Saturday 28 July 2012

What Raymond Chandler didn't say

The other day I picked up my copy of the Triad/Panther edition of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, first published in 1977, and glancing at the back cover read the familiar quotation: 'Bond is what every man would like to be, and what every woman would like to have between her sheets.' The author was Sunday Times book critic Raymond Mortimer.

I then picked up the later Penguin edition (showing the Richie Fahey design), and saw that the quotation was repeated. Except that it was attributed to Raymond Chandler. The same attribution, along with a reference to the Sunday Times source, was made on the Penguin 'abstract art' edition. And a shortened version of the quote and Chandler/Sunday Times attribution will be repeated again on the back of the Vintage 'There is only one Bond' edition.

So who does the quotation belong to? The only way to find out was to return to Raymond Mortimer's Sunday Times review of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, published on 30th March 1963. The phrase was indeed there, though not quite in the same form as that shown on the Triad and Penguin paperbacks. The actual line is:

'James Bond is what every man would like to be, and what every woman would like between her sheets.'

So what of Raymond Chandler? Chandler wrote two reviews of Bond books. The first, a review of Diamonds are Forever, was published in the Sunday Times on 25th March 1956. The second, reviewing Dr No, was published on 31st March 1958. In neither review did Chandler write anything that resembled Raymond Mortimer's line. It is possible that Chandler did say something similar, but it has been difficult to find its original source (and of course Chandler can't have written the line in connection with On Her Majesty's Secret Service, as he died in 1959).

I can't help feeling that Chandler never wrote a phrase on the lines of 'Bond is what is every man would like to be', and that the association between the author and phrase is apocryphal. I also wonder whether the error in attribution occurred simply from the confusion of both writers being called Raymond. What is interesting, though, is the fact that copying-errors in the attribution and words have been perpetuated through various editions of Bond paperbacks. The inaccurate quotation has become a meme in its own right, being spread and replicated without reference to the original source. 

On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Design copyright Triad/Panther Books 1977
On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Design copyright Penguin/Richie Fahey 2006 

Sunday 22 July 2012

Q in other films

In my last article, I discussed how the character of Q changed through the series of Bond films, and identified some of the essential aspects associated with the character. That Q became a recurrent character in the Bond films was evidence of the character's success. Another indicator is the fact that the character has been imitated in other films, although as we'll see, the imitation has been a little slower to emerge.

The success of the Bond films at the box office in the mid and late 1960s brought a rash of imitators. Most were low-budget and instantly forgettable, but others were successful enough to spawn sequels and their own imitators. Each film copied elements of the Bond films to lesser or greater extents. Gadgets made an important contribution to most of them, but what is perhaps surprising now is the near absence of a Q-like figure.

For example, in one of the earliest Bond parodies, Carry On Spying (1964), there is a reference to the trick attaché case of From Russia With Love (1963), but the film features no armourer or Q-like character. The case is referenced again in the first of the Derek Flint films, Our Man Flint (1966), but it is the M character, Cramden, who explains to Flint how the device works. Similarly, in one of the Matt Helm spy spoofs, The Wrecking Crew (1968), the M equivalent, 'Mac' MacDonald, has the additional role of equipping Helm with the gadgets.

The spy-film boom had ceased by the end of the 1960s, and a hiatus in spy films followed. One of the few Bondian films to be made in the 1970s was Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon (1973). In that film, however, no gadgets are required, as Bruce Lee's hands and feet (and some nunchaku) are the only tools he needs.

The 1980s were also relatively lean, although there were a few films which borrowed from the Bond films. The Nude Bomb (1980) was a big-screen adaptation of the Get Smart television series of the 1960s. The film updated elements of that series, but also brought in a Q-like gadget master, named Carruthers. Eleven years later, Teen Agent (1991) – released in the US as If Looks Could Kill – featured a laboratory scene with Geraldine James in a Q-like role as a white-coated scientist or technician. She equips the protagonist, Michael Corbin (played by Richard Grieco), with a gadget-laden Lotus Espirit.

The 1990s saw renewed interest in the spy genre, and the gap between Licence to Kill (1989) and GoldenEye (1995) was filled with Bondian films, most notably True Lies (1994). Leslie Neilson's Bond and spy spoof, Spy Hard (1995) emerged during this time, and showed another gadget-testing laboratory scene.

