Saturday 22 December 2012

Eggnog on Christmas Eve

At this time of year, my thoughts naturally turn to the story of a remarkable man who redeemed a troubled soul, conquered evil, and saved the world. I refer, of course, to James Bond and his Yuletide adventure in the Swiss Alps. As we approach Christmas, what better way to end our celebration of 50 years of the James Bond films than to watch On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

As for that perfect Christmas accompaniment, the answer's in the film. “Eggnog on Christmas Eve. Just like home”, says 'English girl' (played by Joanna Lumley) as the 'Angels of Death' enter the festive spirit with a few drinks before opening their deadly gifts from the Count, otherwise known as Blofeld. So, to complete our Bondian Christmas, and to provide a suitable period flavour, I've adapted an eggnog recipe from 500 Recipes for Cocktails and Mixed Drinks (Hamlyn, 1964) by Felix Brenner, which is broadly contemporary with the 1969 film.

The recipe is for two servings:

1 egg
1 tablespoon icing sugar
90 ml milk
45 ml whisky
45 ml dark rum
90 ml double cream
½ tablespoon brandy

Separate the egg. Put the sugar and yolk into a bowl and whisk together. Stir half the milk into the mixture, add the whisky, mix, then stir in the rum. In another bowl, whisk the egg white until stiff peaks are formed. Add the rest of the milk, cream and brandy to the eggnog mixture, then carefully fold in the white until the mixture is frothy. Spoon the eggnog into glasses and grate a little nutmeg over the top. Serve and enjoy.

For more ideas of drinks to have while watching a Bond film, I recommend David Leigh's Complete Guide to the Drinks of James Bond. Have a wonderfully Bondian Christmas, and here's to an exciting 2013, the 60th anniversary of the literary James Bond.

Monday 17 December 2012

James Bond's SOE origins

There have been many claims to the true inspiration for James Bond. Largely seeing action in the Second World War, these have included 30 Assault Unit's Robert Harling, commando Patrick Dalzel-Job, and Colonel D T 'Bill' Hudson, a Secret Operations Executive (SOE) agent, who inspired Ian Fleming, according to Hudson's 1995 obituary in the Times, because he was 'tall and handsome, enjoyed an active social life and charmed the women of many nations', a description which could equally have applied to Fleming!

The latest hat, or rather hats, to be thrown into the ring, are those of some of the commandos who served in SOE. In his book, Ian Fleming and SOE's Operation Postmaster (2012, Pen and Sword) Brian Lett puts forward a number of individuals who took part in a daring mission to hijack two Axis ships harboured in Fernando Po, a Spanish island off the coast of West Africa. But for Brian Lett, SOE inspired more than Fleming's literary hero; it formed the basis for the secret service for which Bond worked, provided that service with its chief, and gave Bond his gadgets, among other claims. In short, the Bond books were Fleming's heavily disguised tribute to SOE. This post isn't the place to discuss all the claims in detail, but it is worth reviewing some of Lett's more plausible, as well as his less convincing, assertions.

Lett makes the reasonable suggestion that Fleming looked to SOE when locating the headquarters of the secret service. Fleming described Bond's office as 'a gloomy building overlooking Regent's Park'. The Secret Intelligence Service has never been based in that part of London, and so Fleming's location seems puzzling. However, when we consider that the headquarters of SOE was at 64 Baker Street, a stone's throw from Regent's Park, then Fleming's description could be regarded as a deliberate mistake. After all,  until 1994, SIS/MI6 didn't officially exist (whereas SOE had been disbanded in 1946), and Fleming had to be careful about what information he divulged.

A similar argument could be made for Fleming naming Bond's chief as M, rather than C, the head of SIS. Presumably Fleming wasn't permitted to acknowledge the head of SIS as C, and so may have taken M, the code name of SOE's head of operations and training, as a plausible alternative. Ignoring other possibilities – M may have been a nod to Somerset Maugham's fictional spy chief R, a reference to Fleming's mother, or simply a representation of the character's name, Sir Miles Messervy, following MI5 chief Maxwell Knight's habit of signing documents 'M' and Fleming's similar use of the letter 'F'  – Lett further suggests that the character of M was based on the first M of SOE, Major General Sir Colin Gubbins. While Fleming was certainly acquainted with Colin Gubbins and was aware of his role in SOE, Fleming's own chief, Admiral John Godfrey, still seems a more likely model for M.

Station codes were another aspect of SOE that Fleming may have adopted. In the Bond novels, codes such as A for Austria or Australia, C for Canada or the Caribbean and S for the Soviet Union appear to have been Fleming's invention, as conventionally SIS applied a two-digit number to identify countries (Germany was 12, for example). However, as Brian Lett points out, Fleming's codes more closely resemble SOE country codes; F Section identified non-Gaullist France, X Section was Germany, T Section was Belgium and Luxembourg, and N Section was the Netherlands.

West Africa, the location of Operation Postmaster, was identified as section W, and the code was also used for the codes of individual agents. Commandos were given code names beginning W0 (thus, Captain Gus March-Phillipps, the operation leader, as W01, and his second-in-command, Lieutenant Geoffrey Appleyard was W02). For other, non-commando agents, the zero was dropped; for example, Major Dismore, based in SOE's Lagos office, was W39. Lett suggests that the W0 code, identified agents as 'licensed to kill', and inspired Fleming to create his own zero-based agent codes. It doesn't take much imagination, Lett argues, to turn W07 into 007. I am less convinced by this suggestion. Lett makes much of Postmaster's agents having a 'licence to kill', but in reality, didn't all commandos and other military personnel by definition have such licence? They were fighting a war, after all. In any case, there is no strong ground for doubting Ian Fleming's own explanation that the double-0 prefix was used on the Admiralty's top-secret signals during the Second World War, and he simply lifted this for his books.

As for the identity of the real James Bond, Brian Lett has no doubt that the individual is to be found among the commandos of Operation Postmaster, in particular agents Gus March-Phillips, Geoffrey Appleyard, Graham Hayes and Anders Lassen. Again, as Fleming was certainly aware of the operation and possibly of the men that took part in it, the idea cannot be dismissed entirely. But Fleming ran his own band of commandos, 30 Assault Unit, which doubtless too was filled with very brave and heroic men. It is unlikely that we'd be able to identify a single individual, or even a small group of individuals, as the 'real James Bond'. That is not to deny that Bond had commando origins; as Fleming acknowledged, Bond was 'a compound of secret agent and commando types' he had met during the war. And, of course, Fleming himself is part of that magical compound.

Brian Lett's book is a well-written and exciting page-turner about a daring coastal operation that succeeded against the odds. The story of the brave and resourceful individuals who took part in it deserves to be told. Fleming had his own small role in that operation, and the book is a must-read for Fleming aficionados for that reason. Fleming's SOE connection gives rise to potential links between Bond and SOE, but while some of these are intriguing and even plausible, others are very speculative and in need of further evidence. The search for Bond's origins (if indeed we need to search for them) continues.

Saturday 8 December 2012

Ian Fleming: the Bibliography - a review

Now I know how James Bond felt in the film of For Your Eyes Only when he was kicked off the rock below St Cyril's after almost reaching the summit. All these years I have been diligently collecting Fleming and Bond related books and other printed material, thinking that my collection was pretty comprehensive. But after reading Jon Gilbert's excellent book, Ian Fleming: the Bibliography (2012, Queen Anne Press), I realise I still have a mountain to climb before the collection is anywhere near complete.

As Gilbert reveals, for any Bond aficionado wishing to explore the stories and influences behind the author and character, there is much more to read than the novels and books about the James Bond phenomenon. The Bibliography is an essential place to start, not only for an exhaustive catalogue of Fleming's writing in all its forms, but also as a source of information for the background and inspirations for Bond's adventures.

The majority of the Bibliography is taken up with a detailed examination of all editions of every one of Fleming's Bond novels and other major works. Each section begins with an account of the background to the novel in question, the research carried out by Fleming, and the key influences. We also learn about textual differences between the original manuscript, the subsequent typescript, the uncorrected proof, and the first and later editions. Then there are the curious typos and factual errors, the alternative titles, the variant bindings (I was disappointed to learn that some of my precious first editions were not quite as first as I thought), the paperback editions and reprints, reviews and advertising.

