Thursday, 19 October 2017

Fleming's France

If you were to name the spiritual home of James Bond, you might say London, Jamaica, or possibly Scotland. What about France? The country certainly has a good claim. Two of Bond's adventures – Casino Royale and 'From a View to a Kill' - are set entirely in the country (save for a brief return to London for M's briefing), and Bond passes through France in two others, Goldfinger and On Her Majesty's Secret Service. What's more, Bond knows a thing or two about French food and wine, especially Champagne, has good command of the language, even down to the vernacular, and, as a youth, lost his virginity in Paris.


The connections between James Bond and France, as well as between the country and Ian Fleming, are explored in La France de Fleming: James Bond, une passion fran├žaise (2017, Le Temps Editeur), a new book by French academic and Bond aficionado, Pierre-Oliver Lombarteix. The author reminds us that Fleming's relationship with France began very early. Many of the books Fleming is likely to have read in his childhood – by Oppenheim, Le Queux or Buchan – are set in France. His mother, Eve, had French ancestry, his grandmother, Kate, adopted a French girl, Sybil Mayor, and tragically, his father died in northern France during the First World War.
 

While rarely seeing action himself during the Second World War, Ian Fleming directed operations that were based in France, and he witnessed the Allied raid of German positions in Dieppe. After the war, Fleming frequently visited France, and, on the eve of the publication of Casino Royale, drove to Marseille to meet one of his heroes, the underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau.
 

It is little wonder, then, that the Bond novels would become imbued with the essence of Fleming’s experiences of France. His visit to Marseille alone would leave its mark on two novels, Live and Let Die and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and the books would include many more elements of France. Some of Fleming’s heroines have French origins. Solitaire’s real name is Simone Latrelle, Vivienne Michel is French-Canadian, and Tracy – La Comtesse Teresa di Vincenzo – is the daughter of a French crime lord. As for the villains, Mr Big is half French and Le Chiffre is French by culture, if not birth. Several chapters title are in French or incorporate French terms, and there are many occurrences of French in the text besides gastronomic references. As Lombarteix suggests in his study, French is the second language of the Bond books.
 

La France de Fleming is an interesting and insightful read. It explains why the French continue to have a love affair with the novels (and films) of James Bond, and reminds us that Bond is a global character, a fictional hero for everyone. Lombarteix’s book also reminds us that there exists some excellent Bond scholarship that is not in English, which provides a different and exciting perspective on the Bond phenomenon. An essential addition to the literary Bond fan’s library.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Ian Fleming and William Le Queux - some literary connections

William Le Queux, the prolific late 19th and early 20th century author of novels of espionage, international intrigue and mystery, has often been cited as an influence on Ian Fleming's writing. Reading just some of his many books, it's easy to see why.
 

Take Mademoiselle of Monte Carlo, for instance. In this crime story, published in 1921, we are introduced to protagonist Hugh Henfrey in the gaming rooms of the casino at Monte Carlo. He's observing the eponymous Mademoiselle, a woman who regularly occupies the roulette tables and enjoys a great deal of success. Henfrey suspects that the Mademoiselle knows something about the mysterious death of his father, and confronts her at her grand house at the end of a day's gambling. Before the Mademoiselle can reveal anything, however, she is shot by an unknown assassin. The police naturally suspect Henfrey, who manages to escape their clutches with the help of a master criminal, a Robin Hood figure known as the Sparrow who has his own reasons for intervening.


The story begins in the French Riviera, but the location shifts rapidly, taking in Paris, Italy, Spain and England as Henfrey tries to stay one step ahead of the law while attempting to solve the mystery of his father's death and the Mademoiselle's (attempted) murder. It's difficult not to think of Casino Royale during the Monte Carlo scenes (the weapon used by the would-be assassin, incidentally, is a rifle disguised as a walking stick; Le Chiffre's henchman who threatens Bond which such a weapon at the baccarat table must have read the book), and generally the tale is set in a world with which James Bond would be very familiar.
 

