Sunday 22 February 2015

Bond, Brooke Bond: when James Bond sold tea

A recent article on the MI6 - The Home of James Bond 007 website about the James Bond-influenced Milk Tray television adverts in the UK reminded me about another highly successful campaign that looked to the Bond films for inspiration. Between 1956 and 2002, tea manufacturer Brooke Bond ran a series of adverts for its PG Tips brand featuring chimpanzees in anthropomorphic roles. The adverts would show the chimpanzees wearing clothes and performing human actions, usually in humorous everyday domestic or work situations. Inevitably, given the name of the manufacturer and the ever-increasing popularity of James Bond, some of the adverts parodied the Bond films.


Three adverts spoofing Bond were produced in the 1980s. One was in the form of a film trailer. “And now, the films you've been waiting for,” announces the voice-over to scenes of henchmen skating in a winter landscape and an explosion at a villain's mountain lair. “From the files of the British Secret Tea Service,” the voice-over continues before viewers are introduced to a dinner-suited “Bond, Brooke Bond,” and “Bond's boss, Tee.”

Bond's mission is to safeguard the secret of the 'big bag' – bigger tea bags mean more room for the tea to impart its flavour in the teapot – and to help him there a lab-coated character (presumably based on Q), who supplies Brooke Bond with a gadget-converted tea urn. We also see Brooke Bond pursue henchmen in the icy landscape and a naval admiral in Tee's office. The advert ends with a quip from Brooke Bond.

Another advert is set on a smoke-filled railway platform at night; a sign indicates that the station is Istanbul. Brooke Bond is about to board the 'Leyton Orient Express' and approaches a station porter. “We were expecting you,” the porter tells Bond. Suddenly, the porter pulls out a gun and demands the secret from Bond, who disarms him by placing his hat over the gun. “That porter chappie got ideas above his station,” Brooke Bond quips.

A third advert places Brooke Bond in China. Bond is in an interrogation room and is threatened by the villain with being cast into a shark-filled pool unless he reveals the 'big bag' secret.

The three adverts have distinct settings, yet all are recognisably Bondian as they took various aspects of the Bond film series. The first appears to have been inspired by films with notable mountain-set action sequences, particularly On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). The admiral may have derived from The Spy Who Loved Me too, perhaps being based on Admiral Hargreaves or Captain Benson. Then there are more general memes, such as the Q character, the dinner jacket, the witticisms, and, of course, the 'Bond, James Bond' expression.

The rail station-set advert is clearly inspired by From Russia With Love (1963), although the “we were expecting you” line has a later introduction in the film series, not being uttered by the villain until Diamonds Are Forever (1971).

The third advert draws largely on SPECTRE-based memes – the shark pool from Thunderball (1965), the mountain lair of You Only Live Twice (1967) and the interrogation room of Dr No (1962); that is, the sparsely furnished ante-room with the circular grille in which Professor Dent 'warns' Dr No of Bond's presence.

Brooke Bond's set of Bond-influenced adverts demonstrate the diversity of the Bond series and significance of key films, among them From Russia With Love, You Only Live Twice and The Spy Who Loved Me. Memes expressed in those films gained and retained their cultural currency by being replicated and adapted well beyond cinematic release, and indeed continue to have cultural resonance

Friday 13 February 2015

From Thunderbird to Thunderball to Bond: what Ann called Ian

Classic 1956 advertisement for the Thunderbird
In an article published in the Spectator in April 1958, Ian Fleming revealed to readers that he was in love with his car. A Ford Thunderbird, to be precise. Fleming bought the car some two years earlier (for the sum of £3000), and could not get enough of its reliability, acceleration, economy, and streamlined looks.

His wife Ann was not so enamoured about the vehicle or Ian's enthusiasm for it, however, and complained that riding in the passenger seat gave her neck ache. Ian was so preoccupied with the Thunderbird that Ann began to refer to Ian as Thunderbird in her letters to her close friend, Evelyn Waugh. For example, she signed a letter dated May 1959 as Mrs Thunderbird, and wrote in another, dated July 1960, that “Thunderbird thundered into an ice-cream van.” Occasionally Ann abbreviated Thunderbird to T-B or Thunderb., but generally continued to use the name until Ian's death in 1964.

