Thursday, 25 August 2011

James Bond - licensed to model

We’re used to seeing the actors who’ve played Bond advertising products in character or surrounded by text or images to tie the product in with the Bond films. For example, Sean Connery advertised Jim Beam whiskey in 1967 during the release in America of You Only Live Twice. The product doesn’t feature in the film, but the film’s title shown at the top of the advert was enough to make a connection. The sub-text was that this was a drink that James Bond would choose. (Actually, the literary Bond, fond of Bourbon, certainly might.)

George Lazenby continued to trade into the 1970s and 80s on his single appearance as Bond and advertise, in the guise of a Bond-like character, products as diverse as Sony electronics and Benson and Hedges cigarettes. An advert for the Montblanc company and featuring Roger Moore, Desmond Llewelyn and Vijay Armitraj promoted the use of its pen in the film Octopussy (1983). More recently, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig became ambassadors for Omega watches, which capitalised on Bond’s loyalty to the brand.

What is less well known is that even before Sean Connery hit the screens as James Bond, the first model to trade on the Bond image was James Bond himself. In 1961, a set of advertisements for Courtelle menswear was placed in the Daily Express. The model was James Bond (as depicted by an artist) and the content suggested in no uncertain terms that these were the clothes to wear if you wanted a James Bond lifestyle.

The first advert, published in March 1961, showed Bond in a city apartment. He has his back to us, and an attractive woman, seemingly having fainted, is draped over his arms. The text asks, ‘Where would you find James Bond?’ The answer? He’s the man being hustled through US customs (yes, I can see that). He’s the man driving the Bentley (certainly). He’s the man in white tie and tails at the embassy reception (sort of; Bond doesn’t really wear tails, but go on). He’s the man in the rough clothes of a sailor in a waterfront dive in Vladivostok (er...). Ah, I see. Courtelle is selling comfortable, good-looking, easy-care and rugged clothes in a new acrylic fibre which it thinks fit the active, outdoor lifestyle of James Bond. And to prove the point, in the advert Bond wears a rugged ‘Snowdon’ sweater.

In the second advert, dated April 1961, Bond wears trousers in Abrelle fabric; they're casual, but keep their crease. Just as well, since Bond is shown negotiating a moving train as he enters a carriage compartment occupied by a beauty, bound at the wrists and gagged. A captured enemy or a damsel to rescue? The text isn't clear on the matter.

The third advert appeared in May. 'How do you see Bond?', it asks. Panther-dark and dangerous as his plane flies over Tokyo? Or sipping a vodka martini, stirred, not shaken (sic) in tropical Goverment House? Or perhaps pulling on a soft, cool shirt? Yes, Bond is modelling a shirt - Courtelle by Holyrood, to be precise. Its rugged and comfortable qualities are well able to cope with what Bond is shown doing: shooting from the back of his Bentley at an unseen enemy as he protects a woman in the passenger seat.

Bond models another shirt in September's advert, this time in a lightweight knit, along with slacks in Abrelle. We see that the easy movement afforded by the combination helps in his close-quarter fight in a Caribbean cabin with a thug armed with a machete. The final advert appeared in November. Bond’s up against it. He’s looking at the wrong end of a loaded automatic pointed with determination by a female enemy agent. Bond doesn’t have many options, but at least he’s wearing a Stamford sweater by Byford, and his usual slacks in Abrelle fabric.

Across the set, the text (‘Bond wears...’; ‘James Bond is featured here with acknowledgement of Ian Fleming’) gave James Bond the tone of reality that gave credibility to the adverts. Bond was as real a model as, say, Roger Moore was when he advertised knitwear in the 1950s. By 1961, James Bond had been identified as an aspirational figure. Readers too could enjoy the James Bond lifestyle – a mixture of action, a little danger, sophistication, and a lot of cool – that Ian Fleming had described with frequent references to up-market products, food and drink among the adventure.

Today there are websites and books devoted to the James Bond lifestyle. These have been inspired largely by the films. However, the notion, or meme, of an attainable James Bond lifestyle emerged before start of the film series in 1962 and was adapted from the the pages of Fleming. There are few fictional characters who have achieved this degree of reality.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Bonding with Dirk Pitt, Lucifer Box, Archie Noble and Asterix

Evidence of the significant place James Bond has in popular culture is found in a number of novels that cannot be called James Bond parodies – Bond is not the subject of the books, which instead usually feature a well-established character of their own – but contain allusions to Bond in tribute to Ian Fleming’s character and hint at the influence that Bond has in the shaping of the authors’ works.

