Monday, 11 September 2017

Bond - James Bond: a phrase less ordinary

Which is the best-known three-word phrase in the James Bond films? Licence to kill? Shaken, not stirred? Or Bond, James Bond? To be honest, I couldn’t tell you. All three are so engrained in the popular imagination, they’re probably as well known as each other. What I can be more certain about is that while all three phrases were introduced by Ian Fleming, it was the film series that gave them prominence and cultural weight.
 

In an earlier post, I discussed the claim that Berkely Mather, one of the screenwriters of Dr No (1962), was responsible for the phrase ‘Bond – James Bond’. Given that the phrase appears in various forms in the Bond novels, starting with Casino Royale (1953), the claim is absurd. However, there’s no denying that its use in Dr No was special. After all, it’s delivered by the impossibly cool Sean Connery and is triggered by the James Bond theme.
 
'Bond, James Bond' (Dr No, 1962)
Together, these elements give the phrase value, turning what was an ordinary phrase into something memorable and worth repeating, not just in subsequent films, but more widely in the cultural environment.
 

For Ian Fleming, the phrase ‘Bond – James Bond’ was never intended to be loaded with significance. We can point to two pieces of evidence for this. The first is the Bond books themselves. James Bond uses this form of introduction several times during the course of his adventures. There’s a ‘Bond – James Bond’, or close variant, in, among others, Casino Royale, Goldfinger, Dr No, The Spy who Loved Me, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (although this last example is interesting, as Fleming appears to have been influenced by the nascent film series as he wrote it; possibly he thought differently about the phrase by this time).
 

But the surname-first name-surname formula is also used in relation to other characters. In Goldfinger, Mr Du Pont introduces himself with the words, ‘My name is Du Pont. Junius Du Pont’. In Diamonds are Forever, Bond’s told of a cab-driver ‘by the name of Cureo, Ernie Cureo’. In the same book, Bond hears about a hoodlum called ‘Budd, “Rosy” Budd’. I’m sure there are other examples.
 

The second piece of evidence is that the formula is used fairly frequently in other fiction. It’s not often that I don’t have a classic spy novel or thriller (some of which would have been very familiar to Fleming) on the go, and as I read them, it’s not long before I come across another example of the formula.
 

In Hushed Up! A Mystery of London (1911) by William Le Queux, the hero, when asked his name, replies, ‘Biddulph… Owen Biddulph’. (I was, incidentally, rather thrilled that the novel featured a main character who shared my unusual surname.) There are various examples in the works of E Philips Oppenheim. In The Great Impersonation (1920), we have from the main character a ‘My name is Dominey – Everard Dominey’ (twice, in fact). In the John Buchan novel The Three Hostages (1924), Richard Hannay is told by a friend who is assuming a name that ‘my name’s Thomson – Alexander Thomson’.
 

It’s a small point, but the obvious conclusion is that the surname-first name-surname form of introduction was a standard one, certainly in some of the older literature. It seems likely that Fleming applied it to Bond – and other characters – simply as a form of everyday speech with no additional significance. Today, with everyone instantly on first name terms, the formula seems somewhat formal and old-fashioned. In a way, too, the phrase is a victim of its own success. Having become so closely associated with James Bond thanks to the films, it can’t be used seriously anywhere else!

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