Friday 2 September 2011

Another anachronism in the BBC's The Hour?

The writer of the TV drama, The Hour, shown on BBC Two and BBC America, has admitted that the script contains anachronisms. Abi Morgan employed phrases such as ‘bottled it’ and ‘note to self’ that wouldn’t have been heard in 1956, the year in which the drama is set. But there may be another anachronism – repeated references to the relationship between James Bond and Miss Moneypenny – that has slipped by unnoticed.

The Hour focuses on two journalists, Bel Rowley, played by Romola Garai, and Freddie Lyon, played by Ben Whishaw. They join the team of new current affairs programme The Hour – Freddie as reporter, Bel as producer – and become involved in a plot involving communist spies at the BBC. Freddie is Bel’s soulmate, but for Freddie, who’s in love with Bel, the relationship is more than that. Freddie identifies himself as James Bond and calls Bel ‘Moneypenny’, alluding to the flirtatious relationship, with its hint of unrequited love, between Bond and M’s secretary.

By 1956, four Bond novels had been published. Miss Moneypenny is a peripheral figure in all of these, and in none is there a suggestion that Bond is in love with Moneypenny or has a relationship other than one involving friendly work-place banter.

In Casino Royale (1953), Bond shares no pages with Moneypenny, and so we learn nothing of their relationship. The follow-up was Live and Let Die (1954). Bond and Moneypenny share a scene, but it is very brief. In Chapter 2, Moneypenny gives Bond an encouraging smile as he enters M’s office, and Bond admits that Moneypenny is desirable. Chapter 2 of Moonraker (1955) reveals that Moneypenny knows that Bond admires her, and Bond seems to confirm this by commenting on her new dress. However, we have a briefer exchange in Diamonds Are Forever (1956). Bond ‘smiled into the warm brown eyes of Miss Moneypenny’ as he leaves M’s office.

I suspect that the writer of The Hour had the film-series version of the Bond-Moneypenny relationship (or meme) in mind when she wrote the script. In the films, Bond pursues a romantic relationship with Moneypenny, who gently fends off his advances, content, it seems, to be just good friends (although in Die Another Day (2002), we see Moneypenny enact a fantasy of a sexual relationship with Bond). The Freddie-Bel relationship appears to mimic this version better than it does the books. Given that the first film, Dr No, was released in 1962, the references in The Hour must be anachronistic.

Admittedly Fleming develops the relationship in later books, and if The Hour was set in 1961, when Thunderball was published, then the Bond-Moneypenny references would be more apt. Even so, in Thunderball it is Moneypenny who desires a relationship with Bond, not the other way round (‘Moneypenny... often dreamed hopelessly about Bond’ (Chapter 1)), although Bond does offer to give Moneypenny a spanking.


  1. I felt that the Moneypenny/Bond references were less an allusion to Freddie and Bel's romantic affections and more in relation to their professional relationship and friendship. At the start of the show, Freddie sees Bel as his personal Moneypenny to his dashing Bond. This is further actualized not only when Bel is promoted over Freddie, making her HIS boss, but also when (about mid way through the series) Bel tells Freddie she wishes he wouldn't call her Moneypenny anymore. Bel establishes herself less as a sidekick to Freddie and more as his equal, thus her rejection of Moneypenny. However, Freddie does look hurt in that moment, which does signify his use of the nickname was fostered in a place of affection for Bel, so your reasoning does hold out in that sense. I think it's all in how you decide to look at it.

  2. Hi Lauren,

    Thanks for your comment. Yes, now that you mention it, the allusion to Bond/Moneypenny does seem to be related more to their working, rather than romantic, relationship. Still, my main point - that it would be unlikely that people would have been thinking about Moneypenny/Bond in those terms in 1956 - I think still stands. It would be more reasonable, however, if Freddie referred to Bel as his Loela Ponsonby, who is Bond's secretary in the books. The character doesn't feature in the films, though, and in consequence has been largely forgotten in popular culture.

  3. Hi Edward,

    I would like to argue that Morgan is being particularly clever with the 'Moneypenny' reference. Freddie is reticent about his love for Bel (at the beginning of the show at least, I've not got very far through). Instead of being direct and honest, he chooses cowardly tactics such as reciting love poetry with his back to her. I doubt Freddie would be so forward as to give Bel a nickname that clearly implied there was a romantic undertone to their relationship, and to use it so frequently.

    What if Morgan was aware of the history of the Bond books, and Freddie was indeed using 'Moneypenny' in a non-sexual way? To Freddie in 1956, the nickname would have no romantic implications: but the 21st century viewer, familiar with Bond and Moneypenny's sexual tension in subsequent Bond works and fims, can nod knowingly, recognising the parallels between the relationships. Freddie's allusion, then, has a significance of which he is unaware. Dramatic irony at its finest.

    1. Hi Cole, thanks for your comment. Good point - Morgan may well have used the Moneypenny reference for the purpose of dramatic irony. Certainly puts an interesting slant on the relationship between Freddie and Bel.

  4. It really doesn't matter what kind of relationship was intended. The characters were using these names as if they were part of the common currency of 1956, which they were not. Fleming had written four Bond novels by then, which were reasonably popular, but Bond had not yet entered the iconography of the age, and wouldn't do so until the mid-60s. It could not be assumed that anyone in 1956 would know who Bond was, never mind Moneypenny.

    However, that anachronism was one of the lesser kind of annoyances that The Hour had to offer. While the production paid any amount of attention to getting visual authenticity in the sets and props, almost none was paid to authenticity of language. The writer appeared to have no familiarity with the vocabulary of the 1950s. I had some hopes for this show, probably thinking it might be a second Singing Detective, but halfway through the first series I realized it was just modern telly-hokum in old clothes.

    1. Indeed. It's doubtful the character of Moneypenny would have had any cultural impact beyond Fleming's readers until the films arrived.

  5. Even if the anachronism is probably the scenarist's fault, i don't find it bothering within the relionship of Freddy and Bel. Both are enjoying a long standing proximity, exchanging about books and cultural references. Freddy being one of the early "Bond fan", and CR his bedside book, it's more than possible that Feddy and Bel have coined their own joke with the moneypenny and Bond relation before Monneypenny herself took more place within Fleming's book.
    Beside, two moments are accurate concerning Casino Royale : at one point in s2, Bel and Freddy's wife are exchanging their mind about the novel which are correct while the first season pays attention to features the correct edition (among the numerous that exist) of Casino Royale. I suppose that makes up.


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