Monday 21 December 2015

James Bond at Christmas - two Daily Express Bond film adaptations

Who wrote the first novelisation of a James Bond film? Christopher Wood, you say? His well-regarded work, James Bond and the Spy who Loved Me (1977) was certainly the earliest adaptation to appear in book form, but there were earlier novelisations – of sorts. In the run-up to Christmas 1971, readers of the Daily Express were treated to the serialisation by Victor Davis of the film version of Diamonds Are Forever. Three years later, again during the Christmas period, Victor Davis adapted the film of The Man With The Golden Gun (1974).
The banner for the Daily Express adaptation
The adaptation of Diamonds Are Forever was published over seven days from 17th to 24th December 1971. The structure and plot of the adaptation naturally closely followed that of the film. In Part 1 ('Blofeld was dead – but one question still nagged Bond'), Bond is on the search for Blofeld, just as he is in the film. Part 2 ('Two hired thugs and a cool dish called Tiffany'), we are introduced to villains Wint and Kidd and leading lady Tiffany Case, and in Part 3 ('Bond moves fast – and it's death by fire extinguisher'), Bond assumes the identity of diamond smuggler Peter Franks.

Part 4 ('The mob breaks up Bond's cosy date') sees the brief appearance of Plenty O'Toole, while Part 5 ('Two wheel drive – as Bond steers to safety') describes the car chase through Las Vegas. 'Blofeld comes back from the dead' is the title of Part 6, and the final offering on Christmas Eve is 'Bond gets a kiss with several kicks', a part that, as you might guess, features Bambi and Thumper.

Despite the somewhat uneven plotting – the helicopter raid on Blofeld's oil rig is described in two short paragraphs, while Bond's tussle with Bambi and Thumper is dealt with in nine – Victor Davis' adaptation is readable and exciting (no mean feat, given the challenge of condensing the script), and replicates to some extent the literary style of Ian Fleming. The best of Davis' Fleming-esque touches can be found in Part 1. Take this paragraph, for example:

“The urgency of the call would normally have given Bond that familiar charge of excitement, a heightened sense of perception that had always gone with the knowledge that he was about to be handed a new assignment in the field.”

Or this one:

“Bond smiled thinly at remembrance of the arduous and murderous trail that had led him across the world.”

Victor Davis knows his Fleming. Three years later, Bond was back in an adaptation of The Man With the Golden Gun. This time spread over five parts, the story ran from 16th to 20th December 1974.
Bond and Goodnight in the Daily Express
In Part 1 ('Who'd pay a million dollars to kill me?'), Bond receives the bullet on which his code number has been inscribed. Bond goes on the trail of the source of the bullet in Part 2 ('Sudden ambush by a very naked lady'), while Part 3 ('With eyes glazed, she was beautiful – dead beautiful') sees the death of Andrea Anders. Bond flies onto Scaramanga's island in Part 4 ('Champagne on the rocks with a bullet to pop the cork'), and in the final part ('A duel to the death as Scaramanga lays a trap in the fatal funhouse'), Bond goes head to head with Scaramanga.

Again, the sub-Fleming touches are there:

“Miss Moneypenny,far from her usual flirtatious self, ushered him straight through M's steel-plated and soundproofed door into the sanctum that the head of the British Secret Service had dressed overall more like a naval museum.

“James Bond's amused eyes passed lightly over the prints of the wooden ships of England, dashing in under French and Spanish cannon, and the rest of the mementoes, the flotsam of a distinguished seadog's life.”

Both adaptations by Victor Davis are interesting early entries in the sub-genre of continuation Bond – the film novelisation – and are well worth reading.

Sunday 13 December 2015

The James Bond references in Spy (2015)

This year has seen the release of a higher than usual number of spy films, but I have to confess that I have not been keeping up with what has been termed the Year of the Spy, having missed almost every spy film released. (I did, of course, ensure I was in the cinema for Spectre.) The other week, however, I was able to catch up with one of the other entries in the unofficial series. And I'm very glad I did.

Spy is an espionage comedy, but is more than a parody of the spy film genre, offering genuine thrills, plenty of action, and an engaging plot. Essentially, the film answers the question of what would happen if Miss Moneypenny became James Bond. After the apparent death of an agent, the film sees desk-bound analyst, Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy), go into the field as an undercover agent to monitor and report the activities of an arms dealer, Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), who knows the location of a stolen nuclear device. Needless to say, events do not run smoothly, and very quickly Susan Cooper goes beyond her orders as she tries to prevent nuclear disaster.

Director Paul Feig reportedly conceived the film as a humorous Casino Royale (2006), a favourite film of his, and it shows. Spy contains many nods to the James Bond films, in particular the classic films of Sean Connery and the more recent offerings of Daniel Craig.

The film opens with a pre-titles sequence featuring the cool, witty and dinner-suited Bradley Fine (Jude Law) – clearly a James Bond figure – in the course of a mission, with Barry-esque strains playing over the action. This is followed by a perfectly Bondian title sequence, accompanied by the equally Bondian song, 'Who can you trust?' (a title that might apply just as well to any of Daniel Craig's Bond films).

The Bond references keep on coming. We are introduced, for example, to Patrick (Michael McDonald), a Q-like character who supplies Susan Cooper with her equipment. Susan's visit to Patrick's workshop could almost have been lifted straight out of a Bond film. Equipment is hidden inside mundane items, and the scene includes gadgets being demonstrated (and going wrong) in the background. We also catch a glimpse of an Aston Martin (in this case a DB9).

Susan subsequently travels to Rome and visits a casino to keep close to Rayna Boyanov. Susan notices a waiter pour some poison into a cocktail intended for Rayna, and alerts Rayna to the threat in order to make contact with her. The poisoned cocktail naturally recalls the poisoned Vesper martini in Casino Royale. A private gambling room into which Susan stumbles is also reminiscent of Casino Royale.

In the casino, too, we see Jason Statham's rogue CIA agent Rick Ford (is there any other kind of agent these days?) in a white dinner jacket, presumably a nod to Bond's white jacket in Goldfinger (1964). Goldfinger is referenced again shortly afterwards when Susan is facing a suspicious Rayna outside the casino. Rayna's henchmen stand behind Susan, and when they lift their guns as if about to shoot Susan, she sees a reflection of their movements in Rayna's pendent. This brings to mind the pre-titles sequence in Goldfinger, when Bond sees the movement of a would-be killer reflected in the eyes of an exotic dancer. A later scene in which gun shots inside a plane depressurise the cabin must also allude to Goldfinger, specifically the well-known scene in which Goldfinger is sucked out of the plane.

There are doubtless other references, but those are the ones I spotted on first viewing. Throughout the film, however, Spy is an affectionate tribute to the Bond series, and contains the sort of exciting stunts, action and thrills that we'd expect to see in any Bond film. What's more, Spy is hilarious, and (I never thought I'd say this) Jason Statham is a revelation, as he sends up his tough-guy persona. The film is a must-see for any Bond fan.

Thursday 3 December 2015

The evolution of the SPECTRE symbol

The name of SPECTRE isn't the only aspect of the organisation last seen – officially, at least in Diamonds Are Forever to have been resurrected in the latest James Bond film. The organisation's octopus-like symbol made an appearance too.

