Saturday 26 January 2013

William Boyd's Waiting for Sunrise - the Bond connection

In the course of researching and writing his novel, Waiting for Sunrise, William Boyd acquired a library of some 200 books. These provided Boyd with the necessary facts about the places, people and events that formed the backdrop to the novel's narrative, or otherwise inspired him. Among the books were Frederic Manning's First World War novel, Her Privates We, and AJP Taylor's history, The First World War. Then there were the spy classics The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, by John le Carré, Ashenden, by Somerset Maugham, and William Boyd's favourite Bond novel, From Russia, With Love. Reading Waiting for Sunrise, it's hard to find aspects of From Russia, With Love, but there are certainly passages which wouldn't be out of place in a Bond novel.
The events of Waiting for Sunrise begin in Vienna in 1913, as stage actor Lysander Rief seeks the advice of a renowned psychiatrist. In the doctor's waiting room he meets a beguiling woman, Hettie Bull, and they soon begin an affair that ends with Rief arrested on a charge instigated by Hettie Bull's (other) lover. With help from two intelligence officers, Munro and Fyfe-Miller, Rief escapes to Britain. But he soon finds himself caught up with the start of the Great War, and an encounter with Munro and Fyfe-Miller leads him to assume a false identity in Switzerland as a spy seeking a key to intercepted coded messages. Back in London, Rief turns his attention to a traitor leaking information on ordnance and field positions, as indicated by the deciphered codes, and learns that the truth might be uncomfortably close to home.

William Boyd said that From Russia, With Love captured “some of the paranoia of the Cold War”. One could suggest, too, that Fleming's novel, with its Istanbul-set sequences, inspired some of the mood of the events in Austria and Switzerland, both novels conveying, for instance, the essence of a tourist city's murky underbelly. I also thought of Bond's gripping journey on the Orient Express when I read the description of Lysander Rief's escape from Switzerland to France on an express steamer around Lake Geneva. Boarding the steamer doesn't stop Rief feelings of suspicion and danger, just as similar threats accompany Bond's journey.

There was one other aspect in Waiting for Sunrise that I thought particularly Fleming-esque: detailed descriptions of meals. For instance, before he's about to leave for the front line in northern France to begin his mission, he lunches with Munro and has an excellent coq au vin, a carafe of Beaujolais, a selection of cheeses, a tarte tatin, and a Calvados. Later, in a café in Geneva, Rief dines on the menu de jour, comprising a clear soup, blanquette de veal, cheese and an apple tart. The wine, we learn, was rough and on the sour side. Back in England, at a hotel in Hythe on the Kent coast, Rief notes the evening menu – classic English fare of a saddle of lamb, devilled kidneys, and Dover sole. James Bond would no doubt approve.

As in the Bond books, the descriptions of food in Waiting for Sunrise add detail to the settings, juxtapose the everyday with the extraordinary, and, in Fleming's view, stimulate the readers' senses. William Boyd's own James Bond novel will be published in September 2013. Judging by a previous novel of his, Any Human Heart (in which Fleming makes an appearance), and now Waiting for Sunrise, Boyd is well prepared for the task of bringing life to James Bond's world.

Sunday 20 January 2013

James Bond and scrambled eggs

According to Elizabeth Hale, author of 'James Bond and the Art of Eating Eggs', published in the journal Gastronomica (2012, vol. 84), Bond's egg consumption symbolises Bond's “identity as an individualist, as an ordinary but discerning consumer, and as an agent of life and death”. Given how prolifically eggs feature in the Bond novels, it is little wonder that the subject of Bond's egg consumption has attracted academic comment. Elizabeth Hale's paper makes a useful contribution to our understanding of the food of James Bond, still largely ignored in the films and only recently subject to analysis (also click here for details of a recent seminar on Bond's food).

As Elizabeth Hale reminds us, eggs appear in every James Bond novel. And Bond eats them every which way – scrambled, boiled, fried, baked, poached, as well as made into omelettes and sauces. Judging from how frequently they're mentioned, scrambled eggs appear to be Bond's favourite. He eats them for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and indeed in the first draft of Live and Let Die, Bond eats scrambled eggs so often that a proof-reader suggested that Bond's habits would be a security risk. Fleming changed the menus accordingly, but even then Bond's consumption might seem excessive; for instance, he eats scrambled eggs for dinner on the train from Pennsylvania, then chooses them again for breakfast the next morning. So closely is scrambled eggs associated with Bond, that Bond's recipe for the dish appears in the 1963 short story, '007 in New York' (although an earlier form of the recipe appeared under Fleming's name without mention of Bond in a 1961 cookbook, Celebrity Cooking for You). However, Bond must eat other forms of eggs almost as much. At home, Bond has a boiled egg for breakfast, and during his later adventures, he appears to develop a particular taste for poached eggs.

