Sunday, 1 March 2015

Spectre or SPECTRE?

How should we write the name of the 24th James Bond film? That's easy, surely: SPECTRE (that is, entirely upper case letters). That's how the name was revealed at the official launch of the film in December last year and expressed on the teaser poster. And yet, read any report about the production of the film in the printed or online media and you will invariably see the name given as Spectre. Which is correct? Is there a distinction to be made? Does it matter how the name is written? Let's consider the evidence.

Dealing with the obvious point first, SPECTRE is an acronym, standing, of course, for 'The Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion'. This is the precise form given in the first edition of Thunderball (1961)), and throughout the book, SPECTRE is capitalised.

Perhaps being used to seeing the name shown in this form after reading and re-reading the Bond books countless times, I have also tended to capitalise the acronym in my blog posts and tweets, and in that I'm in good company. The official James Bond 007 website gives the name in capitals, as do leading websites devoted to James Bond films, among them MI6: The Home of James Bond 007, The James Bond Dossier,, The James Bond International Fan Club, and The Spy Command.

In contrast, the name of film is often shown in the UK press and other media outlets with only the initial letter capitalised. Empire Magazine gives the title as Spectre in its special feature on the film in its current issue, and this was the form given in last week's features on Monica Bellucci in the 'Style' section of The Sunday Times and the 'Event' section of The Mail on Sunday. The Telegraph, The Daily Express, The Guardian and the BBC news website also use this form. The Metro printed the title as 'The Spectre' on 19th February, but given the definite article in the acronym's expansion in Thunderball, I'm not sure whether the editors of that paper were not technically correct!

So who's right? Is it Spectre or SPECTRE? Well, it depends. From a grammatical point of view, the former tends to be preferred. According to Oxford University Press (publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary), “acronyms which are pronounced like words...tend to behave like words,” being entirely or partially lower case (eg Unesco, radar, Aids, Nato, Nasa). The BBC style guide offers the same advice, and probably other media organisations take a similar view. On that basis, we should be writing the name of the 24th Bond film as Spectre.

But go to the official websites of Unesco, Nato and Nasa and you will find that the acronyms are fully capitalised. From a corporate perspective, then, we should opt for SPECTRE. (Not being members of SPECTRE, we perhaps needn't worry about this, but a legal statement by LEGO advising people of the proper use of the word LEGO – Legos is discouraged – shows how sensitive corporations and organisations are to brand consistency and protection.)

Empire magazine makes an interesting distinction. In its feature, the name of the film is Spectre, but the organisation is SPECTRE. This approach seems a little fussy, and considering the arguments, I'm minded to adopt the Oxford and BBC style. On the other hand, people tend to be influenced by the behaviours of those around them, and no doubt I'm just as susceptible to this phenomenon (that is after all how aspects of culture – memes – are passed on and spread). My frequent visits to Bond-related sites or reading of Bond-related publications suggest that I am likely to stick with SPECTRE. But this could change if a wider consensus for Spectre emerges!

It seems, then, that there is no right or wrong. So long as the film is being talked and written about, creating interest and a buzz, it surely doesn't matter whether the name is Spectre or SPECTRE.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Bond, Brooke Bond: when James Bond sold tea

A recent article on the MI6 - The Home of James Bond 007 website about the James Bond-influenced Milk Tray television adverts in the UK reminded me about another highly successful campaign that looked to the Bond films for inspiration. Between 1956 and 2002, tea manufacturer Brooke Bond ran a series of adverts for its PG Tips brand featuring chimpanzees in anthropomorphic roles. The adverts would show the chimpanzees wearing clothes and performing human actions, usually in humorous everyday domestic or work situations. Inevitably, given the name of the manufacturer and the ever-increasing popularity of James Bond, some of the adverts parodied the Bond films.


Three adverts spoofing Bond were produced in the 1980s. One was in the form of a film trailer. “And now, the films you've been waiting for,” announces the voice-over to scenes of henchmen skating in a winter landscape and an explosion at a villain's mountain lair. “From the files of the British Secret Tea Service,” the voice-over continues before viewers are introduced to a dinner-suited “Bond, Brooke Bond,” and “Bond's boss, Tee.”

