Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The ubiquity of James Bond

The ubiquity of James Bond

or James Bond Turns up in the Strangest of Places

Ian Fleming 1908-2008 Centenary Celebration Article, 28 May 2008

Today, 28 May 2008, Ian Fleming is having his centenary celebrated by his many fans and admirers around the world, and he has rightly been placed firmly at the top of the James Bond tree once again, due to the efforts of the Fleming family through Ian Fleming Publications. There have been commemorative stamps featuring various James Bond novel covers issued by the Royal Mail in January 2008; an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum entitled ‘For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming + James Bond,’ detailing the similarities and differences between the creator and his creation, the most famous fictional secret agent in the world, and today there has been the hotly-anticipated ‘literary event of the year,’ the publication of the new “period” James Bond novel, DEVIL MAY CARE, with best-selling author Sebastian Faulks “writing as Ian Fleming.” In October 2008 Daniel Craig is set to return in his second appearance as James Bond in QUANTUM OF SOLACE, appropriately an off-beat previously little-known short story (outside of the realms of Bond fandom) by Ian Fleming, in this his centenary year. This refocusing on Ian Fleming on the occasion of what would have been his 100th birthday also serves to remind us of the ubiquitous nature of Fleming’s enduring creation, James Bond. James Bond, as both a literary and cinematic character really does turn up everywhere, and this sometimes results in him also turning up in the strangest of places. 

Focusing on the character of James Bond in the printed medium, it will be observed that Bond has cropped up in many weird and wonderful, as well as unexpected, places. It illustrates the fascination James Bond has engendered throughout the decades since his creation that he has turned up in so many interesting places. It is also a joy for the Bond fan to uncover these often hidden gems between the pages of the most un-Bondian looking of magazines, journals and books. Such finds often uncover some interesting facts as the writers are looking at Bond from perhaps an off-beat angle or in a new way that a Bond fan might never consider.

Kingsley Amis, later the first official continuation James Bond author, in his excellent study of the literary Bond, THE JAMES BOND DOSSIER (1965) wrote of one such interesting encounter he had with Bond in a rather bizarre place:

“A much more thorough arms-inspection than Mr Boothroyd’s was carried out more recently by Bob Glass, evidently an American handgun specialist, in an article called ‘The Gunnery of James Bond’. I read this in a magazine called Snakes Alive (Trinity, 1963) which, since it’s the journal of the Belfast Medical School, is probably not generally circulated among Bond fans. For all I know, Mr Glass’s piece appeared elsewhere earlier, but I can find no trace of this. In any event, it’ll do no harm to recall here some of his observations...”

(Kingsley Amis, ‘The James Bond Dossier,’ Pan Books Ltd., London, 1966,

pp. 118-9.)

Another example of James Bond turning up in an unexpected place occurs between the pages of an issue of Practical Television magazine, again I suspect, to use Amis’s words, a publication “probably not generally circulated among Bond fans.” In the May 1967 edition of Practical Television, in the section entitled ‘Underneath The Dipole’ there is a photograph of Mr Osata, Helga Brandt and a Japanese technician sitting around the control panel in Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s hollowed-out volcano, with a guard standing in the background. The caption below the black and white photograph reads:

“The latest James Bond film “You only live twice”, [sic] to be released in the autumn, is also to include electronic gadgetry. This time a television control centre, bristling with all the latest gear, in the side of a volcano. The photograph – wait for it, it’s classified information – was taken at Pinewood Studios.”

(Iconos, Practical Television, Volume 17, No.8, Issue 200, May 1967, p. 351.)

There had been no mention made of James Bond earlier in the two-page round-up of what was going on “underneath the dipole.” A “dipole” in the television context is an aerial consisting of a horizontal metal rod with a connecting wire at its centre. So “underneath the dipole” here means the television set itself. The photograph was seemingly just included to highlight the fact that the “white heat” of British and other television technologies would soon be turning up in a significant new British film, and that everyone clearly knew who James Bond was. It could be seen as a small way of adding a little visual sparkle, through a Bond reference, to an otherwise “routine” Practical Television section. Although there is no specific mention of James Bond in the articles which accompany the photograph from YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, there is interestingly a mention made of the television series THE AVENGERS, which was featuring future Bond stars Patrick Macnee (as John Steed) and Diana Rigg (as Miss Emma Peel) at the time. Iconos, the bespectacled author of the section, under a heading of “Credit – where credit’s due” writes:

“I would be a strong advocate for credits, both for actors and technicians – providing the viewer was given time to read them easily, without disturbing background flashes and “jump cuts” or loud brash musical discords. For example, everyone knows who the stars are of The Avengers; but without keen eyes it is difficult to see who the excellent supporting actors are – unless you know them by sight, anyway!”