The motif has seen a number of changes over the years. The first time we see the SPECTRE symbol is at a chess match in From Russia With Love (1963). The symbol is on a paper coaster delivered with a glass of water and a summons for Kronsteen, a chess grandmaster and SPECTRE agent. The symbol, with its four wavy tentacles and ghoulish head, is less an octopus than a jellyfish out for an evening's trick or treating. The device is seen again as an intaglio on a ring worn by Blofeld. 

From Russia With Love
The SPECTRE symbol next makes an appearance in Thunderball (1965), placed in a ring worn by SPECTRE No. 2, Emilio Largo. This time, the device is more octopus-like, presumably symbolising SPECTRE'S reach and omnipresence. The outer tentacles curve round to enclose the others, perhaps as much to fit the circular frame of the ring as for aesthetic reasons. The facial features of the octopus are reduced to alien-like eyes. 

The design is largely retained for You Only Live Twice (1967) and is seen on a ring worn by Blofeld. In Diamonds Are Forever (1971), however, the symbol is rather different. Adorning the front of Blofeld's bath-o-sub, the octopus has gained a thicker body and straighter and broader outer tentacles, giving the impression perhaps of an octopus wearing a cape or shawl. The eyes, though, remain alien-like.

Diamonds Are Forever
With SPECTRE off the screen until the latest film (apart from Never Say Never Again), there have been no developments in the symbol in the intervening period (although Stromberg's Atlantis has a certain resemblance to the octopus device). Almost to make up for it, however, Spectre (2015) contains two designs. Teaser posters for the film cleverly incorporated the octopus symbol within bullet-damaged glass, the tentacles and body being formed by the fissures surrounding the bullet hole. A similar motif was created within the film itself. 

Spectre teaser poster
SPECTRE itself adopts a more corporate-looking octopus logo, which is seen on the outside surface of a ring and on a computer screen. The body of this octopus is relatively thin and wide, while the tentacles are short and curve towards the centre, except the central tentacle, which is longer than the others and is straight and tapers like a dagger. Interestingly, the octopus only has seven tentacles. It's also worth noting that the 'shoulders' of the octopus are raised, and that the head lacks eyes.

Spectre ring 2015
Each incarnation of the SPECTRE/octopus motif is obviously different from the last, yet each could not have existed without those that preceded it. The exception is, of course, the first incarnation, and it is telling that in that case, the motif looks the least like an octopus, as if the designer was influenced mainly, if not solely, by the principal meaning of the word 'spectre'. It is possible that its resemblance to an octopus was coincidental, but was enough to influence the design of the symbol two films later.

There is one other comparison worth making. The Batman symbol has had a long history and has undergone many changes, far more than we have seen on the SPECTRE device. What is curious, though, is that the various designs of the SPECTRE symbol share certain traits with roughly contemporaneous Batman motifs. Thus, the octopus motif of Thunderball and You Only Live Twice has curved, enclosing sides, as does the bat motif used in Batman comics in 1964 and 1965. The thicker body and straight sides of the octopus in Diamonds Are Forever mirrors the thicker body and straighter sides of the bat motif that appeared in the 1966 TV series and in comics in 1970. The spidery lines seen in Spectre's 'bullet-hole' octopus recall the scored appearance of the bat motif used for The Dark Knight Rises in 2012. The official octopus symbol seen on the 2015 ring, meanwhile, has leaner qualities matched by bat motifs used in Batman Begins (2005) and later in comics, and itself has a vague appearance of a flying creature. 

These similarities are no doubt coincidental, am I am not suggesting that the motifs resemble each other in any significant way. However, sharing certain traits, the motifs suggest a common aesthetic, the designers responding to an extent to the same influences or selection pressures within the cultural environment (although the apparent influence of Christopher Nolan's Batman films specifically on the Bond films has been noted elsewhere). 

The SPECTRE symbol has seen a number of changes over the past 50 years, but remains a important and recognisable piece of Bondian iconography in popular culture and a potent symbol for James Bond's most tenacious adversary.

Note: The Batman logos are taken from an infographic published on the World of Superheroes website.

Thursday 26 November 2015

From Bond girl to Bond woman

In interviews following the press event to launch Spectre, and leading up to the release of the film, Monica Bellucci, cast in the role of Lucia Sciarra, rejected the term Bond girl in favour of Bond woman or lady. “I am so much more mature. I'd prefer to be called a Bond woman or perhaps a Bond lady,” she told the Mail of Sunday in February 2015. In an interview for the Sunday Times, she said, “I am a Bond lady.”

The rejection of Bond girl was on the basis of her age, the description of girl simply being inappropriate for an older woman. This was echoed by former Bond girl Fiona Fullerton, who appeared as Pola Ivanova in A View To A Kill (1985). She told the Daily Express in August this year: “I kind of cringe when I'm referred to as a Bond girl because I'm not a girl any more. I'm very much of the older fraternity so I'm a Bond woman.”

A similar view was expressed in the reaction, some 20 years earlier, of actor Michael Williams to the news that his wife, Judi Dench, had been cast as M in GoldenEye. “Oh brilliant”, he said, “Bond-woman!” Judi Dench has used the term herself, writing in her autobiography, “I really shouldn't be called a Bond woman at all, but I call myself one”.

Others have accepted the term Bond women because they have considered Bond girl inappropriate for any woman, young or old, or have associated the term with passive female characters who provide little more than decoration. Halle Berry told the Daily Express in November 2002 that “Jinx [her character in Die Another Day] is the next step in the evolution of the Bond woman. Year after year, they become a little bit stronger, a little smarter.... Now they're Bond's intellectual equals and physical rivals.”

When Léa Seydoux was asked in the October 2015 issue of Total Film whether her character, Madeleine Swann was a Bond woman rather than a Bond girl, she replied, “She's a strong woman”, a response that neatly side-stepped the requirement to accept either label. The Daily Star claimed in October 2008 that Izabella Scorupco demanded to be called a Bond woman in GoldenEye, because she thought the usual term Bond girl was demeaning (although judging by interviews published in 1995, Bond girl appears not to have been so problematic).

Notably, in her foreword and chapter introductions in Bond Girls are Forever (2003), co-author Maryam d'Abo (Kara in The Living Daylights) rarely uses the term Bond girl. She writes, for example, that “it is the casting of the Bond women that garner the most attention,” and that “there has never been a Bond film without a Bond woman.” Reading this, one gets the sense that Maryam d'Abo is not entirely comfortable with the term Bond girl, although Bond girl is not rejected explicitly, and is naturally retained in the title of the book.

The earliest use of the term Bond woman that I know of dates to 1989. An advert for Elle magazine that appeared in the Daily Express in 1989 trailed the contents of the June issue. Women in the Bond films were the subject of one of the articles, presumably coinciding with the release of Licence to Kill. “A Bond girl's life has never been easy,” the advert claimed. “Wham. Bam. Thank you, ma'am. Then bang bang, you're dead. But the role of the Bond woman is changing,” the implication being that term Bond girl was not appropriate for characters such as Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell), who was perceived as being Bond's equal. 

