Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Another James Bond pastiche by Sebastian Faulks

An edition of Radio 4’s literary quiz, The Write Stuff, recently broadcast on Radio 4 Extra, was of particular interest to Bond fans, as it featured Ian Fleming as its author of the week. Following the typical format of the programme, listeners were treated to the panellists’ favourite Fleming quotations, a quick-fire quiz round all about Fleming, and, at the end of the programme, the panellists having been tasked with concocting literary passages written in the style of the author, the resulting four pastiches. 

The quotations were taken from the novels From Russia, with Love, You Only Live Twice, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and a 1962 interview with Fleming in The New Yorker. I’m glad to report that I scored full marks on the quiz round. Unsurprisingly, team captain Sebastian Faulks had no difficulty either. 

As for the pastiches, the panellists had to imagine that James Bond had been turned down by the Secret Service and had resorted to a different career. For Sebastian Faulks, this was familiar territory, having already written a Bond pastiche, which imagined Bond shopping in a supermarket, in an earlier series. For his second effort (well, third, if you count Devil May Care), Faulks imagined Bond as a plumber, sent to fix the blocked sink of one Miss Sapho Crumpet and discovering the presence of a rival firm going by the name of SPECTRE – Surbiton Plumbing, Electrical, Carpentry and Roofing Experts.
 
Pistache, Faulks' 2006 collection of pastiches from The Write Stuff

Fellow panellist Mark Billingham imagined that Bond had turned to hairdressing (licensed to cut, style and blow-dry) in a pastiche that ended with a neat play on Goldfinger’s most famous line (‘No, Mr Bond, I expect you to dye’!). Natalie Haynes presented Bond as a dentist (‘Doctor? No, dentist’, Bond says to a patient), who has a licence to drill and works with a hygienist called Flossy Galore. In the final pastiche, John Walsh returned Bond to his roots, imagining Bond as an ornithologist. 

This was clever stuff, and all the pastiches were fun, but what’s interesting is that all drew, perhaps a little unimaginatively, on the Bond films of the 1960s. In three of the pastiches, dialogue by Bond was delivered in a Sean Connery-style accent, and the efforts variously referenced Dr No, Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice. Clearly, the memes of the early Bond films remain influential, more so, perhaps, than later entries.

At the time of writing, the Fleming edition of The Write Stuff is on the BBC’s iPlayer Radio, but not for long!

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

What can we expect in Forever and a Day

The title of Anthony Horowitz’s second James Bond novel, due to be published in May by Jonathan Cape, was announced last week. The book, Forever and a Day, is set before the events of Casino Royale and sees James Bond earn his licence to kill and develop into the man we know from Ian Fleming’s novels. What else can we learn from the tantalising hints offered by the official press release?  

Anyone familiar with the novel of Casino Royale will remember that James Bond earned his double-O status during the Second World War by killing a Norwegian agent in Stockholm who was doubling for the Germans, and a Japanese cipher expert operating out of the RCA Building in the Rockefeller Centre in New York. Presumably the episodes will be referenced in the new novel, but the latter is especially interesting, as the Rockefeller Centre was also the headquarters of the British Security Coordination (BSC) headed by William Stephenson. The BSC represented British intelligence in the US during the war and was concerned with intelligence gathering, counter-espionage and special operations. If Horowitz’s novel describes or alludes to the killing of the cipher expert, will it link Bond more explicitly to the BSC? 

Probably not, judging by the synopsis: 
‘007 floats in the waters of Marseille, killed by an unknown hand. It’s time for a new agent to step up. Time for a new weapon in the war against organised crime. It’s time for James Bond to earn his licence to kill. This is the story of the birth of a legend, in the brutal underworld of the French Riviera.’ 
This appears to be a different narrative to that presented in Casino Royale, and it will be interesting to see how the two origins are reconciled.

In any case, the Marseille setting and mention of the underworld of the French Riviera are intriguing. We know from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service that this is Union Corse territory. Are the members of that criminal organisation involved in the death of 007? Will we be introduced to Bond’s future father-in-law, Marc-Ange Draco? There is no suggestion in OHMSS that Bond knew Draco before the events of that novel, so it seems unlikely that Bond and Draco would meet in Forever and a Day, but Draco could certainly be in the background.

