Wednesday, 14 November 2018

On location: a visit to the College of Arms

Last week, I was privileged to visit the College of Arms in London. The principal roles of this world-famous institution are to grant coats of arms, investigate rights to existing ones, and undertake genealogical research. However, to Bond fans, it is best known as a location in both the book and the film of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. James Bond visits the college to learn about Blofeld’s request for its services to support his claim to the title of Count Balthazar de Bleuchamp (or Comte Balthazar de Bleuville, as it is in the book). Naturally, I took the opportunity to investigate the some of the spaces that inspired Fleming’s writing and the college scenes in the film.
 
The College of Arms
In the film, we are introduced to the college by means of an exterior shot of the front of the building, which is on Queen Victoria Street; Bond arrives in his Aston Martin and parks in the courtyard. This scene was shot on location and the building today is little changed.
 

The film cuts to an interior view of a hall, where Bond meets a porter in a cherry-red uniform (still worn today, a real-life porter at the college told me), who takes him through a side door to Sable Basilisk’s office. The hall is in fact the Earl Marshal’s Court, which may still, in theory, sit in order to hear and resolve heraldic disputes. The court in the film is a studio recreation, but apart from being larger and having more doors (through the long walls), it is a fair depiction of the real thing. The throne, enclosing rail, wall panelling, portraits, and flags present in the actual court are all represented on screen. The attention to detail is such that the screen court even depicts the crests and other devices above the doors and the radiators along the wall.
 
The court room in the College of Arms (top) and as depicted in OHMSS (below)
In the novel, Fleming describes the hall as gloomy, with ‘dark panelling…lined with musty portraits of proud-looking gentlemen in ruffs and lace’, and flags of the Commonwealth hanging from the cornice. Clearly, Fleming had visited the college himself.
 

During my visit, I got talking to one of the officers of the college, the York Herald. We chatted about the film, and he revealed that part of what would become the rooftop chase scene that was later deleted was filmed inside the college. A smaller room off the hall has a door in the corner. In the missing scene, Bond goes through this door ultimately to reach the roof.
 
Bond goes through this door on his way to the roof
The York Herald also pointed out that a few pages of the original script are on display in the corner of the court under a window. I eagerly went over to have a look and found that they featured dialogue from the deleted scene. (Photography of these pages is, incidentally strictly forbidden.)


Returning to the film, the porter leads Bond through a corridor to the door of Sable Basilisk. It is an ornate door, with an even more ornate name plate to the side. As I discovered as I explored some of the corridors after answering a call of nature, all the heralds’ office doors are rather elaborate. The office of Portcullis, for example, has a golden portcullis within a carved rosette-type device above the door. In the novel, Fleming describes the decoration above Sable Basilisk’s ‘heavy door’ as a nightmare black monster with a vicious beak, accompanied by a name plate in gold.
 
Doors of the heralds' offices
Today, the College of Arms is open to public enquiries, and I’m told that tours are occasionally given. The Bond connection is very much alive. Apart from the script, Bond-related books are on display on a table in the court room and available to purchase from the receptionist. The York Herald also told me that the college receives regular enquiries from Bond fans.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Casino Royale - before Casino Royale?

Picture the scene: a high-stakes baccarat game at the casino. At the table sits our hero, who has come to the gambling resort to ruin his arch-enemy, who now faces him. The game is observed by the hero’s female companion, with whom he has fallen in love and to whom he has explains the rules of the game. The game proceeds, during which our hero wins several coups and his enemy limps off, a little wounded, after losing a lot of money and declining the challenge of our hero’s substantial bank.
 

Sound familiar? I could, of course, be describing events in the novel of Casino Royale (1953), but in fact this comes from the E Phillips Oppenheim novel, Prodigals of Monte Carlo, published in 1926. Monte Carlo provides the casino (obviously), Sir Hargrave Wendever is the protagonist, Violet is his beautiful companion, and his arch-enemy is called Andrea Trentino (or ‘Trentino – Andrea Trentino’, as Wendever tells Violet). As for their characters, we read that ‘Hargrave, if he lacked the other’s almost flamboyant insouciance, was nevertheless in his way emotionless.’


The novel itself is more romance than thriller, but it shares some of its elements – the contest across the baccarat table, the sophisticated location, the impassive hero, the captivating woman – with Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel. Oppenheim was among the authors whom Fleming admired and credited as providing inspiration for his Bond books.
 

The similarity of the gambling scene may be coincidental, but it provides a connection between the two books and, it could be argued, places Casino Royale at a point of transition in the evolution of the thriller, being a novel that is set in the world of Oppenheim and others, but one whose outlook and style, shaped by Fleming’s wartime experiences, was distinctly modern.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Who matches up with Bond?

Being a fan of Lee Child's Jack Reacher books, I was recently given a copy of Match Up, an anthology of short stories that pair up well-established characters from thrillers and crime fiction. The volume is edited by Lee Child, and naturally Jack Reacher makes an appearance, teaming up with Kathy Reichs' forensic anthropologist, Dr Temperance Brennan.



The idea of character crossovers is nothing new, though is largely restricted to television, films and comics, especially of the superhero kind (though I remember a somewhat bizarre episode of Murder She Wrote in which amateur sleuth Jessica Fletcher joins forces with Magnum PI). Characters from different novels rarely share the page together.

Unsurprisingly, Match Up got me thinking about James Bond and which other character he could join in an adventure. There are plenty to choose from – the many rivals in 1960s spy fiction for Bond's crown, for example – but there are two characters I'd put on my shortlist: Philip Marlowe and Jules Maigret. Their respective authors, Raymond Chandler and Georges Simenon, both have a connection to Ian Fleming. Fleming certainly admired their work. He knew Chandler well and had met and conversed with Simenon about their respective books. 

