Thursday 18 December 2014

Christmas with the Flemings

The Engadine Valley (By Biovit (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
A letter from Ann Fleming to the author Peter Quennell written on 30th December 1960 reveals that the Flemings spent Christmas that year in St Moritz, Switzerland. In the letter, reproduced in Mark Amory's edited volume of Ann's correspondence (Collins Harvill, 1985), Ann describes how she and Ian ('the Commander') lunched at the resort's Corviglia Club. Reading the letter now, one is struck by similarities with certain passages in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1963), which Ian Fleming wrote while at Goldeneye the following winter (1961/2). It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Ian drew on his time at St Moritz when he was writing the novel.

Ann Fleming mentions that she and Ian ate with Daphne and Whitney, whom Mark Amory identifies as Witney and Lady Daphne Straight. If these names are familiar to readers of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, it is because they were mentioned in the novel. In chapter 12, Irma Bunt points out to James Bond the “international set” enjoying lunch on the public terrace at Piz Gloria, having been lured away from Gstaad and St Moritz. Ursula Andress is among the notable people there, but so too are “Mr Witney and Lady Daphne Straight.”

Ann's description of the Corviglia Club (“a smart chalet” with a “sunny terrace” and “a helicopter landing ground”) also has a ring of familiarity. The club house of Piz Gloria is a “bogus-chalet type structure with a vast veranda”, and we know Piz Gloria has a helipad. Admittedly this is, as Fleming puts it, “a typical piece of high-Alpine architecture”, and probably describes every resort in the region (as St Moritz, Fleming's Piz Gloria is situated in the Engadine valley), but it is likely that Fleming was recalling St Moritz when he created Piz Gloria.

It is well known that Ian Fleming put many of his experiences, the places he visited, and the people he knew into the James Bond novels. On Her Majesty's Secret Service is no different, and in some of the passages set in Piz Gloria, Ann Fleming's letter suggests that we can find elements of the Flemings' Christmas spent at St Moritz in 1960.

Sunday 14 December 2014

James Bond and the frogmen of World War Two

I've long resigned myself to the fact that the chances of finding a first-edition Fleming at a jumble (or rummage) sale are very remote indeed, certainly since the emergence of Amazon and ebay. But I still go to jumble sales in a hopeful frame of mind, and invariably manage to pick up other items that are of peripheral interest to the world of James Bond. Recently, for example, I acquired a paperback copy of The Frogmen: The Story of the Wartime Underwater Operators (Pan, 1950), by T J Waldron and James Gleeson. Ian Fleming drew on the exploits of wartime divers and frogmen when describing James Bond's exciting underwater episodes in Live and Let Die (1954) and Thunderball (1960), and so I bought the book to find out more.

In chapter 10 of Thunderball, Fleming tells us that SPECTRE used a “two-men underwater chariot identical with those used by the Italians during the war” to tow a sled to transport the captured atomic weapons from the submerged Vindicator aircraft. Later, in chapter 23, as he leads a unit of US submariners in an underwater battle against Largo's men, Bond encounters Largo sitting astride the chariot.

As The Frogmen reveals, the Italians were the pioneers of the chariot when engaging in underwater sabotage, and it was only when Italian 'charioteers' in 1941 successfully attacked the Denbydale and other British ships in the Mediterranean that Britain first became aware of this special means of warfare.

The Italian chariot, or human torpedo, was a 22 foot-long cigar-shaped craft that incorporated a detachable warhead containing 500lb of explosives. Two men sat astride the chariot, and, by means of a battery-powered propeller and compressed-air tanks to regulate depth, they moved slowly toward the target ship. Once there, the frogmen fixed lines across the ship's hull, tied the warhead to the lines, released the warhead and made their escape.

Realising the threat from the Italians, and not without a little grudging admiration, British naval chiefs turned to their technical divisions in early 1942 to create a similar craft and a range of other equipment, including rubber wetsuits and breathing apparatus. The British had managed to acquire Italian machines – 'Buster' Crabb was one of the first Britons to test out the Italian chariot – but they knew that if they were to stand any chance against the maritime threat and also conduct their own underwater operations, in colder waters, as well as in the relative warmth of the Mediterranean, they needed to research and develop, practically from scratch, their own capability.

By summer 1942, the British-built two-man chariot known as a jeep was ready for operations, along with other machines, such as 'X' craft, or four-man midget submarines, and single-seater underwater craft. (Incidentally, the smallest and least detectable of the single-seater craft was developed by a Quentin Reeves, known as Lieutenant-Colonel 'Q'.) At this time, a call went out for volunteers for 'special service', who, after a period of intense training, began their work.
British charioteers using a two-man torpedo

In Live and Let Die (chapters 18-19), Ian Fleming describes how Bond swims underwater to Mr Big's vessel, the Secatur, to plant a limpet mine. This was another weapon that saw much development during the Second World War; operatives became known as 'limpeteers'.

At one point during his swim, Bond is grabbed by an octopus and dragged towards its lair. Such a threat perhaps seems fanciful, but during the war, the risk to frogmen operating in the Far East from octopuses was considered serious enough by naval chiefs for guidance to be issued. This recommended that an operative grabbed by a tentacle stay absolutely motionless until the octopus become bored and let go. The guidelines added, not entirely seriously, that if the octopus became frightened, the operative should tickle the octopus underneath its armpits until it released its tentacles. Failing that, the frogman should jab it in the eye with a knife.

In his preparations for his underwater mission, James Bond orders cakes of shark repellent copper acetate and nigrosine dye, which had been developed by the US Naval Research Laboratory. Research by the Americans into anti-shark devices was active during the Second World War, and Waldron and Gleeson state that the products of that research – packets of black dye (the authors do not mention its ingredients) and containers of chemical crystals – were issued to British frogmen swimming through shark-infested waters.

Another of Bond's habits which alluded to wartime practices was his use of benzedrine tablets, which, in Live and Let Die, he takes ahead of his swim. Benzedrine is a form of amphetamine (colloquially known as speed), and during the Second World War its use was widespread, particularly by aircrews and frogmen on long, dangerous missions. Waldron and Gleeson describe how, for example, the crew of an 'X' craft engaged in a mission against a Japanese cruiser took benzedrine tablets to ward off sleep.

The Frogmen provided useful background information to episodes described in the Bond novels, but in reading it, I learned a lot about an extraordinary group of people, who undertook dangerous missions (such as clearing the waters off the northern French coast of mines before D-Day) using equipment that had been rushed into production with limited testing. I was certainly glad to have found a copy of the book in the jumble sale.

Thursday 4 December 2014

SPECTRE returns

So now we know the title of the 24th James Bond film: SPECTRE. This is a strong title that will capture the public’s – and cinema-goers’ – attention, which will be crucial as the film gears up to compete to some extent with another blockbuster in the making, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Judging by the press conference held on 4th December, SPECTRE is already shaping up to be the most Fleming-esque Bond film since Casino Royale (2006). There was no confirmation that Blofeld, who was last seen (allegedly) falling into a chimney in For Your Eyes Only, will be back, but his presence is implied by the title.

While I have my concerns about resurrecting the character – can audiences banish images of Dr Evil from their minds? – Blofeld as described by Fleming is certainly a worthy opponent for Bond, and the decision is likely to be popular.

As exciting is the possibility that Fleming’s short story, 'Octopussy', will form part of the plot. The octopus-like bullet hole in the title is obviously a reference to the symbol of SPECTRE, but I wonder if it is also a nod to the short story, whose use is hinted at with the introduction of Bond's skiing instructor and surrogate father, Hannes Oberhauser, played by Christoph Waltz. Press reports claimed that Oberhauser will be Hans’ son, Franz, but whatever the case, the character is a welcome addition.

SPECTRE promises to continue the run of spectacular and exciting Bond films. I for one cannot wait until 6th November 2015.

Saturday 29 November 2014

James Bond - the menswear model

We tend to associate the marketing of James Bond-branded lifestyle accessories with 'Bondmania', a period roughly spanning 1964 and 1967 when Goldfinger, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice attracted huge audiences and Bond-related goods were all the rage. Consumers had the choice of a range of 007-branded products, including 007 shoes by Norvic, 007 toiletries by Colgate, and children's lunch boxes depicting Bond's Aston Martin DB5.