It’s worth bearing in mind, too, that Marseille was home in the early 1950s to Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s operation to excavate two ancient wrecks. Ian Fleming reported on the underwater excavation for the Sunday Times and even attempted to dive to the site. It’s possible that this will inform Horowitz’s novel to some extent (just as it informed Fleming’s Live and Let Die), and indeed the author confirmed in a tweet that the book involves ‘lots of water.’ 

And will Bond eat one of the regional specialities? In OHMSS, Bond asks a Marseille taxi-driver whether the bouillabaisse (ideally made with rascasse or scorpion fish) chez Guido is always as good. Bond is clearly familiar with the dish and the local restaurants, and it might be in Horowitz’s adventure that he is introduced to them. 

One thing we do know is that the novel will, like Anthony Horowitz’s first Bond adventure, Trigger Mortis, contain original material by Ian Fleming. How it will contribute to Forever and a Day has not been revealed, but it makes the novel an even more mouth-watering prospect.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Bond references galore as Aston Martin DB6 is restored on Car SOS

Another programme of Bondian interest to report on this week: More4's Car SOS. Each week presenters Tim Shaw and Fuzz Townshend rescue a classic car belonging to an owner unable to restore the car themselves because of straitened or other unfortunate circumstances. In an episode broadcast a few weeks ago, the hosts answered a request from a viewer to restore an Aston Martin DB6, which had mechanical problems and had been sitting and rusting in the garage for some years. The DB6 never appeared in a Bond film, but that didn't stop the presenters from playing on Aston Martin's connection with James Bond.

In the introduction to the car, the DB6 was described as the Bond car that never was; the model is closely based on the DB5, which was of course made famous by its appearance in Goldfinger. Indeed, the introduction as a whole was given a Bondian theme with graphics that recalled the gunbarrel and title sequences of the Bond films.
 
An introduction to the DB6 is given the Bond-film treatment
The presenters collected the car from the owner's wife (the owner was abroad and the restoration was to be a surprise) and got it back to the workshop. There was a lot to do on the car, and Tim wondered whether the car would scare 'the living daylights' out of the team of mechanics. He continued: 'It's time for the whole team to cast a golden eye over the car.' For much of the episode, Tim was wearing a semblance of a dinner suit in the form of a white jacket and bow tie. At another point, we saw a man turn towards the camera while sitting in a swivel chair and stroking a white toy cat.

 
Tim Shaw in 'dinner suit'
Despite the restoration being the team's 'riskiest undercover mission yet', the mechanics did wonders and managed to restore the DB6. An elaborate 'reveal' was planned. The owner was collected from the airport by his wife, who took him to a castle where they watched the filming of a fake spy film, Dr Spyfinger. There the restored car was brought into view to the obvious surprise and joy of the owner.

 
The restored DB6
The whole episode was full of Bond references, and it even included a visit to the Aston Martin Heritage Trust Museum in Drayton St Leonard in Oxfordshire, where, incidentally, there's a very nice display of Bond memorabilia relating to Aston Martin. Interestingly, in the previous episode of Car SOS, the team restored a Sunbeam Alpine, a model that appeared in both the film and book of Dr No. Now there's an idea: how about an entire series of Bond car restorations?

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Episode of Death in Paradise inspired by Ian Fleming?

A recent episode of Death in Paradise, a murder mystery series set on the fictional Caribbean island of Saint-Marie (actually Guadeloupe), might be of interest to Bond fans. In the episode, DI Jack Mooney (Ardal O’Hanlon) investigates the death on the island of a thriller writer, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Ian Fleming.

The writer, Frank O'Toole, is the author of some 40 thrillers, including spy novels. He lives in a large house, apparently single storey, on a hillside overlooking the sea, and enjoys access to the beach via steps leading from the house. The house has a veranda and large glassless windows with jalousies. For all I know, houses like this may exist all over the Caribbean, but my immediate thought when I saw it was of Goldeneye, Fleming’s Jamaican home.


The hero of Frank O'Toole's novels is a 'hard-boiled code-breaker' called Jim Harvey. In one of his adventures, With My Little Eye (a title that perhaps owes more to Agatha Christie than Fleming), Harvey is tasked with tracking down a 'deadly assassin in Ecuador', a plot with shades of The Man with the Golden Gun. In another allusion to Bond, or at least the film Bond, Jack Mooney notes (having read the book after O'Toole's wife tells him that 'if you want to know my husband, you have to read him') that by page 13, Harvey has already slept with the woman he's been spying on.


