It seems we’re getting a double dosing of 007 at the moment and both of them quite diverse in nature. Anthony Horowitz, the bestselling author, has recently published a new Bond book that takes the debonair spy back to 1957, while on the silver screen 007 has been re-booted again into a cold-eyed killer.
So Bond lovers can take their pick. Go back in time with Horowitz’s Trigger Mortis, which is set only two weeks after the events of Goldfinger, or stick to the future with the latest action-packed Bond film Spectre where the traits of the original hero has been photoshopped by political correctness.
I’ve read neither the new book nor seen the new film as I’m not really a Bond fan. But I do remember the excitement of seeing the first James Bond films with Sean Connery, who created on screen a new hero who was likeable to both men and women. This had more to do with the skills of the scriptwriters and Connery’s appeal than to Ian Fleming’s writing.
The early films had a certain degree of wit that eventually disintegrated into self-parody once Connery passed on the Bond mantle.
When the first few films hit the cinemas with their exotic locations and glamorous women we schoolboys couldn’t wait to get our grubby little hands on Fleming’s books to read all the naughty bits.
But after recently reading some of the books again out of curiosity I found them, like many other people, misogynistic, snobbish and jingoistic. That may not be a surprise given the era when they were written. But what was odd about many of these books was the absence of humour, especially as Fleming was known to be a quick-witted man.
Yet anyone who can come up with a character called Pussy Galore has not lost his sense of fun completely. When Honor Blackman played lesbian Pussy in Goldfinger she didn’t like the book’s subtext that only James Bond could change her sexual orientation. But as Blackman tried to convince herself at the time, perhaps Pussy was not what she seemed.
Horowitz features Pussy in his new book and at one point she nearly comes a cropper when she’s painted in gold, the same fate of Jill Masterton in the original Goldfinger. But Bond on cue rescues her and wipes away the gold so that the pores of her skin can breathe again, although no one can die from being suffocated in paint.
Fleming may never have won the literary admiration he longed for, but there is a great deal of perfection in the opening of From Russia with Love and for that matter the rest of the book that makes it a wonderful read.
He once advised young writers that when writing a thriller it is best to put down their words as quickly as possible and to never look back at what they had written. The key was to avoid re-examining the work from the previous day which would inevitably lead to a general disgust of the words on paper.
The enduring popularity of Bond for more than fifty years is hard to explain. Originally, Fleming wanted an ordinary man, surrounded by exotic characters. He wanted a boring name for his character to reflect that and chose the name of an ornithologist.
Who knows whether the secret agent will still be around in another fifty odd years? It will depend on whether readers and audiences tire of the man with a licence to kill. Even Fleming wanted to dispatch his hero as he didn’t feel he could keep the adventures going on forever as he struggled to give new impetus to the character. Others have managed to take on that burden with vigour, resulting in several continuation books and 24 official Bond movies.
But as James has dodged so many bullets in his lifetime, it seems highly likely he’ll keep on dodging them for a long time to come.
Keep up to date with Tom Claver at www.tomclaver.co.uk