Thursday, 9 June 2016

The obituaries of Commander James Bond

Last week's Times featured the obituary of one Commander James Bond. Like many people called James Bond, the Australian naval officer frequently had to deal with jokes and bemused reactions when giving his name, but it seems he was happy to go along with them. Indeed, his name brought him invitations to film premières, offers of martinis shaken, not stirred, and requests for autographs.

Commander Bond's experience mirrors that of the original James Bond, the ornithologist whose name Ian Fleming borrowed for his fictional secret agent. In her book, How 007 Got His Name (Collins, 1966), Mary Wickham Bond, wife of James Bond, wrote how airport customs officials would playfully ask James Bond (the ornithologist) whether he was carrying any firearms, or would fast-track him through customs – the sort of 'red carpet' treatment the fictional Bond enjoys at the start of the novel of Live and Let Die.

Anyone called James Bond no doubt has similar stories (a topic explored in Mattt Bowyer's documentary, The Other Fellow). To what extent Commander Bond's experiences differed from those of other James Bonds because of his rank, which is as much part of the fictional spy's identity as his name, is an interesting question and worth exploring.

What also interests me about Commander Bond's obituary is that the headline is so familiar. It is, after all, the fourth time we've seen it in print and on the screen.

The fictional Bond's obituary in the book of You Only Live Twice (published, of course, in the Times) reads 'Commander James Bond', as it does in the films Tomorrow Never Dies and Skyfall. In the film of You Only Live Twice, the 'death' of James Bond is presented as a newspaper story, rather than an obituary, but in common with the obituary of the real Commander James Bond, the fictional Bond is wearing his naval uniform.

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