Monday, 11 December 2017

Ian Fleming in A Constant Heart

Until the publication this year of her diaries, Maud Russell’s pivotal role in Ian Fleming’s James Bond career largely remained unknown. Were it not for Maud’s loan of £5000, Ian Fleming may not have been able to buy Goldeneye, his winter retreat in Jamaica where he wrote all the Bond novels. In addition, Maud’s husband, Gilbert, may have had a hand in Fleming’s wartime appointment to the Naval Intelligence Division (NID), from which Fleming derived so much inspiration.


The diaries, edited with care by Maud Russell’s granddaughter, Emily Russell, focus on a seven-year period from the eve of the Second World War in 1938 to the end of hostilities in 1945. Ian Fleming and Maud first met in December 1931, or possibly early 1932, and their friendship – and intimacy – deepened, especially during the war, when Maud became Ian’s confidant and she herself gained a position at NID. The diaries are not clear on the matter, but it is likely that Maud and Ian were lovers.
 

The diaries offer a personal view on the course of the war – Maud alludes to momentous events in passing as she writes about her own life and those of her family and friends – and for students of Ian Fleming (and James Bond), they provide insights into the very foundations of Fleming’s life as a novelist.
 

Reading the diaries, I was struck by several aspects. Ian Fleming became enchanted by Jamaica while visiting the island for a naval conference in 1942, and had vowed to return there after the war and build a home. Maud’s diaries after this time, however, suggest that it was the thought of escaping to a tropical paradise that had really attracted Ian, and that, to some extent, the choice of island had been a secondary consideration. Maud records in October 1943 that one evening she and Ian discussed ‘Tahiti – or any escape island – and the formidable future till after 12 o’clock.’ Tahiti came up again in conversation in January 1944. Maud wrote that almost every time she saw Ian, he wanted ‘to talk about cottages, seashores, Tahiti, long naked holidays on coral islands and marriage’. Tellingly, that evening, Ian had also spoken about writing ‘a novel or two’ after the war.
 

The diaries give us, too, an insight into Ian Fleming’s activities at NID. We tend to assume that Fleming barely saw any action during the war, and largely stayed out of harm’s way in Room 39 at the Admiralty. Maud’s diaries, however, reveal that Fleming participated in several secret missions in France and elsewhere that placed him in danger.
 

In November 1940, Maud records that Ian ‘has been on some dangerous job again,’ and indeed Fleming had escaped serious harm when a house at which he had been staying was ‘blown away’. Maud also described Fleming’s journey close to the end of the war to Schloss Tambach in Germany to retrieve military documents. I was surprised to read, as well, that, earlier in 1941, Ian Fleming had considered resigning from his NID duties and joining a motor torpedo boat crew where he would see more action. Of course, the idea may never have been a serious one, but it perhaps reveals an early fascination with underwater action that would be expressed later in his novels Live and Let Die and Thunderball.
 

These and other incidences to which Maud Russell refers confirm the impression gained from other accounts that the war was the making of Ian Fleming and that it was a very formative period for him. More generally, the diaries reveal Maud’s humanity, warmth and intelligence, and identify her as an essential witness to aspects of the war that are often left out of the history books. Emily Russell’s book is enthralling and deserves a place on the bookshelf of every Fleming aficionado, alongside those other indispensable first-hand accounts, the letters of Ian Fleming (edited by Fergus Fleming) and those of Ann Fleming (edited by Mark Amory).
 

A Constant Heart: The War Diaries of Maud Russell, 1938-1945, edited by Emily Russell, is Published by the Dovecote Press

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

An interview with Henry Hemming

The latest issue of MI6 Confidential, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of You Only Live Twice, has just been published. In this special issue, the film's dubbing editor, Norman Wanstall, talks to Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury, there is an article on a never-produced film treatment inspired by the novel of You Only Live Twice, and, poignantly, the magazine contains the final interview with the late Karin Dor, who played Bond girl Helga Brandt.

