Saturday 30 May 2015

Some thoughts about Trigger Mortis

So we now know the title of Anthony Horowitz's highly anticipated James Bond novel: Trigger Mortis. The official announcement of the title earlier this week also brought more information about what we might expect in the novel. What have we gleaned?

Trigger Mortis is not a title that immediately appeals to me. It seems to me to be something that Ian Fleming might have devised for a chapter heading, or it might otherwise be more appropriate as the title of a Young Bond novel. In its favour, though, it does follow the Fleming-esque pattern of adapting a word or saying in the manner of Live and Let Die or You Only Live Twice. Trigger Mortis might also be a nod to 'Trigger Finger', Ian Fleming's original title for his short story, 'The Living Daylights'. I also note that 'The Trigger on the Finger' is the title of sixth chapter in Dr No. I expect Trigger Mortis will grow on me and will be a more memorable title than Solo or Devil May Care. Perhaps it's a very good choice after all.

What of the original material by Ian Fleming that is heralded on the cover of the book? We already knew that the book would feature ideas from 'Murder on Wheels', Fleming's treatment for an episode of a never-made James Bond TV series. In the treatment, Bond becomes involved in the world of motor racing as he investigates a Russian plot to sabotage Stirling Moss's race at the Nürburgring circuit. We know now that 'Murder on Wheels' will form the basis of the opening part of the novel and that the book is set in 1957. Additionally, the synopsis accompanying the US edition of the novel confirms that the setting of the motor racing will be the German Grand Prix (which was won by Juan Manuel Fangio). I must admit a little satisfaction on learning the year in which the book will be set, as I suggested back in October in an earlier blog post that Ian Fleming had the Formula One championships of 1957 or 1958 in mind when he prepared the treatment for 'Murder on Wheels'.

Confusingly, though, a set of postcards that had been released by Ian Fleming Publications to promote the book ahead of the title announcement pointed to 1959. One was an image of New York's Times Square, which showed a cinema marquee advertising the John Wayne film, The Horse Soldiers, which was released in 1959. Another postcard was of the Nürburgring. The car shown is, if my identification is correct, a Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa, and what's more, it could well be the very vehicle driven by Olivier Gendebien in the Nürburgring 1000km in 1959. Whether these images were meant as deliberate red herrings or should be put down to artistic licence is uncertain.

Incidentally, the 1957 German Grand Prix at Nürburgring took place on the 4th August, while Trigger Mortis begins two weeks after the final event of Goldfinger, which John Griswold in his Annotations and Chronologies dates to 6th June. This gives James Bond a good few weeks with Pussy Galore at start of the book. Much has been made in the media of the promised reappearance of Pussy Galore, last seen in Goldfinger with James Bond on a weathership off the coast of Canada. The reference to the heroine of an earlier adventure is nothing new; Ian Fleming did it himself, for instance in From Russia, with Love, when M asks Bond about his relationship with Tiffany Case, who we saw in the previous adventure, Diamonds are Forever. However, as The Spy Command blog reminds us, this will be the first time that the heroine of an earlier novel will have a 'speaking part'.

As for the main plot, we learnt this week that the novel “places Bond in the middle of the Soviet-American Space Race as the United States prepares for a critical rocket launch.” The year 1957 was a significant time in the Space Race, as it saw the US and the USSR compete to launch artificial satellites for the first time; indeed the Space Race began with the announcement in 1955 by the US of its intention to launch a satellite. In the event, the Soviet Union beat the US to it by launching Sputnik 1 in October 1957. The attempt by the US to launch a satellite in December that year failed, though the US was successful with its second attempt in January 1958.

With its Fleming-derived action from the motor racing circuit, the reappearance of a familiar face, and its backdrop of the start of the Space Race, Trigger Mortis promises to be a very exciting James Bond novel. The 8th September, when the book will be published, can't come soon enough.