I would also like to find out the answer of an intriguing question. Raymond Chandler was once asked who would win if they found themselves up against each other, Bond or Marlowe? With a story featuring both characters, we might have a chance of finding out.

Actually, come to think of it, there is already a ‘match up’ of sorts – Clive Cussler’s Night Probe, featuring marine adventurer Dirk Pitt and a British agent called Brian Shaw. Clive Cussler based Shaw on Bond and indeed is reported to have intended the character to be Bond but was prevented by legalities.



There was another aspect about Match Up that interested me. In Lee Child and Kathy Reichs' story, Brennan is framed for the murder of a journalist, who had been investigating the suicide of an air force officer, one Calder Massee. It was believed that journalist had evidence that supported claims that Massee had in fact been murdered and that Brennan was part of the cover-up. But Reacher knows that it was a case of suicide and joins Brennan to get to the bottom of the conspiracy. 

How does Reacher know? The air force officer had been exposed as a spy, having passed secrets to the Russians (the back story is set during the 1980s at the tail end of the Cold War). As an officer in the military police, Reacher is sent to confront and arrest Massee. When they meet, they talk. Reacher later recounts, 'I laid out the situation. He begged me to let him shoot himself. He wanted to spare his family the disgrace.' 

Suicide to avoid dishonour is a familiar trope in fiction, but I couldn't help thinking of Ian Fleming's Octopussy, in which James Bond, investigating the theft of gold and the death of a mountain guide in Austria at the end of the war, catches up with the perpetrator, Major Dexter Smythe, and offers him the chance to put his affairs in order and commit suicide, thus sparing Smythe the disgrace of a trial.

Friday, 13 July 2018

It's time for a station break

Time for a station break (Tomorrow Never Dies)
After almost eight years, I've decided to hang up my metaphorical Walter PPK (or should that be put away my golden typewriter?) and call it a day with James Bond memes. In that time, I've somehow managed to publish a blog post on an aspect of James Bond almost every week. It's been a lot of fun and I've discovered stories, facts, and connections that demonstrate, if nothing else, that the cultural impact of Ian Fleming's creation is profound and far-reaching. James Bond is alive and well. I've also enjoyed reading the comments (well, most of them), and am grateful for the opportunities that the blog has given me to connect with fellow Bond enthusiasts and make life-long friendships.

While this will be my last post on James Bond memes, I won't be leaving the world of James Bond. I'll continue to write occasionally about James Bond for other outlets (check out my article on Ian Fleming and golf in the latest MI6 Confidential) and post on Twitter (@bondmemes). I also have an idea for another Bond-related blog that might see the light of day.

Though I'm taking a 'station break', James Bond memes will stay on the air, and so all my articles will remain available to read. If you'd like to get in touch, look me up on the 'contact information page'. So, in the immortal words of James Bond in Thunderball, 'See you later, alligator.'

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

James Bond: licensed to sell cleaning products

Harpic UK has turned to James Bond to help sell one of its products, Harpic Fresh Power 6, a toilet cleaner and freshener.

Its current television advert shows a man who immediately evokes James Bond by wearing a bow tie and a white dinner jacket and raising his arm and hand as if holding a gun.

 
From the latest Harpic Fresh Power 6 advert
‘You know how to press a button,’ the narrator says as the man pushes a doorbell. ‘You know how to keep your toilet clean.’ A toilet is flushed, and we see the power of Harpic Fresh demonstrated. Apparently, the toilet block boasts a cleaning foam, it removes dirt, it’s anti-limescale, it creates shine and freshness, and is long-lasting. All good Bondian qualities, I’m sure you’ll agree.



We return to the man in the dinner jacket, who blows across the top of his finger, as if blowing the smoke away from a gun that’s just been fired (symbolising, I imagine, the killing of germs and the power of the product), and he raises a satisfied smile and eyebrow.

The advert is short and sweet, but several traits or memes closely associated with James Bond are evident in the advert: the dinner suit (white in this case, presumably to convey the idea of cleanliness and freshness), the pose with the gun seen on many classic Bond posters, and the raised eyebrow commonly attributed to Roger Moore’s portrayal of Bond.

It’s not the first time that Bond memes have been used to sell cleaning products, and Harpic Fresh joins a long line of other products, among them Lenor fabric softener and Cillit Bang dirt remover.


Why Bond is so attractive to the makers of cleaning products is a matter of debate. If the adverts are aimed at women, who might be perceived as the main users of the products, the creators of the adverts presumably hope that women will respond positively to an image of a strong, sophisticated manly figure like Bond. Or possibly the depiction of a Bond-like figure is a way of encouraging men to do more of the housework. Alternatively, the advert subverts the image of Bond by poking gentle fun at the character and placing him in unfamiliar situations.

But maybe we shouldn’t overanalyse the adverts. It could be that Bond is simply (and is still) a cool character and any manufacturer that attaches its products to him has the advantage among its competitors.

Whatever the case, I’m sure the Harpic Fresh advert won’t be the last cleaning product campaign to recruit James Bond.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Finding Bond in the Imperial War Museum's Secret War exhibition

During a recent visit to the Imperial War Museum in London, I made a bee-line for the fascinating Secret War exhibition, where I saw some of the gadgets, weapons and other tricks of the trade of covert operations, and read of the exploits of SOE agents, special forces, and Cold War spies.

Even in an exhibition of real-life agents, James Bond is never far away. Visitors entering the exhibition are met by a display that includes a poster of Casino Royale (2006), which is accompanied by the words, 'It's easy to mistake spy fiction for reality'. Turning the corner takes visitors to a short film, in which the real begins to be separated from the fictional; the video is soundtracked by music from the Bond films, and various images from the films appear on screen.
 