It's not just Ian Fleming who may have been inspired by Le Queux. One curious trait of the Sparrow is that he has a deformed hand, which he hides in a black glove. I couldn't help thinking of Julius Gorner and his deformed hand (occasionally hidden in a white glove) in Sebastian Faulks' Devil May Care.
 

Let's take another book - The Stretton Street Affair (1922). In this mystery, another Hugh, this time Hugh Garfield, is invited into the London house of a wealthy businessman, statesman and philanthropist, Oswald De Gex, and persuaded to sign a death certificate on behalf of De Gex's 'niece', who had apparently suffered a heart attack. Garfield does so and then takes a drink brought to him. He falls unconscious, and a month later comes to his senses in a French asylum, having no memory of how he got there. The mystery deepens when, in Italy, he sees the young woman for whom he signed the death certificate very much alive. What's more, De Gex denies all knowledge of having met Garfield and even having a niece.


It's an intriguing story, and contains a trope that has seen expression in other work, including the Bond books and films and beyond: a deference towards the rich and powerful that alone deflects suspicion away from them. Garfield naturally suspects De Gex of foul play and behind some devious international plot, but no one - neither his friends or the police - believes him. How can De Gex, a great and famous man and friend to Europe's politicians, be involved in any criminal plot? It's inconceivable.
 

We see it in John Buchan’s Richard Hannay adventure, The Three Hostages (1924), and this deference also allows Moonraker's Sir Hugo Drax (Hugo, Hugh - is there a link?) to develop his nefarious scheme. Even James Bond is taken in ('He felt a glow of admiration and almost of reverence for this man and his majestic achievement'). In the film version, the Minister of Defence quickly apologises to Drax when he, M and Bond enter Drax's lab to find nothing there. And in A View To A Kill, the Minister of Defence (again!) dismisses the idea that Max Zorin is up to no good ('Max Zorin? Impossible. He's a leading French industrialist').
 

There was something else that I noticed. In a recent post, I discussed the origin of the 'Bond - James Bond' form of introduction, highlighting that it was a standard formula in earlier 20th century thrillers and no doubt also books of other genres. William Le Queux's books underline the point: '“I haven't the pleasure of your name.” “Garfield - Hugh Garfield,” I said. “Mine is De Gex - Oswald De Gex,” he said.
 

One final observation: William Le Queux was a contemporary of E Phillips Oppenheim (considered to be another influence on Fleming’s writing). Both wrote similar sorts of novels, set in similar sorts of places, featuring similar sorts of characters. One of Oppenheim’s characters is called Mr Grex (who appears in the novel Mr Grex of Monte Carlo (1915)), which is obviously very close to De Gex. Take the authors’ names off the covers, and I expect to modern readers the novels would be indistinguishable. The point is that it’s difficult to be specific about influences on Ian Fleming. We can recognise elements of early 20th century fiction in Fleming’s work, but these were common tropes or memes in the sort of fiction that Ian Fleming would have read in his youth.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Another variant of the 'Bond is what every man would like to be...' meme

It was Global James Bond Day yesterday, which marks the release of the first James Bond film, Dr No in 1962. I thought I’d search through the British Newspaper Archive for contemporaneous reviews of the film. One of those I found, published in The Tatler on 17th October that year, was quite interesting for more than one reason.
 
From The Tatler, 17th October 1962
The review is positive, though the reviewer, Elspeth Grant, viewed the film as a comedy. 


She begins:
‘Mr Ian Fleming’s Dr No is billed as “The First James Bond Film!” – and I don’t mind how many more the producers, Messrs Harry Saltzman and Albert R Broccoli, have up their sleeves, providing they are as much fun as this one, which Mr Terence Young has directed with skill.’

The review ends:
 

‘Mr Bond has so many perils to brave – it’s no wonder he feels it necessary to fortify himself with a stiff vodka martini at frequent intervals: by the end of this killing picture, you’ll probably want one yourself – if you can stop giggling long enough to drink it.’

Also included in the review is a sentence that has a ring of familiarity.
 