Sunday 24 May 2015

How James Bond is a gift to newspaper headline writers

Last week, a story about weight loss appeared in the local and national press. A man from Bicester in Oxfordshire had lost 24 stones (336 lb, 152kg) in just over a year following weight loss surgery and a strict diet. A remarkable achievement for the individual concerned and of public interest, certainly, but one might wonder why the story hit the national headlines. The reason was the man's name – James Bond. And naturally the newspapers made much of it.

Headline from the Daily Star
The Bicester Advertiser, which is where the story originated, ran with the headline “It’s 00-Heaven for Mr Bond as he sheds 24 stone in 12 months.” The feature also appeared in the Oxford Mail and other papers in the same newspaper group, and was picked up by national tabloids, which raided Bond film titles for punning headlines.

The Daily Mail looked to The Spy Who Loved Me for its headline: “The pie who loved me! Man called James Bond loses 24 stone after getting so fat on junk food he was told he had just days to live.” Within the article itself there was an allusion to the fictional Bond's role as a life-saver: “A man has very lived up to his name – James Bond – after saving his own life by shedding nearly half his body weight.

The Daily Mirror had a more recent film in mind when it settled on “Piefall: Man called James Bond in 00-heaven after shedding 24 stone in less than a year.” The article similarly included a reference to the qualities of the fictional James Bond. “When your name's James Bond, people expect you to be a hero. And one man who shares 007's moniker is doing it justice after he saved his own life by shedding a staggering 24 stone - almost half his bodyweight.”

The Daily Star made use of another film title. “Live and Let Diet. James Bond loses 24 stone in a year.” The article continued, “Super-slimmer James Bond is in 00-heaven after shedding 24 stone to save his life.”

The story of dramatic weight loss is undoubtedly of public interest and this story may well have reached the pages of the national newspapers whatever the man's name. However, that newspapers turned to Bond-related memes – film titles, Bond-derived phrases ('00-heaven', 'Mr Bond') and the qualities of the fictional character – to generate interest and keep people reading suggests that the story would not have had so much prominence had the man concerned not been called James Bond.

This is, of course, an indication of the enormous cultural significance that Ian Fleming's creation continues to have. The headlines, too, demonstrate the adaptability of Bond novel and film titles, which are a gift to headline writers and help keep James Bond – both old and new in terms of the films – in the public eye.

Sunday 17 May 2015

Shaman Bond: Simon R Green's tribute to the James Bond books

Simon R Green is a British writer responsible for an impressive number of fantasy and science fiction novels. He is well known for the Deathstalker series and Hawk and Fisher series, and, incidentally, wrote the novelisation of the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991). One of his more recent set of novels is the Secret History series, which follows the adventures of Edwin Drood, also known as Shaman Bond, who, with others in his family, protects the world from supernatural and magical threats. The main character's name is not the only allusion to James Bond.

The first novel, published in 2007, was The Man with the Golden Torc, an obvious play on the title of Fleming's thirteenth book, The Man with the Golden Gun. A new novel in the series has appeared every year since, each one with a title based on the names of Fleming's novels or short stories. Daemons Are Forever was published in 2008, and was followed by The Spy Who Haunted Me (2009), which in turn was followed by From Hell with Love (2010). Then there was For Heaven's Eyes Only (2011), Live and Let Drood (2012), and Casino Infernale (2013). The last published novel was Property of a Lady Faire (2014), but From a Drood to a Kill is out in June 2015.

The last two titles indicate that the allusions are not necessarily to the Bond film series, but to Ian Fleming's work; 'The Property of a Lady' (published in 1966 in the Octopussy collection) has not yet been used as a film title, while 'From a View to a Kill' (published in For Your Eyes Only (1962)) was shortened for the film to A View To A Kill.

Remarkably, foreign-language publishers have retained – or in some cases reintroduced – the Bond link in their editions of the Secret History series. In France, for example, the second book in the series was published as Les Démons sont éternels, the French title of Diamonds Are Forever being Les Diamants sont Eternels.