This trawl through various sources has traced the emergence of the term Bond woman and revealed two definitions. In one sense, it is a term that reflects age, being associated with older women. Despite the use of this newer term, Bond girl itself is not rejected. In another sense of the term, Bond woman is presented as an alternative to Bond girl, reflecting the perception that female roles in the Bond films have changed through the course of the series, and making the obvious point that the actors are women, not girls.

Whether women in the Bond films are Bond girls or Bond women, it could be argued that such labels, Bond girl especially, have largely been imposed on the actors, seemingly first emerging in the media (the earliest reference to Bond girl I know of is in the Daily Express and dates to February 1963), and becoming deeply embedded in the cultural environment. The result is that every interview at press conferences or in newspapers and magazines seems to oblige actors to engage with the term Bond girl. This may be the reason why many of the actors (beginning at least as far back as 1969 with Diana Rigg) claim that their characters are stronger, more independent, and more on equal terms with Bond than their predecessors.

Thursday 19 November 2015

The food of James Bond - what is brizzola?

Food and eating are as much part of the James Bond books as drinking, gun-play, gambling and car chases. Reading the books today, many of the dishes Bond consumes – exotic or sophisticated in the 1950s and early '60s – are now commonplace and enjoy a regular place on the dining table. Spaghetti Bolognese and shrimp curry are two examples. Other dishes leave us scratching our heads. Why does Bond eat an avocado for dessert? And just what is brizzola?

I discuss Bond's odd views about avocados in a earlier post. As for the brizzola, it has been suggested that the dish is something of an Ian Fleming invention. In fact, not only does the dish exist (possibly the name derived from bresaola, an Italian salted beef), it was a favourite of a former US president.

(c) Penguin
Felix Leiter orders brizzola for Bond in a New York restaurant in Diamonds are Forever (chapter 8). Ian Fleming describes it as beef straight-cut across the bone, which is roasted, then broiled. This is not dissimilar from the description given to Lowell Sun journalist Earl Wilson in December 1971 by Robert Kreindler, president of New York's famous '21' Club. He defined brizzola as 'charcoal-broiled prime rib of beef with bone intact'. Evidently 21 was well known for the dish. Earl Wilson also reported that President Richard Nixon regularly ordered brizzola when he ate at the club during his visits to New York.

While James Bond dines at Sardi's, Ian Fleming had been to 21 (as well as Sardi's), and recommended the restaurant in his New York chapter of Thrilling Cities. Fleming often gave Bond the food that he himself had eaten. Whether he ate brizzola at Sardi's or 21 before putting it on Bond's plate is uncertain, but it is likely that his description is at least based on experience.  

How might you cook brizzola today if recreating the dish at home? My suggestion is to take a steak cut from a prime rib of beef – complete with bone – and cook it over a charcoal barbecue or, the second-best option, on a griddle pan. Larger cuts or joints of prime-rib beef should be roasted before being finished off on the hob or barbecue for that essential brizzola taste.

For more information about Bond's dining, and recipes inspired by the food he eats (though not, alas, brizzola), I recommend Licence to Cook, a cookbook of Bondian recipes. Or, for a comprehensive guide to food in the Bond books and films, there is James Bond's Cuisine: 007's Every Last Meal, by Matt Sherman.

Friday 13 November 2015

Bond memes in Despicable Me and Minions

Another reference to Bond
I have to confess that I did not especially enjoy Despicable Me (2010). I found it a little dull, to be honest. Still, the film does contain aspects that derive from the James Bond films, which is to its credit. These references are obvious enough. The protagonist, Gru (presumably named after the GRU, the Soviet-era military intelligence agency), is a criminal mastermind who plans to steal the moon. He naturally recalls Blofeld, and the link is reinforced by his large workforce of minions, known of course as Minions, whose uniforms and loyalty parody the private armies of Blofeld in You Only Live Twice or Stromberg in The Spy Who Loved Me.

There are more allusions to the Bond films in the sequel, Despicable Me 2 (2013), which I enjoyed more (another case of the sequel being better than the original?). Having turned away villainy and settled down to family life and jam-making, Gru is persuaded by the Anti-Villain League (AVL), headed by M-like character Silas, to join forces with AVL agent Lucy. The powerful substance PX-41 has been stolen and their task is to track down the culprit. Lucy drives an unprepossessing car, but, as one might expect from a spy's car, has its fair share of gadgets. One of these is revealed when the car plunges into the water, the vehicle rapidly transforming into an underwater car. In another sequence, the car becomes a flying car.

The car's submersible and aerial capabilities bring to mind Bond's submersible Lotus Esprit (Wet Nellie) in The Spy Who Loved Me and Scaramanga's flying car in The Man With The Golden Gun. As I discussed in a previous blog post, the idea of a flying and underwater car has an older origin; For example, Robur the Conqueror, the super-villain in Jules Verne's 1904 novel Master of the World, has one. That said, James Bond's vehicles undoubtedly have greater cultural penetration, being the more recent and enjoying frequent exposure on big and small screens everywhere.

Apart from Gru, the film alludes again to Blofeld. Following a lead, Gru and Lucy enter a wig shop. They see the back of a chair in which the proprietor, Floyd Eagle-san is sitting. He rotates his chair to face Gru and Lucy, and on his lap is what we assume is a white cat, but which is then revealed to be a wig. It's a clever nod to Blofeld, particularly his appearance in You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever.

The association between cats and villainy (not necessarily originating with the Bond films, but boosted by them) is referenced in the third film, Minions (2015), which is a prequel set in the 1960s (the decade itself being an acknowledgement of the period that introduced the Bond films and saw the rise of spy- (as well as Bond-) mania). Minions Stuart, Kevin and Bob hitch a ride with a family, the Nelsons, on their way to Villain Con. The family's young daughter, tells the Minions of her ambition to be a super-villain, picking up and stroking her pet cat as she does so.

Bondian traits make a small but important contribution to the construction of the Despicable Me/Minions films. Interestingly, it's Blofeld, rather than Bond, who provides the principal references. Given that at the time the films were made, Blofeld had not been seen on screen since 1971 (or 1981 with For Your Eyes Only), the films are testament to the character's continued cultural prominence.

Thursday 5 November 2015

Colonel Sun in Spectre and other Bond films

The latest Bond film, Spectre, contains many references to previous films and Ian Fleming's novels, and I listed some of these in my last post. But as Ian Fleming Publications recently revealed, Spectre also incorporates elements from Colonel Sun, the 1968 continuation Bond novel by Kingsley Amis.

I've identified the scene below, and while I don't describe it in detail, those who have yet to see the film may wish to look away now.

One of the classic elements of a Bond film is a scene of torture. Casino Royale had one, as did Die Another Day and, before that, The World Is Not Enough. Spectre has one too, and it is this scene, involving thin pointy instruments applied to the head and set in the villain's lair, which is lifted from Colonel Sun.

If there was any doubt that the screenwriters had looked through the pages of Colonel Sun for inspiration, it is confirmed by a line given to the villain – a philosophical thought about what the lack of eyes does to the essence of a man – which is taken almost verbatim from the novel. (I'm not certain, but I think he has another line from the novel, said when he directs Madeleine Swann to a chair.) These references, by the way, are from chapter 19, 'The Theory and Practice of Torture'.