‘Every male will instantly identify himself with this devastating he-man, and no doubt many a swooning female will wish she had half the luck of the Misses Eunice Gayson, Lois Maxwell, Zena Marshall and the ravishing Ursula Andress.’

If not exactly a variant of Raymond Mortimer’s phrase, that James Bond is 'what every man would like to be, and what every woman would like to have between her sheets', Elspeth Grant’s line certainly conveys the same idea.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

When James Bond went cruising

Over the decades, James Bond has been used to advertise a range of products, among them clothes, shoes and tea, that have had no official connection to the books or films. In 1963, James Bond was used to advertise cruises.
 

A supplement to Tatler magazine in May 1963 included an advertisement for Union-Castle cruises. The advertisement, ‘No pistol packing for James Bond’, features an illustration of James Bond by a swimming pool on board a cruise ship and in the company of a bikini-clad woman. The accompanying text reveals that they are on the Windsor Castle, a cruise ship on its way to Cape Town, and that M is sending Bond there for rest and recuperation. The woman, called Orchid, is an agent too, as she confesses to Bond that M ‘sent me to keep an eye on you’.
 
Union-Castle advert in the Tatler, 29 May 1963 (c) Illustrated London News Group
Published after the film version of Dr No was released, the advertisement inevitably contains nods to the film. James Bond resembles Sean Connery, and from the text it’s clear that Bond has consumed ‘vodka martinis at shipboard prices’. The books have not been forgotten either; another activity that Bond has enjoyed is ‘bridge at 1d-a-hundred’, the copywriter presumably being aware of the bridge game in Moonraker
 

The second advert (‘Holiday with pay-off for James Bond’) was published in the Tatler in October 1963. This time, Bond is holidaying on the Blue Lagoon beach near Mombasa, having travelled on the cruise ship the Kenya Castle. Later, Bond will travel on to Durban via Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam and Beira. Bond’s holiday is again courtesy of M, apparently to thank Bond for his efforts on ‘the Klemanski case’. Bond again has female company, a blonde, bikini-clad woman (not Orchid, it seems). ‘James, promise me you haven’t brought any weapons on this holiday,’ she asks. ‘Only for fishing…,’ he replies as he suggestively clasps a harpoon gun.
 
Union-Castle advert in the Tatler, 16 October 1963 (c) Illustrated London News Group
Again, Bond resembles Sean Connery, and while the advertisement doesn’t include other obvious references to Dr No or From Russia With Love, which had been released in the same month, the scene curiously prefigures the beach scene in Thunderball (1965), in which Bond is with female company (in that case Domino) and armed with a harpoon gun.
 

The Union-Castle advertisements were published at a time when exotic travel was becoming more affordable and cruising was gaining in popularity; the film Carry On Cruising, which poked gentle fun at the industry and its passengers, was released in 1962.
 

The advertisements also remind us of the part that the novels played in generating James Bond’s advertising power. Over time, the films would come to dominate, and the tropes or memes presented in advertising featuring Bond would derive largely, and probably exclusively, from the films only (though of course these contain memes that can be traced back to the books). In 1963, however, the books were still influential.
 

After all, the cruise advertisements were published, as they acknowledged, ‘with a bow to Ian Fleming, author of the excellent ‘James Bond’ books, published by Jonathan Cape: and to Eon Productions, whose film ‘Dr No’ is the first of a series based on these books’.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Improve your golf, with Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming was fond of golf manuals. His favourite was How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time by Tommy Armour, which he also placed on James Bond’s bookshelf, along with Ben Hogan’s The Modern Fundamentals of Golf. And The Golfer's Manual; Being an Historical and Descriptive Account of the National Game of Scotland by Allan Robertson is among the volumes that made up Fleming’s collection of books ‘that had started something’.
 

So one can imagine that, when he himself appeared in some golfing instructions, Ian Fleming was thrilled to say the least.
 

