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 française (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 spear-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 spear-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!

Monday, 4 September 2017

When James Bond met Bridget Jones

You won’t often find me curled up on the sofa reading the latest chick lit, but when a quotation from a review on the back of a novel by Helen Fielding, author of Bridget Jones’s Diary, claimed that the book was ‘a Bond-style romp,’ I was intrigued enough to acquire the book and start reading.


Olivia Joules in Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination (Picador, 2003) is a freelance journalist who writes for beauty magazines and the newspaper style supplements, but aspires to be a foreign reporter. When Olivia is sent to Miami for a face-cream launch, she meets a charming and mysterious man who claims to be a movie producer, but whom Olivia suspects to be an international terrorist. Despite the doubts of her colleagues, as well as her own, Olivia follows a trail that takes her to Los Angeles, Honduras, and Sudan, risking her life, as well as her career.
 

Inevitably, the book contains several nods and references to James Bond. In her hotel room in LA, Olivia dusts the numbers on the combination lock of the safe. ‘Like James Bond,’ she reflects, though ‘James Bond probably wouldn’t have actually given the numbers a silken, light reflecting sheen.’ (Olivia uses Angel Dust face-powder, rather than talcum powder, which Bond uses to dust the locks of his attaché case in From Russia With Love.)
 

Later, when realising that her room’s been bugged, Olivia makes a call to get the details of the Spy Shop on Sunset Boulevard (‘You know, spies? James Bond? Kiefer Sutherland?’), and eventually is kitted up with the latest gadgets, among them a bug detector, an invisible-ink pen, a tiny digital camera, and a ring with a mirror that allows Olivia to see behind her.
 

Back in London, Olivia is met by MI6 officers, and is taken seriously enough by MI6 to be taken on as an agent. On a boat on the Thames on her way to a safe house, Olivia’s heart was ‘leaping with excitement, the James Bond theme playing in her mind. She was a spy! She formed her fingers into a gun shape and whispered, “Kpow! Kpow!”.’ At the safe house, Olivia is introduced to Professor Widgett, a veteran spymaster and Arabist described by Scotland Yard’s liaison as ‘the James Bond of his day’.
 

While there is no Q-inspired character, Olivia is nevertheless equipped with some handy gadgets, cunningly sewn into clothing (the buttons on her shirt, for instance, are replaced by miniature circular saws) or disguised as the typical accoutrements of a handbag (such as a lipsalve that emits a powerful blinding flash). Interestingly, Olivia is also given a belt fashioned from gold coins ‘for buying her way out a mess’, recalling the straps of gold sovereigns hidden in Bond’s attaché case. 
 

Apart from these obvious references to Bond, there are other aspects that are redolent of elements of Bond books, even if the similarities are coincidental. Olivia Joules is working for the Sunday Times, which is the paper for which Ian Fleming worked. There are shades of Vivienne Michel’s story from The Spy who Loved Me in Olivia’s own backstory. Fed up after a series of bad relationships while in her teens, she vows: ‘I’m not going to give a s*** about anything any more. I’m going to be a top journalist or an explorer and do something that matters.’ And like James Bond, Olivia is an orphan, her parents having died in a road accident when she was fourteen.
 

More generally, the book is as globe-trotting as any James Bond film, and, like Bond, Olivia is a keen and proficient scuba-diver. (And yes, there are sharks.)
 

I have to admit, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Spotting the Bond references are fun, of course, but the book is also an entertaining page-turner. Gadgets, resourceful spies, witty one-liners, narrow escapes, urbane villains, cocktails and romantic entanglements – it's got the lot.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Bond meets Goth - a non-Bondian use of the phrase 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang'

The phrase ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’, long associated with James Bond, has proved successful enough in the cultural environment to have a life beyond Bond. Ian Fleming used the phrase, or, rather, a version of it, in a letter to fellow author Raymond Chandler in 1956. Fleming suggested that while Chandler's novels were 'sociological studies', his were 'pillow fantasies of the bang-bang, kiss-kiss variety'. Whether Fleming coined the term is uncertain, but it’s possible that the phrase existed in some form before then.

In any case, the phrase became inextricably linked with James Bond during the height of Bondomania in 1964/5. James Bond was known as Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang by Italian fans (or Japanese fans or the press depending on the account one reads), which inspired John Barry to write a song entitled ‘Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ for Thunderball (1965). 


A variant of the phrase appeared in 2005, though away from the world of James Bond – as the title of Shane Black’s comedy thriller, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, starring Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr. Coincidentally, given the origin of the phrase, the titles of Raymond Chandler’s novels and stories are used as chapter headings through the film.
 

David Leigh, who runs the excellent website, ‘The James Bond Dossier’, recently alerted me to another use of the phrase. Back in the early 1980s, Specimen, a goth band (or what has been described as a glam horror post-punk band – think of The Cure dressed as extras from The Rocky Horror Picture Show), owned and ran the goth club, The Batcave, in London. They played there, too, and one of their songs was called ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’.
 

As with the Shane Black film, this ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ had nothing to do with Bond, although there are hints of the Bond theme in the baseline and a chord progression. This may be coincidence, but then again, possibly not. Have a look at the video and make up your own mind. The song’s not terrible either.
 

 

David has noticed another connection between the Batcave and Bond. Morten Harket, the lead singer of A-ha, who of course wrote the title song for The Living Daylights (1987), can be seen in another video shot at the venue, dancing in glam-goth-inspired attire. Look out for him 5 minutes 35 seconds into the video.
 

 

Many thanks to David Leigh for the information.

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. Werner Fischer, 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).