(Iconos, Practical Television, Volume 17, No.8, Issue 200, May 1967, p. 350.)


One more recent example (though there are certainly countless more out there waiting to be discovered by Bond fans) occurs in Criminal Law Textbook by Russell Heaton LL.B. At the end of each section in the textbook, Heaton places a typical Criminal Law problem question for students to practice what they have learnt so far. In Question 4.2 Heaton falls back on the novel, or perhaps film of, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE for inspiration on writing a problem scenario that will surely not unfairly reference too many of the students, or other academic readers, surnames:

“Bond hails a taxi, but when it stops Kleb rushes into the taxi ahead of him and slams the door in his face jeering, ‘Ladies before gentlemen, Mr Bond.’ Bond shouts obscenities at her and Kleb yells, ‘You’re going to pay for that Mr Bond. I’m going to shoot you.’ Bond, fearing he is about to be shot, panics and leaps over a wall into the river running alongside the road. He is swept away by the current and, although he is pulled from the river, his breathing has stopped. His breathing is restarted by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but it is discovered that he has suffered permanent brain damage, even though he does not die.

Discuss the criminal liability, if any, of Kleb.”

(Russell Heaton, ‘Criminal Law Textbook,’ Second edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006, pp. 521-2.)

Heaton has here taken the characters of James Bond and Colonel Rosa Klebb from both the novel and film version of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and played out a neat little scenario with them, only slightly amending ‘Klebb’ to ‘Kleb,’ and having Bond panic and jump into a river due to Kleb’s possible ‘technical assault,’ as opposed to being kicked by Klebb’s poisoned-tipped blade shoes which leads to the harrowing final sentence in Fleming’s fifth novel,

“Bond pivoted slowly on his heel and crashed headlong to the wine-red floor.”

(Ian Fleming, ‘From Russia, with Love,’ Pan Books Ltd., London, 1964, p. 207).

The reference in the scenario by the villainous Kleb to ‘Mr Bond’ is also another unmistakably knowing Bond element Heaton mentions. Heaton’s suggested answer to the problem question is given at the back of the textbook and it covers sections 18, 20 and 47 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, each covering grievous bodily harm (GBH) with intent, inflicting GBH and assault occasioning actual bodily harm (ABH) respectively. On Kleb’s criminal liability Heaton concludes:

“Therefore there is a probability that she would be convicted under s. 47 but acquitted of offences under ss. 18 and 20.”

(Russell Heaton, ‘Criminal Law Textbook,’ Second edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006, p. 523.)

Heaton’s Criminal Law Textbook is again another unexpected place to find a Bond reference, especially as it is one that appears so knowing of the Fleming canon.

From these three disparate examples of James Bond turning up in the strangest of places it can be concluded that Ian Fleming’s enduring creation is a truly ubiquitous phenomenon, and in his centenary year of 2008, we can be assured that Ian Fleming’s memory and work will live on for many years to come. James Bond’s ubiquity after fifty-six years since his creation in 1952, nearly forty-four years after Fleming’s death in August 1964, and one hundred years after Fleming’s birth, is certainly a fitting tribute to the remarkable talents of his too often forgotten creator. In the spirit of Ian Fleming’s own research, it would be interesting to hear of any of the other strange, bizarre and unexpected places other James Bond fans have encountered the world’s most famous fictional secret agent. Such encounters can cover James Bond articles, photographs or general references in initially unexpected or strange places.

With all of this in mind, the next time you see a copy of the likes of National Geographic, The Economist, Reader’s Digest or the Financial Times don’t just pass on by the newsstand uninterested but take the chance to delve into their pages. With the evidence of the strange examples quoted above, in passing by you conceivably might just miss an unexpected nugget of James Bond “gold”!

This article is written in memory of Ian Lancaster Fleming (1908-1964) on the centenary of his birth, 28 May 2008, thanking him for the great pleasure he has given readers of many different hues, and wishing him all of the recognition he deserves on the 100th anniversary of his birth. 

TBB Article No. 11

© Brian McKaig, 2008.

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