Sunday 30 June 2013

Double-O-Seven or O-O-Seven?

As I was trawling through the archive of the Daily Express, I stumbled on an interesting article from the edition dated 14th September 1966. It was interesting not so much for its content – alas I didn't make a note of what it was about – but rather its headline: “Little Mrs 006 does an 007.” The use of the indefinite article 'an' suggests that the headline writer intended '007' to be read as 'O-O-Seven' (that is, Oh-Oh-Seven), as opposed to 'Double-O-Seven'.

Although Ian Fleming was clear on how Bond's code number should be pronounced – in Casino Royale (1953), Head of Section S thinks the Le Chiffre job will go to “one of the Double-Os” (Chapter 3), and in From Russia, with Love (1957), the Soviet dossier on Bond mentions Bond's “double 0 numerals” (Chapter 6) – the headline suggests that the alternative O-O-Seven had a degree of penetration in popular culture.

The use of O-O-Seven was not confined to the Express. For example, the Bond parody Loxfinger (1965) by Sol Weinstein gives the protagonist Israel Bond the code name 'Oy-Oy-7', and in the Bond spoof, Carry On Spying (1964), agent Charlie Bind (played by Charles Hawtrey) explains that his code number, Double-O-Oh, comes from his instructors looking at him and saying, “O, O, Oh!” A somewhat egregious use of O-O-Seven is found in the film From Russia With Love (1963). Robert Shaw's Red Grant tells Bond to “take it easy, O-O-Seven.” It could be argued, of course, that this is a deliberate mistake offering Bond a clue that Grant is an enemy agent, but unlike the red wine with fish, Bond never picks Grant up on it. In any case, simply by being uttered in an official Bond film, the use of 'O-O-Seven' gains some validity and prominence.

While 'O-O-Seven' has never seriously competed with 'Double-O-Seven', it nevertheless exists as an alternative form of Bond's code name and meme in its own right. Indeed it continues to be used; the details escape me, but I recall the BBC newsreader, Philip Hayton, who presented the news on the BBC between 1987 and 2005, announcing the new 'O-O-Seven' (probably Pierce Brosnan). Its use may be attributed to a lack of familiarity with the books or the films, but even with regular exposure to the correct form, 'O-O-Seven', once established in individual minds, has a good chance of being replicated simply through force of habit.

Sunday 23 June 2013

The home of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

One of the advantages of living in Buckinghamshire, as I do, is that many of the locations used in films made at Pinewood Studios are on one's doorstep. The Royal Saracens Head pub, which appeared in Thunderball (Bond makes a call from a telephone box outside) is a short drive away from me in Beaconsfield, and Stoke Park and St Giles Church at Stoke Poges, seen in Goldfinger and For Your Eyes Only respectively, are within easy reach. Another nearby location is the windmill at Ibstone, near Stokenchurch, which was home to Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), and last week I finally drove out there to take a look.

The best approach to the windmill is by foot from the south, beginning at Turville, a picture-postcard village situated along the floor of Hambleden valley. Parking the car next to the church of St Mary, I quickly found a public footpath that took me north up the slope of the valley and towards the windmill, which sits on the top of the hill. The climb was a steep one, and given that it had rained earlier in the day, rather slippery, but it was well worth it, as the view from the top over the valley is spectacular.
View of the windmill looking north from Turville

Unfortunately, the windmill is not accessible to the public, and the property to which it belongs, Cobstone Mill, is surrounded by a high fence, which gives visitors very restricted views of the mill once they're at the top of the hill. But no matter. I was thrilled to have found the windmill, and I enjoyed the walk.

Being a historical monument, the mill is described on Buckinghamshire's Historic Environment Record (HER), a database of all historical and archaeological sites in the county. The windmill itself was built around 1830 and continued in use until c 1910. By 1912, the site was deserted and the sails broken. Caractacus Potts must have worked very hard to restore the mill, as coincidentally the events of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang take place shortly after the magical car races her last grand prix in 1909. The windmill is dodecahedron in plan and comprises a blackened brick ground floor, with timber frame and weatherboard above, and a distinctive ogee or S-profiled roof. The structure was converted into a house in 1975 for actress Hayley Mills.

The roof of the windmill

The windmill's appearance in the film is also a matter of official record. The HER, mentioning the mill's starring role, describes how the mock sails fitted to the structure revolved without the use of canvas. Ah, the magic of the movies!

Monday 17 June 2013

Operation Crossbow and Ian Fleming

Last month saw the publication of Operation Crossbow: The Untold Story of Photographic Intelligence and the Search for Hitler's V Weapons. The book, by Allan Williams, describes how a team of top photographic interpreters and intelligence officers uncovered the secrets of Germany's long-range ballistic missile programme from millions of aerial photographs, which had been taken in daring reconnaissance missions by Spitfire and Mosquito pilots. The discovery of an aircraft on a ramp at Peenemünde in northern Germany was the breakthrough that allowed the allies to plan countermeasures and seek and destroy rocket bases.

