve as a knowing wink to readers, but they also acknowledge the continued significance of James Bond (whether literary or cinematic) in spy fiction. There's a little bit of Bond in every spy novel.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Winston Churchill in the James Bond books

This week saw the launch of events to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Sir Winston Churchill, who died on 24th January 1965. There will be special exhibitions to celebrate Churchill's life and legacy in Paris, London and at Blenheim Palace, and on 30th January the boat that carried Churchill's coffin down the Thames, the Havengore, will retrace her route, accompanied by a flotilla of other vessels.

There is no doubt that Ian Fleming would have welcomed such a commemoration, as Winston Churchill was one of Fleming's heroes. It was an admiration that began during his childhood. Churchill and Fleming's father, Valentine, both served in the Queen's Own Oxfordshire Hussars during the First World War. When Valentine was killed on the Western Front, Churchill wrote an appreciation of his close friend for The Times. The young Fleming framed Churchill's words and subsequently hung them in every house in which he lived.

Fleming's admiration only increased during the Second World War. As a key figure in the Naval Intelligence Division, Fleming would have had many dealings with Churchill, and the relationship must have been a very positive one. As he revealed in his introduction to H Montgomery Hyde's biography of Sir William Stephenson, Room 3603: The story of the British Intelligence Centre in New York during World War II (1963), Fleming admired Churchill's courage, fortitude, and service to a cause and his country.

When Ian Fleming came to write the James Bond books, inevitably he found a place for Churchill in the novels. In From Russia, With Love (1957), Fleming states that May, Bond's housekeeper, would call no one 'sir', except the king and Winston Churchill. Later in the novel, we learn that Darko Kerim, head of T section (Turkey), has a copy on his desk of Cecil Beaton's photograph of Winston Churchill.
Cecil Beaton's portrait of Winston Churchill
But Winston Churchill seems to have a larger role – almost a speaking part – in Fleming's third novel, Moonraker (1955). As the terrifying truth of Sir Hugo Drax's plans for his Moonraker rocket emerges, M debates whether to have a word with the prime minister, and Ronald Vallance of Special Branch tells Bond that “the PM's going to broadcast” on the day of the rocket launch. At the end of the adventure, when destruction of London has been averted, M takes a telephone call from the prime minister (Bond is with M at the time), who tells M that he wants Bond out of the country to avoid the press as the Moonraker affair is hushed up.

Ian Fleming wrote Moonraker in the winter of 1954. As Winston Churchill was Prime Minister from October 1951 to April 1955 (Moonraker was published in March 1955), it is quite possible that when Fleming was describing the prime minister in the novel, he had Winston Churchill in mind.

The brief allusions to Winston Churchill in the James Bond books serve to underline Fleming's admiration of the wartime leader, which was forged in Fleming's childhood and remained with him for the rest of his life.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

There is only one cover: the contemporary cover design of the Bond books

I'm rather a fan of Lee Child's Jack Reacher series. The books are superb page-turners featuring a tough, indestructible hero, and packed full of technical detail and relentless action. (Now, a James Bond novel written by Lee Child is something I'd be very happy to read.)

As I've steadily been making my way through the twenty or so novels, I've noticed that the covers of the later books published in the UK are not too dissimilar from the covers of the 'contemporary' series of Bond novels published by Random House/Vintage in 2012. Both series feature lone heroes with their backs to us and, usually, walking into the distance. Compare, for example, The Spy Who Loved Me and A Wanted Man (Bantam Books, 2012).


A press release issued by Ian Fleming Publications and Random House/Vintage to mark the publication of their contemporary Bond series (otherwise known as the 'There is only one Bond' series) explained that the covers tapped “into the deeper and more human side of our hero Bond; including his isolation and vulnerability.” Sales director Tom Drake-Lee added, “Our photographic approach appeals to the reader of modern contemporary thrillers and emphasises that not only is there more to Bond than the character in the films, but also that Bond is the original action hero from which so many modern heroes derive.”

