Sunday 29 March 2015

Who thought up the phrase 'Bond, James Bond'?

Bond, James Bond. Three words that together constitute a phrase famous the world over. As essential a line in the Bond films as 'shaken, not stirred', another three-word phrase with a near-identical structure, the phrase routinely makes lists of top movie quotes, and is much imitated and parodied in films and beyond.


'Bond, James Bond' was first heard in Dr No (1962), being, appropriately, the first words Bond utters on the big screen. The extent to which its structure and function makes the phrase particularly memorable and adaptable is arguable, but its success was almost guaranteed as soon as it was delivered by an impossibly cool Sean Connery, with a little help from the James Bond theme triggered by the phrase. The effect was more or less replicated at the end of Casino Royale (2006) – there were reports of cinema-goers cheering when the much-anticipated phrase was delivered by Daniel Craig's Bond – bringing the 'Bond, James Bond' meme to new audiences and giving it fresh impetus for its imitation in popular culture.

Who created the phrase? Well, Ian Fleming, naturally. In the novel of Casino Royale (1953), Bond replies to Felix Leiter, who's just introduced himself, with the words, “Mine's Bond – James Bond.” In Goldfinger (1959), Mr Du Pont says to Goldfinger: “Like you to meet Bond, James Bond.” There's a “Bond, James Bond” in Dr No (1957) and The Spy Who Loved Me (1962), and a “My name's Bond, James Bond” in Thunderball (1961) and 'Octopussy' (1966, but written early 1962). There may be others, but just these examples demonstrate that the phrase was a standard one for Ian Fleming, that it appeared throughout the sequence of novels, and crucially that it pre-dated the film series.

Such facts were brought to mind as I read the description for lot 261 in a catalogue for Christie's auction of James Bond memorabilia, toys and games, film props and other items held on 17th September 1998 (I'll write more about this catalogue in a forthcoming post). Lot 261 comprised a collection of film scripts – those of the first three Bond films – owned by British novelist and scriptwriter Berkely Mather, who co-wrote Dr No, and made smaller contributions to From Russia With Love (1963) and Goldfinger (1964).

Looking through the catalogue entry, I was a little surprised to read that “famous one-liners, often attributed to Fleming, were apparently Mather's inspiration. These are said to include '[The name is] Bond – James Bond'; and Bond's celebrated preference for vodka Martini '...shaken, not stirred.'” While there may be a case for Mather's claim to the latter, at least in that more concise form, his claim for the former seems unfounded.

That said, the catalogue entry also states, rather interestingly, that when he was given the task of working on the Dr No script, Berkely Mather had never read a Bond novel, and had to borrow his son's paperback copy of Dr No (which is included in the lot). With this in mind, it is perhaps remarkable nonetheless that while reading the book, Mather alighted on 'Bond, James Bond', which in isolation in 1961/2 must have seemed a fairly innocuous line. Much of the novel's dialogue provided the basis for the dialogue in the film, but it was heavily modified and rarely survived intact. 'Bond, James Bond' did survive, however, possibly because it is brief and has a pleasing structure that catches the ear when delivered. It is, in short, cinematic.

While 'Bond, James Bond' is certainly Fleming's invention (it cannot join, say, 'Elementary, my dear Watson' in any list of phrases which are popularly attributed to a character but never originated with their authors), we may have Berkely Mather to thank for spotting its potential as a memorable one-liner and including it in his script.

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