Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Sir Roger Moore - an appreciation

Sir Roger Moore in 1973 (By Allan Warren (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons)
Sir Roger Moore was the James Bond of a generation. He was the James Bond of my generation. Some of my earliest Bond-related memories are of Roger Moore's Bond films, and unwittingly, he was responsible for my becoming a Bond fan. With his death, which was announced today, it's as if I've lost a childhood friend.

I grew up with Roger Moore's Bond in more ways than one. Live and Let Die, his first Bond film, was released in the same year that I was born. My earliest memory of Bond is watching Goldfinger on television, but I also have an early memory of The Spy Who Loved Me, Roger Moore's third and best film as 007. The Egypt-set scenes particularly stick in the mind. Among my toys in my later years was, naturally, an Corgi Aston Martin DB5, but I also treasured my Lotus Esprit and Stromberg helicopter from The Spy Who Loved Me. Conversations with my schoolmates always eventually got round to Bond. Even now, I remember the lengthy discussions I had about tarot cards in Live and Let Die and the lyrics to the title song of A View to a Kill

Goldfinger set the Bond formula, but for me, The Spy Who Loved Me is every bit as archetypal. The film redefined the pre-title sequence; its triumphant ski-jump stunt brought well-deserved applause from cinema-goers and became the benchmark for every pre-title sequence that followed. Subsequent pre-title sequences have been bigger, but not necessarily better.

The Spy Who Loved Me contains plenty of Roger Moore's trademark charm and saucy seaside-postcard humour ('Sorry, something came up'), and I love it. But it also has its serious moments, and Roger Moore was equally adept at those. Watch the moment when he reveals to Anya that he killed her lover, himself a Russian agent, and tell me he can't play it straight.

Later films perhaps saw him sharing more screen time with his stunt double, but they remain perfect entertainment. Octopussy is another case where Roger Moore moved effortlessly between humour and seriousness. Anyone who can draw edge-of-your-seat tension from a scene while wearing a clown suit must be a brilliant actor.

Roger Moore was famously self-deprecating about his acting talent, and he often said that the only film in which he really flexed his acting muscles was The Man Who Haunted Himself. To my shame I've never seen the film, though I have seen Gold, his 1974 film based on a Wilbur Smith novel, where we perhaps see a similar side of him. That's not to dismiss the Bond films in any way. To make the Bond films look as good as they do takes real skill and dedication, and that's what Roger Moore had in abundance. 

I was lucky enough to have seen Roger Moore twice on stage, and was thrilled to have met him – sort of – after one of the shows for an autograph. They say never meet your heroes, but Roger Moore is one hero I would gladly have spent more time with.

So let me raise a vodka martini, shaken but not stirred (not something he ever stipulated himself, curiously), and thank Sir Roger Moore for introducing me to Bond, entertaining me enormously over the years, and keeping the British end up.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Ian Fleming's Kitzbühel holiday and On Her Majesty's Secret Service

The Spring 1965 number of The Book Collector, coming almost a year after his death, included a personal memoir of Ian Fleming by Percy Muir, the bibliophile and bookseller who helped put together Fleming's collection of 'books that had started something'. Part of the memoir is reproduced in the special edition of the journal devoted to Ian Fleming.

One of the many fascinating aspects of the memoir is an account of a summer holiday that Percy Muir and Ian Fleming spent together in Austria in, I think, 1930. Muir explains that Fleming was attending the university at Geneva and in the June invited him over. Muir duly arrived in Geneva and stayed with Fleming in his flat before they headed to Kitzbühel. Muir writes that the holiday was a 'riotous success'.

As I was reading the memoir, I couldn't help wonder whether I was seeing the origins of certain aspects of On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Obviously the holiday was in the summer, so there was no skiing (and in any case, neither of them would climb any mountains), but Fleming had learnt to ski in Kitzbühel (he was competition standard by the age of 21), and the novel is imbued with his own experiences.

It's the minor details in the memoir that particularly interest me. Percy Muir tells us that Ian Fleming's Geneva flat was a two-bedroomed place over a ski-workshop. There is, of course, a ski-workshop in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Presumably, one ski-workshop looks pretty much like another, and Fleming's likely to have seen a few, but he might have been thinking of the one he lived over when he wrote the passage in which James Bond enters a ski-workshop at Piz Gloria and surreptitiously takes a thin plastic strip.

Then there's Percy Muir's recollections of Ian Fleming's social life in Kitzbühel. He recalls that Fleming was 'extremely fond of women and was constantly entangled with them' and had three 'entanglements' at the resort. If ski resorts and female company were inextricably linked in Fleming's mind, then it's no coincidence that in On Her Majesty's Secret Service – more than in any other Bond novel – Bond is himself surrounded by women ('Ten Gorgeous Girls', as Fleming describes them).

 
Bond with the 'Angels of Death'. An OHMSS lobby card
These connections are admittedly slight, but considering also the opening of the book with Bond's memories of childhood beach holidays, it is nevertheless not to hard to gain the impression that On Her Majesty's Secret Service is one of Fleming's most personal books.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Eric and Ernie play Bond in The Intelligence Men


In 1965, top TV comedy duo Morecambe and Wise brought their brand of comedy antics to the big screen. Being the mid '60s when Bondmania was at its height, it seems inevitable that their first film (they made a further two films, and there was also a TV movie in 1983) would be a spy film. While the film, The Intelligence Men (1965), is not overtly a Bond spoof - certainly not to the extent that Carry On Spying, say, parodied the Bond series - it nevertheless contains nods to the films.

The plot, for what it's worth, sees hapless MI5 agent Ernie Sage, played by Ernie Wise, recruit café owner Eric Morecambe (played by, er, Eric Morecambe) to the service. Eric's mission is to pose as a Major Cavendish, infiltrate the sinister Schlect organisation (or is that S.C.H.L.E.C.T.?), and foil a plot to assassinate a Russian ballerina on tour in London and destabilise Anglo-Soviet relations.

The story is a little weak, but the film is amusing enough, and for the Bond fan there is the added enjoyment of spotting the Bond references. For instance, the name of the criminal organisation has the ring of SPECTRE about it, and there's a running joke about the prevalence of beautiful female spies. At another point, Ernie refers to Eric having a licence to kill.

Then there's a rather funny scene, full of the characteristic Morecambe and Wise shtick that made them a national institution, in an MI5 office when Eric is briefed about the mission. Some of the dialogue clearly references the Bond films:

'Where are the special shoes?', Eric asks. 
'What special shoes?', Ernie replies. 
'Yes, the special shoes with knives in the toecaps.' 
'We don't have things like that.' 
'Yeah, and the fountain pens. They shoot bullets.' 
'No, we don't have things like that. We go around like perfectly normal people.'