The Jack Reacher series could have been just the sort of thriller to which Tom Drake-Lee was referring. By 2012, the photographic-style covers picturing a lone Jack Reacher wandering the varied landscapes of America were well established. The first (not including Bad Luck and Trouble (2007), which showed Reacher within a group of four people) was Nothing to Lose, published in 2008. The next was 61 Hours (2010), followed by Worth Dying For (2010), The Affair (2011), and A Wanted Man (2012). If Random House/Vintage felt that Jack Reacher had been stealing Bond's clothes, then what better way to draw readers to Bond than to imitate the cover style of the Lee Child books, with its implication that if readers like Jack Reacher, they'll love James Bond.

That said, a limited trawl of thrillers and crime novels suggests that the picturing of the lone hero is reasonably common among publishers. Take for example the cover of Charles Cumming's spy thriller, A Foreign Country (HarperCollins, 2012), which shares aspects with the cover of For Your Eyes Only, namely a similar view of Paris and, of course, the lone protagonist.

Then there's Mark Billingham's series of crime novels featuring D I Tom Thorne, which also shows the lone hero in the distance and facing away from us in dramatic or iconic settings, for example Scaredy Cat (Sphere, 2008).

Interestingly, Vintage has not been the only publisher to attempt to bring a classic character up to date through its cover. A set of covers for the series of Maigret novels by Georges Simenon published has included one – Pietr the Latvian (Penguin, 2013) – with the now familiar 'lone-wolf-with-back-turned' motif or meme.

The contemporary series of Bond covers represents the response by the publisher of the Bond books to compete with today's action heroes. It is notable, however, that the 'There is only one Bond' design forms part of a trend of 'lone hero' style covers. The style had by 2012 become so well established in the cultural environment that to an extent the designers' decision to adopt such a style for the Bond series had already been taken for them.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

North By Northwest: the Bond connections

Scenes from North By Northwest (left) and From Russia With Love (right)
As I was flicking through the novel of Thunderball (1961) the other day, I was reminded about the small but influential role that Alfred Hitchcock's 1959 film of North By Northwest has in the world of James Bond. The film, starring Cary Grant as advertising executive Roger O. Thornhill on the run from a group of sinister agents – and the law – owing to a case of mistaken identity, is a classic thriller, whose combination of edge-of-the-seat action, amorous encounters, and sardonic humour would inspire both Ian Fleming and the producers of the Bond films.

The film had on its release an immediate impact on early attempts to bring James Bond to the screen. According to correspondence reproduced in Robert Sellers' book, The Battle for Bond, Ivar Bryce, Ian Fleming's friend and, effectively, producer and financier of those initial efforts, was so impressed by North By Northwest (“the best film of his life”, he wrote) when he saw it in September 1959 that he urged Fleming to see it. In Bryce's view, the film closely followed the style of Fleming's Bond adventures and represented a model for their proposed Bond film.

By October 1959, Fleming had seen North By Northwest. Robert Sellers reveals that Fleming had enjoyed the film, though complained about the humour, which he felt undermined the suspense. Still, the film must have stayed with him, because he referenced the film in the novel of Thunderball, which he wrote at Goldeneye over the winter of 1960. Chapter 9 sees SPECTRE agent Giuseppe Petacchi on board the Vindicator aircraft preparing to hijack the plane. “Five more hours to go,” he muses. “Rather a bind missing North by North-West at the Odeon. But one would catch up with it at Southampton.”

The following year, when the task of producing the first Bond film had passed to producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, North By Northwest may have been in the producers' minds as they considered the casting of Bond for Dr No (1962). In his autobiography, Cubby Broccoli recounts how he tried to persuade Cary Grant to take the role. Broccoli doesn't mention North By Northwest, but the film, as well as Grant's earlier spy film, Notorious (1946), provided the ideal screentest.

The plot of North By Northwest is a cat-and-mouse game setting an Everyman – albeit one that is suave and self-assured – against charming, sophisticated, vaguely European, villains. The plot's MacGuffin allows the characters to move seamlessly across iconic American landscapes by means of plane, train and automobile. Like Bond, Thornhill must rely on his wits and quickly form an uncertain alliance with a mysterious and seductive femme fatale. Grant’s physicality is impressive, particularly in the famous crop-duster scene, which sees Grant hit the deck time after time and sprint in between.