While this period saw the peak of the Bond-product industry, it did not represent the start of it. Even before the release of the first Bond film, Dr No (1962), manufacturers recognised the value of James Bond as a brand and marketing tool. In 1961, a series of advertisements published in the Daily Express and the Daily Mirror displayed a range of Courtelle menswear – modelled by James Bond, or at least an artist's depiction of him. That James Bond had sufficient cultural weight before EON's film series commenced to sell goods was down to the increasing success of Ian Fleming's novels, aided by spin-offs, such as the Daily Express comic strip.

In the first, 'Diplomatic Passport 0094567–Bond J.', published in March 1961, Bond wears a rugged 'Snowden' sweater by Courtelle inside his city apartment. The second, 'Inform All Agents–Bond Must Die', was published in April 1961. Within the setting of a train compartment, Bond wears trousers in Courtelle's Abrelle fabric. 'James Bond–Special Agent' was the third advert and printed in May 1961. Bond wears a Courtelle shirt as he fires his gun at a villain obscured behind a tree.

In the fourth, 'Death in the Caribbean', published in September 1961, Bond sports Courtelle slacks as escapes from a machete-wielding heavy. The fifth advert was published in October 1961, this time in the Daily Mirror. 'M is Worried–Send for Bond' sees Bond hanging by his fingertips to a cliff face as he attempts to rescue a woman, his Courtelle cotton shirt no doubt helping his reach. The final advert, printed in the Daily Express in November 1961, was 'Lady With A Luger', and depicted Bond facing the wrong end of a gun held by a femme fatale. Bond may have been grateful he was wearing Courtelle's slacks.

The advertisements are interesting, because they took elements from the novels, but also introduced scenarios not described by Fleming. They provide an example of how the image was perceived in a cultural environment uninfluenced by the film series, and show that character was becoming a significant brand before Bondmania.

I discuss these adverts in detail in 'Modelling Bond: the cultural perception of James Bond on the eve of the Eon production films', an essay published in James Bond and Popular Culture, a book edited by Michele Brittany of essays that examine the Bond phenomenon and the impact of Bond on popular culture. The book is available to buy now, and can be ordered from the publisher, McFarland, as well as other retailers.

The Courtelle brand is owned by Rowlinson Knitwear Ltd. I am grateful to the company for allowing me to reproduce advertisement text and images in my essay.

Friday 28 November 2014

Further thoughts on Bond 24

I was honoured to be invited by David Leigh of the James Bond Dossier website to contribute to a questionnaire which gauged the views of Bond bloggers and writers about the Bond 24 with questions such as “What are you most looking forward to on Bond 24?”. For the final question, “Is there anything else you’d like to add?”, I put forward my prediction for the title. The answer I gave was The Property of a Lady, but even as I made the suggestion, I wasn't convinced. In this post, I thought I'd explain my reasoning and consider other options. I should add that this post more or less represents a re-post of an article of mine written just before the title of Bond 23 (Skyfall) was announced.

I opted for The Property of a Lady, not because I thought it the best of the unused Fleming titles – indeed, I consider it rather weak – but because it seemed less likely that any of the others would be used. However, from a memetic perspective, I think two of the other titles are stronger.

Let's start with Risico. Till now, the title has remained unused apparently because of its meaninglessness. Indeed, it's been reported that Michael G Wilson dislikes Risico because the word is Fleming's invention. However, it is precisely its meaninglessness that gives it an advantage over the other unused titles and potentially makes it so useful. Risico is very adaptable. In a Bond film that obviously cannot now be based on Fleming's story of Risico itself, the title could be a corporation, an organisation, a code word, the name of an operation, or a personal name. The possibilities are endless. And if the word is meaningless in English, it is equally meaningless in any other language, which has advantages from economic and marketing points of view.

While I think there are good reason for using Risico, I do have a fondness for The Hildebrand Rarity. Admittedly, this title has the same awkwardness about it as Quantum of Solace. But it is an interesting title which might intrigue potential audiences (what is 'The Hildebrand Rarity'?), and, while it doesn't seem particularly Bondian, it has the ring of an old-fashioned, Cold War, spy tale, such as The Quiller Memorandum or The Internecine Project. Though elements of the original story was used for Licence to Kill, the central plot was not. It could still be filmed, but even if the title only was taken, The Hildebrand Rarity is reasonably adaptable, and could refer to a MacGuffin – a document or a piece of technology, perhaps – that Bond and others would be after.

Of course, it's quite possible, even likely, that Bond 24 will be given an original title. But there is merit in the unused titles of Ian Fleming, and if we are to see a significant element of Fleming's work (particularly Octopussy) in the film, then a Fleming title would be rather fitting.

Sunday 23 November 2014

Young Bond in Shoot to Kill - a review

Given the debt the James Bond novels owe to American pulp-fiction and detective fiction – Ian Fleming acknowledged the influence of the masters of the genre, notably Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett – it was only a matter of time before James Bond would find himself in the world of Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade. Steve Cole's first Young Bond novel, Shoot to Kill, takes Bond to 1930s Hollywood in an adventure packed with the sort of danger and excitement that would put even the hardest-boiled of detectives through their paces

In Shoot to Kill, James Bond is between schools, at least those we knew about from his obituary in You Only Live Twice. Having been expelled from Eton, he has a year to wait before being sent to Fettes. In the meantime, his aunt has put him into Dartington Hall, a progressive school that might have suited Bond's rebellious nature, except that Bond is through with adventure and is trying his best to avoid trouble. A can of film containing footage of someone being beaten up soon puts paid to that, however, and he soon finds himself dodging bullets fired by people attempting to retrieve the film. The ultimate school trip – a flight to Hollywood on an airship – gives Bond little chance to relax, as danger follows him all the way to Los Angeles. James Bond finds that it is down to him to save fellow pupils, not to mention himself, from a maniacal Hollywood producer whose plan for making films brings a new terrifying meaning to method acting.

Steve Cole's novel is a superb and thrilling page-turner, full of the sort of ingredients we expect from a Bond novel. Readers familiar with the older Bond will have the added pleasure of spotting the nods to Ian Fleming's novels. Among those I noticed are allusions to the Ama divers of You Only Live Twice and Hoagy Carmichael, whom the adult Bond is described as resembling. The title of the first chapter lifts the title of the first paperback edition of Casino Royale published in the US. I was also reminded by passages in the novel of Bond's reminiscences in On Her Majesty's Secret Service of his childhood, and his reflections at the beginning of Goldfinger of the nature of death. There is even a reference to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (not including the use of Boudicca as a character name, which, as with the use of Caractacus in Fleming's children's book, is taken from the history of early Roman Britain). It is in this novel that Bond has a character-forming experience (“I could get a taste for cocktails”) and is introduced to judo (we know from his obituary that he founded a judo class at Fettes). In addition, the staples of the Bond novel – a loquacious villain and descriptions of food consumed – are present and correct.

Steve Cole has met the challenge of bringing us Fleming's character while retaining his own voice and style with considerable success. The task is made all the more difficult by the fact that Steve Cole is writing historical fiction (Ian Fleming, of course, was not), and inevitably there is the occasional anachronistic phrase (“a big ask”, “get over it”, “paramedic”). But this is not my main concern. In places, I admit Shoot to Kill was very gritty and a little tough to read. Some of the scenes could have come from the pages of Lee Child's Jack Reacher series. Such violence and persistent threat stretches the plausibility of the Young Bond novels (and others like them, for example the Alex Rider series). With six adventures under his belt, and with three more still to come, I am beginning to worry about Young Bond's psychological and physical health. How many more near-death experiences can a teenager take? Fortunately, under Steve Cole's care, Young Bond is in good hands.

