Sunday 31 July 2011

The first Bond girl

Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine, claims that Ian Fleming's heroines were inspired by Playboy bunnies. The magazine was first published in 1953, the same year as the publication of the first James Bond novel, Casino Royale. Hefner suggests that Fleming read the magazine, and was inevitably influenced by the women who featured in it. The claim is arguable to say the least, but might Hefner be right in another way? Did Playboy coin the phrase, 'Bond girl'? And once established, how did the phrase become so successful that it forms part of the title of at least three books and many articles and academic papers?

The relatively slow take-up of Bond novels in the United States (sales of the books didn't significantly increase until 1961, when John F Kennedy included From Russia, with Love in his top ten books) meant that Playboy discovered James Bond relatively late, and not until the film series had been well established. The first issue to feature James Bond was that for November 1965, which included the article, 'James Bond's girls'. This showed actresses from the first four Bond films in recreations of some of their scenes, though wearing little of their original costumes.

Although the phrase 'James Bond's girls' groups all the actresses together, it is unlikely that the shorter and more succinct 'Bond girls' phrase evolved from it. In fact, the term, 'Bond girls' was used before then. One of the earliest accounts of the Bond phenomenon was O F Snelling's 007 James Bond: a report, first published in 1964. The term appears in the book, but is used sparingly. For example, Snelling suggests that Patricia Fearing, on the staff at Shrublands health farm in Thunderball, is a rather unusual Bond girl for remaining decently clothed (Snelling 1965, 105). A year later, Kingsley Amis, in The James Bond dossier (1965), used 'Bond-girl' (without definite or indefinite article) as a label for an archetype of a component of the Bond novel. It is unlikely that Amis had been influenced by Snelling's use of the phrase. The meaning of Amis' phrase is in contrast to the 'Bond girl' used by Snelling and of later popularity, which is meant as a general description for the actresses who featured in the Bond films.

In any case, the phrase has an earlier origin, as a search through the archives of the Daily Express reveals. The first use of the term in that paper dates to 1st February 1963. A story, headlined 'Perfect Bond girl' was about one Joanna Hare, a daughter of Labour minister John Hare, and undergraduate at Oxford University. She'd been identified by Oxford University's James Bond Club as the university's answer to the type of women James Bond meets.

The term was used in the paper subsequently, but for most of its early use it was confined to headlines and captions. It also had to compete with the alternative 'Bond's girl'. For example, an article published in March 1963 about Daniela Bianchi, who had just secured the role of Tatiana in From Russia With Love, is headlined, 'Colonel's daughter puts 199 in the shade as... Bond's girl'. An article dated from February 1965 carries the headline, 'Looking for Bond's girl: Now – the final gorgeous line-up'. In September 1965, a caption accompanying a photo of Shirley Maclaine introduced her as 'The new Bond girl' (for the spoof Casino Royale).

Curiously, 'Bond girl' was used rarely in the main text of these and other articles; instead, the description 'James Bond's girlfriend' was preferred. Indeed, 'Bond girl' was still largely reserved for captions and headlines until the mid 70s. A caption in a piece published in February 1973 invited readers to 'Meet a Bond girl from the film Live and Let Die'. However, in September 1974, the main text of an article referred to 'the former Bond girl' Jenny Hanley, and Barbara Bach, in piece from January 1977, was described as 'just what a Bond girl should be'. The phrase 'James Bond's girlfriend' continued to be used (for instance in an article about Jane Seymour from October 1976), though it was gradually disappearing.

Still, the 'Bond girl' phrase took a while to escape the confines of the media. It appears just once in The James Bond films (1981), by Steven Jay Rubin, and then as a caption requiring the same sort of conciseness which newspaper headline writers needed. It appeared in the main text of Raymond Benson's James Bond's bedside companion, first published in 1984 – we read that Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach) 'serves not only as the Bond-girl in the film, but also as the ally' (Benson 1988, 220) – but the term competed with 'Bond heroine'. However, by 1987, 'Bond girl' was dominant. Peter Haining (1987) included a chapter on 'The Bond Girls' in his book, James Bond: a celebration, and Sally Hibbin (1987) had the standard heading, 'The Bond girl' for each film she described in The official 007 movie book.

That dominance has continued. At least three books have incorporated the phrase in their titles (Graham Rye's The James Bond girls (1989), Maryam d'Abo and John Cork's Bond girls are forever (2003), and Alistair Dougall's Bond girls (2010)). And few academic papers on the women of Bond's world leave out a reference to 'Bond girls'.