Since then, spy films with Bondian elements have proliferated, and many of them have scenes featuring a Q-type character. Cody Banks, the teenage spy played by Frankie Muniz in Agent Cody Banks (2003), is equipped in the lab by Darrell Hammond's Earl. In Stormbreaker (2006), another teenage spy, Alex Rider, is equipped by gadget master Smithers, played by Stephen Fry. In Mission Impossible III (2006) computer wizard Benji Dunn, played by Simon Pegg, is not strictly a gadget expert, but his appearance nonetheless recalls the technical help provided by Q in the Bond films. There is a more obvious nod to Q in Christopher Nolan's Batman films, commencing with Batman Begins (2005). Lucius Fox, former head of research at Wayne Enterprises, becomes Bruce Wayne's armourer, and is shown in a workshop or laboratory, where he develops and tests equipment. Apart from providing technical support, Fox is also something of a mentor to Wayne, just as Desmond Llewelyn's Q is in the later Bond films.

We can see, then, from this brief survey of Bondian spy films and spoofs, that in the 1960s gadgets played an important role in the films, but Q as a character was absent or a very minor figure. It is only from the 1990s that Q-like characters were regularly depicted. We only need return to the Bond films to explain this pattern. Though seeming to be an essential component of the Bond film, Q's lab was not routinely shown until the mid 1970s, beginning with The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). Before then, Q appears in M's office or equips Bond in the field (the notable exception being Goldfinger). The obvious point here, therefore, is that, as the lab scene did not appear much before the late 1970s, it could not have been imitated in the films of the 1960s. And it is possible that Q was not imitated in those early films, because despite the attraction of Bond Aston Martin DB5 in Goldfinger, the scene in From Russia With Love in M's office where Bond is given the attaché case had greater impact in popular culture. It is this scene which was imitated through the decade. By the 1990s, when the lab scene was well established in popular culture, and because of factors such as Desmond Llewelyn's portrayal and the amusing interplay between Q and Bond, Q became an essential part of Bondian spy films and spoofs.

Sunday 15 July 2012

The evolution of Q

July has seen official confirmation of what was suspected for many months, that Ben Whishaw is playing the role of Q in the forthcoming James Bond film, Skyfall. An image from the film published by shows the young Q with an open metal case, which presumably contains a gadget or weapon of some kind. And, far removed from the tweedy suits of Desmond Llewelyn's Q, he wears glasses and a V-necked garment that epitomises geek chic (with a touch of Bondian sophistication).

As Ben Whishaw noted in an interview with Graham Norton, there is great public affection for the character of Q, helped in no small part by Desmond Llewelyn's character-defining portrayal and the public's familiarity and enjoyment of the Q-Bond exchanges that developed through the film series.

Despite the fact that the scene where Q equips Bond with the latest gadgetry has become a standard component of the Bond formula, the Q of the early films is different from that of the later films. The evolution is subtle, but over time there have been changes in approaches to the scene and to Q's style. Peter Burton, appearing in Dr No, was the first Q, or, rather, the armourer. The appearance was fleeting and a more-or-less straight depiction of the passage in Ian Fleming's novel. Desmond Llewelyn replaced Burton in From Russia With Love. Llewelyn's Q followed Burton's style, playing the scene reasonably straight. There was, however, a significant change in the approach to the role in Goldfinger. The director Guy Hamilton insisted that Llewelyn's portrayal reflected Q's hatred of Bond's cavalier attitude to the gadgets, and the result was a character that not only demonstrated the gadgets to Bond, but was also irritated by Bond as he did so.

This approach was ostensibly retained throughout Desmond Llewelyn's tenure, although the role has developed over time. Q becomes more than a laboratory technician concerned with developing the gadgets required in Bond's mission when he provides scientific and technological advice to the secret service and the government, as seen, for example, in The Spy Who Loved Me, where he advises on the heat signature recognition system that allows Stromberg to capture submarines.

Q also seems to have become more exasperated with Bond as the series progressed. We get a 'Try to be less than your frivolous self, 007' in Thunderball, a 'Oh, and missed you [ie Bond], did they? What a pity' in Octopussy, and a 'Grow up, 007' in GoldenEye and The World Is Not Enough. Parallel with this has been the increased humour in Q's lines, largely beginning in the Roger Moore era. Moonraker's 'I think he's attempting re-entry' is a classic, but there are other nice one-liners, such as, 'She [Mayday] must take a lot of vitamins' in A View To A Kill, or 'Explosive alarm clock – guaranteed never to wake up anyone who uses it' in Licence to Kill. In other words, Desmond Llewelyn's Q increasingly served as comic relief (admittedly among other comic moments, particularly in Roger Moore's time).