Henry Cotton’s Golf Notes were syndicated around the world. The pioneering golfer’s notes that were published in Farm and Country on 30th September 1959 focused on the golf swing and the importance of good position of the legs and feet. To illustrate Henry Cotton’s various points, the article includes photographs of golfers in action. Golfer no. 1, for instance, ‘does not know how to use his toes or his hips’, while the legs of golfer no. 2 ‘have worked against his arm swing’.
 

Golfer no. 3 was none other than Ian Fleming. So what was his golfing malaise? ‘Celebrated author Ian Fleming,’ Cotton wrote, ‘is caught at a later point in his swing, and whilst his arms could be coming to a position of rest, both his feet are firmly anchored on his heels. In all three cases the body is nowhere near completely facing the hole; it is locked by the hips and “dead feet”.’
 
Ian Fleming's golf swing and 'dead feet'
Despite Fleming’s faults, Henry Cotton admitted that Fleming ‘is quite a golfer’ with ‘a good hard action, which could be put to even better use with some “educated” footwork.’
 

Rather like James Bond, indeed. Bond shares a nine handicap with his creator, and similarly has trouble with his swing, which we know from Goldfinger (1959) is flat. Bond would do well to take some tips from Henry Cotton, with a little help from Ian Fleming.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

How James Bond appears in reviews of Logan Lucky

The actors who play or have played James Bond are so firmly identified with the role that their appearances in other films, especially those at odds with the adventures of the master-spy, provoke interest and excitement, particularly in the media. Daniel Craig in Logan Lucky is no exception, and many media reviews inevitably mention Bond in some way.


In the film directed by Steven Soderbergh, two brothers – Jimmy and Clyde Logan – attempt to pull off a heist during a NASCAR race with the help of an incarcerated explosives expert called Joe Bang, played by Daniel Craig.
 

A trawl through the reviews in the UK newspapers and other media outlets has revealed several references to Bond. Simran Hans focuses on the strangeness of Daniel Craig’s appearance, writing in The Observer that it is ‘bizarre to see Bond with a bleached buzz cut (not to mention a tiny tattoo of a star adorning his left cheekbone)’. Meanwhile, Geoffrey McNab in The Independent highlights Daniel Craig’s Southern accent, remarking that Craig’s ‘drawling accent that reminds you of Sheriff JW Pepper in Live And Let Die’. 
 

Apart from mentioning Daniel Craig’s famous blue eyes, Andrew Lowry writing for Empire magazine suggests that Daniel Craig’s years as Bond have not allowed Craig to demonstrate his fine acting skills: ‘Those blue eyes of his — so cold as Bond — are here bulging with lunacy. He’s hilarious and totally convincing as someone far from the officer-class stylings of his day job; it’s a pleasure to be reminded of what a good character actor Craig can be.’
 

The write-up in the Express takes a similar view: ‘That dinner jacket is such a perfect fit, I’d almost forgotten about Daniel Craig the actor.’ 
 

Other reviewers have detected a certain glee in Craig’s performance in Logan Lucky, which has given him a chance to cut loose from his measured turns as Bond. Rebecca Lewis writes in The Metro that Craig’s casting as Bang flips ‘his most famous role as the cold British spy James Bond on its head’. Charlotte O’Sullivan of the Evening Standard remarks that ‘when in Bond mode he keeps the weirdness under wraps, but for this hillbilly heist comedy he lets it all hang out’. Beyond the UK, Anthony Lane writing in The New Yorker states: ‘so liberated does Craig appear, on a hollering vacation from his stern-visaged duties as James Bond, that his mood exalts the whole enterprise.’
 

It’s not the first time that reviewers have claimed that, away from the Bond films, actors have been able to flex acting muscles that they rarely have the opportunity to exercise as Bond, as if Bond’s tuxedo is more of a straitjacket than dinner-jacket. What’s more, this comes with a sense of liberation in their performances. For instance, in his review of The Tailor of Panama (2001) in The Guardian, Philip French thought that ‘the cleverest trick… is the casting of Pierce Brosnan, who's never been so good’. Ian Nathan reviewing The Matador (2005) for Empire magazine wrote that ‘we’ve never seen Pierce Brosnan so liberated — he’s a man reborn’. (Mind you, Pierce Brosnan’s tenure as Bond had ceased by this point, so possibly there had been something extra in his performance, just to show the Bond producers if nothing else.)
 