This was not Ann's only pet name for Ian Fleming. Inevitably, Ann's names began to reflect Ian's burgeoning success with James Bond. During her stay at Goldeneye early in 1961, Ann mentioned in a letter to Evelyn Waugh that she “found a giant octopus” and “fetched Thunderball expecting him to collect it.” Curiously, a month earlier in letter to Waugh, Ann wrote, “I shall refuse to be moss on a thunderball,” evidently playing on the expression 'a rolling stone gathers no moss.'

It is little wonder that the title of Ian's ninth Bond novel had been on her mind; at the time Ann wrote to Evelyn Waugh, she had been living with Thunderball well over a year. In early 1960, Ian wrote his first draft of the novel, which was based on film scripts written in 1959. The novel was to be published in March 1961.

With Ian Fleming's increasing success and fame, particularly following President Kennedy's inclusion of From Russia, With Love in his top ten books in 1961 and the cinematic release of Dr No in 1962, came another pet name. In a letter to Evelyn Waugh dated February 1964, Ann wrote, “At least I have persuaded Bond to give his public a rest,” and later that month, wrote again to Waugh to say that, “The Gleaner newspaper gave a luncheon party for Beatle Bond.” The names reflected the view, expressed by Ian Fleming himself as well as others, that there was much of Fleming in Bond, while Beatle Bond acknowledged the coincidence of two cultural phenomena – Beatlemania and Bondmania.

Meant as private jokes between close friends, Ann Fleming's pet names for Ian Fleming chart changing preoccupations and cultural events and offer a fascinating insight into Ann's attitude towards Ian's interests and the rise of the James Bond phenomenon.

Amory, M (ed.), 1985 The Letters of Ann Fleming, Collins Harvill
Fleming, I, 1958 Automobilia, The Spectator April 1958

Friday 6 February 2015

Could Peter O'Toole have been the first cinematic James Bond?

Derek Coombs
The name Derek Coombs is probably not familiar to most James Bond fans, but the former British member of parliament and founder of Prospect magazine, who died in December, might have been the first to bring Ian Fleming's novels to the big screen – with Peter O'Toole as Bond.

According to his obituary in The Times, Derek Coombs attempted to secure the rights to film Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Moonraker and Diamonds Are Forever, presumably in 1956 or early in 1957 before the publication of Fleming's fifth novel, From Russia, with Love. Peter O'Toole, Derek Coombs' future brother-in-law, had just begun his acting career (his first television role was in 1956, and he would not make his film d├ębut until 1958), and naturally Coombs saw the role of Bond as a vehicle for him.

The story of Ian Fleming's efforts to bring his creation to the big screen is a convoluted one, involving rival deals, many false starts, protracted negotiations, and not a little naivety on Fleming's part. The key facts, however, are these. Following publication of Casino Royale in 1953, Fleming's US literary agents, Curtis Brown, were approached by Associated British Pictures and then MCA about film rights, but talks came to nothing. Sir Alexander Korda subsequently expressed an interest, having read the proofs for Live and Let Die (1954), but this similarly fizzled out. Fleming had more luck in 1954 when producer Gregory Ratoff secured the rights to Casino Royale, but negotiations between Fleming and Warner Brothers' producer Stanley Meyer for Live and Let Die and Moonraker soon stalled.

In 1955, two offers were made for Moonraker, one to Curtis Brown from John Payne, and the other to Jonathan Cape from the Rank Organisation. Neither was successful. Another offer was received by Curtis Brown in 1958, this time for Dr No, which had not been long published. Kevin McClory entered the picture the same year, and attempts to produce a film of what would become Thunderball (1961), would have long-lasting and serious repercussions for Fleming's creation, his health, and the later EON film series. There was another film offer in 1959, this time from MGM producer Maurice Winnick. In 1961, Harry Saltzman won a sixth-month option on the Bond books, but failed to gain any backing to produce the films until he was introduced to Cubby Broccoli. Dr No was released in 1962 and the rest, as they say, is history.

Quite how Derek Coombs fits into all this, if at all, is unclear. Ian Fleming, usually via Curtis Brown or Cape, no doubt received many approaches from would-be film producers, some (like those above) being more serious than others. Possibly Coombs' offer was quickly dismissed as unrealistic, or perhaps his plans barely left the drawing board; The Times notes that Peter O'Toole was not interested in the project.