The remaining parts of the book deal largely with Fleming's other writing, principally his journalism and contributions to books by other authors. Such material is well worth exploring, since it reveals much about his wide-ranging interests which found their way to lesser or greater extents into the Bond novels. Fleming wrote a number of introductions and forewords to books about the Bondian subjects of international crime, gambling, and spying, and there was more Bondian material in his journalism. His articles for magazines and newspapers encompassed matters as diverse as underwater treasure hunting, crime (again), golf, guns, casinos, travel, cars, Russia and the Cold War and scrambled eggs.

Of particular interest to me was a reference to an article by Fleming under the title, 'Bang-Bang, Kiss-Kiss'. The piece, published in 1950, described the New York literary scene, and included profiles on, among others, Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane. It serves as a reminder of how important American crime writers were to Fleming, especially Chandler, who Fleming later befriended and about whom would write further tributes. It is clear when comparing Philip Marlowe with Bond that Fleming adopted aspects of Chandler's style and pace in his writing. The article also gives us perhaps the earliest use by Fleming of the phrase, Bang-Bang, Kiss-Kiss, which, in a variant form, would later become synonymous with the cinematic James Bond.

A section in the Bibliography on Ian Fleming's source books as important as the section on his journalism. We know, of course, about the book, Birds of the West Indies, which provided Fleming's hero with a name, and the books referenced in the Bond novels, such as How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time, and Nature Cure Explained, which Fleming had himself read and admired. But there are other books that Fleming had read or were almost certainly known to him, which contained ideas that appear to have filtered down into the Bond novels. These include Phyllis Bottome's Wind in his Fists, which is set in Austria and features villainous aristocrat and possible proto-Blofeld, Count Graf Schlick, and Sax Rohmer's The Island of Fu Manchu, a Second World War spy adventure featuring the archetypal criminal mastermind and undoubted inspiration of Dr No.

The Bibliography represents the culmination of Jon Gilbert's Fleming scholarship and expertise as a book dealer specialising in Fleming and Bond. The care and meticulousness that has gone into the volume is outstanding. The volume, some 700 pages long, is an incredible achievement and (as much as I dislike high prices for books, preventing wider access and dissemination) justifies its price tag. With a nod to Ian Fleming's intention when he began to write Casino Royale, it is the Fleming reference work to end all Fleming reference works.

Sunday 2 December 2012

How many people have seen a James Bond film?

It is estimated that half the world's population has seen a Bond film. The statement has been repeated so many times, most recently by Roger Moore in his book, Bond on Bond, it must be true. But it nevertheless raises three important questions. What is the origin of this statistic, how was it calculated, and does it have any validity now?

Unfortunately, finding answers to these questions is practically impossible, since no author repeating the statistic has provided any sort of reference or basis for its calculation. But we can at least try to pinpoint its earliest use by working our way back through the literature.

In 2012, the statement has appeared in print at least twice. Roger Moore wrote that 'It has been suggested that over half the world's population has seen at least one of the films', while Nigel Cawthorne, author of A Brief Guide to James Bond, wrote, 'It is estimated that half the population of the world has seen at least one Bond movie'. The statements are very similar, though Roger Moore's statement, with its qualification of 'over half' suggests a higher figure.

The statement is, of course, older than 2012. In 2008, the journalist Ben Macintyre wrote in his book, For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond, 'Today, more than half the world's population has seen at least one Bond film'. In the same year, Sinclair MacKay wrote in The Man with the Golden Touch, 'It is estimated that half the population of planet Earth has seen a Bond film'. Six years earlier, in the book, Bond Films (2002), Jim Smith and Stephen Lavington wrote, 'It has been estimated that more than half the population of Earth have [sic] seen at least one James Bond film'.

But we can go further back. Academic and notable Bond scholar James Chapman wrote in his 1999 book, Licence to Thrill: a cultural history of the Bond films, that 'it has variously been estimated that between a quarter and a half of the world's population has seen a Bond film'. Chapman qualified the statement by adding 'either in the cinema or on television or video'. Chapman's wider range (and qualification) gives the statistic a greater margin of error, which no doubt increases the confidence attached to it, but it is a shame that it is one of the few statements in the book not supported by a footnote or reference.

The statement is older still. Sally Hibbin's The Official James Bond Movie Book, published in 1987, includes the statement, 'It is estimated that over half the world's population has seen a Bond movie'. I can't be certain that this is one of the earliest uses of the statement (notably Stephen Jay Rubin does not use it in his 1981 book, The James Bond Films), but it is reasonable to suggest that it had its origin around this time. The year was an important one for Bond fans. It saw the release of The Living Daylights, and marked a milestone in Bond film history, being 25 years since the release of Dr No (1962). At a time of celebration and reflection, the statistic was appropriately awe-inspiring – and unchallengeable.

That said, the basis for the statement might be a little older. Peter Haining's James Bond: a Celebration was also published in 1987. It didn't include the statement in question, but it did provide some figures: 'It is now estimated that James Bond has provided escape and enjoyment for... one-and-a-half billion cinemagoers'. The figure (excluding television and video viewers) seems plausible enough, but in fact it was already four years old. In his 1983 book, James Bond, Belmondo & Cie, Italian journalist Mario Cortesi wrote that since 1962 nearly 1.5 billion people have seen James Bond's adventures in the cinema.

I don't know whether this figure is the basis for the statement that half the world's population has seen a Bond film, but given that in 1983 the world's population was about 4.7 billion, and was some five billion in 1987, it is does not seem a huge stretch to round up 1.5 billion to 2.5 billion in 1987 by adding television and video viewings. In any case, it is clear that when Roger Moore wrote that over half the world's population has seen a Bond film, the statement was already 25 years old. In that time, the world's population has increased to seven billion. Even with the qualification of 'over half', the statistic is surely due for an update. However, to calculate a more accurate figure would be enormously complicated and dependent on so many variables and assumptions, and needless to say, I won't be attempting it here!

As a meme, though, the statement has proved to be very successful. It is long-lasting, it has been replicated many times, and has survived virtually unchanged. It has been successful even without supporting data, and indeed, has probably thrived because of the absence of data.

Sunday 25 November 2012

Reception committee: Fleming and Bond arrive in Jamaica

In the novel Dr No, as James Bond flies into Kingston airport at the start of his investigation of Dr No's nefarious activities (Dr No, chapter 4), he runs into a photographer from the Daily Gleaner, who is eager to take Bond's picture. Bond is understandably keen to remain in the shadows and is worried about details of his visit reaching the paper. When Ian Fleming wrote this episode, which also appeared in the screen adaptation, he was writing from personal experience. Like Bond, he invariably gained the attention of the Press on his arrival in Jamaica, but, at least in the early days, he had his own reasons for wanting to keep his visits low key.

When celebrities came to Jamaica, the Daily Gleaner made sure that its readers knew about it. The paper even had a dedicated column, “Airport News”, to report the arrival and departure of notable visitors. Ian Fleming built Goldeneye, his Jamaican home, in 1946, and very soon afterwards the Gleaner, initially because of Fleming's association with the wealthy so-called 'resident-visitor' Ivor Bryce, had recognised Fleming as someone newsworthy. In February 1947, the Gleaner ran a story about wealthy visitors buying property in Montego Bay, and mentioned Fleming's recent purchase.

By 1947, Ian Fleming's relationship with Lady Ann Rothermere, the wife of newspaper proprietor Lord Rothermere, was some six years old. Ian and Ann were determined to keep their affair discreet, and on her first visit to Goldeneye in 1948, Ann had brought Loelia, Duchess of Westminster as a chaperone to help deflect suspicions and gossip.

Ann and Ian's flight into Kingston (Palidadoes) Airport on 12th January, however, had not passed unnoticed, and the following day, their arrival was reported in the Daily Gleaner. Fortunately for Ian and Ann, the piece, accompanied by a photograph of the couple, revealed nothing of their relationship, and appeared to suggest that Ian and Ann had to some extent made separate holiday plans. Readers learnt that Ann was to be in Jamaica for three weeks and was to stay with Ivor Bryce, as well as Ian Fleming, while Ian was planning to remain in the country for six weeks at Goldeneye.

