Thursday, 17 August 2017

On location: Altaussee, Austria; or a visit to Mr White's house

A summer holiday to Salzburg in Austria allowed me to visit one of the locations used in the last James Bond film, Spectre. The edge of Lake Altaussee, by the alpine village of Altaussee and about one and a half hour’s drive from Salzburg, was the setting for the scene in which Bond visits Mr White. One of Eon’s local contacts during the filming of the sequence was offering ‘In the footsteps of James Bond’ boat tours of the lake, and naturally I booked myself a place on one of them.


My fellow passengers and I had our first treat even before the boat left the jetty. Beside us, moored to another landing stage, was the thin wooden boat that Daniel Craig’s James Bond uses to motor across the lake to Mr White’s cabin.The boat is based on a traditional Austrian craft known as a Zille or Plätte.

Bond's boat in Spectre
As we pulled away from the shore and started to make our way across the lake, we heard some facts and figures about Altaussee. Unfortunately, my German was too poor to understand much, but I got the gist, and in any case, I didn’t need any translation to realise that we were heading towards a wooden building on the far side of the lake that looked rather familiar. In fact, we were following Bond’s course to Mr White’s house.
 
The view towards Mr White's house on the tour (top) and on screen
After a while, the boat pulled up to the jetty beside the building that normally serves as a bar and restaurant. This is presumably closed during the winter, allowing it to double as Mr White’s cabin in Spectre.

 
Mr White's house now (top) and as shown in Spectre
We wasted no time in disembarking and literally walking in James Bond’s footsteps towards the house. Apart from some superficial differences, the outside of the wooden building seemed little changed from its appearance on the big screen. Indeed, traces of the production still remain. The stone footings of the veranda are made of fibreglass and were fitted especially for the scene, and if I understood aright, the chimney was added too.

 
The veranda with the fake stone footings
Entering the building, I saw that the staircase seen in the film is a feature of the property (annoyingly, I didn’t take a photograph).

 
The staircase as shown in Spectre
And there is a further sign that the production crew had been there in the form of two displays of photographs and newspaper cuttings.

 
The displays inside the house
Just before Bond enters the house, we have a view back towards the lake. This shot shows the actual edge of the lake in front of the building.


The view from the house to the lake (not sure where the tree went)
Eventually, we all boarded the boat and returned across the lake back towards the village. As we approached the end of the tour, our guide let us into a secret. Bond alumnus Klaus Maria Brandauer has a house (and boathouse) here. We weren’t told whether he was there during filming, but it’s intriguing to imagine Bond’s reaction if he had bumped into Maximilian Largo, his old sparring partner in Never Say Never Again
 

The boat tour, organised by Altaussee-Schifffahrt, was excellent, although it would have been helpful to have some information at least in English. Nevertheless, if you happen to be in the area, the tour is essential.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

James Bond films referenced in latest VW commercial

The latest Volkswagen TV advert for the Golf GTE looks to two classic James Bond films for inspiration. The ‘Button’ advert, created by adam&eveDDB, promotes the vehicle’s hybrid technology, which allows drivers to combine electric and petrol engines at the push of a button. The advert features a series of archetypal movie villains with their fingers poised over big red button ready to wreak destruction. We then see the car – and its all-important button – in action before the advert ends with the tagline, ‘a more responsible use of power’.

Viewers are treated to a pantheon of villains. There’s sci-fi supervillain on a spaceship who presses the button to fire a laser that blows up a planet, which is an obvious nod to Star Wars. We also see a mad professor straight out of a 1930/40s’ black-and-white horror film, who presses the button to animate his own Frankenstein’s monster. Then there are villains from a 1970s’ blaxploitation-type film, a Lethal Weapon-style buddy cop film, and a Indiana Jones-like adventure. 

Naturally, the film series that defined many of the standard tropes or memes of the movie villain is not forgotten. A man strapped to a near-vertical table is looking at the wrong end of a large laser weapon. A woman in a military uniform is at the control panel and laughs maniacally as she presses the button to fire the laser.

What’s interesting is that the scene draws on two Bond films. The laser and the set clearly derives from Goldfinger (1964). There are shades of Ken Adam’s designs, as the set in the advert replicates the little office, complete with employees and a small set of steps, at the back of the laser room in Goldfinger, the golden-brown colour scheme, and the angular walls and metal supports. The laser weapons are also similar in design, albeit that one has green elements, the other blue.

 
The laser rooms in the VW ad (top) and Goldfinger

The villain is modelled on Rosa Klebb in From Russia With Love (1963). She wears a Russian-style military jacket with gold buttons, a light brown or khaki shirt and a brown tie similar to the uniform that Rosa Klebb, played by Lotte Lenya, wears in the Bond film. Their hair is different, but it’s sufficiently close to reinforce the link.
 
A Rosa Klebb-style villain in the VW ad (top) and Lotte Lenya as Rosa Klebb

VW’s ‘The Button’ ad is the latest in a long line of commercials that reference the James Bond films, despite the products having no connection to them. Back in the 1980s, PG Tips advertised its tea bags with the help of a chimpanzee spy called Bond, Brooke Bond. More recently, Sky Sports enlisted David Beckham to advertise its services in a Bond-style advert, and Jaguar evoked Spectre in its advert for the Jaguar XE. Coincidentally, the Sky and Jaguar campaigns, like that for VW, also focused on the villain, demonstrating that the Bond villain is every bit as enduring in popular culture as Bond himself, and is especially appealing to advert writers.

Friday, 4 August 2017

James Bond and railway station restaurants

We know from Goldfinger and the short story ‘From a View to a Kill’ that James Bond is rather partial to the hotels and restaurants of French railway stations.
 

In Goldfinger, while driving through Orleans in pursuit of the eponymous villain, Bond decides to stop at the Hotel de la Gare and eat at the station buffet. Bond tends to choose the station hotels, we’re told. They were adequate, and ‘it was better than even chances that the Buffet de la Gare would be excellent.’ Just as Bond expects, he finds his room cheap and comfortable, and he is able to eat one of his favourite meals – oeufs cocotte à la crème and sole meunière – in the restaurant.
 

Even in Paris, Bond opts for the station hotel. In ‘From a View to a Kill’, Bond stays at the Terminus Nord opposite the Gare du Nord, which we’re told is the least pretentious and most anonymous of the station hotels in the city, although on this occasion, he decides to eat out.
 
Bond's hotel in 'From a View to a Kill'
James Bond would find a kindred spirit in Walter Hillyard, a character in the 1961 espionage novel, The Arena, by William Haggard. While waiting at Paris’s Gare de Lyon to board a sleeper train destined for Milan, Hillyard visits the station restaurant and orders ‘the set dinner unhesitatingly.’ He reflects that ‘you could eat much better at the Gare de Lyon than at many more famous restaurants,’ adding that there was less fuss in the service too. We’re not told what Hillyard eats, but he orders a bottle of Beaujolais, ‘confident that here at least the label wouldn’t be lying.’
 