I'm honoured also to have contributed to the issue. Away from You Only Live Twice, the magazine includes my interview with historian Henry Hemming about his book, M: Maxwell Knight, MI5's Greatest Spymaster. In the interview, we talked about Maxwell Knight's life, his motivations, his extraordinary success running agents, and, of course, the extent to which Fleming's M was based on the spymaster.

 
It's a fascinating issue, and anyone interested in James Bond and the world of espionage, fictional or otherwise, should buy a copy. For details of how to purchase a copy, or subscribe to the magazine, click here to visit the MI6 Confidential website.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Some Bond memes in Archer

Better late than never, I’ve finally got round to watching Archer, the animated spoof espionage series featuring the suave, irresponsible, and misogynistic secret agent, Stirling Archer. Naturally, the whole series draws very heavily on the James Bond films for inspiration, and H Jon Benjamin, who voices Archer, reveals in an interview with MI6 Confidential that his performance is based to some extent on Sean Connery’s Bond. Apart from referencing Bond in a general sense, the series alludes more specifically to the films, and I noted a few of these references while watching season one.
 

The ninth episode, ‘Job Offer’, in which Archer takes a job with a rival agency, Archer and Lana, his colleague and former lover, are tied on a metal table and threatened by a laser beam, à la Goldfinger. ‘Skytanic’ (episode 7) has an airship that brought to my mind A View to a Kill. The sixth episode, ‘Skorpio’, in which Archer rescues Lana from an arms dealer, features Archer in frogman mode and involved in an underwater battle that could have been taken from the storyboards of Thunderball.
 
A scene from 'Skorpio', Archer, season 1
James Bond is name-checked a couple of times in the series, and the cover of the season one DVD clearly derives from the poster of Live and Let Die.




Fictional spies of earlier vintage are not forgotten either. In ‘Dial M for Mother’ (episode 10), Malory Archer, agency chief and Archer’s mother, has a copy of Greenmantle by John Buchan beside her on her bed. The episode title is especially interesting. It references a Hitchcock film, of course, but it takes on extra significance in the context of James Bond: M was Ian Fleming’s nickname for his mother, Eve, and according to Fleming’s biographer, John Pearson, Eve provided some of the inspiration for James Bond’s chief.
 
A scene from 'Dial M for Mother', Archer, season 1
Issue 25 of MI6 Confidential has an excellent article on Archer, which includes interviews with the cast and the creative team, and is well-worth reading. Meanwhile, I’ll get on with catching up on the remaining seven series.

Friday, 17 November 2017

A note on the origin of the loquacious villain

The trope or meme of the loquacious villain who loves the sound of his own voice and can’t help revealing the secrets of his nefarious scheme is a familiar one from the Bond films and similar action or adventure films. It’s attested, too, in literature. We see it in the Bond novels, of course, but also in older fiction. A novel by William Le Queux offers one example.


In The Mysterious Three (1915), Dago Paulton (the book is of its time!), with his accomplice, Baronne de Cauldron, has trapped the hero, Richard Ashton and his adventurer friend, Frank Faulkner, in a room of a chateau in France. Paulton begins to make things very clear to Ashton.
“You possess information you have no right to possess,” he tells Ashton. “You know the Thorolds’ secret, and until your lips are closed I shall not feel safe.”
“You can’t suppose I shall reveal it,” Ashton answers.
“Not reveal it, man, when you know what is at stake! You must think me very confiding if you suppose I shall trust your bare assurance. As I have said, I intend to – to – well, to close both your mouths.”
“Why Faulkner’s,” Ashton asked.
“Because he is to marry Gladys Deroxe, who is so friendly with Vera Thorold, who is to be my wife. Vera knows too much, and may have told her little friend what she knows. I mistrust Vera’s friends – even her friends’ friends. You understand?”
“Oh, why talk so much!” the Baronne interrupts. “Tell him everything in a few words, and have done with it!”
The Baronne’s interjection reminded me of Scott in Austin Powers (“Why don't you just shoot him now? I'll go get a gun”), and suggests that the talkative villain was a somewhat over-familiar trope even when Le Queux was writing. I’m sure there are other examples, for instance from the likes of John Buchan, and it’s a topic to I will certainly return. Watch this space!

