Friday 23 September 2016

Why is the head of a central bank like James Bond?

You don't often hear of a banker being compared to James Bond; a Bond villain, perhaps, but not Bond. But back in June, Raghuram Rajan, formerly the governor of the Reserve Bank of India (he stepped down earlier this month), was dubbed James Bond by the country's media.

The James Bond tag hit the world's headlines when he was depicted as 007 in an image published in India's Economic Times. The illustration, based on a poster used for Skyfall, showed Rajan with gun poised, ready to defend India's currency (the gun is covered with rupees). The caption below the illustration read 'Name's Rajan, Game's Bond'. Rajan has also been called 'Bond of Mint Street', and may have played on this when he once told reporters that 'My name is Rajan and I do what I do.'

Raghuram Rajan as Bond, according to the Economic Times
What had Raghuram Rajan done to gain such an accolade? According to a profile of Rajan in the Economic Times, he enjoyed notable success as governor. He strengthened the rupee, cleaned up India's banks, brought an academic perspective to the job, was firm with interest rates, and gained a huge popular following. It seems that these successes gave rise to the perception that Rajan was dynamic (the Economist Times also called him the 'gung ho governor'), clever, and cool (both with regard to interest rates and criticism within the sector), and it is these qualities that linked him to Bond.

Had he known that banking could be so adventurous and action-packed, perhaps Ian Fleming would have been tempted to give his short banking career (he spent a year at merchant bankers, Cull and Co.) a longer run!

Monday 19 September 2016

Is Ian Fleming in the Cheyney class?

Peter Cheyney was a British author of espionage stories and American-style hard-boiled detective fiction. Largely forgotten and unread today, he enjoyed huge success between the 1930s and 1950s, when his work was published; according to Fergus Fleming, Cheyney sold over 1,500,000 copies of his books in 1946. It is little wonder, then, that in the early days of his Bond career, Ian Fleming aspired to what he termed 'the Cheyney class', wishing to emulate Cheyney's success and appeal.

We learn this from the superb collection of Ian Fleming's letters, edited by his nephew Fergus and published last year by Bloomsbury. Fleming's aspiration is revealed in a letter to Jonathan Cape in 1953 concerning Live and Let Die. By the time of From Russia, with Love, published in 1957, Fleming's view of Cheyney had changed. In a letter to Wren Howard of Jonathan Cape, Fleming wrote that a proposed comic strip for the Express risked his work descending 'into the Cheyney class'. What was once emulated for its style and popularity was now regarded as inferior and low-brow.

Fleming's later view of Cheyney seems to have continued unchanged for the remainder of his Bond career. It is telling that in interviews given in the early 1960s, Fleming listed, among others, Chandler, Hammett and Oppenheim as influences, but there is no mention of Cheyney. Reading Peter Cheyney now, it is not difficult to understand why Cheyney has not stood the test of time and why Fleming thought his work a cut above the Cheyney class.

Peter Cheyney's 1942 novel, Never a Dull Moment, one of a number of books that feature FBI detective Lemmy Caution, is a case in point. The narrative takes place in England during the Second World War (Cheyney's novels have contemporary settings). Caution is on leave in Scotland, but is requested by the FBI to go to London and investigate the disappearance of an American woman, Julia Wayles. In the course of his enquiries, he discovers a gang of American gangsters working in England for the Germans as a fifth column.

The novel is for the most part exciting and fast-paced, and superficially there are similarities with the Bond novels. The names of Cheyney's femme fatales, such as Dodo Malendas, are as exotic-sounding as those of Fleming's heroines. Caution is tough with the villains and attractive to women, and he'd more than match Bond in his alcohol consumption. We even get a 'Caution, Lemmy Caution' when Caution introduces himself to another character.

As with the Philip Marlowe novels, the Lemmy Caution novels are written in the first-person. Some of the lines come close to Chandler quality (“He lets go a gasp like a steam whistle. I take advantage of the pause in hostilities to punch him in the belly hard.”), but some of the scenes and descriptions are repetitive, and I found that the narrative, rendered in a vernacular style, became tedious to read after a while. To the modern reader, the book might best be regarded as sub-Chandler or, more generally, a parody of a hard-boiled thriller.

Cheyney's espionage writing is rather more conventional. For example, his short story, 'The Double Double-Cross' is a nice little tale about a plan to bring a halt to the activities of the seductive Roanne Lucrezia Loranoff, a  Russian aristocrat, émigrée and spy. The story sits comfortably alongside any spy story of the time, but in no obvious sense could it be considered a forerunner of Bond.

That said, another of Cheyney's espionage stories is Dark Duet (1942), which Raymond Chandler considered to be Cheyney's one good book, telling Ian Fleming so in a letter in 1955. One of the characters in the book is called Hildebrand. Three years after Chandler's letter, Hildebrand would crop up again in the title of one of Fleming's short stories.

