Monday 31 March 2014

Why are the introductions to the Bond novels so dismissive of the films?

I don't have a copy of a Coronet 'silhouette' edition of the James Bond novels to hand (I confess I never liked the design, and discarded any copies I acquired over the years), but I seem to recall that Anthony Burgess in his introduction to the series was rather sniffy about the James Bond films. He didn't much care for them, despite apparently having had a role in the early development of the script for The Spy Who Loved Me.

I was reminded of Burgess' views when I read the introductions to the more recent Vintage editions (2012). The film series isn't always referenced (which is perhaps telling in itself), but where there is a reference, the comment is usually negative. Similarly, in the introductions to the Penguin editions (2006), the film series tends to be described in dismissive terms.

Such criticism is arguable, of course, but I wondered whether the act of writing an introduction brings with it a natural tendency for authors to at best downplay the merits of derivative forms of the story or its characters and at worst deride them completely. In other words, in conveying their basic messages along the lines of  'if you thought you knew James Bond from the films, read on and meet the real 007', or 'while products of their time, the Bond books remain as thrilling and well-written as ever', the introductions will always be more likely to reference the films negatively than positively.

Let's begin with the Vintage editions (2012). In his introduction to Casino Royale, Alan Judd describes the later incarnations of Bond, 'particularly the films', as 'lurid' fantasies, though acknowledges that Fleming's literary legacy lives on thanks in part to the films. Curiously, Judd states that the literary Bond is vulnerable and prone to self-doubt in contrast to the more jokey character of the cinematic Bond, which makes me wonder whether he had seen the 2006 film (or indeed 2008's Quantum of Solace). In his introduction of Live and Let Die, Andrew Taylor writes of the film series' growing separation from the novels and its increasing reliance on technological gimmicks, while Susan Hill, who introduces Moonraker, describes the film version as 'perhaps the poorest of the films.'

Sam Bourne, aka Jonathan Freedland, in his introduction to Dr No likens the cinematic Bond to a Beatles tribute band, and suggests that the permanent present in which the films are set has made us forget the historical context – the Cold War – about which Fleming wrote. (Perhaps, but Fleming was writing in his present, and his novels, like the films, also reflect changes in culture; no doubt if he had continued to write for another 30 or 40 years, the literary Bond would seem equally timeless.)

The introductions for Goldfinger and The Spy who Loved Me don't have much to say about the films, but Stella Rimington (former head of MI5) writes in the introduction of On Her Majesty's Secret Service that 'sadly, the films, certainly in their latest manifestation,' reflect nothing of Bond's concerns expressed in the novels about the extent to which his exploits result from his desire for excitement or his sense of service to his country. The remaining novels have no introductions.

The writers introducing the Penguin editions (2006) are no less dismissive. Louise Walsh, introducing Live and Let Die contrasts the literary Bond with the 'effortless lover of the silver screen', while Michael Dibdin tells readers about to get stuck into Moonraker to forget about 'whoever's impersonating 007 this year' in the cinema. In his introduction to Diamonds are Forever, Jonathan Kellerman writes that the 'cinematic Bond has devolved into a near-cartoonish √úbermensch,' and Simon Winder, introducing Dr No, considers that elements of the film were poorly handled. (Mind you, he seems to view the novel equally negatively.)

In her introduction to On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Val McDermid writes about how 'we're so accustomed to the stylized formula of the movies that we've forgotten how well crafted the books are,' the implication being that the films aren't so well crafted. Criticism expressed in the introduction, by Mo Hayder, to You Only Live Twice is more explicit. Hayder writes of the films shuffling 'toothlessly into Mike Myers territory,' of the literary Bond being 'upstaged by his own parodies,' and of the celluloid Bond being 'no match for the ageless, dignified Bond of the written page.'

Not all writers take a negative view. Charlie Higson, introducing The Spy who Loved Me, mentions the 'exhilarating ski chase' of the film version, while Ben Schott, introducing Goldfinger, hopes that Fleming 'might have approved of one of the finest lines of dialogue not to appear in the book: "No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die..."' And Charles Cumming, who introduces The Man with the Golden Gun, remembers with fondness the atmosphere and excitement of the film version. The remaining introductions are neutral towards the films or don't mention them. 

Overall, then, most writers introducing the Bond novels have taken a negative view of the films. Some of them may have a point, and even I'm not especially keen on a few of the films, but the film series is surely too diverse to dismiss in a sentence or two without qualification. Indeed, the consistency of the views expressed suggest that most writers have relied on general popular perceptions of Bond and failed to consider how the series has evolved over the years.

There is one aspect that emerges from the writers' criticisms with which I would agree. A number of them hint that the films have long separated from the original books. Certainly. Starting with the novels, the films have evolved along their own trajectory to the extent that the cinematic and literary Bonds are essentially two different species. That's an inevitable consequence of creative minds other than Fleming plotting Bond's adventures, and of adaptation to changing cultural environments. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Fifty years on, the Bond films are still going strong. They must have been doing something right.