Friday, 10 November 2017

Danger Mouse, Special Agent Oso and James Bond

A little while ago, I posted a tweet about a couple of Bond-inspired episode titles from the latest series of Danger Mouse, featuring the world's greatest secret agent. I was subsequently alerted to another children’s animated series, Special Agent Oso, whose episode titles are also Bond-inspired.
 
The title of episode 13 of series 2 (2017) of Danger Mouse
 

Special Agent Oso is a pre-school series about a bear who, in each episode, helps a child complete a task (for instance, flying a kite or setting the table). The series was originally broadcast on the Disney Channel in 2009. Series 1 was broadcast between 2009 and 2010, the second from 2010 to 2012. In total, 116 episodes were shown, each one with a title that plays on the names of the Bond films or, in two cases, the titles of Bond songs.
 

There is, for example, ‘From Grandma With Love’ (From Russia With Love), ‘A Zoo To A Thrill’ (A View To A Kill), ‘The Chairs Are Not Enough’ (The World Is Not Enough), and Dr Snow (Dr No). Some of the titles are unintentionally ironic. ‘License to Cheer Up’ is obviously based on Licence to Kill, which, until the Daniel Craig era, had been the most serious and humourless Bond film of the series. ‘Drink Another Day’ (Die Another Day), meanwhile, could be the very words Bond lives by.
 

Just for fun, I catalogued all the titles and did some basic analysis to see if any patterns emerged in the selection of Bond film titles. The most commonly used film name is Goldfinger with 11 occurrences. Octopussy, Tomorrow Never Dies, Moonraker, and Never Say Never Again are the least frequently used film names, with one occurrence each.
 
Frequency of Bond film titles used in Special Agent Oso
 

There is no clear difference in the choice of titles between the two series; generally, the most commonly used film names in series 1 remain common in series 2, but there are some interesting differences. Diamonds Are Forever, Licence to Kill and The World Is Not Enough are used less in series 2, while Dr No, The Man With The Golden Gun, and Thunderball increase in frequency in series 2. The most substantial increase is Quantum of Solace, which isn’t represented at all in series 1, but accounts for almost 6% of titles in series 2. Series 1 was broadcast in 2009, after Quantum of Solace had been released, but presumably planning of the series began before the film’s release date of 2008.
 
Comparative proportions of film titles used in series 1 and 2 of Special Agent Oso
 

What is mildly surprising is the middle ranking of From Russia With Love. The film title is a favourite of newspaper headline writers, but evidently the writers of Special Agent Oso haven’t been quite so keen. It seems that what is suitable for the press isn’t necessarily so suitable or amenable for children’s programming. The survey of Special Agent Oso titles also shows that Bond film names have varying levels of adaptability. Octopussy and Moonraker have poor adaptability and are little used, while Goldfinger has a high level of adaptability and is prolific.
 

Returning to Danger Mouse, since the cartoon was relaunched in 2015, there have been only ten episodes with Bond-inspired titles. While this is too small a dataset for comparison with Special Agent Oso, it is revealing that the only Bond film title to be used twice in Danger Mouse is Goldfinger – Greenfinger (also the name of a Special Agent Oso episode) and Gold Flinger.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Bond Vehicle Collectibles, and Corgi's DB5 as archaeological artefact

The other week a work colleague of mine brought in an old, rather play-worn Corgi Aston Martin DB5 to show me, knowing that I was a James Bond fan. I was delighted that he had done so, and I examined the car so that I could tell him more about it. I told him that the car was an early model, being gold painted, rather than silver, and that it had other features typical of the early model; the bullet-proof screen at the back, for instance, was raised by pressing the exhaust pipe, rather than the overriders extending from the rear bumper, as in later models.


Coincidentally, I had just read a new book about toy James Bond vehicles, so was able to give my colleague much more information about Corgi’s best known model. Bond Vehicle Collectibles (Amberley, 2017) by Paul Brent Adams is a guide to the Bond-related toy vehicles produced not only by Corgi, but other manufacturers, among them Hot Wheels and Johnny Lightning. The book is written from a collector’s point of view, and so contains a useful account of all the different models, their scales, and variations in design, and provides advice about filling gaps in a Bond car collection (for instance where official models of a car that featured in a Bond film don’t exist).
 