Sunday 16 November 2014

Where does James Bond live?, and other observations from Bond in Motion

Where does James Bond live? We know where the literary James Bond lives – in a ground-floor flat in a house located in a square lined with plane trees off King's Road, London. Fleming and Bond biographer John Pearson identifies the square as Wellington Square, while John Griswold suggests that Markham Square is equally likely. Griswold notes, however, that neither possibility fully matches the details in Fleming's writing, which instead may have described a fictitious location inspired by real places.
Me, about to enter Bond in Motion
It is less certain, at least from the action on the screen, where the cinematic Bond lives, despite audiences seeing the inside of his apartment twice (in Dr No and Live and Let Die). That is not to say, however, that the film makers have not given Bond a home address. When I visited the Bond in Motion exhibition at the London Film Museum recently, I was interested to see some of the props prepared for some of the more recent films on display. These included passports, driving licences, and even a car rental contract, all prepared by or with the support of government agencies and commercial companies. They were in many respects genuine documents. Such attention to detail never ceases to impress me, especially considering that the props are barely seen on screen, if at all.

What especially intrigued me was the fact that the same home address was used in all documents on display from Pierce Brosnan- and Daniel Craig-era films: 61 Horseferry Road, Westminster, London, SW1. There were occasional variations – the Avis car rental agreement produced for Tomorrow Never Dies misspelled the first line of Bond's address as 61 Horsen Ferry Road, and gave the postcode as S1 – but essentially the same address has been used for some years through different Bond actors and changes in prop department staff.

Horseferry Road is not far from Bond's literary residence – King's Road is about two miles west – but fans wishing to add the address to their Bond-tour itinerary will not find the property. As Gary Giblin notes in his comprehensive reference work, James Bond's London (2001), 61 Horseferry Road does not in fact exist, which is just as well for a spy. The closest visitors can get to Bond's home is 65 Horseferry Road, which is the Westminster Coroner's Court, and, on the other side of the road, 62-64 Horseferry Road, which is home to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Incidentally, while the passports produced for the Bond films were no doubt prepared with the help of HM Passport Office, some of them do not meet its strict official requirements. The passport prepared for Casino Royale's (2006) Vesper Lynd, on display at Bond in Motion, carries a photograph of Eva Green, who is smiling and has her head turned slightly to the side; the rules state that the individual must be facing forward, looking straight at the camera and wearing a neutral expression.

There were two other points of interest from my visit to the exhibition. One concerned the manual for the Aston Martin V12 Vanquish, which is also on display. This is the thick document that Bond 'shoots through' in a second or two in Die Another Day (2002). The front of the manual bears the words MI6 Q Division. I am not sure why or when Q Branch became Q Division (possibly the change reflected organisational realities in MI6), but the change does not appear to have survived the long absence of Q in subsequent films, which obviously precluded any replication of the term 'Q Division' either in the script or on props, or competition from the term 'Q Branch', which remains more culturally prominent. In Skyfall (2012), which reintroduces the character of Q, Daniel Craig's Bond shows Raoul Silva “the latest thing in Q Branch. It's called a radio”.

Something else that caught my eye was the two pairs of skis on top of Tracy's Mercury Cougar from On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). These were made by the Franz Kneissl ski company and, as the legend on the skis proclaim, are from “the world's first factory for plastic skis”. This is an interesting detail, and adds to the types of skis that James Bond uses. In the novel (published in 1963), Bond borrows a pair of aluminium skis made by Head, and reminisces about the steel-edged hickory skis he used in his youth.

The Bond in Motion exhibition was fascinating not just because of the many Bond cars it had on display (as exciting as they were), but also because of the props and other items of incidental interest on show. These gave an insight into the care and level of detail given to the production of props, and revealed intriguing information about James Bond.


Giblin, G, 2001 James Bond's London, Daleon Enterprises
Griswold, J, 2006 Ian Fleming's James Bond: Annotations and Chronologies for Ian Fleming's Bond Stories, Author House
Pearson, J, 1973 James Bond: the authorized biography of 007, Sidgewick and Jackson

Sunday 9 November 2014

Ian Fleming introduces Yardley's 'The Education of a Poker Player'

When scriptwriters looked to update Ian Fleming's Casino Royale for the twenty-first James Bond film, they decided to replace the game of baccarat, which is played in the novel, with poker. Producer Michael G Wilson explained that while baccarat was no longer popular and few people would understand it, poker has worldwide recognition and is played as international tournaments online and on television. This is indisputable, but even so, given that Bond never plays poker in the books, is there something a little, well, un-Bondian about the game? Perhaps not. The literary James Bond may not play poker, but his creator did.

In 1958, Ian Fleming wrote an introduction to a slim volume by American author Herbert O Yardley called The Education of a Poker Player, which was first published in America in 1957. Fleming read it and was so taken with it, that he urged his publisher, Jonathan Cape, to issue the book in Britain. Cape agreed (the book was published in 1959), but on the condition that Fleming pen an introduction, presumably hoping that the attachment of Fleming's name to the book would boost sales.

Ian Fleming revealed in his introduction that he enjoyed playing poker, but confessed that he wasn't a good player. He claimed not to understand poker's myriad variations (at least, before he had encountered Yardley's book), and admitted that he drank and smoked too much to win at the game. Yardley advises poker players to “never drink while playing”, as “drinking leads to carelessness in cards”, advice, incidentally, that most of the players in the poker tournament that featured in the film of Casino Royale fail to heed, James Bond included. Herbert O Yardley would not have been impressed.

Apart from the intricate descriptions of games of Five-Card Draw (Jacks or Better, Deuces Wild with the Joker, Lo Ball), Five Card Stud, Seven-Card Stud, Seven-Card Stud (Hi-Lo), what particularly struck  Fleming was the tone of the book, which in his view was as tautly-written and as full of zest, blood, sex and wry humour as any Raymond Chandler novel (qualities, indeed, that filled the pages of Fleming's own writing).

Ostensibly a guidebook to how to win at  poker, Yardley's book is an autobiographical account of his own experiences playing poker, from his time learning the game as a teenager under the tutelage of James Montgomery at Monty's Place in Washington around 1905, to his games against Chinese officials while engaged between 1938 and 1941 by China to break Japanese codes during the Second Sino-Japanese war. All this time, Yardley writes that he never lost more than three sittings in a row.

Despite his enjoyment of the game, Ian Fleming never has James Bond play poker in his novels. Poker isn't excluded altogether, however, as Fleming made several allusions to the game, usually by way of metaphor. In 'The Hildebrand Rarity' (1962), for example, when Milton Krest goads Bond with aspersions about Britain's influence in the world, he says that the three remaining powers of America, Russia and China represented “the big poker game and that no other country had either the chips or the cards to come into it.”

Ian Fleming was fascinated by card games, and poker was no exception. That the game merits only passing references in the Bond books seems a little surprising, but may reflect Fleming's poorer understanding and experience of the game compared with baccarat, canasta and bridge, with which he was far more familiar  and which consequently found significant places in the Bond novels (Casino Royale, Goldfinger and Moonraker respectively).


Chowdhury, A, 2007 Bond Reborn, in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang 3, 26-33
Gilbert, J, 2012 Ian Fleming: The Bibliography, Queen Anne Press
Yardley, H O, 2002 The Education of a Poker Player, High Stakes

Saturday 1 November 2014

James Bond or Iron Man? Cultural references in jetpack-related stories

Think of jetpacks, and chances are the image of James Bond from Thunderball (1965) leaps to mind. Or maybe, at least for the younger generation, an image of Iron Man leaps rather higher. Judging by a number of recent jetpack-themed stories in newspapers and other media outlets, Iron Man is now competing with James Bond as the main cultural reference for journalists reporting on developments in the jetpack industry.

The most recent jetpack-related story to receive widespread coverage concerned Martin Aircraft Co. Ltd, a New Zealand-based company that's planning to become listed on the Australian stock exchange to raise capital to develop its jetpack prototype, the Martin Jetpack. This was essentially a business story, and much of the coverage was characteristically dry as one might expect from the business pages.

Some of the articles, for example in the Sydney Morning Herald and the New Zealand Herald, contained no cultural references, but there were a few nods to popular culture in others. The Australian Financial Review, for example, ran the headline, “Martin Jetpack Brings James Bond to Life.” ABC Online commented that the jetpack was “every child's fantasy, with imaginations fuelled for decades by film and television,” including, it suggested, Thunderball. The Wall Street Journal's article, in contrast, focused on inventor Glenn Martin's own inspiration, The Jetsons, and other American science-fiction shows of the 1960s.