Bond's mission is to safeguard the secret of the 'big bag' – bigger tea bags mean more room for the tea to impart its flavour in the teapot – and to help him there a lab-coated character (presumably based on Q), who supplies Brooke Bond with a gadget-converted tea urn. We also see Brooke Bond pursue henchmen in the icy landscape and a naval admiral in Tee's office. The advert ends with a quip from Brooke Bond.

Another advert is set on a smoke-filled railway platform at night; a sign indicates that the station is Istanbul. Brooke Bond is about to board the 'Leyton Orient Express' and approaches a station porter. “We were expecting you,” the porter tells Bond. Suddenly, the porter pulls out a gun and demands the secret from Bond, who disarms him by placing his hat over the gun. “That porter chappie got ideas above his station,” Brooke Bond quips.

A third advert places Brooke Bond in China. Bond is in an interrogation room and is threatened by the villain with being cast into a shark-filled pool unless he reveals the 'big bag' secret.

The three adverts have distinct settings, yet all are recognisably Bondian as they took various aspects of the Bond film series. The first appears to have been inspired by films with notable mountain-set action sequences, particularly On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). The admiral may have derived from The Spy Who Loved Me too, perhaps being based on Admiral Hargreaves or Captain Benson. Then there are more general memes, such as the Q character, the dinner jacket, the witticisms, and, of course, the 'Bond, James Bond' expression.

The rail station-set advert is clearly inspired by From Russia With Love (1963), although the “we were expecting you” line has a later introduction in the film series, not being uttered by the villain until Diamonds Are Forever (1971).

The third advert draws largely on SPECTRE-based memes – the shark pool from Thunderball (1965), the mountain lair of You Only Live Twice (1967) and the interrogation room of Dr No (1962); that is, the sparsely furnished ante-room with the circular grille in which Professor Dent 'warns' Dr No of Bond's presence.

Brooke Bond's set of Bond-influenced adverts demonstrate the diversity of the Bond series and significance of key films, among them From Russia With Love, You Only Live Twice and The Spy Who Loved Me. Memes expressed in those films gained and retained their cultural currency by being replicated and adapted well beyond cinematic release, and indeed continue to have cultural resonance

Friday, 13 February 2015

From Thunderbird to Thunderball to Bond: what Ann called Ian

Classic 1956 advertisement for the Thunderbird
In an article published in the Spectator in April 1958, Ian Fleming revealed to readers that he was in love with his car. A Ford Thunderbird, to be precise. Fleming bought the car some two years earlier (for the sum of £3000), and could not get enough of its reliability, acceleration, economy, and streamlined looks.

His wife Ann was not so enamoured about the vehicle or Ian's enthusiasm for it, however, and complained that riding in the passenger seat gave her neck ache. Ian was so preoccupied with the Thunderbird that Ann began to refer to Ian as Thunderbird in her letters to her close friend, Evelyn Waugh. For example, she signed a letter dated May 1959 as Mrs Thunderbird, and wrote in another, dated July 1960, that “Thunderbird thundered into an ice-cream van.” Occasionally Ann abbreviated Thunderbird to T-B or Thunderb., but generally continued to use the name until Ian's death in 1964.

This was not Ann's only pet name for Ian Fleming. Inevitably, Ann's names began to reflect Ian's burgeoning success with James Bond. During her stay at Goldeneye early in 1961, Ann mentioned in a letter to Evelyn Waugh that she “found a giant octopus” and “fetched Thunderball expecting him to collect it.” Curiously, a month earlier in letter to Waugh, Ann wrote, “I shall refuse to be moss on a thunderball,” evidently playing on the expression 'a rolling stone gathers no moss.'

It is little wonder that the title of Ian's ninth Bond novel had been on her mind; at the time Ann wrote to Evelyn Waugh, she had been living with Thunderball well over a year. In early 1960, Ian wrote his first draft of the novel, which was based on film scripts written in 1959. The novel was to be published in March 1961.

