Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Guide to collecting James Bond books

As I was flicking through Previous Convictions, Cyril Connelly's collection of essays and short articles, to find his Bond parody, 'Bond strikes camp', I came across a piece about collecting modern first editions. It got me thinking. What would be my advice for collecting James Bond novels and books about Bond?

I have well over 300 items in my Bond library, not including magazines or articles from newspapers. The library includes first edition novels, books about the film series, film tie-ins and annuals, academic tomes and criticism, parodies, graphic novels, biographies, and Fleming-related material.

I've amassed the library slowly. It grew out of a uniform set of paperback Flemings, published by Panther/Granada, which were the ones that happened to be in the shops when I started reading Bond. Initially, I wasn't interested in first editions, but I did start to buy books about Bond, and subsequent purchases tended to be devoted to building up that aspect of my library in my pursuit of Bondian knowledge. My first Fleming first edition was Goldfinger, bought from a secondhand bookshop near Inverness. It had no cover and was rather battered, but knowing that first editions were rarely seen, I was thrilled by the find. I was hooked, and over time, I acquired more first editions, including the prize of Casino Royale (admittedly a library edition). Now, I am something of a completist, and will buy any Bond-related book in order to build a very good Bond library.

My tips for collecting Bond-related books are as follows. If you have a limited budget, concentrate on one or two aspects, such as paperbacks and their various editions and covers, or graphic novels. Expand your collection when funds allow.

If you're buying secondhand books, buy the best copies you can afford. Trade up when you have the chance. The battered Goldfinger was all I could afford at the time, but later I had some money, and was able to buy a better-quality first edition with dustjacket.

Look for first editions, whether you're buying Fleming novels, graphic novels or books about the Bond phenomenon. New books will usually be first editions, of course, but take care you have the first printing. Popular books, like the latest Young Bond, quickly went to a second and third printing, even though the book was still 'just out'.

When you're buying new books, have a look for signed copies, or watch out for special author-signing events. There is some debate about whether personlised dedications made by the author detract from the value of the book; some collectors look for the author's signature only, and avoid any that say, 'To Edward, all the best, Raymond', or similar. I don't worry about this. I always ask for a dedication (it's so cold and calculating otherwise), and I'm happy buy books with such dedications in them.

Shop around. Ebay doesn't always have the bargains, and I always compare prices at Amazon marketplace and Abebooks. But with the success of online auction sites, the days of finding a first edition Fleming at jumble sales or charity shops are long gone. And if a first edition is donated to a charity shop, it rarely gets as far as the shelves, as the staff have already put it into auction. Not that it stops me from wandering hopefully into the shops just to check.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Some men who the press thought would be Bond

In the 1970s and '80s, the same names appeared in newspapers in connection with the role of James Bond. The part seemed to be up for grabs before filming of a new Bond film commenced, as the incumbent Roger Moore would often claim to be giving up the role. However, until A View to a Kill (1985), this was a negotiating tactic for an improved contract. This did not stop the speculation in the papers, and the names that were usually put forward included Ian Ogilvy, David Robb, and Tevor Eve. A few years ago, I spoke to these actors about their 'brush' with Bond.

Ian Ogilvy told me that he was never considered for the role, and certainly never screen-tested. He did, however, narrate a set of audio versions of Fleming's novels, which he supposed were an attempt by the producers of the recordings to cash in on his connection with Roger Moore via the Saint (both actors having played the role).

Trevor Eve, again, was never screen-tested, but did have an informal meeting with Barbara Broccoli, and occasionally dined with Cubby.

David Robb admits that there had been a flurry of interest in him with regard to the Bond role in 1979. He was prominent on television at the time, and was about to embark on the series, 'The Flame Trees of Thika'. Robb, however, had no meeting with the Bond producers. He mentioned, though, that later, in 1987, he was filming The Deceivers with Pierce Brosnan. They got talking about Bond on one occasion by the pool. Brosnan lamented the fact that he had been prevented from playing Bond in 1987 by the producers of Remington Steele. Robb remembers consoling him by saying that the Bond franchise was a dead duck and that Brosnan was well out of it.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Going for a Bond song

Have you noticed that the theme song that accompanies a new Bond film sounds a little bit like the song that preceded it? The rule is not an absolute one, but it happens with sufficient frequency to suggest that the previous theme tends to be influential, even in a slight way, to its successor. Then Linkthere’s the Shirley Bassey factor. Just as every so often the Bond producers ‘reset the clock’ and make a back-to-basics Bond film, the choice of artist regularly returns to the Bassey prototype seemingly at times of renewal.

It took three films for the film’s song to be used as the accompaniment to the opening titles and the musical break between the pre-title sequence and the start of the film proper. The original theme song, Monty Norman’s James Bond theme, is played straight after the opening gun barrel in Dr No (1962), while Matt Monro is heard crooning ‘From Russia with Love’ at the end of its film (1963). The film makers may not have recognised necessarily that they had found the ideal placement with the use of Shirley Bassey’s ‘Goldfinger’ (1964) with the opening titles, but repeating the trick with ‘Thunderball’ (1965) certainly helped to establish the formula.

The song ‘Goldfinger’ – a big and brassy number – was very different from Monro’s ‘From Russia with Love’ (although Anthony Newley’s subdued version of ‘Goldfinger’ is closer to it). However, ‘Thunderball’ by Tom Jones is reminiscent of ‘Goldfinger’ (as is, to a lesser extent, Dionne Warwick’s alternative theme song, ‘Mr Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’). Probably the Bond producers wanted to repeat the success of ‘Goldfinger’ with the same sort of sound, but ‘Goldfinger’ was such a big hit, it would have been difficult not to think of it when writing the next Bond song. The love song returned in 1967 in the next film with Nancy Sinatra’s ‘You Only Live Twice’, and was retained for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), although ‘We have all the time in the world’, sung by Lois Armstrong, accompanied a mid-film romantic montage.

