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.