The sequence highlights the immediate impact that Rosa Klebb's shoes, as featured in From Russia With Love (1963), made on popular culture. The fountain pen, on the other hand, doesn't reference the Bond films specifically, but is a more general spy-related trope. James Bond wouldn't be equipped with such a device until Moonraker (1979), and the tradition of the trick pen is rather older than Bond, going back at least to the Second World War. Nevertheless, the pen taps into the audience expectation for gadgets in a spy film, for which the Bond films were largely responsible, and cinema-goers may well have associated the pen with Bond all the same.

 
Eric Morecambe demonstrates the special shoes
 

Other points of interest in the film is that it features Richard Vernon, who was fresh from his appearance in Goldfinger (1964) as Smithers, and William Franklyn, who is said to have been considered for the role of James Bond.

If you have a chance to watch the film, I recommend you do so. It’s part of the wave of spy spoofs released during the period of Bondmania, but it also showcases the comedic talents of a legendary double act.

Friday, 5 May 2017

From Norfolk, with Love - Ian Fleming, archaeologist

I’ve combined my interests in Ian Fleming and archaeology with a contribution to the Arch365 podcast, which is part of the Archaeology Podcast Network. In my podcast, I explore Ian Fleming's brief foray into archaeological surveying in 1953 at Creake Abbey in Norfolk, where he assembled a team of Royal Engineers to carry out a systematic search for buried treasure.

Ian Fleming didn’t find any treasure, but he did succeed in carrying out one of the earliest archaeological surveys using metal-detecting equipment in England, and for that reason, could be considered an archaeological pioneer. 

Have a listen – the podcast isn’t very long – and find out about one of Ian Fleming’s lesser known activities.

https://www.archaeologypodcastnetwork.com/arch365/124


Thursday, 27 April 2017

Kingsman returns with a very Bondian trailer

Judging by the trailer, released this week, Matthew Vaughn's Kingsman: The Golden Circle looks likely to contain as many nods to the Bond films as the film it follows, Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014).

In the sequel, the Kingsman headquarters are destroyed by some unknown enemy (who presumably got the idea from Raoul Silva and Blofeld, who were responsible for destroying MI6 headquarters in Skyfall and Spectre), and the Kingsman agents join forces with a spy organisation in the US to defeat the common foe.

Apart from the big explosion, the trailer promises all sorts of Bond-like thrills, including an underwater car (not so much Wet Nellie as Wet Taxi), gadgets galore, a henchman with a mechanical arm that doubles as a projectile (wasn't there something like that in a Young Bond novel?), London-set chases, and a snowy mountain-top lair, complete with cable car stunts.

 
The submersible taxi in Kingsman: The Golden Circle
This last aspect is of course highly redolent of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which evidently continues to inspire film-makers. Other films that have looked to the 1969 Bond film include Inception (2010) and Johnny English Reborn (2011), not to mention Spectre.

 
A mountain-top lair in Kingsman: The Golden Circle?
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is released on 29 September, and I shall be at the front of the queue to see it. Does the film hint at the direction of the next Bond film? I'm starting to wonder. Some may claim that this and the Fast and Furious series (reviews of the latest episode have alluded to the film's Bondian qualities) are beginning to out-Bond Bond, and it wouldn't surprise me if the producers of Bond 25 are keeping a weather eye on such releases.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Maxwell Knight - the real M


When Ian Fleming came to write the first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, in 1952, he turned to people he knew for inspiration for some of his characters. Take Bond's spy chief, M. In manner, it seems most likely that M was based on Fleming's wartime chief in the Naval Intelligence Division, Admiral John Godfrey. The code name may have had another source, however: Maxwell Knight, legendary MI5 spymaster who was known by the letter M.

While the connection between Maxwell Knight and the Bond novels is superficially a slight one, a new biography of Maxwell Knight by Henry Hemming has suggested other intriguing links.

Maxwell Knight's career in espionage began in the 1920s when he was recruited by Sir George Makgill to Makgill's private spy organisation. His task: to root out Communist activities by joining the British Fascisti, a powerful right-wing organisation which was waging its own campaign against the Communists, and secretly report back to Makgill. In time, Knight discovered that he was a better spymaster than spy, and was recruiting and running his own agents, who under Maxwell's guidance infiltrated Communist groups. After a brief spell in MI6, Maxwell Knight joined MI5, gave himself the code name M and set up M Section, which continued the secret fight against Communism.

By the mid 1930s, MI5 was waking up (slowly, it must be admitted) to the rising threat of the new Fascist movement, led by Sir Oswald Mosley. As the clouds of war gathered, M's agents set their sights on Fascists and Nazi sympathisers and scored notable hits against them.

M's work continued during the Second World War, and both his section and legendary status expanded. M retired in 1961, and he died seven years later. During his long career as spymaster, M busted spy rings, wrote the manual on tradecraft, trained a large number of highly successful agents, and was also largely responsible for bringing down the Fascist movement in Britain.

Curiously, all the time Maxwell Knight served in MI5, he was well known by the public, though as a thriller writer, and in particular a naturalist. He took part in many BBC broadcasts about animals, and for most of his life kept a menagerie of animals in his own apartments. His MI5 work of course remained a secret, but his expertise with animals allowed him to step out of the shadows.

On the face of it, the real M and Fleming's M have little in common, but reading Henry Hemming's superb biography, I was struck by just how often the worlds of Maxwell Knight and Ian Fleming overlapped. Presumably, Ian Fleming met Maxwell Knight from time to time while Fleming served as assistant to Admiral Godfrey. The two certainly had mutual acquaintances, among them author Dennis Wheatley. I was intrigued by the fact that one of Maxwell's agents was bookseller and bibliographer Graham Pollard. After the war, Pollard occasionally contributed to The Book Collector, the journal that Fleming owned and relaunched in 1952. An obituary of Graham Pollard published in the journal in 1977 described his work for the Communist Party, but not that he had been spying on its members. It's interesting to speculate whether Fleming knew about Pollard's activities when Fleming was on the journal's editorial board and cast his eye over Pollard's contributions.

What comes through very strongly in Henry Hemming's book is Maxwell Knight's hatred of Communism and his desire, born from personal experience, to crush it in Britain. I could not help be reminded of James Bond's epiphany at the end of Casino Royale, when having suffered at the hands of SMERSH and been betrayed by Vesper Lynd, he resolves on a personal level to 'take on SMERSH and hunt it down'. The real M would have approved.

When reading about the early career of Maxwell Knight, I was reminded too of Fleming's M's tricky relationship with MI5 and Special Branch. In Moonraker M tells Bond, who is about to operate on home soil, that he 'didn't want to tread on Five's corns'. Later, Bond reflects on how well Scotland Yard commissioner Ronnie Vallance avoids the corns of both MI5 and the uniformed police. It was these sort of 'corns' or conflicts that led to the creation of MI5 as we know it, and to a large extent Maxwell Knight had been responsible. Before joining MI5 and setting up M Section, he worked for MI6, but operated in Britain, and also worked closely with members of Special Branch. These amorphous boundaries were eventually clarified (although the real M would always act with a certain amount of independence).