In this short review, we have identified three phases of use for the term 'Bond girl'. It emerged in 1963 (at least in the Daily Express) as convenient shorthand for newspaper headline and caption writers, but was not regarded as a term that was deemed appropriate for the main text of the reports. This changed in the 1970s, when it graduated as a proper term to the main text. It was still very much a newspaper term, though, and this continued until well into the 1980s. Only then had it become sufficiently well established in popular culture for it to appear in more serious and academic treatments of the James Bond phenomenon (its use by Amis and Snelling in 1964/5 appearing to not to be very influential).

Monday 25 July 2011

Some James Bond parodies

During my time as a student at UCL, one of my lecturers wrote and produced a short comic play every Christmas. I had minor roles in two of them, the Prisoner of Zenda and Dracula. I preferred to write, though, and in 1995, after the release of GoldenEye, I wrote a James Bond pastiche, called Goldenthigh. The play was not performed in the end, but I was rather proud of my effort. James Bond investigates the loss of top secret documents within secret service headquarters and tracks down a double agent. His only clue: the traitor has a peculiar birthmark, a golden thigh. Being a comedy, the piece featured an elderly James Bond, an ever-irascible M, an exasperated Q, who gives Bond just a simple pen with which to write his reports, and a Miss Moneypenny, who still adores Bond, but also yearns for adventure herself.

Both the James Bond books and films provide material ripe for pastiche. The earliest parodies were in response to the success of the film version of Dr No, released in 1962, although they also drew on aspects of the novels. The same year saw, for example, the publication of Harvard Lampoon's Alligator. In it, J*mes B*nd pursues the eponymous villain, who steals the Houses of Parliament and floats them down the Thames. Another early parody was Sol Weinstein's Loxfinger. Published in 1965, the book was the first adventure to feature the Jewish secret agent, Oy-Oy-7.

'Bond Strikes Camp', written in 1962 by Cyril Connolly, was a more literary effort, and if we remove the camp plot – M persuades Bond to dress in drag in order to effect a honey trap, but actually takes the role of the target so that he can be picked up by Bond – we are left with a fair facsimile of Fleming's style. Connolly parodies the personal aspects of the relationship between M and Bond that Fleming describes in Moonraker, the short story 'For Your Eyes Only', and others, and, in what would become a staple of any spoof, has Bond visit the Armourer (the story pre-dates Q).

Starting with the Harvard Lampoon, humorous and satirical magazines have long been the vehicle for Bond parodies. For example, Alan Coren wrote one for Punch. 'Doctor No will see you now' imagined Bond as a pensioner, who wore bi-focals and dentures (made bespoke by Charles Fillibee of Albemarle Street), had arthritis (requiring a specially-adapted trigger guard to be fitted to his Walther PPK), and a fading memory (he carries a slip of paper with his code number written down at all times). Hardly the Bond of the films and novels, but a very funny caricature nonetheless.

Other parodies have appeared in newspapers usually in response to a new film, book, or Bond actor. When Daniel Craig was revealed as the new James Bond, he was reported as saying that Casino Royale would feature an updated Bond. The Sunday Times wondered what an updated Bond would look like ('For you Mr Bond, it's PC Galore'). He'd need to attend gender equality awareness training, fill in a health and safety questionnaire, participate in a seminar on diversity in the workplace, and brief the outreach officer about a series of school visits.

No review of parodies would be complete without mention of Sebastian Faulks' effort. No, not that one; I'm referring of course to his earlier effort, 'Ian Fleming thinks that even James Bond goes shopping', which was published in his collection of pastiches, amusingly called Pistache (2006). Faulks takes Bond to the supermarket, where Bond silences an employee who tells him not to smoke, and prepares to kill a shelf-stacker who recommends the wrong wine. Like Cyril Connolly's piece, Faulks hints at the style of Fleming, and exaggerated it, but unlike Connolly, his Bond, with his faultless knowledge of wine and arched eyebrow, parodies the Bond of the films.

From this short examination of Bond parodies, we can recognise a few common aspects, such as M's testy interview with Bond, a visit to Q, Bond's experience of growing old and unfamiliarity in everyday situations. While the books and films continue to provide riches source material, the real and contemporaneous world intrudes. In 'Bond Strikes Camp', allusion was made to the traitor Guy Burgess. In the Sunday Times parody, the joke was also on the Press's preoccupation with 'political correctness gone mad'. Each parody is very much of its time.