Another change has been the increased affection between Q and Bond, with Q becoming a father-figure or mentor to Bond. This is apparent in Licence to Kill, when Q unofficially equips Bond in the field ('If it wasn't for me, you would have been dead long ago'), and The World Is Not Enough ('I've always tried to teach you two things...'), Desmond Llewelyn's last appearance in the role.

As for style, the Q of the early films wears a three-piece suit, as is no doubt appropriate for a lower-level government employee. The style changes in the middle period to single-breasted suit (usually without a waistcoat) or blazer and smart trousers (occasionally interspersed with tropical or safari wear), and in the later period (from The Living Daylights onwards), Q wears a more tweed-like three-piece suit, as might be worn by an eminent university professor.

As is often the case with memetic change, these developments in the character have occurred gradually, as new scenes largely imitated the scenes depicted in films they immediately followed. This is clear from the fact that no film after Goldfinger returned to the basic Q-Bond exchange of Dr No or From Russia With Love, or that no film after Moonraker omitted to give Q his fair share of witty one-liners.

John Cleese's Q in Die Another Day references the humour and interplay of Desmond Llewelyn's Q in the earlier films ('Better than looking cleverer than you are' [in response to Bond's 'You're cleverer than you look'], and 'I wish I could make you vanish'), and more directly recalls Goldfinger ('As I learned from my predecessor, Bond, I never joke about my work'). In his first film, The World Is Not Enough, Cleese, as Q's assistant, was presented as a white-coated lab technician, albeit a character just as irritated by Bond.

There was no Q in Casino Royale or Quantum of Solace, although the forensics technician in Quantum of Solace, played by Brendan O'Hea, was a role that might have been taken by Q in the earlier films. Interestingly, the character's style combined geek chic with the professorial tweediness of Desmond Llewelyn's later Q.

When they created the role of Q, the producers of the Bond films could not have foreseen how the character would develop over time, or been aware of how successful the character would become, as measured the longevity of the character, but also by the fact that the Q is now well established in popular culture, with knowledge of the character probably being as widespread as that of Bond. Another sign of this success is the observation that aspects or memes that form the character have escaped beyond the Bond films into other productions, and in my next article, I will explore some of the Q memes that have been expressed in other films.

Sunday 1 July 2012

James Bond's £5 million Blower Bentley

In the novel Casino Royale, we are introduced to James Bond's supercharged 4½ litre Bentley. If the car came up for auction (if it hadn't been a complete write-off after Bond, in pursuit of Hugo Drax's Mercedes, collided with rolls of newsprint in Moonraker), how much would it be worth?

The answer might be over £5 million. The value reached at auction on 29 June 2012 by a 1929 single-seater 4½ litre Bentley originally driven by Sir Henry 'Tim' Birkin was £5,042,000. The car, fitted with an Amherst Villiers two-rotor, Roots-type supercharger, was known as a Blower Bentley. Officially, 55 cars had been produced. Four were made for Sir Tim Birkin, another was built from spares, and 50 were production models. But there was also the fictional Blower Bentley owned by James Bond.

Ian Fleming tells us in Casino Royale (chapter 5) that Bond bought his Bentley almost new in 1933, and suggests in Live and Let Die (chapter 2) that the car was built in that year, although in Moonraker (chapter 1), Fleming revises the date of production to a more plausible 1930 (the 55 Blowers were made between 1929 and 1931). Whatever the date, given that Bond would have been about 12 when he bought the car, Charlie Higson tells us in Double or Die that Bond acquired the car while at Eton (although Higson describes it as a Bentley 'Blower' and a veteran of the Brookfield circuit).

Fleming revealed in interview that he had put Bond in a Blower because he liked him to 'use dashing, interesting things.' We probably have Sir Tim Birkin to thank for that. His exciting exploits in the car at Brooklands (he reached speeds of 138 mph in 1932 – Bond only managed a little over 110 when was after Le Chiffre) and Le Mans 24-hours were the stuff of legend. But the choice was also no doubt in tribute to Fleming's friend, Amherst Villiers; the two met in 1927 and became firm friends during social gatherings and visits to Paris (Villiers would later paint Fleming's portrait).

Further reading:

Foulkes, N, 2005 Bentley: a motoring miscellany, Quadrille
Kenny, P, 2009 The man who supercharged Bond: the extaordinary story of Charles Amherst Villiers, Haynes