At the entrance to the Secret War exhibition
The exhibition displays gadgets – many designed for use in the Second World War – that are echoed in the Bond films and to a much lesser extent in the books (although the name of Q Branch may well owe something to the 'Q gadgets’ created for SOE agents by Charles Fraser-Smith). Ordinary items such as fountain pens, clothes brushes, razors, shoes and so on were used to conceal maps, secret messages, compasses, invisible ink, wire, tools and much more, and can be seen in the display cases.

 
Some of the everyday objects used for secret work in WW2

There is information too on Second World War agents who become famous for their remarkable wartime stories, among them Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas and Fitzroy Maclean, both of whom have been claimed as inspirations for James Bond.

There was one other aspect that had a vague Bond link. During the Cold War, agents resident in the USSR and elsewhere and preparing to spy for Britain were provided with recognition guides to the weapons, equipment and other strategic features of those territories. One handbook, for example, is called 'A pictorial guide to bridge recognition'. I was especially interested in two other handbooks on display. Both, in brown covers and ring-bound, are decorated with a silhouette of a gun. 

Looking at image on the handbook intended for agents in the Middle East, I was naturally reminded of the gun symbol that was used on the posters of the early Bond films and adapted for the Pan paperbacks published in 1962 and 1963.
 
Spy manual (left) and 007 logo from 1963

It seems highly unlikely that Joseph Caroff of United Artists, who had the idea for superimposing an image of a gun on the number 007, had seen the agents' handbooks, access to which was highly restricted. However, given that the handbooks were produced from the mid-1950s and into the 70s, it's not entirely impossible that the compilers of the handbooks were inspired by the posters. 

Whatever the case, the coincidence of practically the same device being used in relation to fictional and real-life spies is very pleasing.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Reflections on Forever and a Day

This piece contains spoilers. If you haven’t read the book, do so now!

I’ve just finished reading the latest James Bond novel, Forever and a Day, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Author Anthony Horowitz knows his Bond and his own love for the character comes through on every page. Anthony Horowitz has given us an exciting, fast-paced thriller that conjures up the world of Fleming’s Bond in rich detail. Original material by Ian Fleming helps, and for this novel, Horowitz has incorporated a treatment of a story called 'Russian Roulette', set in the casino of Monte Carlo. Such is the skill of Horowitz that without reference to Fleming’s text, it is almost impossible to tell where Horowitz’s words stop and those of Fleming begin.



As was announced before publication, the novel is a prequel, taking us to events before Casino Royale. We find out how James Bond earned his licence to kill and was inducted into the double-0 section and learn about the origin of some of the traits for which he has become familiar. Bond’s principal mission is to investigate the death of his predecessor, from whom Bond has assumed the 007 code. Bond’s investigation takes him to the French Riviera and the criminal underbelly of Marseille. There he meets Jean-Paul Scipio, an enormous, corpulent gangster, the mysterious Madame Sixtine, an expert blackjack player with ambiguous loyalties, Reade Griffith, a CIA agent (not Felix Leiter), and a wealthy American businessman called Irwin Wolfe, who is used to getting what he wants.

The basis of the plot is heroin, and this is good solid Fleming territory. He did like his crime-based plots, and he had an involvement in the film The Poppy Is Also A Flower, which revolves around opium smuggling. 

The book is a page-turner. Perhaps in places it Is too rapid a read. Some of the tight spots in which Bond finds himself (the chapter 'The Acid Test' is a nail-biter) are resolved quickly. I would also have welcomed more Fleming-style digressions. 

Anthony Horowitz gives Bond fans several Easter eggs, and it is fun to spot these. And some of the cultural nods appear to go beyond Bond. In the chapter ‘Bad Medicine’, Sixtine bleeds Bond to remove the heroin from his blood. ‘All she wanted was the contents of one arm’; a reference, perhaps, to the classic Hancock’s Half Hour episode, ‘The Blood Donor’ (‘A pint? That’s very nearly an armful!’)? The villains’ plot itself could be viewed as one massive Easter egg. Wolfe explains:
‘What I am providing might be called the greatest loss-leader of all time. Although I have paid Scipio a fair market price for his product [heroin], I am going to pretty much give it away… I intend to create a nation [in this case the USA] of heroin-addicts, Mr Bond, a million future customers for Mr Scipio. ’
Reading this, it’s inevitable that those familiar with the films will think of Live and Let Die. The plot is more or less identical to Mr Big’s. Come to think of it, Forever and a Day has a literal Mr Big in the character of Scipio. 

There’s one aspect that bothers me. Throughout the book, James Bond is referred to as an assassin or is described in terms that equate to the role of an assassin. As I’ve argued before, I think this is a misreading of the character. Bond’s licence to kill doesn’t make him an assassin; it is a recognition that he has had to kill in cold blood in the course of his duties. A subtle difference, perhaps, but a difference nonetheless. Killing isn’t Bond’s primary role. In any case, we're told in Goldfinger that Bond doesn't like killing people, but when he has to do it, he does so out of duty and his sense of professionalism. Not quite the ideal candidate for the role of assassin. At M’s briefings, Bond isn’t given a photograph of a target and told to kill him or her. True, in the short story, ‘For Your Eyes Only’, M sends Bond effectively on a private mission to kill the killers of the Havelocks, friends of M. This is a difficult decision for M, and he doesn’t like making it, which underlines the rarity of such an order. It’s a little disturbing, then, returning to Forever and a Day, M appears to have few scruples when he sanctions a kill at the end of the book (the denouement is terrific, incidentally).

I won’t say much about how Bond discovers Morland cigarettes or martinis shaken, not stirred, but I’m not entirely convinced by the explanations, and would have preferred these to have already been established. After all, the debate about whether martinis should be shaken, not stirred is one that has been raging at least since 1948. It's more plausible that Bond would have been aware of the debate and formed an opinion of his own.

I love the descriptions of the food in the novel. Anthony Horowitz strikes the perfect balance. Readers expect Bond to consume copious amounts of eggs, among other things, but it can be overdone, pushing the descriptions into pastiche. Horowitz, however, has got it right. That said, I would question the unsalted butter, and where was the bouillabaisse, the regional speciality mentioned in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service?