For example, there is Clive Cussler’s Night Probe!, published in 1981. The hero of the novel is Dirk Pitt, a marine adventurer who works for the US National Underwater and Marine Agency. Pitt is dispatched to locate and retrieve the only copies from a shipwreck of an old, but potentially dangerous, treaty between Great Britain and the United States. Meanwhile, the British Government has brought the legendary spy Brian Shaw out of retirement to make sure the documents never get into American hands.

That Brian Shaw can be identified as James Bond is clear from Cussler’s descriptions. We meet Shaw at a funeral of, we learn, his old boss. ‘There were times I wanted to kill him, and there were times I could have embraced him as a father.’ A neat summary of the love-hate relationship between M and Bond. We also meet his chief’s old secretary (Moneypenny?) who lets slip that Brian Shaw is a pseudonym. Then there is reference to SMERSH, Shaw’s former enemy, and to the death of his wife, and Shaw’s home in the West Indies. At the end of the novel, Dirk Pitt thinks he’s discovered Shaw’s true identity. ‘James Bond would be proud of you’, he says. Shaw replies that Bond only exists in fiction. ‘Does he?’, Pitt asks. Cussler’s ‘Bond’ is largely the Bond of the books, but the cinematic Bond creeps in. ‘The same old flatterer’, the elderly secretary says when Bond tells her how sensual she looks. We can hear Lois Maxwell’s Moneypenny utter that line.

Dirk Pitt is something of a Bondian character himself, and Clive Cussler has acknowledged the influence of Bond in Pitt’s make-up: ‘I began researching and analysing all the series heroes, beginning with Edgar Allan Poe's Inspector Dumas. Next came Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes, and all the other fiction detectives and spies: Bulldog Drummond, Sam Spade, Phillip Marlow, Mike Hammer, Matt Helm, and James Bond. I studied them all.’

Black Butterfly, by Mark Gatiss and published in 2008, is the third novel to feature the bisexual secret agent, Lucifer Box. In the novel, he investigates the unexpected deaths of members of the establishment, which, he discovers is caused by a poison deriving from the black butterfly.

Bond references come thick and fast. On the cover of the hardback edition, the lettering of the title and author’s name is stencilled, and very much like the tea-chest font used in the Richard Chopping covers of Ian Fleming’s later novels. The cover art shows, in the manner of the cover for The Spy Who Loved Me, a commando knife piercing a playing card and the wood beneath. The artwork is a fine tribute to Richard Chopping. There is even a fly, Richard Chopping’s trade mark. Incidentally, the paperback cover nicely mimics the Pan covers of the 1960s.

The allusions to Bond continue inside. The action is set in 1953 (the year that the first Bond novel, Casino Royale, was published), and moves from England to Istanbul, then Kingston, Jamaica. The prologue, describing a dream of Lucifer Box, is a good Fleming pastiche, featuring expensive branded products (a Siebe Gorman wetsuit), the taking of Benzedrine tablets, and appearance of a Blofeld-like villain, Gottfried Clawhammer. Further into the novel, we meet Whitley Bey (a nod to Kerim Bey of From Russia, With Love) and Dr Cassivellaunus Fetch, the Man with the Celluloid Hand. There is even a reference to Jamaica’s Undertaker’s Wind, something that Fleming often mentioned in his books.

There are fewer Bond references in The Reavers, by Octopussy screenwriter, George MacDonald Fraser, but those that are present reveal the work of a Fleming aficionado. The novel, published in 2007, is a comic historical adventure set in the world of the Border reivers or raiders on the Anglo-Scottish border in the 16th-century. As usual with his novels, Fraser intersperses the narrative with factual snippets, among them the fact that ‘the original “M”’, Sir Francis Walsingham was Elizabeth I’s espionage chief. The hero of the novel is the spy, Archie Noble. He moves with ‘cat-like agility’ (a reference, perhaps, to how Harry Saltzman thought Sean Connery moved), is head of Station B for Border, ‘licensed to slay’, and a ‘double-nought operative’.

Finally, Asterix and the Black Gold (published in English in 1982), is a comic book adventure by Albert Uderzo, and features the indomitable Gaul on a mission to secure a supply of ‘black gold’ or rock oil, which is an essential ingredient in the druid Getafix’s magic potion. A wandering druid, who is really a Roman spy, joins an unsuspecting Asterix, and tries to sabotage the mission. The druid is Uderzo’s tribute to the early Bond films. The character’s name is Dubbelosix, and looks like Sean Connery. He drives a chariot, which, like Bond’s 1964 Aston Martin, hides many gadgets (for example retractable scythes on the wheels).