When Fleming described James Bond's arrival into Jamaica in Dr No (1958), he was in essence recalling his own experience. The Gleaner's reporter who greets Bond at the airport asks Bond the same questions that the reporter must have asked Fleming: how long will you be in Jamaica ('in transit', Bond answers), and where will you staying ('Myrtle Bank')? There was also a flash of the camera and the prospect of Bond's picture appearing in print.

Ian Fleming drew from a wide range of sources and experiences when he wrote the James Bond books. Some of these experiences, such as his wartime role and post-war journalism, form an important part of Bond's character and adventures. But there are other, seemingly less significant events, including arriving in Jamaica, which also contribute and add fine detail to the stories.

Sunday 18 November 2012

History lessons in the Bond films

I used to teach archaeology at a further education college, and when I got to the session on ancient Roman temples, I put From Russia With Love in the dvd player and showed my students the scenes at the Hagia Sophia, a late Roman church, and later a mosque, in Istanbul (and seen also fleetingly in Skyfall). Sometimes I forgot to switch the film off, and we ended up watching rather more of the film that I intended. My students may not have learned much about Roman religious buildings, but at least they received a thorough grounding in the history of James Bond.

Something that adds colour and depth to a Bond film is the attention paid to the local cultural background. This has often included aspects of local heritage, and over course of the series, film-viewers have, for example, visited Karnak and the pyramids at Giza in Egypt, accompanied a tour of a  museum of antique glass in Venice (the museum was a film set, but Venice nonetheless has a long tradition of glass-making that dates back to the 13th century), and, most recently in Skyfall, had a small introduction to 16th-century priest holes in Scotland.

As an archaeologist, I have always been particularly interested in the heritage shown in From Russia With Love. The scenes at the Hagia Sophia are fascinating. As Tatiana Romanova enters the site, we see a guide take a party of tourists across the floor of the building. As far as tours go, the guide's technique is pretty poor. There is no sense of chronological sequence, and he talks of noteworthy objects in a seemingly random way.

That is not to say that the information given by the guide is especially inaccurate. The guide points out two alabaster urns dating to the Hellenistic period (4th to 1st century BC), which were brought from the ancient city of Pergamon to Istanbul by Sultan Murad IV. This was indeed the case, although not, as the guide tells us, in 1648, but sometime between 1574 and 1595. The urns continue to stand on opposite sides of the nave. 

The wishing column that the guide also mentions stands at the north-west end of the building. Legend has it that the late Roman emperor Justinian, while suffering with a headache, rested his head on the column and the pain ceased. Visitors have been touching the column ever since and it has taken its place among the notable features of the building.

Another feature described by the guide is the ablution fountain. This is actually located outside the main building and was built by Sultan Mahmud I in 1740.  

We don't know James Bond's opinion of Hagia Sophia, but he seems unimpressed by Istanbul's subterranean late Roman cistern. Bond meets Kerim Bey's brief description of the structure as they descend some steps and climb into a boat with a bored, 'really?' Kerim Bey tells Bond that the reservoir was built by the emperor Constantine 1600 years ago. This isn't strictly true. Known as the Basilica Cistern, the structure was built during the reign of Justinian 1400 years ago on the site of an earlier Roman basilica or market hall.

The Bond films remain a source of interesting cultural information that adds depth and credibility to the story. While accuracy has sometimes been sacrificed for cinematic purposes, the inclusion of local heritage is testament to the film-makers attention to detail and respect for the regions in which they are filming.

Photo credits:
Hagia Sophia (Urn, Wishing Column and ablution fountain): JoJan (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic )
Basilica Cistern: Public domain image by Gryffindor

Friday 9 November 2012

Bond girls, villains and catchphrases: some analysis

Among the many articles about James Bond published in recent weeks ahead of the release of Skyfall was an interesting piece for the BBC news website, titled 'James Bond: cars, catchphrases and kisses'. The item, researched and compiled by Helene Sears, Tom Housden, Mark Savage, and Steven Atherton, attempted to present “definitive data on women kissed, villains dispatched and catchphrases [specifically 'Bond, James Bond'] uttered.” While there are arguably more interesting statistics, for example the number of martinis consumed, one-liners delivered, or gadgets used (though see my own data on Bond's drinks and gadgets), the data were presented in the form of counts, and, as I can't resist playing with data, I thought I'd carry out some analysis on the numbers to identify any further insights on the evolution of the film series and the differences in the way Bond has been portrayed.

According to the BBC article, the total number of villains killed is 218. Sixty-four women have been kissed, while 'Bond, James Bond' has been said 25 times. Over the 23-film series, an average of 9.5 villains have been killed per film, while each film has seen an average of 2.8 women kissed. 'Bond, James Bond' has been uttered an average of 1.1 times per film.

Looking at the individual Bond actors, Sean Connery's Bond has been responsible, on average, for the deaths of 9.3 villains. This compares with 7 villains for George Lazenby, 7.1 for Roger Moore, nine for Timothy Dalton, 12 for Pierce Brosnan, and 13 villains for Daniel Craig. These values suggest that there has been an increase over the course of the series in the number of villains killed per film. Notably, the standard deviation for Sean Connery (6.3 villains) is larger than that, say, for Pierce Brosnan (5.9), pointing to a more variable record for Connery's Bond. In other words, some of Connery's films have relatively few deaths (as few as four), while others are far more lethal, with as many as 18 deaths. The body count in Brosnan's films, by comparison, is generally higher (ranging from 8 to 18).

Turning to the number of women kissed, Sean Connery's Bond kissed on average three women per film. George Lazenby also kissed three women in his single film, and Pierce Brosnan's average is three as well. Roger Moore's Bond has a slightly lower average of 2.9 women kissed, and Daniel Craig's average is lower still – 2.3 women kissed per film. Timothy Dalton has the lowest average, just two women kissed per film, although Dalton's dataset of just two films is really too small for statistical purposes; after all, Dalton's Bond kissed three women in Licence to Kill, which is above the series average. As with the villains killed category, the standard deviation for Sean Connery is higher than that for Roger Moore (1.3 women kissed, compared with 0.7), suggesting that Connery's Bond is again the most variable (the range of Connery's Bond is between 1 and 4 women kissed).

Of the catchphrase, 'Bond, James Bond', there is very little variation across the film series; the phrase has more or less been uttered once in every film. The phrase, however, has not been used in every Connery film, and only George Lazenby and Roger Moore have used the phrase twice in a single film.

Some of the trends outlined above also emerge when we examine the data from a chronological perspective. From the chart, the general increase in the number of villains killed over time is clear, although there has been enormous fluctuation throughout the series. Connery's films quickly ramped up the body count as each film attempted to better the last, and some of the most spectacular films, including You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me, and The World is not Enough, have had high values to match – 18 villain-deaths each. The Roger Moore era (1973-85), in contrast, is generally characterised by the fewest villain-deaths, a product, perhaps, of Moore's take on the role of Bond; Roger Moore has often said that his Bond didn't like to kill and was more likely to use brains rather than violence to get him out of trouble.

As for utterances of 'Bond, James Bond', the trend is flatter still, but where there is fluctuation, it occurs in the Sean Connery and Roger Moore eras, and it is only from the Timothy Dalton era onwards that the numbers largely settle down. A possible reason for this may be that the 'Bond formula' became especially fixed after the Moore era, particularly following the introduction of Pierce Brosnan's Bond in 1995.

In the early films, as the series was establishing itself, there was more room for variation and experimentation, and essential series traits or memes had yet to become well established in popular culture. The Moore era saw a certain redefining of some of these traits initially to establish the actor in the part of Bond and separate his portrayal from Connery's (Moore's Bond, for instance, never ordered a drink 'shaken, not stirred'). The Moore style was then repeated until the introduction of Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights. As the 1990s ushered in the Brosnan era, there was a certain expectation of what memes should be included and how they could be expressed. This appears to be the case with the phrase, 'Bond, James Bond'. The phrase is now hugely anticipated, causing a frisson when it occurs (just think of the cheer that greeted Bond's utterance of the phrase at the end of Casino Royale). The weight placed on the phrase naturally leads to its use being restricted; if repeated often in the same film, then the phrase is devalued.