The origin of Bond's egg habits can naturally be found in Ian Fleming, who was just as avid a consumer. This much is clear from the correspondence of both Ian Fleming and his wife, Ann. Writing to Ann from New York in 1946, Ian refers to the fried eggs he's been enjoying, while in a letter written in 1948, Ann, describing Ian's and her time at their Jamaican residence, Goldeneye, mentions that they had scrambled eggs, bacon and coffee for breakfast. Eggs must have been cooked often, as she recalls that Ian would start a typical day by telling their maid, Violet, how he wanted his eggs. In further reminiscences, Ann reveals that on picnics in Jamaica, the couple and guests would take boiled eggs, and in a note written during their travels in France in 1953, Ann wrote that Ian would always order his omelette “trés baveuse”, or very runny. Ian Fleming said that “scrambled eggs never let you down”, but in a letter that he wrote in 1955 while at Goldeneye to Ann, he admitted that he ate a breakfast of bad scrambled eggs. It reveals something of Ian's love of eggs that just in a small selection of Ann and Ian's correspondence, four types of cooked eggs are mentioned.

This background to Bond's egg consumption is recognised in Elizabeth Hale's paper, which focuses on two Bond novels to illustrate the nature of Bond's individualism and identity, and the symbolism of eggs. In On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Hale suggests, eggs are a source of Bond's power – he fortifies himself for the tasks ahead by eating scrambled eggs – and highlight Bond's plain, but discerning, habits, in this case against the gluttony and luxury of Piz Gloria. In addition, Blofeld's plan to destroy food production (including eggs) in England is an attack on Bond's identity as an Englishman. In Thunderball, eggs are symbolic of Bond's role as a man and killer. Hale points to the moment when Bond receives his orders to combat SPECTRE and recover the stolen atomic bombs. Bond returns home, discards the diet of muesli and other health foods he's been living off since his spell at Shrublands, and orders his housekeeper May to prepare bacon, eggs, coffee and toast. Bond requires eggs and other 'dead foods' to retain his masculinity and maintain his resolve to defeat evil.

Elizabeth Hale's analysis is interesting and offers much, I hesitate to say, food for thought. Perhaps the ultimate 'hidden meaning' is that Bond's egg consumption reflects Ian Fleming's own complex relationship with eggs. Bond's diet mirrors that of his creator, but it also freed Fleming, at least in his imagination, from the restrictions (including a ban on eggs) imposed on his diet during his later years when his health was failing.


Amory, M, 1985 The letters of Ann Fleming
Biddulph, E, 2009 “Bond was not a gourmet”: an archaeology of James Bond's diet, Food, Culture and Society 12.2, 131-40
Biddulph, E, 2010 Licence to Cook: recipes inspired by Ian Fleming's James Bond 

Chancellor, H, 2005 James Bond: the man and his world
Hale, E, 2012, James Bond and the Art of Eating Eggs, Gastronomica 84, 84-90
Gilbert, J, 2012 Ian Fleming: the bibliography

Thursday 10 January 2013

What are Skyfall's chances of Oscar success?

Following from the film’s eight BAFTA nominations, Skyfall has been nominated for five Academy Awards. Roger Deakins has received a nomination for cinematography, Thomas Newman has a nomination for best score, Adele's title song has been nominated, and Skyfall has also been recognised for sound mixing (Scott Millan, Greg Russell and Stuart Wilson) and sound editing (Per Hallberg and Karen Baker).

The James Bond films have rarely been nominated. Even Casino Royale, which won one BAFTA (for sound) and received a further eight nominations, was ignored by the Oscars. Before Skyfall, the last Bond film to be Oscar nominated was For Your Eyes Only (1981), which was considered for Best Song. The film completed a short run of three consecutive Bond films to receive nominations. Moonraker (1979) was nominated for visual effects, while The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) was considered for best song, best original score and best art direction. Before then, Diamonds Are Forever (1971) was nominated for best sound. Two films have won Oscars. John Stears won the Oscar for special visual effects for his work on Thunderball (1965), while Norman Wanstall won a best sound effects Oscar for Goldfinger (1964).

While it seems unlikely that, until Daniel Craig’s tenure as Bond, the producers and directors seriously regarded the Bond films as contenders in the principal award categories, they may have felt some disappointment that the series hadn’t received more nominations for technical and music categories. However, analysis of previous winners in those categories suggests that action adventure films (a category into which the Bond films can be comfortably placed) have rarely won, or even been nominated, and that the chances of Skyfall taking home the prize in its five categories at the 2013 award ceremony are unfortunately somewhat on the low side.

