I spy: Bond's many avatars
Bond is everywhere. He’s old enough to be my father, but he’s still ubercool, dashing, and ready to get into new fights. Mention his name to anyone and you’ll get a reaction of some kind — enraptured sighs from teenage girls, and disdainful sniffs from grandparents. And it feels like he’s always been around.
That last bit is more or less true for the current generation. The Bond movies may now be 50 years old (Dr No was released in 1962), but Bond has been flashing his own brand of cool since 1953, when Ian Fleming mixed together his own and his colleagues’ experiences from the war, slapped on an ornithologist’s name onto the resulting character, and unleashed him into a world that was looking for an escape from humdrum reality. Since then he’s been conquering all kinds of media, one by one, leading everyone to have their own favourite Bond.
The lit types have the Ian Fleming books, and if they aren’t too snooty, the various sequels written by illustrious writers like Kingsley Amis, John Gardner, Jeffrey Deaver, and more.
The movie fans have the long series of movies, and a definite preference between Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan. The gamers have the video games on various platforms, Goldeneye for N64 being the pathbreaker. The comic readers have the newspaper strip, and the younger readers have the Young Adult spinoffs. And the rest of the world has the whole suave spy stereotype, which was more or less invented by Bond.
My own introduction to the world of Bond started with a book — Fleming’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Bond, as an idea, was all around me from childhood, but this book turned him into a real person — not least because this book, and the movie they made of it, is different. Bond actually falls in love and gets married.
The plot that he’s sent to solve is rather inane, but that doesn’t matter, it’s Bond. From then on, I devoured all of the Fleming novels. While the movies all seem to blend into one another, the novels convey a great deal more depth and history to the character.
As writing exercises, too, Fleming experimented with different models. The Spy Who Loved Me, for example, is written from the point of view of a young woman whose life is threatened by thugs, and who is saved by a mysterious stranger — Bond — who appears out of nowhere.
One of his best short stories, The Living Daylights, features nothing more than an enemy agent’s life spared by Bond, just because he decides to.
The movies turned Bond more palatable and heroic. Fleming described Bond as having cold eyes, and a cruel mouth. By that count, perhaps only Daniel Craig comes close — one could not imagine, say, Roger Moore being the clinical, cold spy. The movies have also added new elements that weren’t in the original concept: the double-meaning dialogues, the kooky devices, the slam-bang chases. However, everyone knows the movies better — we’re here celebrating the anniversary of the movie, not the books. In short, the derivative movie Bond has overshadowed his bookish progenitor.
Even more popular than the Bond character is the Bond stereotype. The West has its Johnny English and other parodies (special mention must be made of Len Deighton’s Harry Palmer and Le Carre’s George Smiley — who are essentially Anti-Bonds).
We, on the other hand, have children’s comic characters like Crook Bond, and the likes of Jagdeep playing a bumbling Bond in ‘jasoosi’ fillums like the original Agent Vinod. Not to mention pulp writers like Surender Mohan Pathak, who wrote their own deadly-serious series of James Bond novels in the ‘70s.
But there’s no better reflection of Bond’s impact than this: recently a data security expert surveyed banking PIN numbers to find the most frequently used numbers. The first movie reference in that list came at #23 – 0007, then again at #26 – 0070!