Such views are probably all that Bond and Hillyard have in common. Hillyard is a City banker, and is unaware that there is a plot to murder him on the train. There is, however, more of a Bond figure in Major Mortimer, a British secret service agent who’s been keeping an eye on the situation and might just be able to save the day.
 

Is it still the case that station restaurants in France are the best? Was it ever the case? Of course, I can’t comment on all stations, but I can certainly vouch for the restaurant attached to the Gare d’Agen in southwest France, where I once had a superb meal of foie gras mi-cuit and steak tartare. You wouldn’t get that in the chain restaurants and sticky-carpeted pubs typically found in English railway stations. As Walter Hillyard says, ‘nobody in their senses would eat at an English terminus at all.’

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Bond 25 - some speculation


The announcement that the next James Bond film will be released in November 2019 was both exciting and frustrating. On the one hand, at last we have solid news about Bond’s next screen adventure. On the other hand, it’s over two years away. When it finally comes out, it’ll be four years since the last film, Spectre, representing the longest gap between films since Licence to Kill (1989) and GoldenEye (1995). Still, looking on the bright side, the anticipation for the new film will be massive and doubtless the film will be a bigger success because of it.
 

The long wait also means that there is plenty of time to speculate wildly about the new film. So, I thought I’d kick my speculation off with some thoughts about what we might expect from Bond 25.
 

We have precious few details to go on, but there are some factors that might be relevant. In my review of Spectre, I suggested that the film had escaped the tag of being Daniel Craig’s Moonraker or Die Another Day. In retrospect, I’m not so sure. I rather think now that the film does represent the end of a cycle, meaning that the next film will recalibrate the series and be more down to earth.

That said, it’s worth bearing in mind that the film may be Daniel Craig’s last film. Or it’ll be the first film of a new Bond actor. Either way, the film will be a reaffirmation and celebration of Bond, and so will attempt to meet audience expectation of what constitutes a Bond film. Putting those two factors together, Bond 25 could well be a good, solid adventure, which exotic locations, jaw-dropping stunts and so on, but built around a plausible espionage plot. Think From Russia with Love or For Your Eyes Only, rather than You Only Live Twice or The Spy Who Loved Me

I don’t think the humour level will be any greater than the level in Spectre, but I do make one plea. Whatever happens, please don’t make it personal for Bond. We’ve had enough of him going rogue.
 

What about Blofeld? He’s too good a character to leave out, but I wouldn’t mind betting that the step-brother angle will be quietly dropped. I expect the story won't explicitly continue the story arc of Spectre either.
 

It's likely the script will once again mine unfilmed passages from the Fleming novels, and there is plenty still to film. But now that an element of continuation novel Colonel Sun has been used in a Bond film, could we see more use of continuation novels? I don’t think so, but an exception could be made for Trigger Mortis, which featured a plot outline and dialogue written by Ian Fleming.
 

As for title, there’s been no urgency to use Fleming’s unused titles, but I’ve always thought that some of his chapter titles would make good film titles. But I have another idea. The trend these days has been for eponymous titles, such as Jack Reacher, Rambo, John Wick, and of course a whole host of superhero films. I have started to wonder, especially in an increasingly competitive market, whether we might eventually see a Bond film called, simply, James Bond, or perhaps Bond, James Bond. Maybe Bond 25 will be that film (but I hope I'm wrong!). Remember, you read it here first.   

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Alternative James Bond memes

There’s an image circulating on the internet of Sean Connery – he’s bearded, so it’s not a Bond-related image, but he’s wearing a dinner jacket and still has the look of Bond – accompanied by the words, ‘A book fell on my head. I can only blame my shelf’. This is one of the many vaguely amusing images that can be found on the internet when searching for ‘James Bond meme’.
 
Some James Bond memes
For most people, the word ‘meme’ refers to any image combined with words for humorous effect or to make a point of some kind and disseminated by social media. Anyone can create them (though presumably few people bother about copyright) and there are various meme generators available.


‘James Bond memes’ is also the name of my blog, which has been running since 2010. In this case, the name refers to another – and original – meaning of ‘meme’. The word was coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. In his seminal 1976 book, The Selfish Gene, Dawkins drew a parallel between biological and cultural evolution, arguing that the two are governed by a similar mechanism. 


The things that make up culture – the ideas, traits and tropes – can be regarded as the units of cultural selection, the process that determines what in culture survives to spread and become a trend or fashion, and what dies or fades away, in much the same way that genes are the units of natural selection. Richard Dawkins called these cultural units 'memes'. Successful memes, like successful genes, are those that are selected or favoured to be replicated often and accurately, and have longevity. 


The cultural environment is also crucial. Memes that are not sympathetic, or cannot adapt, to the prevailing cultural environment may struggle to compete with existing, successful memes, and be not be replicated to any great extent to survive in the longer term. The prevailing environment creates selection pressures that constrain and shape behaviours and choices.


That’s probably enough of the evolutionary theory, but it is worth noting that internet memes are also memes in the Dawkins’ sense of the term. They survive by being transmitted between people (usually via social media), and the most successful memes are those that are copied frequently, become widespread, and just won’t go away. 


It’s easy to see from an internet search which James Bond memes are the most successful ones. There are numerous images of Daniel Craig’s Bond with the Queen (an image taken from the 2012 London Olympics film). A recent version has Bond saying, ‘And Donald Trump, Ma’am’, with the Queen responding, ‘Yes, but make it look like an accident 007’. What makes the meme particularly successful is that it uses ideas or memes that are already well established in popular culture – the image of Bond walking with the Queen and corgis at his heels, and the meme of Bond as assassin (although, as I’ve argued on this blog, he’s nothing of the sort). What also gives the meme an advantage is that it is also adaptable. Other versions I’ve seen include UK and EU politicians; the name can be replaced by any bête noire du jour.

 
Bond takes a walk with the Queen

To be a successful meme, it also needs to have the right Bond. It’s hard to be particularly precise about such matters, but the Bonds of Daniel Craig and Sean Connery are clearly the most popular, followed by those of Pierce Brosnan and Roger Moore. A meme featuring Timothy Dalton or George Lazenby is unlikely to be generated very often or shared very widely. There are probably several reasons for this, but the current Bond (Craig) has an advantage, as does the first Bond (Connery), the Bond that appeared in the most films (Moore), and the Bond that introduced the film series to the social media generation (Brosnan). The ubiquity of these Bonds is also helped by their association with some of most successful entries and most iconic moments in the film series. 