We can see this when we examine the types of films that won the Oscars for categories in which the Bond films have competed or are competing – best visual effects, sound editing, score, song, art direction (now production design), and sound mixing. Considering just the awards for the years in which Bond films were released (giving us a sample drawn from 22 years of award ceremonies), nine of the winners in the category of production design were historical epics or period dramas; both musicals and science fiction/fantasy films, which are also typically lavish productions, each won the Oscar three times. Action adventure films have won just twice. Not surprisingly, ten winners of the Oscar for visual effects in the sample were science fiction/fantasy films, and clearly the spaced-themed plot of Moonraker helped with its nomination in this category. For best score and song, the winners are dominated by contemporary dramas (romances, as well as those dealing with more serious issues), which won 10 and 11 awards respectively. Family films that include a substantial musical element, almost exclusively Disney films, have also had success in the song category with five winners. Among the sample, cinematography has seen eight winners from period films, and seven from contemporary dramas. Just one film was an action adventure. Both sound editing and sound mixing offer a mixed picture. In editing, there are five action adventure films in the sample, joining five science fiction/fantasy films, two period epics, two dramas, and two comedies, among others. Sound mixing had two action adventure winners, but six dramas, six musicals and five period epics.  

The association between film type and award category can be seen clearly in the correspondence analysis plot below. This multivariate technique groups categories that are statistically associated; in this case, the closer a film type is to the award category on the plot, the stronger they are associated with each other. In the top left quadrant, then, we see that the award categories of score and song are congregated around comedies, family films and drama, indicating a strong association. In the bottom left quadrant, period dramas, and to a lesser extent musicals, are strongly associated with cinematography (photo), sound mixing and production design. Action adventure films are closest to sound editing in the bottom right quadrant along with science fiction and fantasy films, which are as expected strongly associated with visual effects.

Based on these data, the best chance for Skyfall is in sound editing. In cinematography, the main competition will be the period dramas of Lincoln and Anna Karenina, while in sound mixing, Les Misérables and Lincoln will be the films to watch. The winner of best score seems likely to come from Argo or Life of Pi, while Life of Pi or Ted may have the best chance for best song. However, given its five nominations, its billion-dollar receipts, and critical acclaim, Skyfall is no ordinary Bond film, and it may yet win in all its categories. I certainly hope it does, and I await the award ceremony in February with great interest.

Wednesday 2 January 2013

James Bond's Scottish roots, as revealed in Skyfall

According to a report in the Evening Standard, the term 'hunting rifle', used by Kincade in Skyfall to describe a firearm owned by James Bond's father, Andrew, has ruffled the feathers of British gamekeepers. Apparently, no such term is used by country folk, who regard the term as an Americanism. 

While solecisms such as this are an inevitable product of writers being unfamiliar with the subject matter, the implication of Kincade's remark, that Andrew Bond engaged in shooting and other country pursuits while in Scotland during James Bond's early childhood, is intriguingly paralleled by Ian Fleming's own experiences.

Its exact location is not made clear in the film, but Skyfall Lodge is presumed to be in Glencoe. The lodge sequence was filmed there, and we know from M's obituary of Bond in the novel You Only Live Twice that Andrew Bond came from the region. This was also the region where Ian Fleming spent part of his childhood. Glenborrodale Castle in Ardnamurchan, some 50km further west of Glencoe, was taken by Fleming's father, Valentine, for family holidays.

Given the Flemings' Scottish roots – Ian's grandfather, Robert, came from Dundee – the holiday destination is unsurprising, but the young Ian did not enjoy his time there. In a letter to the then Ann Rothermere, Ian Fleming wrote in 1946 that he spent some of the unhappiest years of his youth at Glenborrodale. Curiously there is an echo of this in Skyfall. As the lodge burns down, Bond says, 'I always hated this place.'

While at Glenborrodale, Ian's father, Valentine, took part in the sort of country sports enjoyed by Andrew Bond, and perhaps James, such as shooting grouse and deer stalking, judging by the stag in the Fleming crest (referenced by the stone stag on top of the gateway of Skyfall Lodge). Ian joined in the activities, but he didn't enjoy them, claiming that he would rather catch no salmon than shoot no grouse. On another occasion, at Black Mount, also near Glencoe, Ian Fleming, aged 16, shot his first stag; usually, though, he preferred to listen to records than going 'out of doors killing something.'

The experiences of the young Ian Fleming are paralleled to some extent by the James Bond of Skyfall. Some of the similarities may well be coincidental, but they nevertheless add depth to the background of the cinematic Bond. As with other aspects of James Bond's life – his tastes, his views, his hobbies – the clue to Bond's past can be found in the life of Ian Fleming.


Amory, M (ed.), 1985 The Letters of Ann Fleming, Collins Harvill
Lycett, A, 1995 Ian Fleming: the man behind James Bond, Turner