Monday 18 July 2011

Bondscapes: setting the scene for James Bond

In June 2011, the Bilderberg Group, a conference of up to 150 of the world's leading politicians and business people, met at the ski resort of St Moritz, Switzerland. An article on the BBC news website suggested that the meeting was 'in the manner of a James Bond plot'. There seem to be two aspects or memes alluded to here. Firstly, in the secretive nature of the meeting, comprising delegates with the power to influence events on a global scale, there is something a little SPECTRE-like about it. We almost expect the conference to be chaired by Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Second, the location is straight out of a Bond film. There are some landscapes that are so strongly linked with Bond that the producers of the films return to them often, and audiences recognise them as part of the Bondian universe. Snow is one of these 'Bondscapes'; underwater is another.

A snow- (or ice-) covered landscape is used as a major location in seven films (On Her Majesty's Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only, A View to a Kill, The Living Daylights, The World is not Enough, and Day Another Day). The first film to show Bond on the slopes was On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). In the film, Bond pursues (and is pursued by) Blofeld, whose dastardly plot to spread disease through crops and livestock is masterminded in his Alpine laboratory. The film closely follows the novel, and it is evident that the snowy landscape derives from the pages of Ian Fleming.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service was Fleming’s only snow-set novel (although the short story 'Octopussy' takes the reader to the Austrian mountains), but Fleming knew his subject well. Fleming, aged 21, learnt to ski to competitive standard during a year in Kitzb├╝hel. He skied rarely in subsequent years, but summers were often spent walking in the Alps. He drew on his knowledge of the region to write On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and it is possible that he was also inspired by an Austrian-set spy novel, The Lifeline, written in 1946 by Phyllis Bottome. She had been Fleming's tutor in Kitzb├╝hel and had encouraged Fleming to write.

Underwater scenes are as important as snow scenes in the film series, finding a place in the plots of six films (Thunderball, The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only, A View to a Kill, Licence to Kill, and Tomorrow Never Dies). The first film to take Bond underwater was Thunderball, released in 1965, although there is a foretaste of the importance of the sea in Dr No (1962) with the eponymous villain’s submerged lair. As with the introduction of snow and skiing, the use of the seascape in Thunderball is direct from Fleming’s narrative.

The novel was not the first time that Bond had taken to the water. In Live and Let Die (1954), Bond swims underwater among the barracudas to reach Mr Big's hideout, and in the short story 'The Hildebrand Rarity', Bond snorkels in the waters off the Seychelles. The appearance of the sea reflects Fleming’s interests. He spent much of his time in Jamaica during the winter months exploring the waters around his home at Goldeneye, becoming something of an expert in sea life. He took part in a shark hunt, which he found immensely thrilling, and joined the underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau on a survey of the ocean floor.

We can see, then, how the snow-set and underwater scenes in the Bond films have a lineage that goes back to Ian Fleming's writing, and beyond to his experiences and interests. Each appearance of snow or water in a film increases the chance of these Bondscapes appearing again in a subsequent film, further strengthening their association with James Bond. And the producers of the films certainly know what makes those scenes so memorable: exciting ski chases, bizarre deaths, strange landscapes, sharks, and more sharks.

Lycett, A, 1995 Ian Fleming: The man behind James Bond, Turner Publishing

Sunday 10 July 2011

The evolution of Blofeld

I'm almost embarrassed to mention it, but the other day I watched an edition of Bargain Hunt, a popular antiques series produced by the BBC. Two teams are given an amount of money to scour an antiques market for bargain objects to be put into auction. The team that makes the largest profit, or smallest loss, is the winner. Each team is accompanied by an antiques expert. In the edition I watched, one expert was shown in his introduction holding a cuddly toy of a white cat, with the James Bond theme playing in the background. The allusion was clear. The expert was pretending to be Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

The cat is so strongly associated with Blofeld, that the character's other essential attributes – such as a bald head, a high-collared Nehru-type jacket, charm, and (whether actually said or not) a line in welcoming statements with a hint of menace ('Ah, Mr Bond, I've been expecting you') – are not required for an audience to understand the reference, although some of these traits on their own would be enough for character recognition. Blofeld appears as a fully-realised character in just three Bond films (You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and Diamonds are Forever). But despite last appearing in 1971 (not including the Blofeld-like figure in 1981's For Your Eyes Only), the character is deeply embedded in popular culture.

The cat and other attributes are elements of a very successful Blofeld meme. Regular showings of the Bond films, and references in films such as Austin Powers and now programmes like Bargain Hunt, have kept the meme in the public eye, allowing it to spread widely, and survive through the generations.

The origins of Blofeld as portrayed by Donald Pleasence in You Only Live Twice are found within the film series. The Blofeld of Ian Fleming's Thunderball (the character's first literary appearance) looks altogether different. Fleming's description of a big man with a crew cut contrasts with the small, bald man shown in the film. There is, however, one point of similarity. Both Blofelds wear beige suits, although the styles are different; the suit of Fleming's Blofeld is double-breasted.

