Sunday 22 December 2013

Does James Bond play Scrabble?

In a post published in December 2010, I wondered how James Bond celebrates Christmas. Based on information presented in the novel, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, I suggested that Bond celebrates a fairly traditional Christmas – tucking into turkey and plum pudding, attending carol services, and so on – though doesn't get too involved with the organisation of the day or the preparation of the food.

If James Bond celebrated Christmas with the same sort of festivities enjoyed by Ian Fleming (not an unreasonable assumption, given that Fleming gave many of his own idiosyncrasies to his creation), then based on the letters of Ann and Ian Fleming, Bond might either take to the slopes in St Moritz, or escape to some cosy, romantic spot – a secluded hotel or country-house estate, perhaps – and eat tangerines, Stilton, and smoked salmon, drink vodka, and play Scrabble, bridge and table tennis.

I admit I was struggling to picture James Bond play Scrabble (and indeed table tennis), but I recently discovered some evidence that suggested that he played Scrabble, or was present when it was being played, at least one Christmas.

I acquired a set of reproduction lobby cards for film of On Her Majesty's Secret Service. As I was looking through them, and wondering why the poster campaign would include images of production crew (in one Telly Savalas is having his coat brushed as he sits at his desk presumably waiting for the cameras to start rolling), I noticed an interesting detail one of the photographs.

The image shows James Bond (a kilted George Lazenby) enjoying a drink with one of the 'Angels of Death' ('the Jamaican Girl', played by Sylvana Henriques). The set had been dressed to convey notions of homely seasonal conviviality, and in the background on a wooden cabinet to the left there's a pile of what appears to be reading matter and games. The object at the top of the pile is especially interesting. The image is fuzzy here, but it is just possible to make out a box marked Scrabble in the familiar colours and style.

James Bond with 'the Jamaican Girl', and a set of Scrabble in the background

This doesn't prove conclusively that Bond plays Scrabble, or that he played it while on mission in Switzerland, but it is possible. (There's of course another Scrabble connection in Skyfall – Q's coffee mug – so I'm sure Bond is familiar with the game.) In any case, the image reveals that the set designers, like Fleming and many others, associated the game with Christmas. So, when I dust off my Scrabble set in a few days' time, I will be doing something at least a little bit Bondian. Happy Christmas!

Sunday 15 December 2013

After Bond: On the trail of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Just as some actors never like to see themselves on screen, I don't like to read anything I've written after it's been published, at least not for a while, just in case I spot a typo or factual error. Occasionally, such mistakes slip through, and unfortunately one appeared in my article, 'On the Trail of 007', recently published in MI6 Confidential on James Bond's journey through Kent in Moonraker. In the article, I stated that the M20 motorway, which connects the M25 London Orbital motorway with Folkestone, was constructed between 1975 and 1986. In fact, the first section was opened in 1960, and the final sections were completed in 1993. Well, I'm in good company: even Ian Fleming made mistakes.

I was alerted to my chronological mistake when I was flicking through the original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang adventures. As the story takes the Potts family to some of the same parts of Kent visited by James Bond, I was keen to compare Fleming's descriptions. One obvious difference was that in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (published in 1964), the M20 motorway makes an appearance. Commander Pott lives beside a lake somewhere in Kent in sight of the motorway and about 20 miles away from Dover (near Ashford, perhaps). Naturally when he takes the newly-restored Chitty out for a spin, he chooses to take her onto the motorway. The car reaches 100 miles per hour, passing all the other cars “as if they were standing still.” 

The Farningham bypass in Kent. Bond speeds along this road in Moonraker. The M20, not built in Bond's time, is on the other side of the hill.
Later, when the Potts decide to have a picnic on the coast, they take the motorway again towards Dover, get stuck in traffic, take a detour through smaller roads and into Canterbury, then fly the rest of the way to Dover and out over the sea.

The descriptions of Kent in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang are interesting because they reveal how dramatically the landscape in Kent changed in the nine years since the publication of Moonraker in 1955. The experiences of Caractacus Pott hint at the effect that the construction of the motorway must have had on the residents of Kent and beyond, for example popularising coastal trips and giving greater access to continental Europe, especially France. The descriptions also reveal how changes in the cultural environment were constantly influencing and shaping Fleming's writing. His books may be 'of their time', but this gives them value as historical documents that usefully reflect contemporaneous developments and events.

In my MI6 Confidential article, I speculated that had the M20 been available to Fleming when he wrote Moonraker, he would have taken James Bond onto it and described Bond's appreciation of its almost racetrack-like conditions. That Fleming took Commander Pott onto it just three or four years after the motorway opened supports this view. For Fleming, it seems it wasn't so much the journey that was important, but how one reached the destination.

Sunday 8 December 2013

More on the James Bond breakfast at the Dorchester

In my previous post, I reviewed the 'Solo Breakfast' served at the Dorchester Hotel in celebration of the publication of William Boyd's Solo. As part of the experience, guests were given a copy of the hotel's breakfast menu dated to 1969, the year in which Solo is set. I was fascinated by the document. It offers a snapshot of life in 1969, and it's interesting to compare the menu with today's breakfast habits. I was also curious about the prices given. As I enjoy playing with numbers, I had the idea of costing up the various breakfasts Bond enjoys during the course of his adventures. If he were to eat more regularly at the Dorchester in 1969, what would he be expected to pay?

The Dorchester's breakfast menu is divided into 'Plain Breakfast' and 'A La Carte'. The plain breakfast options – tea, coffee, cereals, toast, marmalade, muffins, croissants and so on – seem reasonably standard even to modern eyes. That said, muffins might confuse today's consumers, who would now be expecting the small cake rather than the bread-like English muffin. The simplicity of the coffee is also notable; there were no Americanos, lattes, or mocaccinos in 1969.

There was plenty to choose from in the a la carte menu. Much of it, though, has disappeared from the modern menu. The fried egg, grilled sausages, and bacon offered as separate items in the Dorchester menu is now in Britain more usually offered together as the 'Full English Breakfast'. A time-traveller returning to 1969 might struggle to properly reconstruct the full English at the Dorchester. The 1969 menu has no baked beans, hash browns, or black pudding (actually, this isn't  always available today), and while tomatoes and mushrooms are on the menu, they are provided with other dishes. Still, I'm sure the staff at the Dorchester in 1969 would be obliging enough to put a fair approximation to the full English together.

The Dorchester menu is relatively heavy on the fish. Apart from kippers, which I haven't seen on any hotel or restaurant breakfast menu for many years, there is also herring, plaice, haddock, whiting and fillet of sole (given a chance, I'd go for this last mentioned just for its loose Bondian connections). None of these is part of the modern breakfast. Similarly, grilled kidneys, liver, chops and cutlets, listed on the 1969 menu, are now absent today. And I'd be very surprised to see stewed prunes or pears and a baked apple in a modern menu.

One of the few items which is just as popular today as it was in 1969 is Bond's favourite, scrambled eggs (a fact which in some small way may have helped to keep Bond relevant today; if he ate little else other than kedgeree, he might seem more old-fashioned). But it's not as if the items long gone from the breakfast menu have disappeared altogether from modern diets; they're still available, but are now only eaten during the evening meal (no doubt rarely in the case of liver and stewed fruit).

So, looking at the prices given in the Dorchester menu, we can see that the breakfast William Boyd gives Bond cost 3 shillings and 6 pence (not including the coffee). If Bond had ordered the breakfast he ate in New York in Live and Let Die – comprising scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, marmalade, coffee and orange juice – he'd pay 6 shillings and 6 pence. Another of his breakfasts described in Live and Let Die (pineapple juice, cornflakes, shirred eggs, bacon, Café Espresso, toast and marmalade) is slightly cheaper at 5 shillings and 6 pence. Shirred or baked eggs aren't on the menu, but I've assumed that the Dorchester staff would have cooked them for Bond and charged him the cost of a fried or poached egg.

The breakfast Bond consumes at his London home (From Russia, with Love), comprising a boiled egg, coffee, toast, jam and marmalade, is relatively cheap at 4 shillings, as is his café complet eaten in France (3 shillings) in Goldfinger. In contrast, his breakfast prepared by Dr No's staff (scrambled eggs, toast, bacon, a grilled kidney, and an English pork sausage) is comparatively extravagant at 7 shillings.

Unfortunately I can't give a reliable cost for green figs and yoghurt, which Bond orders in Istanbul (From Russia, with Love), and one of Bond's Jamaican breakfasts – paw-paw, red bananas, purple star-apples, and tangerines (Live and Let Die), although individual pieces of fruit at the Dorchester vary from 6 pence (for a banana) to 1 shilling and 6 pence for a pear or half a grapefruit.