There are other details that recall Fleming. Frank O'Toole writes in a room overlooking the sea, and, though the series setting is contemporary, he uses an old typewriter. He writes one book a year, and we learn that he was a journalist before turning to novels. All of which sounds rather familiar.


Curiously, despite all these apparent nods to Fleming, Frank O’Toole is described as a ‘budget le Carré’. Do I detect a trace of condescension on the part of the script writers? With John le Carré popularly considered to be the superior writer, perhaps ‘budget Fleming’ seemed less credible.

Episode 3 of series 7 is enjoyable, undemanding fare, and the Fleming aspect adds to the enjoyment. At the time of writing, the episode is available to watch via the BBC’s iPlayer.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Atticus and the origin of Bond's winning bridge hand

A while ago, I described how Ian Fleming’s Atticus column in the Sunday Times, which he wrote from 1953 to 1956, provided him with material for the Bond novels. The reverse was also true. Occasionally, ideas that appeared in the Bond novels would also crop up again in Atticus.


Take Moonraker, for example. In the epic bridge game between James Bond and Hugo Drax, Bond wins by means of the redoubled grand slam, beating Drax with a combination of trumps and diamonds. 

Dwight D Eisenhower, US President from 1953 to 1961, won a game of bridge with a similar hand. In Atticus of June 19th, 1955 (two months after the publication of Moonraker), we’re told that Eisenhower, a brilliant bridge player, who liked to play trumps as an opening lead, won a famous game just before the end of the Second World War against fellow US army generals Gruenther, Clark and Moses. The hand was redoubled, and Eisenhower prevailed with a grand slam in diamonds. Coincidence, or the source of the game between Bond and Drax?

Later in Moonraker, we learn that Drax owns a Mercedes 300 S, ‘the sports model with the disappearing hood’, and painted white in honour of the famous Mercedes victories at Le Mans and Nürburgring.
 
Cover artwork of the first edition of Moonraker (Cape, 1955)

Atticus mentions a similar model on July 3rd, 1955. In the piece, Atticus reported that American journalist John Bentley (‘the best American writer on fast motoring’) considered that Le Mans had lost its purpose, which was to provide a testing ground for production vehicles. Instead, limited-production cars and prototypes were permitted, and ‘the true spirit of Le Mans vanished.’ 

The Mercedes 300 SLR is mentioned as a case in point. This model is similar to Drax’s car, but, we’re told, its air-brakes are relocated behind the centres of gravity and pressure, which steady the car on racing turns and mininise tail slides, but ‘would be useless’ on normal highways. The piece is accompanied by a photograph of a white Mercedes 300 SLR driven by Pierre Levegh (who tragically lost his life at Le Mans the previous month). The piece has only a tangential connection to Moonraker, but it nevertheless draws on Fleming’s fascination of motor racing that informed passages of the Bond novel.

Atticus gave Ian Fleming the opportunity to research and read up on subjects that would prove useful for the Bond books, but Fleming also turned to the Bond books for material for his later writing.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

On re-reading Live and Let Die

Christmas brought me the set of three Bond novels – Casino Royale, Goldfinger and Live and Let Die – published by Vintage Classics. The last I was particularly keen on reading. Not only does it have an excellent introduction by John Cork (as do they all), but the edition comprised a never-before published version of the text.



As the introductory note to the text states, the Vintage Classics edition is a combination of the standard UK edition and the US edition. Fleming’s original American publisher, Macmillan, made several changes to the UK edition, with Fleming’s approval, mainly relating to the American scenes, descriptions and language. For this Vintage Classics edition, the two original editions were compared and combined, and what could be described as a definitive edition has been produced.

The most obvious difference between this edition and the UK edition is that chapter 5, perhaps the most problematic part of the book (to say the least), is shorn of the lengthy conversation at Sugar Ray’s between a black couple that Bond and Leiter listen into. The chapter is also given its US title, Seventh Avenue. Along with other, smaller, changes, this gives the book a fresh, pacier, feel, and makes the reading experience very much less uncomfortable. 

Some other thoughts came to mind as I was reading the book. Superficially, the film version of the book diverges significantly from the book, but a surprising amount of the book survives to lesser or greater extents in the film. Bloody Morgan’s treasure is replaced by drugs, but the book’s essential plot elements – voodoo, the Harlem setting, the train journey, Mr Big’s cave and his network of agents, Bond’s capture, the disappearing table in the bar, sharks, the mine that destroys Mr Big’s operation, Solitaire and Bond being tied up together at the denouement of the book, and so on – are also on the screen. Some of these elements were, of course, picked up again and filmed more faithfully for For Your Eyes Only and Licence to Kill, but there’s more of the book in the film than one may think. 