But I’m being pedantic. Forever and a Day is a wonderful Bond novel and, along with its predecessor, Trigger Mortis, the closest thing we have to a new Ian Fleming book. With three more Fleming treatments left, I really hope Anthony Horowitz is asked to pick up his fountain pen again and go for the hat-trick. Where else can Bond go? My suggestion, for what it’s worth, is to look at the allusions to adventures in the novels that have never been expanded – the missions between the missions. Or how about a war-time adventure? Anthony, over to you!

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Babchenko plot - a case of events imitating Bond film?

In dramatic style, the assassination of Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko was revealed to have been staged by the Ukrainian authorities (apparently with the involvement of the security services) when Mr Babchenko emerged live and well at a press conference the day after his death had been announced in the media. We heard that the plan was designed to foil a real attempt on his life by Russian agents.  

Reading about the events, I couldn’t help thinking about James Bond and wondering if life was imitating art. In the film of You Only Live Twice, the Secret Service pretends to kill Bond, whose ‘death’ is subsequently announced in the press, in order to trick his enemies into thinking that he’s dead. 

Then, in The Living Daylights, James Bond stages the fake death of KGB spy chief General Pushkin, shooting him with blanks in an auditorium. The plan is to make Brad Whitaker and General Koskov think Pushkin dead and allow Bond to get to the bottom of their plot. And, in apparently shooting him, Bond also saves Pushkin’s life, as Pushkin was about to be killed by henchman Necros.

As soon as I heard the news about Mr Babchenko, I tweeted a couple of images from The Living Daylights to make the connection between the events and Bond, and judging by the newspaper headlines the next day, the UK press also made the link. 

The story was front-page news in The Sun, which featured the headline, ‘You Only Live Twice’. The Daily Star used the same headline on its front-page, and in a short column beside the headline, described the events as ‘Bond-style’. There was a second Bond-inspired headline was inside the paper: ‘I think I’ll die another day’. The words ‘You only live twice’ appeared inside the Daily Mail. These Bond-related headlines and descriptions appealed to the BBC News website, which highlighted them in its daily newspaper roundup.



The Bond films are of course fantastic in more ways than one, but events like the fake assassination in Ukraine suggest that the plots aren’t necessarily so far-fetched (or else the films have inspired real-life intelligence agencies). The headlines demonstrate that Bond-film titles – memes that can used without reference to Bond – continue to inspire newspaper editors.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Bond at Bletchley Park - a report

Inside Hut 12 at Bletchley Park
I was lucky enough to have been at Bletchley Park yesterday to attend a special press view of the new exhibition of artwork inspired by the James Bond novels: 'Bond at Bletchley Park: Illustrations and Inspirations'. The exhibition, which also explores Ian Fleming's connection to the World War Two codebreaking centre, was opened by Anthony Horowitz, who spoke about his introduction to James Bond, his interest in the wartime work at Bletchley, and his latest Bond novel, Forever and a Day

Click here to read my report on the event on the James Bond Dossier website.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Does James Bond eat Jell-O? Historical menu collection provides food for thought

Can the James Bond novels be used as historical documents, a reliable source of information on people, places, and events? Almost certainly, given Ian Fleming’s journalistic background and his determination to get factual details right. Take the food represented in the novels as an example. I was recently alerted to the existence of ‘What’s on the Menu’, an online collection of historical menus, largely of American restaurants, hosted by the New York Public Library (NYPL). One can search by restaurant, meal or food type, and decade or year, and even download the entire dataset. Browsing through the vast collection, it’s clear that the meals Bond eats or considers during his American adventures accurately reflect what was served and consumed at the time.
 
Cover of 1958 menu from Voisin. Image: NYPL 'What's on the Menu' collection

For instance, in Diamonds are Forever (1956), we read that Bond has a meal of two vodka martinis, Oeufs Benedict and strawberries at Voisin’s in New York. One of the menus available in the NYPL collection is a lunchtime menu from Voisin’s (closed Mondays) dating to 1958. The menu doesn’t offer eggs Benedict as such, but it does list Oeuf Poché à la Reine (priced at $2.50). Berries in season with cream (presumably including strawberries if available) are also listed and would have cost Bond $1.75. The menu doesn’t show drinks, but a martini from the Hotel Astor (where Bond stays in Diamonds are Forever) cost 90 cents. 

I’ve tended to think of Bond’s choice of camembert, which Bond orders on the train to Jacksonville in Live and Let Die (1954), as being somewhat incongruous. However, browsing through contemporary menus, it’s clear that the cheese was a standard option in American restaurants. Bond regards domestic camembert as ‘one of the most welcome surprises on American menus.’ It was a surprise to me too: from low-price diners to fancy restaurants, it seems that there aren’t many restaurants where it wasn’t available. 

Another curiosity for me is the fact that the only meals for which prices are given in the Bond books are chicken dinners. At Sugar Ray’s in New York in Live and Let Die, Bond notes that the special fried chicken dinner cost $3.75. In an eatery near his hotel in Saratoga Springs in Diamonds are Forever, Bond orders a chicken dinner for $2.80. Looking through the menus, the prices are pretty accurate, although Sugar Ray’s appears to be on the pricier side. Perhaps its special was something very special.  

For contemporary British readers, a chicken dinner would have conjured up images of roast chicken served with roast potatoes, stuffing and vegetables and smothered in gravy, and was what people could win at village fetes and association raffles. Something approaching an English-style roast dinner was of course available in America. A menu dated to 1958 from Chickland, a chicken restaurant based in Massachusetts, lists among its many items a ‘roast turkey dinner’, comprising turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables and gravy. But, as we know from Sugar Ray’s, a chicken dinner could also involve fried chicken. Chickland naturally also served several fried chicken specials, such as the ‘General Lee Special’, comprising southern fried chicken, French fired potatoes and, to follow, ice-cream and coffee, all for $2.50. The celebrated Knotts Berry Farm restaurant in California offered a fried chicken dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy, as well as a pudding and drink, for $2.25 in 1956 [menu not in the collection].
 
