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