In Germany, the first novel in the series, The Man with the Golden Torc, was published in 2010 under the title Wächter der Menschheit, while the second, Daemons are Forever, was published as Krieg der Wächter (2010). While these do not derive from any Bond title, the third novel saw a return to the Bond-inspired title: Der Spion, der mich jagte (2010), literally 'The spy who hunted me', and a derivation of the German title of The Spy Who Loved Me.

Since then, all German titles in the series have been based on Bond titles: Liebesgrüße aus der Hölle (From Russia, with Love, or Liebesgrüße aus Moskau, as it was in Germany), Sterben und leben lassen (Live and Let Die, or Leben und lassen Sterben), and Casino Infernal (Casino Royale just about everywhere, including Germany).

Curiously, book 5 in the series, For Heaven's Eyes Only, was not given a title based on In tödlicher Mission (For Your Eyes Only), but Ein Quantum Tod, which derives from the German title of the film Quantum of Solace (Ein Quantum Trost); the German title of the short story was originally 'Ein Minimum An Trost'. It is also notable that the first two novels have since been republished with Bond-like titles to match: Der Mann mit dem Goldenen Torques (based on Der Mann mit dem Goldenen Colt, the title that was used for the film of The Man With the Golden Gun and later adopted as the title of the novel), and Dämonenfieber (based on Diamantenfieber, the German name for Diamonds Are Forever).

The German editions have an additional Bond reference. Some of the cover artwork uses the James Bond gunbarrel image as well as other Bondian imagery (the cover art for Sterben und leben lassen, for example, includes a figure resembling Baron Samedi from the film of Live and Let Die).

The influence of James Bond is self-evident in the name of the main character in Simon R Green's Secret History series and the titles of the books. Whereas Simon R Green has turned to Fleming's work for inspiration – as seen in the use of short story titles not used for the films – the German editions have drawn more squarely on the films, as shown by the use of Ein Quantum Trost, and the use of Bondian iconography from the film series.

Sunday 10 May 2015

The James Bond art of Robert McGinnis: The Sunday Times magazine 007 collectors' issue

How many James Bond posters issued in the US or UK were created by celebrated American artist and illustrator Robert McGinnis? His first poster was for Thunderball (1965), which he followed with You Only Live Twice (1967). His contribution to the main poster of On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) was confined to the figures of Bond and Tracy, but he was solely responsible for the poster artwork for Diamonds Are Forever (1971), Live and Let Die (1973) and The Man With The Golden Gun (1974). The last mentioned was his final work for a Bond film, although the image of Bond depicted in that poster was used in a teaser poster for Moonraker (1979).

So, six poster campaigns in total (or seven, if one includes the work he did for the 1967 version of Casino Royale). But those do not represent Robert McGinnis' only brush with Bond. In November 1999, a special edition of The Sunday Times Magazine was published to coincide with the release of The World Is Not Enough. It contained interviews with Desmond Llewelyn and George Lazenby, features on the film itself, and Ian Fleming's short story, '007 in the New York' (incredibly the first time the story had been published in the UK). And on the cover was artwork by Robert McGinnis.

Conceived to resemble an ornately framed painting, though also alluding to a certain extent the heraldic-style artwork used alongside the main poster campaign for On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the artwork is topped by a crown (representing Bond's service to Queen and Country) flanked by near-naked and suggestively-positioned women. The faces of the Bond actors are placed below the crown – naturally Sean Connery is at the centre – and below them is the main body of the artwork, which celebrates the best of Bond with representations of iconic moments from the film series, which are divided into themes of space, land and sea. The panel is bordered by the faces of the most memorable villains of the series, and the whole artwork is framed by more scantily-clad women.