Successful internet James Bond memes include those that draw on Bond-related memes that have become successful in their own right, such as the phrases ‘shaken, not stirred’ and ‘the name is Bond, James Bond’, and the uniform of Bond’s dinner suit. The last is particularly useful, as it unifies the various portrayals and makes the character instantly recognisable. We ought to note, too, that the legend accompanying the images is not necessarily positive, tapping into popular notions about, for instance, Bond’s drinking habits and relationship with women.


Of the Bond villains, Blofeld as portrayed by Donald Pleasence (and his cat) probably generates the most successful memes, though Scaramanga, Alec Trevelyan, and Le Chiffre don’t seem to be far behind. 


While the ‘internet meme’ has become the primary definition of the meme, it also behaves in the way first defined by Richard Dawkins. In that respect, it’s no different from the James Bond memes explored elsewhere in this blog – the ideas and influences found within the Bond books and films and the Bond-related ideas that have made an impact on popular culture.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Almost a Bond novel: a review of Forever and a Death


Warning: this post contains minor spoilers
 

Picture the scene. James Bond dons his wetsuit, jumps into the murky, debris-filled water in a flooded tunnel, and swims in a race against time. His goal – to defuse a series of bombs that threaten the existence of the city above. If this scenario seems plausible, that’s because it’s based on a film treatment written for the follow-up to GoldenEye (1995).

Ultimately, the plot idea, along with the rest of the story outline devised by thriller writer Donald E Westlake, was never used, but, in fine tradition (think of Ian Fleming and Thunderball, Peter Vollmer and Per Fine Ounce, and Anthony Horowitz and Murder on Wheels), the author put the material to good use and created a novel. The result is not exactly a Bond novel, but is an exciting page-turner all the same.


In Forever and a Death (a solid, typically vague, Bondian title, though I don’t know whether Westlake gave his treatment this title), Singaporean businessman Richard Curtis has a new device, the soliton, that can reduce buildings erected on reclaimed land to rubble. Facing financial ruin following the handover of Hong Kong to China, he plans use it to destroy Hong King Island, wreak his revenge on the territory, and at the same time steal the gold in its vaults. Standing in his way are two environmentalists, Jerry Diedrich and Luther Rickendorf, a diver named Kim Baldur, and Curtis’s engineer, George Manville, who, having built the soliton, finds himself on Curtis’s hitlist when he begins to question Curtis’s judgement and plans. 


The plot could easily grace a Bond film. There are shades of Goldfinger (1964) and A View to a Kill (1985) in the final act, and the novel contains the sort of elements that we’ve read in the Bond books or seen in the films: thrilling underwater swims, gunfights on boats, daredevil escapes, a beautiful woman, global travel, and submarines. Richard Curtis can also call on the services of several henchmen, who are nasty pieces of work, though more in the line of Horror and Sluggsy in the novel of The Spy who Loved Me, than Jaws or Oddjob. 


So, out of all characters set to oppose Richard Curtis, who is the James Bond figure? There is no spy sent to investigate Curtis, and the police are a little slow on the uptake. (I was reminded of A View to a Kill and Sir Frederick Gray’s response when Bond expresses suspicion towards Zorin: ‘Impossible. He's a leading French industrialist.’ Curtis is similarly able to deflect suspicion from himself almost simply by dint of his reputation as a successful businessman. In today’s world of perceived corporate greed and exploitation, that doesn’t ring quite so true.)


Initially, it’s George Manville who seems to take on the mantle of James Bond. He’s resourceful, knows a thing or two about guns, and makes love to the heroine, Kim Baldur. But there are long periods when he is absent from the narrative. In any case, his moral ambiguity, at least at the beginning, is more redolent of the anti-heroes of an Eric Ambler novel than of Bond. The environmentalists, who take on some of the investigative elements, are candidates for Bond, but again are sidelined across many chapters. Kim Baldur also has Bondian characteristics, for instance having a crucial role at the end which would have gone to Bond had it appeared in a Bond book or film. It seems that all these characters play Bond to some extent, as if, in recasting his story outline, Donald E Westlake divided Bond duties between them.


Indeed, somewhat in defiance of convention, it’s the villain who’s the central character, who dominates the narrative and is rarely away from the book’s pages. This is his story, not that of George Manville, Kim Baldur or others. (I must admit that the villain’s name is a little distracting, since in the UK, the name is associated with Blackadder, The Vicar of Dibley, Four Weddings and a Funeral and other creations far removed from Bondian plots.) 


The structure of the novel and its characterisation reminds us that we aren’t reading a James Bond continuation novel or a novelisation of a never-produced Bond film script, but a Donald E Westlake novel, complete with the traits of his work, among them a focus on flawed characters and multiple viewpoints. 


This took nothing away from my enjoyment of the book. It’s a terrific read, containing edge-of-your-seat descriptions, shocking moments of violence that somehow keep you glued to the page, and a masterful, subdued ending that almost elicits pathos from the villain’s fate. The afterword, provided by Jeff Kleeman, recounts the history of the novel and its role in Bond lore, and is also a must-read. 


Forever and a Death by Donald E Westlake is published by Hard Case Crime/Titan Books.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Where is James Bond's big gun?

The poster for Live and Let Die, created by Robert McGinnis, is iconic and a classic piece of Bond art, but there’s something on the poster that’s been puzzling me. In the centre of the artwork, a woman sits on top of the barrel of a field gun or anti-aircraft gun, which is being fired by James Bond.


I’ve watched Live and Let Die countless times, but I can’t remember ever seeing James Bond wield a gun of that sort. Unless it’s a case of blink and you miss it, the gun doesn’t appear in the film. What’s surprising, though, is quite how central the image is to the publicity of the film.

Apart from the poster, a large image of the gun is shown in the gatefold of the soundtrack album. Interestingly, the image here is a photograph. This rules out artistic licence, and means that Roger Moore filmed a scene featuring the gun or posed with it. It’s reasonable to conclude that the gun was used for publicity only or the scene ended on the cutting-room floor.



If the latter, the photograph may offer a clue about the gun’s intended placement in the film. Roger Moore is shown wearing a pale open-necked shirt, possibly the same shirt he wears for his scenes in Mr Big’s poppy field. Had Mr Big installed the gun in the poppy field to protect his crop? Perhaps there was a scene in which Bond discovers the gun and uses it to destroy the helicopter that’s attacking him. (That's another puzzler - what happens to the helicopter?)

The gun itself is shown in more detail in the photograph. To me, it looks like a Bofors 40mm anti-aircraft gun, but I haven’t been able to identify it precisely. A photograph in the US edition of Roger Moore’s Live and Let Die diary shows Roger Moore being shown how to use a gun mounted on a US Coast Guard boat. It's hard to tell, but it could be the same gun as that in the poster (Roger Moore is also wearing a pale open-necked shirt), in which case, the photograph on the soundtrack album would appear to be a publicity shot.