Henry Hemming's biography is every bit as thrilling as the spy fiction, such as those by John Buchan, that inspired Maxwell Knight and his agents to pursue a career in espionage. What's more, the author has carried out painstaking detective work and identified some of Knight's agents who might otherwise have remained unknown. The book is a fascinating read that breaks open the secret vaults of British Intelligence to shine a fresh light on a remarkable spymaster and his organisation.


M: Maxwell Knight, MI5's Greatest Spymaster, by Henry Hemming, is out on 4th May and published by Preface 

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Meet the James Bond of...

If you've been kept awake at night asking yourself which Korean fish is most like James Bond, you can sleep easy, for I have the answer: it's pollock. According to the Korean Herald, the wild pollock (or pollack), which has been brought to near-extinction through over-fishing and global warming, is 'the James Bond of Korean seafood' because of the many identities and names accorded to it biologically and on the dinner table.
 
Pollock, the James Bond of Korean seaford. Image: By © Citron /, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24350181
Wild pollack isn't the only thing to have been compared to James Bond. Every so often, when I trawl online media for James Bond news, I find stories in which a person, other creature, or thing is described as the James Bond of their career or environment. The comparison is sometimes amusing, as is the case with the fish, but there is a broader point. The evocation of James Bond reveals which characteristics or memes journalists and others associate with Fleming's creation. No doubt, too, the mention of James Bond raises the profile of the piece and attracts readers.

Just the other day, I learnt from a report in the Times of India that French winemaker Jean Charles Boisset is 'the James Bond of the wine world'. The winemaker is apparently a flamboyant dresser and likes doing things in style, and as a result has been identified by many as a James Bond figure.

Then there's Natalie Bellamy and Sophie Spencer, who, working together as the Fussy Shopper, have been described as 'the James Bond of personal shopping'. As the Daily Mail reports, the pair sources rare and eye-wateringly expensive items for the super-rich and celebrities, sometimes in exciting, Bondian, ways. On one occasion, they flew to France to buy a jacket, skied to the shop, which happened to be on top of a mountain, and then skied down with the jacket.

How about the James Bond of philanthropy? That's Chuck Feeney, the billionaire turned millionaire who has given away $8bn over the past 30 years. It was his methods that led Forbes to compare him to James Bond: Chuck Feeney's philanthropic work has been clandestine and globe-trotting.

Chuck Feeney isn't the only one who's been dubbed James Bond because of the travel. Jan Chipchase, a 'trend forecaster' and founder of the global design and innovation consultancy Studio D Radioduran, has been called the ‘James Bond of Design Research’ as he travels the globe learning about human behaviour to inform his clients' decision-making and innovation strategies. Jan Chipchase (a Bondian name, if ever there was one) has additionally been described as one of the smartest people in tech, which possibly encouraged the James Bond moniker.

The 'James Bond of' phrase has been applied to fictional characters too. The hero of Jonathan Lethem's novel, A Gambler's Anatomy, is described in a review by Ron Charles in the Washington Post as the 'James Bond of backgammon'. The book, featuring a professional gambler named Alexander Bruno, is, the reviewer suggests, a James Bond-esque novel, which 'combines a little of the intrigue of James Bond with all the sexiness of backgammon'.

James Bond's association with technology means that buildings can also be considered Bond-like. A children’s nursery that opened recently in Oxford is equipped with a fingerprint entry system, a roof that changes colour with the seasons, a secret garden with a mini amphitheatre, and a cinema room. No wonder Dr Genevieve Davies, who opened the building, called it 'the James Bond of nurseries'.

The connection with James Bond isn't always a positive one. One Julius Mwithalii from Meru in Kenya became known as ‘James Bond of Meru' when he attempted suicide by hanging himself on a helicopter. The attribution would appear to trivialise a distressing incident, although as journalist Iregi Mwenja points out, the resulting publicity, partly because of the comparison, has raised awareness of certain social issues, which is no bad thing.
 

This brief survey has shown that 'the James Bond of' phrase has currency in the cultural environment. It's applied widely, and to people or things with little or no connection to the masterspy. Anyone in the public eye who travels the world, is technologically minded, has style or lives a life of intrigue and danger could be the next 'James Bond of'. Perhaps we all have a little bit of James Bond in us. In my own career, I like to think I'm the James Bond of archaeology (or is that Indiana Jones?). What are you the James Bond of?

Saturday, 8 April 2017

References to the older Bond in the Young Bond adventure Strike Lightning


As we gear up for the publication of Red Nemesis, the next Young Bond novel and the final one, at least from Steve Cole, I thought it was a good time to look back on the previous novel, Strike Lightning. One of the pleasures of reading the Young Bond books is spotting the nods to Ian Fleming's original books, and Strike Lightning has its fair share.

When James witnesses the death of a fellow student, he begins another dangerous adventure to seek answers. With the clouds of war looming, James travels to Holland and discovers a plot to create a deadly weapon, gains the help of the resourceful Kitty Drift, and has several deadly encounters with technological mastermind Hepworth Maximilian Blade.

In fine tradition, James introduces himself to Kitty as 'Bond, James Bond', eats scrambled eggs on toast several times (on one occasion having rye toast, just as he does in later life in Diamonds are Forever), and dons a dinner suit.

Aspects that would define James' attitude to life and his job are also nicely alluded to. At their first encounter, Blade advises James not to squander his future, to which James replies that he fully intends to make the most of his time. This recalls the words in You Only Live Twice that Mary Goodnight suggests represents James Bond's philosophy: 'I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time'. Later, the young James, when faced with the prospect of killing in cold blood, asks himself whether he could ever do such a thing. We know, of course, that the older Bond can, but as he reflects in Goldfinger, he never likes doing it. 

There are shades of Dr No when James Bond manages to get hold of the files about the secret weapon – Steel Shadow – and tries to make his escape. His presence has been detected, and he is prevented from leaving the building by a series of cunningly hidden traps. Shutters come down in front of doors, heating under a rubber staircase melts the stairs, creating a sticky goo, releasing toxic fumes and slowing James down, and turning on the lights gives James an electric shock. This reminded me of Dr No's deadly obstacle course on Crab Key, which also subjects Bond to electric shocks and heat, among other terrors.

Strike Lightning includes a reference to one of the presumed inspirations for James Bond. Kitty asks the young James after he's outlined a foolhardy scheme to hijack a moving train: 'Who do you think you are – Richard Hannay?' At another point, playing on the phrase often attributed to the villain when he catches Bond in his lair, Blade says: 'I wasn't expecting you, Bond.'

