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.