Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The Disbanding of the Double-O Section first mentioned in Ian Fleming's Goldfinger (1959), not John Gardner's Licence Renewed (1981)(!)

John Gardner is often criticised by Bond fans for making so many changes to the character of the literary James Bond during his tenure as continuation Bond novelist. These changes range from Bond gradually cutting down on his alcohol intake and cigarette smoking, his promotion from the rank of Commander to Captain in the Royal Navy in Win, Lose or Die (1989), his drinking of tea and beer, and towards the end of his run, the replacement of M’s department with Microglobe One in SeaFire (1994). The disbandment of the Double-O Section reported in Gardner’s first Bond novel, Licence Renewed (1981) is probably the most striking change, which Gardner made initially, however. In the Fleming novels, the Double-O Section of the British Secret Intelligence Service contained a relatively small group of agents who were ‘licensed to kill in the line of duty.’ This ‘licence to kill’ is the very raison d’étre for Bond’s existence. It gave Bond the power to kill on a mission, which was a very fundamental and responsible, and some might even say evil power, which, placed in the wrong hands could lead to disaster. 

In LICENCE RENEWED Gardner tries to make his version of MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service more in line with real-world intelligence services, telling of the Realignment Purge of 1979 which put paid to the Double-O Section:

“‘Changing world; changing times, James,’ M had said to him a couple of years ago, when breaking the news that the élite Double-O status – which meant being licensed to kill in the line of duty – was being abolished. ‘Fools of politicians have no idea of our requirements. Have us punching time clocks before long.’

This was during the so-called Realignment Purge, often referred to in the Service as the SNAFU [which stands for "Situation Normal All Fucked Up", ed. by DD.] Slaughter, similar to the C.I.A.’s famous Hallowe’en Massacre, in which large numbers of faithful members of the American service had been dismissed, literally overnight. Similar things had happened in Britain, with financial horns being pulled in, and what a pompous Whitehall directive called ‘a more realistic logic being enforced upon the Secret and Security Services.’

‘Trying to draw our fangs, James,’ M had continued on that depressing day. Then, with one of those rare smiles which seemed to light up the deep grey eyes, M grunted that Whitehall had taken on the wrong man while he was still in charge. ‘As far as I’m concerned, 007, you will remain 007. I shall take full responsibility for you; and you will, as ever, accept orders and assignments only from me. There are moments when this country needs a trouble-shooter – a blunt instrument – and by heaven it’s going to have one. They can issue their pieces of bumf and abolish the Double-O section. We can simply change its name. It will now be the Special Section, and you are it. Understand, 007?’

‘Of course, sir.’ Bond remembered smiling. In spite of M’s brusque and often uncompromising attitude, Bond loved him as a father. To 007, M was the Service, and the Service was Bond’s life. After all, what M suggested was exactly what the Russians had done with his old enemies SMERSH – Smyert Shpionam, Death to Spies. They still existed, the dark core at the heart of the K.G.B, having gone through a whole gamut of metamorphoses, becoming the O.K.R, then the Thirteenth Department of Line F and now, Department Viktor.” (Licence Renewed, John Gardner, Coronet Books, 1982, pp. 17-18.)

There is further mention made of this meeting where M had given Bond the news that the Double-O Section was to be disbanded in Gardner’s third continuation Bond novel, Icebreaker (1983):

“Even though the old élite Double-O section, with its attendant ‘licence to kill in the course of duty’, had now been phased out of the Service, Bond still found himself stuck with the role of 007. The gruff Chief of Service known to all as M had been most specific about it. ‘As far as I’m concerned, you will remain 007. I shall take full responsibility for you, and you will, as ever, accept orders and assignments only from me. There are moments when this country needs a trouble-shooter – a blunt instrument – and by Jove it’s going to have one.’

In more official terms, Bond was what the American Service speaks of as a ‘singleton’ – a roving case officer who is given free rein to carry out special tasks, such as the ingenious undercover work he had undertaken during the Falklands Islands conflict in 1982.” (‘Icebreaker,’ John Gardner, Coronet Books, London, 1984, p. 21)

As can be seen from the earlier similar passage quoted from Licence Renewed dealing with Bond’s unofficial troubleshooting, Gardner has actually misquoted M, by having him say ‘by Jove’ instead of ‘by heaven.’

It is interesting that in Chapter 5 of Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger (1959), entitled ‘Night Duty’ the politicians of the 1950s were also considering the disbandment of the Double-O Section:

“‘You’ll soon pick it up,’ M had said unsympathetically. ‘If you get in trouble there are the duty section officers or the Chief of Staff – or me, for the matter of that.’ (Bond had smiled at the thought of waking M up in the middle of the night because some man in Cairo or Tokyo was in a flap.) ‘Anyway, I’ve decided. I want all senior officers to do their spell of routine.’ M had looked frostily across at Bond. ‘Matter of fact, 007, I had the Treasury on to me the other day. Their liaison man thinks that the double-O section is redundant. Says that kind of thing is out of date. I couldn’t bother to argue’ – M’s voice was mild. ‘Just told him he was mistaken.’ (Bond could visualize the scene.) ‘However, won’t do any harm for you to have some extra duties now you’re back in London. Keep you from getting stale.’” (Goldfinger, Ian Fleming, Pan Books Ltd., 1965, p. 43)

Perhaps this short passage from Goldfinger was where Gardner would later get the inspiration to disband the Double-O Section and have Bond continuing his role as ‘007’ in the ‘Special Section.’ It is more likely, though, that this change was a result of the Glidrose policy that requested that Bond be transported from where Fleming left him in the 1960s to the 1980s, with all of the tradecraft he would have acquired knowledge of and the attendant changes to the secret service that had occurred in the interim. Gardner introduced a more realistic take on the secret services from the very beginning of his tenure as Bond continuation author, featuring the head of MI5, Special Branch and having the real French secret service instead of the Deuxiéme Bureau, for instance. It does, however, provide some justification for Gardner disbanding the Double-O Section as Fleming had made mention of the belief held by the Treasury official that the  Double-O Section was an unnecessary diversion of government funding which should be removed. Considering that the  Double-O Section was under threat from the Treasury in 1958/9, it is perhaps not surprising that M was forced to abolish the  Double-O Section in 1979, two years before the events of Licence Renewed. He had clearly held back the forces of the purse string for long enough, at some twenty years! It is revealing that there was at least some justification provided by Bond’s creator for Gardner, the continuation author, to make what seems like such a fundamental change.  

TBB Article No. 3

© Brian McKaig, 2007.