Sunday 30 March 2014

James Bond cookbook now available on Kindle

I'm very excited to report that my cookbook, Licence to Cook: Recipes Inspired by Ian Fleming's James Bond, is now available as a Kindle edition, priced £3.99 ($6.49). Click here for more details

It can also be purchased as a digital eBook through iBookstore or Lulu Marketplace or Barnes and Noble NOOK.

In addition, a paperback print edition is available through Lulu Marketplace (where there is currently a 30% discount on the title), Amazon, and most other online retailers. Bon appetit, Mr Bond!

Sunday 23 March 2014

Sam Peffer - a tribute

A recent obituary in The Times recorded the death on 14th March 2014 of Sam Peffer, a commercial artist who was not a household name, but whose artwork graced the early Pan editions of the James Bond novels and inevitably found a place in thousands of homes across Britain and beyond during the late 1950s and 1960s. 

Away from Bond, Peffer designed cover artwork for paperbacks published by Corgi, and Panther, among others, and throughout much of the 1970s and early 1980s produced lurid film posters, usually for X-rated, horror or kung-fu films. He retired in 1985 when poster commissions dried up as film companies turned to photo montages, rather than painted artwork.

But it is his work on the Bond novels for Pan that Sam Peffer is probably best known. His pulp-fiction style perfectly reflected the tough, violent, hard-boiled adventures within. In tribute to his work, here are the covers attributed with certainty to Sam Peffer.

Casino Royale (1958): In Peffer's depiction, Vesper Lynd is portrayed as damsel in distress, rather than the femme fatale of subsequent covers. Peffer's cover is notable for depicting James Bond in a way that was in more keeping with the character described in the novel. Instead of the smooth card player shown on the first paperback edition of 1955, we have a strong, tough agent, complete with a comma of hair. And the model for Bond? That was Peffer's brother-in-law, a stuntman named Jack. 

Dr No (1958): James Bond drags an exhausted Honey Rider through the Jamaican swamps as they escape the clutches of Dr No, whose cruel omnipotence is brilliantly suggested by Sam Peffer artwork. And Peffer's depiction of Bond in jeans and coarse work-shirt reminds us that Bond is a man of action prepared to get his hands dirty, a far cry from the dinner-suited spy of today's popular imagination.

From Russia, With Love (1959): James Bond forcefully holds Tatiana Romanova by the wrist. Tatiana appears reluctant to travel with Bond, as if uncertain of her fate once on the British side or fearful of the reaction from SMERSH on the Russian side.

Moonraker (1960): With his ripped shirt and exhausted expression, James Bond is every bit Ian Fleming's tough, commando-like secret agent. Bond tightly embraces special branch agent Gala Brand, who looks on in sheer terror at the missile launch depicted in the background.

Sam Peffer's artwork was replaced by those of Raymond Hawkey in the mid 1960s, but Peffer's legacy lives on. There were hints of Peffer's work in the series of pulp-fiction style covers designed by Richie Fahey for Penguin in 2006. It is also testament to the affection held by Bond afficionados for Sam Peffer's covers that many of the contributors to 'Field Reports' on the Artistic License Renewed website have cited them as their favourite Bond dustjackets in paperback or by continuation authors.


The images have been taken from the Piz Goria website, an excellent site which is dedicated to collecting James Bond paperback novels by Ian Fleming.

Saturday 15 March 2014

Did Ian Fleming base Goldfinger's house on Joyce Grove?

Joyce Grove in Nettlebed, Oxfordshire, was the home of Ian Fleming's grandparents, Robert and Kate Fleming. Nettlebed isn't too far away from me, and so I thought I'd drive there to see if I could get view of the house, now a hospice run by the Sue Ryder charity. As it happened, the charity was hosting a public flea market or table-top sale in its grounds, and so I was able to freely wander about the grounds and take a good look at the outside of the house that Ian Fleming visited during his childhood.

The front gate and drive of Joyce Grove

The original late 17th-century house of Joyce Grove was demolished by Robert Fleming when he acquired the estate in 1903, and a new Gothic-style mansion was erected in its place by the following year. In later years, the young Ian Fleming would visit, and for a time after the death of his father, Valentine, he and his brothers had the run of a wing of the house during weekends. Robert died in 1933, and the estate passed to his widow Kate. On her death in 1937, the estate went to Robert's surviving sons. The house was then given to St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, and subsequently became a nursing home, a role that it continues today.

The house of Joyce Grove
From the outside, the house bears little obvious sign of once being occupied by the Flemings. Apparently the family motto, 'Let the deed shaw', is inscribed on the wall, but I couldn't see it. However, I did spot the legend, 'R.1904.F' (RF = Robert Fleming), which is carved into the stone above a window looking out to the terrace.