As Bond's adventure reaches its denouement, he and Kitty remain in danger. At a particularly tense moment, he tries to reassure her by telling her 'It's all right, now, Kitty. Quite all right. We have all...'. James is interrupted but presumably meant to say that 'we have all the time in the world'. The words after all are similar to those of the older Bond's in On Her Majesty's Secret Service: 'It's quite all right. She's having a rest. We'll be going on soon. There's no hurry. We've got all the time in the world'. (Actually, the young Bond's words seem to derive from the film version of that novel, in which Bond tells the motorcycle policeman that 'we have all the time in the world'.)

Strike Lightning no doubt contains more references to the original books (and films), and I'll have to read the book again to find them all. In a few weeks, though, there'll be another Young Bond novel to read, and I can't wait to get stuck in and spot the references in that one.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Bond references galore in Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore

I don’t know if you’ve seen Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (2010), but when I watched it the other day (in the interest of research, you understand), I discovered that the film was packed with James Bond references. Of course, the title gives it away somewhat, but there is a lot more besides to tempt the curious Bond fan.

The essential premise of the film, following that of the first film in the series, Cats & Dogs (2001), is that cats are at war with dogs, and certain individuals, unbeknown to their owners, are agents of secret organisations set up to pursue the struggle. Unlike the first film, however, the spy cats and dogs join forces to stop a rogue agent (aren’t they all these days?).

The film begins with a Bondian pre-titles sequence. A spy infiltrates a military base. The agent is disguised, but once inside a top secret room removes the disguise as if taking off a suit (shades of the opening of Goldfinger here). The agent locates some secret codes and takes pictures of them with a spy camera. The agent then fires a piton gun into the ceiling, is hauled up to the room and escapes. Cue the titles and music.

Were it not for the dog and cat motifs, dog bones and paw prints among them, the title sequence could come straight out of a Bond film. It evokes the title sequences of GoldenEye and Casino Royale in particular, and is even accompanied by a song sung by the queen of the Bond themes, Shirley Bassey.

 
The title sequence from Cats & Dogs (top) and its inspirations below (Casino Royale, right, GoldenEye, left)
After the titles, we're introduced to Diggs, a police dog whose inability to follow orders is rewarded with frequent stints in the pound. His handler's chief is, incidentally, called Captain Flemming (sic), possibly a nod to Ian Fleming. Diggs's latest stay in the pound is, however, cut short when he's busted out by Butch, an agent of D.O.G.S. (the spy organisation for dogs, obviously) and recruited. Once at D.O.G.S. headquarters, Diggs meets the film's Q-like character, who has a workshop and a team of white-coated boffins.

 
The 'Q' scene in Cats & Dogs
In the briefing room, Diggs and others receive a video message from Kitty Galore, who in Blofeld-like manner swivels round on a high-backed chair and strokes a white mouse. The villainous cat is a hairless Sphinx, but according to her back story was originally a fluffy white cat. It's possible that the hairless element alludes to the bald heads of the Blofelds of You Only Live Twice and On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Kitty Galore's scheme, hinted in her message, threatens both cats and dogs and so D.O.G.S. joins forces with the equivalent cat organisation, M.E.O.W.S., whose chief is voiced by none other than former Bond, Roger Moore. The cat chief is black and white and wears a bow tie, as if wearing a dinner suit, and his name, Tab Lazenby, must be inspired by another Bond actor.

 
Roger Moore as Tab Lazenby in Cats & Dogs
The action takes place in San Francisco. Though there's no fight on top of the Golden Gate Bridge, A View to a Kill seems to be referenced with images of the bridge incorporated into the title sequence and a scene at Fisherman's Wharf. Both locations feature in the 1985 Bond film. There's also a nod to The Spy Who Loved Me. Kitty Galore's henchman is Paws, a hulk of a cat with metal teeth and clearly influenced by Jaws.

 
Paws, the feline Jaws in Cats & Dogs
The denouement of the film is set on the roof of a fairground carousel, where Kitty Galore attempts to put her dastardly scheme into action. The carousel disguises a satellite dish which controls a satellite in space. This in turn is designed to send out a signal that drives dogs mad and turns them against their owners. Satellites feature fairly prominently in Bond films, but the struggle on top of the dish and the use of the satellite to send out a pulse to catastrophic effect in Cats & Dogs are not too dissimilar from the conclusion of GoldenEye.

Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore is one of many children's films that express the tropes of memes of the James Bond films, and is worth watching for curiosity value, if nothing else. It’s doubtful that children would be aware of the references, but such allusions keep the parents interested, and perhaps serve to introduce the Bond films to children, which in turn ultimately helps keep Bond relevant for the next generation of film viewers.

Friday, 24 March 2017

The Book Collector - the Ian Fleming special

Ian Fleming was something of a polymath. He is of course most famous for the creation of James Bond, but he had other passions. One of these was books. Apart from being a voracious reader, Fleming expressed his bibliophilia by taking ownership of, and relaunching, the journal The Book Collector in 1952, and in 1935 instructing his friend Percy Muir to build a collection of volumes 'that had started something' in science, philosophy, medicine, technology, sport and so on. Appropriately, this lesser known aspect of Ian Fleming's life is celebrated in the latest number of The Book Collector.
 
The Book Collector, Spring 2017
This special edition is a treasure trove of Fleming facts, many of which will be unknown or only vaguely appreciated by even the keenest of Fleming or Bond fans. Readers are, for example, treated to a comprehensive account by Fergus Fleming of Ian Fleming's involvement in The Book Collector. The author reveals that Ian Fleming was more than a silent partner, taking an active interest in commissioning material for the journal and drumming up sales, and having an occasional hand in editing too.

In an article by Joel Silver, we learn how Fleming's collection of books 'that had started something' was assembled. Fleming's somewhat mercenary attitude to the collection (buy low with a view to selling high sometime in the future) may have disappointed Percy Muir, but Fleming knew his stuff. The collection, now residing in the Lilly Library of Indiana University, has become one of the most celebrated and valuable collections in the world.

Several aspects within the volume particularly caught my eye. One is a letter, described in Joel Silver's article, written by Ian Fleming to David Randall, librarian of the Lilly Library, in 1956. In response to Randall's invitation to Fleming to visit him in America, Fleming wrote that there was no hope of a visit, and besides which, there was nothing left to eat in New York except oyster stew at Grand Central station. Fleming's view of the culinary attractions of New York was evidently unswerving. He repeated it in his book Thrilling Cities (1963, written in 1959), and had Bond express the same view in the short story, '007 in New York'.

Something else that intrigued me concerned Fleming's manuscripts of the Bond novels. Today, there's no question of their enormous value, both financially and culturally, but back in 1956, this wasn't so obvious. In his correspondence with Percy Muir about the Lilly Library acquiring Fleming's book collection, also described in Silver's article, David Randall admitted that he was 'infinitely more interested in Fleming's library' than he was in Fleming's manuscripts. In a subsequent letter, he suggested that the manuscripts were a gamble: James Bond is 'no Sherlock Holmes', he suggested, though, he conceded, Bond 'may outlive his era'.