If anyone knows more about James Bond’s missing gun, then post a comment at the end of this post. I’ll be glad to hear from you.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Find Your Fate and the GoldenEye connection

There's a fascinating article by Philip Poggiali in issue 36 of MI6 Confidential about the series of James Bond-themed 'Find Your Fate' books, which were published in 1985 to coincide with the release of A View to a Kill. In the books, the reader assumes the role of James Bond and chooses options along various narrative threads to save the world from the dastardly plans of an evil genius.

As I was reading the article, I was struck by a coincidence between one of the books and GoldenEye, released in 1995. I tweeted about it back in October last year, but I thought I'd post about it here as well.

In Programmed for Danger, by Jean M Favors, the reader once again becomes James Bond to search for the Z-Disc, a revolutionary energy device that's been stolen from Zorin's base in the French Riviera.


The cover, drawn by Cliff Spohn, of Programmed for Danger by Jean M Favors
The cover of the book, by Cliff Spohn, gives a hint of the adventures within, with scenes of the southern French landscape, the circuitry of the Z-Disc, and depictions of Roger Moore's Bond that appear to be based on images from earlier films; the image of the beshirted Bond could come from the scene in Mr Big's poppy field in Live and Let Die

In the best Bond tradition, there's a car chase: a speeding Aston Martin and a Ferrari in hot pursuit is shown in the corner of the cover image. If this seems a familiar, it's because a speeding Aston Martin and a Ferrari in hot pursuit also feature in GoldenEye. The vehicle models are different – the Aston on the front cover seems to be the V8 Vantage that Bond would drive two years later in The Living Daylights – but the scene is otherwise closely replicated in the 1995 film. We can even find a scene in the film with the cars at almost the same relative position as shown on the cover. What's more, the car chases in both the book (as far as I can tell) and the film are set in the French Riviera.

 
Spot the difference: Programmed for Danger and GoldenEye
Coincidence or somehow prescient? It's pure coincidence, of course, but it's fun to think that the production team, when drafting GoldenEye, were flicking through the 'Find Your Fate' books for inspiration!

To read more about the 'Find Your Fate' series, see issue 36 of MI6 Confidential, which is available to buy here.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and spy fiction of the 1950s, '60s and '70s

I've thoroughly enjoyed reading Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Harper Collins, 2017), Mike Ripley's examination of the golden age of British thrillers. It's a period that began, the author contends, with Ian Fleming's Casino Royale, published in 1953, and ended in the late 1970s with tough heroics of Jack Higgins' novels and the methodical thrillers of Frederick Forsyth. In between, there were Fleming wannabes, the realistic spy thrillers of Len Deighton and John le Carré, and a whole host of bestselling books by authors who remain hugely popular still, such as Alistair MacLean, or are now long out of print and largely forgotten.


The identification of this period as a golden age is contentious – others would argue that that period belonged to the likes of John Buchan, Sapper, Peter Cheyney, and E Phillips Oppenheim – but there's no denying that the twenty year period saw an explosion of British thriller writers (many influenced by Ian Fleming or more generally the success of James Bond) who would dominate the thriller market across the world.

For me, the book gave me a sense of nostalgia. Not that I read any of these books at the time. Being born in the 1970s, I was too young, but some of the books that Mike Ripley mentions were on the bookshelves at home, among them Eric Ambler's The Levanter, John le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (or was it Smiley's People?), and When Eight Bells Toil by Alistair MacLean. Such thrillers seeped into my consciousness at an early age.

Later, I began collecting thrillers, mainly published in the mid/late 1960s, that attempted to fill the void left by Ian Fleming, their heroes often being described on the back cover as the new James Bond or even better than James Bond (as if that were possible). Many of these are discussed by Mike Ripley too, such as DIECAST by John Michael Brett, Sergeant Death by James Mayo, and Where the Spies Are by James Leasor.

 
Some of Bond's many rivals
Since reading Mike Ripley's book, I've been inspired to catch up on the many thrillers that I've missed. I decided, fairly randomly, to begin with a novel by Desmond Bagley, the author of some sixteen adventures and spy novels which invariably featured rugged locations, even more rugged heroes, and Land Rovers. Bagley wrote between 1963 and 1983, the book I chose, Running Blind, being published in 1970.



Running Blind is a Cold War thriller than falls somewhere between the realistic environment of George Smiley and the more fantastic world of James Bond. In the novel, former British agent Alan Stewart makes a routine visit to Iceland, where his girlfriend lives, but is met by another agent, who persuades him to deliver a package. When an attempt is made on his life, he realises he's been set up, forcing him to go on the run across Iceland's volcanic terrain, pursued by Russian, British, and American agents.  

It's an exciting read, and while it's rather different to the James Bond books (except, maybe, John Gardner's Nobody Lives for Ever), the influence of Ian Fleming, or indeed the James Bond films, is not far away. There's a moment when Alan Stewart enters the room of Slade, a British agent whom Stewart suspects of having gone over to the Russians. Stewart looks out for a trick of the trade – hairs dabbed with saliva and stuck across the doors of the wardrobe that would be dislodged if the doors were opened.

A device of a similar nature is described in Casino Royale. When James Bond returns to his hotel room at Royale-les-Eaux, he inspects the hairs lodged in the drawer of the writing desk to make sure the drawer hadn't been opened. It's possible, though, that Desmond Bagley had been thinking of the film version of Dr No, in which Bond dabs a hair with saliva and sticks it across the doors of his wardrobe.

 
James Bond takes precautions
At another point, when Stewart confronts Slade, Slade tells him that he's 'been reading too much Fleming'. Then, as Stewart turns out the contents of Slade's wallet, he observes wryly that he found no plans for the latest guided missile or laser death ray that a master spy might have been expected to carry. A nod perhaps, at least with regard to the laser, to the film of Goldfinger

I expect that Running Blind will be the first of many thrillers from the 'golden age' that I'll discover and rediscover thanks to Mike Ripley's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and along the way be reminded (as if I needed reminding) of the enormous influence that Ian Fleming's work has had on thriller and spy fiction. As Mike Ripley notes, Casino Royale wasn't so much the spy novel that ended all spy novels, but the novel that launched many more.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

More on the 'Bond is what every man would like to be...' phrase

When Raymond Mortimer described James Bond as 'what every man would like to be, and what every woman would like to have between her sheets', little did he know that the phrase would have a life of its own.

I've written previously about the phrase, for instance how it's been incorrectly attributed to Raymond Chandler, and noting some of the variations that have since arisen. Recently, I've spotted more uses and variations of the phrase, though not in connection with James Bond.

