Sunday, 19 December 2010

Christmas with Bond

How does James Bond celebrate Christmas? Ian Fleming’s novels contain few clues. Just one adventure – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – has events coinciding with the festive period. According to John Griswold’s chronological analysis of the novels, the events of The Man With the Golden Gun cover the period from November 1963 to February 1964, but there is a break in the narrative during December and most of January, and therefore no mention is made of Christmas.

The references in OHMSS suggest that Bond, when not engaged in a mission, has a fairly traditional Christmas Day. He berates his secretary, Mary Goodnight, for working, rather than spending the day stirring the plum pudding and going to church (Chapter 20). But while Bond is aware of these concepts as elements of the Christmas celebrations, Goodnight’s response – that the pudding is prepared months earlier and that it was the wrong time for church – highlights the possibility that Bond does not get too involved with the organisation of the festivities or does not habitually attend the Christmas services.

Bond has his Christmas meal at M’s house on the edge of Windsor Forest. M’s housekeeper, Mrs Hammond, serves turkey (presumably with seasonal vegetables), followed by plum pudding. M thinks the Christmas meal traditions to be ‘damned sentimental rubbish’ and almost has an apoplexy at the sight of crackers on the table. Bond’s view on the menu, and the crackers, is not recorded. In terms of drinks, Bond has a glass of Marsala and most of a bottle of bad Algerian wine, neither of which impressed him.

That is as far as the evidence from the novels takes us. However, as Ian Fleming gave so many of his own traits to Bond, it is reasonable to assume that the sort of celebrations Fleming had were also shared by Bond. The letters of Ann Fleming provide some information. Christmases were often spent at Shane’s Castle, Lord O’Neill’s home in Dublin. One year there, the Flemings and other guests played Scrabble, bridge and table-tennis. In another letter, we learn of the Stilton, tangerines and smoked salmon that the house guests ate. Ian Fleming’s drink of choice was vodka. Alternatively, Christmas was spent on the ski-slopes. Staying at St Moritz into the January, the Flemings saw in the new year at a table covered with crackers and paper hats.

So, for the perfect Bondian Christmas, take to the slopes, eat a traditional Christmas meal, washed down with vodka, and play Scrabble. Happy Christmas!

Amory, M (ed.), 1985 The letters of Ann Fleming, Collins Harvill, London

Griswold, J, 2006. Ian Fleming’s James Bond: annotations and chronologies for Ian Fleming’s Bond stories, Author House, Milton Keynes

Monday, 13 December 2010

No sensayuma: humour in the James Bond books

As Tee-Hee points out, James Bond of Ian Fleming's novels has no sense of humour. But we do not have to take Mr Big's giggling henchman's word for it. The fact is confirmed by many commentators and people connected with the world of James Bond. For instance, Ben Macintyre (2008, 204) regarded the book Bond 'almost entirely devoid of humour...unlike his film counterpart'.
Roger Moore delivered some of the funniest lines in the film series
Indeed, the humour present in the films is considered to be a significant innovation in terms of the Bond character, and has been credited variously to Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood and Berkely Mather, the screenwriters of Dr No (1962) or Terence Young, the film's director. What's more, the screen Bond in turn influenced Fleming, who altered his Bond to something that more closely resembled Sean Connery's portrayal.

Admittedly, in Fleming's first novel, Casino Royale, the humour is somewhat lacking, but in subsequent novels, the jokes are very much in evidence. Bond's humour, like his martini, is typically very dry. Facing Tee-Hee, Bond follows his aphorism, 'Those who deserve to die, die the death they deserve', with, 'Write that down. It's an original thought' (Live and Let Die, chapter 8). In Moonraker (chapter 25), when his secretary, Loelia Ponsonby, asks him how much of an emergency before she calls him for duty, Bond says, 'Any invitation to a quiet game of bridge'. And Bond tells Nash, who has him powerless at the point of a pistol, 'I'd like to know what it's all about. I can spare you half an hour' (From Russia, With Love, chapter 26).

Sometimes, the dry humour becomes wry and ironic with restrained mockery. When another of Mr Big's henchman shoves the muzzle of a gun into Bond's stomach, Bond tells him, 'You oughtn't to miss at that range' (Live and Let Die, chapter 6). In The Man with the Golden Gun (chapter 6), Scaramanga tells Bond that some people who hadn't heard of him are dead. Bond replies, 'A lot of people who haven't heard of me are dead'.

Of course, Bond is British, and what could be more British than saucy postcard humour? Tiffany Case flirtatiously tells Bond (Diamonds are Forever, chapter 9), 'If you don't like my peaches, why do you shake my tree', to which Bond replies, 'I haven't started to shake it yet. You won't let me get my arms round the trunk'. Cue a Sidney James cackle. And the exchange between Tatiana Romanova and Bond in his hotel room (From Russia, With Love, chapter 10), was virtually transferred verbatim to the film version: Tatiana – 'You must put something on. It upsets me'. Bond – 'You upset me just as much'. And later: Tatiana – 'I think my mouth is too big'. Bond – 'It's just the right size. For me, anyway'.

While it is true that Bond's witty quip after he dispatches a villain does seem to have been introduced in the films – in the novels, there are no groaners like, 'He was on his way to a funeral', or 'I think he got the point' (after being harpooned) – no one can claim that Bond lacks humour. But many do, and that is one false meme that has become very successful, being transmitted even by those very familiar with the novels.

Bond may have acquired a Scottish background after Connery first appeared as Bond (although this is hardly surprising, given Fleming's own Scottish roots), but there is no evidence that Bond gained a (different) sense of humour after 1962. Bond is his wittiest in You Only Live Twice, but none of his one-liners are delivered after Bond exercises his licence to kill.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

The man who wouldn't be Bond

There is a lot of confusion about which actors were considered for the role of James Bond in Dr No (1962), even among those closest to the casting process. In his autobiography, When the snow melts (1999, Boxtree), Cubby Broccoli writes that James Fox was put forward for the Bond role, but declined 'because of strong religious scruples'. Correspondence with James Fox suggests that this was not the case.

I wrote to James Fox in 2006 and asked him about his brush with James Bond. His reply indicated that he had had no involvement with the film's producers in 1961 (casting took place between June and August that year). In fact, James Fox first met Broccoli in 1981, not 1961. This followed a period of a break in acting and (by Fox's own admission) 'terrible films'. Broccoli 'gave me a large Jack Daniels', James Fox recalls.