Let’s get this out of the way — we’re HUGE James Bond fans. Always have been, and I expect always will be.
Fast cars, beautiful women, nations in peril, outrageous weapons and gadgets, and dastardly villains in their ridiculous lairs with an army of henchmen. What’s not to love?
OK, at this point, some of you will be nodding in agreement, and rubbing your hands in anticipation of a new 007 being announced ahead of Bond Film #26*.
Others will be shaking their heads for some or all of the following reasons.
- Bond is a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur” as Judi Dench’s M in GoldenEye (1995) informs Pierce Brosnan’s 007
- Repeated casting of “white males” as Bond in an era of increasing diversity and opportunity
- The concept of “Bond girls” being vacuous damsels in distress who need to be rescued by an alpha male (although perhaps far less so in recent films)
- A symbol of white, male privilege
- Bond was “basically a rapist” — a point made by No Time to Die Director, Cary Fukunaga, relating to Thunderball (1965)
Cary Fukunaga appeared to refer to a scene in 1965's “Thunderball” in which Connery’s Bond forcibly kisses a nurse (played by Molly Peters) who has spurned his advances. In a later scene, Bond suggests he will keep quiet about information that could cost her her job if she sleeps with him. “I suppose my silence could have a price,” he says.
Peter’s character backs away, saying: “You don’t mean… Oh, no,” before Bond replies “Oh, yes”, pushes her into a sauna and takes off her clothes.
Deconstructing James Bond
While there are 25 “official” Bond movies to date, Ian Fleming, the author of the world’s most famous fictional secret agent, only wrote 14 novels/short stories featuring 007. All of these were published between 1953–1966, so inevitably are to some extent a product of their time.
As major James Bond nerds, we are the proud owners of an entire set of Fleming books. Although not the original set of cover art for the novels, our favourite series are those produced by Roger Hawkey for Pan Books between 1963–1967, and sit proudly on one of our many bookshelves.
How did Ian Fleming portray James Bond?
The phrase “works hard, plays hard” might be one of the most apt to describe the lifestyle portrayed by Bond. The physical description penned by Fleming presents him as:
Slim build; a three-inch long, thin vertical scar on his right cheek; blue-grey eyes; a “cruel” mouth; short, black hair, a comma of which falls on his forehead. Physically he is described as 183 centimetres (6 feet) in height and 76 kilograms (167 lb) in weight.
For his other attributes, across the novels and short stories, we discover a Bond who is a:
Heavy smoker — with his custom-made cigarettes, combining Balkan and Turkish tobacco to produce a higher nicotine content, and with three gold bands on the filter, Bond on occasion was smoking 70 cigarettes a day.
Hard drinker — the various “film Bonds” have immortalised the “Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred” image of 007’s drinking habits, but the extent of alcohol consumption is conspicuously larger in the books. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond gets through 46 drinks while labelling the British staple of tea as “mud” and responsible for the downfall of the British Empire!
Liberal drug user — while every secret agent might have illicit drugs in their arsenal when combatting villains, 007 has been known to indulge for recreational purposes. In Moonraker, ahead of a game of bridge against the sinister Sir Hugo Drax, Bond readies himself with a dose of amphetamine, Benzedrine, washed down with some champagne.
Spent playing cards in the company of a few close friends, or at Crockford’s; or making love, with rather cold passion, to one of three similarly disposed married women; weekends playing golf for high stakes at one of the clubs near London.
Ruthless killer — is Bond a sadistic assassin or just fulfilling the criteria of his very specialised job description? Both Bond devotees and academics have applied some rigour and analysis to the “licence to kill” that a 00 agent can exercise.
Fan site 007 Museum has crunched the numbers to reveal the following stats about Bond’s body count across the 25 stories/films:
- Number of direct kills by Bond: 366 (average of 16 per story/film)
- Pierce Brosnan — the “relic of the Cold War” among other things — is the most lethal 007 with 135 kills in his four outings, averaging 33.8 per movie
- The most deadly of Bond’s adventures is You Only Live Twice (1967) with a staggering body count of 196, with 21 directly attributable to 007.
Despite Fleming describing his secret agent as “noncerebral” (see below), if you’re after a more cerebral analysis of Bond’s activities, then a 2014 article published in CHANCE, the magazine of the American Statistical Association after the release of Skyfall in 2012, offers some further insights.
While James Bond is infamous for his vices, he is also known for his license to kill. Figure 4 is a bubble plot showing each James Bond actor’s kill ratio (i.e. the average number of kills per film) versus his total kills in all films. The bubbles are proportional to the kill ratio by all other characters in the corresponding films. For example, we see the kill ratio by other characters always exceeds that of the James Bond actor, except Brosnan. The biggest differential between kill ratios is with Connery, while clearly Brosnan had the highest kill ratio and total kills. Thus, Brosnan has the dubious distinction of being the deadliest Bond.
In a 1964 interview, after criticism of his violent and “evil” character, Fleming commented:
“I don’t think that he is necessarily a good guy or a bad guy. Who is? He’s got his vices and very few perceptible virtues except patriotism and courage, which are probably not virtues anyway… But I didn’t intend for him to be a particularly likeable person.”
And in a further interview added:
“James Bond is a healthy, violent, noncerebral man in his middle-thirties, and a creature of his era. I wouldn’t say he’s particularly typical of our times, but he’s certainly ‘of’ the times.”
So What Next for James Bond and Film #26?
Anyone who has spent any time watching the exploits of 007 over the last 60 years, or read the original books, will recognise that with Bond, what you see is what you get. By Fleming’s own admission, he “didn’t intend for him to be a particularly likeable person”.
In the 1964 interview above, Fleming also acknowledged that while Bond wasn’t “particularly typical of our times… he’s certainly of the times.”
And while we await the (hopefully) imminent announcement of the next person to play 007, therein lies the dilemma.
What should today’s James Bond be like and represent?
Ian Fleming’s biographer, Andrew Lycett, has a firm view:
I feel strongly that what an author commits to paper is sacrosanct and shouldn’t be altered. It stands as evidence of that writer’s — and society’s — attitudes at a particular moment in time, whether it’s by Shakespeare, Dickens, or Ian Fleming.
This comment was specifically about the debate on whether books “of their time” should be edited to remove language or ideals considered offensive today. (Lycett also notes: “References to race, as in the ethnicity of the barman in Thunderball, have reportedly been removed from a new edition of the 007 oeuvre, along with the description of a striptease in Live and Let Die.”)
James Bond producer, Barbara Broccoli has already dismissed the idea of the next 007 being a woman, stating it would be a disservice to women, and adding:
“He can be of any color, but he is male,” she said. “I believe we should be creating new characters for women — strong female characters.”
But, in more general terms, we are left with questions about whether 007, despite his flaws, vices and what he represents should remain as the author intended, or whether he should be a Bond of “our times”?
I accept James Bond for his flaws and vices — and maybe a tinge of jealousy at the fast cars (particularly the Aston Martin!) and gadgets he gets to play with (and, yes I know, that’s probably a mid-life crisis comment!).
Personally, I can’t wait to see what the James Bond and forthcoming film look like. While I absolutely don’t agree with misogyny or racism, I hope and expect he retains some of the rough edges and characteristics Ian Fleming originally imagined and which we’ve come to love in this fictional character.
That’s just my view. What are you hopes for the world’s favourite secret agent and Bond Film #26?
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