Readers of Nicholas Rankin's Ian Fleming's Commandos (2011) will be familiar with Fleming's peripheral involvement in the operation. Days after the Allied landing on the Normandy beaches on D-Day, commandos of Fleming's 30 Assault Unit (30AU) joined a heavily-armed unit to investigate a possible V-weapon launch site. The site was confirmed, and the resulting intelligence sent back to London (and presumably transferred to Medmenham in Buckinghamshire, where photographic interpreters were based). Rankin also describes a later episode when Fleming visited members of 30AU at Carteret in Normandy and discussed V-weapons with some of the men.

In his book, Ian Fleming's Secret War (2008), Craig Cabell goes much further, suggesting that Fleming was responsible for much of the intelligence fed to 30AU about the location and structure of V-weapon launch sites, and claiming that Fleming had gathered his information from resistance groups and after poring over aerial photographs. What's more, Fleming's novel, Moonraker (1955), holds the clues to his involvement in Operation Crossbow and the search for German rockets. It cannot be denied that the novel, featuring as it does Nazi scientists and a V2-like rocket, took inspiration from wartime events. But then again, so too did Hergé's Destination Moon (1953), which sent Tintin into space – anyone writing about rockets in the 1940s/early 1950s can hardly have failed to turn to images of German technology – and indeed, Cabell admits that his argument for Fleming's involvement in Crossbow lacks evidence.

In contrast, Allan Williams' account makes no mention of Ian Fleming's involvement (which perhaps tells us something), but Fleming does appear twice. Williams mentions in passing that Frederick Sidney Cotton, pioneer of wartime aerial photography and reconnaissance, was the inspiration for Fleming's fictional head of MI6 research and development, Q. Cotton thus joins Charles Fraser-Smith and others identified as the real Q, despite there being no such character in the books, although Fleming and Cotton certainly knew each other and, indeed, were friends. (Incidentally, Cotton has the rare distinction of also being identified as a model for James Bond; again this seems highly unlikely.)

Ian Fleming is mentioned again later in Williams' book in connection with a map Bond uses in The Man with the Golden Gun (1965). The map, supplied by Mary Goodnight, is a 1:50,000 Overseas Survey Map made by the Directorate of Overseas Surveys (DOS). Maps prepared by DOS proved critical in the search for V-weapons, and the deputy director of DOS, John Wright, was said to have been thrilled by the oblique reference to his work.

While Ian Fleming's 30AU had been involved in the search for German missile launch sites, and Fleming had been inspired by events and German technology when he came to write Moonraker, the latest research suggests that Fleming's part in Operation Crossbow, beyond facilitating the gathering and distribution of intelligence, had been somewhat peripheral.

Monday 10 June 2013

Obit: James Bond's many appearances in the obituaries

One can learn about some pretty remarkable people through the obituary columns, and it's here that I often read about some of the less well-known individuals connected with the world of James Bond. In recent months, I have read about Marcel van Clemmput, who designed Goldfinger's Aston Martin DB5 and the submersible Lotus Esprit from The Spy Who Love Me for Corgi, and Kiki Byrne, who designed the golden bikini worn in the titles sequence of Goldfinger. But what also catching my eye are the occasional obituaries that mention James Bond or Ian Fleming while describing people who seemingly had no or little connection with either. These obituaries are no less interesting, as they reflect the extent to which Bond has become deeply embedded in cultural space.

Take John Quine, who died in May. His obituary in the Times reveals that he joined MI6 after the Second World War and was posted to Tokyo, before returning to Europe in 1954 to recruit a network of agents. In 1961, he unmasked the KGB double agent, George Blake. We learn that Quine was 'an avid reader of James Bond books' and, in the 1960s, bought the The Old Palace in Bekesbourne, near Canterbury, an 18th-century house briefly occupied by Ian Fleming. Quine's reading seems an especially minor point, but its importance is lifted by the Fleming connection and, of course, Quine's MI6 career.

Yaakov Meidad, who died in June 2012, was a Mossad agent who, as his Times obituary states, “masterminded the daring operation to seize the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann from the streets of Argentina.” Remarking on Meidad's appearance – he was bald and bespectacled – the obituary writer noted that Meidad was more George Smiley than James Bond, but that his life was as exciting as the events of any thriller. With no other link, it is simply the intelligence connection that prompts a comparison with James Bond and another famous fictional spy.