Though an original artwork, it contains many familiar elements. Drawings of near-naked women in erotic poses are a hallmark of Robert McGinnis' work, routinely appearing on his posters and pulp-fiction covers. Those on the Bond artwork in particular recall the images of women at Bond's feet in the posters for Thunderball, You Only Live Twice and Live and Let Die

The villains that border the main panel comprise, on the left-hand side, Largo (Thunderball), Dr No, Scaramanga (The Man With The Golden Gun), May Day (A View To A Kill), and minor henchman Sandor (The Spy Who Loved Me), and, on the right-hand side... well, there's Jaws (The Spy Who Loved Me), Goldfinger, and Blofeld (You Only Live Twice), but I'm uncertain about the identity of the two at the top; possibly Goldfinger again and Rosa Klebb, but neither seem quite right.

The artwork in the main panel is more easily identified. Going from the top to the bottom (and from space to beneath the sea), we have the moonbuggy from Diamonds Are Forever, the space station from Moonraker, the diamond-encrusted satellite from Diamonds Are Forever, Bond with his jetpack from Thunderball, the Blofeld's Bath-O-Sub and exploding oil rig from Diamonds Are Forever, the space shuttle from Moonraker, the cable car from On Her Majesty's Secret Service, a submarine from The Spy Who Loved Me, the Disco Volante from Thunderball, Bond evading the SPECTRE helicopter in From Russia With Love, the submersible Lotus Esprit and an enemy frogman from The Spy Who Loved Me, a SPECTRE underwater chariot and Bond as frogman from Thunderball, and Elizabeth Tower/Big Ben (no specific film, but alluding to M and the starting point of all Bond's adventures).

Robert McGinnis' selection of images in the main panel is an interesting one, and not a little curious. Most of the artwork is derived from images that feature on poster artwork or other publicity material. The jetpack, for example, is taken almost unaltered from its appearance on one of the main Thunderball posters, while the Lotus Esprit and frogman are based very closely on a photographic image used on lobby cards and the Japanese poster for The Spy Who Loved Me. None is from any film released after Moonraker, and indeed the films of the 1980s and '90s are represented only by May Day and Brosnan's and Dalton's Bonds. While there appears to be an emphasis on the films for which McGinnis created the poster artwork – Diamonds Are Forever in particular is, if anything, over-represented – these account for only half the images. And even then, not all the artwork deriving from posters on which McGinnis worked are his creation. The jetpack image, for example, was drawn by McGinnis' regular collaborator, Frank McCarthy. The absence of Live and Let Die is also noteworthy.

Overall, then, as a celebration of the films of James Bond, Robert McGinnis' artwork for The Sunday Times is unbalanced, ignoring twenty years of Bond films. That the source for the elements in the main panel was poster artwork or publicity material is clear enough, but only a small proportion was based on McGinnis' own work, and in making his selection, McGinnis acknowledges the work of other artists.

As for the films, Thunderball, Diamonds Are Forever, The Spy Who Loved Me, and Moonraker are Robert McGinnis' principal reference points. Perhaps these are his personal favourites, but undoubtedly each have contributed more than their fair share of classic scenes and images. The iconography in the main panel are among some of the highly successful memes from the Bond series that have become deeply embedded into popular culture. 


Dorling Kindersley Publishers Ltd, 2012 James Bond 50 Years of Movie Posters
Lovisi, G, 2009 Dames, Dolls & Delinquents: A Collector's Guide to Sexy Pulp Fiction Paperbacks, KP Books

Friday 1 May 2015

How would James Bond vote in the General Election?

It's official – James Bond has entered politics. Ian Fleming's creation is evoked during the current British general election campaign.


First, Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party, was asked by Magic Radio hosts Nick Snaith and Aileen O'Sullivan who should play the next James Bond. He suggested Rosamund Pike. Then it was the turn of Ukip leader Nigel Farage, who told Magic Radio that “you have to be faithful to Ian Fleming... it has to be male, it has to be a rogue of some description”. Later, the same hosts asked Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, who would be his choice for a Bond villain. Katie Hopkins, controversial broadcaster and Apprentice alumnus, came the reply.