As The Book Bond has pointed out, this may not be the first time Colonel Sun memes have been included in a Bond film. Die Another Day has the character Colonel Tan-Sun Moon, and in The World Is Not Enough (those two films again!), M is kidnapped, just as M is kidnapped in Colonel Sun.

I wonder if there is another reference. On the final page of Colonel Sun, James Bond and Ariadne, the heroine and GRU agent, talk about having to part and return to their duties. Ariadne says, “People think it must be wonderful and free and everything. But we're not free, are we?” Bond replies, “No. We're prisoners. But let's enjoy our captivity when we can.” This reminds me of the final exchange between Camille and Bond in Quantum of Solace (“I wish I could set you free. But your prison is in there”, Camille says, indicating Bond's mind).

Admittedly, this final reference seems less convincing than the others, but given the repeated nods to Colonel Sun in recent films, the writers, chiefly Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, clearly have had Amis' book in mind when coming up with ideas, and it is reasonable to suggest that their films contain other references.

Incidentally, Amis wrote Colonel Sun as Robert Markham, but the new edition of the book, published by Vintage, has dropped the pseudonym altogether. This no doubt improves the book's marketability, but the timing is interesting too. Any new Bond film brings with it glut of Bond-related books and reissues, all hoping to benefit from the film's publicity. But the reissue Colonel Sun has been a while coming; the last UK edition appears to have been published in the mid 1990s. Given that Spectre unambiguously contains elements of the novel, Vintage could almost have published Colonel Sun as a film tie-in.

Returning to Spectre, the references to Colonel Sun are significant, as until now it had been thought that there was reluctance within EON to adapt the continuation novels. Does that mean that we're going to see more of the continuation novels in the Bond films? If so, top of my list for an adaptation is Anthony Horowitz’s excellent Trigger Mortis. I wouldn't mind betting that the motor racing section of the book, which is based on material by Ian Fleming and includes Fleming's own words, will eventually make it to the big screen. Remember, you read it here first!

Tuesday 27 October 2015

The spectre of defeat or success? A review of Spectre

Warning: This review contains minor spoilers, so if you haven't already done so, you may prefer to watch Spectre before reading on.

When the title and principal cast of Spectre were announced back in December last year, the question on everyone's mind was how would director Sam Mendes top Skyfall. For me, this was not an idle question. The Bond films have a tendency to ratchet up the thrills and spills which each subsequent film to a level of ridiculousness that eventually requires the series to go back to basics. After the massive Skyfall, would Spectre be Daniel Craig's Moonraker or his For Your Eyes Only?

I needn't have worried. In Spectre, Sam Mendes has pulled off the trick of delivering a film that is at least the equal of Skyfall in action, stunts, terrifying villains, yet retaining focus on narrative and characters. The events are as incredible as anything in a Bond film, but we care about what happens to Bond, his colleagues, his loves, and even his enemies.

From its first moments (do not take your eyes off the screen in that first minute or so or you won't fully appreciate what is a superb piece of cinema) in Mexico's Day of the Dead festival, to its near-denouement in the desert of north Africa, Spectre is mesmerising. Considering its long running time, Spectre doesn't drag, although it has its fair share of quieter moments.

Spectre see Bond attempt to get to the bottom, or rather the top, of a mysterious organisation (SPECTRE, naturally). His efforts are unauthorised, and severely test the patience of M, although M has other matters to worry about: a merger of MI6 and MI5 pushed through by a cocky intelligence chief, Max Denbigh. Bond follows a globetrotting trail, on the way meeting Mafia wife Lucia Sciarra, indestructible henchman Mr Hinx, psychologist Dr Madeleine Swann, and head of SPECTRE, Franz Oberhauser, whose connection with Bond we learn is personal, as well as professional.

Traditional Bond is back with a vengeance. Bond does what he does best, powering through any obstacle, human or otherwise, to get to the truth, using any vehicle, object or person he can lay his hands on, all the while delivering the best one-liners since the days of Roger Moore. Nevertheless, reflecting current concerns about technology, the level of surveillance in society, the control of information, and, as heard around the SPECTRE meeting room, people trafficking, Spectre is by no means old-fashioned or nostalgic.

Part of the fun of watching a Bond film is spotting the nods and references to previous films and Ian Fleming's stories. And Spectre is filled with them. The novel of Thunderball has inspired much of the organisational set-up of SPECTRE, while the short story of 'Octopussy' is alluded to in a scene that sees the return of Mr White and, more fundamentally, in the character of Oberhauser. Bond's now famous white jacket is taken from Goldfinger, while a scene featuring Q and a cable car is redolent of Moonraker and For Your Eyes Only.

The Hoffler Klinik in the Austrian mountains brings to mind Piz Gloria, but I wonder too if there isn't a reference here to Ian Fleming's early experiences in Austria when he was sent to the Forbes Dennises at their villa in Kitzbühl to further his education. One of the subjects he studied was psychoanalysis, the very discipline that Dr Swann practises. Bond's close encounter with a health drink may also hark back to Shrublands.

Then there's the film of You Only Live Twice. To list the references would be to give too much away, but the allusions are clever and thrilling.

No film is perfect, and Spectre does have its faults. The film doesn't stay in one country for very long, giving us little time to settle down and enjoy the sights. Bond doesn't even have time to get his skis out in Austria. Perhaps the film has one ending too many, and the villain, like Silva before him, is implausibly omniscient.

But these are minor points. Spectre is, well, SPECTacular, and looks sumptuous as well. (If cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema isn't rewarded with an Academy Award nomination, there's no justice.) I have just two requests for EON when starting on the next Bond film. Can we have a story that isn't personal for Bond? And can we have Bond go through the adventure without going rogue?

Friday 23 October 2015

The Man with the Golden Typewriter: some thoughts about the letters of Ian Fleming

I've just finished reading The Man with the Golden Typewriter, the volume of Ian Fleming's James Bond-related letters edited by his nephew, Fergus Fleming, and published by Bloomsbury. It's a wonderful read, and no fan of the Bond novels should be without a copy.

The volume includes correspondence that is likely to be familiar to aficionados, for example the exchanges between Ian Fleming and gun-enthusiast Geoffrey Boothroyd about Bond's armoury, and Fleming's letters to the wife of the real James Bond, the ornithologist whose name Fleming borrowed. Even these, however, include previously unseen material.

Much of the volume is taken up with Fleming's responses to the comments of his readers at Jonathan Cape – principally William Plomer, Daniel George and Michael Howard (Howard was initially lukewarm about publishing Casino Royale, but became a devotee of Bond's adventures) – which followed Fleming's submissions of the first drafts of his novels. Then there are Fleming's good-natured (and at times weary) replies to members of the public, who'd write triumphantly about errors they'd spotted.

Three aspects in the book fascinated me in particular. One concerns Fleming's celebrated writing style, which, as the letters reveal, developed over a number of novels with the help of Cape's readers. For example, in one letter to Fleming about the manuscript of From Russia, with Love, Daniel George pointed out the number of sentences beginning 'there was' or 'there were', and reminded Fleming of the excessive ands and buts and other conjunctions that resulted in long sentences. Comments such as these helped to tighten Fleming's writing and hone his style.