But Grant could also provide Bond's darker shading. As Jeremy Duns argues in his book, Rogue Royale (2013), Grant’s character in Notorious, T R Devlin, is closer than Thornhill is to the character of Bond. Devlin is morally ambiguous; his complicity in placing Ingrid Bergman’s Alicia Huberman in danger underscores his determination to serve the greater, patriotic, good. Alicia accedes to the mission for Devlin’s sake, but receives little reassurance in return. Devlin is in love with Alicia, but he must appear cold and unyielding in order to make her play her role convincingly.

Cary Grant's answer to Broccoli's offer was, of course, no. Grant never did sequels and Broccoli and Saltzman were offering a three-picture deal. Broccoli doesn't record his views on Grant's proto-Bond films, but the follow-up to Dr No, From Russia With Love (1963), probably the most Hitchcockian of Bond films, paid tribute to North By Northwest by alluding to the film's crop-duster scene. Just as Thornhill escapes the biplane, Bond flees from the path of a helicopter piloted by SPECTRE agents, and is forced to dive to the ground as it swoops down.

While the early James Bond films were reasonably straight adaptations of Ian Fleming's novels, there were other influences, including Hitchcock's North By Northwest. But then, North By Northwest had also impressed Ian Fleming, whose reference to the film in Thunderball is the most obvious sign that the film had had a degree of impact on his writing.

References

Broccoli, C, with Zec, D, 1998 When the Snow Melts: the Autobiography of Cubby Broccoli, Boxtree
Duns, J, 2013 Rogue Royale: the Lost Bond Film by the 'Shakespeare of Hollywood', JJD Productions
Sellers, R, 2007 The Battle for Bond: the Genesis of Cinema's Greatest Hero, Tomahawk Press

Sunday, 4 January 2015

James Bond in business

In Oxford near where I work I noticed a commercial van bearing the legend, 'Shaken and Stirred'. A quick check on Google revealed that the van belonged to a mobile bar and cocktails company specialising in providing fully staffed and stocked cocktail bars for functions and events. Shaken and Stirred even has on its staff a Daniel-Craig-as-James-Bond lookalike who is available to don the dinner suit and arrive at events in style in an Aston Martin.

It seems inevitable that a cocktails company would look to the world of James Bond, so synonymous is it with vodka martinis (famously prepared in a particular way) and sophisticated living, for a memorable business name. But it is not the only company to have been inspired by James Bond. A trawl through the website of Companies House – the government agency with which all limited companies in the UK are registered – shows that a wide range of companies have drawn on James Bond for their names.

Casino Royale has naturally been chosen as the name of casinos. Less obviously, residents of Billingshurst in West Sussex could have their leather shoes repaired at Live and Let Dye (company now dissolved), and there was a Live and Let Dry (a dry cleaners, perhaps – the nature of its business, currently dormant, was not disclosed) in Thundersley, Essex. Moonraker is a relatively popular name for a company – almost fifty companies so named are registered – although as the word has various connotations (for example being the uppermost sail of a ship), the Bond novel or film did not necessarily provide the inspiration in all, or indeed most, cases.

Ian Fleming's fifth novel and the second Bond film, From Russia With Love, is alluded to in the name of a retail services company based in London – From London With Love. A radio broadcaster based in Bristol – From Bristol With Love – appears to have been similarly inspired. As I've argued in a previous post, the title is highly adaptable, and has become a popular idiom in its own right. It is therefore unclear whether company directors were thinking of the book or film when deciding on a name, or that they simply settled on a memorable phrase without reference to Bond.

Goldfinger is almost as popular as Moonraker as a company name, with over thirty such-named companies registered. Some of these are, appropriately enough, jewellers, but a Thai massage business, investment companies, an engineering company, and a wedding organising business, among others, are also listed. However, as with Moonraker, the names may not have been inspired by the world of James Bond, especially given that in this case Goldfinger is a genuine personal name.

