Monday 10 June 2013

Obit: James Bond's many appearances in the obituaries

One can learn about some pretty remarkable people through the obituary columns, and it's here that I often read about some of the less well-known individuals connected with the world of James Bond. In recent months, I have read about Marcel van Clemmput, who designed Goldfinger's Aston Martin DB5 and the submersible Lotus Esprit from The Spy Who Love Me for Corgi, and Kiki Byrne, who designed the golden bikini worn in the titles sequence of Goldfinger. But what also catching my eye are the occasional obituaries that mention James Bond or Ian Fleming while describing people who seemingly had no or little connection with either. These obituaries are no less interesting, as they reflect the extent to which Bond has become deeply embedded in cultural space.

Take John Quine, who died in May. His obituary in the Times reveals that he joined MI6 after the Second World War and was posted to Tokyo, before returning to Europe in 1954 to recruit a network of agents. In 1961, he unmasked the KGB double agent, George Blake. We learn that Quine was 'an avid reader of James Bond books' and, in the 1960s, bought the The Old Palace in Bekesbourne, near Canterbury, an 18th-century house briefly occupied by Ian Fleming. Quine's reading seems an especially minor point, but its importance is lifted by the Fleming connection and, of course, Quine's MI6 career.

Yaakov Meidad, who died in June 2012, was a Mossad agent who, as his Times obituary states, “masterminded the daring operation to seize the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann from the streets of Argentina.” Remarking on Meidad's appearance – he was bald and bespectacled – the obituary writer noted that Meidad was more George Smiley than James Bond, but that his life was as exciting as the events of any thriller. With no other link, it is simply the intelligence connection that prompts a comparison with James Bond and another famous fictional spy.

Then there is Sir John Morgan, who died in June 2012. He was a diplomat who served in Moscow, Mongolia, the Foreign Office in the Far Eastern Department, Poland, then Mexico. He married (later divorcing) Fionn O'Neill, the daughter of Ann Fleming from Ann's first marriage, and we learn in the Times obituary that this loose connection with Ian Fleming, along with Morgan's self-confident, buccaneering spirit, prompted family members to suggest that Morgan served as a model for James Bond. The suggestion is fanciful – Morgan married in 1961 – but as the allusion to Bond conveys something of Morgan's character, it gains weight and becomes a point of interest in the obituary.

James Bond is used again as a shorthand for character in the obituary of Anthony Cavendish, who died in January 2013. Cavendish served as an MI6 officer in the late 1940s and early '50s, and, being fluent in German and French, leaping from one secret adventure to another, and mixing with beautiful women, the obituary writer suggests that Cavendish “cut a James Bond-like figure.”

One other individual should be mentioned here. In the 'Lives Remembered' section of the Times, a reader recalled that Sir Nicholas 'Nicko' Henderson, a diplomat who died in March 2009, tried to out-trump Sir Eddie Rayne, shoemaker to the Queen Mother, when they argued about how well they both knew Ian Fleming. In his winning bid, Henderson claimed that Fleming left him all his suits. It's true that Henderson and Fleming had been friends – according to Andrew Lycett, Henderson gave Fleming the title, On Her Majesty's Secret Service – but that the anecdote is offered at all is testament to Fleming's continued cultural significance.

James Bond's obituary appears in Fleming's penultimate full-length novel, You Only Live Twice, but he has appeared in many more obituaries since then as shorthand for a certain type of person, and inevitably as a point of comparison with the real lives of wartime and intelligence officers.

Thank you, Radley, for trawling through the archive for remarkable people.

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