Cover of 1958 menu from Chickland restaurant. Image: NYPL 'What's on the Menu' collection

Interestingly, Bond declines another opportunity to have fried chicken. He rejects the chicken ‘French fried to a golden brown, served disjointed’, listed on the menu on the train to Jacksonville, as ‘eyewash’.

Puddings served with chicken dinners, incidentally, could include fruit pie, ice-cream, a hot biscuit or Jell-O. I wonder which one Bond had with his chicken dinner in Saratoga Springs. (My bet’s on ice-cream.)   

The NYPL’s ‘What’s on the Menu’ collection is a treasure trove of information on dining and food culture mainly in the US from the 19th century to the present day. For the Bond aficionado, the resource provides useful background and context to Bond’s American adventures. The collection isn’t comprehensive; so far, the collection does not include many restaurants and hotels that Bond frequents and even fewer menus from those establishments that date to the year of publication. However, there is more than enough information from contemporaneous menus to show that Bond’s food choices (probably based on Fleming’s own experiences) accurately reflect the cultural environment around him. Time to go back to the online resource for a second helping!

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Casino Royale's lookalikes

I’m enjoying Dynamite’s version of Casino Royale, adapted from Ian Fleming’s novel by Van Jensen and Dennis Calero. The story is, of course, familiar, but so too are some of the faces. As Bond aficionado Mark Ashby pointed out in a Facebook post, Felix Leiter appears to be based on Jack Lord, the actor who played Leiter in Dr No, as this image demonstrates:

Jack Lord                        Felix Leiter

The artist seems to have used other well-known faces as reference material, especially for some of the minor characters, and so, in the spirit of a running feature in the satirical magazine, Private Eye, here are some of the other Bondian ‘lookalikes’ that I’ve spotted.

James Bond’s opponents on the Baccarat table include a star of the silver screen and acquaintances from his cinematic adventures. Appropriately enough, Carmel Delane, an American film star, seems to be modelled on Grace Kelly.

Grace Kelly                  Carmel Delane

Monsieur Sixte, the wealthy Belgian, has more than a passing resemblance to Kristatos, as played by Julian Glover in For Your Eyes Only.
 
Kristatos                     Monsieur Sixte
Meanwhile, the Greek, owner of a profitable shipping line, has a similarity to Columbo, as played by Topol in the same film.

 
Columbo                   The Greek

John Cleese has already appeared in two Bond films, and here he makes his debut in the artwork of Casino Royale, this time as the croupier.
 
John Cleese                   The Croupier

Finally, as Ian Fleming’s first Bond heroine, it is fitting that Vesper Lynd has some of the appearance of the most significant woman in Fleming’s life, Ann Fleming. Vesper’s facial features are a little different, but the hairstyle is a very close match.
 
Ann Fleming                Vesper Lynd

The appearance of famous faces in Casino Royale, presumably intended as Easter eggs for the reader, provides added excitement to what is a thrilling read. Does that mean that we can call Grace Kelly a Bond girl?

Sunday, 6 May 2018

On location: James Bond's New York

A recent trip to New York to speak at a conference at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World gave me the chance to look up a few of the locations mentioned in Live and Let Die, Diamonds are Forever and ‘007 in New York’ and experience something of James Bond’s adventures in the city.

Arriving into JFK (formerly Idlewild), I didn’t quite get the red-carpet treatment that Bond received (LALD, chapter 1), but I beat the worst of the queues and got through passport control in less than half an hour. I had been a bit worried, because I reached the passport control booth without having filled out the customs declaration form (I had no pen), but the passport control officer kindly lent me a pen so that I could fill in the form then and there (I was afraid he would send me to the back of the by now very long line), which I reckon is as red a carpet as one is likely to get these days.  

I jumped into a taxi and headed towards downtown Manhattan via the Van Wyck Expressway and the Triborough Bridge, following Bond’s routes into the city in Live and Let Die and ‘007 in New York’. Alas, staying at the St Regis was out of the question, but my first New York breakfast – in a diner on Broadway – was inspired by Bond’s breakfast in that hotel. I ordered coffee, orange juice, scrambled eggs, bacon, and rye toast, and had to make do with grape jelly, rather than marmalade. The eggs and bacon, incidentally, arrived with fried potatoes, which I hadn’t ordered, but seem to come as standard. My eggs Benedict that I had the next morning were also served with fried potatoes.
 
Scrambled eggs and bacon, US style
Conference business didn’t give me a lot of time for sightseeing, but I took the opportunity of a few spare hours in the morning of my second day in New York to find 33 East 65th Street, located in the city’s Upper East Side just off Madison Avenue; the ground floor and adjoining garage doubled for the Oh Cult Voodoo Shop in the film of Live and Let Die.


Oh Cult Voodoo Shop

With conference proceedings over by my third and final day in New York, I was at last able to do some proper exploring. Armed with copies of the relevant novels and a print-out of a map of Bond locations created by Bond Maps (if you haven’t already done so, I urge you to check out Matt Bunnell’s excellent Google map and blog), I rode the Subway to Times Square-42nd Street and began my walking tour. 

I couldn’t see everything, but I visited the principal sites. Sardi’s, the restaurant in which Felix Leiter introduces Bond to Brizzola in in Diamonds are Forever (chapter 8), is still there on West 44th Street in the heart of New York’s theatre district, but unfortunately, Brizzola is no longer on the menu.
 
Sardi's

The restaurant is famous for its caricatures of its famous patrons, and I could see that James Bond had actually visited – a portrait of Daniel Craig was hanging in the window.
  