I was reminded of some of the quite ordinary things Bond does in this novel. Eating cornflakes is one. Catching a bus is another. It’s almost impossible to imagine Bond waiting at the bus stop, boarding the bus, fiddling with change, buying a ticket, looking for a spare seat, and keeping an eye on the stops. Would any continuation Bond novelist dare have Bond catch a bus? Probably not, and if they did, they’d risk writing a parody in a similar vein to Sebastian Faulks’ piece in his Pistache volume that describes Bond in a supermarket. The episode is reminder that Fleming could make even the most ordinary acts sophisticated and exciting (the New York setting helps), and that he created a hero that his readers could relate to. Bond may not quite be one of us, but he’s far from the upper-class, ‘clubland’ hero of the earlier 20th century. I wouldn’t mind betting that Fleming took the same bus journey. There is a bus ride in the film version, but the use of the bus is far from being of an ordinary nature. 

It is worth noting, too, that Live and Let Die contains the first use in a Bond book of the phrase, ‘all the time in the world’. Bond tells Solitaire, ‘When the time comes I want to be alone with you, with all the time in the world.’ Fleming was evidently much taken with the phrase. It’s not only used in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, appearing in the final chapter and serving as that chapter’s title, but is used twice in Diamonds are Forever: ‘But now there was all the time in the world’, and ‘Bond suddenly felt they had all the time in the world.’ So associated is the phrase with Bond that it would be my choice for the title of the next Bond film, although the fact that it has already been used in a film title – being the sub-title to Spy Kids 4 – might rule its use out.

A final point to make is that the Soviet connection in Live and Let Die seems very weak. As John Cork points out, at no point does Mr Big spout Soviet ideology, nor does he mention the Soviets in respect of his operations. Indeed, the Soviet angle is barely mentioned again after M’s briefing. One wonders why Mr Big would need the Soviets at all. His operation is self-financing, and he’s in control of a business and crime empire. Ian Fleming could be considered as much a crime fiction writer as a spy fiction writer, and Live and Let Die certainly joins Diamonds are Forever, Goldfinger, The Spy who Loved Me, and the short story 'Risico' in the crime category.

Are any more Vintage Classics editions of the Bond novels planned? I hope so!

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

What Little Nellie did before Bond

Little Nellie, the autogyro designed and built by Wing Commander Ken Wallis and flown by him in the film You Only Live Twice (1967), is one of the most celebrated vehicles in the James Bond series. In the film, James Bond uses the autogyro, supplied by Q Branch, to reconnoitre the Japanese landscape to find out where SPECTRE’s rockets might be launching from. A cine-camera fixed to his helmet allows him to photograph every inch.
 
Bond flying Little Nellie in You Only Live Twice

Curiously, Little Nellie had been used for a not too dissimilar purpose a few years earlier.
Thuxton, a small village near Dereham in Norfolk, is the site of a deserted medieval village or DMV – the remains of a settlement that existed in the medieval period, but for some reason (possibly plague or changes in climate, population or land use) was abandoned. In the early 1960s, the DMV at Thuxton still survived as bumps in the ground, marking the positions of dwellings (tofts), streets and fields. During that time, however, Thuxton, along with other such sites, was threatened with deep ploughing, and so it was important to excavate and survey as much as possible before the earthworks disappeared forever. 
 

That’s where Little Nellie stepped in. While archaeological excavations were taking place, Ken Wallis flew across the site in his autogyro on several occasions and took aerial photographs of the medieval tofts and yards. These images captured fine views of the excavation and the village layout, and were used by the archaeologists to help them understand the history of the site. The images form part of the site archive and can be found in Norfolk’s Historic Environment Record at Gressenhall.
 

For Wing Commander Ken Wallis and Little Nellie, it was a mission not on Her Majesty’s secret service, but on Norfolk’s archaeological service.
 
Just for fun (and while we're on the subject of photography), I took this stereo image of Little Nellie, a signed photo of Ken Wallis and Fleming's novel. Look at the image through a stereoscope to see it in glorious 3-D! (Or relax your eyes as if looking at a 'magic eye' image.)