Rooting through a pile of books in a charity shop, I came across a booklet that promoted the publication of Flashman on the March (2005), the final volume of the Flashman Papers, which chart the scandalous adventures of the notorious Victorian soldier, bully and cad (brilliantly written by Octopussy scribe George MacDonald Fraser). The booklet contains a short story, synopses of the novels, and appreciations by famous fans, including politicians Boris Johnson and John Major, and author Bernard Cornwell.

On the back of the booklet are the words, 'Women want him. Men secretly want to be him. Harry Flashman just wants to get away with it.'



I had already noticed, saying as much in a tweet in 2012, that a form of the phrase had been used to describe another fictional protagonist, Lee Child's Jack Reacher. The back cover of the 2011 book Without Fail includes the words: 'Men want to be him. Women want to be with him.'

The latest (full-length) Jack Reacher novel, Night School, now in paperback, offers yet another, more contemporary, variant of Raymond Mortimer's phrase. The praise lavished on Lee Child's books, printed inside the front cover, includes this from journalist Lucy Mangan: 'I am very much in love with Jack Reacher – as a man and a role model. If I can't shag him, I want to be him.'



These examples demonstrate that the phrase – the what-every-man-would-like-to-be meme –  continues to have currency in popular culture. Its success derives in part from its original association with James Bond, but also its adaptability, whether that be in its structure (many versions exist), application (its use isn't confined to Bond) and fitness in changing cultural environments (for example with regard to language and social norms).

Thursday, 8 June 2017

James Bond references in The Simpsons, Family Guy and American Dad

The animated shows Family Guy, American Dad and The Simpsons are well known for their pop-culture references, typically those relating to TV, films and music. The James Bond films have not been forgotten, and have provided the inspiration for episode plots, as well as for incidental gags.

For example, 'You Only Move Twice', an episode of The Simpsons, is a complete Bond parody, featuring a James Bond character that resembles Sean Connery and allusions to the films of Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice (and possibly the book of You Only Live Twice – Lisa finds that she is allergic to all the plants in the grounds of the community of Cypress Creek, owned by the evil Globex Corporation, a nod, perhaps, to Blofeld's Garden of Death). The episode even includes a Bondian song that could have been sung by Shirley Bassey.

In other episodes, the Bond references have been more incidental. I've always thought the Bond-related joke in the 'Bart Carny' episode - after Cooder and his son Spud, both carnival folk, ingratiate themselves into the Simpson's home, Cooder puts on Homer's clothes, and Spud says, 'Wow, Dad. You look like James Bond' - to be rather clever.

Given that its main character, Stan, is a CIA agent, it's inevitable that American Dad should have its own Bond parody. 'Tearjerker' features Stan as the James Bond character, Francine as a Bond girl called Sexpun T'Come, Steve as the Q character, here named 'S', and Roger as the eponymous villain. There is a sequel called 'For Black Eyes Only'.

There are plenty of Bond references to be found in Family Guy too. In the episode 'Mr and Mrs Stewie', Stewie meets Penelope, who shares his own psychopathic tendencies. When Stewie refuses to kill Brian for her, Penelope decides to do it herself, but is prevented from doing so by Stewie. They have a fight on the top of a train, when Penelope uses her Rosa Klebb-style shoes with blades in the toes. It's interesting to note that Penelope is voiced by Cate Blanchett, who also appears as Soviet agent Irina Spalko in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Cate Blanchett has stated in interviews that her portrayal was inspired by Lotte Lenya's portrayal of Rosa Klebb in From Russia With Love.

I'm not intending to list all the Bond references found in these shows – there are websites dedicated to the shows that do that – but it is probably fair to say that most of the references draw on the older films and classic moments – Sean Connery, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger and so on. However, two allusions to Bond in American Dad and Family Guy show that the more recent films, Casino Royale in particular, are also making an impact on the scriptwriters.

We can see as much in 'Phantom of the Telethon', an episode of American Dad in which Stan hosts a telethon to raise money for the CIA torture programme. At one point, we see a blooper reel of comedy moments in the torture chamber. In one of these moments, a man holding a rope with a ball at the end stands by a naked man tied to a seat-less chair, which is obviously a nod to the torture scene in Casino Royale. (If I remember aright, the blooper occurs when the torturer accidentally hits himself with the rope.)

 
The Casino Royale moment from American Dad
Coincidentally (although maybe not, considering that Seth MacFarlane is responsible for both shows), the torture scene is also referenced in Family Guy. In 'The Peter Principal', Peter is appointed principal of James Woods High, and begins meting out punishments to the bullies. The punishments get progressively more severe, and at one point Peter places a seat-less chair in the school hall and swings a knotted rope.

 
The Casino Royale moment from Family Guy
Animated shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy play an important role in keeping the classic elements and traits or memes of the Bond films, such as Rosa Klebb's shoes, current in popular culture. Each subsequent film creates new memes, and a sign of how successful they are in the cultural environment (that is, their longevity and the extent to which they are replicated and disseminated) is that they're referenced in shows like Family Guy. On that basis, Casino Royale is well on the way to being every bit as classic as Goldfinger and From Russia With Love.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Fiction mirrors fiction - James Bond and Eric Ambler's The Mask of Dimitrios


One of the numerous volumes on James Bond's bookshelf (there are more than you think) is Eric Ambler's The Mask of Dimitrios. Bond reads the novel, published in 1939, on the plane en route to Istanbul in From Russia, with Love (1957).

The novel concerns a writer of detective mysteries called Charles Latimer. In Istanbul, he's introduced to Colonel Haki, the head of the secret police, who, interested in Latimer's profession, tells him about a real murder. A man called Dimitrios, by all accounts a nasty piece of work, has washed up dead, having been stabbed. As far as Haki is concerned, the case is closed, but out of professional curiosity, Latimer begins to look into the life of this criminal. Following a trail from Turkey to Greece, Bulgaria, and Paris, he discovers that the truth about Dimitrios isn't so clear cut, as events take a sinister and dangerous turn.
 

What Bond thought of the book is unrecorded, but he may have returned to the book from time to time and wondered whether there were certain echoes of the book in his own adventures. 

For instance, according to the records of the Greek authorities, Dimitrios is 182 centimetres tall. Bond may have raised an eyebrow at that – Bond himself is only one centimetre taller, as mentioned in From Russia, with Love, and indeed, we subsequently find out that Dimitrios is a little taller still.

Then there's the description of the nature of spy work. At one point of the novel, Latimer meets a polish spy named Grodek, who Latimer discovers recruited Dimitrios as an agent. In a subsequent letter recounting his meeting, Latimer wonders whether 'governments of adult men and women behave like children playing Red Indians'. The phrase would have been familiar to Bond. In Casino Royale, Le Chiffre, while torturing Bond with a carpet beater, tells Bond that 'the game of Red Indians is over, quite over', and later Bond admits to himself that he 'had been playing Red Indians through the years.' It's unlikely that Ian Fleming, perhaps having read The Mask of Dimitrios before he wrote Casino Royale, borrowed the phrase from Ambler, as, during the Second World War, he called his commando unit, 30AU, his Red Indians, but the coincidence is interesting all the same.