The Daniel Craig era has seen a 'reboot' and a desire to re-introduce or even discard elements of Bond lore. The amount of discussion (and ire) that has met these changes – notably the repositioning of the gun barrel – is a measure of how successfully series traits or memes have become embedded in the cultural environment, and how rigidly the Bond formula has been applied in recent decades.

To see the data on which this analysis is based, please click here.

Sunday 4 November 2012

Download the complete guide to James Bond's drinks free

To celebrate the US release of Skyfall on 8th November, David Leigh's The Complete Guide to the Drinks of James Bond is available free for Kindle from Amazon. This is the second edition of the book by David, who also runs the James Bond Dossier website, and includes the drinks of the current Bond film.

The book, which brings together the drinks of both the film series and Fleming's novels, is excellent and a must for Bond afficiandos. And, given the furore surrounding the use of Heineken in Skyfall, it is a reminder that James Bond is an occasional beer drinker. 

As David says, 'many people were unhappy at the announcement earlier this year that James Bond would be seen drinking Heineken beer in Skyfall. However, this really isn't a big deal for a number of reasons: first, 007 drank beer in several of the books; second, don't think that he only drinks beer in Skyfall; and third, while most people associate vodka martinis and champagne with 007, he actually drinks more whisky in the novels anyway'.

Download the book for free until 7th November 7 2012 (Pacific Standard Time) from your local Amazon store.

Saturday 3 November 2012

James Bond's papal blessing

It's official. The pope is a James Bond fan. In a surprise move, the Vatican's daily newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, gave its blessing to James Bond recently with the publication of a glowing review of Skyfall and a series of features on the Bond phenomenon. The paper praised Judy Dench as the 'perfect M', Javier Bardem's Silva as 'terrific', and Daniel Craig's Bond as 'more human'. Skyfall is, in the paper's view, 'one of the best in the longest cinematic story of all time'.

The review represents a significant shift for the Vatican. In 1965, L'Osservatore Romano denounced the James Bond films and what the paper felt they represented. Dr No was 'a mixture of violence, vulgarity, sadism and sex', and the paper hoped that the film had not met with the success that it did. Of the subsequent films, the newspaper found their consistency 'deplorable but explicable'.

Similar views on James Bond were held by other well-known Catholics at the time and could be said to represent something of an official line on the Fleming/Bond phenomenon. Paul Johnson, who wrote an infamous 1958 review of the novel, Dr No, for the New Statesman, was a devout Catholic. His view that Fleming 'satisfies the very worst instincts of his readers' and that the book delivers a 'brew of sex and sadism' would no doubt have found wide agreement within the Vatican.

And it was his Catholic faith that prevented Patrick McGoohan pursuing the role of James Bond in 1962. In interviews McGoohan said that he abhorred violence and cheap sex and that society needed moral heroes. In his TV series, Danger Man (broadcast in the US as Secret Agent), the hero John Drake, played by McGoohan, was 'a man of high ideals'. McGoohan said that the series contained 'action, but no brutal violence', and that 'it would have been wrong [for Drake] to get seriously involved with women'.

But religious denunciation of Bond has not been confined to the Catholic church. In 1961, the Rev. Leslie Paxton of the Great George Street Congregational Church in Liverpool preached a sermon against James Bond. Ian Fleming responded with a letter to the reverend, requesting a copy of the sermon in order to understand the nature of the criticisms (but there was apparently no 'death-bed conversion' in Fleming's final novels). And in 1980/1, during location filming of For Your Eyes Only at Meteora, Greece, monks from the Eastern Orthodox Church protested against the use of their monastery in the film, and attempted to spoil the filming by hanging washing out of the windows.

It has taken 50 years for the Vatican to succumb to the charms of James Bond. During that time, the world has seen huge social change. The Vatican is clearly part of society and is not immune to the ever evolving landscape of what is morally acceptable. How else can we explain the fact that aspects of James Bond that caused such consternation for the church in the 1960s are points of celebration in 2012?


Barnes, A and Hearn, M, 1997 Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Batsford
Haining, P, 1987 James Bond, a celebration, Planet
Pearson, J, 1966 The life of Ian Fleming, Cape

Saturday 27 October 2012

Skyfall - a memetic review

Warning: this review contains minor spoilers

Skyfall is an outstanding achievement. It is both a fitting celebration of 50 years of the James Bond films, and a forward-facing film relevant for our times. That the film has pulled off this trick is testament to the remarkable work of the screenwriters, director, production crew, actors, and above all Daniel Craig in bruising and arresting form. Skyfall is not just a Bond film; it is an intelligent piece of story-telling that stands on its own terms outside Bondworld.

From the start, the narrative plunges the viewer into the heart of the action and takes a grip that does not weaken for its entire two-hour running time. A hard drive containing the identities of agents embedded with terrorist organisations has been stolen. Bond's initial attempts at recovering the disk fail, and he, M and others at MI6 find themselves one step behind the instigator of the theft, whose motivation is very personal and very deadly.

Superficially, Skyfall takes very little from Ian Fleming's novels, but dig a little deeper, it becomes clear that Fleming has not been forgotten. The ultimate inspiration for Daniel Craig's Bond still derives from the literary hero. The screenwriters, John Logan and regular scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade appear to have turned to two books in particular. James Bond's obituary, which M writes after a bungled attempt to shoot an enemy agent, takes elements, reproduced almost verbatim, from the obituary in You Only Live Twice. Bond's childhood alluded to in Skyfall is also based on details revealed in the novel's obituary.

Bond's subsequent 'resurrection', as an out-of-shape and wrecked agent, mirrors events in the beginning of the book that follows, The Man with the Golden Gun. Though not named in the film, the psychologist in Skyfall is surely inspired by the psychologist of that and other novels, Sir James Molony (I understand the character is called Dr Hall; a missed opportunity, surely, for a clearer nod to the books). But in a twist, Bond's role in the dramatic episode in M's office in The Man with the Golden Gun is in Skyfall effectively given to the villain, Javier Bardem's Raoul Silva, and this consequently shapes the film's plot.
There is a clever nod to Ian Fleming when we approach the ancestral Scottish home of James Bond. The stag sitting on the gateway recalls the beast in Fleming's family crest. And as Skyfall's narrative comes to a shocking end, I cannot help but think of the shoot-out in the Dreamy Pines motor court in The Spy Who Loved Me, and the denouement of On Her Majesty's Secret Service. James Bond only lives twice, but in return he must endure the emotional pain that  accumulates with the deaths of those closest to him not permitted such a luxury.

Inevitably, Skyfall acknowledges the history of Bond film series. Javier Bardem captures the spirit of villains past, delivering a gruesome and deeply frightening amalgam of Jaws and Hugo Drax or Blofeld; in addition, Silva's island base takes us right back to Dr No's Crab Key. Sévérine, played by Bérénice Marlohe, recalls Maud Adams' tragic Andrea from The Man with the Golden Gun film. A particularly Bondian scene in a komodo dragon pit provides a nod to Bond's alligator-hopping in Live and Let Die (which is rather appropriate, given director Sam Mendes' fondness for the film). References to Goldfinger abound. The reappearance of Goldfinger's Aston Martin DB5, which brought a cheer from the audience, was accompanied by an extended musical reference to the 1964 film. And as promised, Daniel Craig delivers the sort of measured one-liners that rival the best of the witticisms of the Sean Connery era.

The titles sequence references the best of  Maurice Binder, and Adele's title song has more than a hint of Shirley Bassey. There are doubtless many more nods to the films, but it will take repeated viewings to extract them all.

Is Skyfall the best Bond film? The question is redundant. The cultural environment is always evolving, and we get the Bond for our times. Goldfinger or From Russia with Love were the best of the 1960s' Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me was perfect for the 1970s, The Living Daylights reflected society's changing mores, while GoldenEye successfully introduced Bond to a post-Cold War world. Skyfall is certainly very good, and deservedly takes its place in the pantheon of Bond greats.