Then there is Sir John Morgan, who died in June 2012. He was a diplomat who served in Moscow, Mongolia, the Foreign Office in the Far Eastern Department, Poland, then Mexico. He married (later divorcing) Fionn O'Neill, the daughter of Ann Fleming from Ann's first marriage, and we learn in the Times obituary that this loose connection with Ian Fleming, along with Morgan's self-confident, buccaneering spirit, prompted family members to suggest that Morgan served as a model for James Bond. The suggestion is fanciful – Morgan married in 1961 – but as the allusion to Bond conveys something of Morgan's character, it gains weight and becomes a point of interest in the obituary.

James Bond is used again as a shorthand for character in the obituary of Anthony Cavendish, who died in January 2013. Cavendish served as an MI6 officer in the late 1940s and early '50s, and, being fluent in German and French, leaping from one secret adventure to another, and mixing with beautiful women, the obituary writer suggests that Cavendish “cut a James Bond-like figure.”

One other individual should be mentioned here. In the 'Lives Remembered' section of the Times, a reader recalled that Sir Nicholas 'Nicko' Henderson, a diplomat who died in March 2009, tried to out-trump Sir Eddie Rayne, shoemaker to the Queen Mother, when they argued about how well they both knew Ian Fleming. In his winning bid, Henderson claimed that Fleming left him all his suits. It's true that Henderson and Fleming had been friends – according to Andrew Lycett, Henderson gave Fleming the title, On Her Majesty's Secret Service – but that the anecdote is offered at all is testament to Fleming's continued cultural significance.

James Bond's obituary appears in Fleming's penultimate full-length novel, You Only Live Twice, but he has appeared in many more obituaries since then as shorthand for a certain type of person, and inevitably as a point of comparison with the real lives of wartime and intelligence officers.

Thank you, Radley, for trawling through the archive for remarkable people.

Monday 3 June 2013

Bond in Motion - a review

Returning from a short holiday in Dorset, I decided to take a detour to the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu in Hampshire to see Bond in Motion, an exhibition that has brought together an extensive collection of vehicles from the James Bond films. The exhibition was opened in 2012 to celebrate fifty years of the Bond films, but by popular demand has been extended into 2013. And long may it continue, for this display, just about the finest single collection of Bond vehicles and vehicle-related props in the world, deserves a permanent museum home as much as any cultural treasure.

Walking into the exhibition space through a gun-barrel-like tunnel (suitably accompanied by the James Bond theme), visitors are met by the Land Rover and motorcycle from the opening sequence of Skyfall. Bond is, of course, indelibly linked with Aston Martin, and visitors don't have to go very far before being seeing some of its cars. There's the damaged DBS from Quantum of Solace, an undamaged DBS from Casino Royale, and a Vanquish from Die Another Day. And if anyone is in any doubt that the vehicles on display are those seen on screen, Casino Royale's roll-damaged and record-breaking DBS should change their minds. This is a rare survival that superbly conveys the meticulous planning and expertise of the stunt team, and the dangers of their work.

Moving further into the exhibition, visitors are confronted by Bond's BMW 750il from Tomorrow Never Dies, which can be claimed with some justification to be the most boring Bond car of the series, but it's perhaps no more boring than the Renault 11 TXE (without its roof) from A View to a Kill, or the Citroen 2CV from For Your Eyes Only, which are also on display. After all, it's not what Bond drives that's important, it's how he drives it. Other highlights include Tracy's Mercury Cougar from the stock-car sequence in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and a showroom AMC Hornet from The Man With the Golden Gun.

Mercury Cougar
No exhibition of Bond vehicles could ignore the only car that rivals Goldfinger's Aston Martin DB5 for fame and affection: the Lotus Esprit from The Spy Who Loved Me. The model on display is one of the submersible shells, which was recovered from a scrapyard in the Bahamas, and restored to its original state, complete with gadgets.

The lower-level of the two-floor exhibition features some of the more curious vehicles and props from the series, including Kara's cello case from The Living Daylights, the crocodile mini-sub from Octopussy, the parachute that saves, and conceals, Bond and Pussy Galore at the end of Goldfinger, and the Little Nellie autogyro from You Only Live Twice. Visitors end their visit with two vehicles from Goldfinger: the villain's Rolls-Royce Phantom III and, of course, the iconic Aston Martin DB5.

The crocodile sub
And if that isn't enough, visitors should look out for other Bond- and Fleming-related vehicles positioned around the museum, notably Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which was designed by Ken Adam for Cubby Broccoli’s film of Fleming's stories, and a 4½ litre 'Blower' Bentley with an Amherst Villiers supercharger, which Bond drives in the novel Casino Royale.
A 4.5 litre Blower Bentley
Bond in Motion isn't without gaps – Bond's Sunbeam Alpine from Dr No, for instance, is absent – but this is a minor quibble set against the near comprehensive collection on display. Much credit must go to the curators for assembling the material, as well as the private collectors, Bond enthusiasts and in particular the Ian Fleming Foundation, who traced and restored some of the vehicles shown.