In another part of the book, Latimer discovers that Dimitrios was also a drug pedlar, and learns about the drug trade from a former associate of Dimitrios, a Mr Peters. Latimer finds out, for instance, that drugs are smuggled into Europe from Istanbul on the Orient Express, with the help of a bribed sleeping car attendant. Bond, of course, travels on the Orient Express in From Russia, with Love, but the train is mentioned again in the short story 'Risico', which is about the drugs trade. Fleming describes how opium is smuggled onto the train in Istanbul and hidden in false upholstery in the carriages, with the help of bribed train cleaners. As he set off to Rome to tackle Colombo, and then Kristatos, Bond must have been pleased about having had something of a grounding in drug smuggling from Eric Ambler.

What about the nature of good and evil? James Bond wrestles with this question as he recuperates from injuries sustained by the carpet beater in Casino Royale. Bond tells Mathis that 'in order to tell the difference between good and evil, we have manufactured two images representing the extremes – and we call them God and the Devil'. Latimer also reflects on the nature of good and evil, and considers that traditional concepts are not sufficient: 'It was useless trying to explain [Dimitrios] in terms of good and evil. They were no more than baroque abstractions. Good business and bad business were the elements of the new theology.' 

It's hard to say whether Ian Fleming had The Mask of Dimitrios in mind as he wrote Casino Royale and 'Risico', or that the book was especially influential in the writing of From Russia, with Love, but as Bond finds himself in the same murky environments as Eric Ambler's hero, it's unsurprising that there would be there be some aspects in common between Ambler's and Fleming's work.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Sir Roger Moore - an appreciation

Sir Roger Moore in 1973 (By Allan Warren (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons)
Sir Roger Moore was the James Bond of a generation. He was the James Bond of my generation. Some of my earliest Bond-related memories are of Roger Moore's Bond films, and unwittingly, he was responsible for my becoming a Bond fan. With his death, which was announced today, it's as if I've lost a childhood friend.

I grew up with Roger Moore's Bond in more ways than one. Live and Let Die, his first Bond film, was released in the same year that I was born. My earliest memory of Bond is watching Goldfinger on television, but I also have an early memory of The Spy Who Loved Me, Roger Moore's third and best film as 007. The Egypt-set scenes particularly stick in the mind. Among my toys in my later years was, naturally, an Corgi Aston Martin DB5, but I also treasured my Lotus Esprit and Stromberg helicopter from The Spy Who Loved Me. When I was around 10 or 11, I began to have aspirations to be a cartoonist (which stayed with me for a while, but thankfully faded as the rejection slips started arriving in quantity). Anyway, I'd write and draw my own James Bond comic strip, and of course it was Roger Moore's Bond that I'd depict. Conversations with my schoolmates always eventually got round to Bond. Even now, I remember the lengthy discussions I had about tarot cards in Live and Let Die and the lyrics to the title song of A View to a Kill

Goldfinger set the Bond formula, but for me, The Spy Who Loved Me is every bit as archetypal. The film redefined the pre-title sequence; its triumphant ski-jump stunt brought well-deserved applause from cinema-goers and became the benchmark for every pre-title sequence that followed. Subsequent pre-title sequences have been bigger, but not necessarily better.

The Spy Who Loved Me contains plenty of Roger Moore's trademark charm and saucy seaside-postcard humour ('Sorry, something came up'), and I love it. But it also has its serious moments, and Roger Moore was equally adept at those. Watch the moment when he reveals to Anya that he killed her lover, himself a Russian agent, and tell me he can't play it straight.

Later films perhaps saw him sharing more screen time with his stunt double, but they remain perfect entertainment. Octopussy is another case where Roger Moore moved effortlessly between humour and seriousness. Anyone who can draw edge-of-your-seat tension from a scene while wearing a clown suit must be a brilliant actor.

Roger Moore was famously self-deprecating about his acting talent, and he often said that the only film in which he really flexed his acting muscles was The Man Who Haunted Himself. To my shame I've never seen the film, though I have seen Gold, his 1974 film based on a Wilbur Smith novel, where we perhaps see a similar side of him. That's not to dismiss the Bond films in any way. To make the Bond films look as good as they do takes real skill and dedication, and that's what Roger Moore had in abundance. 

I was lucky enough to have seen Roger Moore twice on stage, and was thrilled to have met him – sort of – after one of the shows for an autograph. They say never meet your heroes, but Roger Moore is one hero I would gladly have spent more time with.

So let me raise a vodka martini, shaken but not stirred (not something he ever stipulated himself, curiously), and thank Sir Roger Moore for introducing me to Bond, entertaining me enormously over the years, and keeping the British end up.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Ian Fleming's Kitzbühel holiday and On Her Majesty's Secret Service

The Spring 1965 number of The Book Collector, coming almost a year after his death, included a personal memoir of Ian Fleming by Percy Muir, the bibliophile and bookseller who helped put together Fleming's collection of 'books that had started something'. Part of the memoir is reproduced in the special edition of the journal devoted to Ian Fleming.

One of the many fascinating aspects of the memoir is an account of a summer holiday that Percy Muir and Ian Fleming spent together in Austria in, I think, 1930. Muir explains that Fleming was attending the university at Geneva and in the June invited him over. Muir duly arrived in Geneva and stayed with Fleming in his flat before they headed to Kitzbühel. Muir writes that the holiday was a 'riotous success'.

As I was reading the memoir, I couldn't help wonder whether I was seeing the origins of certain aspects of On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Obviously the holiday was in the summer, so there was no skiing (and in any case, neither of them would climb any mountains), but Fleming had learnt to ski in Kitzbühel (he was competition standard by the age of 21), and the novel is imbued with his own experiences.

It's the minor details in the memoir that particularly interest me. Percy Muir tells us that Ian Fleming's Geneva flat was a two-bedroomed place over a ski-workshop. There is, of course, a ski-workshop in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Presumably, one ski-workshop looks pretty much like another, and Fleming's likely to have seen a few, but he might have been thinking of the one he lived over when he wrote the passage in which James Bond enters a ski-workshop at Piz Gloria and surreptitiously takes a thin plastic strip.

Then there's Percy Muir's recollections of Ian Fleming's social life in Kitzbühel. He recalls that Fleming was 'extremely fond of women and was constantly entangled with them' and had three 'entanglements' at the resort. If ski resorts and female company were inextricably linked in Fleming's mind, then it's no coincidence that in On Her Majesty's Secret Service – more than in any other Bond novel – Bond is himself surrounded by women ('Ten Gorgeous Girls', as Fleming describes them).