The breakfast menu for 1969 offers insights in how breakfasts have changed over time. For modern readers of the Bond books, it is also strangely familiar. With a few exceptions, the Dorchester would have had little difficulty fulfilling Bond's breakfast demands. An obvious point to make, from a memetic angle, is that Bond's breakfasts are naturally a product of prevailing cultural environments. There was very little chance that Fleming would describe breakfasts of more modern form, simply because they were not yet popular or indeed did not exist.

Sunday 1 December 2013

Breakfast with Bond

Me about to tuck into my 'Solo' breakfast
Throughout October and November, London's Dorchester Hotel was offering guests a 'Solo' breakfast in celebration of the publication of William Boyd's James Bond novel, Solo. The book begins with Bond eating breakfast at the hotel. I left it to the last minute, but on the final morning of the special breakfast, I managed to make it to the Dorchester to enjoy my own breakfast with Bond.

Sitting down in the ornately-decorated breakfast room, I was handed a complimentary copy of Solo and a facsimile of a breakfast menu dating to 1969, the year in which the book is set (more about the menu in a separate post). As much as I was tempted by the kedgeree, grilled chop or stewed prunes, I was here to have what Bond had, and that was helpfully described on the back of the menu: “...four eggs, scrambled with pepper sprinkled on top, half a dozen rashers of unsmoked bacon, well done, on the side and a long draught of strong black coffee.”

James Bond's breakfast choices, as described in the original novels, are more varied, and I was able to supplement the breakfast Boyd gives Bond with items mentioned by Fleming. I ordered orange juice (which Bond orders for breakfast in New York in Live and Let Die), and had my eye on a pot of marmalade on the table (Bond takes toast and marmalade during the same New York breakfast, and marmalade is mentioned again in From Russia, with Love).

As for the scrambled eggs and bacon, I can only say that they were cooked to perfection. The eggs were perhaps not as runny (baveuse) as Fleming – and presumably Bond – would like, but they were moist and delicious (and peppered as Boyd described), and nicely balanced by the crisp bacon. The meal was accompanied by a pot of coffee, which I initially drank black as Bond would have done, although I confess I added sugar, which would have received Bond's disapproval. I duly had some toast and marmalade, and selected a few items from a basket of pastries, breads and croissants that had also been placed on the table. The basket is not as un-Bondian as it seems. Bond breakfasts on café complet – which typically includes croissants and bread – at Orleans' Hotel de Gare in Goldfinger.

If the Solo breakfast wasn't the best breakfast I have ever had, it was certainly close, and for a Bondian experience it was unforgettable. I must also mention the staff. As you'd expect from the Dorchester, the staff were more than excellent. They were attentive and sensitive, and no request was a problem. It was no trouble, for example, that my three-year old daughter went off-menu and wanted boiled eggs (we weren't charged for them either). Incidentally, I didn't mind my daughter's preference for boiled eggs. After all, James Bond likes a boiled egg too.

Monday 25 November 2013

Are James Bond novels getting longer?

In an interview by Sathnam Sanghera for the Times Magazine in September, William Boyd said that he thought his James Bond book, Solo, “might be the longest Bond novel at 336 pages” ('...pretending he doesn't know this for a fact', Sathnam Sanghera commented). Boyd admitted at the 'Boyd on Bond' event at the Southbank that he hadn't read any continuation Bond novels except Kingsley Amis' Colonel Sun and Sebastian Faulks' Devil May Care, and so we can excuse the inaccuracy. In fact, the longest Bond novel is Jeffery Deaver's Carte Blanche, which at 432 pages is almost 100 pages longer than Solo.

Boyd's claim notwithstanding, his comment perhaps reflects a wider view that, certainly by modern standards, Ian Fleming's novels are rather on the short side, possibly even too short to be taken very seriously. Indeed, in his preview of the Designing Bond exhibition in London in July 2012, design critic Stephen Bayley, writing in the Times (2nd July 2012), dismissed the original novels as novellas. But is this fair? Are Fleming's books really so short? Are Bond books increasing in length over time? Let's have a look at some numbers.

I collected data for all of Fleming's books, except Octopussy (a statistical outlier), and all continuation novels, except the novelisations of Pierce Brosnan's Bond films. I chose to ignore several variables that might affect book length, such as font size, pages size, margins and spacing, simply taking instead the number of the last page in the UK first edition hardback. This gave me a dataset of 39 books.

Here are some basic statistics. As stated, the longest Bond book is Carte Blanche. The shortest is John Gardner's Nobody Lives Forever (1986), which is 192 pages long. In fairness to William Boyd, Solo is the second longest book (actually 322 pages). The longest Fleming novel is Goldfinger (1959) at 318 pages, only four fewer than Solo. The shortest Fleming novel is Casino Royale (1953) at 218 pages. Sebastian Faulks' Devil May Care (2008) is within the top quarter with 294 pages, while Kingsley Amis' effort (1968) is roughly in the middle with 255 pages. Raymond Benson's novels are generally on the higher end, his longest being The Man with the Red Tattoo (2002), Doubleshot (2000) and Never Dream of Dying (2001), all being 320 pages in length. The longest Gardner novel is The Man from Barborossa (1991) at 303 pages. The overall mean across the dataset is 262 pages.

The sequence of books produced by Fleming, Gardner and Benson allows some interesting comparison. The mean length of Fleming's novels is 253 pages. This is slightly more than the mean for Gardner's books (241 pages) but somewhat smaller than the value (301 pages) for Raymond Benson's novels. The standard deviations for the books of Fleming and Gardner are also quite similar (27 and 29 pages respectively), but more than that for Benson (25 pages). This suggests that Benson's novels are more consistent in terms of page length, while the books of Fleming and Gardner varied rather more. This is confirmed by the overall range (that of Fleming is 100 pages, compared with 61 for Benson), and the coefficient of variation (standard deviation divided by mean), which standardises groups of data of different size. That for Fleming and Gardner is 0.12, while that for Benson is 0.08.

These values suggested to me that Gardner's novels are practically the same sort of length as Ian Fleming's, but that Raymond Benson's are different; judging by the means, Benson's books are consistently longer. I tested this by first combining into a single list Fleming's and Gardner's books and ranking the books in size order. I could see that the novels were fairly evenly mixed. There was a Gardner, then a Fleming, then two Gardners, followed by two Flemings, four Gardners then a single Fleming, and so on, as if randomly intermixed. When I compared Fleming and Benson, again combining the lists and ranking the books by page length, most of Benson's books were at high end of the list. There were eleven Flemings (out of 13) ranked below the shortest Benson. Evidently Benson's books were generally longer than Fleming's (and no doubt Gardner's too), and a Mann-Whitney test confirmed there there was a significant statistical difference between the lengths of Fleming's and Benson's books.

So while there has been no steady rise during the time that Fleming and Gardner were writing (1953-1996) (it could even be suggested that Gardner deliberately copied the length of the original novels for greater authenticity – his Herbie Kruger novels, for example, are much longer than his Bonds), the continuation novels of Raymond Benson and subsequent authors have been generally longer than earlier novels.

Much of the explanation for this is likely to be cultural, with authors (Gardner excepted) matching, to some extent unwittingly, the length of their Bond books with that of their other works or other contemporary fiction. It is probably true to say that when Fleming was writing, contemporary novels were the same sort of length as his own. Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe books averaged about 250 pages per book. William Boyd's novels are more consistently over 300 pages long. In other words, book length has been driven upwards over time, and authors conform to that trend. Nevertheless, does it really matter? After all, it's not the size of the book that counts, but what's inside it.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Over the moon about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Just as Ian Fleming wrote three Chitty Chitty Bang Bang adventures, Frank Cottrell Boyce has penned a third sequel to the original series. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Over the Moon sees the modern Tooting family – who find and restore the famous racing car (with the help of a little Chitty magic) in their first outing – adrift 1966 when Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, now fitted with a time-travelling chronojuster, is stolen. There's only one to do: find the Pott family and the 'younger' Chitty, rescue the future Chitty, and go.... back to the future.

As with any story involving time-travel, the twists, complications and paradoxes soon mount up, and this latest Chitty adventure is no exception. What happens when the past and future Chitty Chitty Bang Bangs meet? What would become of the Tootings if the future described in the first two sequels never happened as a result of their saving the world in the 1960s? As with any time-travelling story, it's probably best not to think about it too much.