Sunday 21 October 2012

James Bond - home on the range

We almost never see the cinematic James Bond, a crack shot, practising his shooting skills. In The Living Daylights at a shooting gallery in Vienna's Wurstelprater amusement park, Bond's outstanding form threatens to wipe out the owner's stock of cheap soft toys, but that surely doesn't count. As Matthew Syed explains in his excellent book, Bounce, it may take 10,000 hours of practice to become a champion, but champions still need to practise to stay at the top. In contrast with the Bond films, cop movies often show protagonists on the range, and not even Dirty Harry, Axel Foley and Martin Riggs are excused.

I was reminded of this when I happened to open the Times and read the obituary of Eric McGibbon, a tea-planter, engineer and rifleman. Born in 1926 in Burma, he moved to India in the 1940s and managed a tea-plantation in Assam. After the Second World War, Eric relocated to England and settled in Surrey. During the late 1960s, he began open-range rifle shooting at the Bisley ranges and achieved considerable success.

Eric McGibbon would have immediately recognised Ian Fleming's description of Bisley in the short story, 'The Living Daylights', published first in 1962 in the Sunday Times magazine and, in the US, in Argosy, then in book form in 1966. The landmarks Fleming mentions are all there at Bisley. The 600-yard Century Range opens out from the north-east edge of the Bisley complex, while the Clock Tower stands some distance to its west. In between is the Bisley Gun Club pavilion.

Bond's skills on the range evidently impress the Chief Range Officer, who suggests that Bond enter the Queen's Prize 'next year'. And no wonder: Bond's shoot, comprising two sighting shots and ten rounds at each 100 yards up to 500 yards is good preparation for the three-stage competition, which requires entrants to make two sighting shots and seven shots to count at 300, 500 and 600 yards. In his Annotations and Chronologies, John Griswold places the events of the story in 1960. Out of interest, the winner for 1961, both of the gold and silver medal, was Warrant Officer Class 2 N L Beckett.

Just as James Bond is rarely seen eating in the films, but dines frequently in the books, the literary Bond appears to train more than the cinematic Bond does. Bond's Bisley shoot joins a list that includes underwater training in Live and Let Die, card-shuffling practice in Moonraker and a daily exercise routine of push-ups and leg-lifts in From Russia, with Love. In the films, Bond's training is restricted to a military exercise at the start of The Living Daylights (a nod, perhaps, to Bisley in the original story, unless that reference is made at the Viennese amusement park) and a training mission in MI6 headquarters in Die Another Day.

Finally, it is worth making the point that, as with all Fleming's writing, 'The Living Daylights' is full of facts and technical detail. Fleming's journalistic skill and desire for accuracy are very much evident in the story.

Sunday 14 October 2012

Shouldn't 'Bond girl' be in the dictionary?

As far as I'm aware, the term 'Bond girl' isn't in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). While I haven't checked the latest edition of the full OED, I recently looked the term up in the shorter and concise editions, but didn't see it there. Each new edition of the OED brings newspaper lists of modish, but often transitory, neologisms. Yet there's still no place for 'Bond girl', a phrase which is almost 50 years old and well established in popular culture.

I discussed the origin of the term 'Bond girl' in an article posted last year. One of the earliest uses of 'Bond girl' is in an article published in the Daily Express dating to 1st February 1963. A story about the daughter of Labour minister John Hare was headlined, 'Perfect Bond girl'. The term was used in the paper fairly regularly afterwards, but it also appeared in critical analyses of the James Bond phenomenon. For example, O F Snelling, in his 1964 book, 007 James Bond: A Report, describes Thunderball's Patricia Fearing, on the staff at Shrublands health farm, as being “rather unusual for a Bond girl.” Then, in The James Bond Dossier (1965), Kingsley Amis used the term 'Bond-girl' as a label for an essential element of the Bond novel. And in the 1966 English translation of The Bond Affair, edited by Oreste del Buono and Umberto Eco, the term is used in Furio Colombo's essay, 'Bond's Women' (“The Bond girl uses glances and looks”, to take one example).

Since then, of course, the term has become synonymous with the actresses who have appeared in the Bond films as Bond's companion or the film's femme fatale, but it has also been applied to supporting characters, such as Miss Moneypenny, and indeed any actress who has been cast in a Bond film, no matter how fleeting her role. The term 'Bond girl' is so closely associated with the actresses and female characters of the Bond films, that any book about them must inevitably incorporate the term into its title (for example, Bond Girls are Forever: the women of James Bond (2003), by Maryam d'Abo and John Cork).

More recently, 'Bond girl' has been used more loosely. For example, when Adele was confirmed as the singer/songwriter of Skyfall's theme song, she was quoted as saying, “I'll be back-combing my hair when I'm 60, telling people I was a Bond girl back in the day, I'm sure!”, while in the current series of BBC's Strictly Come Dancing, the phrase has been used to describe Kristina Rihanoff, the dancing partner of contestant Colin Salmon, who played MI6 agent Charles Robinson in Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, and Die Another Day. Even the Queen has been described as a Bond girl, thanks to her role alongside Daniel Craig's Bond in the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.

According to the OED online, to qualify for inclusion in the OED a word “requires several independent examples of the word being used, and also evidence that the word has been in use for a reasonable amount of time.” The word must also attain a level of currency and understanding that allows it to be used without explanation of its meaning. As we have seen from the evidence presented above, the term 'Bond girl', while by no means uncontentious, undoubtedly fulfils these criteria. If 'Bond girl' is not already in the dictionary, it certainly should be. 

Update: I've been told by the OED that 'Bond girl' is on its tracking list. 

Sunday 7 October 2012

More on Peter Anthony's screentests for Bond

Fifty years ago, the public was introduced to a man who was set to star as James Bond in Dr No. His name was Peter Anthony, a model who had appeared in the pages the lifestyle and fashion magazine for men, Man About Town, and worked with Terence Donovan, pioneer of the 'Blow-up' school of photography. Peter had won a competition to find an actor to play James Bond, which had been run by the Daily Express and was to be judged by Harry Saltzman, Cubby Broccoli, Ian Fleming, Ken Hughes, and Express journalist, Patricia Lewis.

You can read about the competition in an earlier post. Since posting the article, I was contacted by Andy, a relative of Peter, who told me that Peter had read the article and had been enthralled by it. Naturally, I was excited to hear this, and was keen to continue my correspondence and find out more about Peter's brush with the world of James Bond.

So last year, Andy and I exchanged emails; I asked some questions and Andy passed them on to Peter to answer. One of my questions was about Peter's audition for Dr No. I learnt that Peter received a letter from Eon Productions to arrange the screentest. He was also sent the two-page audition script, which was of the scene set in M's office where M orders Bond to discard the Beretta in favour of the Walther PPK.

Peter's dialogue was a little different to the version that appears in the final film. Bond enters M's office and is quizzed about his last assignment in which his beloved Beretta jammed. M tells Bond that the gun has to go, and Bond reluctantly agrees. There is no armourer and no mention of the Walther PPK.

One of the biggest surprises was learning that Peter had auditioned for the role of Bond a second time, in this case in 1970/1 for Diamonds Are Forever. With the Daily Express having no involvement, Eon Productions approached Peter and sent him once again two pages of the script. At the time, Peter was living in New York and was required to fly to Los Angeles for the screentest. Peter remembers that he performed his test in the morning and was later taken to meet Broccoli and Saltzman and, he thinks, Guy Hamilton.

Peter performed the scene in which Bond introduces himself as Peter Franks to Tiffany Case. The script Peter received again differed from the scene in the final film. There was extra dialogue in Peter's script. For example, Bond asks Tiffany whether he can smoke, and a few lines later is asked to guess what the 'T' in T Case shown on the doorbell stands for. The scene is also conflated with the later scene in which the real Peter Franks arrives at Tiffany's apartment. Franks knocks on the door of the apartment and is then knocked out cold by Bond. The vicious fight in the lift is absent.

Whether the scripts for both films were especially adapted for the screentests, or that they were subsequently rewritten, is uncertain, but both give us insights into the nature of screentests in the early days of the Bond films.

Peter's auditions for the role of James Bond provide a fascinating footnote in the history of the Bond films. Though Peter never won the role, he had clearly impressed Broccoli and Saltzman, and not many actors can say that they lost out to Sean Connery twice. Peter really could have been Bond.