It is no surprise that Uderzo incorporates the cinematic Bond in his work. The comic strip medium is, of course, cinematic, but Uderzo is also a film buff who often references aspects of French and American cinema in the Asterix books. For example, Laurel and Hardy are portrayed as Roman soldiers in Obelix and Co, and Kirk Douglas, in Spartacus mode, has a role in Asterix and Obelix All at Sea.

All these works are testament to the continuing influence of both the literary and cinematic James Bond in popular culture, and it is a rare spy or adventure novel that features a spy that does not make a reference to Bond. Ian Fleming said that he wanted to write the spy novel to end all spy novels. The genre didn’t end, but the landscape of the spy novel was undoubtedly altered, with Fleming creating an archetype to which other novelists inevitably turn.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Carry On Bond

It occurred to me last week as I discussed the Bond traits or memes in Carry On Spying that there are other connections between the Bond and Carry On films. Both are enormously popular long-running series (although the Bond series is still a few films short of the 31 films produced by the Carry On team) whose production is based at Pinewood Studios. And some of the humour in the Bond films, especially that of Roger Moore, wouldn’t be out of place in a Carry On film either. The longevity and the fact of working out of the same base have inevitably meant that both series have shared actors and production staff. Here are a few of them.

An iconic image of the Bond films is Shirley Eaton covered head to toe in gold paint in Goldfinger (1964). The image may have been somewhat shocking to British film-goers, as Shirley Eaton was well known to them mainly as an actress in comedy films. Three of those films were Carry Ons. Her first was Carry On Sergeant (1958). Eaton played Mary Sage, who, on being deprived of her husband on her wedding day (he's been called up for National Service) joins the NAAFI (the forces' catering service) to be with him. Eaton followed this with Carry On Nurse (1959), taking a leading role as accident-prone nurse Dorothy Denton. In her third film, Carry On Constable (1960), she has the smaller part of Sally Barry, a victim of a burglary.

There have been other Bond girls who have also been in Carry On films. After appearing in Goldfinger as Dink, Margaret Nolan was seen in a minor role in Carry On Cowboy (1965).This was followed by appearances in a further five Carry On films, most memorably as Dawn Brakes in Carry On Girls (1973), who, in the course of her bid to be crowned Miss Fircombe in a seaside beauty pageant, has a scrap with Hope Springs, played by Barbara Windsor. Then there is Valerie Leon, who took roles in six Carry On films before featuring in The Spy Who Loved Me (1976) as a hotel receptionist. As a Carry On alumnus, she more than matches Roger Moore for suggestive dialogue and knowing looks in her exchanges with him. Eva Reuber-Staier had a small but notable role in three Bond films as General Gogol’s secretary, Rublevitch (or Rubelvitch). Before her first Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me, the actress and former Miss World 1969 had appeared in Carry On Dick (1974) as a member of a troupe of saucy 18th-century entertainers.

Some of the production crew had also worked on both series. Alan Hume was one. The director of photography on For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (1983) and A View to a Kill (1985) was first a camera operator, then the director of photography for the Carry On series. He worked on twenty films, beginning with Carry On Sergeant, and finishing with the final Carry On film, Columbus, in 1992. Anthony Waye, executive producer on the Bond series and currently working on the forthcoming Bond 23, was the assistant director for Carry On Jack (1963), a naval romp set on board HMS Venus in the early 19th century. Another important Bond regular who was involved with the Carry Ons was Peter Lamont. The Oscar-winning production designer was assistant art director on Carry On Matron (1972).

Incidentally, apart from Carry On Spying, there is another Bond reference, albeit a small one, in a Carry On film. In Carry On Loving (1970), Sophie Bliss, one half of the Wedded Bliss marriage agency, has a private detective, Bedsop, played by Charles Hawtrey, follow her husband, Sidney Bliss (Sid James), who she suspects of infidelity. Bedsop ineptly disguises himself as an Indian gentleman, and is rumbled by Sidney Bliss. Bedsop tries to maintain his cover, much to Bliss' amusement, who calls Bedsop a ‘Bombay Bond’.