The story has much to enjoy. Meeting the Potts again is like seeing old friends. Or, rather, old-fashioned friends. Frank Cottrell Boyce nicely contrasts the attitudes of today with those of the 1960s, reflecting the changes in society that have occurred over the past 50 years. So, Commander Pott is authoritative, Jeremy is independent and capable, ever ready with a map, compass, pocket knife and catapult, Mimsie makes tea and thinks about picnics, while Jemima reminds everyone that she's not very good at things because she's a girl. Of course, the Potts soon learn that to overcome the villainous Tiny Jack, they all need to work together as a family – and with the Tootings.

There are nods to the Bond series and other films. Commander Pott drives an Aston Martin DB5. Tiny Jack, who's building up his collection of (stolen) cars, already has the Batmobile and Marty McFly's DeLorean. Other allusions are probably unintentional. When Tiny Jack hijacks Big Ben (actually the Elizabeth Tower), which is flying across the sky thanks to one of Commander Pott's inventions, anti-gravity paint, I was reminded of the plot of Bond spoof, Alligator, in which the eponymous villain steals the Houses of Parliament. I expect, however, that this vague similarity is purely coincidental.

With the Potts involved in much of the action, the spirit of Ian Fleming is never far away, and Frank Cottrell Boyce further links his adventures with the original stories with references to Crackpot's whistling sweets and Monsieur Bon Bon's 'Fooj' shop. And with these references, it seems that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's adventures have come full circle, and to an end. But I hope not. I've enjoyed reading these new adventures, and would love to see Chitty take flight again. After all, in the words of Commander Pott, never say no to adventure.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

James Bond's top ten books

Last week, a list of Ian Fleming's top ten books, as selected by me, was posted on Artistic License Renewed: An Art and Literary James Bond Blog and Tribute to Richard Chopping. Now it's the turn of James Bond. Far from being an occasional reader of books about golf and cards, Bond's library is far more varied. Indeed, Fleming wrote of Bond's 'book-lined sitting-room'. Visitors to Bond's London flat are likely to see not only sports books, but also detective and mystery thrillers, gothic chillers, books about politics, a book of 18th-century letters, and travel writing, among other works. Inevitably the interests of Fleming and Bond overlap, but I think Bond's library still retains a distinctive profile. Click the link to see my suggestions for Bond's top ten books. Many thanks to Artistic License Renewed for inviting me to write the article.   

Monday 11 November 2013

James Bond at the Intelligence and Security Committee

Intelligence chiefs at the ISC ('C' in the centre). Photo: The Guardian
When UK’s spy chiefs appeared before the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee last week, it was inevitable that James Bond would be referenced in the extensive media coverage of the event. James Bond is a standard cultural touchstone for any espionage-related story, but allusions to Bond were especially relevant on this occasion, as Judy Dench’s M faces the same committee in Skyfall (2012). In the film, the committee was chaired by Gareth Mallory, played by Ralph Fiennes. His role in reality was taken by Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP.

A trawl through the coverage in British media brought up various James Bond references. The headline for a comment piece by Julian Huppert in The Guardian read, “Spy chiefs can give evidence without the sky falling in – so let's reform oversight,” an obvious reference to Skyfall. An editorial in same paper contrasted popular perceptions of spy work with reality by alluding to Bond villains, white cats, and steel-rimmed bowler hats. In a parliamentary sketch in The Daily Mail, Quentin Letts wrote of “a petite Miss Moneypenny, taking notes” behind Sir John Sawers, chief ('C') of MI6. A piece by Alex Stevenson in the online edition of Metro had the headline, “Spy chiefs grilled: James Bond’s bosses hit back hard,” and suggested that C's performance at the committee hearing was not as exciting as the portrayal we're used to in the Bond films. In the print edition of Metro, a cartoon by Robert Thompson showed a Blofeld-like character (of Donald Pleasence type) in a chair stroking a white cat. He says to an image of Bond on a TV screen, “Ah, Mr Bond, I've been expecting you.” “Yes, sorry there's a two minute time delay,” Bond replies, referring to the small transmission delay in the broadcast of the proceedings.

On BBC Radio 4, Eddie Mair, presenter of the PM programme began his broadcast with the words, “On Her Majesty's Not So Secret Service,” and the BBC's security correspondent, Frank Gardner introduced his report by saying, “It wasn't Skyfall.” Even before the committee met, the BBC was reaching for references to Skyfall in its reporting on the upcoming event. On Radio 4's Today programme, a segment by correspondent Gordon Corera used clips of M's scenes in front of the committee.

As for the appearance of the spy chiefs themselves, fact mirrored fiction as some of what the committee heard was not too dissimilar from what M tells the committee in Skyfall. In his opening remarks, Sir John Sawers said, “It is not like it was in the Cold War. There are not states out there, trying to destroy our Government and our way of life, but there are a very wide range of diverse threats that we face.” This could have been one of M’s lines. She tells the committee, “I'm frightened because our enemies are no longer known to us. They do not exist on a map. They're not nations, they're individuals. And look around you. Who do you fear? Can you see a face, a uniform, a flag? No. Our world is not more transparent now, it's more opaque. It's in the shadows.”

I was also reminded of M’s speech when Andrew Parker, Director General of MI5, told the committee, “The task that we are all paid to do is to keep the country safe. That is challenging and difficult work to do; and where the techniques we have are compromised, that makes our work even harder.” This echoes the appeal about operational matters that M makes: “So before you declare us irrelevant, ask yourselves, how safe do you feel?”

James Bond has long been something of a recruiting sergeant for the intelligence services (at least unofficially), but it was still remarkable to hear Sir John Sawers mention him: “I think the idea of sending an agent off into the field like James Bond and then he comes back two months later and reports... That does not work that way. Our people in the field will have constant communication with us through our stations or direct to head office. And they can communicate very rapidly.”

Ironically, far from being unrealistic, MI6 as portrayed in recent James Bond films has increasingly been working in a manner that Sir John Sawers would recognise. James Bond, particularly in the Daniel Craig era, is less a lone wolf sent out by M and relying on his wits and judgement (and some gadgets) to complete the mission, and is more part of a team which provides backup and feeds information and resources to Bond while in the field. M has also played a more active role, staying in regular contact with Bond and even going out into the field.

As I suggested in an earlier post, this in part reflects the fact that communication is much easier today than it was in the early days of the Bond films. As technology has evolved, the Bond films have naturally kept pace with it; Bond without a mobile phone is now unthinkable, and there is now no reason for Bond to stay incommunicado (except perhaps when held prisoner or in a situation where to attempting to communicate would be dangerous). A more active M also reflects the reality of accountability and oversight that Government (and society) demands of our intelligence services. The Bond films have moved, again probably without too much deliberation, with this trend. Besides, given his experience on the Intelligence and Security Committee, I expect the new M, Gareth Mallory, will be no different to his predecessor and will continue to direct, or be regularly updated on, Bond's next mission.

Returning to the media references to Bond, memes that emerged in the Sean Connery era – the Blofeld of You Only Live Twice, the white cat, Oddjob's hat – continue to endure. It is no surprise, too, that given its huge success, Skyfall has also provided elements that, a year after the film's release, have retained their cultural currency. M's appearance at the Intelligence and Security Committee is one element that is likely to be as enduring in cultural space.

Wednesday 6 November 2013

Ian Fleming's top ten books

I was honoured to be asked to write a guest post on the top ten books of Ian Fleming and James Bond for the excellent blog, Artistic License Renewed: An Art and Literary James Bond Blog and Tribute to Richard Chopping. My list of Ian Fleming's top ten books based on his interviews and writing and other sources has now been posted. Click here to read the article.

Monday 4 November 2013

The music of For Your Eyes Only – by Bill Conti, with a hint of Ennio Morricone

There’s a scene in For A Few Dollars More (1965) where Clint Eastwood's Monco and Lee Van Cleef's Colonel Mortimer watch the bank of El Paso and wait for the arrival of El Indio and his men, who are going to rob it. The music, reflecting the tense mood and anticipation of the robbery, is a nerve-jangling and unpredictable sequence of piano chords, bells and percussion. But as I was watching the scene the other week, the score reminded me of music from another film, For Your Eyes Only (1981).

The music leading up to the bank robbery in For A Few Dollars More is characterised by a discordant sequence of drum rolls, short combinations of low notes on the piano, random beats of more drums, the striking of low piano chords, and chimes of a bell. And then, as El Indio arrives, we hear the blast of a horn that goes on forever. With a cut to a view of the safe timed with the striking of a bell and low piano chord, the music sequence ends.

Listen now to the scene in For Your Eyes Only in which Bond, after leaving Bibi Dahl at the biathlon event, is pursued by Kriegler. As Bond skis through the trees, and Kriegler attempts to get a clean shot, we hear an unsettling sequence of staccato motifs (mainly from the piano), muted rolls of the snare drum, a few searching strings (or other instrument), and crashing piano chords. And when Bond skis off the roof of a building and manages some impressive spins over the heads of henchmen on motorbikes, we get a long blast of a horn. The music sequence terminates with a few more piano chords and the striking of a bell that coincides with a shot of the ski jump building.

