Friday, 11 November 2016

A look at the Bond parody 'Kiss the Girls and Make Them Spy'

If being honest, even the most ardent of fans would concede that Ian Fleming's novels are very much of their time and contain aspects which sit uncomfortably with modern attitudes. Take the representation of homosexuality. To Fleming's credit, there are a few characters who are gay or are hinted to be gay, but their portrayal is problematic. Pussy Galore and Rosa Klebb are the lesbians of heterosexual male fantasy, and in the case of Scaramanga and Wint and Kidd, the homosexuality is a symptom of an abnormality that in part explains the criminal behaviour.

To be fair, Bond's attitude to homosexuality, as suggested for instance by his discussion with Troop about 'intellectuals' in the the Secret Service, is reasonably progressive for the time (it should be remembered that homosexual acts in private were not decriminalised in the UK until 1967), and this no doubt reflects Fleming's own relatively liberal views. After all, some of Fleming's best friends were gay.

However, it is not the gay characters that have made the Bond novels easy targets for camp parodies (we could blame instead Bond's particular habits, for instance in relation to food, and the homoerotic quality of Bond being hit on the genitals with a carpet beater), of which Cyril Connolly's 'Bond Strikes Camp' and 'The Spy who Minced in from the Cold', by Stanley Reynolds are notable examples. A rather more thoughtful parody, however, is Kiss the Girls and Make Them Spy (Harper Collins, 2001), by Mabel Maney.

The novel, set in 1965, concerns an attempt by a secret organisation, the Sons of Britain Society, to depose the Queen and return the Duke of Windsor to the throne. Enter Her Majesty's Secret Service, whose officers serve to protect the Queen, and another mysterious organisation, the Greater European Organization of Radical Girls Inderdicting Evil (G.E.O.R.G.I.E.), which is populated by lesbians sworn to protect the world from destruction wrought by men. Curiously, though, both the Secret Service and G.E.O.R.G.I.E. appear to be oblivious to the plot to kidnap the Queen until it's in full swing.

Meanwhile, James Bond is on sick leave, having suffered a nervous breakdown. In order to preserve the reputation of the Secret Service and the belief that England's top agent is still on active duty, his sister, Jane, who looks very much like James, is blackmailed by the service to take James' place. Jane's mission is to receive a medal from the Queen without raising suspicion.

James Bond's absence is, I suspect, designed to avoid breaching copyright, and there are other changes in personnel; M become N, Miss Moneypenny becomes Miss Tuppenny (and, incidentally, the head of G.E.O.R.G.I.E), and, borrowing from the films, Q becomes X. The author is familiar with the Bond novels: Jane has an unruly comma of hair, as does James, there is reference to the 'powder vine', and it's revealed that Jane's handler, Agent Pumpernickel, or 001, has a S-shaped scar on his cheek, which was made by an enemy agent to mark him as a spy. The scar not only recalls the scar that Fleming's Bond has on his cheek, but also the knife cut in the form of an inverted M that Bond receives on the back of his hand in Casino Royale.

That said, the author doesn't stick rigidly to the 'facts' of Fleming's novels. The Secret Service in Mabel Maney's novel is usually referred to as Her Majesty's Secret Service, operates in England, and exists solely to protect the Queen, just as the US Secret Service is tasked with protecting the President. And, of course, family details are wrong. Apart from the sister we never knew about, James' mother is called Sylvia, and his father, James Bond Sr, was a secret agent who Jane believes took his own life.

The Bond films are referenced as well. To prepare for her mission, Jane is required to wear a dinner suit, drink vodka martinis (shaken, not stirred), and practise raising her eyebrows, reputedly in the manner of Roger Moore. Like the film Bond, Jane has a very active love life, though falls in love with one of the agents of G.E.O.R.G.I.E, a redhead called Bridget. There are gadgets, too, in the form of deadly lipsticks.

I enjoyed the book, though as with most of the longer Bond parodies, such as ALLIGATOR and (ahem) Devil May Care, the joke wears thin after a while. However, the characters are better drawn than they usually are in parodies, and Jane is interesting enough to deserve to appear in further adventures.

There have been numerous candidates for the first female James Bond, notably Modesty Blaise, but Jane Bond has better claim than most, having a believability that others lack (that's not to say that the plot is believable, which is far more fantastic than any plot of Fleming's). It is this credibility that means that the book is not so much about a 'gay Bond' than simply an entertaining spoof of familiar Bondian tropes.

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