While Logan Lucky doesn’t appear to have set the box-office alight, the film has generally been very well received critically. Judging by some of the reviews, it has been difficult for the critics to watch Daniel Craig’s performance without having his most famous role in mind. There is a hint in some of the reviews too that by comparison James Bond is something of a lesser role. This seems a little unfair. After all, Daniel Craig’s Bond films have been critically acclaimed and award-winning, as well as box-office smashes, thanks in part to his abilities as an actor.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Bond - James Bond: a phrase less ordinary

Which is the best-known three-word phrase in the James Bond films? Licence to kill? Shaken, not stirred? Or Bond, James Bond? To be honest, I couldn’t tell you. All three are so engrained in the popular imagination, they’re probably as well known as each other. What I can be more certain about is that while all three phrases were introduced by Ian Fleming, it was the film series that gave them prominence and cultural weight.
 

In an earlier post, I discussed the claim that Berkely Mather, one of the screenwriters of Dr No (1962), was responsible for the phrase ‘Bond – James Bond’. Given that the phrase appears in various forms in the Bond novels, starting with Casino Royale (1953), the claim is absurd. However, there’s no denying that its use in Dr No was special. After all, it’s delivered by the impossibly cool Sean Connery and is triggered by the James Bond theme.
 
'Bond, James Bond' (Dr No, 1962)
Together, these elements give the phrase value, turning what was an ordinary phrase into something memorable and worth repeating, not just in subsequent films, but more widely in the cultural environment.
 

For Ian Fleming, the phrase ‘Bond – James Bond’ was never intended to be loaded with significance. We can point to two pieces of evidence for this. The first is the Bond books themselves. James Bond uses this form of introduction several times during the course of his adventures. There’s a ‘Bond – James Bond’, or close variant, in, among others, Casino Royale, Goldfinger, Dr No, The Spy who Loved Me, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (although this last example is interesting, as Fleming appears to have been influenced by the nascent film series as he wrote it; possibly he thought differently about the phrase by this time).
 

But the surname-first name-surname formula is also used in relation to other characters. In Goldfinger, Mr Du Pont introduces himself with the words, ‘My name is Du Pont. Junius Du Pont’. In Diamonds are Forever, Bond’s told of a cab-driver ‘by the name of Cureo, Ernie Cureo’. In the same book, Bond hears about a hoodlum called ‘Budd, “Rosy” Budd’. I’m sure there are other examples.
 

The second piece of evidence is that the formula is used fairly frequently in other fiction. It’s not often that I don’t have a classic spy novel or thriller (some of which would have been very familiar to Fleming) on the go, and as I read them, it’s not long before I come across another example of the formula.
 

In Hushed Up! A Mystery of London (1911) by William Le Queux, the hero, when asked his name, replies, ‘Biddulph… Owen Biddulph’. (I was, incidentally, rather thrilled that the novel featured a main character who shared my unusual surname.) There are various examples in the works of E Philips Oppenheim. In The Great Impersonation (1920), we have from the main character a ‘My name is Dominey – Everard Dominey’ (twice, in fact). In the John Buchan novel The Three Hostages (1924), Richard Hannay is told by a friend who is assuming a name that ‘my name’s Thomson – Alexander Thomson’.
 

It’s a small point, but the obvious conclusion is that the surname-first name-surname form of introduction was a standard one, certainly in some of the older literature. It seems likely that Fleming applied it to Bond – and other characters – simply as a form of everyday speech with no additional significance. Today, with everyone instantly on first name terms, the formula seems somewhat formal and old-fashioned. In a way, too, the phrase is a victim of its own success. Having become so closely associated with James Bond thanks to the films, it can’t be used seriously anywhere else!