To me, the similarity between the two scores is uncanny. Structurally they are very close, and both employ the same devices of piano chords, drum beats, bell chimes and that wonderfully long horn blast. The pieces of music no doubt utilise a range of standard musical tropes that typically accompany such scenes of tension and suspense, but I wonder too whether Bill Conti was to some extent inspired by Ennio Morricone's music when he scored his sequence. Indeed, Jon Burlingame suggests as much in his excellent book, The Music of James Bond. In a very small way, the sound of the spaghetti western is present in the world of James Bond.

Note: I was unable to find the clips on YouTube, but the relevant DVD chapters are 21 (For A Few Dollars More) and chapter 12 (For Your Eyes Only).

Monday 28 October 2013

The rise and fall of Bondmanship

Reading the latest MI6 Confidential, which is excellent as ever, I was intrigued by the reprinting of a 1963 article on 'Bondmanship: the latest rage', which charted the rise of James Bond fan-clubs in 1962 and 1963. The James Bond phenomenon has been responsible for coining (or perpetuating) a number of words and phrases – Bond girl, Bond villain, kiss-kiss-bang-bang, among them – which have entered cultural consciousness and have to lesser or larger extents endured. Bondmanship (at least, in relation to James Bond) is one of those words which have proved less successful. But what is Bondmanship, and why is the word little used today?

In the MI6 Confidential article, Bondmanship is explicitly linked to James Bond fan-clubs. Unlike Bond fan clubs today, whose function is usually to publish newsletters and magazines, keep members up to date on Bond news, and offer forums for discussion of all things Bondian, some of the earliest James Bond clubs brought together people who wished to experience something of the James Bond lifestyle (or at least their version of it), whether that was gambling at exclusive casinos, mixing vodka martinis, drinking the best wines, or seducing elegant ladies (the MI6 Confidential article suggests that these clubs tended to have all male memberships). This was in essence Bondmanship.

The rise of James Bond clubs was so phenomenal, that the Daily Express published an article in February 1963 about the University of Oxford's own James Bond club. Members (presumably male) had identified one Joanna Hare, an undergraduate and daughter of a government minister, as the university's answer to the sort of woman that James Bond meets. And William Plomer, Ian Fleming's literary editor, mentioned the “admirers [who] have formed James Bond clubs” in his address at Ian Fleming's memorial service in September 1964.

But this definition of Bondmanship, emerging from the activities of James Bond clubs, is not the only one. An article in the US newspaper, the Daily Times, dated July 1963 has the headline, “Real 'Bondmanship': Film Makes The Brave Braver as James Bond Rides Top Herd.” For the author, Erskine Johnson, Bondmanship is what differentiates Sean Connery's James Bond, as portrayed in Dr No and From Russia With Love, from other film heroes. Thus, Bondmanship is sweeping “beautiful ladies off their feet” while outwitting “the bad men”, being “braver than Errol Flynn”, or, in the context of “James Bond vs. Russia”, turning "the borsht [sic] into bitter tea.”

By mid 1963, then, the meaning of Bondmanship, still a new word, had begun to diverge, possibly precisely because it was a new word. No one meaning was yet firmly embedded in cultural space, and the word, spreading without any associations except James Bond in a broad sense, was sufficiently adaptable to gain several meanings.

Ultimately, however, Bondmanship was a meme with a short life. It seems to have fallen out of use after the decline of 'Bondomania', which also halted the rise of James Bond clubs, and may even have been little heard by 1965. It is notable that Kingsley Amis' The Book of Bond (1965), which is devoted to what would be recognised as Bondmanship, uses the phrase '007ship'. And in The Bond Affair (1965), edited by Oreste Del Buono and Umberto Eco, there is a description of 'the Bond style'. Today we tend to talk about experiencing the James Bond lifestyle, rather than practising Bondmanship.

It is uncertain why Bondmanship as a phrase didn't catch on, but it seems that Bondmanship didn't achieve a sufficient level of cultural penetration to give it longevity. After all, the word cannot be passed on from one person to another if no one's using it.

Sunday 20 October 2013

What's in store for Young Bond 2?

As announced by Ian Fleming Publications, the adventures of Young Bond will be continued by children's author Steve Cole and pick up where Charlie Higson's first series left off, with James Bond expelled from Eton College and about to resume his education at Fettes in Edinburgh. We know something of Bond's life at Fettes from his obituary in You Only Live Twice, and in an interview for the regional UK newspaper The Bucks Herald, Steve Cole revealed that Bond will be aged 14 or 15, and that the stories will be set in the 1930s and describe Bond's encounters with the Secret Service and his uncle, a spy. But can we glean any further information about what to expect in the new series from Ian Fleming's own experiences and Steve Cole's work?

Bond's obituary (written by M) records that the atmosphere of Fettes was Calvinistic. Quite what this means in practice is unclear, but given the starting point of Calvinist teaching that humanity is totally depraved, and that no amount of good will redeem one in the eyes of God, the college's masters would probably have regarded all their charges as innately sinful, and presumably discipline would be strictly enforced to ensure that pupils' behaviour was acceptable (M hints at this when he describes standards as rigorous). In this oppressive atmosphere, the young Bond may become rebellious – if he was to be a sinner, he might as well have a proper bash at it and sin in style – just as Ian Fleming rebelled at Eton. Andrew Lycett records that Ian Fleming racked up a series of misdemeanours and was birched for them, and that after befriending Ivar Bryce (who would become a lifelong friend), he'd play truant and chase girls. Possibly young Bond's behaviour will mirror Fleming's to some extent.

According to the obituary, Bond was inclined to be solitary. This individualistic nature is reflected in the sports at which Bond excelled: athletics, boxing, and Judo. Like his creator (Fleming also excelled at athletics, winning a long-jump competition and a hurdles title at Eton, and achieving the very rare feat of becoming champion athlete or victor ludorum two years in a row), Bond is likely to eschew team sports and be happiest away from the classroom competing on the track or in the ring.

The information in the obituary that Bond set up a Judo club, the first for a British public school, is especially interesting. This reveals that Bond has a good knowledge of martial arts, and we should expect him to use it in the course of his adventures. But it also demonstrates natural authority, commitment, determination, and the ability to plan and think innovatively, possibly in the face of opposition (qualities that Fleming showed during his time in Naval Intelligence during the war).

So much for Bond's school life. Do Steve Cole's published books give any clue about the nature of his adventures? The author is probably best known for his Astrosaurs, Cows in Action and Slime Squad series. These are written for younger children, but his books for teenagers are just as acclaimed. One of his series for older children features a protagonist who has something of a Bondian quality about him. In the Tripwire series, teenager Felix Smith, avenging the death of his father at the hands of terrorists, is recruited into a secret service, Minos Chapter, and becomes a bomb-disposal expert. Each adventure pits Felix against a diabolical organisation with an evil plan, and sees him race against time to solve the clues and find and defuse the bomb set for devastation. Possibly the young Bond will also find himself racing against time to beat that ticking clock. Tripwire was co-written by bomb-disposal expert, Chris Hunter, demonstrating a desire for accuracy that would have pleased Ian Fleming, and we may expect the new Young Bond series include its fair share of technical and authentic details.

Z. Rex is another series for older children. In this, thinking, talking mutant dinosaurs are brought to life and threaten the world. Fourteen-year-old Adam Adler befriends one (Zed) and together they battle beasts – and the beasts' masters – intent on wreaking havoc. While the Young Bond series is likely to have little in common with Z. Rex, the use and abuse of science (an aspect of course touched upon in Fleming's Moonraker and On Her Majesty's Secret Service) might be a theme common to both. Steve Cole's The Wereling series, which is about a family of werewolves, seems much further removed from the type of adventures we can expect young Bond to have, although I wouldn't be surprised to see aspects of the occult creeping in from time to time (and indeed given Fleming's apparent interest in the subject, expressed for example in Live and Let Die, this too would not necessarily be un-Bondian).

As Steve Cole says in interview, the main source for Bond's teenage years is the obituary in You Only Live Twice. But taking a memetic perspective – acknowledging that authors writing about James Bond tend to look to Ian Fleming's experiences to fill gaps in Bond's, and suggesting that authors' interests and background are likely to influence their writing – we can put forward a few ideas about what we can expect in the forthcoming Young Bond series. I for one can't wait to read it!

