James Bond has been in the news this week. The books by Ian Fleming are apparently being rewritten as they might be considered offensive to a modern generation of new readers and the producers are still looking for a new actor to play their famous secret agent. OK, time for another James Bond 007 post.
The publishers of the Bond books have decided that it’s time for a reissue of the best selling series with a disclaimer telling readers that the novels use language that may be considered offensive by modern readers. Of course the books were written in the late fifties and early sixties and reflect attitudes of the time. I have the entire collection of Bond books and most of them have a reference on the back saying they are outrageously entertaining, which they are, but take away the outrageous part and they are no longer outrageously entertaining but perhaps just somewhat entertaining. Of course if we begin to tamper with books written in the past where do we stop? Roald Dahl’s books are also in the news as they have been updated by ‘sensitivity readers’ although I’m not sure how these well-read children’s books can upset anyone. James Bond of course is a different matter and any sensitivity readers might have a problem with a book like Live and Let Die which is partly set in Harlem and Ian Fleming uses most of the unpleasant racial epithets which were in use at the time.
I started reading the Bond books when I was a schoolboy and unfortunately the very first one I read was the only one they had in our local library – ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’, one of writer Ian Fleming’s worst Bond books. Fleming used to write his initial drafts of the novels and then write a second one, adding in all the details which make the Bond books so interesting. Things like details of Bond’s clothes, (the Sea Island cotton shirts) his food, (Bond always had scrambled eggs for breakfast) his cars, his cigarettes (the special handmade ones with the triple gold band) and all that sort of stuff. ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ was published after Fleming had died and sadly, he had not revised his original draft. I persevered though, did some research, found the proper order of the books and began to read ‘Casino Royale’, the first in the series. April this year marks the 70th anniversary of Casino Royale and it is this anniversary which has prompted the Bond books to be reissued, complete with disclaimer.
That first book is a pretty original story. ‘Le Chiffre’, a gambler and also a member of SMERSH, a murderous department of the KGB, is engaged on a desperate effort to win a great deal of money at the casinos of Royale Les Eaux in France. Le Chiffre is desperate because he has used SMERSH funds for his personal use and his spymaster bosses will not be pleased if they find out. Britain’s secret service happens to find out about this and sends Bond to France to make sure Le Chiffre doesn’t recoup those funds as of course, as we all know, James Bond 007 is a bit of an expert with the cards.
The book is interesting in another way too. Ian Fleming sold the movie rights to Casino Royale separately from the rest of the books and this enabled producer Charles K Feldman to produce a movie independently from Eon productions who own the rights to the other books. Feeling that he could not compete with the mainstream movies, Feldman decided to make Casino Royale into a comedy version. David Niven starred as Sir James Bond and ironically, Ian Fleming had mooted Niven as a possible Bond when casting began for Dr No, the first movie in the series.
Eon Productions finally acquired the rights to Casino Royale ready for the debut of new Bond actor Daniel Craig. I’ve got to say I didn’t like Craig at first. He didn’t look like Bond and I honestly thought he would have been better cast as one of the Bond villain’s henchmen but I did warm to him eventually and although I didn’t much care for it at first, I really do think Casino Royale is one of the better Bond films. It was released in 2006 and follows the book pretty faithfully which many of the previous films rarely do. Craig’s last Bond film was No Time To Die which I really thought was the poorest of Craig’s five outings as 007 and Bond has been in the news frequently as writers, journalists, bloggers and everyone and his dog have speculated about who the next James Bond 007 will be.
Will it be the usual upper class white guy or will Bond be black? Will there even be a female Bond? What does a 21st century secret agent look like or act like?
James Bond, the character created by Ian Fleming, was a commander in naval intelligence in World War II. He learned to ski in Kitzbühel in the 1930s and fought in the Second World War. He was an officer and a gentleman. He frequented expensive restaurants and gentlemen’s clubs as well as casinos and card tables. He drove a Bentley, lived alone in a Kings Road, Chelsea flat where he was looked after by an elderly Scottish housekeeper named May. He drank a martini made with three parts gin, one of vodka, a half measure of Kina Lillet, shaken with until ice cold then served with a slice of lemon peel. Bond is a character entrenched in mid twentieth century England so making him into a character from the 21st century will not be easy. What can the film makers do? Well, they could set the Bond films back in the 1960s. That’s one option although I doubt if that will happen. They could go radical and make Bond an ethnic character; I’m forever seeing posts about Idris Elba as the next Bond in my social media feeds but then, the character wouldn’t be Bond, would he?
The first change of Bond actor was from Sean Connery to George Lazenby. I liked Lazenby and his one 007 film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, was one of my favourites. Connery returned for Diamonds are Forever and then Roger Moore took over Bond’s licence to kill. His films ranged from bad to supremely dreadful and as much as I’ve always loved Roger, I hated his Bond films.
Timothy Dalton stepped into Bond’s shoes when Moore stood down and made two pretty good films. Legal issues kept Bond off the screen for a long time but when the franchise finally returned it was with Pierce Brosnan as 007. Goldeneye was one of my favourite Bonds but his other films weren’t so good and even looked for a while as if they were going to go down the same road as Roger Moore’s Bonds into slightly ridiculous territory. With Casino Royale though things got pretty serious. The film makers played down the gadgetry which always was a staple of the early Bond films, things like cars with ejector seats, watches fitted with special magnets and belt buckles firing climbing pitons. None of that played any part in the Daniel Craig era but here’s the thing; in the previous films each new Bond has just carried on as before with hardly a nod to the previous actor, although George Lazenby did famously say ‘this never happened to the other fella!’
When Daniel Craig took over the series was to a certain extent rebooted. Bond was new to the 00 section and Casino Royale his first mission. His mission in No Time To Die was also his last, his very last because, and I don’t think I’m giving anything away here, because Bond actually dies. How could the producers start over then with the next Bond? Well, many fictional characters have come back from the dead, most notably Sherlock Holmes who author Arthur Conan Doyle killed off when he got bored with the character. Holmes perished by falling off a cliff but a few years later Conan Doyle bowed to public pressure and Sherlock Holmes returned. It turned out, he hadn’t really died after all.
Ian Fleming didn’t kill off Bond but in You Only Live Twice, Bond is seriously hurt and is rescued by Kissy Suzuki who was posing as his wife while Bond was on a mission for Tiger Tanaka, the head of the Japanese secret service. Bond had lost his memory and Kissy hides Bond away from the authorities. One day though, Bond sees something about Vladivostok in either a newspaper or a book, I can’t remember which, and still suffering with amnesia decides he must go there. You Only Live Twice ends there but in the next book, The Man With The Golden Gun, Bond returns having been brainwashed by the Soviets into assassinating his own boss, the head of the British secret service, known only as M.
The producers never used that storyline in the film adaptations of those two books so if I was the writer of the new Bond movie, that’s exactly how I would start the new era of Bond films off.
What to do next: Here are a few options.
Share this post on your favourite social media!
Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!
Listen to my podcast Click here.
Buy the book! Click here to purchase my new poetry anthology.
Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.