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).

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