As with buses, one waits ages for a jetpack story, then two stories come along as once. A few days before the Martin Jetpack story hit the news, media outlets were excited by the craze for water-powered jetpacks, which are being offered as tourist experiences around the world. The Telegraph reported on the Jetlev-Flyer, a jetpack experience based at Wyboston Lakes, near Bedford, UK, with the headline, “Unleash your inner James Bond: strap on a jetpack,” which was described as “part 007 gadget, part oversized garden sprinkler.” Co-owner of the franchise, Catherine Wheeler, asked as she strapped reporter Ben Saunders into a jetpack, “So do you want to be James Bond or Iron Man?”

Another water-powered jetpack experience, run by Jetpack America, is available near Las Vegas at Pahrump, Nevada. The Los Angeles Magazine reported on the facility and alluded to “Rocketeer” fantasies. Last year, Yahoo News reported on a similar facility in Hawaii, though its story focused on concerns raised by Hawaii's fishermen, marine biologists and state officials. The story's headline stated, “'Iron Man' jetpacks spark concerns in Hawaii,” and asked, “Want to fly like George Jetson or Iron Man?”

In May this year, another type of jetpack, the 'Go Fast Jet Pack', was featured in the Daily Mail with the headline, “Travel like Iron man! Mini wingless jet-pack lets man zoom around at speeds of 77mph (but only for half a minute).” There was a second Iron Man reference within the article: “The 'Go Fast Jet Pack' may not be a sleek as Iron Man's but it allows people to fly after 100 hours of lessons, much like the fictional super hero.” The absence of references to Thunderball in this case is curious, as the jetpack's manufacturer, Jet PI, based the design on the model developed in the 1960s by Bell Systems, which was responsible for James Bond's jetpack. 

It is reassuring, and testament to the significance of James Bond, that after almost 50 years, the Thunderball jetpack meme retains cultural currency. But Iron Man is nipping at James Bond's heels, and it is to the superhero that editors are beginning to turn in their jetpack stories. The likelihood of there being an allusion to James Bond also appears to depend in part on where the story is published. A US-based media outlet is perhaps more likely than a UK-based one to refer to American aspects of culture, while British outlets will lean more strongly to British cultural memes. In other places, such as Australia, there might be more of a mix, though in the case of jetpacks, James Bond remains important.

Sunday 26 October 2014

To the editor of The Times: Ian Fleming on the Munich Agreement

Ian Fleming's writing outside his James Bond novels provide fascinating insights into Fleming's world-view and the cultural environment of the day. For example, there is among the mass of his published material a letter to the editor of The Times published on Wednesday 28th September 1938. The date is significant, being the day before the signing of the infamous Munich Agreement, which ceded the Czechoslovakian territory of Sudetenland to Germany and heralded the full annexation of Czechoslovakia six months later. It was about the imminent meeting between the British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, and Adolf Hitler that Fleming wrote.

Ian Fleming began, “Since the immediate future of Europe appears to depend largely on Herr Hitler's intentions, it is most important that we should have a clear knowledge of exactly what those intentions are.” Revealing himself as something of a German expert (he had spent time in Germany, having enrolled at Munich University in 1928), Fleming drew attention to a rare document (a copy of which he had in his possession) produced by the National Socialist German Workers' Party on its foundation in 1920 that stated among other objectives a demand for “'the union of all Germans within a Greater-Germany'”. To Fleming, then, Hitler's territorial ambitions in 1938 had come as no surprise. But what was to be the response from the signatory powers of Britain, France and Italy?

Peace in Europe, it seemed to Fleming, would only be possible if the demands contained in the document of 1920 represented the full extent of Hitler's ambitions. “There will be no peace, no return of prosperity, and no happiness in Europe until England and France agree to the fulfilment of Herr Hitler's stated programme”, he wrote. The alternative was stark. Should Hitler refuse this settlement, Fleming continued, then “it will be time to organize this country on a war-
time basis.”
The Munich Agreement, giving the mainly German-speaking Czechoslovakian region of Sudetenland to Germany, was signed in the early hours of Friday 30th September 1938. Neville Chamberlain returned to London, and outside 10 Downing Street told the assembled press that he believed the agreement represented “peace for our time”. The phrase would later haunt Chamberlain, who would come to be viewed as the architect of appeasement as Hitler's subsequent territorial aggression became clear. However, there was initial public support in Britain for the agreement, and judging by his letter, the outcome was for Fleming preferable to the alternative.

Ian Fleming's letter is of interest beyond historical curiosity. It demonstrates in Fleming a growing political awareness that he appears to have lacked, as biographer Andrew Lycett notes, even in Munich in 1928 when the Nazi Party was on the rise (although presumably it was there that Fleming acquired the copy of the document he described in his letter). This awareness was soon put to practical use in 1939 when Fleming was appointed as special correspondent for The Times to cover a British trade mission to the Soviet Union. Following the Second World War, Fleming's interest in global politics appeared to have waned, although it found a degree of expression in the James Bond novels as he pitted his hero against the Soviet Union.


Fleming, I, 1938 Letter to the editor of The Times, The Times, 28 September 1938
Lycett, A, 1995 Ian Fleming: The Man Behind James Bond, Turner

Sunday 19 October 2014

James Bond in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

A scene from 'Our Man Bashir'
The scene opens in what appears to be a luxury hotel room. A man is thrown through a plate glass screen. Through the broken glass, we see a second man, who is presumably responsible for the damage to the glass – and the first individual. He wears a dinner suit, and coolly turns towards a beautiful woman and a table on which a bottle of Dom Pérignon has been placed. He takes the bottle, but as he begins to extract the cork, he notices a reflection in the glass of the bottle of the first man, now recovered, moving towards him with malign intent. In a perfectly-timed move, the dinner-suited man turns, aims the bottle at the man, and shoots the cork. The cork hits the man on the head and downs him. The man in the dinner suit resumes his position at the table, and passionately kisses the woman.

No, this isn't a description of a pre-titles sequence from a James Bond film, but rather a parody of one, alluding to, among other aspects, the pre-titles sequence of Goldfinger (specifically the reflection of the villain in the exotic dancer's eye). The scene is from the beginning of 'Our Man Bashir', the ninth episode of season four of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and first broadcast in November 1995.

In the episode, Doctor Julian Bashir, played by Alexander Siddig, enacts his fantasy of being a 1960s' British spy (no prizes for guessing which one) in the holosuite of a Federation space station, Deep Space Nine. When an attempt to teleport some of the crew from a damaged shuttle fails, the patterns of the crew members are stored in the only part of the station's computer large enough to take them – the holosuite. Doctor Bashir, still within his fantasy program, begins to encounter his crew mates, who now appear as characters in his spy adventure.

As expected, James Bond references abound throughout the episode. There are allusions to, for example, the suggestive names of Bond girls (Bashir's valet is called Mona Luvsitt, while Lt Commander Jadzia Dax becomes geologist Dr Honey Bare), Bond's favourite tipple (inevitably Bashir drinks a Martini, shaken, not stirred), Bond's skill at cards (Bashir plays baccarat in a casino), the villains' penchant for Nehru-collared jackets (Captain Sisko in the guise of the villain, Dr Hippocrates Noah, wears one), and Bond music (there are hints of the James Bond theme and John Barry-style phrases).

Then there are references to specific Bond films. Bashir's fantasy is set in 1964, the year that saw the release of Goldfinger and the beginning of 'Bondmania'. Later in the episode, Bashir changes into a grey suit that recalls the grey three-piece suit worn by Sean Connery's Bond in that film. Bashir is helped in his fantasy mission by a Russian spy, Anastasia Komananov (actually crew member Major Kira), which is taken from The Spy Who Loved Me. And in a denouement that is reminiscent of Moonraker, Bashir is brought to a cave and strapped to a laser, which when activated will bring up molten lava and kill Bashir.