That today's politicians are asked such questions and are happy to discuss them is testament to the continued cultural significance of James Bond. But one question not asked by the radio hosts that might have elicited a more interesting response is “who would James Bond vote for?”

Flicking through the original novels doesn't bring up much in the way of an answer, and overall Bond appears to have little interest in politics. The books do contain some clues about Bond's persuasion, however, and we can also turn to other writings of Ian Fleming for ideas.

As with a lot of people today, Bond doesn't have a good word to say about politicians. “'Our politicians may be a feather pated bunch,'” he tells Tiger Tanaka in You Only Live Twice, “'but I expect yours are too.'” In The Spy Who Loved Me, he agrees with Vivienne Michel, who suggests that “'they ought to hand the world over to the younger people who haven't got the idea of war stuck in their subconscious.'” (This is ironic, given that, following the botched Suez campaign, Fleming temporarily gave up his Jamaican home, Goldeneye, to prime minister Anthony Eden, who was the epitome of an old politician with war in mind.) 

What about the issues? On defence, Bond would no doubt be keen for Britain to renew Trident, its independent nuclear deterrent, in its current form. After all, he spoke gushingly to M about Sir Hugo Drax's development of the Moonraker atomic rocket programme, or, as Bond puts it, “'the immediate answer to anyone who tried to atom-bomb London.'” But whether Bond would be pressing for a rise in defence spending above NATO's recommended minimum level of 2% of national GDP is not certain. In On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Bond listens eagerly to M's stories of the Navy, but senses that this “great navy” of M's time “would never be seen again”. Perhaps, then, Bond is pragmatic about Britain's changing priorities and place in the world.

On the domestic front, the only issue which seems to bother James Bond is the Welfare State. In Thunderball, on his way to the health farm, Shrublands, Bond paints a mental picture of his taxi-driver, a young, self-confident Tommy Steele wannabe. “He was born into the buyers' market of the Welfare State,” considers Bond. “For him life is easy and meaningless.” Similarly, in You Only Live Twice, Bond suggests to Tiger Tanaka that “'our Welfare State politics may have made expect too much for free.'” Perhaps, then, Bond would be sympathetic to any plans that would reduce the Welfare budget.

James Bond's views on the Welfare State reflect Fleming's own. “Certain features of the Welfare State,” he wrote in 1959, “have turned the majority of us into petty criminals, liars and work-dodgers.” So far, so Tory.

Or perhaps not. Fleming's words were published in the Spectator in an article entitled, 'If I were Prime Minister', which outlined a few of his prospective policies. And some of these are surprisingly modern and progressive. “Tax-dodging in all its forms would have my attention”, and in this regard, Fleming wished to abolish all “forms of fiscal chicanery.” He also proposed “a minimum wage in every industry” (something that would be introduced by the Labour government in 1998), and, to incentivise workers, “rapidly mounting merit bonuses for real work in either quantity or quality.” As for his green credentials, Fleming even considered the issue of clean energy. He recognised that the internal combustion engine is an inefficient and polluting “steam age contraption,” and considered the idea of converting central London in the first instance, and then the entire country, to electric transport.

These and other policies in Ian Fleming's manifesto may have been to a large extent tongue-in-cheek, but they nevertheless reflect his political position more or less in the centre ground, and even left of centre. Intriguingly, this is precisely where Fleming himself put Bond's politics. In an interview for Playboy magazine published in 1964, Fleming told the interviewer that "what politics [Bond] has are just a little bit left of centre." 

Fleming stated at the beginning of his article in The Spectator that he “prefers the name of the Liberal Party,” though he votes Conservative. While to a large extent Bond shares his tastes, ideosyncracies and beliefs with those of his creator, I'm not sure that this would necessarily extend to his voting habits. If we were to read in the novels that James Bond claimed support for the Liberal Party, or even the Labour Party, I wouldn't be surprised.