The obituary adds, interestingly, that later, when Kevin McClory spotted Derek Coombs in a restaurant, he sent Coombs a magnum of Champagne to thank him for Bond. This suggests that Coombs' attempt to acquire the rights to film Bond was serious enough to attract the attention of rival film-makers. Nevertheless, the incident is curious. Coombs' efforts pre-dated McClory's (unless Coombs made his approach in 1958/9), and anyway McClory did not have an exclusive right to film Bond (Ratoff still owned the rights to Casino Royale). There was more than enough Bond to go round.

More information is required, but it would seem that Derek Coombs' attempt to film Bond has marginal significance. In any case, his bid for Casino Royale would have failed immediately because of the rights to the book already secured. In the late 1950s, Peter O'Toole was very far from being the first cinematic Bond.

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

Sunday 1 February 2015

A little bit of Bond in every spy novel

A few weeks ago I read Charles Cumming's spy novel, The Trinity Six (2011, HarperCollins). The book follows academic Sam Gaddis on a dangerous trail that takes him from London to Winchester and then on to Moscow, Berlin and Vienna to uncover the truth behind a fabled sixth member of the infamous Cambridge spy ring.

It's a gripping book, which I enjoyed very much, but as I read it, I couldn't help note a number of allusions to James Bond. Some were obvious, others less so and perhaps unintentional. In any case, it struck me as ironic that even in realistic, serious spy novels, a world away from the James Bond novels and films, Bond has a habit of making an appearance.

Turning first to the obvious references to James Bond in The Trinity Six, Charles Cumming describes how Sergei Platov, the novel's fictional Russian president (and a thinly-disguised Vladimir Putin) used a hollow reed to breath while submerged in a pond to escape pursuers during the Second World War; Sean Connery, Cumming writes, “had the same trick in Dr No.” Later in the novel, Tanya Acocella, an MI6 agent, tells Gaddis that the watch he had been given by a contact had a false casing to conceal information. “Very James Bond,” Gaddis comments.

The novel also contained descriptions and phrases that didn't directly refer to James Bond, but nevertheless seemed to nod to aspects of the Bond books and films. For instance, Sam Gaddis, like Bond, appears to have a fondness for scrambled eggs. He consumes the dish for breakfast in Winchester a short way through the narrative, eats them again near the end of the book as he homes in on a vital piece of evidence that proves a conspiracy at the highest levels, and if I remember aright, Gaddis has scrambled eggs in between.

The choice of scrambled eggs may simply be a coincidence; after all, they are a very common breakfast dish, and Sam Gaddis does have other breakfast foods (for example cereal). On the other hand, Charles Cumming knows the Bond novels (he wrote the introduction to the Penguin edition of The Man with the Golden Gun) and would be well aware of Bond's penchant for scrambled eggs. It's possible that even if not intended as a nod to Bond with the first mention of the dish, Charles Cumming developed the allusion with repeated descriptions.

I thought I also detected a nod to the 2006 film of Casino Royale. In Tanya's apartment, Sam Gaddis looks through a photo album containing holiday snaps taken by Tanya and her boyfriend Jeremy. Gaddis notes that “Jeremy wore Speedos – without apparent irony – whenever he came within striking distance of a body of water.” This is presumably a reference to the iconic scene in the film where Daniel Craig's well-toned Bond steps out of the sea in the Bahamas, the irony being that Jeremy is also an agent working for MI6.

I wondered too about a phrase uttered by former MI6 agent Robert Wilkinson as he reveals crucial information to Sam Gaddis. “'We're not a country club'”, he says. The phrase recalls M's line in Licence to Kill (1989) when Bond offers his resignation from the service: “We're not a country club, 007!” 

Then there's a possible allusion to the novel of From Russia, with Love. In The Trinity Six, Sam Gaddis reads Robert Harris' thriller Archangel during a rail journey from Barcelona to Vienna. I was reminded in this case of Bond's flight from London to Istanbul in Fleming's novel; Bond reads the classic thriller The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler (whose novels, incidentally, influenced Charles Cumming's writing in The Trinity Six).

References to James Bond (the certain ones at least) in spy novels, together with the descriptions of actual product brands and geographical locations, give the novels an air of realism. We believe in the characters a little more because they share aspects of our lives; they watch the same films as us, read the same books, and eat the same food. The descriptions of fictional spies talking about fictional spies serve as a knowing wink to readers, but they also acknowledge the continued significance of James Bond (whether literary or cinematic) in spy fiction. There's a little bit of Bond in every spy novel.