I am immensely grateful to Peter Anthony and Andy for responding to my questions, providing such wonderful information, and generally helping me with my research.

Tuesday 2 October 2012

From Licence Revoked to Licence to Kill

As I was reading James Bond: 50 Years of Movie Posters (2012), I was reminded of how far Eon had gone in establishing Licence Revoked as the name of Timothy Dalton's second Bond film (released as Licence to Kill in 1989). Poster concepts using the title had been commissioned, notices were published in the trade press, and a huge billboard advertising License Revoked (the spelling of 'licence' had not yet been fixed) surrounded the entrance to the Carlton Hotel in Cannes. So to change the film's title to Licence to Kill in the eleventh hour as the principal marketing campaign began was no insignificant undertaking. 

As with many well-worn facts, the reason given for the title change has subtly varied over the years, although some variants have been more successful than others in establishing themselves in popular culture.

Two of the key individuals working on Licence Revoked – Timothy Dalton and director John Glen – identify MGM as the driver for the title change. Glen writes in his autobiography, For My Eyes Only, that the marketing people protested that American audiences wouldn't know what revoked meant. Dalton supports this, telling Bill Desowitz in James Bond Unmasked that MGM thought that  no one would understand it.

In Kiss Kiss, Bang! Bang! (1997) by Alan Barnes and Marcus Hearn, and The Bond Files (1998) by Andy Lane and Paul Simpson, the emphasis switched from MGM's marketing people to US test audiences. It was their apparent incomprehension at the word 'revoked' that convinced the producers (or MGM) to go for the title change. Still with the onus on audiences, Lee Pfeiffer and Dave Worrall offer another reason in The Essential Bond (1998) – that 'it was discovered that US audiences associated the term with losing a driving licence'.

More recently, though, the MGM marketing people have returned to the spotlight. In a caption for a Licence Revoked concept poster reproduced in his poster book, Alastair Dougall describes a 'fear' that audiences wouldn't know what revoked meant, and Mark O'Connell writes in his brilliant book, Catching Bullets (2012) about a 'belief' that revoked was unfamiliar with US audiences.

Whether or not the title Licence Revoked was changed in response to US test audiences or a view held by MGM based on limited or no objective data is uncertain, but what is interesting from a memetic perspective is that the subtly different reasons given by commentators have their own currency within cultural space by virtue of their being published, and are therefore available to be replicated and become more widespread. The more frequently the variant appears in print (or on the web) the greater chance it has of being further replicated, regardless of its validity.

A variant's success is also helped by its intrinsic appeal to readers. The 'US audience incomprehension' reason seems to have more penetration in popular culture than the 'driving licence' reason perhaps because it better fits existing cultural perceptions. Just consider how familiar people are with the 'fact' that The Madness of George III became The Madness of King George because US audiences might have mistaken it for a sequel. The story of title change being driven by audience incomprehension is not quite true in the case of The Madness of King George and possibly not quite true in the case of Licence to Kill either, but the shared narrative taps into widely-held views about American culture and this is what gives the narrative its survival value.

Saturday 22 September 2012

Fleming memes in the Skyfall trailer

Any Ian Fleming fans who have wondered whether Skyfall would include any elements from the James Bond novels are likely to have been reassured when viewing the main Skyfall trailer. In it, the words in Bond's obituary that we see M write are taken almost verbatim from M's obituary in the novel, You Only Live Twice. That Skyfall evidently includes Bond's 'death' and, as Bond himself puts it, his 'resurrection', suggests that some of the themes of Fleming's penultimate novel, if not its actual episodes, have been mined for ideas for the film.

The trailer appears to show another nod to Fleming. Javier Bardem's villain, Raoul Silva, tells Bond, 'She sent you up to me, knowing you're not ready, knowing you would likely die. Mommy was very bad.' I love that line. To me, it perfectly evokes the spirit of Fleming's writing. In particular, it brings to mind the torture episode in Casino Royale.

As the naked Bond is strapped to the chair and threatened with a carpet beater (chapter 17), Le Chiffre tells him, 'You are not equipped, my dear boy, to play games with adults and it was very foolish of your nanny in London to have sent you out here with your spade and bucket'. Both the delivery of the lines and the chilling allusion to childhood convey the villains' sense of absolute dominance over Bond and the confidence that their plans will prevail.

Perhaps, too, the reference in Silva's line to M as 'mommy' is an allusion to Fleming's nickname for his mother, Eve. In letters he wrote to her when he was a child, he occasionally called her 'M', and this in turn may have had some influence on the naming of Bond's chief.

Come October and November, Fleming aficionados will be carefully watching Skyfall to identify elements of the Bond novels. Just from the trailer, though, it is unlikely that they will be disappointed. We already know that Sam Mendes and Daniel Craig re-read Fleming before embarking on the film, and the result appears to be that Skyfall has inherited several memes from the books.


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

Thursday 20 September 2012

James Bond cookbook now available to download

You know what James Bond drinks, but do you know what he eats? What is his favourite food? What is his favourite meal of the day? How does he like his steak? How does he take his coffee? 

This cookbook, the eBook edition of Licence to Cook published in 2010, is full of exciting recipes inspired by the food described in Ian Fleming’s novels. The recipes I've devised are modern, but have a period twist. 

The cookbook is intended for anyone who wishes to recreate the flavour of James Bond’s gastronomy. If you’re preparing a romantic meal for two or planning a Bond-themed party, or if you’re simply curious about the sorts of food Bond eats, this cookbook is for you. Eat like Bond throughout the day, breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The eBook is available for £4.99 ($8.09) from Lulu Marketplace

For iPhone, iPad and other Apple device users, download the book direct from iBooks. Just go to iBooks and search for 'Licence to Cook'. 

Licence to Cook is also available on NOOK from Barnes & Noble. Click here to order

Note about downloading:

Apple users can download the book onto their devices through iBooks simply enough. For Lulu customers, the ePub-formatted book can be downloaded onto any ePub-reading device, including Apple devices. You don't need to download Adobe Digital Editions. I successfully imported the book myself into Aldiko (a free e-reader app) installed on my Android phone. The whole process was very quick and I can now read my book on the move. 

Sunday 16 September 2012

Book review - James Bond: 50 years of movie posters

The James Bond posters have been instrumental not only in advertising the Bond films over the past 50 years, but also helping to spread Bond iconography, such as the 007 gun symbol and the gun barrel motif. They have also introduced elements, such as the classic Bond pose seen on the poster for From Russia With Love, that have been perpetuated on subsequent posters and imitated for marketing campaigns of other films.

Fifty years of movie posters is not the first book to celebrate the rich archive of James Bond posters (up till now, Tony Nourmand's James Bond movie posters has been the key reference), but it is probably the most attractively-presented and comprehensive collection now available. Its coffee-table-book-in-sturdy-slip-case format apart, what differentiates this book, written by Alastair Dougall, from those it follows is that it approaches the posters from a design perspective; after all, the volume's consultant, Dennis Gassner, is a production and poster designer, whose most recent credit is Skyfall.

Thus, each of the 25 sections – one for each Bond film, including Casino Royale (1967) and Never Say Never Again (1983) – begins with a summary of the principal design concepts and how they were adapted for different markets, and continues with a selection of posters that are accompanied by captions that highlight further points of design.

No doubt the poster selection is not as complete as one might have wished – I would like to have seen more non-US/UK posters – but there is still much that is new to the Bond aficionado or otherwise rarely seen, particularly the unused poster concepts, and the lobby cards, which often show unusual publicity photos or occasionally hint at scenes left on the cutting-room floor.

There are other aspects of the posters that I find especially fascinating. The Australian posters of the earlier films, including Dr No and Goldfinger, carried the warning, 'Not suitable for children'. As I suggested in a recent article, Bond films have always been intended for more mature audiences, despite generally being regarded as family entertainment.

A more general point about the posters produced for markets outside the UK and the US is the extent to which they were adapted to fit their respective cultural environments. One can identify posters from Japan even if the text was absent, since most designs employed the busy photomontage style so typical of that country. Swedish posters are also quite recognisable, as they often used a tricolour background. Occasionally the moral sensibilities prevailing in some territories forced Bond girls to cover up or be rendered less suggestively.

