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.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

James Bond and the frogmen of World War Two

I've long resigned myself to the fact that the chances of finding a first-edition Fleming at a jumble (or rummage) sale are very remote indeed, certainly since the emergence of Amazon and ebay. But I still go to jumble sales in a hopeful frame of mind, and invariably manage to pick up other items that are of peripheral interest to the world of James Bond. Recently, for example, I acquired a paperback copy of The Frogmen: The Story of the Wartime Underwater Operators (Pan, 1950), by T J Waldron and James Gleeson. Ian Fleming drew on the exploits of wartime divers and frogmen when describing James Bond's exciting underwater episodes in Live and Let Die (1954) and Thunderball (1960), and so I bought the book to find out more.

In chapter 10 of Thunderball, Fleming tells us that SPECTRE used a “two-men underwater chariot identical with those used by the Italians during the war” to tow a sled to transport the captured atomic weapons from the submerged Vindicator aircraft. Later, in chapter 23, as he leads a unit of US submariners in an underwater battle against Largo's men, Bond encounters Largo sitting astride the chariot.

As The Frogmen reveals, the Italians were the pioneers of the chariot when engaging in underwater sabotage, and it was only when Italian 'charioteers' in 1941 successfully attacked the Denbydale and other British ships in the Mediterranean that Britain first became aware of this special means of warfare.

The Italian chariot, or human torpedo, was a 22 foot-long cigar-shaped craft that incorporated a detachable warhead containing 500lb of explosives. Two men sat astride the chariot, and, by means of a battery-powered propeller and compressed-air tanks to regulate depth, they moved slowly toward the target ship. Once there, the frogmen fixed lines across the ship's hull, tied the warhead to the lines, released the warhead and made their escape.

Realising the threat from the Italians, and not without a little grudging admiration, British naval chiefs turned to their technical divisions in early 1942 to create a similar craft and a range of other equipment, including rubber wetsuits and breathing apparatus. The British had managed to acquire Italian machines – 'Buster' Crabb was one of the first Britons to test out the Italian chariot – but they knew that if they were to stand any chance against the maritime threat and also conduct their own underwater operations, in colder waters, as well as in the relative warmth of the Mediterranean, they needed to research and develop, practically from scratch, their own capability.

By summer 1942, the British-built two-man chariot known as a jeep was ready for operations, along with other machines, such as 'X' craft, or four-man midget submarines, and single-seater underwater craft. (Incidentally, the smallest and least detectable of the single-seater craft was developed by a Quentin Reeves, known as Lieutenant-Colonel 'Q'.) At this time, a call went out for volunteers for 'special service', who, after a period of intense training, began their work.
British charioteers using a two-man torpedo

In Live and Let Die (chapters 18-19), Ian Fleming describes how Bond swims underwater to Mr Big's vessel, the Secatur, to plant a limpet mine. This was another weapon that saw much development during the Second World War; operatives became known as 'limpeteers'.

At one point during his swim, Bond is grabbed by an octopus and dragged towards its lair. Such a threat perhaps seems fanciful, but during the war, the risk to frogmen operating in the Far East from octopuses was considered serious enough by naval chiefs for guidance to be issued. This recommended that an operative grabbed by a tentacle stay absolutely motionless until the octopus become bored and let go. The guidelines added, not entirely seriously, that if the octopus became frightened, the operative should tickle the octopus underneath its armpits until it released its tentacles. Failing that, the frogman should jab it in the eye with a knife.

In his preparations for his underwater mission, James Bond orders cakes of shark repellent copper acetate and nigrosine dye, which had been developed by the US Naval Research Laboratory. Research by the Americans into anti-shark devices was active during the Second World War, and Waldron and Gleeson state that the products of that research – packets of black dye (the authors do not mention its ingredients) and containers of chemical crystals – were issued to British frogmen swimming through shark-infested waters.

Another of Bond's habits which alluded to wartime practices was his use of benzedrine tablets, which, in Live and Let Die, he takes ahead of his swim. Benzedrine is a form of amphetamine (colloquially known as speed), and during the Second World War its use was widespread, particularly by aircrews and frogmen on long, dangerous missions. Waldron and Gleeson describe how, for example, the crew of an 'X' craft engaged in a mission against a Japanese cruiser took benzedrine tablets to ward off sleep.

The Frogmen provided useful background information to episodes described in the Bond novels, but in reading it, I learned a lot about an extraordinary group of people, who undertook dangerous missions (such as clearing the waters off the northern French coast of mines before D-Day) using equipment that had been rushed into production with limited testing. I was certainly glad to have found a copy of the book in the jumble sale.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

SPECTRE returns

So now we know the title of the 24th James Bond film: SPECTRE. This is a strong title that will capture the public’s – and cinema-goers’ – attention, which will be crucial as the film gears up to compete to some extent with another blockbuster in the making, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Judging by the press conference held on 4th December, SPECTRE is already shaping up to be the most Fleming-esque Bond film since Casino Royale (2006). There was no confirmation that Blofeld, who was last seen (allegedly) falling into a chimney in For Your Eyes Only, will be back, but his presence is implied by the title.

While I have my concerns about resurrecting the character – can audiences banish images of Dr Evil from their minds? – Blofeld as described by Fleming is certainly a worthy opponent for Bond, and the decision is likely to be popular.