Indeed, despite being set in 1964, the fantasy events depicted the episode appear to have been inspired largely by The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, released in 1977 and 1979 respectively. The megalomaniacal scheme devised by Dr Noah (whose name obviously recalls Dr No, although Dr Noah was also the name of Woody Allen's character in the 1967 version of Casino Royale) involves destroying the world by setting off earthquakes using strategically placed lasers. “I believe in an orderly world,” Dr Noah tells Bashir. “We are building a new future”. As the land mass crumbles, the sea rises and creates an island of Dr Noah's mountain-top retreat (a reference here, no doubt, to Piz Gloria, Blofeld's Alpine base in On Her Majesty's Secret Service). Having brought all the world's top scientists – many of them female – to his lair, Dr Noah plans to repopulate the earth with a super-race. “Diabolical,” says Bashir. “Visionary,” replies Dr Noah, a man clearly cut from the same cloth as Karl Stromberg or Hugo Drax.

There are other references to The Spy Who Loved Me. Lt Commander Worf, who appears in the fantasy as Dr Noah's right-hand man, Duchamps, discharges a powder from his fake cigar to render Bashir unconscious in a similar vein to Major Amasova's method of knocking Bond out. On being introduced to Bashir, posing as geologist Dr Merriweather, Dr Noah tests Bashir's credentials by inviting him to identify a collection of stones, just as Stromberg tested Bond's knowledge of fish (Bond was posing as marine biologist at the time). And the control room of Dr Noah's retreat, complete with control panel and large map of the world showing the locations of the lasers, brings to mind the control room of Stromberg's tanker, the Liparus.

Curiously, the episode features two moments of overt 1960s' scene-setting – women dancing to zany 1960s' style music, and a revolving circular bed – that prefigure Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) and which otherwise have no place in the 1960s' Bond films, except Casino Royale.

At the end of his fantasy, Doctor Bashir tell us that “Julian Bashir, secret Agent, will return,” a reference to the promise at the end of every Bond film that James Bond will return. In the event, a planned return to Bashir's fantasy program was never produced, apparently because of threatened legal action from MGM. That's a pity, because 'Our Man Bashir' is an affectionate tribute to the Bond films that only serves to demonstrate how deeply aspects or memes expressed in the Bond films, particularly those associated with what could be identified as touchstone films, Goldfinger and The Spy Who Loved Me, are embedded in popular culture.

Sunday 12 October 2014

Review – James Bond's Cuisine: 007's Every Last Meal, by Matt Sherman

In recent years, the food of James Bond (perhaps rather belatedly, given that there is so much of it in Ian Fleming's novels) has been attracting more academic and popular interest. In June 2009, I published a paper in Food, Culture and Society (vol.12.2) called '“Bond was not a gourmet”: An archaeology of James Bond’s diet'. In October 2012, an article by Michelle Warwicker and published on the BBC News website asked, “Does 007 eat all the wrong things?” The same month, Dr James Strong led a seminar ('James Bond: International Man of Gastronomy') at Newman University Birmingham that explored the representation of food and the function of Bond's culinary choices in the novels. Dr Strong's research was subsequently published as a paper in the Journal of European Popular Culture (2013, vol. 4.2).

As worthy as all this research is, however, it is of limited use for anyone looking for a handy guide to food in the Bond books. My own James Bond cookbook, Licence to Cook, is a better place to start, but the recipes described are restricted to the meals that Bond consumes in Fleming's novels. Luckily, the gap has now been filled.

Matt Sherman's James Bond's Cuisine: 007's Every Last Meal (2014) is as comprehensive a guide to the food of James Bond as one could expect. The author has trawled through the novels, not only of Ian Fleming, but those of the continuation authors too, to describe every meal and food reference. Nor has he confined himself to the food consumed by Bond. References to food related to other characters are there as well. And if you thought the films had largely excised food from James Bond's adventures, then a flick through Matt Sherman's book reveals otherwise. While Bond is rarely shown sitting down to enjoy a meal, food is referenced one way or another in all the films, including the two not made by EON.

Throughout the guidebook, Matt Sherman adds 'Chef's notes' that provide more information about the origin or preparation of the food described, and occasionally include a recipe, for example key lime pie, a dessert which Bond admires in John Gardner's novelisation of Licence to Kill (1989). The author also highlights the restaurants referenced in the books and films which actually exist, allowing the book to be used as culinary travel guide and giving the chance for readers to sample the locations, as well as the food, of James Bond's world.

An index by food type or ingredient would have been helpful, but this is a minor concern. The book is a one-stop reference for all the food of James Bond, and deserves a place on the Bond fan's bookshelf alongside other Bond-related reference works, in particular David Leigh's The Drinks of James Bond (I suggest the two are read in tandem). And if readers are inspired to prepare a meal of Bondian food, may I humbly suggest they try a recipe from Licence to Cook?

Sunday 5 October 2014

James Bond enters the world of motor racing

Last week, Ian Fleming Publications announced that Anthony Horowitz, acclaimed author of the Alex Rider series and television scriptwriter (credits include Midsomer Murders and Poirot), will be writing the next James Bond novel, to be published in September 2015. If that wasn't exciting enough, it was additionally revealed that part of the novel will use story ideas by Ian Fleming. The unpublished story, 'Murder on Wheels', takes Bond to the motor-racing circuit of Nürburgring in Germany, where Bond must foil a Russian plot to scupper driver Stirling Moss's race. But what inspired Fleming to think about writing such a story, and what details might we expect to see in Anthony Horowitz's novel?

James Bond is no stranger to the world of motor racing. Apart from all the 'racing changes' that Bond regularly makes in his cars, we know from Moonraker (1955) that Bond 'dabbled on the fringe of the racing world' (in his teens, assuming Bond was born in 1921), and had memories of Rudolf Caracciola, the celebrated German racing driver of the 1930s, at Le Mans. It was clearly a period with which Fleming was familiar, and he alluded to the motor racing scene of the 1930s in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1964/65). While the magical car was based on a car built by Count Zborowski in 1920, Fleming describes Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as a Paragon Panther that raced in the 1930s.

'Murder on Wheels' is one of thirteen story outlines prepared by Ian Fleming in 1958-9 for a television series in America. The series never got off the ground, but by May 1959, Fleming had supplied seven new stories and other stories based on the Bond novels already published. Some of the outlines formed the basis for some of the short stories in the For Your Eyes Only (1960) and Octopussy (1966) collections, but for whatever reason, 'Murder on Wheels' remained unused.

The late 1950s was an exciting period for motor racing. The inaugural race of the Formula One championship was in 1950 at Silverstone, and by the mid 1950s, the championship was dominated by two drivers, Juan Manuel Fangio, the Argentinian who won five drivers' titles between 1951 and 1957, and Stirling Moss, the Briton who never won a title, but won sixteen races between 1951 and 1961. The Formula One championship of 1957 was a particular tussle between the two, with every race that season won by Fangio in a Maserati or Moss in his Vanwall. Without Fangio in the 1958 season, Stirling Moss's main competition came from compatriot Mike Hawthawn in a Ferrari. But the season was overshadowed by several drivers' deaths on and off the track.
A Vanwall in 1957, the type of car driven by Stirling Moss (photo: Terry Whalebone)

It is possible that Ian Fleming had the 1957 and 1958 Formula One seasons in mind when he wrote the outline for his story (the 1959 season was too late, as the first race was in May). From a British point of view, the emerging dominance of British drivers and cars would have been a source of national pride and excitement, and it is not difficult to imagine Fleming concocting a plot involving a Russian scheme to end this dominance and humiliate the British.

We know that Anthony Horowitz will set his novel in the 1950s, and it is not unreasonable to suggest that he will turn to the events of the late 1950s for inspiration. If so, expect to read the names of some of the drivers of the day, among them Fangio, Moss, Hawthawn, Brooks, Musso, Schell, Gregory, and the names of cars, such as Vanwall, Cooper-Climax,  and BRM, as well as Ferrari, Maserati and Porsche (and possibly even the name of a certain team-owner, who entered in 1958 with Connaught-Alta – Bernie Ecclestone). Horowitz might also be tempted to turn to the 1959 to make another Bondian connection. It was in that year that Aston Martin entered Formula One.

Given James Bond's (and Fleming's) interest in the world of motor-racing, it's perhaps curious that Bond hasn't been seen on the racing circuit before now either in the books or the films (although he comes close in the film of On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), when he and Tracy gatecrash a stock-car rally). The racing circuit, however, deserves to be as natural a Bondian landscape as the casino or the ski slope, and I await Anthony Horowitz's novel with a great deal of anticipation.