Another intriguing aspect were the ideas mentioned in correspondence that would eventually appear in some form in the Bond books. For example, in a letter written in 1954 to Somerset Maugham in which Fleming describes out-sized posters featuring Maugham as part of a Sunday Times promotion, Fleming imagined Maugham emerging from the lips of Maugham's own image. Fleming remembered and used the idea when he came to write From Russia, with Love (1957).

Similarly, in one of his letters to Fleming written in 1956, Geoffrey Boothroyd happened to mention some experience of archery. Fleming was intrigued, and asked Boothroyd who he (Fleming) might be able to approach for advice about technical aspects of archery. In the short story 'For Your Eyes Only', published in book form in 1960, the heroine Judy Havelock's weapon of choice is a crossbow.

Finally, something I hadn't appreciated before reading Fergus Fleming's volume was that Ian Fleming was responsible for writing the blurb that adorned the dustjackets of his novels. I had assumed it was someone on the staff of Jonathan Cape who wrote the text, but as the letters make clear, the blurb was usually Fleming's own words. For instance, evidently asked to amend his blurb for Thunderball, Fleming wrote to Michael Howard to say he didn't think his re-write was a great improvement. And in a letter to Anthony Colwell, also at Cape, Fleming admitted a spelling mistake in his blurb for The Spy who Loved Me.

The fact that Fleming wrote the blurb for his novels means that the Cape – and the Book Club editions, which carried the same blurb – have slightly more of Fleming's writing than any subsequent editions.

Fergus Fleming's The Man with the Golden Typewriter is a superb collection that complements Mark Amory's volume of Ann Fleming's letters, and joins Jon Gilbert's Ian Fleming: The Bibliography and Andrew Lycett's Fleming biography as an essential work of Fleming reference. The only question is, why have we had to wait so long for it?

Friday 16 October 2015

A diamond a day - the 1971 Diamonds Are Forever competition

What are the essential ingredients of a James Bond film? The jaw-dropping stunts? The exotic locations? The thrilling action? In 1971, readers of the Daily Express were invited to rank what they considered to be the most important qualities out of twelve put forward by the paper as part of a competition to coincide with the release of Diamonds Are Forever. The list reveals that some forty years later, those defining characteristics of a Bond film have little changed.

The 'Diamond-A-Day' competition was run over ten days up to Christmas Eve. Readers had to select eight essential qualities and place them in order of importance. Entries were judged by a panel of experts (the identities of those experts were not given), and the winning entry – one for each day of the competition – was that considered to be the most 'meritorious'.

The Diamond-A-Day entry form
To improve their chances, readers could make up to six selections in a single entry, and in the event of a tie, readers' answers to a tie-breaker were taken into account; readers were given a photograph of a Bond girl and had to name the actress and the film in which she appeared. If that still didn't resolve matters, then competitors were invited 'to take part in a simple eliminating contest to decide the outright winner'. (The  nature of this contest isn't described, but the slightly sinister text does rather conjure up images of a gypsy girl fight or perhaps something involving piranhas.)

However competitors were eliminated to leave only one (for each day), it was worth the prize: a diamond. But there was more for the winner who was judged to have had the best entry across the entire competition: a cruise on P&O Canberra, the ship on which some scenes for Diamonds Are Forever were filmed.

So what were those essential qualities? They were:

  • Prolonged excitement
  • Fantastic gadgets
  • Good direction
  • Sean Connery as James Bond
  • Fabulous and exotic locations
  • Theme music
  • Excellent casting for supporting roles
  • Tense script
  • Romantic interest
  • Ian Fleming's original stories
  • Subtle humour
  • Abundance of gorgeous girls

We might want to modify some of the terminology (the last item is of its time somewhat), but overall, few would argue that those qualities are not still important ingredients in a Bond film. That said, the inclusion of 'romantic interest' may have been influenced by the previous film, On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), in which the romance between Bond and Tracy is a significant plot point. Otherwise, romances do not seem to play an important role, at least not until Casino Royale (2006), which charts Bond's relationship with Vesper Lynd.

We must naturally replace Sean Connery with the latest incumbent, but the characteristic nevertheless holds true – whoever plays Bond is important. There are some Bond fans who have been drawn into the series by Daniel Craig's portrayal, and others who don't admit the existence of any other Bond except Connery's. And of course, prospective candidates for the role continue to earn many column inches in the press and generate huge debate on social media.

Even the quality of 'Ian Fleming's original stories' continues to have relevance, possibly more so today than it did in 1971, as the scriptwriters of recent films, not least Spectre, take inspiration from Fleming's novels and short stories.

While the Bond films have seen many changes through its 50-year history, judging by the 'Diamond-A-Day' list published in the Express in 1971, the essential qualities of Bond films remain much the same, testament to how the creative team has remained faithful, both deliberately and subconsciously, to the earlier entries.

Saturday 10 October 2015

The parallel lives of Peter and Ian Fleming

He was a journalist and best-selling author, he devised ingenious deceptions while working in intelligence during the Second World War, he travelled to parts of the world tourists don't normally see, and he was in awe of his brother. I could be describing Ian Fleming, but it's his older brother, Peter, who I have in mind. 

I've just finished reading Duff Hart-Davis' brilliant 1974 biography of Peter Fleming, and was struck by just how closely Ian's life mirrored Peter's. Of course, being brothers growing up together, one would expect their childhoods to be near-identical, but even in adulthood, their paths followed remarkably similar trajectories.

Both Ian and Peter developed an interest in writing from a young age and began their literary careers in journalism. Ian joined Reuters in 1931, while, in the same year, Peter started at The Spectator as assistant literary editor. The following year, Peter was preparing for an expedition to Brazil, ostensibly to search for the explorer Colonel Fawcett, who had gone missing some years before, and was approached by The Times to become its Special Correspondent and report on the mission. Ian was also a Special Correspondent for The Times, but in 1939, when he covered a British trade mission to Moscow (by then Peter was full-time on the staff of the paper).

Throughout their journalistic careers, Ian and Peter's output was to some extent similar. In 1937, The Times sent Peter on a tour of European cities: Paris, Rome, Prague, Vienna, Berlin and Moscow. Some twenty years later, Ian took his own tour of European cities, though on behalf of the The Sunday Times, visiting Hamburg, Berlin, Vienna, Geneva, Naples and Monte Carlo. After the war, Peter returned to The Times as a writer of fourth leaders, which were generally light-hearted takes on the news of the day, while at The Spectator, he wrote humorous and idiosyncratic pieces under the pen-name Strix. Ian's Atticus column for The Sunday Times, written between 1953 and 1955, shared something of form and function of Peter's work. And curiously, both Ian and Peter managed to write articles about shaving, Peter's article being published in 1946, Ian's appearing in 1960.

Two of Peter Fleming's books in one volume
Peter Fleming is best known for his hugely successful travel books, among them Brazilian Adventure (1933), One's Company (1934), and News from Tartary (1936). One of his earliest forays into fiction was written during the early stages of the Second World War, when Britain was threatened by German invasion. The Flying Visit (1941) imagined a Britain in which the German plan had succeeded. Peter wrote it in bed while recovering from, ironically, German measles, and though the story was not a children's book, he dedicated it to his young son, Nicholas. Ian Fleming would similarly write a book – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1964) – on his sick bed for his young son.