John Cork's article about how the James Bond books became best-sellers in the United States is no less fascinating. What surprised me was that, contrary to popular opinion, John F Kennedy's list of his favourite books, published in Life magazine in 1961 and including From Russia, with Love, didn't massively increase sales of the Bond books. Sales in fact remained sluggish, but only rocketed some months later with the combination, Cork suggests, of three factors, among them an interview on CBS with Ian Fleming on the U2 pilot Gary Powers.

There are excellent articles on the Queen Anne Press, the novels of Robert Harling, and the 'Printing and the Mind of Men' exhibition in 1963. In addition, an article by Jon Gilbert offers an insight into the history of the collectability of the James Bond books, while Mirjam M Foot's analysis of the cover artwork for You Only Live Twice reminds us of the important contribution Richard Chopping made to the success of the Bond books. (Am I alone in thinking it very curious that two of Richard Chopping's novels, The Fly (1965) and The Ring (1967), mentioned in passing in the article, share their titles with famous genre-spawning horror films?)

In short, this special edition of The Book Collector is essential reading for aficionados of Ian Fleming and James Bond. If there are any copies left (the print-run was limited), go to The Book Collector website and order one now!

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Ian Fleming named in Royal Society of Literature survey


It's official: Ian Fleming's James Bond novels are literature.

In an Ipsos MORI poll commissioned by the Royal Society of Literature of almost 2000 members of the UK public, Ian Fleming was among 400 authors named by respondents when asked if they could name a writer, living or from the past, whose work they would describe as literature. One respondent named Fleming.

I should add that the long list of authors mentioned once is a highly respectable one, and Fleming is certainly in illustrious company. Other authors include John Buchan, Thucydides, Charles Darwin, Mary Shelley, Robert Harris, Iris Murdoch, and Jeremy Clarkson.

It has to be admitted, though, that authors who might be regarded as Fleming's 'rivals' – that is, writers of spy fiction – appear to have a higher profile. Len Deighton was named by two respondents, Anthony Horowitz was named by three people (presumably in respect of his Alex Rider novels, rather than his single Bond book), Graham Greene named by four people, and John le Carré mentioned by five people.

To be honest, I'm not sure I would have gone for Ian Fleming if asked to name an author of literature, and it's understandable why Fleming's 'rivals' are ranked higher. John le Carré, Graham Greene and Len Deighton are generally considered to sit at the more highbrow end of the spy fiction genre, and Anthony Horowitz may have benefited from the young person's vote, the survey being open to members of the public aged 15+.

Nevertheless, it is somewhat disappointing that Ian Fleming, for all the impact his novels have had on spy literature specifically and thrillers in general, doesn't have a higher profile among the public. The survey does, however, present some findings that suggest some reasons why this may be the case.

When asked what might encourage people to read more literature, the top answers among respondents included more local libraries and more local bookshops. The responses allude to the fact that, in the UK at least, towns and cities have seen the closure of libraries and the move of bookshops away from the high street and to online retailers. On the positive side, the responses show that people still value libraries and bookshops. I certainly did when I was discovering Ian Fleming (admittedly a long time ago now). Some of the Bond books, when I read them for the first time, were shop-bought, but others I borrowed (and re-borrowed) from the library.

It's occurred to me, though, that the public may now struggle to find Ian Fleming in the library or on the shelves of anything other than the largest bookshops. Whenever I've popped into the library in recent years, I've seen at best one or two books, but certainly nothing approaching a full set. It's telling that, in the British Library's list of most borrowed authors between July 2015 and June 2016, Ian Fleming isn't in the top 500, or even in the list of top 20 classic authors, which includes Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle and Graham Greene. So, libraries and bookshops need to be encouraged to stock more Bond novels and increase the visibility of Fleming's work.

Another top response to the question of what would encourage people to read was 'programmes on TV or radio'. We've of course had several adaptations of the Bond novels on Radio 4, but no doubt television would have a much greater impact on book sales. Frequent appearances of their work on television have presumably done wonders for Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, John le Carré, and now Len Deighton.

I do wonder whether it's time we had a James Bond television series. This needn't conflict with the film series – the television series could present straight, period-set, adaptations distinct in tone and style from the films – and Eon could still have a hand in it. While the Bond films are extraordinarily successful (and long may they continue), their connection to Ian Fleming is probably not that obvious to the more casual cinema-goer, even with tie-ins with the novels, most recently Spectre (2015).

Given that some of the Bond stories began as treatments for a television series, Bond might find a natural home on the small screen. A television series might also allow some of Ian Fleming's unused treatments to be realised on the screen, just as they're now coming to life on the page in Anthony Horowitz's Trigger Mortis and forthcoming follow-up.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Building a James Bond stamp collection

Earlier this month, Swiss Post issued a set of stamps marking the 50th anniversary of the Schilthorn/Piz Gloria restaurant. Though not strictly speaking a Bond-related event, the stamps are nevertheless of interest to James Bond fans, depicting as they do the cable car and building that featured prominently in the film On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), and which Eon helped to complete. The restaurant retained the name used in the film – Piz Gloria (Ian Fleming's invention) – which also appears on the stamps.
 
50 years of Schilthorn-Piz Gloria (Swiss Post, 2017)
For any philatelically-minded Bond fan, there is now an impressive array of stamps with which to build a Bond-themed stamp collection. In addition to the Swiss stamps, there are the two sets of stamps issued by the Royal Mail in 2008 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Ian Fleming's birth. One set features various book covers and is available in a bewildering range of presentation packs. Another set depicts the Union Flag and White Ensign in a presentation pack that focuses on the novel of On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

 
100th anniversary of the birth of Ian Fleming (Royal Mail, 2008)
And if that isn't enough, there is also a stamp, again issued in 2008, that shows Ian Fleming's golden typewriter.

 
Ian Fleming's James Bond (Royal Mail, 2008)
As far as I'm aware, no stamps were issued in the UK to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Bond films in 2012, but the event wasn't totally ignored by national postal services. The West African republic of Guinea-Bissau issued a set depicting five of the six James Bond actors (sadly, George Lazenby didn't make the cut).

 
Four of the five Bonds depicted on stamps of Guinea-Bissau (2012)
That wasn't, however, the first time that Sean Connery had appeared on a stamp. In 1999, the Commonwealth of Dominica issued a set of stamps celebrating 'legendary sleuths of the silver screen'. James Bond is depicted in the form of Sean Connery alongside Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Clouseau and others.

 
Legendary sleuths of the silver screen (Dominica, 1999)
But the Bond-themed stamp collection needn't stop there. After acquiring the stamps that reference Bond explicitly, the collector could turn his or her attention to stamps that depict places or things mentioned in Fleming's novels or which appear in the films.