Apart from retaining the white cat, the Blofeld of You Only Live Twice takes little from the partial appearances of the character in the films From Russia with Love and Thunderball. In both films, we see a business-like Blofeld, devoid of charm and humour, who wears a dark suit, black tie and white shirt. Instead, Donald Pleasence's portrayal owes more to Emilio Largo, (the main villain in Thunderball), Goldfinger, and Dr No. Indeed, Dr No, with his sophistication, grand delusional scheme, and Nehru-type jacket, is a good prototype for Blofeld. That Blofeld derives from Dr No is evident from the character of Dr Evil in the Austin Powers films. With a single character, Mike Myers was able to parody both.

Telly Savalas' Blofeld in On Her Majesty's Secret Service is a tougher character than Pleasence's version, and he has more charm and sophistication. However, the white cat, style of jacket, and bald head, is retained from You Only Live Twice. The jacket and cat make another appearance in Diamonds are Forever, but Charles Grey's Blofeld lacks the menace of Savalas' Blofeld, taking the character far into high camp.

Diamonds are Forever saw the last of Blofeld, but he lives on in subsequent villains, in particular Stromberg, Hugo Drax and Kamal Khan. All are urbane, witty and psychotic, and at some point of their screen time wear beige high-collared jackets very reminiscent of those of Blofeld. But all could in fact be considered variants of Dr No. The Blofeld meme is, rather, a James Bond villain meme that emerges with Dr No and is replicated, with variations, in many of the subsequent films. And the Blofeld variant is the most successful variant of all, being replicated more often, more faithfully, and more widely than the others.

Sunday 3 July 2011

Naming Fleming's heroines

The leading lady of Jeffery Deaver's Carte Blanche is named Felicity Willing. Bond is amused by the name (chapter 42), and presumably the name was meant to amuse readers too. Sebastian Faulks' Devil May Care featured Scarlett Papava, which was a pun on the botanical name and colour of the opium poppy, one of the book's plot devices (and in case the reference was too obtuse, Scarlett's sister is called Poppy). In both cases, the authors devised exotic names for their heroines; names designed to raise a smile or smirk. A Times review of Carte Blanche claims that the character is named in the best Fleming tradition. Examination of the names Fleming gave his heroines, however, suggests that while many of the names are undoubtedly exotic, only a few are as suggestive as the names used in more recent literary efforts. What's more, Felicity Willing and Scarlett Papava and others are named more in the tradition of the film series than Fleming.

Fleming chose names that interested him. Some were named after things. Vesper Lynd, the heroine of Fleming's first novel, Casino Royale, was named after a cocktail that Fleming was served in Jamaica (not the same recipe as the cocktail he invents for the book). Both Solitaire (Live and Let Die) and Domino Vitali (Thunderball) were named after Caribbean birds. Gala Brand (Moonraker) was named after Galatea, the sea nymph of Greek mythology. Judy Havelock, who appears in the short story, 'For Your Eyes Only', was named after a havelock, a flap at the back of an army cap that protects the neck from the sun.

Other heroines were named after people Fleming knew. For Honeychile Rider, Pussy Galore and Vivienne Michel (who feature in Dr No, Goldfinger and The Spy Who Loved Me respectively), Fleming took the names or nicknames of his friends and acquaintances. Kissy Suzuki, who appears in You Only Live Twice, was named after a masseuse or prostitute Fleming met in Japan.

Admittedly, Tiffany Case (Diamonds Are Forever), referring to a jewellery box provided by the New York store, was a play on words reasonably close in style to Scarlett Papava, and Mary Goodnight, Bond's secretary and leading lady of The Man with the Golden Gun, is on a par with Felicity Willing, but these are rare occurrences.

In contrast, names used for the films are more likely to have elements of sexual innuendo. For the first film, Dr No, Honeychile Rider is shortened to the far more suggestive Honey Ryder. In Goldfinger, Bond's response to Honor Blackman's introduction, 'I'm Pussy Galore', is 'I must be dreaming', emphasising the sexual connotation. In Moonraker, Gala Brand is replaced by Holly Goodhead. In the short story, the eponymous Octopussy is the name of an octopus, not Bond's love interest. And, although a villain rather than lover, GoldenEye's Xenia Onatopp's name raises Bond's eyebrow, if nothing else.

The advice for future continuation authors is clear. Look to the names of friends or interesting things, rather than the films, for inspiration of the names of the books' heroines.

Chancellor, H, 2005 James Bond: the man and his world, John Murray