As for the Second World War, both Peter and Ian had what might be considered 'a good war'. Both worked in intelligence, which kept them away of frontline operations (although Peter would contrive, often unofficially, to be sent where the action was). Ian worked as assistant to the director of the Naval Intelligence Division (NID), while Peter, after a variety of roles, spent much of the war in the Far East running a unit known as GSI(d), which devised and executed methods of deception.

One of Peter's ruses was to take a corpse, provide it with the equipment of a British agent, including codes and a radio, and drop it into occupied Burma in the hope that the Japanese would find the body and start using the radio, which would transmit material back to British HQ in Delhi. If the plan seems familiar, then it may be because it was inspired by Operation Mincemeat, in which a body carrying disinformation was floated onto the Spanish coast for the Nazis to pick up. It's uncertain whether Peter was aware of it at the time, but he might have been amused to learn that the idea for that operation was Ian's.

Another wartime activity undertaken by both Ian and Peter was the setting up of commando units. Ian had his 'Red Indians', the 30 Assault Unit that would raid enemy territory to gather documents and other secret material. Peter, meanwhile, organised a commando unit in Greece on behalf of the SOE, and before that the XII Corps Observation Unit or Auxiliary Unit, which was a resistance force to counter a successful German invasion.

Ian Fleming alluded to Peter's wartime work in this collection
Among Peter's creations were underground hideouts, which were dug in woodland and concealed by vegetation and accessed by means of a trapdoor and rope ladder. The hideouts of course never saw hostile action, but Peter described them in his unpublished novel, The Sett, and they are likely to have provided the inspiration for the Soviet agents' underground bunker in Ian's short story, 'From a View to a Kill'. Indeed, Ian alludes to his brother's work in the story. Remarking on the sophistication of the Russian hideout, Bond considers that it was “far more brilliant than anything England had prepared to operate in the wake of a successful German invasion.”

After the war, Peter settled more comfortably into his estate in Nettlebed in Oxfordshire, while Ian built Goldeneye, his house in Jamaica. Goldeneye was designed by Ian to admit as much of the outside – the breeze, the sounds, the smells, and occasionally the creatures – into the house as possible by means of large, spartan rooms and enormous unglazed windows. Merrimoles, Peter's house on the Nettlebed estate, was built in 1938/9 with much the same principles in mind. Peter wanted plenty of doors and french windows and, as a friend suggested, the inside of the house to be like the outside. 

More generally, Peter and Ian had a similar outlook on life. Both were fatalistic and essentially irreligious and had been immensely affected by the events and acts of heroism they witnessed in the Second World War. They believed that the war showed Britain at its best, and expressed disappointment with values of the post-war generation. As for how they regarded each other, Ian felt that he was in Peter's shadow and considered Peter a hero, while Peter looked up to Ian (quite literally, too – Ian was taller).

That's not to say that Ian and Peter saw eye-to-eye on everything. Peter was not fond of the Caribbean, while Ian detested shooting, unlike his brother, who shot throughout his life, and in fact died of a heart attack in 1971 while out shooting in Scotland.

The lives of Ian and Peter Fleming were different in a number of respects, yet both enjoyed similar careers and successes, and had a lasting cultural impact on the lives of many others. Parallel lives, indeed.


Hart-Davis, D, 1987 Peter Fleming: a biography, Oxford University Press, Oxford
Lycett, A, 1995 Ian Fleming: the man behind James Bond, Turner Publishing, Atlanta

Thursday 1 October 2015

Stepping into James Bond's shoes

The shoemakers Crockett & Jones recently announced that they have been responsible for keeping James Bond appropriately shod in the upcoming film, Spectre. The Northampton-based company has supplied several models of 'Goodyear-welted' footwear, among them three styles of boots (Camberley and Radnor in black calf leather, and Northcote in black wax calf), and three styles of shoes (Alex in black calf, Norwich in black calf, and Swansea in brown suede).

As attractive as this footwear is (and, yes, I have entered the company's Spectre competition for the chance to win a collection of Bond's shoes worth over £200), there is at least one style of shoe missing: the slip-on. The literary Bond “abhorred shoe-laces” (OHMSS, chapter 2) and, when not sporting sandals or golf shoes, wears black casual shoes or well-polished black moccasins (for example in Moonraker, chapter 3). Admittedly the Camberley boot has no laces, but it is fastened by straps, which might still cause Bond to think twice before putting them on.

Then again, Daniel Craig's Bond is pretty used to lace-ups. In Casino Royale (2006), we see him crouch down to fix his shoelaces (or pretend to) in front of a Bahamian hotel.

Curiously, it was another Northampton-based company (at least for correspondence; the company was founded in Norwich) that was among the earliest shoemakers to use James Bond to promote their range. In March 1965, the Norvic Shoe Company ran an advert alongside the first part of the serialisation in the Daily Express of The Man with the Golden Gun. The advert (“Norvic 007 shoes show the kind of man you are”) featured a style of shoe (M11) within the 'Norvic 007' range, which comprised ten styles, all branded with the 'James Bond signature' and '007 golden tag of quality'. It's difficult to tell from the picture, but to me the M11 style is a slip-on. The literary Bond would be pleased.
Advert for Norvic 007 shoes, Daily Express, March 1965
Norvic's advert reminds us that companies have been eager to associate their products with the perceived traits or memes of James Bond – in this case a man-of-the-world character and an appreciation of quality and style – for the past 50 years (longer, in fact, when one considers the 1961 adverts for a range of Bond-inspired clothing by Courtelle). The Norvic advert also reveals that the publication of the latest Ian Fleming novel was greeted with something of the fanfare that accompanies the release of every Bond film.

Thursday 24 September 2015

Jack the Bulldog is back in Spectre

Jack the Bulldog by Royal Doulton. As seen in Spectre
The release of Skyfall in 2012 saw the re-introduction to the series of familiar characters Miss Moneypenny and gadget-master Q to great excitement. But it also featured another character, who, though having a non-speaking part, caused quite a stir too: Jack the Bulldog.

When we last saw him, Jack, the ceramic union flag-clad bulldog manufactured by Royal Doulton that sat on M's desk, had been bequeathed to James Bond following the death of M at Bond's family home, Skyfall. It is fair to say that Bond was ambivalent about Jack, but Jack must have worked his charm, because he is back in the upcoming Bond film, Spectre.

Royal Doulton began making models of bulldogs during the Second World War. The breed symbolised the determination of the British character, and ceramic models during this time wore flags and uniforms to honour the bravery of military personnel.

The bulldog is, of course, most closely associated with Britain's wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill, who came to epitomise the 'bulldog spirit'. To Ian Fleming, Churchill was a hero. Fleming greatly admired him as a wartime leader, but his admiration went back to his childhood, when, during the First World War, Churchill wrote an appreciation, published in The Times, of Fleming's father, who had been killed in action.

Ian Fleming treasured Churchill's words throughout his life, and even gave Churchill a part of sorts in one of his Bond books: in Moonraker (1955) M speaks to the prime minister on the phone, who, given the year in which the adventure is set, must be identified as Churchill. The bulldog-like appearance of Churchill is also referenced. In From Russia, with Love (1957), Fleming mentions Cecil Beaton's portrait of Churchill, whose expression Fleming likens to that of a “contemptuous bulldog”. Considering the connections between Fleming and Churchill, it seems appropriate that Jack the Bulldog should continue his association with the world of James Bond.