With Ian Fleming's increasing success and fame, particularly following President Kennedy's inclusion of From Russia, With Love in his top ten books in 1961 and the cinematic release of Dr No in 1962, came another pet name. In a letter to Evelyn Waugh dated February 1964, Ann wrote, “At least I have persuaded Bond to give his public a rest,” and later that month, wrote again to Waugh to say that, “The Gleaner newspaper gave a luncheon party for Beatle Bond.” The names reflected the view, expressed by Ian Fleming himself as well as others, that there was much of Fleming in Bond, while Beatle Bond acknowledged the coincidence of two cultural phenomena – Beatlemania and Bondmania.

Meant as private jokes between close friends, Ann Fleming's pet names for Ian Fleming chart changing preoccupations and cultural events and offer a fascinating insight into Ann's attitude towards Ian's interests and the rise of the James Bond phenomenon.

Amory, M (ed.), 1985 The Letters of Ann Fleming, Collins Harvill
Fleming, I, 1958 Automobilia, The Spectator April 1958

Friday, 6 February 2015

Could Peter O'Toole have been the first cinematic James Bond?

Derek Coombs
The name Derek Coombs is probably not familiar to most James Bond fans, but the former British member of parliament and founder of Prospect magazine, who died in December, might have been the first to bring Ian Fleming's novels to the big screen – with Peter O'Toole as Bond.

According to his obituary in The Times, Derek Coombs attempted to secure the rights to film Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Moonraker and Diamonds Are Forever, presumably in 1956 or early in 1957 before the publication of Fleming's fifth novel, From Russia, with Love. Peter O'Toole, Derek Coombs' future brother-in-law, had just begun his acting career (his first television role was in 1956, and he would not make his film d├ębut until 1958), and naturally Coombs saw the role of Bond as a vehicle for him.

The story of Ian Fleming's efforts to bring his creation to the big screen is a convoluted one, involving rival deals, many false starts, protracted negotiations, and not a little naivety on Fleming's part. The key facts, however, are these. Following publication of Casino Royale in 1953, Fleming's US literary agents, Curtis Brown, were approached by Associated British Pictures and then MCA about film rights, but talks came to nothing. Sir Alexander Korda subsequently expressed an interest, having read the proofs for Live and Let Die (1954), but this similarly fizzled out. Fleming had more luck in 1954 when producer Gregory Ratoff secured the rights to Casino Royale, but negotiations between Fleming and Warner Brothers' producer Stanley Meyer for Live and Let Die and Moonraker soon stalled.

In 1955, two offers were made for Moonraker, one to Curtis Brown from John Payne, and the other to Jonathan Cape from the Rank Organisation. Neither was successful. Another offer was received by Curtis Brown in 1958, this time for Dr No, which had not been long published. Kevin McClory entered the picture the same year, and attempts to produce a film of what would become Thunderball (1961), would have long-lasting and serious repercussions for Fleming's creation, his health, and the later EON film series. There was another film offer in 1959, this time from MGM producer Maurice Winnick. In 1961, Harry Saltzman won a sixth-month option on the Bond books, but failed to gain any backing to produce the films until he was introduced to Cubby Broccoli. Dr No was released in 1962 and the rest, as they say, is history.

Quite how Derek Coombs fits into all this, if at all, is unclear. Ian Fleming, usually via Curtis Brown or Cape, no doubt received many approaches from would-be film producers, some (like those above) being more serious than others. Possibly Coombs' offer was quickly dismissed as unrealistic, or perhaps his plans barely left the drawing board; The Times notes that Peter O'Toole was not interested in the project.

The obituary adds, interestingly, that later, when Kevin McClory spotted Derek Coombs in a restaurant, he sent Coombs a magnum of Champagne to thank him for Bond. This suggests that Coombs' attempt to acquire the rights to film Bond was serious enough to attract the attention of rival film-makers. Nevertheless, the incident is curious. Coombs' efforts pre-dated McClory's (unless Coombs made his approach in 1958/9), and anyway McClory did not have an exclusive right to film Bond (Ratoff still owned the rights to Casino Royale). There was more than enough Bond to go round.

More information is required, but it would seem that Derek Coombs' attempt to film Bond has marginal significance. In any case, his bid for Casino Royale would have failed immediately because of the rights to the book already secured. In the late 1950s, Peter O'Toole was very far from being the first cinematic Bond.

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

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.