For instance, after picking up the Piz Gloria stamps, the collector could continue with a stamp issued in Italy in 1981 that depicts the Palio di Siena, the famous horse race that features in Quantum of Solace. Then there's a stamp issued in Jamaica in 1956 that depicts the doctor bird, which is described in the short story, 'For Your Eyes Only'. Or how about a stamp that shows Istanbul's Hagia Sophia? This was issued in Turkey in 1963, the same year that Bond was taking a tour of the mosque in From Russia With Love.



The possibilities are almost endless!

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Did E Phillips Oppenheim invent James Bond?

Who do the following two literary characters remind you of? The first is a resourceful, tough, sardonic man of action. He's attractive to women. He travels the world, he's handy with a gun, and uses gadgets in his pursuit of the villain. He's a bit of a daredevil, too. At one point, he jumps off a bridge on to a moving train.

The second is a former military officer and a spy. He's attractive to women. He's not afraid of danger, and is also handy with a gun. He travels widely, and knows his way around the Alps and the casino. He enjoys a cocktail or two and a game of golf, and he drives a high-powered sports car.

Sound familiar? No, neither is James Bond, but they could be. The first is American detective, Sanford Quest, the hero of the novel, The Black Box (1915). The second is another American, Major Martin Fawley, a freelance spy in the novel The Spy Paramount (1934). Both books are by the English thriller writer, E Philips Oppenheim, who was also one of Ian Fleming's favourite authors.



I'm not actually going to argue that Oppenheim invented James Bond, but reading The Black Box, The Spy Paramount, and others, Bond appears to be cut from the same cloth as Oppenheim's heroes, and we could make just as good a case as Simon Winder and Nigel West did when they argued that a contemporary author, Phyllis Bottome invented a prototype James Bond in her novel, The Lifeline (1946). Indeed, Oppenheim has the advantage, because Fleming identifies him as an influence. He told Jack Fishman that 'I was considerably influenced by those masters of the modern thriller, Hammett and Chandler, and, to some extent, in my childhood, by E Phillips Oppenheim, and Sax Rohmer.'

And perhaps not just in Fleming's childhood. The Spy Paramount is packed with Bondian moments. Having ostensibly offered his services to Italy, Fawley drives in his powerful Lancia into the Alps on the French/Italian border in search of a secret mountain base that houses a superweapon. He succeeds, but not without being discovered and shooting his way out. He returns to his hotel and nonchalantly orders café complet. Later, he plays golf with a scheming German politician in a chapter that gives Fleming's account of Bond's game of golf with Goldfinger a run for its money.



The book contains descriptions of food and drink that wouldn't be out of place in a Bond novel: 'The cocktails tasted good, as indeed they were, for granted the right material, the American touch on the shaker is after all the most subtle in the world.' Or, as Fawley's brother says: 'French champagne tastes all wrong in Italy, and though food is good enough for a time, it's monotonous.' At one point, Fawley consumes rounds of caviar sandwiches, just as Bond does in Goldfinger.

We also have a physical description of Fawley: visionary eyes, an air of immense self-control, a firm mouth, and a little wave in his hair brushed back by the ears. Not so different from Bond's calm grey-blue eyes with a hint of ironical inquiry, thick comma of hair above his right eyebrow, and cruel mouth.

Much of the story is set in the luxury hotels, clubs and casinos of Monte Carlo (as are a number of Oppenheim's spy novels), and though Fawley doesn't visit the gaming tables himself during his mission, the scene is familiar to readers of the Bond novels.

In another of Oppenheim's spy novels, The Spymaster (1938), it's the hero's attitude towards female agents that's familiar to Bond's readers. Admiral Guy Cheshire, head of British naval intelligence, responds to the opinion of his counterpart in the army, General Mallinson, that in espionage work, 'women... are the biggest nuisance,' with the view that 'they are in the way, of course.' He and James Bond would get on well: Bond also thinks that 'on a job, [women] got in the way.' 



At another point of the novel, Cheshire plays bridge in his club and demonstrates his skill with the cards, both impressing and irritating his fellow players with his winning form and ability to shuffle the pack to his advantage; Cheshire performs these tricks for amusement, so he avoids the accusation of cheating. Bond's abilities with the cards, as demonstrated during a game of bridge at Blades, is no less impressive, but even so, Bond might find Cheshire a tricky opponent at the card table.

Actually, given Guy Cheshire's position as head of naval intelligence, membership of a London club, and, as we learn in the novel, access to the highest political level (he has the ear, for instance, of the Prime Minister), he is more M than Bond. If M were to feature in his own novel – and it's about time – the book might look something like The Spymaster.

Fleming's Bond novels and Oppenheim's thrillers have much in common. It is going too far to claim that Fleming based Bond on any aspects of Oppenheim's work specifically, but the influence is clear, and it is fair to say that Bond emerged out of the literary tradition represented by the novels of Oppenheim, Phyllis Bottome and others. Indeed, Bond could not have existed without them. But while it's easy enough to spot the similarities, there are lots of differences too. The Spy Paramount, The Spymaster and others could not be mistaken for Bond books. After all, the Bond books reflect other influences, such as American detective fiction, the Second World War, the Cold War, and Fleming's own experiences.

The result is that while the Bond books express some of the traits and memes of the earlier literary tradition, they have diverged from it too - and are different enough, as we know, to have created their own tradition and become influential in turn.

Returning to E Phillips Oppenheim, his novels are fast-paced, exciting thrillers, and it's no surprise Ian Fleming enjoyed them. Oppenheim's detective story, The Black Box (coincidentally (almost) the title of the latest James Bond comic book), is somewhat corny, with a story involving mad professors, ape-men, and stupid policemen, but his spy novels are superb, being full of intrigue, action, and, unsurprising given the context in which they were written, growing foreboding of war.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Dear 007: Bill Adler's letters to James Bond

The American writer Bill Adler is well known for his compilations of letters to famous people and organisations. His books include Dear Beatles, Funniest Fan Letters to Batman, and Kids' Letters to President Obama. In 1966, he turned his attention to James Bond with Dear 007, a collection of spoof letters to the 'supersleuth', with illustrations by Paul Bacon.
 
The cover of Dear 007 (Simon & Schuster, 1966) by Bill Adler
The letters from
the (presumably) fictitious correspondents cover a range of topics. There are letters written from a male perspective that congratulate Bond on his success with women. “Boy, it must be just great to be a man of the world like you,” writes Ludwig D. Another correspondent, Milton C from Atlanta, writes, “You certainly have a fantastic way with women. Where did you learn your technique?”

Other correspondents admire Bond's toughness and physicality. “You're such a strong fearless and courageous person. I know you must be able to give me some good advice on how to overcome my fears.” The anonymous writer continues, “You see I'm the new 008 and if the boss ever finds out he'll fire me.”