Robert Fleming built Joyce Grove in 1904
As with many of his experiences, Ian Fleming's time at Joyce Grove seeped into the James Bond novels, albeit in a small way. In The Spy Who Loved Me, Vivienne Michel's first boyfriend, Derek, gives a false Nettlebed address to the cinema manager, who had caught him and Vivienne in flagrante in the auditorium (chapter 3).

When I saw the house, though, I was reminded of another Bond novel – Goldfinger. Ian Fleming describes Goldfinger's house, The Grange, as “a heavy, ugly, turn-of-the-century mansion”, with a drive bordered by “high Victorian evergreens” that led to a “gravel sweep” in front of the house.” Fleming also mentions an adjoining factory where the “stabling and garages would normally be” (chapter 10). The details aren't an exact match – The Grange has a “glass-encased portico” which Joyce Grove lacks – but Fleming could otherwise be describing the house he knew as a child. Today I walked down the evergreen-bordered drive which terminated in front of the imposing (I wouldn't necessarily say ugly) turn-of-the-century mansion. The stables and garages were there too.

View from the terrace
I can't be certain that Fleming had Joyce Grove in mind when he described Goldfinger's house, but it is not impossible. In any case, I enjoyed visiting (in a more leisurely way than I had anticipated) a place of Fleming history.

Lycett, A, 1995 Ian Fleming: The man behind James Bond, Turner

Sunday 9 March 2014

Pinewood: James Bond's studios - but for how long?

Pinewood Studios Group's plans, announced in February, to open a new studio in Cardiff received a lot of press interest. Much of the media coverage brought up Pinewood's connection with James Bond. Some reports reminded readers that Pinewood Studios is where many Bond films have been produced, while others simply referred to Pinewood as the James Bond studios. The association between Pinewood and James Bond is so well established in popular culture that it is almost impossible to think of Pinewood Studios without thinking of James Bond (just as any mention of Aston Martin inevitably brings James Bond's DB5 to mind). There are, however, signs that this association – the Pinewood-Studios-equals-James-Bond-studios meme – is beginning to weaken as another hugely successful and popular franchise – Star Wars – begins production at Pinewood.

The report on Pinewood's expansion on the BBC news website was accompanied by an image of the Albert R Broccoli 007 stage and stated that “Pinewood and Shepperton Studios have created more than 1,500 films in more than 75 years, including the James Bond franchise.” An image of Daniel Craig as Bond in Skyfall was used in the Telegraph's report on the plans, and in a sub-headline referred to Pinewood as the studio that “created the James Bond franchise.” The image used in the Mirror's story was of the Carry On films, another franchise long-established at Pinewood, but the feature's sub-headline mentioned that the “studios have been used for James Bond films.” The main and sub-headlines in the Daily Express focused on the reactions of Welsh actors Michael Sheen and Matthew Rhys, but the first paragraph of the piece stated that “many of the Bond movies were shot” at Pinewood.

The connection between the Bond films and Pinewood was more explicit in the Daily Mail, whose story on Pinewood's plans appeared as an inset within a feature about the sale of tycoon Michael Dezer's collection of James Bond vehicles. And just to reinforce the point, the short piece about Pinewood had the headline, 'Dai Another Day', and mentioned that the studios are where the Bond are filmed.

A report in the Times was illustrated with an image of Daniel Craig's Bond, but it also stated that Pinewood is home to the new Star Wars films, as well as the James Bond series. Interestingly, a report in the Hollywood Reporter on the launch of a post-production facility at Pinewood Iskander Studios in Malaysia stated that U.K.-based Pinewood Studios is “where J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: Episode VII will be produced.” There was no mention of the James Bond films.

Not every media story about Pinewood Studios' expansion in Wales referenced the James Bond films, but many did, which is testament to the strength of the association between Pinewood and the film series. The association may not always be so strong, however. As the production of Star Wars Episode VII gets under way, and the film eventually released, it is likely that stories about the studios will reference the Star Wars films more frequently, perhaps at the expense of references to the Bond films. Moreover, the report in the Hollywood Reporter hints that in some international markets Star Wars has greater cultural penetration than the Bond films, which may struggle to compete for press attention, especially when the publicity and hype surrounding the new Star Wars film really begins.

Sunday 2 March 2014

Infographic: The food of James Bond

Issue 24 of MI6 Confidential magazine is now out. Among the exiting content is an interview with Bond scriptwriters, Neil Purvis and Robert Wade, a profile of Bond film director and editor, John Glen, a behind-the-scenes look at the Fleming TV series, and an article from me about the diet of James Bond. The article also includes three recipes from my James Bond cookbook, Licence to Cook. To whet your appetite, I've created an infographic showing the meals Bond eats in Ian Fleming's novels and some of Bond's favourite food. Enjoy!