Lycett, A, 1995, Ian Fleming: The Man Behind James Bond, Turner

Sunday 13 October 2013

Newspaper reviews of Solo: some observations

After I finished reading William Boyd's Solo, I caught up with some of the newspaper reviews of the book, which I had been avoiding. The reviews were the usual mixed bag – some were positive towards Solo, others negative, some I enjoyed, and felt offended (as a Bond fan) by others – but as I read them, I noted a few points of interest that made me think about the relationship between the film and book Bonds.

Let's start with basics confusions between Fleming's Bond and the Bond of the cinema. To my knowledge, the worst culprit was Robert Crampton, who wrote a review for The Times. The headline of his piece, “Neither shaken nor stirred”, summed up his opinion of the book, but perhaps he would have been better disposed to the book had he not expected it to be a novelisation of a Bond film. Crampton bemoaned the absence of 'sexual banter' between Bond and Moneypenny, and thought Bond's falling in love with 'one of his conquests' (doesn't Bond want to marry his companion at the end of practically every adventure?) and his feelings of ambiguity towards his mission (you mean, as expressed in Casino Royale, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and You Only Live Twice?) were a sop to modern values. In fairness, Crampton hasn't been the only one to complain that the villain, Kobus Breed, is more of a henchman than a Bond villain, but hollowed-out volcanoes, death rays and minions in pyjamas, the sort of things which Crampton would have liked to have seen, are hardly a staple of Fleming's novels. And Crampton also spoke of the 'regulation two shags', which also owes more to the films than the books.

But Robert Crampton hasn't been the only reviewer confuse the books and the films. Sarah Warwick's review of Solo in The Northern Echo mentions that Q is “present and predictable” (but not in Fleming, of course), and Jon Stock, writing in The Telegraph, lists Bond's meeting with Q as one of the standard Bondian tropes that would “satisfy Bond aficionados”. (Mind you, it has to be said that Boyd's Quentin Dale of Q Branch – and for that matter, John Gardner's Ann Reilly – would probably not have existed had there not been a Q character in the films.)

Something else I noticed was that if Jeffery Deaver's Carte Blanche, the last continuation novel before Boyd's effort, was mentioned at all in the reviews of Solo, it was usually mentioned in neutral or negative terms. This is surprising, because a trawl through the reviews of Carte Blanche in the main UK newspapers reminded me that Deaver's novel was generally received positively, more so, it seems, than Solo has been. But I wonder whether this reflects uncertainty about what reviewers (and perhaps other readers) expect from a continuation novel. Should it be modern-set and updated like the films, or a period piece to follow on from Fleming's last novel? The consensus appears to change with each new continuation novel. Deaver's novel was widely lauded on publication, then dismissed as an oddity after the publication of Solo. But then reviewers of Solo have criticised Bond as a character out of place and out of date, who should be resurrected no more. Continuation authors can't win. As David Leigh says, the authors have a thankless task.

One other observation concerned the use of images to accompany the reviews. Most reviews of Solo that I read were illustrated by an image of the cover, or were not illustrated at all. Where images of Bond actors were used, however, these were either of Sean Connery or Daniel Craig. I thought newspapers missed a trick by not using images of George Lazenby, whose tenure as Bond dates to the same period in which Solo is set, but evidently there was a trend for selecting images of the first and current Bond actors. The reasons are obvious enough. Connery's Bond – or at least certain traits or memes associated with him – is so firmly embedded in popular culture that he has become a fixed point of reference. Daniel Craig's Bond also has cultural prominence, but the absence of previous Bond actors suggests that this will decline; any review of a continuation novel published during the tenure of Craig's successor is likely to feature images of that actor along with those of Connery.

The reviews of Solo have been entertaining, and occasionally annoying (just like the book itself, perhaps), but they have revealed that the literary Bond cannot be completely isolated from the cinematic Bond, and with the use of film series memes in the continuation novels themselves, the Bond of those novels has to some extent become a hybrid of the two Bondian traditions or species. The reviews have also suggested that Sean Connery's Bond continues to loom very large in the popular perception of the character.

Friday 4 October 2013

A review of William Boyd's Solo

Ian Fleming said that the recipe for a bestseller was to “get the reader to turn over the page”. Early book sales notwithstanding, on this basis, William Boyd's own James Bond novel, Solo, has succeeded. It is a fast-paced adventure, by turns exciting, surprising, reassuring, and sobering, that at times takes Bond, and the reader well out of their comfort zones.

The story begins at the Dorchester hotel in London. Bond is in reflective mood as he celebrates his 45th birthday alone and recalls a dream which explores his wartime service (an ingenious nod to Bond's creator). Later returning to the office, M briefs him on the civil war in the fictional West African country of Zanzarim, sending Bond there with the vague mission to end the conflict. In Zanzarim, Bond meets his contact, the beautiful Blessing, and encounters the horribly disfigured and very dangerous mercenary, Kobus Breed. Events ultimately lead him to Washington on a solo mission of revenge. There he meets with an old friend as he pursues his unauthorised mission and attempts to make sense of events.

James Bond is his familiar self, and Boyd has peppered the books with the usual Bondian traits and foibles. Bond consumes scrambled eggs, wears shoes without laces, refuses offers of tea, smokes incessantly, and is always in reach of a drink. To be honest, the 'Bondisms' become a little distracting, as the narrative pauses yet again to describe Bond's latest meal or the clothes he wears. Certainly, Fleming indulged in such descriptions, but Bond's traits emerged gradually over the course of twelve novels. Not even Fleming described every meal of Bond's in detail. It is a trap that is evidently all too easy for continuation novelists to fall into, but a degree of restraint is important, and makes the difference between classic Bond and pastiche.

Still, this is of minor concern, as William Boyd impresses in other areas, in particular his convincing descriptions of Zanzarim. Boyd's knowledge and affection for West Africa is evident, and his portrait of the fictional landscape will have readers almost reaching for the atlas. The late 1960s is also effectively evoked with references to the moon landing, the Vietnam war, mini skirts and cinema releases. And with Solo being his fourth espionage novel, Boyd knows his spy lore. Readers might recognise Bond's rule that “if it looks like a coincidence then it probably isn't” from Boyd's earlier work (Restless, if memory serves).

We can trace some tropes or memes further back. Boyd lifts the idea that one vomits after being struck on the head from Fleming ('Risico'), who in turn borrowed it from Raymond Chandler. And despite Boyd's assurance, given at the recent Boyd on Bond event at the Southbank Centre, that Solo contained no traces of the cinematic Bond, inevitably elements of the film series have crept in – a quip or two that could have been uttered by Sean Connery's Bond (or even Roger Moore's), Bond's relationship with Moneypenny, and a Q-like character, for example.

Solo is shaped by all the essential Bondian ingredients, and still allows Boyd to assert his own voice. But even with the exotic African location, the familiar faces, and Bond doing what he does best, my thoughts kept returning to Bond's role in the Second World War. Boyd's writing here is at its most Fleming-esque, and I wanted to read more. Is there scope for a full-length wartime-set Bond adventure? I really hope so. Indeed, any author tackling it might find it a more rewarding proposition than penning a straight continuation novel, being less constrained by the habits and peculiarities of the older, weary 007. The adventures of Young(er) Bond? I'd definitely read those.

Sunday 29 September 2013

James Bond for 20 minutes

Me behind the wheel of an Aston Martin V8 Vantage
Last Saturday I knew what it was like to be James Bond behind the wheel of an Aston Martin. My wife had bought me a driving experience at Silverstone for my 40th birthday, and Saturday was the day I got to take the car around the famous motor racing circuit.

The experience started, as with many a Bond mission, with a briefing. A bunch of us were shepherded into the briefing room to hear the instructor talk us through the circuit, tell us how fast some of the turns could be taken (up to 120mph for some of them, only about 60 or 70mph for the tighter turns), and remind us that the higher the speed, the narrower the margin of error. He explained the controls of the cars (not all drivers opted for Aston Martins), and fortunately those of the Aston Martin – in this case a V8 Vantage – were not too dissimilar from what I was used to. The instructor also revealed that another instructor would be in the car with us, and that we'd do well to follow his every instruction.

We left the briefing room and made our way down to the track side at the southernmost turn (Stowe) of the international track where the cars were parked. We donned crash helmets, and I waited my turn. Every car was numbered, and while there was no 007, I noticed that one of the Astons had the number 009. Close enough, I thought, before remembering that 009 had a sticky end in Octopussy. As it happens, though, I was in car number 010.

When called, and after posing for photos by the side of the car, I climbed into the driver's seat and introduced myself to my instructor, who pressed a switch to adjust my seat and told me grip the steering wheel at quarter past nine and keep that position throughout. So much for feeding the wheel through, or nonchalantly gripping the wheel at the top with one hand and the gear stick with the other. At my instructor's command, I gently pressed the accelerator and took the car out of the pits and on to the circuit like I was taking my driving test.