For the return of Sean Connery in Diamonds Are Forever (1971), the Bond producers looked again to Shirley Bassey to reassert a familiar Bond sound. However, a new Bond, in the form of Roger Moore in Live and Let Die (1973), permitted a new type of theme song, and Paul McCartney delivered with an explosive and rockier number. This seems to have influenced the next song. Lulu’s ‘The man with the golden gun’ (1974) certainly took the dramatic tone of McCartney’s effort, despite the innuendo-laden lyrics.

Cubby Broccoli needed The Spy Who Loved Me (1976) to re-launch Bond after the disappointing returns of The Man With the Golden Gun and a host of legal battles, and the theme song helped to achieve it. ‘Nobody does it better’ was loud and proud, and the singer Carly Simon evoked Bassey’s confident tones. By now Bond themes were strongly associated with solo female artists, rather than male solo artists or groups. The association was reinforced with the next three films. If you had to think of potential artists to sing a Bond song, the chances were you’d turn first to a female singer.

A View to a Kill (1985), though, marked a change, as the group Duran Duran was chosen to perform the title song. It was so successful (it reached no. 1 in the USA and no. 2 in the UK), that the next song, ‘The Living Daylights’ was also by a group, a-ha, and was something of a clone of its predecessor.

Timothy Dalton’s second Bond film, Licence to Kill (1989) was intended as a return to Fleming’s Bond, and fittingly Gladys Knight’s theme song returned to the Bassey’s prototype; its opening bars are especially reminiscent of ‘Goldfinger’. Inevitably, after a six-year gap, the next film, GoldenEye (1995), also had a Bassey-esque theme song, sung this time by Tina Turner. Female singers were chosen for the next three songs, although Garbage’s ‘The world is not enough’ could be described as hybrid of ‘Goldfinger’ and ‘A view to a kill’.

Given the four-year wait, and the desire to again film Fleming’s Bond, Casino Royale (2006) should have had a Bassey-style song. Instead, it was accompanied by a rock number, by Chris Cornell. It was a great song, and also influential. ‘Another way to die’ by Alicia Keys and Jack White, which featured in Quantum of Solace (2008), has the same rocky style. For the next film, if media reports of Adele singing the next theme are true, then the Bond producers appear to have turned once again to the Shirley Bassey prototype.

Bond title songs are to some extent influenced by the song that preceded it. ‘Another way to die’ sounds a bit like ‘You know my name’. ‘The man with the golden gun’ sounds a bit like ‘Live and Let Die. ‘Thunderball’ sounds a bit like ‘Goldfinger’. Also we can detect that, usually at times of renewal, the Bond producers turn to Shirley Bassey, or a Shirley Bassey-type singer to help put the audience back into the world of James Bond.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Another anachronism in the BBC's The Hour?

The writer of the TV drama, The Hour, shown on BBC Two and BBC America, has admitted that the script contains anachronisms. Abi Morgan employed phrases such as ‘bottled it’ and ‘note to self’ that wouldn’t have been heard in 1956, the year in which the drama is set. But there may be another anachronism – repeated references to the relationship between James Bond and Miss Moneypenny – that has slipped by unnoticed.

The Hour focuses on two journalists, Bel Rowley, played by Romola Garai, and Freddie Lyon, played by Ben Whishaw. They join the team of new current affairs programme The Hour – Freddie as reporter, Bel as producer – and become involved in a plot involving communist spies at the BBC. Freddie is Bel’s soulmate, but for Freddie, who’s in love with Bel, the relationship is more than that. Freddie identifies himself as James Bond and calls Bel ‘Moneypenny’, alluding to the flirtatious relationship, with its hint of unrequited love, between Bond and M’s secretary.

By 1956, four Bond novels had been published. Miss Moneypenny is a peripheral figure in all of these, and in none is there a suggestion that Bond is in love with Moneypenny or has a relationship other than one involving friendly work-place banter.

In Casino Royale (1953), Bond shares no pages with Moneypenny, and so we learn nothing of their relationship. The follow-up was Live and Let Die (1954). Bond and Moneypenny share a scene, but it is very brief. In Chapter 2, Moneypenny gives Bond an encouraging smile as he enters M’s office, and Bond admits that Moneypenny is desirable. Chapter 2 of Moonraker (1955) reveals that Moneypenny knows that Bond admires her, and Bond seems to confirm this by commenting on her new dress. However, we have a briefer exchange in Diamonds Are Forever (1956). Bond ‘smiled into the warm brown eyes of Miss Moneypenny’ as he leaves M’s office.

I suspect that the writer of The Hour had the film-series version of the Bond-Moneypenny relationship (or meme) in mind when she wrote the script. In the films, Bond pursues a romantic relationship with Moneypenny, who gently fends off his advances, content, it seems, to be just good friends (although in Die Another Day (2002), we see Moneypenny enact a fantasy of a sexual relationship with Bond). The Freddie-Bel relationship appears to mimic this version better than it does the books. Given that the first film, Dr No, was released in 1962, the references in The Hour must be anachronistic.

Admittedly Fleming develops the relationship in later books, and if The Hour was set in 1961, when Thunderball was published, then the Bond-Moneypenny references would be more apt. Even so, in Thunderball it is Moneypenny who desires a relationship with Bond, not the other way round (‘Moneypenny... often dreamed hopelessly about Bond’ (Chapter 1)), although Bond does offer to give Moneypenny a spanking.