Daniel Craig in the window of Sardi's

A few steps away, on West 45th Street, is the site of the Hotel Astor, where Bond stays in Diamonds are Forever and ‘007 in New York’. The hotel is no longer there – the site is now taken up by One Astor Plaza – but the Marriot Marquis hotel next door provides an alternative place to stay. I walked along to 6th Avenue and headed to the site of House of Diamonds on West 46th Street. The area remains an important diamond centre, and diamond stores line this and neighbouring streets.

I walked up 5th Avenue (just as Bond does in Live and Let Die), and turned into West 52nd Street and found 21 Club, the bar and restaurant where Bond and Tiffany Case dine in Diamonds are Forever and where Bond considers having lunch in ‘007 in New York’. The restaurant, nestled somewhat incongruously between modern office blocks, was closed for refurbishment, so unfortunately, I couldn’t follow Bond and indulge in a martini or stinger.
 
21 Club

My next stop was the St Regis on East 55th Street, Bond’s hotel in Live and Let Die. The hotel’s King Cole Bar, is curiously not mentioned in the book, but was a favourite haunt of Ian Fleming’s. Opposite the hotel, I spotted another place with a Bondian connection – a branch of Crockett & Jones, bootmaker to James Bond in the film Spectre.
  
The St Regis hotel

I saved the best till last for my final stop – the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal. In ‘007 in New York’, James Bond considers the restaurant’s oyster stew (with crackers and Miller High Life beer) to be the best meal in New York, echoing Fleming’s own view, expressed in Thrilling Cities, that oyster stew is perhaps the only dish ‘that has maintained its integrity in the New York’ of his experience.

The Oyster Bar, Grand Central Terminal. (The youth in the corner hasn't been a naughty boy, but is listening to the station's famous whispering walls.)

Naturally, I ordered the dish, and I wouldn’t disagree that it is superb. (A recipe for oyster stew inspired by the Oyster Bar version can be found in my James Bond cookbook, Licence to Cook.) Miller High Life is no longer available in the restaurant, so I had a Brooklyn beer, which is more like an English ale, instead.
 
Oyster stew from the Oyster Bar

I was pleased to see a little nod to James Bond in the oyster bar – the Vesper martini was on the menu.
The Oyster Bar's Vesper

Then it was straight into a taxi and back to the airport. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in New York, and I would like to go back. My Bond sightseeing was a whistle-stop tour, and there is plenty more to see. Still, it was thrilling to see just some of the Bond locations, and the visit has helped me to picture the scenes in the books much more clearly.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Who did Number 2 work for before SPECTRE?

Anyone who’s read Thunderball or seen the film will be familiar with how SPECTRE conducts itself at meetings. Members of the criminal organisation are identified by number (in the novel, numbers are changed monthly, Blofeld being Number 2 during the events of the novel; this contrasts with the film, in which Blofeld, as chairman, is always Number 1) and quizzed about their criminal fund-raising activities before getting down to the main item on the agenda, in this case the theft of two atomic bombs. This set-up has been imitated and parodied since – Austin Powers hit the mark pretty accurately – but apparently SPECTRE wasn’t the first criminal organisation to adopt this model.
 
Cover of the first edition, published by The Bodley Head (artwork by Ernest Akers)
Agatha Christie’s The Secret Adversary, published in 1922, features the pair of amateur sleuths, Tommy and Tuppence. In the novel, they’re on the search for a young woman, who’s gone missing after taking possession of a packet of secret documents, the contents of which would be dangerous in the wrong hands. 


The adventurous pair soon run up against members of a secret organisation who have a nefarious interest in the documents. At one point, Tommy follows one of the criminal agents to a house that transpires to be organisation’s headquarters, and finds himself eavesdropping on a meeting of the agent’s fellow members, an international cast of criminals that includes a Russian, an Irishman and a German. 

Hidden away, Tommy notices the arrival of another individual, who is allowed to enter the meeting room when he reveals his identity – Number 14 – to the doorman. Someone else arrives, gives his number, and gains access. Within the room, and at the head of the table, is Number 1, who, like Largo in the novel of Thunderball, is not himself the head of the organisation (who is known mysteriously as Mr Brown). 

Once everyone is assembled, they get down to business. One of the members requests more money from the organisation to pursue his part in the grand scheme. They read reports from various unions, which they have been infiltrating in order to spread discord and lay the foundations of revolution, which will be achieved with the release of the information contained in the missing documents. They agree that a certain union member, who might be a fly in the ointment, ‘must go’, and they discuss how they could induce the young woman to reveal the whereabouts of the package (‘In Russia we have ways of making a girl talk’).

Reading this, naturally I was reminded of Thunderball, and certainly there are similarities between the organisations in Ian Fleming’s and Agatha Christie’s novels: the use of numbers, the discipline, the international membership, the involvement of the unions, the threat of violence, and the business-like manner of planning world chaos. 

It seems that even in criminal organisations, there’s a standard way of doing things. Now there’s a thought – did Mr Brown and Blofeld attend the same evil business school?

Saturday, 21 April 2018

James Bond volcano erupts

The stack of rock that featured in The Man With The Golden Gun has long been known as James Bond Island, and it seems as if another natural feature is swiftly gaining a similar name, at least unofficially.
 
The crater of Mount Shinmoedake. Photo: Motamota [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
The eruption of the Mount Shinmoedake volcano in Japan in March captured the attention of the world’s press. The sight was spectacular, of course, and it was the first time the volcano had erupted for seven years, but the event was also notable because the volcano doubled as the exterior view of Blofeld’s subterranean lair in You Only Live Twice (1967). Activity has continued, and this week the eruption has again featured in the press and other media outlets. 