Then there are letters from adoring women: “The thing that I like best is your cute accent” (Betsy P, Coney Island); “What excites me most is the marvellous way that you get rid of your enemies” (Theresa G, Birmingham, Ala.); “I just gotta be one of your ten most wanted” (Luzy W, Hollywood).

Other letters offer advice. Bruce L of Brooklyn provides a list of rules that will keep Bond safe, such as “Don't shoot a man unless his back is turned,” or “If you meet a suspicious person, kick him in the groin first and ask questions later.” Jim R of Portland writes with details of new type of gun he's invented.

Not every correspondent is so appreciative of Bond. “If it wasn't for Pussy Galore, you would have never won your battle over your arch enemy, Mr Goldfinger,” Andrea C of Washington tells Bond. Walter H of Trenton writes to tell Bond, “You may be a hot shot with the broads, but you'll never get a Nobel prize.”

The letters draw largely on the films for inspiration. A letter from Morris U of the Painters' Union of New York congratulates Bond for the 'good paint' job on Jill Masterson in Goldfinger. Dr William B from Levittown, meanwhile, is unconcerned about Bond's safety when he's handcuffed to an atomic device in Goldfinger or dodging a helicopter in From Russia With Love, but is worried about Bond's smoking habit.

The books are referenced too, though in a more general way. “Once I was a skinny runt who was ignored by women and didn't have any appreciation of fine wines. Then I read your books,” writes Harry F. In another letter, Mrs Charles B of Detroit expresses her concern about the bad influence Bond's books are having on her twelve-year-old son: “We feel that the Hardy Boys are more appropriate for a 12 year old boy.”


The back cover of Dear 007
The amusing illustrations similarly look to the films. Bond, usually pictured with his back turned to the reader, is shown, for instance, in frogman gear (a nod to Thunderball), behind the wheel of an Aston Martin (Goldfinger), or at the mercy of a Dr No-like villain.

The book plays on Bondian tropes that quickly became standard with the release of the first few Bond films, among them Bond's sophisticated tastes and knowledge, attraction to women, self-assurance, and physical prowess. There are some notable omissions, though. There is little reference to gadgets, for example, and no mention of M, Miss Moneypenny, and Q. Perhaps those elements or memes were not yet sufficiently well established in their own right within the cultural environment to merit spoof treatment. And of course there is no allusion to volcanoes, space and snow-covered mountains and other Bondian landscapes (Bondscapes?) that at the time the book was written had not featured in any of the films, the obvious point being that one can't parody what doesn't yet exist in Bond's world.

Overall, the book is very funny and is well worth a look. And to my mind an update is well overdue. In fact, we could make a start now. If anyone wants to write a letter to James Bond in the style of Dear 007 (keep it clean), post it in the comments section.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

James Bond in a Caribbean mystery

With Young Bond author Charlie Higson on writing duties, it was inevitable that ITV's 2013 adaptation of Agatha Christie's A Caribbean Mystery should include a few nods to James Bond. I was reminded of these when the drama was repeated recently on ITV3.

The title card of ITV's adaptation of A Caribbean Mystery

In the story, amateur sleuth Miss Marple is holidaying on an unnamed Caribbean island. As ever, murder follows in her wake, the first victim among Miss Marple's fellow hotel guests being a retired major who realises that a serial killer is in their midst. Miss Marple is soon on the case.

Voodoo plays a role in the plot, and we see performers put on a Voodoo-inspired show for the hotel guests, much like the entertainment that greets James Bond's arrival in San Monique in Live and Let Die.

However, it is the Voodoo scenes at the end (or indeed in the pre-titles sequence) of Live and Let Die that appear to be referenced more closely. One of the performers carries a snake with which he playfully threatens the major. He also wears headgear made out of animal skin, and has white paint on the upper part of his face and black paint on his nose and around his eyes to create the appearance of a skull.
 
A Caribbean Mystery: The major is confronted by a Voodoo performer and a snake

The costume is presumably fairly typical of Voodoo ceremonies, but the performer nevertheless brings to mind the high priest (or whatever he is) in Live and Let Die, who wears a goat-skin headdress and threatens Solitaire with a snake, while his make-up replicates that worn by Baron Samedi.
 
Scenes from the Voodoo ceremony in Live and Let Die

There is another allusion to Live and Let Die when we see a close-up of the face of hotel owner Molly Kendall (who believes herself responsible for the series of murders), which turns into a flaming skull. This recalls Maurice Binder's titles in Live and Let Die, in which a flaming skull is a prominent motif.

Flaming skulls in A Caribbean Mystery (top) and Live and Let Die

More generally, the background music for A Caribbean Mystery incorporates Bondian notes and phrases, especially whenever the handsome hotel waiter, Errol (who knows how to mix a cocktail), appears on the scene.
 
Errol (Kingsley Ben-Adir) in A Caribbean Mystery

A cameo appearance of Charlie Higson, however, provides a much more obvious nod to James Bond. He plays an ornithologist who visits the hotel to give a lecture on birds. His name? James Bond, author of Birds of the West Indies.
 
The ornithologist James Bond, as played by Charlie Higson in A Caribbean Mystery

By coincidence, Ian Fleming (played by Jeremy Crutchley) is in the audience. He tells Miss Marple that he has been working on a novel (the events of the mystery must date before 1953), but he is stuck for the name of his hero. When James Bond introduces himself with the words "My name is Bond, James Bond", inspiration strikes. (James Bond was in fact named after the ornithologist, though not quite in the manner depicted!) 

Ian Fleming (Jeremy Crutchley) in A Caribbean Mystery

Interestingly, James Bond (the ornithologist) is introduced as a representative of the Audubon Society, the American bird protection society that Fleming mentions in Dr No. That novel gets another nod when James Bond points out that the island is rich in guano; Ian Fleming tells a puzzled Miss Marple that guano is bird droppings.

The 2013 adaptation of A Caribbean Mystery is very enjoyable tale of murder and intrigue, and the James Bond references are an added bonus. Well worth watching.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Ian Fleming the short story writer - good or bad?

In the second volume of Best Secret Service Stories, published in 1965, editor John Welcome devotes much of his introduction to Ian Fleming, who died the previous year. Welcome is generous and fulsome in his praise for Fleming's work. His books, Welcome writes, “were all beautifully written by an intelligence far above the ordinary.” “Fleming could write anyone else operating in this [the spy] genre clean off the page.” “Fleming had...in abundance the three essentials of a writer in this genre – pace, conviction and a compulsive readability.”


You won't hear any argument to the contrary from me, but Welcome's introduction is by no means a hagiography; Welcome acknowledges that there are considerable debts to Fleming's literary ledger. One of these, in Welcome's view, is Fleming's skill as a short story writer. “This was an aspect of the art of writing,” Welcome suggests, “in which [Fleming] was almost wholly at sea. Virtually all of the published short stories are misfires.” (It should be noted that at the time of publication, John Welcome had not seen Octopussy and The Living Daylights.)