Immediately the instructor told me to 'Accelerate! Accelerate! Accelerate!' So I floored it and reached over 60mph in roughly five seconds. Instantly I met the turn at Club. I braked, took a neat racing line (Bond would be proud) and accelerated out of the bend. Another turn took me into a straight, where I picked up some frightening speed and changed up to fourth gear (I would never get past fourth, even though the car had six). I braked, changed down to third, turned in at Abbey, accelerated out, took the gentler curve of Farm, accelerated again, then braked sharply and turned very hard at the hairpin at Village. At this point, I was being a little cautious with my steering. My arms should have been crossed, but were barely beyond half-past twelve. Indeed, I might have gone off the track had my instructor not grabbed the wheel and yanked it down until it locked. Lesson learnt.

I accelerated out of Village, approached another sharp turn at the Link, then entered the long Hangar Straight, where, with my instructor's encouragement, picked up as much speed as I could muster.  And with that, lap one was over. Two more to go.

The other two laps were much like the first, though were perhaps a little smoother. I grew in confidence as my familiarity with the track, and the car, increased. I remembered to look at my speedometer on Hangar Straight during my third lap. It was past 100mph and still climbing.

Before I knew it, the experience was over and I was pulling into the pits. It was the drive of my life and my heart was thumping. True, I didn't have Bondian perils to deal with – huge newspaper rolls, caltrops dropped from the villain's car, Vesper Lynd lying in the road – but it was exciting enough taking the turns, making racing gear changes, going hell for leather, and hearing the throaty roar of the Aston Martin's V8 engine. I wish I'd had a chance to explore the car a little more (maybe tested out some of the switches and buttons – the ejector seat's standard, right?), but perhaps I'll hire an Aston Martin for the day for my 50th birthday.

Boyd on Bond - a report

To mark the publication of the new James Bond adventure, Solo, author William Boyd was in conversation with GQ literary editor, Olivia Cole, at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London's Southbank Centre on 26th September. I was lucky enough to be in the audience and hear William Boyd speak about his growing up with James Bond, his views on Ian Fleming, and his approach to writing his Bond novel. I've written a report on the event, and this is available on the MI6: The Home of James Bond 007 website. Click here to read the article.

Monday 23 September 2013

I shall use my time: James Bond's philosophy

As I was watching Munro Scott's 1964 interview with Ian Fleming on CBC-TV's Exploration programme the other day, I was reminded of Fleming's strong views on boredom. “Boredom is the worst sin of the human being,” he said. “It's the worst thing that could happen.” This may explain Fleming's peripatetic career and craving for excitement, which he'd find in the gambling rooms, the wartime offices of naval intelligence, or the waters off his coastal home in Jamaica, among other places.

Fleming gave the same abhorrence of boredom to James Bond. When we first meet Bond in From Russia, with Love (chapter 11), he is at his Chelsea home between missions. Bond is thoroughly bored with the prospect of the day ahead in the office, and Fleming tells us that “boredom, and particularly the incredible circumstance of waking up bored, was the only vice Bond utterly condemned.”

Fleming alludes to this view again in Bond's obituary in You Only Live Twice (chapter 21). In an addendum to M's obituary, Mary Goodnight writes about Bond's philosophy: “'I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.'”

It's a great line, and aptly describes the boredom-busting, live-life-to-the-fullest attitude of both Bond and Fleming. It appears, however, that the words aren't Fleming's, but have instead been attributed to American writer, Jack London, best known for his novels, The Call of the Wild (1903) and White Fang (1906), and are included in a larger statement of what has been described as London's credo:

“I would rather be ashes than dust. I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”

While there is some question over the authorship of this passage (only the first line closely matches words known to have been London's, with the rest contended to be journalistic invention), it apparently pre-dates You Only Live Twice, being first published in the San Francisco Bulletin in 1916, then republished in 1956 by Doubleday in an introduction to Tales of Adventure, a collection of London's short stories.

I admit I haven't seen a copy of Tales of Adventure, and certainly not the San Francisco Bulletin, and so I remain a little hesitant about the entire matter. I would prefer to see the words on the page of the 1956 volume before committing myself to a more definite view about their origin and date, so if anyone has a scan of the page in question, then please get in touch.

Assuming the chronology of the passage is correct, it's possible that Fleming saw the lines in the 1956 edition and, rather taken with them, felt that they were appropriate for Bond as well. There is no acknowledgement of source in You Only Live Twice; while the lines beginning, “I shall not waste my days” are presented in quotation, the implication is that the words are Bond's. But if the words aren't London's in any case, what do questions of origin and source matter? Well, that's still up for debate, but there's another question: should we add Jack London's Tales of Adventure to James Bond's library?

Sunday 15 September 2013

The greatest Bond film never made?

If Jeremy Duns' Rogue Royale (JJD Productions, 2013) was a hand in a game of Baccarat, it would be a 'natural': near perfect and very difficult to better. His book charting the early attempts to bring Ian Fleming's first novel, Casino Royale, to the big screen is thorough and authoritative and, like the original novel, a page-turner.

Rogue Royale tells the story of screenwriter Ben Hecht's development of a script for Charles K Feldman's ill-fated production of Casino Royale, which would finally appear in 1967. Hecht's scripts bore little resemblance to the film that would be dogged by countless rewrites,  temperamental actors, a bloated cast-list, and a spiralling budget (David Niven predicted when joining the production in 1966 would be “the biggest f----up since the Flood”), and Duns, delving into the archives, offers a tantalising glimpse of the scripts that had the hallmarks of a classic Bond film.

Ben Hecht, the 'Shakespeare of Hollywood', was by the early 1960s a very well established and highly regarded screenwriter, and the ideal choice to write a Bond film. His credits included the razor-sharp comedy, The Front Page, the archetypal gangster film, Scarface, and Hitchcock's suspenseful spy thriller, Notorious. Hecht wrote several drafts of Casino Royale for Feldman. Plot ideas were developed or dropped with each subsequent script, and his final offering appears to have been as fast-paced, deftly-plotted and witty as Dr No or From Russia With Love.

From a memetic point of view, what I found particularly fascinating was how Hecht was influenced by Eon's earliest Bond films – his plots were faithful to Fleming, but his Bond was Sean Connery – and how in turn aspects of his ideas survived into the 1967 film. And, having written about how Bond's code number is pronounced, I also found it interesting that Hecht was evidently in the 'oh-oh-seven' camp, as one of his lines, “Her father Jonathan Lynd was an 0-0-7 man” shows.

Apart from Hecht's scripts, Jeremy Duns' story includes an intriguing prologue. An article in the New York Times about Gregory Ratoff's attempts to film Casino Royale in the late 1950s mentioned that Ian Fleming had written an adaptation. If true, this is an exciting revelation. While Fleming had written a number of film and TV treatments (indeed, his novels Dr No and, of course, Thunderball, are based on them), no treatment deriving from his first novel is known. Doubtless Jeremy Duns' reminder of this tantalising snippet of information will now draw Bond historians back to all available archives of Fleming material.

Just as interesting is another early script of Casino Royale. Its author is unknown, and curiously it dispensed with Bond altogether, replacing him instead with an American gangster called Lucky Fortunato. Clearly this idea was not developed much further, but it occurred to me that the use of the character formed part of a wider trend to look to American gangsters for inspiration. Fleming himself contributed to this. His first screen treatment in 1959 for what would become Thunderball pitted Bond against a Mafia villain called Henrico Largo, and his travel essay on Naples (published in Thrilling Cities) shows a fascination with an Italian-born American crime boss, Lucky Luciano. (When I saw the name Lucky Fortunato, I wondered whether the author of the script was inspired by Lucky Luciano. Indeed, the idea crossed my mind, and instantly dismissed as fanciful, that given his interest in American crime Fleming may even have had a hand in the script.)

Jeremy Duns' book on Ben Hecht's scripts and the film that never was - and what could have been the Bond-fans' favourite - is a meticulously-researched story and a superb read. I recommend it highly.

Baxter, J, 1998 Woody Allen: A biography, Harper Collins
Sellers, R, 2007 The Battle for Bond, Tomahawk Press

Saturday 7 September 2013

More than just a small island: Cameron's speech recalls You Only Live Twice

When an unnamed Russian official allegedly told reporters at the G20 summit in St Petersburg that “no-one pays any attention to Britain” and that it was “just a small island”, British prime minister David Cameron was quick to respond with an impassioned defence of the country.