Many of the articles published since last month have mentioned the volcano’s connection to James Bond, and inevitably the words ‘James Bond volcano’ have been used. ABC News had the headline, ‘Lightning seen over Japan's so-called James Bond volcano’. Jakarta Post ran with a story with the headline, ‘”James Bond” volcano erupts in Japan, no-go warning issued’. BBC News headlined its story with ‘Mount Shinmoedake: Warning over Japan's James Bond volcano’. The headline on the Forbes website was ‘Japan's 'James Bond' volcano erupts in a spectacular display of fire and smoke’. The Telegraph simply wrote: ‘Shinmoedake, Japan's 'James Bond volcano' erupts.’ Yahoo News reported that ‘Smoke Billows from Japan's 'James Bond' volcano’. The Sun didn’t use the phrase, ‘James Bond volcano’ in its headline, but still referenced James Bond: ‘Japanese volcano used in classic 007 movie starring Sean Connery erupts.’

While Mount Shinmoedake is unlikely to be renamed officially, the references to the James Bond volcano show that You Only Live Twice and SPECTRE’s secret base continue to have a significant place in the cultural environment across the world.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Bond memes in Action Team

Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so too does the cultural environment abhor the absence of a Bond film. In the two-and-a-bit years since Spectre, we have been treated to various Bond-like or Bond-inspired secret agents on both the big and small screen. Recently, for instance, there has been Kingsman: The Golden Circle and Atomic Blonde, and trailers for Johnny English Strikes Again and The Spy Who Dumped Me are currently doing the rounds. I’ve also been enjoying Action Team, a six-part comedy written by Tom Davis, James De Frond and Nico Tatarowicz, that’s just finished its run on ITV2.
 
Action Team, in action

Action Team follows a unit of MI6 comprising leader Logan Mann, sniper Graham Hooper, Monica Lang, who has a particular set of skills, and a kid on work experience called Huxley. The team is up against a Russian evil mastermind, Vladimir Schevchenko, who heads a criminal organisation called Abacus, and is overseen by the head of operations, Ruth Brooks. There is also the necessary assortment of henchmen and fellow MI6 officers who are not quite what they seem. 

The series parodies tropes from the world of screen spies – the unit of Action Team perhaps owes more to Mission: Impossible than Bond – but James Bond is the key reference. Logan Mann (played by Tom Davis), clearly the Bond figure, is dynamic, in control, suave and knowledgeable (or he thinks he is) and arrives at any situation armed with a gun and a quip. There are gadgets (though no Q-like character), big, gratuitious explosions, car chases, Mann on top of a moving train, femme fatales, and globe-trotting adventure. Then there’s the inside of the MI6 building, which looks much like the inside of headquarters as portrayed in Skyfall and Spectre – open plan with arrays of computers and screens – and a freestanding glass prison cell, the sort that held Silva in Skyfall, for captured enemy agents.

As for the villains, Vladimir Schevchenko (also played by Tom Davis) looks like the lovechild of Dr Evil and a Russian Hell’s Angel. He is, as usual for spy villains, capricious, childlike (in that he likes toys and throws tantrums) and psychopathic. In one scene, and in the best Spectre tradition, Schevchenko leads a meeting of his criminal partners. One of his Abacus agents, who, appropriately for a No. 2, wears an eyepatch, wants to walk away, having fallen in love. Schenchenko appears to allow him to leave with good grace, then shoots him in the back. The whole sequence reminded me of the meetings in Goldfinger’s rumpus room and Zorin’s blimp, where those who wish to pull out of the evil scheme come to a sticky end. Schevchenko knows the evil lingo, too, at one point practising the phrase, ‘I’ve been expecting you, Mr Mann’.

The music accompanying the series has familiar Bondian notes, and the music that plays over the end credits has the distinct ring of the Skyfall theme song. 

The series is funny and crude, rather like a British, live action Archer. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. Time for another series before Bond 25 hits the screen?

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

On literary location: Salcombe, Devon

The beginning of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service finds James Bond on the beach at Royale-les-Eaux reminiscing about his childhood holidays at the seaside – the hot powder sand, the grit of wet sand between the toes, the collection of seashells and ‘wrack’, the small crabs scuttling out of the way of fingers groping in rockpools, the endless swimming and sunshine, the bucket and spade, the Cadbury chocolate Flake and fizzy lemonade.

North Sands, Salcombe

Biographer Andrew Lycett reveals that Ian Fleming was describing Salcombe in Devon, where he had spent three summers in a row as a young child, holidaying with his brothers, his mother, Eve, and Primrose and Dido Harley, the daughters of a friend of Eve’s.

A holiday in south Devon this Easter gave me the opportunity to visit this literary location for myself. Salcombe is a picturesque fishing town on the mouth of the Kingsbridge estuary on the south-west coast. The town is characterised by narrow, hilly streets of brightly painted Victorian houses and tourist shops that look out to the boats moored in the harbour. Art galleries and high-street fashion boutiques compete with fish and chip restaurants, ice-cream parlours, and shops selling the accoutrements of a fun day at the beach.

A view of Salcombe towards the harbour

Salcombe has several beaches, which are situated on the east and west sides of the estuary. I happened to visit North Sands, which is to the south of the town on the west side of the harbour. This is a popular beach, and I expect Ian Fleming and his family sought something more secluded. There was something familiar, though, about the steep, zigzag road down to the beach. It reminded me of the equally steep road that zigzags to the beach at St Margaret’s Bay near Dover, where in later life Ian Fleming had a home. I wondered whether the similarity struck Fleming as well. Possibly the reminder of his childhood holidays added to the attraction of St Margaret’s Bay. 

One of the many rockpools

Whether or not the young Ian ever frequented North Sands, the beach (no doubt along with others) matches the description in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, with its soft sand, seaweed-fringed rockpools, and fine swimming. And yes, I did have a chocolate Flake and fizzy lemonade.
 