So is Ian Fleming in or out of the Cheyney class? In my view, definitely out, being some distance above it. But that is not to say that Peter Cheyney doesn't deserve to be read. While his Lemmy Caution novels can be hard-going to the modern reader, Cheyney's espionage stories are a better read and earn their place in the development of spy fiction.

Fleming, F (ed.), 2015 The Man with the Golden Typewriter: Ian Fleming's James Bond Letters, Bloomsbury

Sunday 11 September 2016

Jaguar evokes James Bond in its advertising

Jaguar, the car manufacturer, is no stranger to the world of James Bond. Last year in Spectre, we saw Oberhauser's goon, Mr Hinx, put Jaguar's concept car, the C-X75, through its paces on the streets of Rome. And in Die Another Day (2001), Zao battles Bond and the ice in a Jaguar XKR. We must wait until the next Bond film (whenever that will be) to find out whether Jaguar will make another appearance, but in the meantime, the spirit of Bond lives on in Jaguar's advertising.

The Art of Performance campaign, which promotes the Jaguar XE, is currently doing the rounds on British television (see the advert on my Licence to Cook Facebook page). In the advert, the car speeds (in controlled conditions) through the streets of central London. We see close-ups of the car before it zooms through a tunnel and comes out on to Westminster Bridge in view of the London Eye and Queen Elizabeth Tower.

The locations naturally evoke the final part of Spectre, particularly the tunnel in which M's car is rammed and Bond kidnapped, and the denouement on Westminster Bridge (an association helped by the Bondian music that accompanies the advert). To some extent, the advert also recalls the beginning of the pre-title sequence of Quantum of Solace, which, with its seductive glimpses of Bond's Aston Martin before the shooting starts, could almost be a car advert itself.

Another of Jaguar's campaigns also has distinct Bond-like qualities. The 2014 Art of Villainy commercial showcased the Jaguar F-type coupé and starred Tom Hiddleston, who, in the advert, reveals the essential characteristics of a villain (style, razor-sharp wit, attention to detail, and the means to stay one step ahead, among others) before tearing through the streets of London. (For this villainous act, the advert was banned by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority, who judged that it promoted dangerous driving). The advert made the car look good, of course, but could also be viewed as Hiddleston's audition for a Bond villain (if not Bond himself).


There's more Bond-like villainy in a 2014 advert starring Nicolas Hoult. If Tom Hiddleston is Blofeld, Nicolas Hoult is Q gone bad. In the commercial for the Jaguar XE, we see Hoult descend into his innovation lab (passing through a shark-infested pool) and explain, in what could be the antithesis of a typical Q briefing, what every mastermind needs in terms of automative technology to help them achieve world domination.

All three adverts are redolent of the James Bond films, and use memes closely associated with Bond, such as the urbane, sophisticated villain, iconic landscapes, the Q-like character, and buttons and switches inside the car that bring to mind gadgets and ejector seats. The adverts were not made with reference to any specific Bond product or film, but nevertheless depend on them. Even after half a century, James Bond continues to have significant traction in the world of advertising.

Friday 2 September 2016

James Bond, as featured on birthday cards

Anyone looking for birthday cards in WHSmith or a similar purveyor of greetings cards is likely to have seen those cards which picture some of the events in the year of the recipient's birth. If you're after that sort of thing for a James Bond fan, then you might be interested in the 'Time of Your Life' range of cards.

Like most cards of this type, the 'Time of Your Life' cards are adorned with images of newspaper headlines, key events, and stars of stage and screen relevant to a particular year, but what is especially interesting is that James Bond is well represented.

The card for 1965 includes a photo of Sean Connery, no doubt reflecting the fact that one of the biggest films of that year was Thunderball. Roger Moore is pictured alongside Britt Ekland and Maud Adams on the card for 1974, the year in which The Man With The Golden Gun was released, and he appears again on the card for 1979, when Moonraker hit the screens. A publicity shot of Timothy Dalton and Carey Lowell from Licence to Kill is shown on the card for 1989, while the card for 1995 boasts a picture of Pierce Brosnan in GoldenEye mode.

The Time of Your Life range featuring James Bond
The card series ends in 1999, so there's no picture of Daniel Craig's Bond, but remarkably Ian Fleming is not forgotten. The card for 1953 includes the newspaper-style headline: 'Ian Fleming writes Bond novel Casino Royale.'

With James Bond referenced so prominently, the cards might well appeal to the Bond fan. More generally, though, the cards attest to the enormous success of the Bond films and their lasting impact on popular culture. With over 50 years of the Bond films, each one a blockbuster, the card makers were certainly spoiled for choice.