Bond Vehicle Collectibles (Amberley, 2017)
What’s best about the book, though, is its stunning colour photographs. Most of the images are of cars produced for the 'James Bond Car Collection', a part-work issued by Eaglemoss (in the UK, at least) in monthly instalments from 2007. The collection included many cars never produced by Corgi or other manufacturers. Coincidentally (again!), this series has just been relaunched by Eaglemoss as 'Bond in Motion: The Official James Bond Die-Cast Collection'.
 

The book is a slim one, and if you’re after more detail on the Corgi models, I recommend Dave Worrall’s 1996 book, The James Bond Diecasts of Corgi. However, for a good overview of all the toy vehicles and some great photography, then Paul Adams’ book is a must.


Returning to my colleague’s DB5, it occurred to me as I was turning it round in my hands and looking closely at the details, that I was seeing the car as an artefact (I am, after all, an archaeologist). There was a great deal one could tell just from that model, and many of the questions I’m looking to answer when I examine, say, Roman pottery, I could also ask of the DB5 – date, type, origin, condition, context, and so on, allowing me not just to catalogue aspects of its design and manufacture, but also form a picture of its use and history as an object. The model cars of James Bond may well yet be a future specialism in the study of material culture, with Bond Vehicle Collectables and other books providing much of the groundwork!

Friday, 27 October 2017

'Like something out of James Bond'

We often read stories in the papers or online in which aspects of the story have been likened to ‘something out of James Bond’. Take a recent case of a cigarette scam in Yorkshire, which was reported in various newspapers. The police uncovered a hidden room full of contraband goods, which the police described as a ‘James Bond-style room’. Reports about new technology rarely fail to mention James Bond. A new submersible vehicle designed by Aston Martin, for example, was inevitable dubbed, in another recent article, ‘James Bond-worthy’. References such as these have been made for decades, even before the Bond film series was launched, and sometimes in the most unlikely publications.
 

Farm and Country magazine is far removed from the world of James Bond, but a column ('Leaning on the gate') by farmer Peter Fraser in the edition published 27th April 1960 managed to include a reference to Fleming’s creation. The column offered Fraser’s view of farming in the spring, and described how two of his Jersey cows had died mysteriously. There was talk of magnesium deficiency, a drop in temperature and poor quality grass, but no one had really got to the bottom of it. ‘We need a new detective to solve this mystery,’ Fraser wrote. ‘Some new James Bond – we had better ring up Ian Fleming.’
 

An article by Lord Kilbracken ('Topsy and the treasure') that appeared in The Tatler on 27th September 1961 not only mentions Ian Fleming, but is about a subject that might have appealed to him. In the piece, Lord Kilbracken revealed an interest in the circumstances surrounding a fabled hoard of objects known as Rommel's Treasure. The treasure is said to have comprised priceless objects stolen by the German army in North Africa in World War Two and subsequently dumped in the sea off Bastia in Corsica. Lord Kilbracken had learnt of an underwater search for the treasure by 'a shadowy figure straight out of Ian Fleming', a Mr Helle. I agree - the story is well into Live and Let Die or 'Octopussy' territory.
 
Headline from the Aberdeen Evening Express, 29 July 1965
 

A more conventional story that alluded to James Bond appeared in the Aberdeen Evening Express in July 1965. The piece reported the trial of three people, 'including an attractive bus conductress', who had been charged with possessing Indian hemp. The legal representative of one of the accused is reported as saying: 'The whole story reads more like a James Bond thriller than a court case.'
 

These items reveal that, even before the film series, James Bond had become synonymous with intrigue and mystery and was sufficiently embedded into the cultural environment to be evoked in unrelated contexts. The piece in the Aberdeen Evening Express is particularly telling, as it suggests that the novels remained an important cultural touchstone after 1962, when Dr No was released, and that it took a few years before the film series overtook the novels in cultural significance.