“Britain may be a small island but I would challenge anyone to find a country with a prouder history, a bigger heart or greater resilience," he said, continuing by reminding people that Britain helped “clear the European continent of fascism and was resolute in doing that throughout World War II”, and that "Britain is an island that helped to abolish slavery, that has invented most of the things worth inventing, including every sport currently played around the world, that still today is responsible for art, literature and music that delights the entire world.”

Warming to his argument at a later press conference, Cameron listed a number of world-renowned British cultural icons: The Beatles, Elgar, Shakespeare, and, er, One Direction. Unfortunately there was no mention of James Bond, but perhaps if Cameron feels compelled to give the speech again, he can find room for a character that has been one of the most enduring and successful British cultural exports.

Needless to say, there was much reaction in the British media, with many newspapers applauding Cameron's “Churchillian” and “impassioned” defence of Britain. A number of commentators compared the speech to a scene in the film, Love Actually (2003), in which the British prime minister, played by Hugh Grant, says that “We may be a small country but we're a great one, too", and references a similar list of cultural icons (including Sean Connery).

For me, though, Cameron's words reminded me of a passage in chapter 8 of Ian Fleming's You Only Live Twice (1964), in which Tiger Tanaka, head of the Japanese Secret Service dismisses Britain as a world power, and questions the value of giving Britain important intelligence material. “Balls to you, Tiger! And balls again!”, James Bond retorts. “We still climb Everest and beat plenty of the world at plenty of sports and win Nobel Prizes. Our politicians may be a feather pated bunch, and I expect yours are too... But there's nothing wrong with the British people – although there are only fifty million of them.”

Both Cameron and Bond's defences allude to the notion of a small island punching well above its weight, and the idea that Britain has been responsible for many cultural, physical and scientific endeavours. No doubt politicians and commentators have been making the same defence since the end of the Second World War. But Fleming adds an interesting sentence. 'He [Bond] was still smarting under Tiger's onslaught, and the half-truths which he knew lay behind his words.' Those of a more cynical bent might wonder whether, like Bond's defence, David Cameron's speech was also to some extent an acknowledgement of uncomfortable truths.

Thursday 29 August 2013

Casino Royale or Casino Royal?

The BBC website holds a fantastic archive of James Bond related material, which brings together a selection of interviews, documentaries and analysis broadcast on BBC radio and television over the past 50 or so years. Among the treasures is an episode of Whicker's World broadcast in 1967. In the programme, presenter Alan Whicker visits the Pinewood set of You Only Live Twice and accompanies the production crew on location in Japan. The programme is interesting for a number of reasons, but in this post I want to focus on one aspect that seems minor, but is in a way quite intriguing – the pronunciation of 'Casino Royale'.

In the programme, we're taken to a press conference in Japan. An Australian journalist asked Sean Connery for his thoughts on the rival Bond film, Casino Royale (1967), which was in simultaneous production. Notably the journalist pronounced 'Royale' as the English form 'royal', rather than in a way approximating the French pronunciation.

The pronunciation is unusual, but it had been adopted by others, including Rex Garvin and the Mighty Cravers in their late 1960s song, 'Sock It To 'Em, JB'. In it, the titles of the Bond films are shouted out, one of them being Casino Royale, pronounced Royal. More remarkably, another person to use the Royal pronunciation was the author of the original novel, Ian Fleming. In an interview on 17th August 1964 for CBC-TV's Explorations programme, Fleming told interviewer Munro Scott about the plot of his first book, 'Casino Royal' (not 'Royale'). This was no slip of the tongue; he used the English pronunciation again later in the interview.

Given that Fleming was a fluent French speaker, the pronunciation seems odd, but it is possible that he
was influenced by the pronunciation of place names such as Port Royal, a town in south-east Jamaica, or more simply that his pronunciation reflected the way the word was pronounced by those around him. In any case, Fleming's cultural environment is likely to have had a modifying effect in the way that pronunciation and accents are naturally modified to conform to the prevailing use of language.

If in the 1950s and 1960s, the 'Royal' pronunciation was to some extent normal, today it has faded into obscurity. The success of Daniel Craig's Casino Royale in 2006, and other films such as Battle Royale (2000), have alerted audiences to what might be termed a more accurate pronunciation, but there was already broad awareness of the pronunciation, thanks in part to the cultural prominence of the 'Royale-with-cheese' meme from Pulp Fiction (1994). The memorable dialogue between John Travolta's Vincent Vega and Samuel L Jackson's Jules Winnfield in which the Royale with cheese is extensively discussed was a lesson in pronunciation, and also permitted people to utter the word without the feelings of self-consciousness that sometimes accompanies the occasional use of foreign words.

So should we pronounce 'Casino Royale' as 'Casino Royal'? Well, maybe, from a purist point of view, but anyone doing so would no doubt puzzle others or risk being corrected. I think I'd stick to Casino Royale.

I'm grateful to the HMSS Weblog editors for alerting me to the Rex Garvin video.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

An open letter to the chefs of the Dorchester hotel, London

Dear chefs,

I read with great interest on the Ian Fleming Publications website that the Dorchester will be serving a special 'James Bond breakfast' between 28th September and 30th November in celebration of the publication of William Boyd's James Bond novel, Solo. I understand that the novel opens at the Dorchester with Bond treating himself to a plate of his favourite food, scrambled eggs.

According to the publicity for this event, the breakfast William Boyd describes comprises scrambled eggs made with four eggs per person, half a dozen rashers of unsmoked bacon and strong black coffee. Given that Bond avidly consumes the dish throughout his adventures, we are able to reconstruct how Bond likes his eggs in quite some detail. So, to ensure that the scrambled eggs served at the Dorchester are as authentic as possible, may I respectfully suggest that the following points are borne in mind by your kitchen staff?

001 I don't think Bond would object too much to the four eggs, but when he orders room service in a New York hotel (Live and Let Die), he asks for three eggs lightly scrambled. His preference for three eggs is reiterated in the recipe for scrambled eggs given in the short story '007 in New York' (the recipe is for four 'individualists' and 12 eggs are required).

002 The eggs should be laid by Marans hens. We know that when at home, his boiled eggs are made with such eggs (From Russia, with Love), and presumably his eggs for scrambling come from the same source. In any case, avoid white-shelled eggs.

003 The eggs should be served moist. This reflects Ian Fleming's own preference for runny scrambled eggs (a letter from Ann Fleming mentions that Fleming liked the eggs 'très baveuse').

004 Milk should not be added to the eggs. In Live and Let Die, while dining in Jacksonville, Florida, Bond disdainfully observes that milk will be added to the scrambled eggs, and the 'no milk' rule is confirmed by the recipe noted above.

005 Customers will no doubt have their own preferences with regard to the bread used for the toast, but ensure that wholewheat (From Russia, with Love) or rye (Diamonds Are Forever) bread are available for the Bond purist.

006 I expect Bond does eat unsmoked bacon from time to time, but he also likes smoked bacon, preferably hickory-smoked. Will customers get a choice?

007 I have nothing to add about the coffee. It should be strong, black and unsweetened. If anyone asks for tea, tell them you don't serve cups of mud (Goldfinger).

Follow these tips, and you will create the perfect Bondian breakfast. And if you'd like more information on Bond breakfasts, or if you're thinking of expanding your menu to include Bond lunch and dinner items, then I invite you to read my James Bond cookbook, Licence to Cook: Recipes Inspired by Ian Fleming's James Bond. Good luck!

Kind regards,
Edward Biddulph

Photo of scrambled eggs by Clare McIntyre

Sunday 18 August 2013

Plomer on Fleming: the view from Fleming's editor

Almost 50 years since his death, the extraordinary achievements of Ian Fleming continue to have huge cultural and historical impact. Some of those achievements were recognised in the many obituaries written about Fleming, but a more personal and generous tribute was paid by Fleming's editor, William Plomer, in an address given at a memorial service on 15th September 1964. Plomer's address offers a fascinating view of Fleming's legacy and the Bond phenomenon at a time when books sales were rocketing and 'Bondomania' was about to strike with the release of Goldfinger. Plomer also alludes to factors that shaped Fleming's writing and world-view. Let's take a look at some of them.