Gilbert, J, 2012 Ian Fleming: the Bibliography, Queen Anne Press
Griswold, J, 2006 Ian Fleming's James Bond: Annotations and Chronologies for Ian Fleming's Bond Stories, Author-House

Saturday 27 September 2014

The Spy's Bedside Book

As a measure of the growing success of Ian Fleming's James Bond adventures, three passages from the novels were included in The Spy's Bedside Book, an anthology of spy stories and episodes edited by Graham Greene and Hugh Greene and published in 1957. The stories range from tales of Napoleonic intrigue to descriptions of Cold War spycraft, and present the absurdities, banalities and brutalities of espionage.

The three excerpts from Fleming's books are from Casino Royale (1953), Moonraker (1955) and From Russia, with Love (1957). The passage from Casino Royale is in a section called 'Professional Perquisities', and sees Bond ordering dinner for himself and Vesper Lynd in the restaurant of the Hotel Splendide. The passage from Moonraker, placed in the anthology under 'Tricks of the Trade', is from a scene in Blades, M's club. Bond has ordered vodka and proceeds to sprinkle pepper into the glass to take the residual fusel oil to the bottom of the glass. The passage from From Russia, with Love, placed in a section called 'Delights of the Profession', describes Bond's attaché case, the bag of tricks put together by Q Branch.

It is arguable how much of Bond's origins can be found in the writings of John Buchan, William Le Queux, and other early 20th-century spy writers, but these three passages do not seem out of place among tales of imperial and wartime adventures. Apart from Buchan and Le Queux, other authors in the anthology include Sir Robert Baden-Powell, T E Lawrence, Compton Mackenzie, and Rudyard Kipling. There is also room for some of the authors that Fleming most admired: Eric Ambler, Somerset Maugham, E Philips Oppenheim, and Fleming's brother, Peter.

My copy of the book, incidentally, is a former library copy, having once belonged to the library of Seaton Burn County Modern School in Northumberland. For me, what is perhaps as fascinating as the stories are the marginalia and annotations made by some of the book's readers. The marks made on the list of contents pages are especially interesting. The first name of Richard Garnett, who contributed to the Dictionary of National Biography, has been crossed out and replaced by 'Alf', forming the name of a sitcom character who first appeared on British television in July 1965. The name of co-editor Hugh Greene is at one point altered to Hughie Greene [sic], who was a popular television gameshow host on ITV from the mid 1950s to late 1970s. And in all three listings of the Bond passages, Ian Fleming has been underlined, drawing attention to the entries.

Given the date of the Alf Garnet reference, the annotations must date to or after the period of 'Bondmania' that began with the release of Goldfinger in the cinema in 1964. The juvenile scribblings inevitably reflect the cultural environment of the time and provide a little insight into the increasing popularity of James Bond.

Saturday 20 September 2014

The Poppy Is Also A Flower - further James Bond connections

In the latest edition of MI6 Confidential (excellent as always), there's a fascinating article about the production of The Poppy Is Also A Flower, a UN-sponsored film broadcast in 1966 on US television and given wider release in the cinema in 1967. The film follows UN agents Benson and Sam Lincoln (played by Stephen Boyd and Trevor Howard respectively) on the trail of a shipment of opium from its source in Iran to the point of distribution in Europe, and features a host of Hollywood stars, including Grace Kelly, Yul Brynner, Rita Hayworth and Omar Sharif.

As explored in the piece in MI6 Confidential, the main interest for Ian Fleming aficionados is that the screenplay was based on a story by Ian Fleming (he is duly credited on the titles of the film), and was directed by Terence Young, who directed Dr No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963) and Thunderball (1965). I was sufficiently intrigued by the article to watch the film (available via You Tube), and as I did so, spotted a number of other connections between the film and the Bond series.

Trevor Howard, who was touted as a potential Bond for Dr No, though never seriously considered for the role by Broccoli and Saltzman, was given his chance to play Bond in the film. His character, Lincoln, has some obvious Bondian traits. He is charming, irresistible to women, and an action man, and for part of the film wears a dinner-suit. Lincoln is killed off towards the end of the film, after inveigling himself under a false identity into the villain's circle and surreptitiously searching the villain's yacht (reminiscent of Largo's boat in Thunderball). 'Bond duties' are subsequently taken up by his partner, Benson, who till then has a far quieter role.

The thrilling denouement is set on Le Train Bleu, a luxury express train which ran between Calais and the French Riviera. As if to accentuate the obvious parallel with From Russia With Love (which used the Orient Express), the train sequence includes a bruising fist-fight in a carriage between Benson and an enemy agent, Captain Vanderbilt, played by Anthony Quayle. Here, Terence Young cannot have failed to draw on his experience filming the seminal fight scene between Bond and Grant in From Russia With Love. Curiously, earlier in the film, Poppy features a wrestling scene between two near-naked women, which echoes the gypsy fight also in From Russia With Love.

Among the star-studded cast of Poppy is a familiar face from the Bond films. Harold Sakata, most famous for playing Oddjob in Goldfinger, appears as Martin, an intermediary in the opium trade. And if most of the Italian and French cast members sound familiar (and identical), it is because they seem to have been dubbed by Robert Rietty, who provided the voices for, among others in the Bond series, Largo in Thunderball and Tiger Tanaka in You Only Live Twice.

The Poppy Is Also A Flower isn't a great film – its plot and cast are perhaps overly burdened by the the film's august sponsor and worthiness of the anti-drugs campaign that the film was designed to promote – but it is entertaining enough, and worth watching for the Bond connections. The James Bond films appear to have provided inspiration for many aspects of the plot and characterisation, which was no doubt influenced by Ian Fleming's small, but critical involvement in the project's early stages, and Terence Young's experience directing three of the four Bond films that had been filmed up till then.

Saturday 13 September 2014

The enduring popularity of Richard Kiel's Jaws

When the death of Richard Kiel was announced on 11th September, the story made news headlines around the world, and generous obituaries were published in major newspapers. This is testament to the respect and affection people around the world felt for the actor, and a measure of the extent to which Jaws, James Bond's steel-toothed adversary in the films The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979), had pervaded cultural space.

Much of the responsibility for this must lie in Richard Kiel's interpretation of the role. He imbued the character with the perfect combination of menace, humour and humanity – remarkably without uttering a single word until his final scene as Jaws in Moonraker. As Kiel said on the BBC Radio 4 programme, The Reunion, recorded days before his death, “I said if I were to play the part, I want to give the character some human characteristics, like perseverance, frustration.”

The popularity of Jaws also stems, inevitably, from his physical attributes and macabre method of dispatching his victims. The flash of metal teeth as Jaws grimaces in pleasure at the prospect of a killing. The ease with which he bites through a metal cable, almost as if it were, say, liquorice. The view of Jaws advancing down a side street in outlandish carnival costume towards Manuela, Bond's Rio assistant, who is rooted on the spot in fear. His i
ndestructibility in his relentless pursuit of Bond. These are moments that stay with audiences long after the films have ended, and make Jaws so memorable. It helps, too, that Jaws has the same name as an equally (or more) famous shark. In contrast, Sandor and Chang, Jaws' fellow henchmen in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker respectively, have largely been forgotten among all but keen Bond fans.

Jaws was a product of the The Spy Who Loved Me's scriptwriters (director Lewis Gilbert suggests in his autobiography that Jaws was the creation of Richard Maibaum, rather than Christopher Wood). However, while the character doesn't appear in Ian Fleming's original novel (published in 1962), the scriptwriters may well have drawn inspiration from the novel. When the book's heroine, Vivienne Michel, first encounters Horror, one of the two criminals intending to murder Vivienne and burn down the motel she's managing, she recalls that “when he spoke there was a glint of grey silvery metal from his front teeth and I supposed they had been cheaply capped with steel.” Horror doesn't use his teeth to kill, but it's possible that Jaws was born from this description, as well as traits or memes of other characters, most plausibly Dracula's penchant for biting necks.