As mentioned with regard to lobby cards, the posters sometimes hint at plot details or character attributes which are absent or downplayed in the final cut of the film. Another example is an unused poster concept for The Spy Who Loved Me, which depicts Stromberg with obviously webbed fingers. In the film, little is made of Stromberg's fingers, although it explains why he doesn't like to shake hands. In the case of the poster, it is likely that the artist, possibly Bob Peak, relied on written plot details, rather than viewings of the film, when drafting the poster (indeed, this is supported by the fact that the characters don't resemble the actors who played them).

The book contains a few errors, although I have to admit that without having examined the text in great detail, I haven't spotted that many errors, but no doubt a longer list than mine has been prepared by other fans. However, even with the textual errors, the book brings together an amazing collection of posters, which surely everyone can enjoy.

Tuesday 11 September 2012

More on Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

In an earlier article, I discussed the origin of the phrase, 'Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang'. The phrase, which became widespread around 1964/5, is usually attributed to the Italian fans or press, but I revealed that Ian Fleming had used a similar phrase. His version – 'bang, bang, kiss, kiss' - appears in an article based on a 1963/4 interview published in 1965.

In fact, we can place Fleming's usage some seven or eight years earlier. In 1959, The London Magazine published a tribute written by Fleming to his friend Raymond Chandler, who had died that year. In his article, Fleming presented a selection of correspondence between him and Chandler in which they discussed, among other matters, books, writing, and authors (they both admired Eric Ambler and Dashiell Hammett).

In a letter dated 27th April 1956, responding to Chandler's view that, despite his favourable review of the book, Diamonds Are Forever contained some bad parts, Fleming admitted that he probably didn't take his own writing seriously enough. Fleming suggested that while Chandler's novels were 'sociological studies', his were 'pillow fantasies of the bang-bang, kiss-kiss variety'. 

Of course, we needn't make a direct link between Fleming's 'kiss, kiss, bang, bang' phrase, and the later variant used in Italy. But the closeness of both variants points to something of a 'common ancestor' from which both originated. In other words, the phrase already had a degree of currency in cultural space, certainly before the phrase gained greater prominence with the release of Thunderball in 1965, and probably before Fleming put his words in a letter to Raymond Chandler in 1956.


Fishman, J, 1965 007 and me, by Ian Fleming, in For Bond Lovers Only (ed. S Lane), Panther
Fleming, I, 1959 Raymond Chandler, The London Magazine, vol. 6, no. 12

Saturday 8 September 2012

My holiday reading

Escaping the wet British summer, I went to south-west France for a holiday. I didn't totally neglect James Bond, though. I kept a look-out for Bondian material, and in Bordeaux's rue Sainte-Catherine found two Bond-related books in a bookshop specialising in the cinema and, inevitably for any French bookshop, bandes dessinées.  

One was James Bond: Belmondo & Cie: Le livre du cinéma européen, by Mario Cortesi. Published in 1983, the book is a French edition of an Italian book which traces the history of European film through its movements, actors, stunts and 'magic'. As the title suggests, the James Bond series features predominantly, being deemed sufficiently significant to have its own chapter: 'James Bond – Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang'.

In it, Cortesi describes the history of James Bond on the screen, from faltering starts on American television, to the global blockbusters of the Connery and Moore era (at the time of publication, Octopussy was the latest Bond film, and so dominates the selection of images from the films). The author attributes the rise of the Bond phenomenon to the efforts of producer Cubby Broccoli, strangely ignoring Harry Saltzman, who doesn't get a mention.

The author knows his Fleming, however, and makes several comparisons between the filmic and literary Bonds, naturally concluding that the then latest incarnation, Roger Moore's Bond, has little in common with the hero of Fleming's books. If there is some overlap, however, for Cortesi it is in the cold, mechanical execution of Bond's duties, which excludes emotion and the possibility of lasting relationships with women, a view that Cortesi may have revised in light of the portrayals by Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig.

The second book, published in 1988, is the first volume of the collected Daily Express comic strips, translated into French. The volume curiously begins with strips published in 1966, and so comprises Lawrence and Horak's adaptation of The Man with the Golden Gun and 'The Living Daylights'. The introduction to the volume comprises a biography of Ian Fleming.

It is worth noting here another French book, which I bought in Montpellier in 2008. Goldmaker by Guillaume Evin gives a fuller account of the rise and evolution of the James Bond film series (up to Quantum of Solace) and attempts to explain its success.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Dating Bond-related objects from the 007 gun symbol

Back in February, I published a piece on the evolution of the gun symbol or logo. Towards the end of the piece, I suggested that the gradual evolution of the symbol, with each design being fixed to a certain period of the Bond series or linked to a particular run of films, gives us a relative chronology, and allows us to date objects carrying the symbol with reasonable accuracy. Should the symbol be the only piece of writing surviving on a toy car, dvd case or any other Bondian artefact unearthed by future archaeologists, then so long as the archaeologists have the typology of gun symbols to hand, they should be able to date the object to within a few years by the symbol alone.

As an archaeologist, I can't resist applying methods of typological dating that use everyday when I date ancient Roman pottery to Bondian artefacts. Let's look at a few examples.

The first object is a bottle of Perrier. The label depicts a Bond figure within the second zero of the gun symbol. It may be obvious now that the bottle was used to promote GoldenEye and therefore dates to 1995, but the link may not so clear in the future as cultural memories fade. However, looking at our logo typology, we can match the symbol, particularly the angular seven, with that used for GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough, and can therefore date the bottle to between 1995 and 1999.

Having said that, from technical point of view, it is possible that the bottle was made after 1999; although the use of the symbol within the films dates from 1995 to 1999, the label could have been printed after that period. However, the date of the bottle is extremely unlikely to be earlier than 1995, as the design of the symbol didn't exist before then (just like, say, a time capsule can't have been deposited before the date of the newspaper placed inside it).

What about the second object, a postcard showing the gun barrel with a Bond figure inside? The gun symbol resembles the type used on the Perrier bottle, but on closer examination we can see that the symbol leans to the right. This dates the postcard to 1999 or later, as that form of the symbol was used for The World Is Not Enough. However, with the extra information on the card – Cubby Broccoli's centenary – we can revise the date to 2009, making the gun symbol a residual occurence; in other words, it continued to be used despite being effectively out of date by 2009, by which time a new version of the logo was current in film marketing.

The third object is Corgi's Lotus Espirit from For Your Eyes Only. We know that the car can't have been made before 1981, the date that the film was released, but was the car made more recently? In fact, the gun symbol on the base of the car points to a date of manufacture after 1987, as the symbol matches that used for The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill. We should be cautious, though, if we want to date the car up to 1995, when the style of the symbol changed with the release of GoldenEye. The style of symbol introduced with The Living Daylights continued to be used on later Corgi models, as the picture of the BMW Z8 from GoldenEye shows.

Even negative evidence – in this case the absence of a gun symbol – provides a useful indication for a date. The packaging on this UK board game, made by Spears Games in 1966, lacks the gun symbol, and this is consistent with the period from 1962 to 1969 when the symbol was used largely in US marketing only, and had yet to be established as an essential part of Bond iconography in British posters and products.

Finally, when future archaeologists excavate Bond-related objects from dumps and other waste deposits, they should be aware that there is a good chance that the objects were not deposited when the objects were made. Many are likely to have been curated by their owners – that is, retained and treasured for years after manufacture. For collectable material, there will inevitably be a significant time gap between manufacture and discard.

Sunday 19 August 2012

Rating James Bond

Recently we learnt that Diamonds Are Forever, which was rated 'A', the equivalent of the current PG (parental guidance) rating, will be rated 12 (recommended for viewers 12 years and over) by the British Board of Film Classification for its release in the Bond 50 Blu-Ray box set, reflecting changes in attitudes towards violence and stereotyping. Meanwhile, the rating for Casino Royale, originally 12A, will be raised to 15 (suitable only for viewers 15 years or over), as cuts made for its cinema release are restored.

Ratings for the Bond films have varied between countries as cultural sensibilities, particularly with regard to the depiction of violence and sexual behaviour, have varied. We can see this when we take a look at the classification policies of a few countries.