A theme that runs throughout the address is that of Fleming's pursuit of knowledge and well-disposed view towards experts in their fields. Plomer describes, for example, Fleming's “admiration of what was well done”, and mentions later that Fleming was “a great finder-out”. This much is clear to any reader of Fleming's books. Not only did Fleming pack his writing with facts and accurate detail, but he was more than happy to acknowledge the experts who furnished him with the information, among them Geoffrey Boothroyd, who persuaded Fleming to change Bond's handgun, and Robin de la Lanne-Mirrlees, whom Fleming consulted on heraldry matters while preparing On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Of Fleming's wartime experiences, Plomer says little – presumably there was still much that was officially secret – but he reveals more than is mentioned in the obituaries. The obituary in The Times, for example, almost passes over Fleming's war years entirely, pausing to mention only that Fleming found his experiences “'intensely exciting'”. Plomer's address leaves out some of Fleming's key achievements (such as his setting up of the 30 Assault Unit), but nevertheless alludes to Fleming's ability to cut through the red tape and military hierarchy to get things done. He also hints at Fleming's very significant contribution to the war effort, quoting Admiral Godfrey, who told Plomer that Fleming “'was a war-winner'”.

Intriguingly, Plomer reveals that it was Godfrey who introduced Fleming to underwater swimming, an interest that would be critical to the plots of Live and Let Die, Thunderball and other Bond stories. I had assumed that the interest developed during Fleming's visits to Jamaica and his experiences diving with Jacques-Yves Cousteau off Marseilles in 1953, but in reality Fleming caught the bug closer to home.

More intriguing is Plomer's reference to a book by “a then unknown writer” which Fleming read during his later youth and “turned out to have a lasting influence”. The author is not named, but a possible candidate is Phyllis Bottome, under whom Fleming studied while in Austria in 1927. Fleming credited Bottome for inspiring him to become a writer, and he would certainly have read her novels. Phyllis Bottome's first novel, The Dark Tower, was, however, published in 1916, and it seems unlikely that she would have been unknown even by the time Fleming arrived at Eton in 1921. If we allow some movement in the chronology, another candidate is Geoffrey Household, whose first adult novel, The Third Hour, was published in 1937. Fleming admired the book so much that he sent copies to friends. There may be other candidates, but in any case the book deserves to be required reading for students of Fleming and James Bond.

Much of Plomer's address is taken up by the success of the Bond books and also the nascent success of film series. There is, for example, a reference to fans forming James Bond clubs, a phenomenon, incidentally, verified by a story published in the Daily Express on 1st February 1963, which describes how Joanna Hare, the daughter of Labour minister John Hare and an undergraduate at Oxford University, had been identified by Oxford University's James Bond Club as the university's answer to the “perfect Bond girl”. Plomer also talked of the “cheerful reactions of film audiences”, and the “vast new publics [sic]” that respond to the films. The address alluded, too, to the criticisms that Fleming evidently continued to face concerning the moral tone of his work. In answer, Plomer merely said that readers and audiences found “the atmosphere anything but corrupt”. 

William Plomer's memorial address was subsequently privately printed as a slim volume by the Westerham Press, and copies are available through specialist book dealers. As a window into the world of Fleming at the time of his death, it is essential reading.

Chancellor, H, 2005, James Bond: The Man and His World, John Murray
Gilbert, J, 2012, Ian Fleming: The Bibliography, Queen Anne Press
Plomer, W, 1964, Address Given at the Memorial Service for Ian Fleming, Westerham Press

Sunday 11 August 2013

The media's search for the next James Bond - and Doctor Who

The new Doctor Who was announced to great fanfare last week. Peter Capaldi, well known for his role as foul-mouthed spin-doctor Malcolm Tucker in BBC's The Thick of It, will be replacing current incumbent Matt Smith as the Doctor. There was much excitement and speculation in the press about who would take the role in the weeks leading up to the announcement. For Bond fans, this press interest recalled the frenzy of speculation that has traditionally preceded the casting of an actor in the role of James Bond, and there has been a number of similar elements to the media campaigns for both characters. In this post, I'd like to look at some of these elements, and examine the conditions that have led to such media interest in the casting for major TV and film characters.

Just as dozens of potential candidates for the role of James Bond are put forward in the media during casting, the list of possible Doctors has also been extensive. In 2005, before David Tennant was cast as the Doctor, some of the names mentioned in connection with the role included Bill Nighy, Richard E Grant, David Thewlis and Alan Davies. When David Tennant left the role in 2008, Russell Brand, Sean Pertwee, David Morrissey, and Robert Carlyle were among the actors considered by the media as potential replacements. The role ultimately went to Matt Smith, but when he quit earlier this year, the speculation resumed. This time, it appeared that David Harewood, Dan Stevens, Bill Bailey, Daniel Rigby, Damien Molony Aneurin Barnard, James Nesbitt, and Bond alumni Ben Whishaw and Rory Kinnear were in the running.

But there has been speculation about the who'd play the next Doctor Who almost since the first Doctor, William Hartnell, left the role in 1966. For example, an article in the Daily Mirror in February 1974 was headlined, “Who next? Jon Pertwee ('I can't stand Daleks') quits”. In January 1996, the Daily Express announced that “Our man McGann beats the stars to become the next Dr Who”, and in July 2002, the Express predicted that Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Anthony Head would be cast in the role.

The same sort of press interest has accompanied every period of casting for the next James Bond. If anything, the level of interest has been much higher and more intensive than that for Doctor Who. The tradition of speculating on the identity of the new Bond actor began during casting for the first Bond film, Dr No (1962). Many names were mentioned in connection with the role, including James Mason, Patrick McGoohan and David Niven, and famously the Daily Express ran a campaign to find James Bond, settling on model Peter Anthony. Over the course of the film series, actors have been put forward as potential candidates for the role, even when there was no position available, and there were particularly intensive periods of speculation in 1986, 1994 and 2005 ahead of the casting of Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig respectively.

Notably, recent media speculation on potential Doctor Whos has included consideration of black actors, among them Paterson Joseph and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Similarly, the press has championed black actors for the role of James Bond. The Sun in December 2004, for example, tipped Colin Salmon for the role, and more recently Idris Elba has had to address persistent rumours that he might be James Bond when Daniel Craig hangs up his dinner-suit. However, while the media have been open to the possibility of a female Doctor Who (Helen Mirren, Olivia Coleman and Sue Perkins have been among the names mentioned), the prospect of a female Bond has never been given any serious consideration.

Evidently, then, the search for the next James Bond and Doctor Who has usually been accompanied by intense media coverage. But what are the conditions that induce such speculation, and why are other serial fictional characters of less interest to the media? Clearly the media reflect the considerable public affection that there is for both Bond and Doctor Who (hence the casting for the roles of historical characters attracts little attention, even if the characters have been portrayed several times), and this in turn reflects the sense that the characters are bigger than any actor who plays him. In the case of Bond, this was a view that Eon Productions had sought from the start. In his autobiography (When the Snow Melts, 1998), Cubby Broccoli wrote that “if we cast an unknown actor, the public would be more likely to accept him as the character.” This recalled a view that Broccoli had expressed to Alan Whicker in 1967, agreeing with Whicker that after Connery, there would be other Bonds. On the face of it, Batman would seem to be an exception to this rule; casting for the role has also attracted a reasonable amount of media speculation, despite the fact that Batman has been played by top-flight Hollywood stars. But in this case, the actors have been largely hidden under a mask, which to an extent has anonymised the actors and allowed audiences to focus on the character. In contrast, Matt Damon is so strongly identified with the role of Jason Bourne, that there was no question that another actor would take the role following Damon's departure from the Bourne series.

Continuing this point, for the media to be encouraged to generate lists of potential actors for certain roles, there must generally be an established pattern of transition. Even with prolonged gaps between films, there has never been intense speculation about actors who might take on the role of Indiana Jones or Ethan Hunt, and it seems unlikely that the characters would appear on screen unless played by Harrison Ford or Tom Cruise. It is interesting to note that when Disney announced that episode seven of the Star Wars saga would be made, it was taken for granted that the actors who had appeared in the original trilogy would resume their roles, rather than the possibility that the roles would be offered to other actors.

It is difficult to gain an accurate view of this without a significant amount of research in press archives, but I wonder whether, in the UK at least, intense media interest in the casting for a serial character has until the past decade or so been confined to James Bond and to a lesser extent Doctor Who. Now there is (almost) as much speculation about who might play Batman, Superman and other characters. If this is the case, it may in part be a product of the changing means by which the media source their information. In the past, rumours about certain actors were generated by journalists themselves (whether based on anything substantive or not). Today, newspapers and other media organisations are as likely to respond to rumours generated by the public and disseminated through the internet, especially social media sites.

There is one other point worth making here. The idea of the next James Bond, or the next Doctor Who, is itself a meme that has currency in cultural space. It exists as an entity in its own right, serving as a phrase which is transmitted through various media and in conversation. To hear the phrase in the home, pub or the workplace triggers a sort of parlour game in which lists of actors are championed or dismissed. And even before the ink's dry on incumbents' resignation letters, the media and public speculation commences.