Contrast this view with that of thriller writer Robert Ryan, who suggests in his introduction to the 2006 Penguin edition of Octopussy and The Living Daylights that “as with Sherlock Holmes... Bond was at his best in the shorter adventures,” and that Fleming “was a short story/novella man at heart.”

There is usually a tendency for books or films poorly received at the time of publication or release to acquire classic and cherished status simply with the passage of time (there's hope for Die Another Day yet). After reading Welcome's and Ryan's very different opinions, I wondered if this were the case with Fleming's short stories, but a quick survey of critical opinion suggests that Welcome is somewhat out on a limb.

In The James Bond Dossier (1965), Kingsley Amis thought 'From a View to a Kill' ingenious, 'Risico' well written, and 'The Hildenbrand Rarity' effective, while The Guardian thought the For Your Eyes Only collection better than the novels. Not to say that all critics were effusive. Philip Larkin thought that, unlike Sherlock Holmes, James Bond “does not fit snugly into the short story length.”



For my money, I'm with Robert Ryan – I think that Ian Fleming's short stories represent some of his best writing. 'Octopussy', 'From a View to a Kill', 'The Hildebrand Rarity' and 'The Living Daylights' are for me particular highlights, being full of thrills, insights into Bond, wonderful descriptions, and some delicious turns of phrase. It's a travesty that the first two of those still haven't been faithfully adapted for the screen. I would like to have seen more short stories from Fleming, and now that Fleming's unrealised TV treatments are reaching the page, perhaps one day I will.

Reference:
Chancellor, H, 2005 James Bond: The Man and his World: The Official Companion to Ian Fleming's Creation, John Murray, London

Friday, 3 February 2017

Brazilian adventures: The Lost City of Z and Peter Fleming

Fans of the work of Ian Fleming's brother, Peter, might be interested in an upcoming film, The Lost City of Z, which tells the true story of the explorer Colonel Fawcett, who, in 1925, led an expedition deep into the Amazonian jungle to search for a fabled city of a lost civilisation. Fawcett and the rest of the expedition were never seen again, and Fawcett's fate was soon shrouded in mystery.
 
Poster for The Lost City of Z, exclusively revealed by Empire
If the film proves to be a great success, and there's a clamour for a sequel, then the film-makers would do well to turn to Peter Fleming's 1933 book, Brazilian Adventure, in which Peter recounts the trials and tribulations of his own expedition into the Amazon to discover what had happened to Colonel Fawcett.

Peter and the other members of the expedition got no closer to solving the mystery, and, as if struck by a curse of the earlier explorer, saw more than their fair share of hardships and disaster. Along the way, they stumbled into a revolution in São Paulo, fell out with the expedition leader, Captain John Holman (largely identified as Major George Pingle in Peter's book), who had little interest in the search for Fawcett, hacked their way through impenetrable jungle, had so few provisions that they survived mainly on what they could hunt and forage, encountered alligators and piranhas, organised the evacuation of an expedition member who went down with blood poisoning, and, on deciding that they could go no further, faced a thousand-mile trek back to civilisation, all the time racing against Holman, who had the money and boat tickets.

 
Brazilian Adventure (Cape, 1933)
As for what happened to Colonel Fawcett (spoiler alert), Peter accepted that Fawcett is likely to have died at the hands of the Suyá tribe, and if by some remote chance he had been alive at the time of Peter's expedition, he must have gone mad.

Peter Fleming's Brazilian adventure is every bit as thrilling as Fawcett's own, and is compelling, hilarious, and wonderfully evocative of the land and the people Peter met. If any cinema-goer, having watched The Lost City of Z (released in March), is wondering what happened next, I recommend they pick up a copy of Peter's book. And you never know, it might be coming to a cinema near you.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Mightier than the sword: the trick pen in the Bond films and beyond

The humble pen makes an ideal gadget for the spy. It's small, it can be discreetly concealed in the pocket, but arouses no suspicion when taken out, and can be modified to house all sorts of devices. It's no wonder the pen-based gadget has been seen a few times in the James Bond films.

In Moonraker (1979), we learn that a deadly-tipped pen, which Bond finds on Holly Goodhead's hotel dressing table, is standard CIA issue. In Octopussy (1983), a fountain pen made by Mont Blanc is multi-functional, containing a highly concentrated mixture of nitric and hydrochloric acid ('wonderful for poison pen letters') and an earpiece to a listening device. Coincidentally, Never Say Never Again, the rival Bond film released in the same year, also includes a fountain pen among its gadgets; that one is able to release an explosive charge.

The explosive pen was reinvented for GoldenEye (1995) and used to great dramatic and comic effect. The film featured a Parker Jotter ballpoint, which contains a class-four grenade that is armed with three clicks of end button and disarmed with three more. (I've never looked at a ballpoint pen in quite the same way since, and on idly clicking the end of one, often wonder whether it's about to go off.)

 
Q demonstrates the 'pen grenade' in GoldenEye
Curiously, a very similar device featured in Wild Geese II, released ten years earlier. In that film, Michael (played by John Terry, who would become Felix Leiter in The Living Daylights), a member of the organisation that has hired mercenaries to spring Rudolf Hess from prison, is given an explosive ballpoint pen. Like GoldenEye's pen, it's armed by clicking the end, though has a longer fuse (40 seconds, as opposed to four seconds).

 
Mercenary John Haddad demonstrates the 'pen grenade' in Wild Geese II
These gadgets may seem fantastic, but there's a long tradition of adapting pens for secret use in the real world of espionage. The Second World War saw teams of boffins create an ingenious array of gadgets from ordinary objects. Charles Fraser-Smith, often claimed to be the inspiration for the character of Q (which seems fanciful, given that there was no such character in the Bond books), was responsible, among many other devices, for a fountain pen that could conceal documents.

 
One of Charles Fraser-Smith's gadgets

The use of trick pens continued into the Cold War. In an interview with Ian Fleming published in 1965, Bernard Hutton, an expert on Soviet espionage, revealed how Soviet spies used dynamite-filled fountain pens for the purpose of assassination.

The gadget-filled pen is so well established in espionage lore that today the idea might seem hackneyed. This may explain Q's comment to Bond in Skyfall (2012): 'Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don't really go in for that any more.'

And the idea of trick pens has been subverted in other films. During the tank sequence in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Professor Henry Jones (Sean Connery) shakes off a German soldier – who then stumbles and knocks himself out – by squirting ink from his fountain pen into the soldier's face. More recently, in The Bourne Identity (2002), Jason Bourne uses a biro as a stabbing weapon.

In a way dismissing the notion of the sort of gadgets seen in the Bond films, both cases demonstrate that the ordinary can become extraordinary; you don't need to fill a pen with explosives to turn it into a deadly weapon.