Jaws has had life after Moonraker, thanks to his continued popularity. For example, the character was resurrected for the 007 Legends computer game (2012) and was one of three henchmen from the film series (the others being Nick Nack and Oddjob) to appear in the animated series, James Bond Jr (1991-2). The three characters, incidentally, also appear together during the 'Minions Anonymous' scene in the credits of the film, Inspector Gadget (1999). Richard Kiel is featured as the 'Famous Bad Guy with Silver Teeth'. The Eon series itself surely alluded to Jaws in The World Is Not Enough (1999), with the character of Bullion, Valentin Zukovsky's
gold-toothed bodyguard played by Goldie.

Jaws was additionally referenced in a number of television commercials starring Richard Kiel. In one, for the Sampo Visa Mini credit card, Kiel is in a supermarket approaching the check-outs counters. His menacing size and scowl on his face frightens the check-out girl, but when Kiel takes out his credit card (the number of which ends '007'), she relaxes and smiles, revealing metal braces on her teeth.

In another advert, for Shredded Wheat, Richard Kiel sits at a table in a restaurant and proceeds to bite off the tines of a fork and a fragment from a dinner plate before ordering three shredded wheat (a diner at a neighbouring table is incredulous that Kiel would eat three shredded wheat).

The James Bond films have produced characters that have become as well established in popular culture as James Bond, and enjoy cultural recognition in their own right. Jaws is one of them, owed principally to Richard Kiel's unforgettable, terrifying, and sympathetic, characterisation.  

Thursday 4 September 2014

A pilgrimage to Ian Fleming's grave

The monument marking Ian Fleming's grave
Returning from a holiday on the south coast of Devon (unfortunately I missed the chance to visit the beach at Salcombe; Ian Fleming spent his childhood holidays there and recalled them in the opening chapter of On Her Majesty's Secret Service), I decided to take a detour to the village of Sevenhampton, near Swindon in Wiltshire. It is in this village, in the church of St James (appropriately), that Fleming is buried.

Getting to the church wasn't straightforward. Sevenhampton is hidden away, and a crucial road sign at a crossroads had been knocked down. Eerily, an oncoming car that looked suspiciously like a Bentley 4½ litre fitted with an Amhurst Villiers supercharger - the type of car that both Fleming and Bond drove - passed me. A good sign that I was on the right track, I thought! Eventually entering the village, I had to park the car in a lane, and walk back to the main road before turning down a private driveway, then going through a gate and along a footpath to the entrance into the churchyard. Even before one reaches the church, the tall, pyramidal, monument marking Fleming's grave is clearly seen and dominates the churchyard.

The grave is in fact a family tomb. Plaques on the monument additionally identify the graves of Ann Fleming, Ian's wife, and Caspar, their son. The plaque dedicated to Ann, who died in 1981, offers the inscription, “There is none like her, none,” a line taken from Maud (Part XVIII), a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The epitaph to Caspar, who died tragically young in 1975, reads, “To cease upon the midnight with no pain,” which is a quotation from Keats' Ode to a Nightingale.

The plaque dedicated to Ian Fleming is different in a few ways. It doesn't give Ian's full name (the other two provide middle names), it gives the dates of his birth and death (the other plaques record only the years of birth and death), and in addition to the epitaph, includes the words, “In Memoriam”, which the others lack. I'm not sure how significant these differences are, but they are interesting nonetheless.
The plaque dedicated to Ian Fleming
Ian Fleming's epitaph has a classical source. It reads, “Omnia perfunctus vitae praemia, marces,” and is taken from On the Nature of Things (De rerum natura), a six-book didactic poem written in honour of the Greek philosopher Epicurus by the Roman writer Lucretius, who lived during the first half of the 1st century BC. The line comes from book three (DRN 3.955-62), which in part explores the fear of death, and can be translated as, “Having enjoyed all life's prizes, you now decay.” On their own, the words allude to the inevitability of death and the impermanence of life and material things, but also allude to Fleming's intense, somewhat hedonistic, take on life. The phrase also seems echoes James Bond's philosophy, as revealed in You Only Live Twice: “I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my days.”

Within its original passage, however, the line has a rather more negative connotation. 

“Take your tears away from here, wretch, and quell your complaints. Having enjoyed all life's prizes, you now decay. But because what you want is always at a distance, you shun what is at hand, your life has slipped away incomplete and unenjoyed, and death stands by your head unexpected, before you can leave things satisfied and full.” (Translation by James Warren.)
The passage clearly concerns premature death (Fleming was just 56 when he died of a heart attack), but from its Epicurean viewpoint ridicules the notion that the pursuit of pleasure leads to fulfilment. While happiness, according to Epicurus, derives from the absence of suffering, overindulgence can be a cause of pain, and ultimately unhappiness and death.

I don't know who chose the words – it's possible that Ian Fleming had discovered the phrase and requested that it be inscribed on his gravestone, though it seems more likely that the words were chosen by others (perhaps Ann's literary friends) – but the censorious tone of the rest of the passage makes the wording an odd, and not entirely flattering, selection.

I wonder whether a more sympathetic epitaph might have been provided. The tribute offered by William Plomer at Fleming's memorial service (“Don't let us indulge in vain regrets that he didn't live longer, but let us be glad that he lived so intensely”) is a touching alternative. But in a way Fleming had already provided his own epitaph. In chapter 15 of From Russia, with Love, Kerim Bey talks to Bond about the threat of dying from the 'Iron Crab' (that is, a heart attack). “Perhaps," Kerim says, "they will put on my tombstone 'This Man Died from Living Too Much.'” The words could equally apply to Ian Fleming himself.


Lycett, A, 1995 Ian Fleming: The man behind James Bond, Turner
Warren, J, 2006 Facing death: Epicurus and his critics, Oxford University Press

Saturday 30 August 2014

Reflections on James Bond's Hong Kong

Following a recent trip to Hong Kong, guest writer Radley Biddulph reflects on how the former British colony has influenced the world of James Bond, and looks up some of the locations that appeared in the films.

It may come as a surprise to consider that Hong Kong has featured so rarely in the James Bond films. Bond has been to the former British Colony just three times (You Only Live Twice, The Man with the Golden Gun, and Die Another Day) and of these, You Only Live Twice and Die Another Day have seen the most fleeting of visits.

It is particularly surprising given the popularity of cinema in Hong Kong, its history, and the stunning scenery, most notably the skyline and natural harbour. Visit the Victoria Harbour waterfront at Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, for example, and you will come across the Avenue of the Stars, celebrating many great names in Kong Kong cinema, such as Jackie Chan, John Woo, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh and, of course, Bruce Lee.

While Michelle Yeoh appears in Tomorrow Never Dies - elements of which would not have been out of place in a Hong Kong film - sadly, the Special Administrative Region itself did not feature in the story, causing you to wonder if the producers missed a trick in not devoting more time in Hong Kong.

Of the three films to feature Hong Kong, the region is most prominent in Golden Gun. (While Twice was principally set in Japan, Hong Kong was featured for Bond’s fake death and funeral - although filming actually took place in Gibraltar.)
Star Ferry
Three iconic locations in Golden Gun are the Bottoms Up Club in Tsim Sha Tsui, the wreck of RMS Queen Elizabeth in Victoria Harbour, and the Star Ferry Terminal.  Sadly for film location enthusiasts only the last remains. The Bottoms Up Club moved in 2004, and has now closed for good; while the wreck of RMS Queen Elizabeth was finally dismantled in 1975.  In contrast, with the Star Ferry remaining little changed for decades (many of the ferries date back to the 1950s), the location, visited by Bond, satisfyingly evokes the era of Golden Gun.

One other place that still appears to have little changed – at least from the outside - is the Peninsula Hotel. It was there that Bond meets Scaramanga’s mistress, Andrea Anders, and it was also at the hotel (albeit with a different name) that Bond, in Die Another Day, walked in soaking wet seeking a room following his prisoner exchange and subsequent escape from MI6.  Inside, the foyer as it appears in Die Another Day is less busy than in real life and the soaking wet Bond would probably have had to walk past a queue of tourists patiently waiting for afternoon tea. The Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club also features in the film although when Bond climbs out from Victoria Harbour it is clear that he is on Kowloon, and not Hong Kong Island, where the yacht club is, in fact, situated.

Peninsula Hotel, Hong Kong

I mentioned Bruce Lee earlier and doubtless the boom in martial arts films in the 1970s and of Lee’s own popularity were in part a factor in the producer’s decision to turn to South East Asia.  It is a pity that the martial arts theme was not better used.  While films such as Fist of Fury (1972) and Enter the Dragon (1973) are well-known, it is another of Lee’s films, albeit released after his death, Game of Death (1978) that has elements that would not have been out of place in Golden Gun.

