Sunday, 15 January 2017

I never left: How the book Bond's biography has remained part of the film Bond's backstory

The James Bond of the cinema may have only passing resemblance to the literary Bond, but there are some biographical details of the literary Bond that the film Bond has retained more or less throughout the film series. However, you won't find many references to them on the screen, but rather in the pages of official James Bond annuals, specials and part-work magazines published over the years.

In James Bond in Focus (1964), one of the earliest special publications to tie in with the release of a Bond film, in this case Goldfinger, a description of Bond's background refers to his flat in the King's Road in Chelsea, Blades club and Bond's elderly Scots housekeeper, all taken from Ian Fleming's novels.

There are no references to Bond's background in the James Bond 007 annuals for 1965 and 1966, but The James Bond Annual of 1968 more than makes up for the oversight, with Bond's biography presented as a confidential Secret Service personnel file. From this we learn that the young Bond attended Eton and Fettes, his parents were Andrew Bond and Monique Delacroix, and that he is 6ft 2in tall. We also read in a section of the annual devoted to Bond's cars that Bond's pride and joy was a supercharged Bentley 4½ litre, which Bond's mechanic treated as if it were his own; what's more, the car could reach 100mph with ease, but was destroyed while in pursuit of Sir Hugo Drax.

Various Bond novels were mined for these details. The information on the Bentley was lifted from Moonraker, Bond's height was taken from SMERSH's dossier on Bond in From Russia, with Love (though changed from metric to imperial), while the details of Bond's schooling and parents came from M's obituary of Bond in You Only Live Twice. The inclusion of this last aspect is somewhat ironic, given that the film version of the book, which the annual largely promoted, was the first film to deviate substantially from Fleming's text and included no reference to Bond's background. 

For a number of later Bond films, 'specials' took the place of annuals, and some of these allude to Bond's background. The James Bond 007 Moonraker Special (1979) includes a personnel file that lifts the wording of the file in the 1968 annual almost verbatim. There are minor changes – for instance, Bond's height is given in metric (1.83m, the figure from the SMERSH dossier), and his interests change from Greek food to good food – but otherwise the 1968 file had essentially been reprinted. Thus, we also get the details of Bond's childhood: educated at Eton and Fettes, parents Andrew Bond and Monique Delacroix. 

But there are some additional details. Bond's weight is 76kg, he has a scar down his right cheek and right shoulder and has signs of plastic surgery on the back of his right hand, and Bond is an expert pistol shot, boxer and knife-thrower. All these details, previously ignored, are also taken, word for word, from the SMERSH dossier of From Russia, with Love.

Bond's childhood is the subject of quiz questions in the James Bond For Your Eyes Only Special (1981), with readers invited to name Bond's parents (the answer given, naturally, as Andrew Bond and Monique Delacroix), describe how they died (mountain climbing accident), and name the school from which Bond was expelled (Eton). The last two, from the obituary in You Only Live Twice, but not described in earlier annuals or specials, add to the biography associated with the film Bond.

There is no reference to Bond's background in the James Bond Octopussy Special (1983), the A View To A Kill Story Book (1985), or The Official James Bond 007 Fact File (1989), although the last, which coincided with the release of Licence to Kill, does mention Bond's London flat.

In contrast, GoldenEye: The Official Movie Souvenir Magazine (1995) is full of information, which again is lifted from the SMERSH dossier. Thus, Bond is 183cm tall, he weighs 76kg, and has a scar on his right shoulder (the scar on his cheek has evidently disappeared) and signs of plastic surgery on the back of his right hand. In addition, Bond is an expert pistol shot, boxer, and knife-thrower, and, new to the film Bond biography, he does not use disguises, drinks but not to excess, and speaks French and German (so much for Bond's first in oriental languages from Cambridge).

The magazine doesn't mention Bond's parents, but here the film of GoldenEye enlightens us. Alec Trevelyan tells Bond, “We're both orphans, James. But while your parents had the luxury of dying in a climbing accident, mine survived the British betrayal and Stalin's execution squads.”

The details given the GoldenEye film and magazine appeared again in part-work magazine 007 Spy Files (2002). Issue 1 states that Bond is 1.83m tall and weighs 76kg, and has a scar on his right shoulder and another on the back of his right hand. Again, there is no reference to the cheek scar, and the reference to plastic surgery has been dropped. Issue 2 adds that Bond was born in Scotland, he was educated at Eton and Fettes, and that his (unnamed) parents were killed in a climbing accident.

James Bond's dossier, published on a special website (and now available via the MI6: The Home of James Bond 007 website), was significantly updated for the release of Casino Royale (2006), particularly his service history, although Bond's new file retained some familiar details. Bond's parents, Andrew Bond and Monique Delacroix died in a climbing accident, Bond attended Eton and Fettes, and he drinks, but not to excess. Further details from the obituary in You Only Live Twice were added to this.

The part-work 007 Spy Cards was published in 2008. Issue 1 gives Bond's height as 1.83m and weight as 76g, and states that he was educated at Eton and Fettes. It drops Bond's fluency in French and German, but restores his first in oriental languages from Cambridge. Bond's file adds that his parents were killed in a climbing accident, and the sharp-eyed reader might spot his parents' names on an image of his birth certificate. Bond's skills are now hand-to-hand combat, running, skiing, swimming and climbing, rather than shooting, boxing and knife-throwing.

Very little of this information, re-emerging intermittently over the years, has made it to the screen, but the Daniel Craig era has seen a return to Fleming's Bond to the extent that Bond's biography has provided essential plot points. In Skyfall (2012), M and Bond allude to the death of Bond's parents, and in the graveyard of the chapel close to Skyfall, there is a gravestone recording the death of Andrew Bond and Monique Delacroix Bond. And in Spectre (2015), more is made of Bond's childhood since the death of his parents. There is still no mention of Bond's height or weight, though.

Far from ignoring the Bond novels, the various official publications that have tied in with film releases, if not the films themselves, have demonstrated that Ian Fleming's description of Bond's background and characteristics has remained part of the film Bond's dossier. 

There has been variation, and over time details have been dropped (and sometimes restored). Some details, though, have survived unchanged, and have been repeated often over a period of almost 50 years. These include Bond's height, weight, childhood education, and the details of Bond's parents. Ultimately, this is testament to Fleming's writing, in this case the SMERSH dossier of From Russia, with Love, and M's obituary in You Only Live Twice, which has proved to be enduring and highly adaptable.


  1. I dimly recall, from watching the DVD extras of Thunderball, that one of the 60s era Bond TV programs ("The Incredible World of James Bond" perhaps?) also discussed biographical details of the literary Bond, including his orphan status and so forth.

    1. Thanks for the tip. I'll dig out Thunderball and check that out.


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