 
Bond with the 'Angels of Death'. An OHMSS lobby card
These connections are admittedly slight, but considering also the opening of the book with Bond's memories of childhood beach holidays, it is nevertheless not to hard to gain the impression that On Her Majesty's Secret Service is one of Fleming's most personal books.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Eric and Ernie play Bond in The Intelligence Men


In 1965, top TV comedy duo Morecambe and Wise brought their brand of comedy antics to the big screen. Being the mid '60s when Bondmania was at its height, it seems inevitable that their first film (they made a further two films, and there was also a TV movie in 1983) would be a spy film. While the film, The Intelligence Men (1965), is not overtly a Bond spoof - certainly not to the extent that Carry On Spying, say, parodied the Bond series - it nevertheless contains nods to the films.

The plot, for what it's worth, sees hapless MI5 agent Ernie Sage, played by Ernie Wise, recruit café owner Eric Morecambe (played by, er, Eric Morecambe) to the service. Eric's mission is to pose as a Major Cavendish, infiltrate the sinister Schlect organisation (or is that S.C.H.L.E.C.T.?), and foil a plot to assassinate a Russian ballerina on tour in London and destabilise Anglo-Soviet relations.

The story is a little weak, but the film is amusing enough, and for the Bond fan there is the added enjoyment of spotting the Bond references. For instance, the name of the criminal organisation has the ring of SPECTRE about it, and there's a running joke about the prevalence of beautiful female spies. At another point, Ernie refers to Eric having a licence to kill.

Then there's a rather funny scene, full of the characteristic Morecambe and Wise shtick that made them a national institution, in an MI5 office when Eric is briefed about the mission. Some of the dialogue clearly references the Bond films:

'Where are the special shoes?', Eric asks. 
'What special shoes?', Ernie replies. 
'Yes, the special shoes with knives in the toecaps.' 
'We don't have things like that.' 
'Yeah, and the fountain pens. They shoot bullets.' 
'No, we don't have things like that. We go around like perfectly normal people.'

The sequence highlights the immediate impact that Rosa Klebb's shoes, as featured in From Russia With Love (1963), made on popular culture. The fountain pen, on the other hand, doesn't reference the Bond films specifically, but is a more general spy-related trope. James Bond wouldn't be equipped with such a device until Moonraker (1979), and the tradition of the trick pen is rather older than Bond, going back at least to the Second World War. Nevertheless, the pen taps into the audience expectation for gadgets in a spy film, for which the Bond films were largely responsible, and cinema-goers may well have associated the pen with Bond all the same.

 
Eric Morecambe demonstrates the special shoes
 

Other points of interest in the film is that it features Richard Vernon, who was fresh from his appearance in Goldfinger (1964) as Smithers, and William Franklyn, who is said to have been considered for the role of James Bond.

If you have a chance to watch the film, I recommend you do so. It’s part of the wave of spy spoofs released during the period of Bondmania, but it also showcases the comedic talents of a legendary double act.

Friday, 5 May 2017

From Norfolk, with Love - Ian Fleming, archaeologist

I’ve combined my interests in Ian Fleming and archaeology with a contribution to the Arch365 podcast, which is part of the Archaeology Podcast Network. In my podcast, I explore Ian Fleming's brief foray into archaeological surveying in 1953 at Creake Abbey in Norfolk, where he assembled a team of Royal Engineers to carry out a systematic search for buried treasure.

Ian Fleming didn’t find any treasure, but he did succeed in carrying out one of the earliest archaeological surveys using metal-detecting equipment in England, and for that reason, could be considered an archaeological pioneer. 

Have a listen – the podcast isn’t very long – and find out about one of Ian Fleming’s lesser known activities.

https://www.archaeologypodcastnetwork.com/arch365/124


Thursday, 27 April 2017

Kingsman returns with a very Bondian trailer

Judging by the trailer, released this week, Matthew Vaughn's Kingsman: The Golden Circle looks likely to contain as many nods to the Bond films as the film it follows, Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014).

In the sequel, the Kingsman headquarters are destroyed by some unknown enemy (who presumably got the idea from Raoul Silva and Blofeld, who were responsible for destroying MI6 headquarters in Skyfall and Spectre), and the Kingsman agents join forces with a spy organisation in the US to defeat the common foe.

Apart from the big explosion, the trailer promises all sorts of Bond-like thrills, including an underwater car (not so much Wet Nellie as Wet Taxi), gadgets galore, a henchman with a mechanical arm that doubles as a projectile (wasn't there something like that in a Young Bond novel?), London-set chases, and a snowy mountain-top lair, complete with cable car stunts.

 
The submersible taxi in Kingsman: The Golden Circle
This last aspect is of course highly redolent of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which evidently continues to inspire film-makers. Other films that have looked to the 1969 Bond film include Inception (2010) and Johnny English Reborn (2011), not to mention Spectre.

 
A mountain-top lair in Kingsman: The Golden Circle?
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is released on 29 September, and I shall be at the front of the queue to see it. Does the film hint at the direction of the next Bond film? I'm starting to wonder. Some may claim that this and the Fast and Furious series (reviews of the latest episode have alluded to the film's Bondian qualities) are beginning to out-Bond Bond, and it wouldn't surprise me if the producers of Bond 25 are keeping a weather eye on such releases.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Maxwell Knight - the real M


When Ian Fleming came to write the first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, in 1952, he turned to people he knew for inspiration for some of his characters. Take Bond's spy chief, M. In manner, it seems most likely that M was based on Fleming's wartime chief in the Naval Intelligence Division, Admiral John Godfrey. The code name may have had another source, however: Maxwell Knight, legendary MI5 spymaster who was known by the letter M.

While the connection between Maxwell Knight and the Bond novels is superficially a slight one, a new biography of Maxwell Knight by Henry Hemming has suggested other intriguing links.

Maxwell Knight's career in espionage began in the 1920s when he was recruited by Sir George Makgill to Makgill's private spy organisation. His task: to root out Communist activities by joining the British Fascisti, a powerful right-wing organisation which was waging its own campaign against the Communists, and secretly report back to Makgill. In time, Knight discovered that he was a better spymaster than spy, and was recruiting and running his own agents, who under Maxwell's guidance infiltrated Communist groups. After a brief spell in MI6, Maxwell Knight joined MI5, gave himself the code name M and set up M Section, which continued the secret fight against Communism.

By the mid 1930s, MI5 was waking up (slowly, it must be admitted) to the rising threat of the new Fascist movement, led by Sir Oswald Mosley. As the clouds of war gathered, M's agents set their sights on Fascists and Nazi sympathisers and scored notable hits against them.