In Sweden, for example, all Bond films up to (and including) Tomorrow Never Dies have been rated 15 (that is, no one under the age of 15 are permitted to see them), reflecting the general view held by the Swedish Media Council, which classify films, that depictions of violence are more harmful to society than, say, sexual acts or strong language. Curiously, though, all films since Tomorrow Never Dies, with the exception of Casino Royale, which was given a 15 rating, were rated 11, being deemed suitable for viewers of 11 years or over, or between 7 and 11 years if accompanied by an adult.

In Peru, all films, with three exceptions, have been rated 14, being suitable for viewers of 14 years or over, although under 14s are admitted if accompanied by an adult. The exceptions have been The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker and For Your Eyes Only, which were classified as being suitable for general audiences. By comparison, the Australian Classification Board has rated the Bond films either PG (parental guidance recommended) or M (recommended for mature audiences). The films with the slighter higher rating have included Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever, A View To A Kill, The Living Daylights, and all films from Tomorrow Never Dies onwards.

The UK and US have taken similar positions on Bond film classification. In the US, with one exception, all films up to The Living Daylights have been rated PG, or its precursor, 'Approved'. On Her Majesty's Secret Service was rated M, or for mature audiences, a short-lived rating equivalent to PG, PG-13, or even R (restricted), depending on the film. Licence to Kill received a PG-13 rating, denoting that some material may be inappropriate for children under 13, and all films since then have received the same classification.

In the UK, films up to The Living Daylights received a PG (or the 'A' equivalent) classification. As in the US, Licence to Kill was problematic owing to its drug theme and depiction of violence, and was rated 15, a higher rating than was usual for a Bond film and despite cuts. However, at that time, the more palatable 12 or 12A rating, which has been given to all Bond films from GoldenEye onwards, did not exist, and it is possible that had it been available, the film would have been so classified, although it is notable that the film has so far not been reclassified for its various video/DVD releases.

This brief, and fairly random, survey of Bond film classification shows that, from a memetic point of view, cultural attitudes evolve along separate trajectories within individual societies, hence the variation in film ratings across different countries, and changes in classifications within them over the course of 50 years. And while the Bond films have generally been regarded as family entertainment, the message from boards of film classification seems to be that the ideal Bond-viewing family is a mature one.

Sunday 12 August 2012

Enter the Saint

Recently I watched a run of RKO's Saint films, which were made by between 1939 and 1941. The Saint was played by Louis Heyward in the first film, The Saint in New York, George Sanders in the next five films, then by Hugh Sinclair in the final two, The Saint's Vacation and The Saint Meets the Tiger. In my mind, George Sanders, who conveyed a charming, but dangerous, and at times caddish, adventurer, was the best of the Saints, followed by Hugh Sinclair's debonair swashbuckler, then the smooth playboy of Louis Heyward. 

Inevitably there have been many comparisons made between the Saint and the Bond of the cinema, and certainly the similarities are obvious. Both have the persona of a gentleman, both are outside, or at least on the margins, of the law in their pursuit of criminals, both are handy with their fists and a pistol, and both are irresistible to women.

No wonder that Roger Moore was always a Bond in waiting the moment he appeared as the Saint in 1962. There was also much press speculation about Ian Ogilvy, who played the Saint in The Return of the Saint in 1978 and 1979, as a potential Bond, although he was never screen-tested for the role.

There are also aspects of the format of Saint adventures that recalls the screen Bond. As in the Bond films, each episode of both Saint TV series had a pre-titles sequence, which would end with a halo appearing over the Saint's head. In the RKO series, the George Sanders' films began with a short animated sequence. This features the stick-figure symbol of the Saint, which appears at the end of a tunnel-like frame, then increases in size as it walks towards the viewer. The sequence ends with the stick figure extending its arm as if preparing to fire the pistol it holds. The device to some extent prefigures the gunbarrel device of the Bond films in design, and fulfils the same role of introducing the film and heightening the anticipation of the audience.

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Just published: Adventure at Creake Abbey

It is well known that Ian Fleming was fascinated by new technology, experts and adventure. What is less familiar is that in 1953 he combined these interests in an innovative archaeological survey to search for buried treasure at a medieval abbey.

In an article in the latest edition of British Archaeology magazine, Edward Biddulph describes how a dive to the wreck of an ancient Greek ship in the Mediterranean by Ian Fleming inspired him to organise a pioneering metal-detecting survey at Creake Abbey in Norfolk, and influenced elements of his novel, On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

The latest issue (September/October 2012) is available now in the UK in larger branches of WH Smith and other retailers or by subscription – see the magazine's website for details.

Sunday 5 August 2012

Designing 007 - a review

After 50 years of cinematic secret service, James Bond has been given the equivalent of a corporate-branded carriage clock with the arrival of an exhibition at the Barbican in London. There cannot be much more space on his mantelpiece, as this is at least his third 'long-service award'. The World of 007 exhibition, marking 35 years of the Bond films, toured museums and exhibition halls across the world in 1997, and 2008, the 100th anniversary of Ian Fleming's birth, saw a major exhibition – For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming + James Bond, which celebrated aspects of the films as well as the novels – at London's Imperial War Museum.

The current exhibition, Designing 007 – Fifty Years of Bond Style, is a fitting tribute to a worldwide cultural phenomenon. Its focus is on the design, fashion, and art of the James Bond films, showcasing props (especially gadgets), costumes, and sets to form a remarkable collection of some 500 exhibits.

Appropriately for a celebration of 50 years of Bond films, the exhibition begins on a golden theme, displaying among other exhibits a model of Shirley Eaton's golden girl, Ken Adam's Goldfinger set designs, and Scaramanga's golden pistol. Ian Fleming is not forgotten, and visitors move into a small, though somewhat crowded, space that commemorates Fleming's life and the influences that brought James Bond to life.

The exhibition moves into MI6 headquarters and the sets and props from M's office and Q's workshop. Some of the best-known material is on display, including the trick attaché case of From Russia With Love (interestingly the model is still in production, though presumably without the gadgets). The attention to detail is incredible – the official passports issued to Daniel Craig's Bond in 2006 shows that he was born in Berlin in April 1968 – and we are reminded how cutting edge the technology shown on screen was; Bond's digital watch in Live and Let Die, for example, was virtually unheard of in 1973.

Visitors then enter the casino zone, and are presented with the glamorous costumes, dinner suits, jewellery, and card tables that epitomises the James Bond films. These, together with the use of mirrored walls and projected casino scenes from the films, put us into Bond's world, and we get a sense of the excitement and danger of Casino Royale's poker tournament from a reconstructed set.

Part of the exhibition is devoted to the villains. The almost natural evolution of villains' style is  acknowledged with a display of the Nehru/Mao-type suit of the archetypal villain, Dr No, whose portrayal and costume survived to lesser or greater extents in nearly all the villains that followed. And if you wondered why the costumes for Sanchez and other villains of Licence to Kill was, well, a bit Miami Vice, it may be because the designer had also worked on that TV series.

The strong association between Bond and snowscapes is recognised with an exhibition of designs and costumes from Bond's snow- and ice-bound adventures. Pride of place is a model of Gustav Graves' Ice Palace from Die Another Day, but what took most visitors' attention was a projection of the pre-titles ski jump in The Spy Who Loved Me, which still looks fantastic on the big screen and remains one of the most iconic stunts captured for the cinema.

The exhibition does not start and end in the ticketed areas. Much of the space outside the exhibition space displays elements from the world of 007; visitors are greeted with a wall of Bond posters (see the video below) and an Aston Martin DB5, and can take Bondian refreshments in the 007 Martini Bar. And the gift shop is a Fort Knox, or maybe Octopussy treasure-chest, of Bond-related nick-nacks and merchandise.

With such a range of exhibits on display, and judging by the huge interest the exhibition has generated, the material produced over 50 years of the Bond films have been transformed from disposable film props and documents to artefacts, the stuff of history. Indeed, such film-related objects are no less culturally valid than other artefacts, such as pottery, coins, and fine art. A massive Bond archive now exists. Isn't it time these were brought together in a dedicated, and permanent, museum of James Bond?