To coincide with the release of Spectre, the new model of Jack the Bulldog, numbered DD 007 M, will be available to order from Royal Doulton in the autumn. Anyone wishing to purchase the model can register with Royal Doulton to receive email alerts when the model is in stock. Click here to find out more. Meanwhile, we wait with interest to see what role Jack will have in Bond's latest adventure.

Friday 18 September 2015

Two Bond-related spy-story anthologies

I came out of a secondhand bookshop recently clutching two copies of the same book: Great Spy Stories, published in 1978 by Marks and Spencer in association with William Heinemann and Martin Secker and Warburg. The volume is an anthology of spy novels, and includes Dr No, Eric Ambler's The Mask of Dimitrios (a book Bond himself reads in From Russia, with Love) and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carré. As far as I can establish, both copies of the book are the same edition, but they have different dustjacket designs. Both covers, however, reflect contemporaneous approaches to the artwork of spy fiction, containing tropes or memes of current at time.

One version has a relatively simple design, showing a gun packaged in brown paper postmarked Berlin on a black background. The artwork appears to owe much to the covers of Len Deighton's spy novels, such as Spy Story, published by Cape in 1974 (with a cover by Bond cover artist, Raymond Hawkey), and the paperback edition of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. This may have given prospective readers a sense that they were about to read stories from the murky, cynical end of the spy fiction spectrum; perhaps appropriately Dr No is placed last.

The second design displays a collection of gadgets and others tools of the spy trade, and has a something of an old-fashioned quality about it, and arguably Dr No fits more comfortably within this cover. Indeed the cover may have been inspired by the covers of the Pan paperbacks published in 1974. These show spy-related objects and motifs reflecting the story arranged in a form of still-life. That said, some of Len Deighton's books also take this approach, such as the cover of An Expensive Way to Die (Cape, 1967), also designed by Raymond Hawkey. This still-life-style of cover has remained closely associated with spy stories and Bond; Raymond Benson's The James Bond Bedside Companion (1984) has just that style of artwork. 

While in the bookshop, I spotted another spy-story anthology. This was Favourite Spy Stories, published in 1981 by Littlehampton Book Services  Alas, there was no place in it for Ian Fleming, but it did have one very Bondian aspect to its cover: an image of a a spy in a classic Bond pose. This image (excuse the poor quality) very closely copies a photograph of George Lazenby's James Bond leaning against a lamppost, but the image has its origins in the poster artwork of earlier Bond artwork, notably From Russia With Love.

Comparing the images, I've noticed that, curiously, George Lazenby is putting his weight on the 'wrong' leg; the photograph looks natural enough, but Lazenby must have felt uncomfortable posing in that manner (you may wish to have a try yourself). Since then, this classic-pose meme has been utilised many times, often in the posters of Bond and non-Bond films alike, to indicate espionage-themed adventures.

Friday 11 September 2015

Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz - a review

The window display of Waterstones, Piccadilly, where Trigger Mortis was launched
The cover of Devil May Care, Sebastian Faulks' James Bond novel (some might call it an extended pastiche), proclaimed that its author was writing as Ian Fleming. Anthony Horowitz, the author of the latest Bond adventure, Trigger Mortis, has gone one better. In incorporating original material by Ian Fleming, and carefully referencing the touchstones of James Bond's world, Horowitz has delivered the authentic voice of Bond's creator. It is as if the manuscript of a long lost Bond novel had been discovered in the bottom drawer of Fleming's writing desk at Goldeneye.

Trigger Mortis takes the reader back to 1957 and follows immediately from the final events of  Goldfinger. We left that adventure (spoiler alert) on Weathership Charlie off the Canadian coast; Bond, taking Pussy Galore with him, having ditched a Stratocruiser into the ocean, with Goldfinger lying dead on the floor of the plane. Back in London, Bond learns about a SMERSH plot to infiltrate the German Grand Prix and take Lancy Smith (a thinly-disguised Sterling Moss; Smith, like Moss, even drives a Vanwall) out of the race – permanently. This leads to an introduction to the mysterious Jeopardy Lane, the cold and brutal Jason Sin, and a larger, more terrifying plot with the Space Race at its core.

Anthony Horowitz began writing the book, unusually, with Chapter 3, as he weaved 'Murder on Wheels', an unmade television treatment by Ian Fleming, into the story. But it is chapters two and seven which are most infused with the spirit – and the words – of Ian Fleming. Some of the dialogue Fleming gave to Bond and M is repeated verbatim, and readers will have fun trying to identify Fleming's words among those of Horowitz (it's not easy, I can tell you). The seventh chapter, called 'Murder on Wheels', describes the race at the Nürburgring and Bond's attempt to foil SMERSH's plot. What a thrilling piece of writing, and one that rivals, or rather complements, Fleming's descriptions of Bond's other sporting ventures, skiing, scuba diving, driving, and the like.

Any book written today inevitably makes allowances for modern sensibilities, even if set in the past, but I'm glad to report that Bond retains his foibles. He smokes (though is perhaps not quite the seventy-a-day man he once was), drinks Martinis, has opinions about women's bottoms, and hasn't moderated his views about the Germans (to be fair, it is only twelve years since the end of the Second World War).

And naturally Bond remains very particular about his food (for instance distrusting food with French names if not served in France). Continuation authors have tended to make sure that Bond was well fed, and we do know what Bond eats in Trigger Mortis, but the food references this time are not intrusive. At one point Bond breaks the yolk of an egg, but we have no idea how it had been cooked. Horowitz knows when to veer away from the narrative for a Fleming-esque digression, and when get on with the story in order to, as Fleming once put it, “get the reader to turn over the page.”

Apart from Fleming's TV treatment, the novel that has most inspired Horowitz is Goldfinger. It is no secret that Trigger Mortis sees the return of Pussy Galore (lucky Bond's housekeeper, May, is away; I can't imagine her approving of Bond's house-guest), but there are nods to Goldfinger in other ways. Perhaps, though, it is the 1964 film that comes to mind more strongly with some of the episodes in the book, for instance a punishment involving gold paint, the means by which the chief villain, Jason Sin (a Korean, like Oddjob), is killed, and, before that, Jason Sin's asking Bond “Any last witticisms?” The line might have been in the first draft of dialogue given to Gert Frobe's Goldfinger before being redrafted into the classic, “Choose your next witticism carefully, Mr Bond.”

Goldfinger apart, the plot involving rockets obviously recalls the novels of Moonraker and Dr No, and reading the denouement of Trigger Mortis, I was reminded even of the latter part of the film, Octopussy.    

These allusions to the other Bond books (and films) are great fun, of course, and give readers a wonderful sense of Bond's world, but at the same time, I wonder if Anthony Horowitz, like all continuation novelists before him, has played it too safe. Though his novels could well be described as formulaic, Ian Fleming was a great experimenter, and was not averse to playing with the structure of his novels. We can see that most clearly with From Russia, with Love and especially The Spy Who Loved Me. Could a continuation novelist today ever produce a Bond book in which Bond appears in the second or even last third of the book? Probably not (although The Moneypenny Diaries are closest in that vein, and could be considered experimental Bond novels).