M's work continued during the Second World War, and both his section and legendary status expanded. M retired in 1961, and he died seven years later. During his long career as spymaster, M busted spy rings, wrote the manual on tradecraft, trained a large number of highly successful agents, and was also largely responsible for bringing down the Fascist movement in Britain.

Curiously, all the time Maxwell Knight served in MI5, he was well known by the public, though as a thriller writer, and in particular a naturalist. He took part in many BBC broadcasts about animals, and for most of his life kept a menagerie of animals in his own apartments. His MI5 work of course remained a secret, but his expertise with animals allowed him to step out of the shadows.

On the face of it, the real M and Fleming's M have little in common, but reading Henry Hemming's superb biography, I was struck by just how often the worlds of Maxwell Knight and Ian Fleming overlapped. Presumably, Ian Fleming met Maxwell Knight from time to time while Fleming served as assistant to Admiral Godfrey. The two certainly had mutual acquaintances, among them author Dennis Wheatley. I was intrigued by the fact that one of Maxwell's agents was bookseller and bibliographer Graham Pollard. After the war, Pollard occasionally contributed to The Book Collector, the journal that Fleming owned and relaunched in 1952. An obituary of Graham Pollard published in the journal in 1977 described his work for the Communist Party, but not that he had been spying on its members. It's interesting to speculate whether Fleming knew about Pollard's activities when Fleming was on the journal's editorial board and cast his eye over Pollard's contributions.

What comes through very strongly in Henry Hemming's book is Maxwell Knight's hatred of Communism and his desire, born from personal experience, to crush it in Britain. I could not help be reminded of James Bond's epiphany at the end of Casino Royale, when having suffered at the hands of SMERSH and been betrayed by Vesper Lynd, he resolves on a personal level to 'take on SMERSH and hunt it down'. The real M would have approved.

When reading about the early career of Maxwell Knight, I was reminded too of Fleming's M's tricky relationship with MI5 and Special Branch. In Moonraker M tells Bond, who is about to operate on home soil, that he 'didn't want to tread on Five's corns'. Later, Bond reflects on how well Scotland Yard commissioner Ronnie Vallance avoids the corns of both MI5 and the uniformed police. It was these sort of 'corns' or conflicts that led to the creation of MI5 as we know it, and to a large extent Maxwell Knight had been responsible. Before joining MI5 and setting up M Section, he worked for MI6, but operated in Britain, and also worked closely with members of Special Branch. These amorphous boundaries were eventually clarified (although the real M would always act with a certain amount of independence).

Henry Hemming's biography is every bit as thrilling as the spy fiction, such as those by John Buchan, that inspired Maxwell Knight and his agents to pursue a career in espionage. What's more, the author has carried out painstaking detective work and identified some of Knight's agents who might otherwise have remained unknown. The book is a fascinating read that breaks open the secret vaults of British Intelligence to shine a fresh light on a remarkable spymaster and his organisation.


M: Maxwell Knight, MI5's Greatest Spymaster, by Henry Hemming, is out on 4th May and published by Preface 

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Meet the James Bond of...

If you've been kept awake at night asking yourself which Korean fish is most like James Bond, you can sleep easy, for I have the answer: it's pollock. According to the Korean Herald, the wild pollock (or pollack), which has been brought to near-extinction through over-fishing and global warming, is 'the James Bond of Korean seafood' because of the many identities and names accorded to it biologically and on the dinner table.
 
Pollock, the James Bond of Korean seaford. Image: By © Citron /, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24350181
Wild pollack isn't the only thing to have been compared to James Bond. Every so often, when I trawl online media for James Bond news, I find stories in which a person, other creature, or thing is described as the James Bond of their career or environment. The comparison is sometimes amusing, as is the case with the fish, but there is a broader point. The evocation of James Bond reveals which characteristics or memes journalists and others associate with Fleming's creation. No doubt, too, the mention of James Bond raises the profile of the piece and attracts readers.

Just the other day, I learnt from a report in the Times of India that French winemaker Jean Charles Boisset is 'the James Bond of the wine world'. The winemaker is apparently a flamboyant dresser and likes doing things in style, and as a result has been identified by many as a James Bond figure.

Then there's Natalie Bellamy and Sophie Spencer, who, working together as the Fussy Shopper, have been described as 'the James Bond of personal shopping'. As the Daily Mail reports, the pair sources rare and eye-wateringly expensive items for the super-rich and celebrities, sometimes in exciting, Bondian, ways. On one occasion, they flew to France to buy a jacket, skied to the shop, which happened to be on top of a mountain, and then skied down with the jacket.

How about the James Bond of philanthropy? That's Chuck Feeney, the billionaire turned millionaire who has given away $8bn over the past 30 years. It was his methods that led Forbes to compare him to James Bond: Chuck Feeney's philanthropic work has been clandestine and globe-trotting.

Chuck Feeney isn't the only one who's been dubbed James Bond because of the travel. Jan Chipchase, a 'trend forecaster' and founder of the global design and innovation consultancy Studio D Radioduran, has been called the ‘James Bond of Design Research’ as he travels the globe learning about human behaviour to inform his clients' decision-making and innovation strategies. Jan Chipchase (a Bondian name, if ever there was one) has additionally been described as one of the smartest people in tech, which possibly encouraged the James Bond moniker.

The 'James Bond of' phrase has been applied to fictional characters too. The hero of Jonathan Lethem's novel, A Gambler's Anatomy, is described in a review by Ron Charles in the Washington Post as the 'James Bond of backgammon'. The book, featuring a professional gambler named Alexander Bruno, is, the reviewer suggests, a James Bond-esque novel, which 'combines a little of the intrigue of James Bond with all the sexiness of backgammon'.

James Bond's association with technology means that buildings can also be considered Bond-like. A children’s nursery that opened recently in Oxford is equipped with a fingerprint entry system, a roof that changes colour with the seasons, a secret garden with a mini amphitheatre, and a cinema room. No wonder Dr Genevieve Davies, who opened the building, called it 'the James Bond of nurseries'.

The connection with James Bond isn't always a positive one. One Julius Mwithalii from Meru in Kenya became known as ‘James Bond of Meru' when he attempted suicide by hanging himself on a helicopter. The attribution would appear to trivialise a distressing incident, although as journalist Iregi Mwenja points out, the resulting publicity, partly because of the comparison, has raised awareness of certain social issues, which is no bad thing.
 

This brief survey has shown that 'the James Bond of' phrase has currency in the cultural environment. It's applied widely, and to people or things with little or no connection to the masterspy. Anyone in the public eye who travels the world, is technologically minded, has style or lives a life of intrigue and danger could be the next 'James Bond of'. Perhaps we all have a little bit of James Bond in us. In my own career, I like to think I'm the James Bond of archaeology (or is that Indiana Jones?). What are you the James Bond of?