As exciting is the possibility that Fleming’s short story, 'Octopussy', will form part of the plot. The octopus-like bullet hole in the title is obviously a reference to the symbol of SPECTRE, but I wonder if it is also a nod to the short story, whose use is hinted at with the introduction of Bond's skiing instructor and surrogate father, Hannes Oberhauser, played by Christoph Waltz. Press reports claimed that Oberhauser will be Hans’ son, Franz, but whatever the case, the character is a welcome addition.

SPECTRE promises to continue the run of spectacular and exciting Bond films. I for one cannot wait until 6th November 2015.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

James Bond - the menswear model

We tend to associate the marketing of James Bond-branded lifestyle accessories with 'Bondmania', a period roughly spanning 1964 and 1967 when Goldfinger, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice attracted huge audiences and Bond-related goods were all the rage. Consumers had the choice of a range of 007-branded products, including 007 shoes by Norvic, 007 toiletries by Colgate, and children's lunch boxes depicting Bond's Aston Martin DB5.

While this period saw the peak of the Bond-product industry, it did not represent the start of it. Even before the release of the first Bond film, Dr No (1962), manufacturers recognised the value of James Bond as a brand and marketing tool. In 1961, a series of advertisements published in the Daily Express and the Daily Mirror displayed a range of Courtelle menswear – modelled by James Bond, or at least an artist's depiction of him. That James Bond had sufficient cultural weight before EON's film series commenced to sell goods was down to the increasing success of Ian Fleming's novels, aided by spin-offs, such as the Daily Express comic strip.

In the first, 'Diplomatic Passport 0094567–Bond J.', published in March 1961, Bond wears a rugged 'Snowden' sweater by Courtelle inside his city apartment. The second, 'Inform All Agents–Bond Must Die', was published in April 1961. Within the setting of a train compartment, Bond wears trousers in Courtelle's Abrelle fabric. 'James Bond–Special Agent' was the third advert and printed in May 1961. Bond wears a Courtelle shirt as he fires his gun at a villain obscured behind a tree.


In the fourth, 'Death in the Caribbean', published in September 1961, Bond sports Courtelle slacks as escapes from a machete-wielding heavy. The fifth advert was published in October 1961, this time in the Daily Mirror. 'M is Worried–Send for Bond' sees Bond hanging by his fingertips to a cliff face as he attempts to rescue a woman, his Courtelle cotton shirt no doubt helping his reach. The final advert, printed in the Daily Express in November 1961, was 'Lady With A Luger', and depicted Bond facing the wrong end of a gun held by a femme fatale. Bond may have been grateful he was wearing Courtelle's slacks.

The advertisements are interesting, because they took elements from the novels, but also introduced scenarios not described by Fleming. They provide an example of how the image was perceived in a cultural environment uninfluenced by the film series, and show that character was becoming a significant brand before Bondmania.

I discuss these adverts in detail in 'Modelling Bond: the cultural perception of James Bond on the eve of the Eon production films', an essay published in James Bond and Popular Culture, a book edited by Michele Brittany of essays that examine the Bond phenomenon and the impact of Bond on popular culture. The book is available to buy now, and can be ordered from the publisher, McFarland, as well as other retailers.

Acknowledgement:
The Courtelle brand is owned by Rowlinson Knitwear Ltd. I am grateful to the company for allowing me to reproduce advertisement text and images in my essay.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Further thoughts on Bond 24

I was honoured to be invited by David Leigh of the James Bond Dossier website to contribute to a questionnaire which gauged the views of Bond bloggers and writers about the Bond 24 with questions such as “What are you most looking forward to on Bond 24?”. For the final question, “Is there anything else you’d like to add?”, I put forward my prediction for the title. The answer I gave was The Property of a Lady, but even as I made the suggestion, I wasn't convinced. In this post, I thought I'd explain my reasoning and consider other options. I should add that this post more or less represents a re-post of an article of mine written just before the title of Bond 23 (Skyfall) was announced.

I opted for The Property of a Lady, not because I thought it the best of the unused Fleming titles – indeed, I consider it rather weak – but because it seemed less likely that any of the others would be used. However, from a memetic perspective, I think two of the other titles are stronger.

Let's start with Risico. Till now, the title has remained unused apparently because of its meaninglessness. Indeed, it's been reported that Michael G Wilson dislikes Risico because the word is Fleming's invention. However, it is precisely its meaninglessness that gives it an advantage over the other unused titles and potentially makes it so useful. Risico is very adaptable. In a Bond film that obviously cannot now be based on Fleming's story of Risico itself, the title could be a corporation, an organisation, a code word, the name of an operation, or a personal name. The possibilities are endless. And if the word is meaningless in English, it is equally meaningless in any other language, which has advantages from economic and marketing points of view.

While I think there are good reason for using Risico, I do have a fondness for The Hildebrand Rarity. Admittedly, this title has the same awkwardness about it as Quantum of Solace. But it is an interesting title which might intrigue potential audiences (what is 'The Hildebrand Rarity'?), and, while it doesn't seem particularly Bondian, it has the ring of an old-fashioned, Cold War, spy tale, such as The Quiller Memorandum or The Internecine Project. Though elements of the original story was used for Licence to Kill, the central plot was not. It could still be filmed, but even if the title only was taken, The Hildebrand Rarity is reasonably adaptable, and could refer to a MacGuffin – a document or a piece of technology, perhaps – that Bond and others would be after.

Of course, it's quite possible, even likely, that Bond 24 will be given an original title. But there is merit in the unused titles of Ian Fleming, and if we are to see a significant element of Fleming's work (particularly Octopussy) in the film, then a Fleming title would be rather fitting.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Young Bond in Shoot to Kill - a review

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 16 November 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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