Sunday, 26 June 2016

Who founded the first James Bond club?

As I prepared my paper for the Spies on British Screens conference, which took place in Plymouth last weekend (more about that event soon), I reminded myself about what must have been one of earliest James Bond clubs to have been founded. What's more, I discovered that its founders were later to become eminent in the world of British politics. 

In my paper, I discussed some of the Bondian words and phrases, such as ‘Bond, James Bond’, ‘shaken, not stirred’, and 'Bond girls', that have become part of everyday lexicon, used and adapted in contexts away from the specific world of Bond. I traced their evolution and usage, and examined why these terms have become so successful; that is, long-lasting and widespread.

I've written about the origin of the word 'Bond girl' before on this blog, and so already knew that one of the earliest appearances of the term is in the Daily Express, published 1st February 1963. Curiously, the term didn't refer to James Bond's female companion in either Fleming's novels or the film of Dr No (the second Bond film, From Russia With Love, had yet to be released when the article was published), but was used as a shorthand term within a headline of an article.

In the article, 'Perfect Bond Girl', Express columnist William Hickey described how Oxford University student, Joanna Hare, had been voted Oxford University's nearest answer to the type of woman that James Bond meets by members of the university's newly formed James Bond club. William Hickey continued that members of the James Bond club were dedicated fans of the Bond novels and pledged to live up to the standards of living and behaviour of their literary hero.

Looking up the article to remind myself of the details, I was surprised to discover the identities of the club's founder members: Mark Lennox-Boyd, who would become a Conservative member of parliament, serving in Margaret Thatcher's, then John Major's governments, and Jonathan Aitken, who served in John Major's cabinet as Minister of State for Defence Procurement in 1992 and was later jailed for perjury following a scandal about a stay in the Paris Ritz. During his time in prison, he turned to Christianity, and has since become a Christian writer.

What of (possibly) the first Bond girl, Joanna Hare? She's the daughter of Conservative politician John Hare (1st Viscount Blakenham), who at the time that the article written was serving as Minister of Labour in Harold Macmillan's cabinet. In 1967, the Hon. Joanna Hare married Stephen Breyer, who is now an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

If you look up Jonathan Aitken and Mark Lennox-Boyd on Wikipedia, you won't find any mention of their Bond fandom and the setting up of the James Bond club. As Marc-Ange Draco from On Her Majesty's Secret Service might have said, Wikipedia's dossier on them is not entirely complete.

There is a footnote to this story. In the following day's Express, William Hickey reported that five undergraduates at Oxford University had formed a university section of SMERSH in response to the creation of the James Bond club. How serious this rival group was is uncertain, but the incident suggests that the university's James Bond fans were motivated in their activities by the books, rather than the first Bond film, Dr No, which had pitted Bond against SPECTRE (although SMERSH is mentioned in the film).

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