Monday 16 April 2012

James Bond in 1969

On 11th April, Ian Fleming Publications announced that William Boyd will write the next James Bond novel. Many of the details are under wraps, but William Boyd has said that he will take Bond back to the 1960s, setting the adventure in 1969.

The book will expand the chronology of Bond's activities in the 1960s. According to John Griswold, Fleming left Bond in February 1964. The events of Devil May Care, by Sebastian Faulks, were set after The Man with the Golden Gun, apparently around 1967. If so, then presumably Faulks disregarded Kingsley Amis' Colonel Sun, which is set in the year that Amis wrote it, 1967/8.

One of the ways in which authors evoke a past period is to refer to contemporaneous events. In Kate Westbrook's first volume of The Moneypenny Diaries (2006), for example, the narrative weaves around the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Modern-set novels (that is, contemporary with the period of writing) tend to lack references to newsworthy events, possibly because the significance of recent events is not clear at the time of writing, or that reading about those events a year later when the book is published can make the book seem dated. In the words of Elvis Costello, yesterday's news is tomorrow's fish and chip paper. There are exceptions, of course, among them The Man with the Golden Gun, in which Fleming referred to Charles de Gaulle's recognition of Communist China in 1964, and Raymond Benson's Zero Minus Ten (1997) in which the British handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997 provided the novel's background.

So to what events might William Boyd refer in his forthcoming Bond novel to root the narrative to 1969? January was a rather momentous month. Given the ongoing furore surrounding the behaviour of the British Press (phone hacking, intrusion, etc.) and the fortunes of Rupert Murdoch's media empire, we could see a reference to Murdoch's purchase of the News of the World in that month. Also in January, Richard Nixon was elected US president, and the Beatles gave their final live performance on the roof of Apple Records.

The Harrier jump-jet entering service in March of 1969 may get a mention, as it's a fondly-remembered plane that was controversially axed in 2010. Or there may be a reference to British troops going into Northern Ireland in April. Charles de Gaulle resigned as president of France in April, and a reference to this would be a nod to Fleming's reference to de Gaulle.

May 1969 provides another Beatles reference – it was the month that John Lennon and Yoko Ono had their Bed-In in Montreal. Inevitably, it has been argued that the current situation in Afghanistan finds an echo in the Vietnam War, and a reference to the first US troop withdrawals from Vietnam in July 1969 may be difficult to resist. Also in July, the Apollo 11 mission landed on the Moon and Neil Armstrong stepped onto its surface. Surely no book set in 1969 can avoid a reference to this momentous event.

A smaller event, at the end of July, is the removal from British legal tender of the halfpenny. One can imagine that being another bee in M's bonnet, and Bond might have some views about a new commercial aircraft, the Boeing 747, which entered service in December. Finally, I wonder whether Bond will walk past a cinema in December, glance up to see what's showing and note that there's another film about that sophisticated and tough secret agent. 'Complete fantasy. Nothing like real intelligence work', Bond might reflect with an almost imperceptible shake of the head.

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