Followers

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Whatever Happened to the Literary James Bond in the 1970s?

The literary James Bond’s life and adventures are chronicled from the early 1950s onwards, and we know something of his life in the period before this. We know of his missions on into about the mid 1960s, with Kingsley Amis’ Colonel Sun (1968). After this mission however the life of Bond becomes sketchier. In fact the only decade of the literary Bond’s life that we do not seem to know very much about is the 1970s. This decade had no real continuation novel connected to Ian Fleming’s Bond novels as such, but it did have John Pearson’s James Bond: The Authorised Biography of James Bond (1973). It details Bond’s life from his birth to the events just after Colonel Sun, which means that it is still set in the 1960s.


The other real literary continuation of James Bond in the 1970s were the two screenplays from the two last Bond films of the 1970s, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, published by the screenwriter and novelist Christopher Wood under the titles James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me and James Bond And Moonraker, published in 1977 and 1979 respectively. As these are novelisations of the films to tie in with the Fleming Bond universe, they are not really seen by fans as being part of the literary Bond continuation. They do however tie in well with Fleming’s style of writing, making the books of the film at least owing more to Fleming than the films on which they are based.
When Glidrose continued the literary Bond series proper with Licence Renewed (1981) by John Gardner, there are some very interesting details of Bond’s life in the period in between. We learn that “there was not much to console Bond these days. There had even been times, recently, when he had seriously considered resigning – to use the jargon, ‘go private’.”



There is recalled the famous exchange between M. and Bond on the disbanding of 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 elite Double-O status- which meant being licensed to kill in the line of duty- was being abolished.
“This was during the so-called Realignment Purge, often referred to in the Service as the SNAFU 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 detective called ‘a more realistic logic being enforced upon the Secret and Security Services’.”
Gardner assures us that Bond’s role will still remain much the same. As M says to Bond, we are told a two years before Licence Renewed begins, so it can be assumed this was in 1979, 
‘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 God 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.”
Later we learn,
“Bond had left M’s office on that occasion in an elated mood. Yet, in the few years that had passed since, he had performed only four missions in which his Double-O prefix had played any part. [...] It was the active life that Bond missed; the continual challenge of a new problem, a difficult decision in the field, the sense of purpose and of serving his country. Sometimes he wondered if he was falling under the spell of that malaise which seemed, on occasions, to grip Britain by the throat – political and economic lethargy, combined with a short-term view of the world’s problems.
Bond’s four most recent missions had been quick, cut and dried, undercover operations; and while it would be wrong to say that James Bond yearned for danger, his life now seemed, at times, to lack real purpose.”
We learn of the changes in Bond’s lifestyle since the 1960s,
“Bond had even managed to alter his lifestyle, very slightly, adapting to the changing pressures of the 1970s and early 1980s: drastically cutting back – for most of the time – on his alcohol intake, and arranging with Morelands of Grosvenor Street for a new special blend of cigarettes, with a tar content slightly lower than any currently available on the market.”
“With fuel costs running high, and the inevitability that they would continue to do so, Bond had allowed the beloved old Mark II Continental Bentley to go the way of its predecessor, the 4.5-litre Bentley.”
The most interesting titbit of information comes when the details of Dr. Anton Murik and Franco are being told to Bond in M’s office. Bond says,
‘Not a healthy mix – an international terrorist and a renowned nuclear physicist. Been one of the nightmares for some time, hasn’t it, sir? That some group would get hold of not only the materials but the means to construct a really lethal nuclear device? We suspect some of them have the materials – look at that fellow Achmed Yastaff I took out for you. At least four of the ships he arranged to go missing were carrying materials…’
M snorted, ‘Don’t be a fool, 007. Easiest thing in the world to construct a crude device.’
It would perhaps be an interesting idea for a future Bond continuation author to look afresh at the literary Bond in the 1970s because there has been so little written about Fleming’s creation in this particular time period. It would give new scope and new ground for the literary Bond to work within. Perhaps the mentions of the four missions where Bond used his licence to kill could be expanded on in a novel or short story collection by a new continuation author at some stage, including the story of Achmed Yastaff. It might be some sort of an answer to the problem some see in continuing the literary Bond character indefinitely into the future, as the dates given in Fleming’s work give his revised date of birth as 1924. It would also be an adult antidote to the ‘Young Bond’ series. Of course in the novels Bond hasn’t really aged very much, but the 1970s could be an interesting retro angle rather than writing adventures in between the 1950s novels as some have suggested.


TBB Article No. 16. 


© Brian McKaig, 2005.