Webber, R, 2005 The complete A-Z of everything Carry On, Harper Collins

Monday, 8 August 2011

Two early James Bond spoofs

The release of Dr No in 1962 and From Russia With Love the following year immediately brought imitations and spoofs from films producers eager to cash-in on the success of the Bond films, or inevitably responding to the (re-)gain in momentum in popular culture that the spy genre was enjoying. In Britain, two early British responses to the Bond films, both released in 1964, were Hot Enough for June, starring Dirk Bogarde, and Carry On Spying, the ninth film in the popular Carry On series produced by Peter Rogers. Let’s take a look at some of the traits or memes from the Bond films that found their way into the films.
Poster for Hot Enough for June, clearly inspired by Bond (Image: The CinemaScope Cat)

Hot Enough for June was a Rank film directed by Ralph Thomas, who was best known for directing the series of Doctor comedies, four of which also starred Dirk Bogarde. In the film, Bogarde plays Nicholas Whistler, an unemployed writer, who, as a Czech speaker, is persuaded to take a job in an industrial company as its representative in Prague. Unbeknown to Whistler, the company is actually a cover for British Intelligence. Whistler is told to meet a contact in Prague to receive legitimate information, but unwittingly is acquiring industrial secrets. He realises the truth when he is identified as a spy. A pursuit follows, as Whistler attempts to evade capture and reach the British embassy (but not before falling in love with the daughter of the chief of the Czech security service).

Most of the references to James Bond are made early on in the film. As the opening credits end, an intelligence officer, played by John le Mesurier, returns items to the store clerk (the armourer of Q Section?) that belonged to the agent 007, now deceased. Among the items are multiple passports, a shoe with a hidden compartment in the heel, a case of poison capsules, a handgun, and a garrotte wire attached to a watch. With the exception of the wire, which is used in From Russia With Love, these items are not specific to Bond (a trick heel featured in Goldfinger, which was released after Hot Enough for June was made), but generally allude to the spy craft of a dynamic, Bond-like, agent. This sequence also serves to identify Whistler as 007’s replacement.

The scene featuring the chief of British intelligence, played by Robert Morley, and his secretery (Amanda Grinling) is also reminiscent of Bond’s scenes with M and Moneypenny. The poster too recalls From Russia With Love. It depicts in the foreground a gun-holding Whistler and a heroine in a relaxed pose beside him, and in the background the domed buildings of an exotic location (certainly not Prague).

Despite the Bondian iconography, and the fact that the film is generally viewed as a Bond parody (the BBC presented it in such terms in its recent schedule listings), Hot Enough for June is not so much of a Bond spoof than a spy film that contains nods to the Bond films to acknowledge their existence (a measure of how significant the Bond series had become after just two entries). The film is otherwise not dependent on the Bond films, and would not have suffered if the references were removed. This is because the film was based on a book (Night of Wenceslas, by Lionel Davidson) that pre-dated Dr No – it was published in 1960 – and therefore contained no references to the Bond films.

In contrast, Carry On Spying was written with the Bond films very much in the scriptwriters’ mind. Peter Rogers commissioned Talbot Rothwell, who brought Sid Colin to share writing duties, to give the Bond series the Carry On treatment. The film follows the exploits of a team of bumbling recruits, led by Kenneth Williams’ Simkins, as they search for a top-secret formula that has been stolen from a government laboratory. The trail takes them to Vienna, and then to Algiers. The agents are captured, though not before they recover and destroy the formula. In the course of escaping, Simkins presses the self-destruct button inside the villain’s lair, which, as they soon discover, is below their own headquarters.

Carry On Spying doesn’t limit itself to parodying Bond; films such as The Third Man and Casablanca are also referenced, but the Bond films remain the principal target. The organisation behind the theft of the formula is STENCH, headed by Dr Crow, obviously alluding to SPECTRE and Dr No. The recruit played by Charles Hawtrey is called Charlie Bind and has the code name, 000, or Oh Oh Ohhh (it would have been 001½ , but the Bond producers apparently wouldn’t allow it). There are references to gadgets, including Bond’s attaché case in From Russia With Love, and Dr Crow’s lair and its destruction recalls the base and demise of Dr No. Again, the poster is contains Bondian iconography, and overall is a good imitation of the poster for From Russia With Love.

Curiously, the uniformed female personnel of STENCH reminds us of Goldfinger and Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus, but Goldfinger (September 1964) was released after Carry On Spying (June 1964) and can’t have been influential. Modesty Blaise may have been the influence here, although no doubt it was quite natural for film makers to think that a troop of women on the staff of a villain must be attired in tightly-fitting uniforms. Also of note is Dr Crow’s over-elaborate plan, involving a conveyor belt and crushing machine, to kill the bumbling agents. It has shades of Bond, but it isn’t taken from the two Bond films, as they don’t feature such a sequence. These aspects (along with the trick heel of Hot Enough for June) show that the Bond films also had a lineage, taking ideas and memes from other sources or more generally present in cultural space.


Bright, M and Ross, R, 2000 Mr Carry On: The life and works of Peter Rogers, BBC
Webber, R, 2008 Fifty years of Carry On, Century