We’re used to seeing the actors who’ve played Bond advertising products in character or surrounded by text or images to tie the product in with the Bond films. For example, Sean Connery advertised Jim Beam whiskey in 1967 during the release in America of You Only Live Twice. The product doesn’t feature in the film, but the film’s title shown at the top of the advert was enough to make a connection. The sub-text was that this was a drink that James Bond would choose. (Actually, the literary Bond, fond of Bourbon, certainly might.)
George Lazenby continued to trade into the 1970s and 80s on his single appearance as Bond and advertise, in the guise of a Bond-like character, products as diverse as Sony electronics and Benson and Hedges cigarettes. An advert for the Montblanc company and featuring Roger Moore, Desmond Llewelyn and Vijay Armitraj promoted the use of its pen in the film Octopussy (1983). More recently, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig became ambassadors for Omega watches, which capitalised on Bond’s loyalty to the brand.
What is less well known is that even before Sean Connery hit the screens as James Bond, the first model to trade on the Bond image was James Bond himself. In 1961, a set of advertisements for Courtelle menswear was placed in the Daily Express. The model was James Bond (as depicted by an artist) and the content suggested in no uncertain terms that these were the clothes to wear if you wanted a James Bond lifestyle.
The first advert, published in March 1961, showed Bond in a city apartment. He has his back to us, and an attractive woman, seemingly having fainted, is draped over his arms. The text asks, ‘Where would you find James Bond?’ The answer? He’s the man being hustled through US customs (yes, I can see that). He’s the man driving the Bentley (certainly). He’s the man in white tie and tails at the embassy reception (sort of; Bond doesn’t really wear tails, but go on). He’s the man in the rough clothes of a sailor in a waterfront dive in Vladivostok (er...). Ah, I see. Courtelle is selling comfortable, good-looking, easy-care and rugged clothes in a new acrylic fibre which it thinks fit the active, outdoor lifestyle of James Bond. And to prove the point, in the advert Bond wears a rugged ‘Snowdon’ sweater.
In the second advert, dated April 1961, Bond wears trousers in Abrelle fabric; they're casual, but keep their crease. Just as well, since Bond is shown negotiating a moving train as he enters a carriage compartment occupied by a beauty, bound at the wrists and gagged. A captured enemy or a damsel to rescue? The text isn't clear on the matter.
The third advert appeared in May. 'How do you see Bond?', it asks. Panther-dark and dangerous as his plane flies over Tokyo? Or sipping a vodka martini, stirred, not shaken (sic) in tropical Goverment House? Or perhaps pulling on a soft, cool shirt? Yes, Bond is modelling a shirt - Courtelle by Holyrood, to be precise. Its rugged and comfortable qualities are well able to cope with what Bond is shown doing: shooting from the back of his Bentley at an unseen enemy as he protects a woman in the passenger seat.
Bond models another shirt in September's advert, this time in a lightweight knit, along with slacks in Abrelle. We see that the easy movement afforded by the combination helps in his close-quarter fight in a Caribbean cabin with a thug armed with a machete. The final advert appeared in November. Bond’s up against it. He’s looking at the wrong end of a loaded automatic pointed with determination by a female enemy agent. Bond doesn’t have many options, but at least he’s wearing a Stamford sweater by Byford, and his usual slacks in Abrelle fabric.
Across the set, the text (‘Bond wears...’; ‘James Bond is featured here with acknowledgement of Ian Fleming’) gave James Bond the tone of reality that gave credibility to the adverts. Bond was as real a model as, say, Roger Moore was when he advertised knitwear in the 1950s. By 1961, James Bond had been identified as an aspirational figure. Readers too could enjoy the James Bond lifestyle – a mixture of action, a little danger, sophistication, and a lot of cool – that Ian Fleming had described with frequent references to up-market products, food and drink among the adventure.
Today there are websites and books devoted to the James Bond lifestyle. These have been inspired largely by the films. However, the notion, or meme, of an attainable James Bond lifestyle emerged before start of the film series in 1962 and was adapted from the the pages of Fleming. There are few fictional characters who have achieved this degree of reality.