Thursday, 29 August 2013

Casino Royale or Casino Royal?

The BBC website holds a fantastic archive of James Bond related material, which brings together a selection of interviews, documentaries and analysis broadcast on BBC radio and television over the past 50 or so years. Among the treasures is an episode of Whicker's World broadcast in 1967. In the programme, presenter Alan Whicker visits the Pinewood set of You Only Live Twice and accompanies the production crew on location in Japan. The programme is interesting for a number of reasons, but in this post I want to focus on one aspect that seems minor, but is in a way quite intriguing – the pronunciation of 'Casino Royale'.

In the programme, we're taken to a press conference in Japan. An Australian journalist asked Sean Connery for his thoughts on the rival Bond film, Casino Royale (1967), which was in simultaneous production. Notably the journalist pronounced 'Royale' as the English form 'royal', rather than in a way approximating the French pronunciation.

The pronunciation is unusual, but it had been adopted by others, including Rex Garvin and the Mighty Cravers in their late 1960s song, 'Sock It To 'Em, JB'. In it, the titles of the Bond films are shouted out, one of them being Casino Royale, pronounced Royal. More remarkably, another person to use the Royal pronunciation was the author of the original novel, Ian Fleming. In an interview on 17th August 1964 for CBC-TV's Explorations programme, Fleming told interviewer Munro Scott about the plot of his first book, 'Casino Royal' (not 'Royale'). This was no slip of the tongue; he used the English pronunciation again later in the interview.

Given that Fleming was a fluent French speaker, the pronunciation seems odd, but it is possible that he
was influenced by the pronunciation of place names such as Port Royal, a town in south-east Jamaica, or more simply that his pronunciation reflected the way the word was pronounced by those around him. In any case, Fleming's cultural environment is likely to have had a modifying effect in the way that pronunciation and accents are naturally modified to conform to the prevailing use of language.

If in the 1950s and 1960s, the 'Royal' pronunciation was to some extent normal, today it has faded into obscurity. The success of Daniel Craig's Casino Royale in 2006, and other films such as Battle Royale (2000), have alerted audiences to what might be termed a more accurate pronunciation, but there was already broad awareness of the pronunciation, thanks in part to the cultural prominence of the 'Royale-with-cheese' meme from Pulp Fiction (1994). The memorable dialogue between John Travolta's Vincent Vega and Samuel L Jackson's Jules Winnfield in which the Royale with cheese is extensively discussed was a lesson in pronunciation, and also permitted people to utter the word without the feelings of self-consciousness that sometimes accompanies the occasional use of foreign words.

So should we pronounce 'Casino Royale' as 'Casino Royal'? Well, maybe, from a purist point of view, but anyone doing so would no doubt puzzle others or risk being corrected. I think I'd stick to Casino Royale.

I'm grateful to the HMSS Weblog editors for alerting me to the Rex Garvin video.


  1. I think you're right about Fleming being influenced by the local dialect. When he and Raymond Chandler discussed thrillers in their BBC chat (you can find it on YouTube), Chandler pronounced it as Royale (with cheese). Fleming did not correct him. If he had meant the word to be Royal, I think he might have corrected Chandler. As it is, that interview deserves an article of its own. It's a terrific insight into Fleming and Chandler's way of thinking about writing and storytelling. I listen to it often.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Yes, it seems Fleming accepted the Royale pronunciation too, depending on context. You're right about the value of the Chandler/Fleming discussion. It's fantastic to listen to, and so rich in detail and insight. I've written a couple of posts on aspects from the interview:

      There's so much more potential material, though, and the Fleming/Chandler discussion deserves to be more widely known.


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