The name For Your Eyes Only has been taken by businesses of a rather more adult nature, for example a chain of 'boudoir' photography studios, which specialises in erotic and romantic photography, and a table dancing club. Away from adult entertainment, a now dormant company of the same name supplied sunglasses in Barnsley, and there are in addition companies which have used a variation of the title – For Your Cars Only, For Your Claims Only, and For Your Ears Only, for example. The title of the fourteenth Bond film, A View To A Kill, taken from a short story in the For Your Eyes Only collection, has been rendered as A View To A Skill for an education company based in Wareham, Dorset, while Quantum of Solace appears to have inspired the name of a storage company in London - Quantum of Storage.

Six companies trade under the name of Thunderball (the nature of these businesses has not been disclosed), and Octopussy is just as popular. For example, there was a restaurant in the coastal town of Dartmouth called Octopussy (the company, now dissolved, was based in a building called Moonraker and presumably Octopussy was chosen to maintain the marine – and Bondian – theme), and visitors to Harley Street, London, might wish to call on Octopussy Consultants.

The Bond-related phrase that has inspired the most company names, however, is 007, Double-Oh-Seven, or variants thereof. There are, to name but a few examples, a taxi firm in Banbury called 007 Cars, caterers in Hull called 007 Catering, electricians in Bournemouth called 007 Electrical, and a printing company in St Albans called 007 Print. Then there is O-O-Severn Jets in Bristol (nothing to do with aircraft – this is a computer repair business), and Double O Seven Management in London.

Incidentally, if Blofeld is planning to restart his operations in the UK, he should think more creatively about a company name, as the names that might be best suited to his sort of enterprises – Spectre Limited, Spectre Global, Spectre Associates, Spectre Industries Limited – are already taken.

This survey of company names has shown that James Bond is good for business. Thanks to the enormous success of the Bond novels and films, Bond-related titles and idioms are memorable and familiar and well established as self-replicating memes requiring little actual reference to James Bond. Consequently, they give companies a head-start when attracting business or maintaining consumer interest.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Christmas with the Flemings

The Engadine Valley (By Biovit (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
A letter from Ann Fleming to the author Peter Quennell written on 30th December 1960 reveals that the Flemings spent Christmas that year in St Moritz, Switzerland. In the letter, reproduced in Mark Amory's edited volume of Ann's correspondence (Collins Harvill, 1985), Ann describes how she and Ian ('the Commander') lunched at the resort's Corviglia Club. Reading the letter now, one is struck by similarities with certain passages in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1963), which Ian Fleming wrote while at Goldeneye the following winter (1961/2). It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Ian drew on his time at St Moritz when he was writing the novel.

Ann Fleming mentions that she and Ian ate with Daphne and Whitney, whom Mark Amory identifies as Witney and Lady Daphne Straight. If these names are familiar to readers of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, it is because they were mentioned in the novel. In chapter 12, Irma Bunt points out to James Bond the “international set” enjoying lunch on the public terrace at Piz Gloria, having been lured away from Gstaad and St Moritz. Ursula Andress is among the notable people there, but so too are “Mr Witney and Lady Daphne Straight.”

Ann's description of the Corviglia Club (“a smart chalet” with a “sunny terrace” and “a helicopter landing ground”) also has a ring of familiarity. The club house of Piz Gloria is a “bogus-chalet type structure with a vast veranda”, and we know Piz Gloria has a helipad. Admittedly this is, as Fleming puts it, “a typical piece of high-Alpine architecture”, and probably describes every resort in the region (as St Moritz, Fleming's Piz Gloria is situated in the Engadine valley), but it is likely that Fleming was recalling St Moritz when he created Piz Gloria.

It is well known that Ian Fleming put many of his experiences, the places he visited, and the people he knew into the James Bond novels. On Her Majesty's Secret Service is no different, and in some of the passages set in Piz Gloria, Ann Fleming's letter suggests that we can find elements of the Flemings' Christmas spent at St Moritz in 1960.