Sunday, 30 June 2013

Double-O-Seven or O-O-Seven?

As I was trawling through the archive of the Daily Express, I stumbled on an interesting article from the edition dated 14th September 1966. It was interesting not so much for its content – alas I didn't make a note of what it was about – but rather its headline: “Little Mrs 006 does an 007.” The use of the indefinite article 'an' suggests that the headline writer intended '007' to be read as 'O-O-Seven' (that is, Oh-Oh-Seven), as opposed to 'Double-O-Seven'.

Although Ian Fleming was clear on how Bond's code number should be pronounced – in Casino Royale (1953), Head of Section S thinks the Le Chiffre job will go to “one of the Double-Os” (Chapter 3), and in From Russia, with Love (1957), the Soviet dossier on Bond mentions Bond's “double 0 numerals” (Chapter 6) – the headline suggests that the alternative O-O-Seven had a degree of penetration in popular culture.

The use of O-O-Seven was not confined to the Express. For example, the Bond parody Loxfinger (1965) by Sol Weinstein gives the protagonist Israel Bond the code name 'Oy-Oy-7', and in the Bond spoof, Carry On Spying (1964), agent Charlie Bind (played by Charles Hawtrey) explains that his code number, Double-O-Oh, comes from his instructors looking at him and saying, “O, O, Oh!” A somewhat egregious use of O-O-Seven is found in the film From Russia With Love (1963). Robert Shaw's Red Grant tells Bond to “take it easy, O-O-Seven.” It could be argued, of course, that this is a deliberate mistake offering Bond a clue that Grant is an enemy agent, but unlike the red wine with fish, Bond never picks Grant up on it. In any case, simply by being uttered in an official Bond film, the use of 'O-O-Seven' gains some validity and prominence.

While 'O-O-Seven' has never seriously competed with 'Double-O-Seven', it nevertheless exists as an alternative form of Bond's code name and meme in its own right. Indeed it continues to be used; the details escape me, but I recall the BBC newsreader, Philip Hayton, who presented the news on the BBC between 1987 and 2005, announcing the new 'O-O-Seven' (probably Pierce Brosnan). Its use may be attributed to a lack of familiarity with the books or the films, but even with regular exposure to the correct form, 'O-O-Seven', once established in individual minds, has a good chance of being replicated simply through force of habit.

14 comments:

  1. In France, in Ian Fleming's books, we can read "double zéros" (double-o). In certains films, it's translated zéro zéro (o-o).

    For me, what is correct is what Fleming wrote : double-o.

    Friendly,

    Sébastien (France)

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    1. Thanks, Sébastien, that's useful to know. In France, then, both forms are valid. I agree, though, that we must follow Fleming and that double-o is correct.

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  2. I recall a documentary series about the making of "The Spy Who Loved Me" back in 1977 and the narrator referred to Bond as 'agent Zero Zero Seven'. Mindboggling.
    Whenever I give people my mobile phone number, I always say "Oh four double one" and I sometimes say "Sorry, I'm a Bond fan. That's why I say 'Oh' instead of zero."

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    1. I guess people say 007 in the way that they feel comfortable with, even though they must know the conventional form is double-oh-seven. I know what you mean about saying oh instead of zero when giving out phone numbers. I bet phone numbers with two zeros together are more memorable when said as double oh because of the Bond connection.

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    2. Similar in Poland - zero zero siedem (zero zero seven). However it's probably because in our language Double-O Seven would sound strange...

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    3. Thanks for your comment. Very interesting.

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  3. Desmond Dekker and The Ace's 1967 ska hit "007 (Shanty Town)" may have a lot to do with O-O-Seven pronunciation. It's been covered by many folks - my favorite version is by the California ska band Mento Buru.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jy5MD8ZjvOo

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    1. That's right. Thanks for reminding me. A very popular song which, as you say, would have helped spread the O-O-Seven meme.

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  4. What does the 00 stand for in 007?

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Hi, Do you mean, what does 00 mean in the context of the books/films? it simply means that Bond belongs to a small group of agents with a licence to kill. All their codes numbers begin the the 00.

      Or do you mean why did Fleming come up with 007 when creating James Bond? According to Ian Fleming, British naval intelligence signals during WW2 were marked with the double-0 prefix. The code stuck with Fleming, who used it for Bond.

      Others have speculated that there is a deeper, numerological and/or astrological significance to the number. For example, Elizabeth I's astrologer and spy John Dee is said to have signed his communications with a symbol that looks like 'OO7', ie the OO - the secret eyes of the queen - framed by a seven-like mark. But these seem implausible to me.

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  5. Here in Brazil we are used to speak zero zero seven.
    "Double-o seven" sounds weird. Further, I think that last expression make the agent name be worldwide known, as every country can pronounce the numbers instead of letters according to their alphabets and languages.

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  6. **The first expression, not the last.

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    1. Thanks for your comment. That's a good point - 'double O seven is more like a name than a number, which probably makes it so memorable and spreadable in different cultures.

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