This is a very minor point, however, because put simply Trigger Mortis is a triumph. The novel deserves a place alongside Ian Fleming's novels and, containing Fleming's own words and ideas, must be regarded as 'canon'. But the novel can also sit comfortably alongside modern thrillers; I was particularly reminded of Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels in the passages set in American motels and diners as, over endless cups of coffee, Bond and his companion, Jeopardy Lane, piece together clues to the mystery of Jason Sin. 

Anthony Horowitz has achieved what some continuation novelists before him have struggled to do: write a continuation Bond thriller that is, well, thrilling. James Bond – and Ian Fleming – is back!

Friday 4 September 2015

Where is Royale-les-Eaux?

Ian Fleming set the events of his first novel, Casino Royale, in the fictional coastal town of Royale-les-Eaux in northern France. In chapter 5 of the book, Fleming places the town near the mouth of the River Somme, which puts Royale in the Picardy region, and this is implied by Fleming describing the location as being “before the flat coastline soars up from the beaches of southern Picardy to the Brittany cliffs which run on to Le Havre.”

These cliffs, known as the Alabaster coast, stretch along the Normandy coast between Le Tréport in the north to Le Havre. If we had to mark the approximate location of Royale on a map, then given the geographic references, we'd have to stick the drawing pin somewhere along Côte Picarde, probably on the south side of the Somme estuary.

Ian Fleming's northern France (click to enlarge)
 By the time Fleming wrote On Her Majesty's Secret Service, however, Royale-les-Eaux had drifted north. In chapter 2, Bond, motoring north between Abbeville and Montreuil, sees a Michelin signpost which reads: “Montreuil 5, Royale-les-Eaux 10, Le Touquet-Paris-Plage 15”. We can of course use this handy bit of information to an approximate location of Royale by drawing circles of 5km radius around Montreuil, 15km radius around Le Touquet, and circles of 10km radius around various points along the coast south of Le Touquet. Where the circles intersect (more or less) gives us Bond's position, and the centre-point of whichever circle south of Le Touquet fits best is a good indication of where Royale should be. This exercise in fact places Royale roughly at the same location as the seaside resort of Berck immediately north of the bay of the Authie river.

John Griswold has Royale in the same place according to a map in his Annotations and Chronologies for Ian Fleming's Bond Stories (2006), as does David Leigh in an 2004 article exploring James Bond's France. In any case, Fleming confirms that the town is on the stretch of coast south of Le Touquet when he describes Royale in On Her Majesty's Secret Service as “La Reine de la Côte Opale”, the Côte d'Opale being the 120km coastline between the borders of Belgium and Picardy.

What about the inspiration for Royale-les-Eaux? Jon Gilbert in his magnificent Ian Fleming: The Bibliography (2012) states that the town is based on the coastal towns of Deauville, just south of Le Havre, and Le Touquet. However, some of the details of Royale that Fleming provides better fits the description of Trouville, which neighbours Deauville.

As Fleming notes, Trouville, like Royale, was originally a small fishing village and, again like Royale, grew rapidly during the Second French Empire (1852-1870), when the town enjoyed the patronage of artists, the wealthy, and the aristocracy, experienced a degree of urbanisation, and established casinos, hotels, and baths. Trouville's current casino, built in 1912 by Alphonse Durville, perhaps has something of the “Negresco baroque” of Casino Royale about it (presumably Fleming's description refers to Nice's Hotel Negresco); both are decorated with gilt at least.

Trouville's casino (Photo: Daniel Villafruela)
Royale-les-Eaux, however, differs from Trouville in one important aspect: Royale is a spa town, whereas Trouville (nor Deauville or Le Touquet, for that matter) is not. Trouville and other coastal towns certainly developed bathing establishments for hydro-therapeutic treatments, but these were based on seawater, not natural spring water believed to have curative properties. As Fleming describes, Royale becomes known as Royale-les-Eaux as fame spreads about the curative powers of the sulphurous spring water flowing through the hills behind the town.

One obvious inspiration for this aspect of Royale-les-Eaux is the spa town of Forges-les-Eaux, which is located inland about 30km south of Abbeville. Visitors came to Forges as early as the 17th century to take 'the cure' deriving from the iron-rich springs around the town, but it wasn't until the 19th century that Forges-les-Eaux developed into a resort to rival those on the coast, establishing a spa and a casino. A history that is not so very different from that of Royale-les-Eaux.

Royale-les-Eaux is something of an amalgam of different towns, but the main inspirations appear to have been Trouville and Forges-les-Eaux. This may explain why Royale appears to have been located in Picardy for its first appearance, before being relocated to Pas-de-Calais subsequently. What is clear is that Ian Fleming was very familiar with the places and geography of northern France, and it is no wonder that his writing is infused with the memes of the region.

Wednesday 26 August 2015

Jamaica's other Goldeneye

As GoldenEye, the film that introduced Pierce Brosnan as Bond and relaunched the series to great acclaim (and relief) after a six-year enforced hiatus, turns twenty years old, the latest edition of MI6 Confidential celebrates the film's anniversary with an interview with director Martin Campbell, an examination of the essential ingredients of the film, a look at the film's most memorable stunts, and much more.

I'm proud to have contributed to the issue myself: a small article examining the legacy of Goldeneye, Ian Fleming's winter home in Jamaica, where he wrote all the Bond books. While I was researching the article, I made some interesting discoveries about some of Jamaica's other, lesser known Goldeneyes. The article wasn't quite the place to say much about them, so by way of an addendum, here they are.

If one were to ask Jamaicans in the late 1940s, when Ian Fleming built his house, what 'Goldeneye' meant to them, many would have replied that it was something to treat minor ailments of the eyes. The Daily Gleaner was full of adverts for 'Golden Eye' treatments. Sinclair's Drug Department on King Street in Kingston sold the lotion for two shillings per bottle. The lotion was a little more expensive at Williams Drug Store on West Queen Street, selling for 2/6, but it was cheaper that Optrex (3/6), and was alternatively available in ointment form, which was cheaper at one shilling per tube. Meanwhile, Dunker & Company on Harbour Street were offering 'huge savings', selling a dozen tubes of the ointment for eight shillings.

An advert in the Gleaner for medicines, including Golden Eye
This was good news for farmers. In an article published in April 1958 in the Farmers Weekly section of the Gleaner, 'Surgeon' recommended the application of Golden Eye lotion for the treatment of 'pink eye', a type of eye infection in cattle.

There was yet another Goldeneye known in Jamaica. In 1950, cinema-goers flocked to the Gaiety cinema, among other venues, and 'country theatres' around Jamaica to see Roland Winters star as Charlie Chan investigating the mystery of why an unprofitable gold mine is suddenly making lots of money. The film, released in 1948, was called The Golden Eye

The Golden Eye (1948) on the bill of the Gaiety Cinema
As a footnote, there is a curious link of sorts between the house and the eye treatment. Fleming's house was well known for its stark design and paucity of mod-cons. Friend and neighbour Noël Coward famously referred to the house as 'Goldeneye, nose and throat'. This is a play, of course, on ear, nose and throat departments in British hospitals, but it's possible that Coward had Golden Eye lotion, a product that would have been familiar to Jamaican residents at the time, in his mind too.