A Flake and (rather posh) fizzy lemonade
There was one other piece of Bondiana in Salcombe. I noticed a card for a local taxi firm in the parish council noticeboard. The name of the firm was Moonraker Taxis. Of course, the firm was named after the type of sail, rather than the novel or film, but I don’t suppose the association of the name with James Bond does any harm to the bookings.

 
Moonraker taxis

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

James Bond and the Cresta Run

The skeleton event at the recent Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang represented a notable British success, with medal wins for Lizzy Yarnold, Laura Deas and Dom Parsons. In an article in The Times, Matt Dickinson considers the background to that success, reminding readers that the sport was invented by British winter sports enthusiasts (or, as Matt Dickinson puts it, madcap aristocrats). The Cresta Run, the famous ice track in St Moritz devoted to the skeleton, was built in 1884 by the St Moritz Tobogganing Club. The 1928 and 1948 Olympics saw medal successes in the skeleton on the Cresta for the British team before the event was removed from the Olympic programme.
 
The Cresta Run. Photo: Christophe95 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This history is reflected in the novel of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963). In chapter 11 ('Death for Breakfast'), while at Piz Gloria, Bond is woken by a scream of a SPECTRE agent, Bertil, who had been pushed down the bob-run in punishment for forcing himself on Sarah, one of the ‘patients’ of Blofeld’s clinic. 

Bond considers the scene of Bertil’s uncontrolled descent along the icy track. Bond had himself experienced something of the terror of the bob-run, having once tried the Cresta Run from ‘top’. Even helmeted and padded up, the run had been for Bond ‘sixty seconds of naked fear’.

Later, Bond sees for himself the scene of death at the Gloria Express bob-run. A map of the course points out the curves and the hazards, which Bond notes are labelled in English, among them Dead Man’s Leap, Whizz-Bang Straight, and Hell’s Delight, ‘in deference to the English traditions at the sport’. At the book’s thrilling climax, Bond would take a skeleton down the Gloria Express in pursuit of Blofeld. 

The references to the skeleton in the novel are minor, but they nevertheless fit with the development of the sport. They also place an element of Bond’s background in the context of the English ‘madcap aristocrats’ and adventurers, or perhaps ‘the British military’, which Matt Dickinson notes was largely responsible for keeping the sport going after it ceased to be an Olympic event.

Monday, 19 March 2018

The return of SMERSH?

It’s well known that when Ian Fleming made SMERSH the arch-enemy of the British Secret Service in the James Bond books, beginning with Casino Royale in 1953, the Soviet Union’s counter-intelligence organisation had been disbanded for over ten years. As a literary device, though, the conceit was a good one, and it also proved attractive to EON, who alluded to the organisation in The Living Daylights (1987) in the form of a plot code-named Smiert Spionam (‘Death to spies’), the phrase that gave SMERSH its name and its motto.
 
Smiert Spionam - a scene from The Living Daylights (1987)

To most people, SMERSH exists firmly in the realms of fiction and is as real as SPECTRE, the criminal organisation that replaced it as Bond’s nemesis. However, recent events in Salisbury – the poisoning of the former Russian double agent, Colonel Sergei Skripal – has reminded journalists and commentators about SMERSH, its activities, and its connection with James Bond.

In an article for The Guardian, Jamie Doward, Marc Bennetts and Kevin Rawlinson write of the implicit threat that Skripal is likely to have faced since coming to Britain in 2010 after being released from prison in Russia as part of a major spy swap. “Many in the FSB [the successor to the KGB] are fond of quoting the motto of SMERSH, Stalin’s counter-intelligence unit: ‘Death to spies.’” 

Owen Matthews, writing in Newsweek, similarly writes about the sense of betrayal that Russian agents are likely to have felt: “As a convicted double agent, [Skripal] certainly betrayed the Russian secret world’s honour code of ‘death to spies’ – the actual name of the Soviet wartime counterintelligence service, SMERSH.” (I'm reminded of Gogol's words to Max Zorin in A View To A Kill: "No one ever leaves the KGB".)

Writing for The Conversation website about the history of state-sanctioned assassination, historian Dan Lomas places SMERSH as one of a number of Russian security agencies, from the Soviet Cheka to the current SVR, that have resorted to targeted killings, particularly those regarded as traitors.

In an article in the Daily Record, Torcuil Crichton writes of the message that the poisoning was designed to deliver – that “Britain is a dangerous place for enemies of the Russian state,” and reminds readers that ‘death to spies’ is the phrase associated with SMERSH.

The Bond connection is recalled by Eric S Margolis, writing a piece published in various media outlets, including Malaysia's Sun Daily and Germany's Contra magazine. He describes ‘Death to spies’ as the special unit formed to liquidate traitors and turncoats, adding that “readers of James Bond books will recognise SMERSH.” 

James Bond is also mentioned in an article on the Skripal case published in Paris Match. “The years pass, the style remains,” Pauline Lallement writes. “SMERSH, the sworn enemy of James Bond, can still be recognised.” The article concludes with the words, “Bons baisers de Russie”, the French title of From Russia, With Love. 

Benoît Rayski’s piece in the French-language news website, Atlantico, reinforces the Bond connection with a photo of Sean Connery as Bond (of Never Say Never Again vintage). He writes, “Forty years ago [sic] in a series of famous films, James Bond faced agents of SMERSH, the armed wing of Moscow. It was at the time of the cold war. Today we are witnessing a fairly successful remake. Out of necessity for a happy ending, 007 always won. But this time?"

The events in Salisbury has brought an organisation that has long been consigned to history and is largely known outside Russia through the Bond books back to global attention. In the note prefacing From Russia, With Love (1957), Ian Fleming wrote: “SMERSH, a contraction of Smiert Spionam – Death to Spies – exists and remains today the most secret department of the soviet government.” Perhaps Fleming’s words weren’t so far from the truth after all.