In Game of Death, the Red Pepper Restaurant, located on Causeway Bay, is the scene for some classic martial arts, culminating in Lee’s character, who, on entering a dojo from the restaurant, has to fight a different protagonist on each floor before he locates the crime syndicate boss he is searching. These are familiar elements in Golden Gun, in which Bond takes on martial arts students one-by-one in a dojo, but then this is rather undone by the intervention of Bond’s local contact, Lieutenant Hip and his two nieces, who unconvincingly defeat the entire dojo.

Perhaps this is looking too deeply into the films. The Bond of Roger Moore incorporated popular themes throughout the 70s: the Blaxploitation theme in Live and Let Die, and the space theme in Moonraker are two such examples.  But taking a more serious storyline was not unknown during Moore’s time – For Your Eyes Only is the obvious example – and the tone of the films has become increasingly less light-hearted with all subsequent Bond actors.  Having visited Hong Kong myself earlier this year, it would be good to see Daniel Craig’s Bond going to Hong Kong and to see elements of its history, scenery and culture being incorporated in Bond in a way which celebrates what makes Hong Kong particularly unique, rather than pretending it is somewhere – or something - else.

Thursday 21 August 2014

Who is the best James Bond?

A recent poll conducted on behalf of CBS News by SSRS revealed that Sean Connery remains America's favourite James Bond. Fifty per cent of respondents went for Connery when asked who was the best Bond. Pierce Brosnan was second with 12%, closely followed by Roger Moore, who polled 11%. Daniel Craig was third with 8%, while George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton brought up the rear with 1% each. While the margin of error of plus or minus 3% suggests that the differences between Brosnan, Moore, and probably Craig, are not statistically significant, Connery's place at the top is clear enough.

The poll reminded me of the 'Pint of Milk' interviews that feature in Empire magazine. Each month, a well-known actor, writer or director is asked a series of quirky questions largely unrelated to their latest release or career in film. The questions vary between interviews, but all interviewees are asked, “how much is a pint of milk?” Another question asked on a fairly regular basis is, “who is the best James Bond?” Looking through an archive of classic 'Pint of Milk' interviews on Empire Online, I was interested to see the responses to that question. As with the respondents in the CBS poll, the film-making community seems to favour Sean Connery.

All the interviews available online appear to have been conducted during the tenure of Pierce Brosnan, who consequently gets an honourable mention from most interviewees. So, on the question of the best Bond, Peter Ustinov thought that nobody could touch Connery, but considered that Brosnan had developed into 006 at least. Dan Ackroyd similarly thought Connery the best, but conceded that Brosnan was doing a wonderful job. Michael Keaton admitted he wasn't particularly familiar with the film series, but said that he liked Connery. Though he hadn't seen any of the Brosnan films, Keaton thought Brosnan looked natural in the role. Kyle MacLachlan went with Connery as the best Bond, with, unusually, Roger Moore a close second. Brosnan, he thought, was suave, but lacked the element of danger. Tim Robbins, in response to the question of the best Bond, answered “Mike Myers”.

Judging by these surveys, Sean Connery's position as 'best Bond' is unassailable. Quite how we measure the notion of best Bond is debatable to say the least, but the responses nevertheless point to certain important qualities. Two of them appear to be danger and toughness, which are strongly associated with Connery's portrayal. These are evidently not enough, however, as Timothy Dalton, who took a gritty approach to the role, is at the bottom of the CBS poll, while Daniel Craig, a tough, muscular Bond, only manages a middling position. Possibly a perceived lack of humour in Dalton's and Craig's Bond, certainly when compared with the Connery, Brosnan and Moore eras, is a factor here.

The Empire interviews suggest that being the current Bond boosts the ranking of that actor. Had the interviews taken place more recently, the interviewees might have placed Daniel Craig second. On the other hand, the results of the CBS poll pointed to an age factor to the responses. Respondents over the age of 45 tended to pick Roger Moore as second best Bond, while those under 45 went with Brosnan, suggesting that people tend to regard the Bond they grew up with or first saw as their (second) favourite Bond.

As for Connery, there is a remarkable consensus among all respondents that Connery is the best Bond. I wonder, though, whether the view has become so well established in popular culture that it is now almost a natural response given without much consideration or critical thought. Like any meme that is successful by being long-lived, widespread and oft-repeated, the view or meme that Connery is the best James Bond (along with the opposite meme that Lazenby is (usually) considered the worst Bond) is somewhat self-perpetuating. Connery is likely to remain on the top spot for a while yet, no matter how well the Bond films of Daniel Craig and his successors do at the box office.

Sunday 17 August 2014

How would James Bond vote in the Scottish independence referendum?

George Lazenby as James Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
Sean Connery is a well known supporter of Scottish independence, and come the referendum on 18th September, we have no doubt how he will be voting. But what about the character for which Connery is most strongly associated? How might James Bond, another Scot, vote? A trawl through Ian Fleming's novels provide a few insights into Bond's perception of identity, nationality, and duty which offer some pointers to what his voting intentions might be.

James Bond's Scottish heritage was introduced late in Fleming's series of adventures. For much of the series, Bond was an Englishman. In Casino Royale (1953), Mathis, Bond's French ally, describes Bond as “the Englishman from Jamaica”. Bond, who is there with Mathis, does not correct him. In From Russia, with Love (1957), Soviet spies hatch a plot to destroy James Bond, the 'Angliski Spion'. And in The Spy Who Loved Me (1962), the heroine, Vivienne Michel, looks “appealing at the Englishman.” Meanwhile, Sluggsy, one of the villains, asks Bond, “From England, huh?” “That's right,” comes the reply.

It is possible that England in these references is synonymous with Britain and does not necessarily imply English origins, but Fleming appears to provide no hint of any Scottish identity, and readers up till this point would not have thought Bond as anything other than English.

This changed with the publication of On Her Majesty's Secret Service in 1963. At the College of Arms, Bond meets Griffin Or, a herald at the college. Inquiring into Bond's origins, Griffin Or tells him, “No doubt, with a good old English name like yours, we will get somewhere in the end”. Bond replies, “My father was a Scot and my mother was Swiss”, adding that his father came from near Glencoe in the Highlands. This information is repeated in the next novel, You Only Live Twice (1964), in Bond's obituary.

It is said that Fleming gave Bond Scottish ancestry when Sean Connery was cast in the role of James Bond for the film of Dr No (1962). This is plausible, given the chronology, and the reference to “Ursula Andress, the film star” in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. But given also that Fleming himself had Scottish ancestry – his grandfather, Robert Fleming, was from Dundee, and Ian spent time during his childhood at Glenborrodale Castle in the Highlands – the casting of a Scot as James Bond was a coincidence that Fleming found impossible to resist.

Even so, James Bond continues to talk about England, rather than Britain or Scotland, in You Only Live Twice. “England may have been bled pretty thin by a couple of world wars...but we still climb Everest and beat plenty of the world at plenty of sports and win Nobel Prizes,” he tells Tiger Tanaka.

However, in Fleming's last full-length Bond novel, The Man with the Golden Gun (1965), Bond has a much stronger Scottish identity. Composing a telegram, he rejects an offer of a knighthood with the words, “Eye (sic) am a Scottish peasant and will always feel at home being a Scottish peasant.” That is not to say that the rejection is because of any anti-British or anti-English feelings. Bond admits that he likes the idea of the knighthood, if only because of “the romantic streak of the SIS – and of the Scot, for the matter of that”.

Returning to the question of the Scottish independence referendum, while Bond appears to embrace his Scottish identity by the end of Fleming's novels, his continued reference to England, and his still generally very patriotic and pro-British outlook suggests that he would vote 'No'.  Would Bond be able to vote anyway? Given that he lives in London, Bond is presumably listed on the electoral register in London and therefore would not be entitled to vote in Scotland. The cinematic Bond, on the other hand, might have a vote. His home at Skyfall Lodge, as seen in Skyfall (2012), might qualify him, although quite what happens when the building is blown up is another matter.